Heavenly reinforcement…

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This has been me this past week. I tied a knot in the rope of life and have been trying desperately to hold on. But it seemed there were strong, gale-force winds buffeting me, willing me to let go and fall into the dark pit of depression that was waiting below. The week started with Mother’s Day. It’s not the same when you are missing one child. My husband had a minor procedure for some skin cancer. The same day my almost-92-year-old mother had a fall, bled like crazy from  scalp laceration, and required a prolonged ER visit and overnight hospital stay. Two granddaughters are close to the delivery of great-grandchildren for me. Work was just as stressful as usual. A lightning strike messed up internet and cable (still not fully repaired). A criminal made his escape across our field with law enforcement in hot pursuit. The dog ate a roll of toilet paper the night before she was scheduled for her spay. And there were other personal stressors that I shouldn’t share and  just couldn’t understand. Nothing terrible or irreparable happened, but enough, Lord, I thought.

Confession: I got frustrated and fearful and felt rather alone. I felt that my prayers were unheard, my fatigue unnoticed, my burden too heavy. I could relate to David’s plea to the Lord in Psalm 22, verse 1:

…Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

And I was groaning and moaning and whining and near tears! Yes, I read my Bible–a few mornings. And I prayed, most of the time vague, repetitive pleas for help. I felt totally alone and helpless. But then….

First, I must explain a little back story: Two years, nine months ago our middle son took his own life (therefore, the Mother’s Day stress). A few weeks later I attended a Christian fiction writer’s conference,  where I was comforted and blessed to make new Christian friends. One was a lovely lady with a mass of auburn curls and a contagious smile and one of the sweetest spirits I’ve ever known. Since then I have had a text from her occasionally just touching base to see how I’m doing. I hadn’t heard from her for a good while–until Thursday, the day when I was at my lowest. My prayer journal from that morning reads, in part:

Lord, I feel beaten down by too much, too many burdens. I felt like you had turned your back on me yesterday. I’m frustrated. I belong to you. I’m doing my best. Why so many problems?….Please, please help me. I need your strength and your Spirit.

And, God answered. Jerri’s text that day opened the floodgates. I shared. She cared. And I know she has prayed for me, just as promised. If any of you don’t believe in divine appointments, you should. I believe she was inspired to reach out to me that day at that morning hour. As she put it, God knew I needed “reinforcements.” Jerri was obeying the instruction in Galatians 6:2 to:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I did need the reinforcement of knowing someone cared for my specific needs and was willing to pray on my behalf. And I am grateful that she responded to that little tug on her heart that made her think of me that morning. I pray that I will be more sensitive to those intuitions or hunches or heavenly whispers to do the same for others. And I am grateful to be reminded that although I may feel like God is not listening and doesn’t know my pain, He does. Peter says in the New Testament:

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

I’ve not been very good at that lately. Laying my burdens at Jesus’ feet. Depending on prayer and the Lord’s grace and mercy and unconditional love. I hope to do better. And I’m still holding on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buddy

Buddy came to us as a “replacement” dog. My daughter’s beloved black lab, aged and infirm, had been put down just as Cindy was in the throes of severe depression. We were introduced to a three-year-old miniature schnauzer as we were anticipating her return from her third (or fourth?) hospitalization, and planned to have the new pup waiting for her when she arrived home. The vet who connected us with the dog cautioned, “Now, he doesn’t like men. But he’ll be great with Cindy and her son.” And he was. The poor thing’s registered name was Pluto, which was highly inappropriate, and promptly changed to Buddy. (Our four-year-old grandson was quite fond of Walt Disney’s Air Bud movies.) Disney’s Pluto is big; Buddy was a smallish dog. Pluto’s ears are floppy. Not Buddy’s! As a matter of fact, his ears rather dwarfed the rest of his compact body. They had not been clipped when he was a puppy, as is the fashion with dogs of his breed, and he had perpetually erect antennae connecting him to all sound. And, besides, the name Buddy just seemed to epitomize the role of canine pal we expected him to undertake.

We found that Buddy, indeed, was not fond of men. He regularly serenaded my husband with incessant barking whenever he entered the house. Through ten years of cohabiting they never resolved the issue of who was the alpha male. Buddy charmed us with his ability to sit upright for long sessions of begging. It seemed that his bobbed tail and healthy, broad behind provided a solid foundation for his balancing act. He developed a pattern of begging–spin around once, assume the upright begging posture, and bark sharply. It would have been nice to think that his barks were a canine expression of please, but I suspect the more accurate translation would have been, “Look at me! Treat time!” I am the softie at the dinner table, and mealtimes found him by my chair, watchfully waiting for the inadvertent or purposefully dropped morsel, and, if the bite was not forthcoming, he was not above a hushed grumbling growl, just to remind me he was there. He seemed to possess an understanding of numbers up to four. He might be soundly asleep on his bed far away from the kitchen, but invariably knew when meat was being thawed and dinner preparations started. He was particularly fond of doggy steak tartare (ground beef), and expected a minimum of four small bite size portions before retreating to a location out of kitchen traffic to observe the cook at work.

We first noticed a decline in his vision. Then his hearing became less acute. However, his sense of smell never faltered! He began to lose weight, and we found several tumors under his skin and under his jaw. He seemed to lose interest in his food, and could no longer see well enough to catch a tossed treat midair. His gait became slower as his joints stiffened. As his respirations became more rapid and labored, we became painfully aware that Buddy would not survive into his fourteenth year. He never whined and never whimpered. He lost control of his bodily functions, and one could see the confusion in his eyes after he soiled the floor. My daughter said, “He looks so sad, Mom.” And, he did. The big brown eyes which once sparkled with life and enthusiasm for living became tired and weary. The vet said he had some form of cancer, probably a lymphoma, and was developing heart failure and that the end was near. He was, after all, thirteen years old, a ripe old age for a schnauzer.

And so, Friday, January 31st, 2014, we said goodbye. A dear friend who is a veterinary doctor came to our home and, as we caressed the frail shadow of our beloved pet, gently eased his suffering and released him to whatever ever after life exists for our animal friends. I choose to trust that all truly good dogs do go to some sort of heaven, and Buddy, was, indeed, a very good dog.

Perhaps some of you have lost a beloved pet. If so, you understand the bond of companionship that links you together and the heartache of separation. I’d love to hear your story.

Buddy--all ears and heart
Buddy–all ears and heart

Friendship

This whole adventure of blogging has set me to thinking about who I am meant to be, how I’ve gotten to this point, and people and events that have changed my life. Today I honor one of the great influences in my life–one of those lifelong friends who, though distant geographically, is always present in my heart.

Arlene is one of those people. The only child of loving parents, she was given a name that blended the “given” names of both her father and mother–Arlin plus Lorene equals Arlene. The name is so dear to me that I named my daughter, Cindy Arlene, after her. Arlene and I met during our years in the fledgling nursing program at a Christian college in Arkansas, our home state, 38 years ago. We were among the four married students in our class. I was the most nontraditional of all since I already had two children, ages 5 and 3. We married students gravitated together, but Arlene and I “bonded”. We struggled with endless clinical assignments, skills labs, lectures, exams, and care plans. We studied together, commiserated with each other, laughed a lot, cried some. Arlene and I made a memorable but delicious mess cooking toffee with melted chocolate for a Christmas treat. Her mother gifted me with a lovely Christmas cross stitch piece designating remembrance of friends as a central theme at Christmas–it still graces our home each Christmas season. And, finally, in May of 1978, we graduated with a baccalaureate degree in nursing from Harding University.

Arlene’s husband, Kelly, is a college professor, and his work led them to live in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama. At about the same time after graduation, though in two separate states–she working in the student infirmary at Ole Miss and I at home in my kitchen–we each decided to try regular dishwashing liquid in automatic dishwashers! The result, of course, was a seemingly unending flood of beautiful soapsuds cascading down the front of the machine and into the floor. The fact that it happened to both of us was comforting somehow. Through each of her moves, we never lost each other. Months might go by without a visit, but then Arlene would return to Arkansas to visit family or Cindy and I would load up and travel to each of those states to visit in her home. Arlene’s sense of gracious southern hospitality is unfailing. She is the ultimate gentle southern Christian lady–serene, compassionate, insightful, devoted to serving others. She practiced nursing as a registered nurse, as I did, but she soon found her way into the role of nurse educator, guiding students to understand not only the technical skills necessary for safe nursing but striving to inspire in them the same sensitivity and compassion that characterized her as a nurse. She has a special love for geriatric patients–seeing past the confusion or the querulous nature into their hearts and minds. She was an example of daughterly devotion as she cared for her mother through her battle with cancer and, later, with seeing her father through the hardships of cardiovascular disease and aging. She has become a true nurse expert, author, and presenter, and has been honored by our alma mater as an outstanding alumnus.

I have become a better, stronger, more devoted Christian because of Arlene. She gifted me with a daily devotional book in 2001, and I have read portions of it every year since. It truly speaks to me and inspires me to strive to be gentler, calmer, and always true to my faith. Arlene has seen me through many storms of life–a divorce, the struggles of single parenthood, dealing with my own family tragedies and illnesses–and the happiness of a second marriage “made in heaven”. She is the ultimate prayer warrior, supporting me and my family through the challenges of a child’s mental illness.

Thank you, Arlene, for being my BFF, my confidante, my sister in Christ. I honor you today, your birthday, and thank God for blessing my life with you.