life, Light, restoration

Broken Offering

It’s Sanctity of Life Sunday and I was asked to preach the sermon at my church.  So there at the podium I stood with a large, painful sty forming in my left eye and with a mind so exhausted from grief that it couldn’t hold a thought.

This is what I said:

Last month, down in fellowship hall, Tim asked me a few questions about crisis pregnancies. He was writing a paper for seminary.  He wanted to know who puts the greatest pressure on a woman to abort.

“It’s not always a who,” I said, “sometimes it’s a what, and that person or thing is different for every woman.”

For the recent high school graduate sitting across from me in the counseling room it was her reputation in the eyes of her younger siblings.  She had always been a “good girl” and they had always looked up to her.  She wept at the thought of letting them down.

For the young waitress, who had recently moved to Michigan from Oregon, it was her abusive live-in boyfriend.

For a distraught sixteen year old it was her harsh grandma who said “you can only have the baby it if it is a boy.” An ultrasound revealed she wasn’t.

For the married woman carrying an anencephalic baby it was a team of doctors talking at her around a conference table.  They convinced her that aborting her 7 month fetus would be easier than giving birth and watching him die. It wasn’t. “Why couldn’t he have died in my arms?” she cried in group. Deciding how and when someone will die is a decision way too heavy for us humans.

For a co-worker, back in my social work days, the pressure was a what.  She was booked to go on a party cruise when she found out she was pregnant.  The cruise was already paid for and she wanted to get her money’s worth – and that meant drinking. Fairly heavily.  She was also newly engaged and she wanted to look slim and trim and not-pregnant in her wedding gown.  She thought she’d just get rid of this baby, conceived at an inconvenient time, and have another, later.

Tim also wanted to know what pastors can do to help women in these crisis situations.  What can a pastor do? What can a church do? What can you do?

In the case of the good girl, you can help her re-frame what it means to set a good example.  Instead of modeling perfect behavior, she can model perfect love.  You can help her show her younger siblings what it means to take responsibility for a mistake.  To lay down one’s reputation, one’s immediate plans, one’s life for the good of another. Jesus said greater love has no one than this.

The woman with the abusive boyfriend needs a dose of logic and some practical help.  Logic because her boyfriend threatened to take the baby if she didn’t abort, and keep him from her.  The abused are often so beaten down by their abusers that they believe their ridiculous threats.  “Joni,” I asked, “why would he take the baby when he doesn’t even want the baby?” With that question her sobbing ceased.  Helping her meant teaching her to take abusive thoughts captive to God – and it meant putting her up in a hotel for a couple of nights until she could arrange to get back to her family in Oregon.

I didn’t know how to help the cruise-bound co-worker back then, back before I became involved with the crisis pregnancy ministry. I knew that she had grown up in a Christian home and that she already knew that abortion would harm her spiritually, so I didn’t say anything.

And I didn’t say anything several months later when she plopped down in a chair in my office and asked, “Now what am I supposed to do?”  Three of us in the foster care agency had gotten pregnant since her abortion – two of us were about to go on permanent maternity leave and one, the first of us to deliver, had just visited the agency that day to show off her newly born daughter.

I began volunteering at a pregnancy help center two years later mainly to educate myself so I would know what to say next time.

I became acquainted with the many ways abortion can do harm – spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychologically. I learned things that may or may not have made a difference in that co-worker’s decision. That crafty serpent was promising her that abortion would be no big deal and oh how she wanted to believe him.

I’ve led several groups of women – and even a couple of groups of men – through a post-abortion Bible study, and I’ve witnessed how healing takes place.

So now, if a post-abortive co-worker were to plop down in my office and ask, “Now what am I supposed to do?,”

I would listen to her story with nonjudgmental ears.

I would help her name all the players in her decision to abort and assign an appropriate portion of the blame to each.

I would gently help her put a slice – no matter how big or small – on her own plate.

And if, after all the excuses and justifications, she could recognize that none of them were worth the price of a life – her child’s life – healing would begin.

And if she could name her child, acknowledge his or her existence, claim him or her as her own, her child would finally have a mother.

I’d help her ask forgiveness – of her child, of God, of herself.  Forgiving one’s self is always the hardest.

A young girl was walking through the woods on a glorious early spring day.  Suddenly a snake appeared in her path…

Forgiving ourselves means recognizing that we’ve been duped by the enemy of our souls; betrayed by the faux friend who offered us a way out and then slithered away hissing “Sucker.”

Men suffer in the aftermath of abortion, too.  Sometimes it’s the father who failed to protect, or who was lied to or who wasn’t given any say in the matter.  Sometimes it’s the man who drove his friend to the clinic, thinking he was doing the helpful thing, only to be smacked in the face by the full realization of what it was he helped her to do.

The pressure to abort almost always involves some sort of fear.  But as long as we have a powerful God to help us, the right solution to a fearful situation is never the taking of an innocent life. Perfect love drives out fear.

Mother Teresa said, “There is no love in abortion.” She was right.  I’ve looked at abortion from every angle and I’ve yet to find any love.

The solution to any crisis pregnancy is Love.

When a woman comes into your pastoral office or your living room or your cubicle contemplating abortion, help her look for the love in it, and when she can’t find any, help her find another solution.  Inspire her towards love.

And when a woman plops down in your office and says, “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” lead her back to love.  Because that’s what God does.

All life is sacred.  The sanctity of life doesn’t only apply to humans.  God is the Good Shepherd of all of His creation.  Jesus told us that not a sparrow falls to the ground outside our Father’s care.

I’ve encountered Christians recently who scoff at praying for a pet. They seem to think having dominion over animals means it’s okay to treat them harshly or callously.  But that’s not how God exercises His dominion over us.   He came into our doghouse and camped out with us for thirty-three years.

As I cared for my dying little beagle these past 3 months, I saw up-close what a Good Shepherd He is.  As I carried her home from a walk too long, holding her little heart to mine, as I cooked for her and prayed for her, anointed her soft little head with oil and measured out medications,  as I showered her with a depth of love I hadn’t previously known, I realized that I am not kinder or more loving or more compassionate than God. As deep as my love for the Be, His was deeper.

Upholding the sanctity of life is not about judgment, upholding the sanctity of life is about Love.

After the Be died on Wednesday I had nothing for today.  I knew I should sit down and gather my thoughts but my mind was numb.  I just needed to grieve.

I tried again on Thursday but to absolutely no avail.  I just needed to be quiet all day.

All of Friday was spent preparing for a Saturday morning deadline.

And then, after an early morning meeting yesterday, the words finally came.  I knew they would be delivered in weakness today, but at least I had them to deliver.

And I think perhaps that was God’s exquisite desire all along – that today’s message be written and delivered from a place of deep grief.

#exquisite

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life

Love Sponges

My friend Peggy Rice (Gray Clouds, Clear Skies) shared that her parents’ cat died last night.  She wrote, “Those pets are such an important part of our lives…I understand the grief.”

As I was praying for her parents it occurred to me why pets are such an important part of our lives, and why losing them is so painful.  Why losing them is sometimes even harder than losing a human.

It’s because of love.

Pets are the repositories of our best love.  We pour it into them, unhindered and unguarded and when they are gone, the receptacle for all that pristine love is gone.

They love us back, for sure, and we certainly miss their delightful personalities, but I think it’s their willingness to be loved that we miss the most.

They are love sponges.

They are 100% willing to be loved. They don’t evaluate the quality of our love, they just soak in every bit of it they can get.

People, with their insecurities and baggage, often reject large and small portions of our love.

But not pets, pets willingly and unabashedly accept it all.

And we love them for it.

Praying for everyone out there who is grieving the loss of their precious love sponge.

dads-home

#notcapableofrejection

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faith, life

Barely Breathing

Be’s ashes arrived about an hour ago.  The young man who delivered them to my front door was very kind. As soon as he left, I hugged the little wooden box to my heart and sobbed. I told Be all the things I’ve said to her many times since her diagnosis but also things I wished I had said yesterday.  I wished I had looked her in her bright little eyes and said that I was so sorry to have to say goodbye, that I didn’t want to say goodbye.

The emergency room ultrasound showed a lung had collapsed on one side and fluid was building in her chest cavity on the other side.  Eight days earlier another emergency doc had tapped 600 ml of fluid from her chest.  For six days we marveled at how well she was doing. But Monday she started showing signs that the fluid was building again.

But she never lost her appetite. Yesterday she jumped and twirled when I set down her breakfast bowl. She enthusiastically gobbled it down and then stood at the kitchen island watching me separate meat from bones to make broth.  She stood there as she did whenever I made her bone broth, confident that I would hand her a morsel or two.

I put the bones back into the crock pot, covered them with water, ground the meat and started to load the dishwasher.

That’s when she started panting. That’s when she came back into the kitchen to get me.  She often lead me into the family room to sit with her.  But this time she lead me to the door that leads to the garage. She just stood there as though she was asking to go to the hospital. I called the hub. I called emergency to let them know we were coming.  They were ready with oxygen when we arrived.

The doc said she could tap the fluid again but that it would probably fill up quicker this time – in 2 days rather than 8.  That’s typically the way it goes.

And before I could say anything, my husband said, “No, it’s time to let her go.”

And that made me cry.  And it made me a little deep down mad.

A tech brought Be into the examining room, catheter already in her arm, laid her gently on the table and plugged an oxygen tube into the wall in front of it. She said she’d give us a few minutes to say goodbye. Be’s breathing was labored, even holding oxygen to her nose, and I didn’t want her to be uncomfortable one second longer than necessary. So we had the doc come in right away.

I wish I had taken just a moment though.

I wish I had turned her gently around or slid her a little back so I was in front of her – so she could see me – instead of being behind her.   I was right there hovering over her, stroking her head. My husband was behind me stroking her back. I wish I had been where she could see me.  I wish I had scooped her up and held her after she was gone. I wish I had driven her to the crematorium myself – one last labor of love.  So many regrets. It all happened so quickly.  I wish I had prayed when she was on the table and not just in the car on the way to emergency. I wish I had blessed her one last time, asked God into the room.  I wish I had asked to hold her on my lap while she was getting the injections…

She laid her head down on the table and was asleep before the doc finished pushing the propofol into the cath. Her breathing stopped midway through the injection of the second drug – the euthanasia drug. No twitching, no nothing, just asleep and then quietly gone in less than a minute.

So I hugged the box containing her ashes and sobbed and told her all those things and it was cathartic.  I’m still sobbing and it still hurts and it is pouring rain again.

It hurts so much I can barely breathe.

The turkey bone broth is still simmering in the crock pot, its heartbreaking aroma permeating the house.

Someday, when I step into heaven, Lucybee, the beloved friend I lost three years ago, will run full speed to greet me.  But the little Be will come quietly: she’ll tiptoe up, peek her head around the gate, look up at me with her sweet little face, cock her head and then wag, wag, wag her happy little tail.

Some glorious day.

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#someday

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Sacrificial Gifts

A few weeks before Christmas my daughter texted me a picture of Sorel Slimpack II Waterproof Boots – in case I needed a gift idea.

I had already bought her gifts but I was tempted to buy just one more.  Except the hub said we needed to scale back this year due to all the vet bills.  So I resisted.

The Monday before Christmas I stood at the pharmacy counter with a prescription for a colonoscopy prep kit – the same kind my husband used back in October when he had his colonoscopy.  The kind that is a lot easier to take than the Golytely jug I’ve used in the past.

“Your insurance doesn’t cover this one,” the pharmacist said, “it will be $100.”

“What?” “Is that how much my husband paid back in October?”

She checked her computer.

“He paid $86, he had a coupon. I’ll try applying that same coupon code to yours.”

With the coupon it would be $91.  The price must have gone up she said.

“Is there another kind that my insurance will cover?”

She advised me to call the doc’s office and ask them to authorize a switch.

Golytely. The dreaded 4 litre jug.

Dreaded but 100% covered.

I texted the hub.  He said go ahead and pay the $91.

But then I remembered the boots. I was willing to suffer for the boots.

So I took home the jug.

The day after the colonoscopy I went to Nordstrom to purchase the boots – for $145.

“I thought I saw them on sale on your website for $114,” I said, as the clerk rang them up.

Apparently not.

As I was leaving the mall I spotted the same boots at another store – on sale for $109.

Back to Nordstrom to return, then back to Journeys to buy.

Those 8 hours of gut-wrenching misery – literally – plus the return and repurchase paid for all but $18 of them.  The hub could live with that.

Sacrificial Giving

As we were heading to the theater to see the matinee showing of La La Land the day after Christmas, I told my daughter the story of the boots – my own small version of the Gift of the Magi.  Not because I wanted a medal or anything, but because I wanted her to know the depth of my love. And because giving a sacrificial gift felt so good, I thought receiving one might feel good, too.  Judging by the expression on her face at the end of my story, I think it did.

Same Love, Different Scenario

That evening, after dinner, I said, “Time for family goodness.” (“Family goodness” = all of us taking the friends for a walk.  One of us takes the hound, another takes the beagle and the third is on bag duty…”)

“It’s almost dark,” the hub said, sitting comfortably on the sofa watching some sort of sport on tv.

“Bring a flashlight,” I replied.

My daughter didn’t say anything, but the look she flashed revealed that she wasn’t thrilled either.

It was a rare 50 degree day in December and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to walk the little beagle. She cannot tolerate the cold anymore and getting oxygen to her lungs is so important.  I had been waiting all day for the rain to stop so we could take her.  It was still drizzling when I made my announcement, but it was getting dark and the window was closing.

“Come on,” I said.

As my daughter put on her coat she said, “You’re never going to be satisfied with the manner in which I parent your granddogs.”

“I just won’t come over,” I replied.

She continued, “Because I’m going to treat my dogs just like the rest of the country does.”

It snowed 8 inches the weekend before Christmas.  I bundled the beagle up and took her for a walk a few days later when the temp rose to 32 degrees.  She begged to romp through the woods.  “Sorry, little Be,” I said, “but your legs are too short, your belly will drag through the snow and you’ll get too cold.” I promised her that once the snow diminished enough we would take a walk through the woods.

And on that rainy, 50 degree day after Christmas when the snow was just about gone, we did.

The five of us took a walk through the woods, the hub carrying a flashlight and me using the flashlight on my iPhone.

It felt good to keep a promise.

It felt good to take my friends for a damp, drizzly, sacrificial walk in the woods.

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It’s all the same.

I thought about my daughter’s comments as I was unloading the dishwasher the next morning.

It’s all the same love, baby girl, I thought.  The same quality of love that bought your boots kept its promise to the Be.

It’s that way with God, too.  The quality of His love is always the same  – whether He is extending it to the saint or the sinner.

It isn’t about how lovable we are, it’s about how able to love He is.

And I so love Him. ❤

#nomoping

 

 

 

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life

Calm, Bright, Holy Beagle

It was not my usual week-before-Christmas.

Monday, instead of baking and sampling, I was fasting and prepping for Tuesday’s colonoscopy.  It’s not ideal to schedule a colonoscopy the week before Christmas, but it had already been rescheduled twice… The good news is I passed with flying colors. Doc says I don’t have to “Golytely” again for another ten years. Misnomer that.

All is Calm, All is Bright

Wednesday, instead of shopping, I was sitting on a folded quilt on the floor of the veterinary oncologist’s exam room with my back against the wall.  The little beagle lay on her side beside me, head on my lap. A mild, pleasantly soothing incense wafted through the air, mingled with the gentle music playing beside it. I stroked her soft little head and spoke quietly to her as she lay still for the twenty minutes the acupuncture needles needed to do their thing.

“It’s worth it little Be,” I whispered, as I stroked the side of her face, “they are stimulating your immune system and helping to clear the lung congestion.”

She lay perfectly still. Completely calm. Not a single needle fell out this time. What a sweet little love.

Acupuncture needles in place of pine needles.

She has been doing so well – her eyes clear and bright, her energy high – that I was starting to imagine her a medical miracle.

And then Thursday she started coughing. Really coughing. She coughed up a hunk of tissue and what looked like a blood clot.

Silent Night, Holy Night.

So Friday she went back on an antibiotic.

She’s sleeping a lot now, her little body battling pneumonia. So last night, while she slept, I broiled filet Mignon, mashed sweet potatoes and sauteed Brussels sprouts. And then my daughter and the hub went to the 10 pm Candlelight Service while I stayed home with our friends.

I was going to have our own little silent night, holy night – just me, the hound and the beagle. I was going to read them the Christmas story. I was going to tell them what Jesus said about not a single sparrow falling from the sky apart from the Father’s care. I was going to read them the story Nathan told David and explain that God considers pets members of the family, too.

“but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.”

God had no problem with the way the poor man lovingly cared for his lamb, but He certainly had a problem with the way the rich man treated her as property.

I was going to say, “God loves and cares for all of the creatures He created, guys, and He loves you even more than I do.”

We were going to have our own holy moment while the rest of the family was at church.

But the night turned out to be more silent than holy. The beagle’s breathing was labored as she slept on the sofa beside me. I didn’t want to disturb her by reading aloud. I knew she’d try to respond to the sound of my voice and she needed rest more than anything else.

So I scrolled silently and came upon this from Muddy Boots Manor:

A precious telling of the Christmas story. I think the hound was listening as he lay awake on the floor nearby. The beagle slept through most of it – awaking only briefly and raising her head to see who was talking. Then she drifted back off to sleep.

Now it’s Sunday. Christmas Day.

When my daughter wakes up I’ll make pancakes. I’ll embellish the maple syrup with minced figs, dates and walnuts because on Tuesday the recovery nurse handed me a brochure with a list of high fiber foods and dried figs was at the top.

We’ll open gifts and then I’ll make stuffed mushrooms and a mushroom pate for the hub and the daughter to take with them to the family gathering.

I’ll miss out on some amazing food, but Christmas, it turns out, is not about beautifully set tables and skillfully prepared feasts.

It’s about giving presence to a sick little friend.

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The hound – 96 in dog years – wants extra presence himself these days.

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I did take time to do some fancy wrapping this week.

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Merry Christmas everyone!

#anewkindoffestive

 

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life

Murder Down the Street

There was a line of police cars just down the street when my daughter and I headed out late Friday morning.

“I wonder what’s going on,” she commented.

We took our usual route, walking our dogs past the softball diamond and tennis courts, through the playground of the abandoned elementary school, across the basketball court, through the woods and back.

As we were nearing home a news truck drove past.

The hound was busy sniffing the base of a mailbox so my daughter and the beagle were several feet ahead when the truck stopped and the reporter rolled down his window.

I caught up just as their conversation ended.

“What did he say?,” I asked as they drove off. “What’s going on?”

“He said, ‘It’s the craziest thing, isn’t it?’ I told him I didn’t know what was going on, that I saw the police cars when I headed out to take my dogs for a walk and wondered what had happened. He looked stunned and said, ‘You didn’t hear about the car and the dead body?’ He looked like he was about to say more and then he just said I have an awesome beagle.”

“How would I have heard?”

Indeed, cocooned in our warm little nest there on the cul de sac, we were completely oblivious.

As soon as we were back in the house, my daughter googled.

At about 1:30 am a neighbor reported a car on fire behind the elementary school. When the firetrucks arrived the car was completely engulfed in flames. It wasn’t until the flames were extinguished that they discovered the remains of a woman.

The police followed tire tracks from the school yard to the house down the street, to the white house with the blue shutters.

My daughter looked up from her computer, “How dumb do you have to be to kill someone and leave the body and the car practically in your backyard?”

Two young men – a nineteen year old who lives in the blue shuttered house, and an eighteen year old who lives in Detroit – were taken in for questioning. The house was being searched.

“Perhaps you can get away with not covering your tracks in Detroit because there is so much crime there,” I replied, “but these are the ‘burbs.”

In the brief online clip, the reporter mentioned that the police knew the identity of the victim, confirmed by dental records, but they hadn’t released her name. He said she lived down the street from the white house.

Information was sparse: She had a child, a neighbor told the reporter she often sat in her car listening to the radio, she might have been ambushed…

We tried to figure out who she might be. We tried to figure out a motive. Why was a mother out in her car listening to the radio at 1 am? Was it random? Was she ambushed? Was it safe for me to walk the dogs alone?

I took a picture of the basketball court back in November when I was walking the beagle.

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The leaves are off the trees now and they are off the court, too. When my daughter, the hound, the beagle and I walked across it Friday morning, we had no idea a car and a body were ablaze upon it just 10 hours earlier.

We hadn’t noticed the charred spot.

But when the hub, my daughter, the beagle, the hound and I walked through Saturday morning, we looked. And there it was. No sign anything had happened there except for the charred blacktop.

A police officer walked toward us on our return loop. He said he hadn’t read the report, didn’t know the details so he could walk the grounds with fresh eyes.

I asked why there wasn’t more information being reported. He said they don’t want future jurors to have preconceived notions when the case goes to trial. I understand that.

“It would be nice, though,” I said, “to know whether there is a killer loose in the neighborhood and whether we are safe.”

“We’re pretty certain we have the killer in custody,” he said, “but there are still unanswered questions.”

The victim’s identity was released Saturday evening, along with a picture.

The picture looked like a mug shot.

An autopsy revealed that she died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen.

Once her identity was known, comments on the news article painted a picture of a drug user who owed a lot of people a lot of money.

There was speculation that she couldn’t pay her dealer and he shot her to send a message. An eighteen year old shot her to send a message.

This is the sort of speculation and preconceived notions that I’m sure the police wanted to avoid.

But it is a relief to know that it probably wasn’t random.

We won’t know the facts until the trial, but whether she was a junkie going out to her car to shoot up or a mom going to her car for a few minutes of peace and quiet, it’s equally awful. Whether she was ambushed by random teenagers or shot in the abdomen by her dealer it’s equally awful.

It’s awful for the seven year old who no longer has a mom. Right before Christmas.

It’s an awful emptiness of soul that allows an eighteen year old to pull a trigger, take a life, burn a body, and perhaps throw the murder weapon into a nearby lake.

There is an outstanding warrant for the eighteen-year-old’s arrest in Detroit for a carjacking. Thank God there is that to hold him on.

I think about the bright, sweet, hopeful faces of the inner city boys I’ve met over the years – as a camp counselor, social worker, volunteer tutor, Bible teacher – and I wonder at what point those innocent six, seven, eight, nine, ten year old boys become boys capable of drug dealing and carjacking and killing at eighteen.

Lord have mercy.

 

 

 

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