Tag Archives: love

More than JUST a Dog

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On Wednesday evening, January 18, we said goodbye to our family’s faithful canine companion whose full name was Beechwood’s Peter Rabbit, but who was affectionately known simply as Pete. He was 14 and a half years old, had been with us since he was a pup, lived in four states, seven homes, and was the most wonderful goofball of a Springer Spaniel I’ve ever encountered. He was more than JUST a dog.

Pete’s heart was strong right up to the end, even though his body was fast failing him. I’m convinced his big heart was so full of love for us that he kept on going on the strength of that alone. This good dog would just gaze at us with eyes full of love, and he was always girls-pete-2002there with a lick, a nuzzle, and warm fur coat ready to hug after a hard or horrible day. Even the best of days were better with Pete because of his zest for living. You see, he was more than JUST a dog.

It’s taken me a while to write about Pete’s death because of my grief and because the decision to euthanize him was one of the toughest I’ve had to make. It was, I am certain, the right thing to do. Pete had reached the point where his back legs were no longer supporting him, he was losing control of his bodily functions on a regular basis, and the neon signs of doggy dementia were clearly evident. Still, it was an agonizing choice because Pete was much more than JUST a dog.

This good boy walked with our family through some really tough times. We drenched his brown and white fur with our tears on many occasions. He carried us in his paws of love and loyalty through a difficult and traumatic divorce, through the aches and pains of two daughters’ growing up, and through my bout with breast cancer. One of my most treasured memories of Pete is the image of him curled up at my feet after every chemo treatment watching me, never taking his eyes off me to make sure I was going to be all right. Pete held so much of our family’s pain, fears, hopes, and dreams in that big heart of his with no  expectations beyond our affection and a few biscuits. When I married the love of my life five plus years ago, Pete gladly transferred some of his allegiance to Rob. Pete had more than enough love to go around. He was just that kind of dog, and he was way more than JUST a dog.

Pete was eight when a pickup truck clipped him, and we almost lost him. He came through the ordeal in typical Pete style, and although he spent the rest of his days on a daily regimen of drugs, really never missed a beat. Sometimes I wondered if anything could do that dog in. One Christmas he managed to get an entire pan of rising yeast rolls off of the counter and into his belly before any of us could get into the kitchen. Then we learned what rising yeast does in a warm, moist tummy. His poor stomach ballooned up, and we spent a long time walking the miserable pup around town trying to get him to rescind his potentially deadly snack. He did, but rather than outside he chose to deposit his yeasty offering on the blue carpet right in front of the Christmas tree.  Oh, Pete. You were much more than JUST a dog.

The boy definitely had no governor on his appetite. Throughout his life he downed entire pans of brownies, plates of cookies, assorted sandwiches, pounds of ham, steaks stolen off plates, a large bag of brown sugar, and a pound of Kilwin’s dark chocolate truffles with a wag of nub and happy-go-lucky-but-guilty look on his face. Pete had a sideways stealth move that was second to none. From kibble to groundhog and everything in between, the boy surely enjoyed his victuals. Even so, he was so much more than JUST a dog.

img_0363Dogs may be  man’s [sic] best friend, but Pete was definitely this woman’s faithful companion and sounding board, and I miss him so much. One of my seminary professors, the late Rev. Dr. Sue Hedahl, often quipped that “dog” is “God” spelled backwards. Maybe that helps explain our canine companions’ purpose in our lives, to help show that unmerited, unconditional love of our Creator. Oh yes, Pete was more than JUST a dog.

We tried to make Pete’s last day with us as good for him as possible. We bought him a McDonald’s cheeseburger and cut it into pieces which he ate bite by bite with clear relish. He enjoyed a Starbuck’s “pupaccino” (whipped cream in an espresso cup). When I told the barista what the occasion was she wrote his name on the cup and drew a paw print. He even had a photo shoot thanks to Aaron Amato Photography. I give special thanks to the wonderful and compassionate team at Colonial Park Animal Clinic for how they handled this difficult step. This great group of folks truly cared for our beloved boy, and they showed it in spades that January night. Thank you. I know you all understand that Pete was more than JUST a dog.

Pete’s cremains came home in a lovely carved box this week, and it’s good to have at least some element of him back. Part of me wishes he came with instructions “mix with water and watch your puppy come bounding back into your life.” But none of us, no creature, is meant to live forever in these flesh, blood, and bone bodies. There’s much more to life and death and eternity than that. I take comfort in the scientific principle that matter doesn’t go out of existence but only changes form (sorry for the non-scientific way of saying img_0231this) and in the words of the writer of Colossians

So spacious is he [Christ], so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. (1:19-20, The Message)

You see, Pete was more than JUST a dog to me and to my family. If you have pets I’m pretty sure you understand what I mean. Another way to spell dog, I think, is L-O-V-E pure and simple, and love never dies. Knowing that, I’ll just gaze into the clear night skies and try to see my beloved Springer Pete romping as floppy-eared stardust across the cosmos with his brother and litter-mate Fred by his side. Good dog, Pete. Good, good dog.

Photos: Black and white photo courtesy Aaron Amato Photography.

 

Bittersweet

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We were on the road at 5:00 a.m. today. Let me be clear that there is not enough caffeine in the world to make that hour palatable to my taste. But there was a plane to catch–at Dulles. So the daughter and I headed out into the fuzziness of night breaking into morning to send her back to the Twin Cities where husband, dogs, work, friends, and her life are located.

If roadtrips were ascribed gustatory characteristics, then this early morning sojourn would definitely taste of bittersweet. I’ve done it twice in one week (it being putting daughters on planes), first to BWI and now to Dulles, one to London and the other to the heartland. Both trips have left a dual taste of sadness and gladness in my mouth.

I am glad that both daughters have launched into “adulthood” (for what that’s worth) and continue to develop into unique and amazing individuals. I am sad because each time I send them from the safe arms of home into the hum and pitch of this beautiful, broken world I am reminded of the fleeting and precious nature of life and relationship.

Yes, bittersweet is the flavor of the day. I can own that reality. I can drink that cup of co-mingled joy and sorrow. And, I can truly say that I am grateful for every minute of their precious, wild, and wonderful lives. I send them into this world knowing that they do not “belong” to me but rather to the Creator of all that was, is, and is to come, to the cosmos and the grand human narrative. They are meant to live their own lives, make decisions, face consequences, craft their futures. And that is as it should be.

How thankful I am to be part of their that journey, to be connected to their stories, to hold them in my heart. I raise a glass of bittersweet tears, and I suspect some of you will understand this toast all too clearly. Here’s to holding loosely and to letting go. Here’s to drawing wide hopeful margins with myriad colors. Here’s to love that lets love take flight.

Photo: Benson Kua, Creative Commons. Thank you!

Nurture Relationships

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you were able to tell the ones you love how very much you love them. Better yet, I hope you were able to show your love in a variety of simple, kind, and generous ways.

So what does Valentine’s Day have to do with keeping a simple Lent? The answer is nothing and everything. The commercial celebration we are urged and guilted into celebrating has nothing to do with Lent. The idea of love–of God, neighbor, and self–has everything to do with today.

…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. — Mark 12:30-31

A simple Lent begins with tending to those things most important in our lives–God, neighbor, and self. Our fast-paced hyper-connected world tries to tell us that many things demand our attention, our time, and our money; however, this is a lie.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:21

Our needs as human beings are quite simple–food, shelter, clothes, and relationships. If we strip away all the extraneous “stuff” of life and focus on the basics, then life begins to look quite different. We find ourselves equipped to really live each precious minute.

Whoever and whatever you value–that’s where your time, your attention, your focus, your money, and your heart will be. To keep a Simple Lent spend some time this week reflecting on the three scripture passages above and on whom and what you treasure.

Choose wisely; if you do not, your heart will surely be fragmented, broken, and battered by the storms of this world.

Photo by Alice Popkorn. Thanks!

Hungry

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. — Mother Teresa

Last night a teenager in the school district where the church I serve is located completed suicide. Evidently she posted her intentions on Facebook. I don’t know the details, and I didn’t know the young woman, but I do understand the incredible hunger for love, acceptance, and appreciation that so many people feel.

Not everyone has strong families, wide networks of support and friendship, and vibrant faith communities to combat the pain, emptiness, and utter loneliness of depression, bullying, addictions, or difference. Life can be really, really hard.

My heart hurts for this young woman, for her family, her friends, all who knew her at school, and for the community left behind trying to make sense of this deep sadness and painful loss of a life cut short. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, five children or teens commit suicide each day. That’s a lot of pain and hunger for love and acceptance.

My prayer and hope is that we would all find ways to feed those who are hungry both in body and spirit. May we seek ways to be more compassionate and merciful. And may we make our schools and houses of worship safe spaces where all may be fed–without judgment and with open arms.

Thanks-Living Action

Beginning tomorrow consider doing three things each day:

1. Tell the people you love that you love them. Really look at them. Smile. Give them the gift of your time and attention.

2. Do at least one kind act for a stranger. Spread kindness and compassion lavishly; in doing so you will make the world just a little bit better.

3. Do something kind for someone you find difficult to love. Listen to that person. Try to see life from his or her perspective. Remember that your smile or kind word may be a lifesaver to someone in the midst of despair or loneliness.

And remember these words…

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.  ― Thomas Merton

…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27

Photo by tjook and Charles Kremenak. Thanks!

Faith in One Another

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I’ve given up on so and so. It/he/she just isn’t worth the effort anymore.” It might be a friend, a faith community, an organization, or even a family member. Or maybe you’ve been privy to conversations about the dire state and depravity of humankind in general. When the mind starts spiraling in this direction, it becomes easy to become “oh, so negative,” as my friends Allen and Sally are fond of saying.

Of course, negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts, and pretty soon the person thinking them becomes a real “Debbie Downer.” Think, I’m exaggerating? Try this little experiment: for 24 hours watch nothing but news channels (FOX, MSNBC, CNN, or any other 24-hour news outlet or combination thereof). I guarantee you’ll feel more agitated, negative, and nervy than before you began.

Instead, vow to believe in the innate goodness of humankind, indeed of all creation. For folks who read the Torah or Old Testament, the first chapter of Genesis repeatedly chronicles the Creator proclaiming the creation “good” and “very good.” That means God doesn’t create bad, broken stuff.

Sure, we can get bumped, scuffed, scraped, and broken as we journey through life. Some folks are REALLY broken and as a result do horrible things to innocent people. Some individuals act just plain mean. Evil is very real. Still…for the good of all  of us, I believe we must never, ever give up faith in humankind. Gandhi’s words are every bit as true today as they were when he first spoke/wrote them.

Or as the unknown Johannine teacher wrote in 1 John, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7).

Believe in the presence of good and in the restorative power of love. Keep the faith–and the faith in each other.

Thanksliving Action:

Need some positive information? Check out dailygood.org for good news that inspires and uplifts.

Photo by lel4nd. Thanks!

The Power of Blessing

The love and affection of the angels be to you,

The love and affection of the saints be to you,

The love and affection of heaven be to you,

To guard and cherish you.

May God shield you on every steep,

May Christ aid you on every path,

May Spirit fill you on every slope,

On hill and on plain.

May the king shield you in the valleys,

May Christ aid you on the mountains,

May Spirit bathe you on the slopes,

In hollow, on hill, on plain,

Mountain, valley and plain.

— from the Carmina Gadelica (484–577)*

There is real power in blessing one another, and it’s a  power we too often fail to harness. In a world that can weary and batter the soul, a blessing offered in love and truth restores and revives the spirit.

A colleague in ministry posted on Facebook how her young daughter came to her after a particularly difficult day and offered her a blessing. This intuitive child understood the power of blessing her mother, a simple yet profound act that this mother and pastor will ponder in her heart for years to come even though her daughter may remember it only from her mother’s recounting of the story.

When was the last time you offered someone a blessing? When was the last time you received one from someone other than a pastor, priest, or rabbi?

The world would be a far better place if we would reclaim the art of blessing one another. Blessing transcends the boundaries and forges connections. Whether you actively practice a life of faith or whether you simply believe in the inherent goodness of creation and humankind, try adding one simple blessing a day, even if it is only one whispered under your breath–a silent wish that someone will have a good day, a good life, and all good things. Bless the one who cuts you off in traffic. Bless the emergency responders when you hear the fire alarm or see the flashing lights. Bless your life’s partner and your children. Bless your parents. Bless. Bless. Bless. You cannot go wrong wishing good on another.

*From Wikipedia: The Carmina Gadelica is a collection of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, runes, and other literary-folkloric poems and songs collected and translated by amateur folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1855 and 1910. (Thanks to Daniel Clendenin of Journey with Jesus for posting this lovely poem/blessing!)

Photos by Bless_Pictures and Evelyn Giggles. Thanks!

Longest Night

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. — John 1:5

Read:  John 1:1-9, 14

Ponder:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reflect:

Well, the world didn’t end today. Surprise! Surprise! It was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in south central Pennsylvania it was a chilly, gray day complete with a few snow flurries. Night settled in all too fast, and the wind has been howling through the screens ever since.

The good news is that in a few hours, dawn will break. It may be another gray winter day, but the promise of shorter nights and warmer days begins tomorrow. The darkness will never permanently be with us. There is always hope and light and love.

Thanks-Living:

Give thanks for the light. Do something today to spread a little light and a little love. It can be as simple as a smile or as generous as a gift of time or resources. You know the needs; you can be that light.

Photo by Balaji Dutt. Thanks!

Thanks Enough

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Read: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Ponder:

“For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.” — William Blake

Reflect:

Committing to a life thanks-living means expressing thanks in all conditions and at all times. The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about being thankful in any situation. Even while imprisoned in Rome with an uncertain future, Paul still found time to give thanks for the communities he had helped to mentor on his missionary journeys.

The baser side of our human nature encourages us to think of what we do not have. Whatever is bad, sad, or ugly in our lives floats to the surface like toxic flotsam. It clouds the waters of our perception and prevents us from seeing all the blessings of God.

Today try to see the world through Paul’s eyes. If that doesn’t work for you, read some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work.  I recommend The Cost of Discipleship for starters. Click here to read excerpts. To read an inspiring story about finding the best in the worst of situations, click here to read the story of two men who forged a friendship from the ashes of anger and death. If your thoughts turn to the negative, take a deep breath and find something to praise or something for which to be thankful. Remember that you are where you are and who you thanks to the work, love, and sacrifice of many others, including Jesus who gives you life forever.

Thanks-Living:

Today make a list of people and things for which you are thankful. Give thanks to God for your many blessings. Call or write one person on your list to let them know that you prayed for them and give joyful thanks for them. Take delight in the life you have this day.

Lift

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To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. /O my God, in your I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. — Psalm 25:1-2

Read: Psalm 25:1-5

Ponder:

“He came down from heaven” can almost be transposed into “Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death are, from before all worlds, known by God from within. The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned? — C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

Reflect:

Yes, light walks the earth so that we can lift our weary faces and souls to the LORD and be renewed. Despite the shortening of the days and longer shadows of night, the bright, crisp morning light dawns to cheer and warm. Turn your face to the light. Lift up your soul to the Creator of atoms and ants, mountains and molecules, water and wonder. Can you feel it in your bones? Listen. Do you hear the breathe of heaven and hum of creation? The LORD of Word and Light is drawing you–and all of creation–into pure love. The days are surely coming when all will be made new.

Lift your soul. Lift your heart and hurts and hopes. Lift your hands in praise and prayer. The Advent of the LORD is here. God is with you. God has always been and will be, speaking and spinning the cosmos into a web of redemption. And you, you dear child, are being lifted into that coming reality. God quickens and readies the Christ child to enter again into the manger of your heart. Kindle the fires of this season of waiting and preparation and anticipation. Put your trust in the Light that the powers, principalities, and darkness of this age cannot overcome. Wait this day with a glad and thankful heart. Your salvation draws near.

Thanks-Living:

Resolve to avoid all that seeks to separate you from the Light of Creator God on this second day of Advent. Take several mini-breaks to pray, breath, look, and listen. See how that last leaf hangs tenaciously on the branch outside your window. Observe the joy of a child at play. Savor a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. Tell as many people as you can that you love them.

Lift and be lifted. Make this a day of waiting–all day long–anticipating and expecting the Divine presence to lead you.

Photo by martinak15. Thanks!

The Basics

This past Saturday my spouse and I, along with a couple of really cool women from his congregation, had the privilege of preparing and serving the noon meal at the Gettysburg Area Soup Kitchen. Another generous family from the same congregation funded the purchase of the food.

We made Sloppy Joes (a.k.a barbeques) from scratch, and served them with salad and chips, and homemade peach pie and zucchini bread for dessert. We served 36 people, a dozen of whom were young children. Including the four of us, 40 good meals were enjoyed.

Some of the dinner guests share their stories; others choose not to divulge much about their personal lives. Medical difficulties are a common theme, and several of the guests have chronic conditions that compromised their livelihoods and ability to work or have been devastated financially by healthcare costs. One guest was dealing with a medical issue but had no health insurance. Among the guests were single parents–both male and female, white and of color. The youngest guest was a toddler, and the oldest appeared to be several years past retirement. All were courteous, polite, and gracious.

It was humbling to realize that it is only by the grace of God and the help of family and friends that I was able to serve. Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time I was in seminary, had just gone through a rough divorce, and was rearing two daughters with no child support. I was riding the razor edge of financial insecurity, but thankfully many hands and hearts helped us through that rough time. We always had a roof over our heads, food to eat, work to do, and more than enough. It was tough sledding for awhile, but we were among the fortunate ones. Not all are so lucky, and times are even tougher now.

It’s too easy to make sweeping generalizations about poverty and those who live close to the margins. When we do, however, we don’t see the whole picture or learn the story behind the person. The New York Times featured a fine photo essay about homelessness on Sunday, and the latest edition of American Life in Poetry featured a striking poem by Minne Bruce Pratt entitled “Temporary Job.” Both the photos and poem help put a face on a complex issue and remind us that each person, regardless of station in life, is a beloved child of the Creator of the universe.

Mercy, compassion, kindness, generosity, and relationship are among the world’s greatest needs. Yes, we all need the basics–food, water, and shelter–but we need more to thrive. We need each other, the richest and the poorest among us. We have much to learn from one another, and all of us have something important to share and contribute. When we stand (or sit at the table) together as equal partners and children of the Creator amazing things can happen.

Small acts of kindness can spread sweet like honey between the most unlikely of folks. Sloppy Joes shared with strangers and friends can be a feast of love and grace. When hearts and minds are open barriers fall away and basic human dignity blurs the lines between serving and receiving. That is how it should be; all of us need to give generously, and all of us need to learn to receive gratefully. Above all, we need to learn to love and serve one another lavishly. That just about covers the basics, doesn’t it?

(Photos courtesy kirinqueen and sblezard. Thanks!)