life, the friends

Big Love & Fruit that Lasts

I’ve been teaching the book of John to a group of third and fourth graders every Monday night since September.  Half the class is nice and quiet – just the way I like it – and the other half is rowdy.  Last night they were extra rowdy – pouts, tears, an injury, two kids under the table – all in the first 15 minutes.

We were in chapter 15 and I was explaining what Jesus meant by, “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  I told them the Holy Spirit is like the sap that flows from the vine out to the tip of the branches to produce fruit.  As long as we stay attached to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will flow through us, producing good and exciting things.

Things that last.

Then we got to the part where Jesus told His disciples – and us – to love the way He loves.

And that brought us to verse 13.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I wanted to illustrate what that looks like in everyday life.

So I told them about Tuscany. I told them that the hub and I have been saving money to take a trip there as soon as he retires. We want to see the countryside and eat good food and take a cooking class.

I also told them that we have spent A LOT of money on emergency vet bills in the last few years.  (Over $40,000 the hub tells me but I didn’t tell the youngsters that.)

“And now today,” I said, “the beagle we adopted 4 weeks ago had surgery. And it’s expensive. So we’ll take more money out of our Tuscany fund to pay for it.

And we probably won’t get to go on our trip.

But that’s okay.

Because greater love has no one than this: to lay down your Tuscany for your beagle.”

The rowdy ones, who didn’t appear to be listening, their interest quickened by the example, gave a hearty laugh.

P.S. The hospital just called. Dixie did very well overnight.  She’s comfortable, bright, alert, responsive and she’s coming home this evening.  I’ll keep you posted.

#quickened

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the friends

Is this my new calling? ‘Cuz I’m gonna’ need superhuman strength.

One minute you’re getting your face bit off and the next minute you’re living in Hintzville.

One day you’re living in Hintzville, going for a warm, sunny walk and a week later you’re under the knife.

Last post I told you what I know about Dixie’s history. What I didn’t tell you is that she has had varying amounts of blood in her stool since the day we adopted her. Every stool, every day.

Finally, after multiple trips to the vet and two rounds of blood and stool tests to rule out parasites and infections, we were referred to a specialist for an ultrasound.

The ultrasound revealed a mass in her colon. And an enlarged lymph node. And a small spot on her spleen.

So at 8:00 this morning I dropped her off at the hospital for a colonoscopy – to give the internal medicine specialist and the surgeon a look at what they’re dealing with from the inside.

While she’s still under anesthesia she’ll go directly into surgery.  To remove the mass and resection her bowel.   And, if she hasn’t been under too long at that point, the surgeon will remove the lymph node and her spleen, too.

Just got a call from the hospital. They are about to begin.  It will be about two hours. The surgeon will call when he’s finished.

I hung up the phone, got on my knees and asked God to fill the operating room. I asked Him to give the specialist and the surgeon insight and knowledge and skill beyond what they have. I asked Him to give the surgeon creativity in approaching the mass – since it is partially behind her pubis and difficult to access.  I’m praying he’ll get clean margins without having to split her pelvis.

I’m praying the mass is not malignant.  I’m praying it isn’t any kind of cancer at all.  It’s possible that it’s a stricture. I sure hope so.

I’m praying for no complications.

I’m praying that the resection will not come apart one day and dump feces into her abdomen.

I’m praying she will heal quickly and live another happy, healthy five years.  At least.

If it is a malignant cancer, the surgeon said worst case scenario she’ll have  3-4 months, best case she’ll have 1-2 years.

I’m praying it isn’t cancer.

I’m praying I don’t have to muster the strength, beg God for the strength, to walk another friend down this road again so soon.

I’ve already fallen in love with Dixie.

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And I’m still missing Bebe.

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And Lucy.

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I told you last week that Dixie had been bounced around a lot this last year after her “mom” moved into a nursing home.  And that made it really heartbreaking to leave her this morning.

So I’m asking God to hold her close, to whisper in her soft, floppy little beagle ear that she hasn’t been abandoned.  That she is deeply loved and she will be going home to Hintzville.

Just got a call from the surgeon.  The colonoscopy showed that it is a mass, not a stricture.

Dixie’s being prepped for surgery and he’s heading into the OR.

Praying he gets it all.

Praying it’s benign.

Praying she heals well.

Praying, praying, praying.

And feeling sick.

 

 

 

 

 

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the friends

One minute you’re getting your face bit off and the next minute you’re living in Hintzville.

One minute you’re basking in a glorious sunny, 61 degree day in February in Michigan and the next minute you’ve got mascara all down your tear-streaked face.

Because that gloriously warm February day reminds you of a similar unseasonably warm February day when you were basking in the excitement of a new relationship.

Which you loved.

And lost.

And still grieve.

And there’s really nothing you can say to grief while it’s barreling through like a freight train.

But what if you could stop it in its tracks?  What if, instead of looking back at last year’s happiness and grieving what you’ve lost, you could look forward to next year’s happiness in anticipation of what you’ll gain?

Because where you are is not where you’ll stay.

Dixie would tell you that if she could talk.  She would tell you that life can turn on a dime.  She would tell you that one day you’re living in a garage in Ohio, getting your face practically bit off by a mean dog and then, a couple of months later, you’re on a walk on a glorious sunny, 61 degree day in Michigan.

And you’re eating organic, grass-fed, home-cooked meals and getting belly rubs and snuggling on the sofa. And life is good.

Dixie and her sister were found on the side of the road in southern Ohio when they were 3 months old.  Life must have looked bleak for those two babies. But then they were taken into foster care and Dixie was immediately adopted by the foster mom’s mom – Betty.

Apparently Betty treated Dixie like a queen.  She even cooked for her.  They lived happily together for about 10 years.  And then Betty developed dementia and was moved into a nursing home.

And Dixie, near as I can figure, was bounced around from relative to relative and then eventually ended up back home at Betty’s house – where Betty’s grandson and his wife are now living.

But one of their dogs kept attacking Dixie – she has the scars under her right eye to prove it.  So she had to live outside and in the garage until she was finally surrendered back into foster care for her own safety.

For six weeks she lived in a foster home here in Michigan where, according to the foster mom, Dixie was heartbroken.

I wonder if, while being shuffled around this past year, she grieved the memory of her life with Betty. I wonder if she despaired ever curling up on a sofa or getting a belly rub or enjoying a home-cooked meal again.

But beagles are optimistic so I prefer to think that instead of grieving what was behind her she dreamed of the love that lay ahead.

And now here she is in Hintzville, curled up next to me on the sofa, her days filled with love and walks and really good food. She even has a gentle new brother, Max, who just stepped aside and made room for her when she started eating the food from his dish after polishing off her own. (Of course I intervened on his behalf and reminded her of her P’s and Q’s.)

Today I stopped to say thank you to God for providing for Dixie.  For Betty’s sake. For Dixie’s sake. For my sake. For Love’s sake.

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#AllthatglittersisGod.

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the friends

There is no remedy for love but to love more.

One of the good foster moms told me that the only way she could cope with the heartbreak of saying goodbye to a child – especially when the child was leaving her to return to a barely stable birth parent – was to quickly welcome another child into her home.

Yesterday my family received two cards in the mail.

One was a sympathy card from our vet and the other was from the Michigan Animal Adoption Network notifying us that our vet had made a donation in Bebe’s honor.

So this morning, of course, I googled the Michigan Animal Adoption Network and read all about fostering dogs.

And now I want to foster one.

Then I clicked on the adoption link and read the profiles of several beagles in foster homes near me who are awaiting permanent families.

And now I want to foster a dog AND adopt Dixie.

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This is Dixie.  We haven’t met yet but I think I love her.

I sent a text to both the hub and my daughter… Haven’t heard back from the hub.

The only thing that gives me pause is Maxy.  He might prefer to live out his elderly life in peace and quiet.

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This is how Maxy prefers to spend his days.

But he does still love his walks.  And a new friend might make him feel young again…

I’m thinking the Maxers and I could at least go visit Dixie, see how they get along.

And now I’m thinking that donation might have had a threefold purpose:

  1. to honor Bebe
  2. to provide needed funds to a good organization – specifically to provide comfort to suffering dogs through their Animal Care Network.
  3. and to perhaps make the hub and me aware of the organization; to spur us on toward love and good deeds.

There is no remedy for love but to love more. – Thoreau

I’ll keep you posted.

#exposure

 

 

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Light, restoration, the friends

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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the friends

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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