Category Archives: Uncategorized

5 Years & 100 Days

FiReaganve years ago today, we brought home our Lily girl.

We had lost our bulldog two months prior, and I finally felt like I was ready to open my heart again to a new dog. We got pre-approved by several rescues and set to searching for our next pup. I scrolled through page after page of dog photos until two caught my eye, both from the same rescue. I reached out to the woman who runs the rescue and we set up a time to bring our two dogs up for a meet and greet.

When we arrived, she brought out the English Mastiff first. He was big and lumbering and sweet. He was only a year old and beautiful enough to have been a show dog. He tackled Eric to the floor and they rolled around playing for a while.

After about 15 minutes, Peg asked if we still wanted to see the other one. We did, so she brought her out to us. Her profile online said she was a bull mastiff, and while her face had the right markings, she was small and had the jaw and hind quarters of a pit bull. (I can’t blame rescues for not wanting to announce that online given how many people would skim right over because of mistaken beliefs about pit bulls.) She seemed a bit shy, but she made her way over and it was clear she had recently had a litter of puppies (and mostly likely several litters over the course of her short life given the state of her belly). She had scars on her face and legs, but she was sweet, ducking her head low in hopes of an ear rub.

Peg noted that she was picked up from a high-kill shelter in Mississippi with a litter of her pups, all of which had been adopted already. Wherever she came from, she clearly had had a rough life. She was cute, but had nothing to make her stand out. She was a sandy brown with a darker brown face. The only reason she caught my eye online was that in her picture she was curled up in a tight ball sleeping on a couch and it reminded me of another dog we had loved and lost.

Peg asked if we needed some time, and we conferred for a few minutes, and all agreed that the girl belonged with us. There was something in her eyes that just spoke to us.

I had to travel early that week, so we agreed I’d come back Wednesday night to pick her up. When I arrived, she was waiting with her foster parents, who were sad to see her go. I opened up the back door of the car and she jumped right in. Peg turned to me and said she was sure we were going to pick the English Mastiff boy. But she was happy with our choice – this little girl – now called Lily – deserved her own home.

That was five years ago.

Today is also a big day for another reason. In May, Lily was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, and though it was only stage 1, they told us she had no more than three months to live. By God’s providence, the neurologist we brought her to happened to be doing a research study with Mt. Sinai Hospital on the very kind of cancer Lily has, and they’d been waiting for an early stage case. They accepted Lily into their study, and two weeks later, the Mt. Sinai neurosurgeons performed brain surgery on our girl. They weren’t able to get all the tumor, but they got most of it. She was in more than a month ago for a follow up MRI and the tumor had not grown at all. And today marks 100 days MORE than the three months we were initially given. Praise Jesus! I’m counting each and every extra day as a blessing from God.

I’ve always said that my first dog, Oscar, was my dog soul mate. And he was. He got me through some really difficult times, and we were two peas in a dysfunctional pod.

But this Lily girl is a close second. She has marked my soul in ways I can’t even put into words. And yet, there’s nothing remarkable about her. She’s got plain looks. She’s smart enough but certainly not the smartest one we’ve had. She’s sweet but she doesn’t prefer me – she’ll pretty much curl up in any lap that’s willing and available. She doesn’t do any tricks. And she’s eaten more than her share of pillows when she’s been pouting. And if someone asked me what’s so special about her, I would have to say nothing. But she’s mine. And I love her.

As I was driving home today, God spoke to my heart that I’m very much like Lily. I so often wonder – and if I’m being honest, I doubt – why God would love me. I’m nothing special. I’m not beautiful by cultural standards. I’m smart enough but certainly not a rocket scientist. I don’t have any special talents. And again, if I’m being honest, I’m not all that sweet. And most days I’m pretty terrible at doing the things that Jesus did (and told us to do).

But none of that matters, because I’m His. And He loves me.

Sometimes that just hits be like a sonic boom. Today was one of those days. I love when He uses our dogs as a means of speaking to my heart. Because it helps me understand just a little bit better the mystery of His love for us. And the more I grasp how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ for me, the better I can reflect that love back to an ever-increasingly wounded world.

Present

What does it mean to live in the moment?

I’ve struggled with this my whole life. I am almost never in this moment – I’m either rehashing yesterday or fretting about tomorrow. One of the reasons I love exercise so much is it forces me to be present. When I’m pushing my body to do something hard I am able to focus so intently that yesterday and tomorrow slip away and there is only now. It’s such a huge blessing.

But why can’t I achieve that the other 23 hours of my day?

Dogs are EXPERTS at living in the moment, which is one of the (many) reasons I love them so much. They exist in the now.

We found out a few months ago that our big guy, Samson, has lung cancer. He started wheezing on his walks, and his appetite was waning, so we took in for a check. He has a giant tumor in his right lung. Hearing that was like getting punched in the gut.

Early Sunday morning, our sweet girl, Lily, had a seizure. She woke us up with her legs thrashing against the closet door. Tuesday we found it’s a brain tumor.

My first thought was – really? Now? With Sam already sick? Why? Whywhywhywhywhywhywhy?

I’ve cried. I’ve ranted. And I’ve got myself spinning every possible scenario about what the future holds.

And then I noticed what our dogs were doing. Sleeping. Yup. Just curled up right comfortable in their favorite spots sound asleep. Like they don’t have a care in the world.

You know why? Because they don’t. They are alive, they are at home, and therefore all is okay.

They’re not worried about tomorrow. They’re not fretting about the pillow they chewed up yesterday. They’re just enjoying the day they’ve been given.

Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

That sounds easy enough. But how do I do it? How do I let go of worry and anxiety – because all of it comes down to either agonizing over yesterday’s mistakes or worrying about what troubles may come tomorrow?

I’m not sure I know the answer yet. But I’m going to watch my sweet dogs and be reminded each time I find myself fretting what they already know: All we have is today. And today is gift. So I’m going to find a comfortable spot with these dogs I love and enjoy this day I’ve been given with them.

The Love of a Father

Sam and Eloise 3When we met Sam and Eloise, we knew they had to stay together. You see, Sam is Eloise’s father, and they simply love one another. Sam likely would have been okay on his own, but not Eloise. She looks to Sam for guidance and comfort every single day. And while she has grown to love her new sister, Lily, she would be lost without her dad.

Sam keeps Eloise calm in stressful situations, so if they need to go the vet, we always take them together. Managing two 100+ pound dogs at once isn’t easy, but it’s worth the work to see the comfort Sam brings Eloise in this situations.

Recently, I took the two of them to the cardiologist for their semiannual echocardiograms. It’s an event, to say the least, as it requires hoisting each dog on a table and keeping them calm long enough to get a full-blown cardiac exam and echo done. We do Sam first, and he always takes it like a champ. His usual position is lying on his back for a belly rub, so as long as I keep scratching, he’ll lie still forever.

Eloise is a different story.

Eloise doesn’t like being lifted on the table, and she doesn’t like that when she’s on that high table, she can’t see her dad.

When we got Eloise on the table, we managed to get her in position for her exam. She was on her side, and I held her head and gave her kisses, letting her know she was okay.

But she whimpered and cried, despite my kisses and reassurances. And Sam heard the cries of his baby, and was trying to find a way to get to her. But because the table is too high and both the vet and I were blocking his access to Eloise’s front side, he kept pacing back and forth trying to find a way in.

And he did.

He crawled UNDER the table and found the very end of Eloise’s paw dangling over the side. And he started gently licking her paw. And she stopped whimpering. So he stood crouched under the table, contorted in what had to be a horribly uncomfortable position, for nearly 10 minutes. But he stayed there and he kept licking her paw so she would know that he was there. That he hadn’t left her. That she was loved. And that she would be okay.

There wasn’t a dry eye in that room.

I wept silently as I saw the love of a father expressed in the most amazing and unexpected way – through the gentle kisses of a dog.

If we look for it, the love of our Father is reflected in the world all around us. Do not miss it.

He who created ALL things, infused in us the ability to share the love He has for us with those around us.

As we celebrate the gift of His presence this Christmas, I pray we’d all be reminded that we have been given the gift of Christ’s love to share with those around us. Give that gift today. Merry Christmas!

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:35

 

Strays

David and I were recently on vacation in Argentina. Hiking in Patagonia has been a dream of ours for some time, and we were so excited to finally get to experience it. We had a wonderful time hiking with view after view of beautiful mountains and lakes.

At the end of each day we’d drag ourselves back to the hotel for a hot shower and then venture out for dinner. As we wandered the local town looking for restaurants we saw more dogs than we could count. There were stray dogs everywhere, wandering into stores, sitting outside restaurant entrances, or sleeping under the awnings of closed shops. We saw everything from St. Bernards to boxers to little Jack Russells and everything in between.

Stray DogThese dogs just broke my heart. So many were old and just looked like they had given up. So I’d stop and pet them or give them a little snack. Even David, who is as big a dog lover as me, got weary of my need to stop and at least say hello to each one. But I just couldn’t help myself.

Why don’t I do the same for homeless people?

Why don’t I feel the same need to stop and acknowledge each one with a smile or a hello?

Why don’t I feel compelled to share my food or buy them something to eat?

How is it my heart breaks for a stray dog but it stays cold toward my homeless brothers and sisters?

I was forced to face those questions a week ago when David and I joined six others to spend 72 hours living with the homeless of DC. It was no less than life-changing. We slept on the streets. We panhandled. We ate in food kitchens, church basements and in parks. We attended a church service and Bible study for the homeless. We sat on benches and in parks and under bridges. We were photographed by tourists while sleeping. We were alternately cursed at and ignored. We walked more than 10 miles a day to reach services that are spread throughout all corners of the district.

But mostly we talked to people. Lots and lots and lots of people. People of all ages and races and beliefs. People who were recently homeless and people who had spent their entire adult lives on the streets. People with mental illness and people with drug addictions. People who had been leading relatively ordinary lives until life took a turn for the worse.

And for the first time in too long it broke my heart. Wide open. So wide, in fact, that I now have someone who I consider a true friend who is homeless himself. He spent 14 years in prison for drug dealing and after serving his sentence, the next seven years on the streets of DC, where he still is today. He agreed to spend those 72 hours with us, helping us navigate the sometimes volatile areas where the homeless congregate. He shared his story with us, and introduced us to so many of the people he’s been living side by side with for years. He has given his life to Christ, and is trusting that God is leading him to a new stage in life. He had a job interview this week, and the team is praying for a new chapter for this now dear friend of ours.

Every person has a story. And every story is precious to the One who wrote it before the beginning of time. I was reminded of that last week. I was also reminded that the only thing standing between me and the streets is one bad decision or a few unfortunate turns in circumstances. I was reminded that I am them and they are me. They are my brothers and sisters, and as a Christ follower I am called to love and serve them.

And while dogs are infinitely easier to love than people, I need to get better at loving them both.

Loving Like a Dog

pitbullThis is going to come as a shock to some people, but I love dogs. (Who knew, right?) I love all dogs, but I have a penchant for those dogs some find off-putting – the big, mean-looking ones that people cross the street to avoid when you’re out walking them.

Because I love dogs, my Facebook feed is filled with stories from dog rescues. This often makes me smile as I see the goofy faces of dogs who have been adopted. But it also can make me angry as I see dogs who have been ignored or neglected or abused. And what gets me every time is the story that accompanies these dogs, because almost always it goes something like this: “Despite having suffered horrific abuse, this dog just wants to love and be loved.”

And lest I get too outraged at the world that produces this kind of abuse, I can remind myself of my own, albeit lesser, but still disappointing, “abuse” of my own dogs.

After coming home late one night last week, I walked in the door to five antsy and excited dogs. They had been home alone longer than normal, and in addition to wanting dinner and a walk, they were simply excited to see me. I had barely shoved my way in the door when all 120 pounds of Samson jumped up on me, forcing me to drop my bag and purse, and get entangled in the paws and licks of what seemed like a crazed pack of dogs.

As I pulled myself loose, I noticed the remnants of a book scattered across the living room. Torn bits of paper were everywhere, and I quickly boomed out “Who did this?!”

As Lily slunk behind the love seat, it was clear who the ring leader was.

I muttered to myself about naughty dogs as I grabbed the trash can and quickly gathered up the pieces of what was a cherished book. And when Lily shyly snuck up behind me and nudged me with her nose, I turned around and told her she was a naughty dog, which resulted in her slinking back behind the love seat.

By the time I had finished feeding and walking all five dogs, I had calmed down and gained some proper perspective. I had just sat down on the couch when Lily jumped up and laid her head in my lap. She looked up at me without raising her head, and my heart broke.

Despite my chastising her for what amounted to her “telling” me she missed me and needed more attention, she simply wanted to snuggle with me. That is unconditional love.

This week I had the privilege of visiting a pre-release class my employer hosts in a prison in Colorado. Twenty-five men who, having done time for all manner of crimes, have come together to prepare for their upcoming release. They have spent the past 18 months learning “life skills” and being mentored by Christian men offering their free time in hopes that their influence will make a difference between true freedom through life change and a lifetime spent in the revolving doors of prison.

Although I work for a prison ministry, I found myself almost instinctively judging the men as they were introduced to me. Although some looked like men you’d meet at your local coffee shop or grocery store, many had the look of someone who’s done time – white supremacist messages tattooed across their knuckles, strange “horns” implanted under one man’s forehead, gang symbols across an arm.

But as I made my way into the room, I saw something remarkable – a tiny, black pit bull puppy in the arms of one of the men. By the time I had met each one, I realized that three of the men had dogs they were caring for. But that little puppy just did me in. It sat snuggled, sleeping, in the arms of a convict. Content. Safe. Happy.

That little puppy loved the man who held it. And it was clear that the man loved that little dog.

And my heart broke as I realized the depth of my own brokenness. As a Christ follower, I am to love those who, to the rest of the world, are unlovable.  I am a sinner in need of grace and love, and I am called to provide grace and love to those around me. Everyone. Not just the nice ones. Not just the well-dressed ones. And not just the ones who love me back. Everyone.

But I don’t always do that. Sometimes I judge. And sometimes I lose my temper. And sometimes I doubt that God’s promises of redemption are available to all people.

But that’s not true. And that’s not what Christ calls me to believe.

I asked God for His forgiveness as I asked the man if I could hold his puppy. Both God and the prisoner held out their hands. And when I left, I prayed God’s blessings over those men and vowed once again to try and love like a dog loves – unconditionally.

Open Doors

Wilbur in the windowOpen doors cause no end of problems in our household.

If there is a door cracked open anywhere, there will soon be at least one dog trying to nose its way out of it. The irony is that, even when they get out, they rarely go far. They’ll run around the driveway for a bit doing their freedom dance, then they stop and stare back at the house, wondering what’s next. And they usually nose their way right back into the house.

Because this predilection for escape attempts can cause all kinds of havoc when people visit, we’ve been trying to train our dogs to only go out a door once we are out – and we have called them through.

We put the leashes on the dogs and make them sit. Then we open the door and make them stay. Then we stand in the door and make them stay some more. Then we walk out of the door and make them stay until you can almost see them about to explode from the anticipation. Finally, we tell them to come, and mayhem breaks out as they all push their way through the door at the same time.

It’s progress. But it is S L O W progress.

Dogs are naturally curious, so they see an open door as an opportunity for an adventure – something to see, smell, chase, discover.

But sometimes open doors can be an opportunity for danger – fast cars, distracted drivers, noisy trucks, and bad people looking to pick up adventuresome dogs.

So we have been trying to teach them only to go through doors when we stand on the other side.

That’s a lesson God’s been trying to teach me as well. Because life is full of open doors that look to offer exciting adventures – but danger lurks behind many of them. And even if they’re not dangerous, they may present opportunities – for someone else.

But oftentimes, I’m terrible at judging which doors are which.

That’s why I’m thankful God never makes me decide on my own. Just like we stand on one side of the door and invite our dogs to walk through when it’s safe, God does the same for me. If I pray and listen before making decisions, it usually becomes clear which doors are mine to walk through.

Sometimes, though, it feels like I just can’t hear Him. And sometimes I convince myself I’ve heard Him because I’ve already decided which door I want to go through. Sometimes I make mistakes. But I’m thankful that God loves me enough to let me learn the lesson, but always reminds me that He’s waiting for me when I’m done with my freedom dance and I nose my way back into the house.

Home is Where the Dogs Are

We’reImage on day six of vacation and I’m officially in dog withdrawal. I so miss our fur babies I’ve been tempted to ask strangers if I can hug their dogs. I’ve resisted the temptation to ask our dog sitter to Facetime our dogs for us, but it’s taken more self-control than I care to admit.

Most of the dogs we’ve seen on this trip have, surprisingly, belonged to homeless people. And that has brought about a painful realization for me. While I find myself easily stepping over or around a homeless person sprawled on the sidewalk, the dogs lying next to some of those very same people more easily draw both my attention and sympathy. While my heart aches to do something for those homeless dogs, I can quite easily ignore the needs of their human companions.

When did I become more sensitive to the needs of animals than I am to those of people?

Fellow animal lovers will attest that one can become cynical when faced with the abuses heaped on animals dumped at local shelters or worse, simply left to die in alleys or ditches. It can be overwhelming and it can harden a heart if you let it.

But, as a Christian, I am called to love and care for all of creation. And that includes people. All people. But that’s a lot harder than loving animals. And a lot messier.

Even in the face of cruelty, animals will often respond with love and loyalty. They are often innocent victims of circumstance. Not so for most people. We often create our own difficult circumstances through bad choices, which presents a much bigger hurdle in achieving sympathy for those facing the consequences of their choices.

But the reality is that we all make bad choices. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we’re all just one bad choice away from a life we can’t imagine living. And that realization changes everything.

I have made bad choices. And I have been forgiven. So I am called to forgive others. And love them. And care for them. Even when it’s messy. I haven’t gotten that entirely right yet. But with God’s continued grace, I am working on it day by day.

I’m so thankful that God uses dogs to teach me lessons about life and love and faith every day. And I’m thankful for the dogs – and people – I get to spend my life with. So today I’m going to love those around me. And when I get home, those puppies are going to get cuddled so hard.