Saturday, April 30, 2011

Heart Dogs

Blogging the Baptist Hymnal...Page 3..."All Creatures of Our God and King"

It seems that everywhere I turn the past week, friends are excited about new dogs or cats in their lives, posting about dogs that need to be rescued or saying good-bye to a beloved child with fur. So when I saw that today's hymn was the one mentioned above I knew I had to write about animals. But no matter where my thoughts led me I couldn't get past writing anything I liked better than the blog I wrote last year about my Buster and Josie. So if you have read this one in the past, forgive me for the repeat or perhaps even read it again. If you haven't read it....this is my love story regarding the beautiful spirits I was entrusted with by our God and King.  Dedicated to Joanna and her Bailey.

I was never much of an animal person. Not intentionally....just never had all. My folks weren't keen on animals in the house...or how expensive they could be. So we just never owned so much as a hamster. My lack of interaction with dogs became sort of a fear of them later in life as much as an "I don't really like dogs" sort of attitude. I recall a friend of a roommate coming to spend the night and she brought her small dog. I used the no-dogs-allowed in our apartment building as an excuse to send her over to another friend's house. Sheesh. I just didn't like dogs.

Then I married a man who from the get-go dreamed of having a dog...a Labrador in particular...a Yellow Lab to be exact. For the first ten years of our marriage, whenever he saw a Lab, this usually reserved- to-the-point-of-being-boring-man would say "Woof!" No matter where he was or who was listening. I sensed that a dog might bring out the best in him.

I'm not even sure what happened to make it finally seem like I couldn't put it off any longer. Maybe if was the fact that I realized he would never want children. I didn't either...if truth be told, so I thought a dog might fill the gap I felt existed in our marriage. I said ok...get a dog...have your Lab...but he's got to stay out in the yard...and no dogs on the bed! I regretted the ok as soon as I said it.

In June of 1992...something amazing happened in my life and I would never even come close to being the same again. He was 8 weeks old, weighed not much... And chewed on everything in sight. He got into the trash, ate my shoes, piddled on the carpet and was a general handful. His name was Buster and he changed my life. I was referred to as Mommy and I was never alone again. It took me a few months to open up my heart to this little, yellow guy, after all I had never loved an animal before... but when it happened the world was a different place from that point on. And limit him to the yard and no getting on the bed? Fahgettaboutit. Never happened.
My first husband was a well-known jazz musician and he was gone 6 months out of the year. I loved my time alone....but I didn't like being lonely. Now that I think about it...even when he was home I was lonely. But Buster was always by my side in a way that only a dog can be....and he taught me how to be a better person. With him came patience, humor, sweetness, unconditional love and puppy breath. I was hooked. I was completely and totally in love with a much younger guy who never kept score, never judged me and who lived for the moment I walked in the door. A year later we got his Chocolate female counterpart and I had a family. Buster and Josie...oh yeah...and what's his name.

With the addition of Josie it was very different experience. I had a year as a dog-mom and I knew what that meant. When we picked up this little brown girl I was in love immediately. Buster had taught me how to do that. I named her after the feisty heroine in the novel I was writing and she proceeded to rule the roost. She was 10 weeks old and she took sticks right out of Buster's mouth, hid his toys (or at least it looked like that's what she was doing) and in general told him how it was gonna be. The sweet, gentle guy that he was....let her have her way. He never got rough with her. The first time we put her in "Buster's Pool" he sat beside it and looked at me as if to say..."'ve GOT to be kidding." They slept next to each other for 11 years. She would whine and look out the window if he went somewhere without her, and years later when she lost her sight, he would get between her and any other dog we passed. Buster and Josie....those 3 words were really one word.

When what's-his-name ran off with what's-her-name I said give me the television and the dogs and be on your merry way. He left for Barcelona and I left the t.v. on for the dogs. During the emotional few months that followed the end of a 20 year marriage...I had my dogs. They slept with me, got me outside when I would have preferred to stay behind closed blinds, smiled at me when I used my Mommy voice and when I cried Buster would actually worry. Even if he was in the other room or sound asleep, if he heard me crying he would literally get in my face. More than once he wiped my tears away....with a big Labrador tongue, his tail wagging telling me it was okay. He was the man in my life now and he seemed to know it. I can't even begin to imagine going through what I did without these amazing creatures by my side. Josie began to lose her sight when she was nine and for the next six years keeping her safe and secure was one of my main goals in life. Even completely blind she was such a happy dog...she was my girl.
Two years later I met Logan and he and the boys opened up their hearts and their home to me and my two dog-kids. You know a man loves you when he takes in you, a slowing, aging old boy and a completely blind girl. He understood they were my children, he understood they were where all my maternal instincts had been devoted for many years...he understood these two were my heart dogs.

Five years ago I lost Buster suddenly. On Sunday evening he was Thursday he was gone. I was there with him at the Vet and I stayed with him almost until the end and then I got overwhelmed...and scared. I had never experienced anything like this before. Logan took my place. I couldn't do it. Needless to say I came to regret that decision, but it was done and Buster Man had a guy who loved him very much seeing him through to the end...his head on Logan's lap. Josie looked for him for days. My big yellow guy was gone. A week later, on my birthday, I received his ashes. No finer gift.

And just a little over two years ago, Josie, who lived to be 15 years old, told me she had had enough. I knew I would know when it was time and I did. This time I stayed to the end. Logan, Tate and I sat on the floor with her and she went on to the Rainbow Bridge with all three of us touching her and telling her we loved her. That's exactly how I want to go, thank you.

So now I know. Now I know what it's like to receive pure love. Pure. Love. And I know what it's like to be devoted to an animal. To have a place inside me come so alive that it never dies...even when they do. What an amazing gift God has given us with these beautiful, warm creatures we are privileged to spend our lives with. And still they are here with me. Not in some weird, macabre way, but in that way that you are not the same because they were here. Their collars hang casually at the end of our balustrade and once in awhile I touch them and am reminded of the amazing personalities that once wore them. I am so thankful for them. In the last couple years of Josie's life she would find her way to the bedroom at night and search out her blanket. I would sometimes say out loud "Good night, Miss Josie, Mommy loves you" so she would know I was there. Now I say it out loud once in awhile to remind me that she is there.

And so life goes on. I have had moments, though, when I am sad about one thing or another and thoughts of these two come to me and I feel a moment of surprise that I have actually been able to go on without them. But I honor them even today when I teach. In Collage Camp quite a few members chose to do a piece with an image of the dog or cat (or horse) they had loved and lost as their theme image. Such beautiful work was done. And when I teach my "Beloved Book" class we get a chance to create a 6-8 page fabric collage book during a two-day therapeutic workshop. This is an amazing two days that have made a difference in people's lives. And so their legacy lives on.

Thank you Buster and Josie for all you have done for me. I will never stop loving you. And one day when my Father in Heaven welcomes me home and all my family is there to greet me...they will have to wait for their embrace, because Buster and Josie will get to me first. Happy Dogs. Healthy Dogs. Heart Dogs.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Excelling at Love

Blogging the Baptist Hymnal... "Love Divine, All Love's Excelling"   Page 2

I don't know if you've noticed lately, but there is a bit of a quiet revolution going on in the world of Believers who are not satisfied with what is being done today in the name of Christianity. It's a simmering stew of folks from all walks of life who are looking at this whole thing a little differently. And when I say simmering, I don't mean as about to boil into an angry mob, I mean simmering as in slow-cooking, great smells in the air all day, ready for a feast when it's ready-type simmering. It's a Love Stew and it's on the menu in cities big and small all over the country.

Way back in the late 60's, I was part of an amazing thing that moved across America. Hippies found Jesus and suddenly The Way of the Master was a cool thing and the Jesus Movement somehow made its way into even my little Southern Baptist church in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I was about 14-ish when I heard my first message by a groovy guy with hair long enough to give Moses a run for his manna...and being a girl who never in her life had the word cool attached to a sentence with her name in it...well I was hooked. Here was a way....One we groovy people called love me some Jesus and be accepted all in one fell swoop.

But a revolution, as this surely was, by definition means turning the people around to a whole new way of life and leaving the old behind. The Jesus Movement didn't go over so well with the old guard who wanted things to stay the same. We had a new American Revolution on the that took the words of Jesus seriously. ("The Red Letters are coming! The Red Letters are coming!") Some didn't like these young up-starts telling them how to love their neighbor. They knew perfectly well how to do long as neighbor was defined as someone who looked like you, talked like you and didn't rock the boat you had built.  They were not so big on melding a family out of just an old material. The Anointed Groovy Ones tried to show them a different way....a way of accepting all peoples and reaching out to the least of these...not just bringing things to the poor every Christmas, but asking the poor to join them every day of the year. The Elders (those Non-Melders) didn't want those words pointed out to all. They stuck to their preferred passages and ignored the ones about loving your neighbor and giving your coat to the cold. I think they were just a little more comfy with a God who was angry and cast people out...their kind of guy.

I see it happening again....this 21st century version of the Jesus Movement...complete with Jesus Freaks and enough Love to sink an Ark. It's happening and I am old enough now to dig feeling groovy about this new revolution in a way I couldn't at 14. This time I get the love-thing in a way that you can only get when you have spent your life looking out for with a capital M. Suddenly there is an answer to the dreariness that long ago took over your interior weather patterns because YOU have been the only cloud in the sky.  Love 'em like Jesus. That's what's in my forecast...and it doesn't even have to be hard! Just set out everyday to be kind to those who cross your path. To help someone when you have the means to help them. There are soooo many hurting people in the world. 

When books like "Crazy Love", "Love Revolution" and "Irresistible Revolution" (three books that changed my life) are bestsellers...then I'm feelin' the winds of change and I'm praying for a big ol' storm. When you see it coming....don't run for the basement. Stand on the roof and say "Here! Over Here!"  I for one am truly welcoming this revolution that is sick and tired of things being done in the name of Jesus that don't have anything to do with the life he gave us as an example. Love. He was all about the love.

"God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power...and he went about doing good..." Acts 10:38


Monday, April 25, 2011

Holy Times Three

Blogging my way through the Baptist Hymnal...Page 1..."Holy, Holy, Holy."

I think it's kinda interesting that the first song in the songbook that I am using to get blog ideas for for the next say, oh 500 entries or so (hope you're not doing anything for the next 3 years) is about the Trinity. Fitting, I would say for The Trinity and the Trailer Park. Holy, Holy, for each of Them.

In February they were all three in the car with me when I headed out for a road trip to Arizona in the middle of historic cold temps here in Colorado. It was fifteen BELOW in the daylight hours when I headed south. I had left a day later than I wanted to because we had had snow and the cold temps were making it stay put and the roads weren't safe. I waited for the danger to pass....or so I thought.

One of the things that I always do when I head out on these solo road trips in a ten-year-old Saturn is to pray for, what they call in the south, travelin' mercies. I pray days ahead of time for God to begin clearing the roads of anything that could bring me harm. The too-tired driver that will be heading my way...keep him at home. The deer that would dart out in the highway....let him find a salt-lick far from the roads. I don't know what potential dangers there are...but Holy, Holy and Holy do...and I pray for them to move into action. I put an angel on the roof of my car and one in the road ahead of me. I apologize to my winged-warriors for the frigid temps. And I literally say out loud (I talk out loud a lot) "Angels on the car, Lord. Angels on the car."

So I head out on the road this bitterly cold day, with angel wings clearing the roads, knowing the end result will be Scottsdale and sunshine. With the exception of a scary few minutes driving over a high-elevation pass that was still getting snow...the roads were clear and dry and I zipped right along. At the Colorado/New Mexico border the sun came out. Leave it to New Mexico to give me bright blue skies...still cold as heck, but blue skies make you feel the worst is over.

Dang tricky blue skies.

So I made a decision going over Raton Pass. I would make up lost time and get to Las Vegas, New Mexico. This was my best shot at making it to Phoenix by Friday night...seeing as how this was Thursday night and I had a class beginning Saturday morning in a Phoenix suburb. But you see....once you make a decision to leave Raton in your rear view mirror there is no turning back. It's 100 miles of beautiful, but barren land with exits that like to proudly proclaim that they have No Services. Las Vegas is the oasis (if you can call it that) at the end of this stretch in no man's land. Now I knew this would put me on this stretch of road for about a half hour after dark. After dark is something I don't do when I am traveling by myself...but I thought 30 minutes was doable and worth it to get me further down the road. I knew of a lovely little cheap motel in LV that had my name written on the door

Funny thing about those rural New Mexico roads after a snowstorm.....some are plowed and some not so in haven't been touched. And as soon as darkness fell guess which kind I ran into?  Yep. Not so plowed. And it gets better! The roads were so snow-packed that you couldn't see the center line, or the side of the road. My cell phone was close to being dead and I didn't know where my car-charger was AND it was now waaaay below zero. The good news was that no vehicles were flying up behind me on the road....and the bad news vehicles were flying up behind me on the road. Can you say desolate? Oh I did have one or two semi's pass me and the reality of how cold it was was pretty clear. Even with the heat vents blowing heat up onto the windshield...their icy spray was freezing onto my windshield immediately. If I went off the road the cold would be more dangerous eventually than anything.

Angels on the car, Lord. Angels on the car.

Now I could have spent my time telling myself what big trouble I was in and berating myself for making this decision or I could come up with a plan. Deep breath. Four way flashers on. Take it down to 35 and do NOT think of the 50 miles that still lay ahead. Take it one mile at a time. Heck take it one minute at a time. Inch by inch. That was my plan. Oh and singing...I decided to sing out loud in the car. I asked the angels to join me...but they said they were a little preoccupied with keeping me alive. So the only harmony in the car was the one I felt between me and God.

I sang at the top of my lungs and the song that seemed to calm me the most was a contemporary Christian song called "Holy, Holy, Holy"   I decided to do this rather than feeling panic and gripping the steering wheel (ok I was gripping the steering wheel) and crying in fear. If I concentrated on praise....the Great Distractor would not know what to do with me and would find another night-traveler to pick on. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.

Two hours later I was on an exit ramp that HAD services and that little hotel was right where I remembered it to be. And let me tell you something....a suite at the Plaza Hotel wouldn't have felt any more wonderful than that little motel room. The heat was on, it was toasty AND it  had a microwave. And since me and my angels travel with a gallon of apple cider (that's just how we roll)...well I felt truly blessed. And don't think for a minute that I didn't spend the better part of that evening snuggled in bed with The Word and my apple cider, thanking God and relishing being off that crazy highway. It felt miraculous.

Now this would be a good place for me to say "Wasn't that awesome?" and say thanks for reading my first blog as I blog the Baptist Hymnal....but that's not the end of the story.

The next morning I woke up, anxious to hit the road. Phoenix was still a very long way off. But when I looked out my window I couldn't believe what I saw. It had snowed in the night...several inches of new snow on top of roads that were already a mess. Not good. In my little budget motel I had a budget motel remote and a broken channel knob. I could get one station, but they didn't seem to be interested in talking about the 72 miles of road between where I was and Santa Fe. So I prayed. I asked God to tell me if I should head out or stay put. The sub-text of my prayer (if prayers can actually have sub-texts) was "Man oh man I wish I knew what the roads were like."  God gets sub-texts I do believe. Because in my on-again-off-again wireless connection at said motel I was trying to get on my laptop and find the site for New Mexico road conditions. Somewhere in there I also managed to jump on Facebook, post a picture of my snow covered car and say "Man oh man I wish I knew what the roads are like between here and Santa Fe."

Now here's where I had one of those ok-God-you're-freaking-me-out-here moments. Two minutes after I posted this I got a Facebook reply. "Hi there! We are snowed in in Las Vegas, New Mexico too. We drove in from Santa Fe last night. The roads are ok after about 10 miles outside of Las Vegas."

You have got to be kidding me! What are the odds of that? But it gets even more bizarre. The lovely couple who were e-mailing me were the former sister and brother-in-law of MY sister Julie.  Her ex-husband's sister! I hadn't seen Laurie and Tim in 23 years...since my niece, Meghan, was born. I gave them my cell phone number, they called me, we determined that we were in motels on the same block, we caught up a bit and we agreed that our God was an amazing God...and sometimes a little freaky.

So three days later when I was sitting outside in 85 degree weather having lunch in Scottsdale, Arizona, I knew that being there at all was a grace-gift and I was thankful. I hugged my new Arizona friends good-bye and headed off to hug my new San Diego friends hello. But I wasn't alone as drove across the Arizona desert. I had Holy, Holy and Holy with me...Father, Son and the Spirit I feel even as I write this. And oh yes...Angels on the Car.