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Archive for July, 2013

A couple of years ago at the school I worked, the theme of the year had to do with aesthetics … things to do with artistic beauty, or things that are pleasing to the senses. I have to say that my original thoughts on this theme were rather … ‘artsy-fartsy’ with little weighty depth. Upon further explanation, my perspective changed.

This theme came out of Creation, the amazing, ordered, pleasing world that our God has created. How could I argue with the beauty and order we experience every day?

Throughout the school year the word ‘aesthetic’ surfaced a number of times in a number of ways, each time drawing me closer with the realization that being made in the image of the Creator, meant that I was handed down a creative gene by my creative father.

When I read the following words, by Bonnie Gray, at her blog site, Faith Barista (which serves up a “double shot of faith”), I experienced that unplanned response of “ahhhh.”

I read the words,

I knew the words,

I had lived the words and knew them to be true in my own experience.

When you get closer to what truly moves your heart, you will touch the places that are still tender.

Because that creative place where you feel most safe is often where you’ve gone — when you’ve been most wounded.

Where do you go – to find safety, to express pain and beauty, in your world?

It’s there — in those private places of freedom — where you meet with God and your creative self speaks.”

… where you meet with God … and your creative self speaks …

Um, that speaks to me!

And now is the rest of the article, by Bonnie Gray:

“I sat there, at one spot on a table that stretched long, parked adjacent to other tables, wrapping us into a square donut of seats.

Faces blinked back at me from across the room on the other side. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

I was at an artists meeting that night.

And I was the keynote speaker.

I walked into this room with two legs, I began.

But, if you could really look deep inside me tonight…

I took a big, shaky breath.

You would see that the legs to my soul… are broken.

My lips start to tremble and my hands start to cool and shake, even though it is a warm summer eve.

I gulp and continue.

The reason is — because you see — I’ve spent a lot of the hours of my days this year in my bed.  In my home.

Afraid.

Not because I don’t love to be with people.

But, because of panic attacks.

They were triggered by memories that have come alive — doing something I’ve always loved.

Something I’ve always dreamed of doing.

Writing a book.

This is how I introduced myself to a group of painters, designers, illustrators, poets, musicians… writers.

It sure didn’t sound inspiring to me at all.

At one point, I even had to stop and collect myself.

I was overwhelmed by the surreal experience of recounting my story out in the open.

Even as I shared my story, I questioned whether there was any value in exposing pain that has been endured so privately.

I felt for sure I was making everyone feel uncomfortable and awkward.

Until I saw one woman’s eyes start to tear.  Then, another man’s head dip, in a knowing nod.

There is beauty behind the pain.

These are the words I found myself speaking into the room with my new friends.

When you get closer to what truly moves your heart, you will touch the places that are still tender.

Because that creative place where you feel most safe is often where you’ve gone — when you’ve been most wounded.

Where do you go – to find safety, to express pain and beauty, in your world?

It’s there — in those private places of freedom — where you meet with God and your creative self speaks.

When I finished speaking, I ended by asking if any parts of my story resonated?

The first question broke the silence.

“Have you always known you were a writer?” Someone asked.

I pause for a moment, to consider my answer.  And the response I chose to give sparked a beautiful response — stories flowing from everyone’s childhood around the table.

I’ve always been a writer, before I called myself one.

Writing has always been that one thing in my life — since I was a little girl — that no one could ever take away from me.

I didn’t have to be good at it.

I didn’t have to think about it.

Writing is just what I did.

It’s the most natural thing I can do.

The artist in me is a little girl.

“How about you?” I scan the gazes of new friends who suddenly feel closer than the space between us.  ”When you do your thing — play music, paint, design, blog about fashion, take cooking videos, build models, write, take photos — when you create — are you doing what came most naturally to you, as a child?”

Energy suddenly stirs the room, reminding me of the wind of the Holy Spirit that once blew through a room full of disciples gathering together.  They began speaking in a way that was different — that drew people from the outside closer in.

That’s what art does.  It connects us to each other, in those places we are most vulnerable, opening what is private, finding language for what’s unspoken. For what’s important and real.

Everyone started telling their stories — of themselves — as little girls and little boys.

What they’ve always loved to do.  Before they knew what it was called.  Before it became a struggle to claim artistic enjoyment as God’s legitimate imprint of Himself in us.

The artistic you. I discovered this is everyone’s continuing journey of faith.   To touch the artistic life we all hide deep inside. It’s the artist’s way.  The child in you.

Is there an ember of God’s creative voice flickering in you?

What is the one thing you’ve always enjoyed doing as a little girl, that felt most natural to you?

Take a moment to see yourself as that little girl right now.  Where is she and what does she like to do?

As you picture her, let your heart find its way back to where it longs to return.

Because that artist in you is God’s little girl.”

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you…
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you… 

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity,
but of power and love and discipline.
2 Timothy 1:5-7

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Today I’m going to introduce you to an artistic blogger I was introduced to by my eldest daughter.

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(the above picture is a ‘branch’ of our family tree … a gift from our three kids, and a product of Lisa Leonard Designs … I bought a three dollar shadow box at the dollar store, painted it black, and pinned by beautiful family tree inside).

Lisa Leonard is:
A child of God (and she knows it)
A woman
A wife (a … pastor’s wife …)
A mom
A mom of TWO boys
A mom of one boy with special needs
A business owner/operator (Lisa Leonard Designs)
And has a reality program that is just waiting for a network to grab it up …

In the blog post below, Lisa speaks of her son, David.

Lisa wrote the following of what she remembers of his diagnosis, given soon after his birth,

“cornelia de lange syndrome.
severe retardation.
he won’t be able to eat.
he won’t speak, he won’t walk.
he’ll need life long care.”

And the following is from her blog post … check her out online at www.lisaleonardonline.com/blog/jewelry/finding-beauty-in-brokenness.

“When David was born eleven years ago, I had no idea what the future held. I thought I knew. I thought I had it all planned out. But everything I planned was broken to pieces as our son emerged into the world with only two fingers on his left hand, a serious heart defect and a genetic disorder that would change the way his life would look.

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At first I couldn’t stop crying. Nothing made sense. Then I was determined and overly optimistic. I would be the best mom ever. No matter what it took, I would make everything okay. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t be good enough. If I wasn’t physically exhausted then I was emotionally exhausted. It wasn’t just David who was broken, it was me too. I couldn’t be good enough to make up for his lack. We were both imperfect; flawed and needy. And as I started to accept the brokenness, I began to see bits of beauty emerge. Small things, like a sunflower in bloom, caught my eye. And I could feel my heart begin to heal. When David started to smile, it was like the sun shined brighter. As I let go of trying to make everything perfect, I started to see beauty in the brokenness.”

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I love books that are written in such a way that I feel as though I have a personal relationship with the characters within.

When I read a book by Karen Kingsbury, that is what happens. She is a delightful story-teller, who makes me mourn when the book is read and I need to get on with real life without the relatable characters she works into her stories.

The following is a real-life story, lived though and told by Karen herself (from a Guideposts magazine article … http://www.guideposts.org/inspiration/fiction/karen-kingsburys-inspiring-encounter-on-the-high-line?page=full).

I ‘tried’ to read it, in a mature, story-telling manner, but blubbering ensued … and that’s okay, because tears are Cleansing 😉

I’ve been writing novels for more than 15 years, and I’ll admit it: My imagination can run pretty wild sometimes! I see the stories come to life in my mind way before I ever get them on paper—envisioning the characters and the twists and turns they’ll take on their personal and spiritual journeys.

Then last year something unexpected happened in my own life, something so incredible that even I couldn’t have imagined it.

I’d gone to New York City to meet with my publisher. My daughter, Kelsey, and her husband, Kyle, came with me because they wanted to see the city.

It was a glorious autumn afternoon. Kelsey, Kyle and I were walking on the High Line—a park built on a historic elevated railroad line above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.

That morning I’d had a dream-come-true meeting with my publisher. My novel The Bridge had become an overnight best seller and they’d signed me to a 10-book deal! I felt so blessed, especially to be able to celebrate with Kelsey and Kyle.

Yet, standing there on the High Line, looking up at the bright blue sky, all I could think was, I wish I could tell Dad about all this.

My father had passed away six years earlier. He was my rock. My very first and biggest fan.

“Have I told you lately that I love you, Dad?” I whispered. That was Dad’s favorite song—the Rod Stewart version of “Have I Told You Lately.” He’d called me the first time he’d ever heard it.

“This song is how I feel about you, Mom, our whole family,” he said. “Whenever you hear it I want you to know that I love you.” I was surprised. Dad wasn’t usually into pop music. But the more I listened to Rod’s distinctive raspy voice belting it out, the more I understood what Dad meant.

“Have I told you there’s no one else above you? You fill my heart with gladness, take away all my sadness, ease my troubles, that’s what you do.” When one of us heard the song, we’d call the other. Sometimes we’d hear it when we were together and Dad would give me a wink.

I can’t say it any better than Rod,” he’d say. The song was that powerful for us. It connected us. So much so that my family had the title engraved on Dad’s headstone.

Not long after Dad died, I began to hear our song at odd but significant moments. Like when my husband, Don, and I were driving home from watching Kelsey and our oldest son, Tyler, in the opening-night performance of the school play—the kind of occasion Dad wouldn’t have missed for the world—and the second we turned on the car radio, there it was.

Or when we took our first family vacation to the Bahamas without Dad. I stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the sparkling sea. “Oh, Dad, you would’ve loved this!” I said. Then I heard a familiar melody.

I looked down onto the deck below and the Bahamian band had switched from playing island music to—yes, you guessed it—“Have I Told You Lately.”

Now here I was, at one of those moments when I knew Dad would have been so proud of me, and I couldn’t share it with him. I missed him more than ever. Lord, I prayed, please tell Dad that I love him.

“How ’bout we take some pictures?” I said to Kelsey and Kyle, hoping to distract myself from missing Dad. “We’ve got this amazing view of the Hudson from up here.”

I pulled out my camera and took some shots of Kelsey, then of her and Kyle together. I wanted to get one of the three of us. I was stretching my arm out, trying to hold the camera far enough away so we were all in the frame, when a man and a woman walked up.

“I can help take your picture,” the man said to us. He was older than me, dressed stylishly in a sweater and jeans. He had a slight accent. Australian? English? He was a tourist like me, probably. “Would that be okay?”

“Yes!” I said. “Thank you so much.”

“Just show me how to use the camera,” he said.

Kelsey walked over and showed him which button to press, then we got into place again.

He snapped the photo. “That’s lovely!” he said, brushing a wayward strand of blond hair from his eye. He handed me the camera. “God bless you,” he said, then he and the woman went on their way.

When they were almost out of sight, Kelsey turned to me. “Mom, did you hear what that man said when I was showing him how to use the camera?”

“No, honey, I didn’t.”

“He said, ‘I’m usually on the other side of this thing. But this is fun too.’”

“Why would he say that?” I wondered aloud.

Then it dawned on me: the spiky blond hair, the fashionable clothes, the lilt in his voice…. Could it be?

I followed the couple, walking as fast as I could.

“Sir, sir! Excuse me, sir!” I called. The man stopped and turned around. We were face-to-face.

“You just took our picture back there,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. By now Kelsey and Kyle had caught up to me.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Are you Rod Stewart?”

“Sometimes,” he said.

“No, really, I have to know,” I insisted. “Are you Rod Stewart?”

He must have seen something in my eyes because he said quietly, “Yes, I am.” My knees went weak. If only my dad could have seen this!

“Can I tell you a story?” I asked.

Rod nodded.

I told him that “Have I Told You Lately” was my father’s favorite song and that just an hour earlier I’d been wondering if Dad knew how much I missed him.

Rod gently put his hand on my arm. I rested my hand on top of his. “And now I’m meeting you,” I said. “It’s crazy. Your song’s title is even on my dad’s gravestone.”

Tears came to Rod’s eyes. “Can I give you a hug?” he asked. He pulled me in tightly. “Thank you for sharing that. You made my day.”

When we let go, Rod clasped his hands together and pointed them heavenward. Then he and his companion walked away.

Kelsey, Kyle and I looked at each other and sat down on a bench. We all felt stunned. Just at the moment when I was missing my dad so badly, the rock star who sang our song crosses my path? Really? You could never plan or even imagine something like that!

But Someone had. Someone who orchestrates unforgettable encounters and writes amazing moments into the stories of our lives. I looked up into the bright blue sky. There really is no one else above him.

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For over a week I constantly had two words in my head … fear not.

As I was cleaning, I would hear them.

As I was painting, I would hear them.

As I was driving, I would hear them.

As I was eating, I would hear them.

As I was drifting off to sleep, or awakening in the mornings, I would hear fear not.

Then, in the past couple of days, I have received various blogs, and ministry updates, in my email inbox, with the them of, you guessed it, fear not.

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Because I am archaic (according to my darling teenagers … and according to how my body feels after a day of installing laminate flooring) I know that when a message is constantly in my consciousness, constantly in my view, I need to stop, inquire more, and listen. So, that is what I am in the midst of doing.

I cannot say that I have ever audibly heard the voice of God, but I have certainly received His messages in this way, with a constant word or message being brought to mind frequently day after day. Often times the timing of the message does not even directly related to something that is going on at the time, but it often does relate to something in the recent past, or … dare I say, foreboding of something to come (kind of makes me ‘fear’ the message fear not). Whatever perfect timing, that God chooses, to deliver His message in, I am getting wise enough to focus on the message, and what His word might divulge further about what is being communicated, and what He wants me to know, and know fully.

In the Bible, the words ‘fear not’ are most frequently communicated by either angels of God, or God himself.

Abram was told not to fear, by God, when he doubted that he would ever have any descendants (Genesis 15).

Zacharias was given that same message by God when he went into the Temple of the Lord to burn incense, and God told him that he and Elizabeth would bear a child (Luke 1).

Mary was visited by an angel of the Lord, announcing that she would become impregnated by the Holy Spirit, and would deliver the Messiah (Luke 1).

Joseph was also visited by an angel of the Lord, telling him that Mary was indeed pregnant, and that this child would be the fulfillment of the prophesy regarding the Messiah (Matthew 1).

(hum, there are a significant amount of “fear nots” related to the birth of a baby … yikes! That cannot be what God is communicating … please no!)

God visited Joshua, essentially crowning him the successor of Moses,who had recently died, with the repeated message, “have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

When Jesus visited the disciples out on the Sea of Galilee, walking toward them on the water, His words to them were to “not be afraid’ (Mark 6:50).

When the women went to the tomb after the crucifixion of Christ, only to find if empty, they were greeted by angel who said “do not be afraid” and then told to spread the message to the disciples that He had arisen (Matthew 28).

Then, in Revelation, someone ‘like’ a son of man (aka Jesus), said, “he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!”

So many different communications to ‘fear not’ but there is one that has resonated most loudly to me … and I will share that on Monday (don’t you just love a cliff hanger? 😉 ).

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Being home in the summer gives me good opportunity to see life from a different perspective.

My alarm clock does not often get set (yet I still often awaken at nearly the same time), meals during the day are replaced by a constant grazing (and, in some cases, I might just look like a cow by the end of summer), evenings are often spent outside around the propane fire pit, laundry is minimal, and there is simply no reason to leave the house most days.

One thing that has not changed, but has become more obvious to me, is that I have a stalker … in my house.

I awaken in the morning, and he lays near my chair, while I pound on the computer keys.

I move to the kitchen to fetch my desperately desired coffee, and he follows me there.

I move to my bedroom to dress, and he moves his repose to the mat outside our bedroom.

I move out to prune back the roses or the grape vines from the entrance to our deck, and he is awaiting my on the other side of the screen door.

I go to the basement, and he follows.

I come in from the garage, and he is napping on the other side of the door.

I feel as though our theme song is the one below:

And, by the way, my stalker is NOT hubby!

What my faithful stalker/guard dog keeps reminding me of what Moses shared in Deuteronomy, then was shared again in the book of Hebrews, that God said:

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake (give up/abandon)  you.”

Just like my fluffy, fun-loving beast, God is always there … over-seeing, protecting, being a presence. And, just like my beast, nothing will take His attention away … He is always faithful … even when I am not.

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As I watched the new parents walk from the hospital in London, my eyes were fixed, not to the baby, not to Prince William, but to Kate.

Kate had just been through the most physically and emotionally stressful event of her life, since her own birth.

It is such an emotional, such an overwhelming thing to have just delivered your first baby. The physical, emotional and psychological changes that occur surrounding a birth can leave a new mom with a bit of an out-of-body feeling.

Since Kate first appeared on the public scene the word that most accurately describes her public persona would be confident. She has smiled when she was supposed to, stood tall with her head held high, spoken with confidence and grace, looked on to her Prince when she needed to appear supportive.

As I watched her, watching the crowds of hundreds (and probably millions around the world), all looking at the bundle in her arms, I saw something that every new mother feels at some point, fear.

I wondered as she looked at the crowds, was she realizing that she did not just have her first son, but a future king of England, who would be claimed as ‘theirs’ by millions of people. I wondered if she realized that this was the first time of many, that he would not be only hers.

This tiny baby, held lovingly, securely by his mom and dad, will inherit so much … wealth, position in society, the throne of England. He will also inherit the highest expectations, a lofty role, an aggressive press, and even death threats. I wonder if all that her beautiful baby boy will inherit flashed before Kate’s eyes yesterday, along with the flashes from the many cameras. I wonder if the mother her within her wished she could hug her baby and run away to a place of obscurity.

May Kate have the loving support of husband, family and friends. May she have the wisdom to shield her son as much and for as long as she possible can. May she create within the private walls of her own house, the closest thing to a ‘normal’ upbringing for her boy. And may she know that sharing does not have to mean giving away.

May she seek the guidance of her own Creator and Provider for the wisdom to raise her son in the shadow of the Most High.

“He is the God who made the world. He also made everything in it. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples built by hands. He is not served by human hands. He doesn’t need anything. He himself gives life and breath to all people. He also gives them everything else they have. From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live. God did this so that people would seek him. Then perhaps they would reach out for him and find him. They would find him even though he is not far from any of us.” Acts 17:24-27

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Yesterday, in my post, Joy, I digested through James 1:2-4, and today I will share with you a story of someone who is no stranger to trials of many kinds.

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James 1:2-4 is not easy to digest, it is not nice to contemplate, it is not a teaching that creates any warm and fuzzy feelings.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything.”

The various trials faced by Major League baseball legend, RA Dickey certainly could destroy any person … but there was a plan, and a hand on this man that indicated that this individual was heading towards something more than just the trials he had faced.

RA Dickey won the Cy Young Award in 2012, the first knuckleballer pitcher to win this award. 2012 also marked the release of his autobiography, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.

In the link below you will get to hear of some of the significant trials of this man’s life. His faith has been tested (and, no doubt, that refining will continue). It is clear that he sees and knows now, that he is not lacking anything.

http://www.iamsecond.com/seconds/ra-dickey/

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“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Let me re-phrase that in the Carole Wheaton version … “hey folks, ain’t life just the best when it gets really hard?” … now doesn’t that just build up hope and anticipation in your life?

What the heck was James thinking when he wrote this in the book of James?

Was he some sadomasochistic fool?

Had he just come from the winery?

Perhaps he had been standing too close to the smoke of the grape leaves as they were being burnt at harvest?

Whatever it was, it took over his senses!

But lets look a little closer!

The message starts out, as above :

v.2

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters …”

Not just joy, but pure joy … I am guessing that means the kind of joy that comes from knowing that your life is in the hands of One greater than ourselves. It is the joy that comes from being confident in those hands. The joy that says, ‘I will be in joy because I am in safe hands.’ Aka. I do not know what the future holds but I know who holds the future!

v.2

whenever

Not ‘if ever’ but whenever … sigh … trials are a coming, and they keep coming … get your head out of La La Land and brace yourselves!

v.2

“you face trials of many kinds …”

Many … sigh … many … that is more that a couple!

v.3

“because you know

This would be the reminder that we are being reminded of this joy and trial pairing, because, honey, we have been facing trials since we were knit together in our mother’s wombs, and they will continue until we are planted into the Earth.

v.3

“that the testing of your faith”

I think it is a universal fact that we all hate tests … and if our faith is to be genuine it needs to be refined through testing.

v.3

“produces perseverance

And perseverance is the stuff that helps us to keep getting back on our feet and giving it all a go again, after we fall down. That is the stuff that makes us grow muscles that endure, keep going, not give up.

v.4

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete

Mature and complete … you know, having it all together! Woohoo! There might be hope that some day I might have it all together! What a hope is that!

v.4

not lacking anything”

To not lack anything means to have everything … everything! That is JOY!

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,
not    lacking    anything.”
James 1:2-4

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A Tank

Sometimes I come across a story that, true or not (snopes says it is not), it just makes me hope that it is, because the story has so captured my imagination, my emotions or my heart. Such was the following story:

 

They told me the big black Lab’s name was Reggie,as I looked at him lying in his pen..  The shelter wasclean, and the people really friendly.I’d only been in the area for six months, but everywhereI went in the small college town, people were welcoming and open.

Everyone waves when you pass them on the street.

But something was still missing as I attempted tosettle in to my new life here, and I thought a dogcouldn’t hurt.  Give me someone to talk to.And I had just seen Reggie’s advertisement on the localnews.  The shelter said they had received numerouscalls right after, but they said the people who had comedown to see him ju st didn’t look like “Labpeople,” whatever that meant.  They must’ve thought I did.

But at first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things,

which consisted of a dog pad, bag of toys almost all of which were brand new tennisballs, his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner.  See, Reggie and I didn’t really hit it offwhen we got home.  We struggled for two weeks (which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home).  Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust, too.

Maybe we were too much alike.

For some reason, his stuff (except for the tennis balls — he wouldn’t go anywhere without two stuffed inhis mouth) got tossed in with all of my other unpacked boxes.

I guess I didn’t really think he’d need all his old stuff, that I’d get him new things once hesettled in.  But it became pretty clear pretty soon that he wasn’t going to.

I tried the normal commands the shelter told me he knew, ones like “sit” and “stay” and”come” and “heel,” and he’d follow them – when he felt like it.

He never really seemed to listen when I called his name — sure, he’d look in mydirection after the fourth or fifth time I said it, but then he’d just go back to doing whatever.

When I’d ask again, you could almost see him sigh and then grudgingly obey.

This just wasn’t going to work.  He chewed a couple shoes and some unpacked boxes.

I was a little too stern with him and he resented it, I could tell.The friction got so bad that I couldn’t wait for th e twoweeks to be up, and when it was, I was in full-on searchmode for my cell phone amid all of my unpacked stuff.  Iremembered leaving it on the stack of boxes for the guestroom, but I also mumbled, rather cynically, that the”damn dog probably hid it on me.”

Finally I found it, but before I could punch up theshelter’s number, I also found his pad and other toysfrom the shelter…I tossed the pad in Reggie’sdirection and he snuffed it and wagged, some of the mostenthusiasm I’d seen since bringing him home.  Butthen I called, “Hey, Reggie, you like that?  Comehere and I’ll give you a treat.”  Instead, he sort of glanced in my direction — maybe “glared”is more accurate — and then gave a discontented sigh and flopped down …. with his back to me.

Well, that’s not going to do it either, I thought.  And I punched the shelter phone number.

But I hung up when I saw the sealed envelope.

I had completely forgotten about that, too.

“Okay, Reggie,”  I said out loud,

“let’s see if your previous owner has any advice.”

ToWhoever Gets My Dog:

Well, I can’t say that I’m happy you’re reading this, a letter I told the sheltercould only be opened by Reggie’s new owner.I’m not even happy writing it.  If you’re reading this,

it means I just got back from my last car ride with my Lab

after dropping him off at the shelter.

He knew something was different.

I have packed up his pad and toys before and set them by the back door before a trip,but this time… it’s like he knew something was wrong.

And something is wrong…which is why I haveto go to try to make it right.

So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it

will help you bond with him and he with you.

First, he loves tennis balls.The more the merrier.  Sometimes I think he’s partsquirrel, the way he hordes them.  He usually alwayshas two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third inthere.  Hasn’t done it yet.  Doesn’tmatter where you throw them, he’ll bound after it, so becareful – really don’t do it by any roads.  I madethat mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly.

Next, commands.  Maybe the shelter staff already told you, but I’ll go over themagain:  Reggie knows the obvious ones —“sit,”  “stay,”  “come,” “heel.” 

He knows hand signals:”back” to turn around and go back when you putyour hand straight up; and “over” if you put yourhand out right or left.  “Shake” for shakingwater off, and “paw” for a high-five.  Hedoes “down” when he feels like lying down — I betyou could work on that with him some more.  He knows”ball” and “food” and “bone”and “treat” like  nobody’s business.

I trained Reggie with small food treats.

Nothing opens his ears like little pieces of hot dog.

Feeding schedule:  twice a day, once about seven in the morning, and again at six inthe evening.   Regular store-bought stuff; the shelterhas the brand.

He’s up on his shots.Call the clinic on 9th Street and update his info withyours; they’ll make sure to send you reminders for whenhe’s due.  Be forewarned:  Reggie hates the vet.

Good luck getting him in the car.

I don’t know how he knows when it’s time to go to the vet, but he knows.

Finally, give him some time.I’ve never been married, so it’s only been Reggieand me for his whole life.  He’s gone everywherewith me, so please include him on your daily car rides ifyou can.  He sits well in the backseat, and hedoesn’t bark or complain.  He just loves to bearound people, and me most especially.

Which means that this transition isgoing to be hard, with him going to live with someone new.

And that’s why I need to shareone more bit of info with you….

His name’s not Reggie.

I don’t know what made me do it, but

when I dropped him off at the shelter, I told themhis name was Reggie.

He’s a smart dog, he’ll get used to it

and will respond to it, of that I have nodoubt.  But I just couldn’t bear to give them hisreal name.  For me to do that, it seemed so final, thathanding him over to the shelter was as good as me admittingthat I’d never see him again.  And if I end upcoming back, getting him, and tearing up this letter, itme ans everything’s fine.  But if someone else isreading it, well … well it means that his new owner shouldknow his real name.  It’ll help you bond withhim.  Who knows, maybe you’ll even notice a changein his demeanor if he’s been giving you problems.

His real name is “Tank”.

Because that is what  I drive.

Again, if you’re reading thisand you’re from the area, maybe my name has been on thenews.  I told the shelter that they couldn’t make”Reggie” available for adoption until theyreceived word from my company commander.  See, myparents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could’veleft Tank with … and it was my only real request of theArmy upon my deployment to Iraq , that they make one phone..call the shelter … in the “event” … to tellthem that Tank could be put up for adoption.  Luckily,my colonel is a dog guy, too, and he knew where my platoonwas headed.  He said he’d do itpersonally.  And if you’re reading this, thenhe made good on his word.

Well, this letter is getting downright depressing,

even though, frankly, I’m justwriting it for my dog.  I couldn’t imagine if I waswriting it for a wife and kids and family … but still,Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost aslong as the Army has been my family.

And now I hope and pray that youmake him part of your family and that he will adjust andcome to love you the same way he loved me.

That unconditional love from a dogis what I take with me to Iraq as an inspiration to dosomething selfless, to protect innocent people from thosewho would do terrible things … and to keep those terriblepeople from coming over here.  If I have to give up Tankin order to do it, I am glad to have done so.  He ismy example of service and of love.  I hope I honoredhim by my service to my country and comrades.

All right, that’s enough.I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off atthe shelter.  I don’t think I’ll say anothergood-bye to Tank, though.  I cried too much the firsttime.  Maybe I’ll peek in on him and see if hefinally got that third tennis ball in his mouth.

Good luck with Tank.  Give him a good home,

and give him an extra kiss goodnight – every night – from me.

Thank you,

Paul Mallory

I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope.

Sure I had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him, evennew people like me.  Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star

when he gave his life to save three buddies.

Flags had been at half-mast all summer.

I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog.

“Hey, Tank,” I said quietly.

The dog’s head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright.

“C’mere boy.”

He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking onthe hardwood floor.  He sat in front of me, his headtilted, searching for the name he hadn’t heard in months.

“Tank,” I whispered.

His tail swished.

I kept whispering his name, over and over, and eachtime, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posturerelaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to floodhim.  I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buriedmy face into his scruff and hugged him.

“It’s me now, Tank, just you and me.Your old pal gave you to me.”  Tank reached up andlicked my cheek.  “So whatdaya say we play some ball?”

His ears perked again.”Yeah?  Ball?  You like that?  Ball?”

Tank tore from my hands and disappeared in the next room.

And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.

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890d43f7b71aa5f60387cf9dba6bbe02

I was caught off guard while painting a piece of furniture and the radio playing in the background.

What caught my attention were the words “your death awakens me to life, and my heart starts beating.” Heart Starts Beating is a new release from Tim Neufeld’s newest CD release, Trees.

The music is joyful, fun and the lyrics building in exciting. It certainly has that old British Pub sound … interesting since many ancient hymns came from pub songs. I would love to be at a concert where this song was performed … I imagine the crowd breaking out into toe-tapping dance, with old wooden steins held high (holding water, of course), complete strangers locking arms and swinging each other around in simple joyful recognition that through a cruel and sacrificial death on a cross, we have been made alive … fully alive!

So, for this summer Friday, may I encourage joy in the gift that Christ gave … the gift of life.

“Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground.
He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils,
and the man became a living person.”
Genesis 2:7

“You make us alive
You make us alive
You make us alive
You make us …”

Read Full Post »

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