the friends

All That Cremains

We placed Maxy gently into the back of my Escape. The hub gave me a long hug, kissed me goodbye and headed to work.

I took Maxy for one last ride.

I chose the scenic route, winding through the quiet, tree-lined streets.

I drove remembering all the mornings he went with me to drive my daughter to school and all the afternoons he rode along to pick her up. It was our Monday through Friday routine – drop her at school by 8:30 a.m., go for our morning walk, pick her up again at 3.

I thought about how excited he used to get when we drove him to the dog park – he knew a mile away where we were going and he would spin and cry – louder and louder as we approached the park – unable to contain his excitement.

But this morning he was silent.

My eyes held wells of tears as I pulled up to Faithful Companions.

A gentle man named Jon offered me a seat at a conference table. He needed to take some information.  Name, address, phone number, how long have you had Max?…

“Fifteen years,” stuck in my throat. I reached across the table for a kleenex.

Paperwork completed, I backed my car into a bay.

Together we lifted Maxy into a white cardboard casket that sat upon a metal cart. Jon wheeled the cart into the family witness room while I re-parked my car.

The large room had a comfortable seating area in one corner.

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There was a coffee and water station along one wall and an oven on another.

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I said a final goodbye to my good friend and then watched as Jon closed the lid, wheeled the casket to the open oven door and slid it in.

He adjusted some nobs on the control panel and then asked if I wanted to push the button.

I shook my head, “no.”

The temperature was at 1625 degrees.

“It must remain between 1600 and 1700 degrees at all times,” he later said, “we turn it down to closer to 1600 when a family chooses to witness, otherwise the casket will ignite as soon as it is slid in.”

“How long does the process take?,” I had asked back when we were still in the conference room.

“A little over an hour.  You can wait in the room the whole time, or you can leave after you see me slide him in and then come back.”

The least I could do was wait.

Abide with him one last time.

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So there I sat in the warm room, staring at the oven door.

After about twenty minutes Jon came in to stir the contents. “Do you want to leave the room?,” he asked.

“No, but I’m not going to look.”

Oven door closed again he came and sat on the adjacent sofa and answered my many questions.

“We’re about 85% there,” he said, as he stepped back out of the room.

When he came back to stir a second time he asked me if I wanted to look. I did, since there were only bone fragments and “sparkles” left to see.

“The sparkles,” Jon explained, “are tiny pieces of non-bone.”

He closed the oven door again and left again.  When he returned a few minutes later the sparkles had ceased.

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Nothing but bone and the red glow of hot concrete.

He swept the bones into the bin below and then offered me a look – varying sizes of small fragments.

“Some people want to take them like this,” he said, “but I don’t know why.”

He took them into another room to spread them out, let them cool a little and then grind them into powder.

I waited in the reception area so the oven could be used for someone else’s friend.

Faithful Companions cremated 71 pets yesterday. 73 in one day is their record.  So they need to keep all their ovens operating all day. Every day.  8 am until midnight.

Especially since they promise to return the “ashes” within 24 hours.

Which is exactly what they did when they brought Bebe’s ashes to my door a year ago. Remember? They had picked her up directly from the emergency animal hospital.

But since Maxy died at home, I wanted to drive him there myself.

And stay with him.

It wasn’t long before Jon called me into another conference room. He was carrying a gift bag which contained several thoughtful items.  From the bag he removed a small wooden box engraved with “Maxy” on the lid.

He opened it and pulled out a burlap bag.  Inside the burlap bag was the plastic bag containing Maxy’s ground bones.  He removed it and placed it in my hands.

“They’re still warm,” I said.

“A little bit,” he replied.

They felt good.

Karley, the kind office manager with whom I had corresponded via e-mail in anticipation of this day, gave me a hug goodbye.

Her dog, Sam, who seems like a really good boy, greeted me when I arrived and then rolled over to offer me his belly.

I put the gift bag containing the box of cremains on the passenger seat, took the pleasant, scenic route home and cried.

I have parent packets to assemble for an upcoming presentation, but I think I’ll just sit here awhile with Dixie and Lambchop, listen to the birds chirp

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and rest my sad soul.

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Maximus Aurelius Rodriguez
March 7, 2003 – May 8, 2018
Good, good boy.

 

 

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life, Light

Manipulation & Weenies

“Christian manipulation at its finest,” my daughter said, as she walked into the kitchen.

“Let’s hear it.”

She proceeded to read a Facebook message from some random guy who wants to connect:

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[link removed]

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Free Dream Interpretation Line?

Needless to say, she denied the request.

“It isn’t the same kind of manipulation,” I said, “but it reminds me of a time, when I was your age, that I received a letter in the mail at work.  It started, ‘Dear Julie, You are unattractive, no one likes you and you are a failure at work…’ The letter continued to insult me for several paragraphs before inviting me to a seminar on self-esteem.

What? You’re going to tear down my self-esteem and then invite me to pay you $250 to build it back up?

Unfortunately for the letter’s sender, I was really cute back then, had lots of friends, and I had just received a raise, so I couldn’t have been too much a failure at work…”

Manipulation of the Weeny Sort.

The hub was away fishing this morning so my daughter and I went out for breakfast. Over omelets and pancakes she told a familiar tale of manipulation of the weeny sort.  One of her friends, who has been seriously dating the assistant minister of a hip downtown church, just got dumped.  They had been dating for a very (4+ years) long time.

“He probably said something like, ‘The Lord told me it isn’t His will for me to continue in this relationship,’ ” she said, “because that’s what they always say.”

They being the “fine” Christian men who date, dump and then blame it on God.

“Four years of her life,” my daughter said, shaking her head, “and then trying to pass himself off as all spiritual.”

“If I were the young woman being dumped,” I said, “I’d want to know whether God mentioned anything to him about the relationship not being His will FOUR YEARS AGO.”

Because the fact is, he’s a jerk.  He can pretend that the break-up is him being all godly and obedient, but where was his obedience 4 years ago?

If the relationship is not God’s will now, then the relationship was not His will then. So either he ignored God then, or God has nothing to do with it.

Chances are good that it was the hip young minister’s idea to date her – take her off the market for 4+ years with no intention of marrying her – and it was the hip young minister’s idea to dump her.

Because God doesn’t string people along.

“I want to smack him silly,” I said as I finished my orange juice, “because how is anyone supposed to argue with, ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah … and I must be obedient to God.'”

As if God has any part in breaking a young woman’s heart.

 

 

 

 

 

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faith, love, the friends

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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Jesus, Light, love

Of Course He Does

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My daughter was in her crib napping and I was on my bed wrestling.  Weeping, wrestling, clutching my Bible and searching.  Searching for answers, searching for relief, searching for a way out of the wilderness.  I felt like Israel, wandering in the desert, forsaken by God.  But how had I gotten there? What fatal mistake had I made?  In what ways was I a worse wife than the others in my young marrieds class?  One of them had an affair.  Why was she still married and not me?  I asked God, “Am I Israel?”

He nudged my thoughts to the New Testament and to verses that spoke of His love for me.  Forget those, I thought, because clearly He doesn’t.  I kept turning my attention back to the Old Testament wilderness passages trying to find the way out.

My defining moment.

Finally He said, “You are going to have to make a choice.  You can believe what your circumstances say about my love for you, or you can believe what I say about my love for you.”  I chose to believe Him.  Months of wrestling came to an end in that one defining moment and, with a deep and cleansing sigh, I curled up and fell asleep.  He knew how my marriage was going to end the day I said I do.  He knew I did not believe in divorce and yet He allowed it anyway.  He loved me and He allowed it.  There were no cracks in His fingers through which I had fallen.  I hadn’t made a fatal mistake.

His defining moment.

I had been a Christian for eight years, and the divorce was my first faith-testing experience.  I wouldn’t have another for seventeen years.  My daughter had just gone off to college, when a sudden fall set off a string of strange neurological symptoms that baffled a string of doctors.  I sat on my sofa day after day trying to distract my fearful thoughts by watching movies as I waited to die.  It occurred to me that maybe God didn’t care about me as much as I thought He did.  Perhaps I had been foolish to think He cared about me at all.  I teetered between hope and despair until He finally reminded me of His defining moment.  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

One step further.

“Okay,” I thought a few weeks later as I was washing my tear-streaked face, “He loves us.  But does He love me?”  I had always felt special to Him because I loved Him so much, but maybe I wasn’t.

As I grabbed the hand towel He reminded me of the day He called my name.  He reminded me of the following night when He revealed Himself to me.  It was a glorious revealing.  He made me His own.  Knowing that I would let Him down, knowing that I would let myself and others down, knowing every bit of my past, present and future, He chose me.  “Why would I call you into a relationship with Me and show Myself to you, only to abandon you?”, He asked.  I love it when He reasons with me.  He reminded me of everything I love about His character, His plans, His stick-to-itiveness.  He wouldn’t adopt me as His child and then turn His back on me.  He isn’t a bad parent.  He finishes the good work He begins in us.  He accomplishes His purposes.  He isn’t lazy or distracted.

“But Christians sometimes die in their prime, when their ministries are thriving and there is still work to be done,” I countered.  “So there is no guarantee I will recover.”

“If you do not recover, it won’t be because I don’t care or because I am not paying attention or because I am unable.  It will be because it is time to come home.  And if it is your time and my will, you will have peace.”

I thought of the peace He gave my sister – still gives her – as she battles cancer.  And that is when I realized that it wasn’t God who was trying to kill me, it was the author of fear.  If there is fear, then God’s hand is not in it.  And since the presence of fear proved the strange illness was from the devil’s hand, I was going to be okay because God is stronger.  God loves us.  God loves me.  I rested in that and I recovered.

More defining moments.

Job’s defining moments came when he resolved, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” and when he realized that “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

Peter’s greatest moment came not with words, but with action.  After he denied Christ thrice, after he threw his best friend under the bus to save his own skin, he got back up and walked with Him.  Not as one who was just barely forgiven, but as one who was amazing. (Acts 2:14-41)

Those are the moments the Holy Spirit illuminates when I am struggling.

I wrote this post to say, “Of course He loves you, sweet Shazzameena.”

He sees the ministry that happens at your table, your hospitality.  He gave you gifts and He is not going to waste them.  He is not wasteful, He is perfect. He saw you clambering over stone walls to see the old well.  He saw you noticing the stain-glassed window.  He heard your heart on the way home saying you want to be remembered as a sower of His word and He smiled.  He loves how you love Him.

Beth Moore shared something sweet in the Bible study video I watched yesterday:

God to Beth:  “Don’t say, ‘I love you’ to Me.  Say, ‘I love you, too.’  Because I am always saying it first.”

I like that.

Our defining moments, as tough and heartbreaking and scary as they are, are designed to bring us to the place where we “come to know and believe (once and for all, but with occasional need for reminders) the love God has for us.”  1 John 4:16a

Does God see you?  Does He love you?  He chose you, dear child.  Remember that day? That was the day He answered “Yes!”  Forever.

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