Illusion

Having two daughters spaced four years apart had its challenges. The younger one always wanted to be as advanced as her sister and was slightly annoyed if she felt I was paying more attention to her sibling. She made sure I knew it. Even before she could speak, she would make it known that she wanted to be the top dog.

She noticed early on that our physical abilities were superior to hers, and she wasn’t happy until she was on the same level.

She learned to crawl by eight months old and began to pull herself up by using the furniture to hang on to within that same time frame.

One night, she saw that we were sitting with a blanket over us. My oldest daughter had meticulously set up her pillow, a few stuffed animals and had settled in next to me, absolutely content watching one of her favorite shows.

The other one came by, pulled on the blanket, and screeched. She pulled so hard that before I could lift her that it sent her sister’s enormous bowl of popcorn showering all over us. The quilt we were using ended up on the ground. The stuffed animals were in a crumpled mess with pillows scattered everywhere.

Like that magic trick where the person pulls the tablecloth, but the silverware doesn’t budge.

Jealousy and competition had given her the strength of ten people. It was so shocking to witness an infant take over like that.

While we cleaned up the mess, she sat on the floor laughing.

She progressed quickly from barely walking and was fully able to run by nine months old. Not always steadily, but with speed.

“Mom! Help!”

I saw the two of them run by, but the younger one had gotten a hold of the back of her sister’s nightgown. She had her in a hostage situation, clutching onto the material with both hands. While the little one beamed with glee, the other one panicked.

“Mom! She has me! Help!”

It was the strangest sight to see the younger one executing such a power play over someone who could easily outmatch her.

“You do know she’s a baby. You are four. You are older and can get away from her?”

I unhooked her from her kidnapper so she could go free.

When the oldest was learning to print her name when she turned 5, I thought it would be a great idea to have her write it on all the valentines for a homeschool party she would attend with other kids her age. I figured after 40 of them, she would have it down pretty good.

I didn’t want to leave the other out even though she did not yet possess the motor skills. I found her a little purple ink stamp with her name on it so she could use it.

Before I left the room, I said,

“Only use that on the paper, okay? Don’t put that on anything but the paper.”

She nodded in understanding.

I left for milliseconds and returned to find her name emblazoned across her forehead, arms, and any place bare skin had been. The one across her lips was creative.

Her sister had been so concentrated on forming each letter of her name that she hadn’t noticed the rampage next to her.

It wouldn’t be the last time she had a run-in with ink.

A few months later, while her sister attended a roller skating birthday party, she and I sat off to the side watching. I had brought an assortment of things for her to do, including washable markers and coloring books. I had glanced up to check on her sister when I heard the sucking in of air, like a deep gasp.

I quickly turned back to find her holding both hands up in front of her face in total horror. Her color choice had been red, and it had gotten on her fingers.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, wondering why this was so traumatic. She could come into the house totally filthy and not care. Her mouth was wide open in a silent scream as she gathered in as much oxygen as her lungs would allow. Then the wailing started.

I had a difficult time making out what she was trying to say.

“I..I..I am….bl…eed…”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“I AM BLEEDING!” She used all of her strength to say it as panic shut her down.

It appeared that she had been playing with sharp knives.

I got out a wet wipe and quickly cleaned her hands. Within a split second, she looked down, smiled, and said,

“Oh.”

Things aren’t always as they appear. Like a funhouse mirror that distorts your image to make you look taller or shorter, sometimes our senses and how we think can play tricks on us.

Three years ago, I had my roof replaced after a storm. A sunny day suddenly turned dark as the skies broiled angrily with fast moving clouds.

I had received a message from a family member that they had gotten hit with strong winds, and he sent photos of chunks of hail. It was headed my way.

Our sirens were going off, indicating that we should go into the basement. However, it looked so calm outside that I went out to see how ominous it was. My daughter and I watched as large raindrops started to hit the driveway. We were standing in a corner that provided us the ability to not get wet between the house and the garage.

Slight sprinklings of pea-sized hail began.

“This isn’t good,” I said. “I think we should go in.”

As I said this, it was as if a switch was thrown, and ice baseballs began to come down everywhere. We were trapped because there was no way to come out for a split second without getting nailed with multiple of these.

We watched as puddles in the street looked like they were hit with small bombs nonstop. We huddled in the corner as the wind whipped branches and other debris flew in the air.

Once we quit screaming, we went back into the house unscathed. But, I knew that the house was not.

I immediately contacted my insurance representative, who sent over someone the next day to help. It was determined I had damage, and the process for repair on paper was begun.

First, I had to come up with a $2500 deductible, which I did not have.

“We can fix this right now,” he said.

“I don’t have the deductible at the moment.”

I knew if I had him do the work, I would be in debt. I was using everything I had to pay off a $10,000 debt that had been strangling me financially for over eight years. I had vowed to myself never to create more of it after taking lousy advice under pressure in the past and being too trusting.

This meant living in a limited, constricted way. I didn’t want to add to the stress.

“We do roofs until the first week of October. That way, we know we won’t have any snow. You are one of my first houses. We will book up quickly, so we really should do it right now.”

As he said this, one of my neighbors appeared.

“Do you replace roofs?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Can you look at mine?“

After inspecting it, it was determined she needed it fixed.

“How quickly can you do this? I’m putting it on the market next week.”

There were workers all over her property by the next day, and I had been given a referral discount off of mine.

I noticed another neighbor needed work done, so I wondered if they wanted a second opinion. They already had a sign in their yard from one of the many companies going door to door. I knew the competition was high.

After my inspection, a stranger came with a ladder and climbed up unsolicited. When I confronted him with the threat I could report him to the city; he realized he was at the wrong address and quickly left.

When my other neighbor signed up with the man I referred, this meant another discount for me.

I was still short $1500.

With work being completed on both sides of me, I was tempted to get it done and figure out the cost later. I kept hearing to wait it out.

By early fall, I received a higher property tax refund than anticipated.

“I think we should fix your gutters, too,” I was told in the interim. “I will do them at cost.”

Four months had gone by while I watched everyone else having work done. We had gorgeous weather, and I had paid it off in full by the time the job was completed. I had made up my mind not to allow more debt.

What had appeared impossible at the start took care of itself.

The only slight setback in the whole process was that the noise of the reconstruction had deeply disturbed one of my dogs. It was as if she anticipated the entire house crashing down even though there was no danger. She refused to sleep lying down, but as fatigue would hit her, she would fall over, wake up, and the process would start again. For days she did this until her body forced her back into a regular sleep pattern.

Her faulty senses and limited ability to understand had resulted in her being a nervous wreck.

Unlike her, we have access to insider information that can be easily tapped into if we allow it.

In Jeremiah 33:3 it says:

This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me, and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’ (Message)

This leading generally doesn’t come in noisily but rather in subtle, quiet ways that only can be heard when there is no fear interference. Your reaction in the moment of adversity will determine how long you suffer.

Frustration, competition, and jealousy aren’t the ways out.

If you are willing to put aside what you think is true and seek out the One of all truth, the drama gets silenced. You won’t bleed to death because it’s just an illusion.

Okay

We had gotten home late when she came into my room with pieces of a gold foil wrapper in her hand.

“I found this on my floor.”

“What is it?”

“It’s what’s left of the chocolate bunny.”

It was the week after Easter, and her stash of candy had been left where one of my two dogs had found it.

When you have more than one, and you know it could be either that have devoured something they shouldn’t, you have to collect evidence before making accusations.

In your wildest dreams, you cannot fathom that one of these two perfect creatures from God has transgressed against you when you feed them and take better care of them than yourself. You wonder where you have failed as a guardian over their well-being.

But before you guilt trip yourself too far, you see images of them eating grass and chewing up tree bark like the wild animals they really are. You have witnessed one licking the bathroom floor for no reason and the other dragging out dirty laundry from a basket and ripping it to shreds.

Who can forget the time you came home to a whole bag of flour pulled from the cupboard? You find that it has been ingested because of the dusty paw prints on the floor, and the two of them are lying down, not moving with a white substance caked on their faces.

And you recall how you got down on your knees and thanked God that one of them hadn’t had their lips forever sealed after they bit into a tube of super glue, puncturing it. You saved the day by wiping off the glistening sheen while they struggled to get away from you, not understanding why you were doing what you are.

This was another one of those moments that the drive to eat something they shouldn’t overruled all else. They don’t hesitate and think, “Hmmm. She probably wouldn’t want us to do this.” Oh, no. For those brief seconds of indulging in a forbidden item, I’m sure they believe they are not under the rule of anyone but themselves and it’s green lights all the way.

Because there were two of them at the time, you don’t want to assume. My daughter had previously put them to the test by leaving out half of a sandwich on a plate with a camera focused on it to determine who would be bold enough to scarf it up.

Watching the footage was like an episode of National Geographic.

It hadn’t taken long before the male species came along and swallowed it down whole with his sister looking on. She acted so guiltily afterward that we would have guessed it was her. We figured out that if anything was left unattended, he was most likely the offender even though she acted the part.

He was the one who could do the unthinkable and not bat an eyelash afterward.

One day after doing so, he looked out the living room window on high alert, making sure no prowlers would break in during broad daylight. This was his way of getting past the event. Avoid eye contact. Take up a post like you are the best defense against the bad guys, and all will be forgiven and forgotten.

I told my daughter how I had found an empty bowl on one of the tray tables that I knew had crackers from the night before. As I said this, I saw him swallow hard like he realized I was calling him out.

“Look at that,” I said. “I think he feels guilty for once.”

He burped super loud.

“That’s not guilt! That’s indigestion!” I said, realizing he wasn’t remorseful one bit.

Knowing his history, we figured we had our man pegged for indulging in a toxic food item. We both started the cross-examination anyway, knowing that this was high on the danger list. So while someone had thoroughly enjoyed their session, we now had to save a life potentially.

It didn’t take long to conclude that he was now on health watch as his fur had chocolate all over it.

He waged his tail and looked me squarely in the eye like usual—nothing to see here.

My daughter felt so responsible that she started looking online for signs of the after-effects so we would know what to do.

“How much does he weigh?” she asked.

“I don’t know. They go to the vet next week for their spring check.”

After reading the percentage of dark chocolate and body weight, she said,

“I have to figure out if the amount he ate will hurt him.”

She picked him up and got on the scale, subtracting her own weight from the total.

“He is about fifteen pounds, so he should be alright.”

She then put her hand over his heart.

“It’s racing,” she said.

“He’s probably scared now that you stood with him on the scale.”

She didn’t hear me as she timed the beats while watching the clock.

“It’s really fast.”

The only thing we could see that was different was he was drinking more water than usual. At midnight, I decided to call an emergency vet for advice.

“If he is acting okay, then I wouldn’t worry. If he starts throwing up, give us a call again.”

We decided to do as she said and go to sleep. Both of them had slept on my bed for years, so I would know right away if anything happened.

I shut off my light and laid down when the sound of all sounds that makes you immediately get up started happening.

It was the beginning of the deep heaving that usually gives you seconds to react so you can get them outside. I went to grab him, but it was too late to stop the first round. I knew I would be running the washing machine like I had done many times before because dogs and small children decided that where I slept was the perfect place to throw up in the middle of the night.

I sent him out before the next. He came back in, immediately laid down on his bed, and went into a deep snore. While he was peacefully resting, she and I sat up until six am with bags forming under our eyes, ensuring he was back to normal. We were exhausted by the time the sun was coming up, but he woke up energetic and wanted his food bowl.

He ran outside like he had found his youth again, and I fell asleep on my feet, waiting for him to come back in.

Until I had children and pets, I never realized the lengths of self-sacrifice a person could go to—all for their survival regardless of your own.

And God does the same for us.

When we wantonly disregard all warning labels and put things in our bodies that could cause harm, we are designed with a clean-up system where everything goes to work on our behalf, striving to keep us alive for one more day while we sleep it off.

When we act impulsively, thinking we are not under the observation of heaven, God reacts as we did; correcting a wrong choice and making it right even if we don’t deserve it.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 it says:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”(NIV)

It’s a promise that we will never be left or forsaken in our trouble. God will be up all night to be sure you are okay.

Fenced In

“I think your dog got out,” she said when I came around the corner. “My boys opened the front door, and she ran off.”

She was still speaking while I was flying toward the front yard. The way it was said so casually indicated to me that she had no idea the jog I was about to take. Or the danger that my pet was in.

It was pouring rain, and I had dashed out without shoes so my socks were soaking wet in seconds. I could see her way up ahead, nose to the ground, oblivious to the cars zipping by.

This wasn’t the first chase I had been on since getting her. I had no idea when I was researching dog breeds and which one to get that this would be something to contend with.

She had been born and raised in a place that wasn’t the best. When I got to the location, there were beagle puppies running everywhere. The mom hid under an old beat-up car and looked at me with sad eyes. I didn’t know about puppy mills back then, but the conditions looked rough. When I took her to the vet because she had so many parasites, I was given medication actually to save her life.

“If you hadn’t taken her in, she would have died soon,” I was told. She was so wild and full of energy that I would have never known.

It appeared to be a farm that hadn’t been taken care of, so dog breeding had been thrown in to raise funds. There were so many dogs going in all directions that I decided to sit on a gravel path to see what would happen.

A very tiny girl puppy came and started pulling on my shoelace. The harder I tried to get it away from her, the more ferocious she held on and threw in a little growl while wagging her tail. When she was tired of that, she curled up in my lap.

“She’s the runt of the litter,” the breeder said. So was I, and she became mine.

My backyard had no fence, but we were told she was so small that we could probably catch her. Probably not. A chain-link fence had to go up immediately.

I took her to obedience classes. While all the other students ran to their owners, she visited everyone else and their dogs around the room. I wasn’t even an afterthought.

“Beagles have a heart of gold, but they will not listen. They will follow a scent and forget what is around them completely. They get focused and do not hear. It’s really difficult to train that out of them.”

So I ran down the sidewalk yelling her name, trying to catch her attention during a spring thunderstorm. We never went out the front door, and the people there were looking to buy something listed in the paper.

A neighbor waved at me from his garage as I tried to get closer to her. All of them had seen this happen so many times between the two of us.

She would spend a few moments on one spot of grass and then suddenly zoom away as if triggered by a smell of something she just had to investigate.

It ended the same way every single time. I was now blocks from home, within inches of her, out of breath, and she would realize I was behind her.

“Libby!” I would say for the millionth time, and she would stop.

“You stay.” And she would, now worn out from her half-crazed jaunt.

She wasn’t sitting still out of realizing she had done wrong; she was exhausted and wanted a lift back home.

Curling into a small ball, she would wait until I picked her up to carry her.

I walked back into my house with a dripping wet dog. I peeled off my socks in the kitchen.

“Oh. You caught her,” the lady said, smiling. My hair was dripping into my eyes. One of her teenage boys went through the front door, and Libby charged again, ready to have a second round. I grabbed her before It could happen.

I went over and locked the door. The lady looked at me like I was being rude, locking her son outside.

With a tight grip on the dog, I said,

“Either they stay in the garage or come in the house. I have had my exercise for today.”

I stalked off to find dry towels with her securely in my arms. If given a chance, she would do it all over again. And that lady didn’t get it.

Some would say that an animal can’t control their behavior, such as Libby, who once on a trail had to follow it.

I have met people who have been on that path. It’s operating on no filter and sheer determination to satisfy something that may be a bit out of balance.

During one of my shifts as a shelver at a public library, I was approached by a woman.

“Can you tell me where the adult videos are?” It was a low whisper.

I held a stack of DVDs that I was putting back. I knew what she was asking me, but I decided to pretend I didn’t fully comprehend.

“All of the material for adults is right here. The children’s section is toward the entry.”

I made no eye contact and went back to my task. This was one of those moments when I wished she had gone to the reference desk. I was a lowly shelver, and they were paid and trained to deal with these issues.

“No,” she insisted. This is not what I am looking for. I want movies for adults.”

I held up what I had in my hands.

“These are for adults.”

I was trying to have her give up and walk away. Inwardly, I was screaming for God to help me. I kept my facial expression neutral.

“You don’t seem to understand me,” she retorted. Now she was getting snippy, not realizing I was brushing her off for her good.

“I want movies made for adults only.”

“You are looking right at them,” I said, not budging for the third time.

“I want X-rated movies. Porn! I want porn!” She said this not with an inside voice, and her quest to get what she wanted had overtaken her ability to practice self-control in a public place.

A couple of patrons glanced our way. It was a quiet weeknight, so the crowd was thin, but the older man looking at the history selection looked a bit shocked. I smiled weakly at him. I knew it was part of my job to keep things orderly, and that wasn’t just the books.

My subtle efforts to redirect her had gone unnoticed, so I had to set her straight now. Her drive for something like my beagle escaping was taking her to places she shouldn’t be.

“This is a public library. Are you aware of how the media gets paid for so you and everyone else can come here and check out material for free? Do you know how that system works?”

She blinked when the realization hit her that I was a lot more intelligent than I had come across initially. I didn’t demean her, but with as much professionalism I had within me, I continued to inform her about the ways and means of purchases made so the community at large could enjoy them.

“This is all possible with taxpayer money. Do you think people will sign up to pay for what you are looking for?”

Now she had gone silent. I had killed the mood with talk about taxes. You can pretty much make a room go silent if you start talking about the IRS.

“You aren’t going to find what you are looking for anywhere in this building. Does that make sense?”

She nodded.

“I don’t want to see you wasting your time going from place to place searching for something that doesn’t exist. You will not find that here or at any other locations.”

I was helping her but also sparing other employees from this conversation later.

I kept my voice low and made sure I didn’t make her feel bad. If anyone felt horrible, it was me! I wanted to drop everything and run for the break room. But I fought off my awkwardness to help her understand.

Suddenly, she looked ashamed, mumbled thank you, and walked away.

She just needed someone to put down a boundary to bring clarity.

No one is immune to saying or doing things based on habits or even false ways of thinking. Self-discipline isn’t always at the top of the priority list, and something that starts out innocently can run amuck.

I learned this when I was in elementary school. Every Christmas, my dad would make homemade chip dip. This was the only time of the year that we would have it, and it was my favorite. I basically ate nothing else but that when he brought it out on Christmas Eve. It was like a bowl of an addictive substance I could not leave alone. And every year at midnight, I was violently throwing up.

When I was nine years old, my mom anticipated my upcoming vomit session by addressing me before it hit the table.

“Chris, try not to overeat that this year.” She told me this while he had the mixer going and was in the process of putting it together.

As she gave me this speech, my brother’s girlfriend asked,

“What are you talking about?”

“Chris throws up every year because she overeats chip dip. Every year!” She had to add a sigh like it was the end of the world.

“I will give you a quarter if you don’t get sick this time,” she said.

As the night went by, I thought about the deal struck, and it made me consider my choices. I limited my indulgence. It was my first year that I didn’t have to run for the bathroom in the early hours of Christmas Day. My mother rejoiced and offered me a quarter until my late thirties to ensure I never did it again.

All that was needed was a guideline so I could adjust my actions. While I had to be the guardian of Libby and give assertive instruction to a stranger in the library, I had control over my own fate.

When it gets difficult to see past the addiction or the behaviors that aren’t for your highest good, that’s where God can help. Heaven will come gently to your side and offer assistance so you can advance. It might be in the form of a counselor, a sign that change must occur, or a quarter. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, it says,

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (NIV)

And if you are wondering if God wants to be there for you, read this from Psalm 91,

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me, and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life.” (Message)

All it takes is realizing that you want better for yourself and a simple prayer. Strength will come to you to get past the situation where you can live at a higher level, with no limitations, never feeling restricted or fenced in.

(Just Say No…)

Less Tears

“Did you see that?” She asked as I walked through the store, trying to focus.

I stopped to look at what she wanted me to notice. It was a display of cardinals. Glassware, plates, and mugs were adorned with the red-winged symbol. I picked up a miniature one and saw that it had a small card associated with it.

My eyes were so swollen from crying I could hardly read.

“It says that when someone wants to send you a message from heaven to tell you they are ok, a cardinal will appear.”

I was having a lot of other signs happening, but not this one. When my mom moved on in 2019, my life dramatically changed as I could easily go between the two realms.

I had seen a few videos where people described their encounters with birds, but I hadn’t had the experience. I picked up a small charm to purchase and went back to looking around.

It was the day after my dog had passed on to heaven in my lap. I had gotten out of the house to distract myself and was trying to feel normal.

I felt guilty for being so lost without him. How could I feel this way about a dog? People had died that I knew, and I wasn’t this upset. I felt like I had watched my child go away, and I kept trying to tell myself I had to pull it together.

I had been trained not to feel anything as I grew up, so I was used to being able to pretend the pain wasn’t there. But, this time, I couldn’t make it stop. It kept coming in waves, and I knew that he wouldn’t be there when I got back home as he had been for 12 years.

Over the noise in my mind, I heard it playing on a speaker above my head.

“Do you hear that?” I asked my daughter.

It was Ave Maria. That was always a strong indication that my mom was trying to tell me she was around.

I have found that music is an easy way for those in heaven to communicate with us. My playlist on my phone will suddenly go to a song with lyrics that tells me how to look at a situation in a helpful way. Or there will be words that will comfort me when I don’t understand circumstances that seem so out of control. It will happen while I am driving or shopping.

At first, I used to ignore it or explain it away. That’s one way we keep ourselves safe and try to understand what we don’t understand. It’s just a coincidence, and it means nothing, right?

But when you start to listen closely and pay attention, it becomes so pronounced that you can’t brush it off anymore.

While my mom was days away from her transition into eternal life, I could not go anywhere without hearing Rod Stewart sing Forever Young. After the third time, I started to notice this, and I would suddenly catch the lyrics while in a store, restaurant, or even on hold. It really hit me when I was in the freezer section of a small grocery store I rarely went to.

The realization of it was astounding. All knowledge is given where she is, so songs, books, anything is available to send subtle messages.

I had to unlearn what I thought I knew about the other side. I had been taught not to mess with the dead because that was demonic. Evil can come as light, so don’t go near it, like when you are taught as a kid not to touch a hot stove. So I had tried for years to push away what was trying to break through into my existence.

As I stood there not twenty-four hours after his departure, I listened to this significant tune being played just for me. I knew I was being told I wasn’t alone.

Grief can do that in the most unrelenting way. It comes in and covers you in darkness. No unseen forces are working against you; this is you against you.

While I knew I had to feel what I did, I didn’t want to stay stuck in it, which is easy to do. So I was trying to remain mindful of how much I was getting swept up in the sadness. I had wanted to leave with him, and I couldn’t. I was trying not to think about the long dark tunnel that was ahead for me without him.

And then the guilt.

When I told my daughter about that, she said,

“People are always going to do things that make us upset, and they are going to hurt and disappoint us, but he never did that to you. He gave you unconditional love, and sometimes you had to correct him, but he never hurt you.”

That helped.

So as Ave Maria played, I turned and saw a shelf of battery-operated lanterns. When the switch on the bottom was moved, it lit up, and a fan started to move glittery snowflakes like a snow globe but with no effort to shake it.

One of them had a male and female cardinal in it. My dad didn’t want a Christmas tree put up the year before, so I thought maybe he would like this instead. It had a significant meaning attached to it as he went through his second year as a widower. Having her favorite song play nonstop was guiding me on how to help him and me.

When I gave it to him and told him I had one, he said,

“Maybe we will be looking at them at the same time.”

“Should we communicate by telepathy through the birds?”

At first, he thought I was serious, and he always gets this look on his face that makes me laugh. The same one that put her into hysterics.

“Is that possible?” He asked.

“I’m just kidding,” I said. Who knows at this point. Maybe.

“Oh. You had me a little worried there for a minute.”

After all I had told him about my supernatural life, this was a worry?

“I do have strange things that I can’t explain happen to me all the time.”

“Accept it, Chris. God has chosen you to give this gift to. Just accept it.”

We didn’t access supernatural powers through our Christmas lanterns, but mine would turn itself on at random times. Even if the off switch were on, it would startup, and I just accepted it.

I had been searching for something to put on my tree in memory of my dog. I couldn’t find anything in the store that day, so I went online. I was briefly disappointed to see that a particular one had sold out. It was a cardinal looking into a window. He had always sat with one eye toward the living room windows to be sure we were protected.

“I want this,” I said, showing my daughter. “But it’s gone.”

I tried to find something else, but I kept coming back to that one.

One day as I was walking past my tree, which I had put up early as another distraction from my grief, I said,

“I expect to get that ornament, and I am going to put it right on this branch!”

I was somewhat moving into the anger portion of my loss. Not severe, but enough to not put up with the lack of supply for something I wanted. I wasn’t asking for the world, just something small. And if God owned everything, then I could have it.

Every day, sometimes more than once, I would go up to that spot on my tree and say out loud,

“That ornament is going right there, and it’s going to hang on that branch.”

I never looked at it online again, but my daughter did.

A handful of days into this, she was woken up at 2 am and told to search a particular website. To her amazement, there was one available, and she purchased it before falling back to sleep.

Every day she had to listen to my speech about how great my tree looked with the ornament on it. She waited as time went by, and there was no delivery. She messaged the seller and was told that it had been delayed, but it was coming.

Meanwhile, I kept repeating the same mantra every single time I walked by the space. It was mine, and I wasn’t taking no for an answer.

On December 19, many weeks after all this began, I got home late and I was trying to tell her something. She kept shifting her eyes away while I was speaking. Finally, I said,

“What is wrong with you? Why do you keep doing that with your eyes?”

She didn’t answer me but looked away again. I squinted, trying to get a reading on what was up. Had the stress of her career gotten to her? What problem was I now going to have to help her solve? Was she overworked? I came up with nothing. Usually, I just knew.

“What is going on?”

More of a head nod this time made me look toward whatever had her attention. The entire house was dark except for the lights on the tree, and I stepped closer to the spot that had been empty.

I could not believe it! The sold-out ornament was on the tree!

“What? How did this happen?” I said.

She told me about her late night purchase with my mom’s voice telling her where to get it.

I thought that was the end of it, but we had two cardinals repeatedly show up in the yard over the summer. They were replicas of the ones in my lantern, and I had never had this happen before. One of them started to fly so close to me at times, I had to shut the door quickly so that it wouldn’t get in the house.

During all of this, my grief still raged on at times so harshly that it would stop me in mid-sentence or come out of nowhere when I thought I was fine.

I was sitting in my friend’s salon chair in mid-July as she mixed up hair color. She had her dog go to heaven days after mine did, very unexpectedly, so she knew first hand the sorrow I was feeling.

She stopped what she was doing and stepped in front of me. This was unusual for her as she is a very driven person who doesn’t stop once involved in a task.

She took off her glasses and said,

“God just said me that He is going to show you the love that your dog had for you in a different way. Stinky was an example of what is coming next into your life.”

Then she went back to work on my hair. But that became an anchor for me as I have drifted in and out of rough places, being tossed around, wondering if life would be okay without him.

We are being taken care of in so many ways, and we don’t even know it. To see, though, it requires expansion. I still miss my dog, but the sting of it has gotten easier. I still want him to materialize next to me on the couch and scratch my hand to get me to pet him, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I have to move on because there is more to do here. He isn’t coming back no matter how much I want him to.

But, what I can do is keep myself as close as possible to the One who created him just for me.

In Psalm 34:18 it says,

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (NLT)

This I have found to be true. As I have drawn near to God, I have overcome some of the hurt to get through the darker days. As I have allowed healing to come without resistance, my capacity to help others has grown. I can’t go anywhere now without someone telling me they have had to say goodbye to an important person.

Last weekend, I was in a hardware store getting zip ties, and the cashier randomly said his best friend had died at the end of October. I could see a tall man standing next to him, around fifty years old.

“Do you feel his presence? Was he tall?” I was testing the waters.

“Yes, I can feel him by me every day. He was much taller than me and died at 55. But it’s like he never left.”

And I thought I was going to get zip ties.

My faith has increased through all of it, my spiritual ears have become more receptive, and my eyes opened to more incredible things with less tears.

Boy

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a whole year since you haven’t greeted me at the door. Or followed closely nearby. Even if I were still half asleep, you and your sister would be so happy to see me in the morning. You would both run to the kitchen, but you always turned back to walk behind me—every single day.

Last year while the world tuned into politics on Election Night, I went downstairs to test my Christmas lights. There is nothing worse than setting up a tree and having lights not work. It was early, but I felt I was to do it.

When I plugged in the first string, I heard,

“We will take good care of him over here, Chris.”

I didn’t get it.

“He will be leaving soon, Chris. We will take good care of him here.”

I sat there in total silence. This could not be possible. My dog of twelve years just had developed a slight limp. He was eating fine, maybe sleeping a little more but went into his usual high energy bark mode at everything that passed by the front window.

“What?” I asked.

“He’s leaving you, Chris. He’s coming to the other side, and he will be taken really good care of.”

“No. I don’t believe it,” I whispered. “No way. He just has a limp.”

He had this same issue many times, and the vet had told me eventually he might need a knee replaced. He wasn’t a dog who gracefully jumped from couch to chair, but he flew without his feet touching the ground. If there was something for him to guard us against, he was in the air leaping.

I tried to stop this behavior by buying a set of dog stairs, and he jumped over them. It was just in his DNA to fly to his next location. This had taken a toll on his joints. I gave him a supplement to help, but his mobility would show signs of weakness every once in a while.

I sat there wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me. Maybe it was a case of worry, and I imagined the worst.

“Chris, it’s true. He’s leaving soon.”

Suddenly I realized that what I heard was coming. I crawled into the bathroom and shut the door. I lay on the floor as tears streamed down. I was hoping I was wrong.

“Where’s mom?” I heard someone say from upstairs. I had to pretend all was well. I was probably just making this up in my head. I splashed cold water all over my face. I have done this so many times in my life. Just cover and don’t say a word. I had gotten very good at it.

Slap on a smile and give a good performance.

When I got upstairs, no one would have guessed what I knew. I glanced across the room to see him sleeping so peacefully. See? You’re wrong.

I decided to text my younger daughter, and I just couldn’t say the words out loud.

“Do you think he is leaving us?”

She looked at me with a frown and shook her head no. Oh, good. I was wrong.

The following day he wouldn’t eat, which helped me decide to bring him in.

“We are going to have to do surgery on his back leg. And we took blood. Once that comes back, we can go ahead, but we have to make sure the anesthesia will be safe for him to have. Other than his leg, he is really healthy, and I think he has at least another 5-8 years to live. You have taken such good care of him.”

I had known this vet the entire twelve years of our dogs’ lives, and his advice has always been trustworthy.

“I’m going to give you some pain pills for him, and that should help with his eating. Once the blood sample is back, I will call you.”

I took him home and started on the medication. Just like I was told, he began to eat again. Not as much, but I figured it was a good sign. I kept pushing away the still, small voice. Nope. It wasn’t right.

The next day, he was back to not eating again. I made another call to the doctor. It was late in the day by the time he got back to me. He has a busy practice.

“I need you to bring him into my office tomorrow immediately. The blood work shows he has no red blood cells. This is impossible. He shouldn’t even be here right now. I want to take another sample and read it under a microscope myself. We had the other sample sent to the lab, and I want to be sure it’s right. I’m leaving medication for him at the front for you to pick up tonight. But you have to promise me you will bring him back in tomorrow morning right away. I normally don’t come in on Saturday, but something isn’t right.”

I gave him the pills to get his body to produce red blood cells and the pain medication. I tried to stop the inevitable, but I had to, and I continued to ignore the other thoughts.

What didn’t help was that my daughter, who initially said I was wrong, now thought I was right.

“I don’t want to be right,” I said after his first dose. And it was a fight to get him to take it.

The next day, I took him in. This was during the shutdown, and usually, I had to wait in the car. But, they had made an exception. Sitting in the exam room all alone, I couldn’t get away from what was happening, and there was nothing to distract myself with.

“He has no red blood cells, and I saw it for myself. Please continue to give him all the medication over the weekend and see how he does. Do your daughters know that he is very sick? I’m shocked. Until I saw the bloodwork, I would have never guessed.”

“They know everything you have said.”

“I will call you Monday. The medication can really help.”

They handed him over to me, and he relaxed into my arms. He never was a big fan of going there.

By Monday morning, I knew for sure we were about to say goodbye. I had left my bedroom door open on Sunday night, and he had gone into the kitchen, which he never did. He slept with one eye open by me every night. For him to not stay with me was his way of trying to spare me.

I was undecided about what to do. He was weak but sleeping. His breathing was somewhat off, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. At 9 am, the vet called.

“How is he?”

“I think he is leaving.”

“You can bring him in. And I will be here to help. You don’t want him to suffer.”

“This is happening fast. I need to think. I will call you back.”

“Okay. You let me know. If I weren’t so busy, I would come to your house.”

I started looking up in-home pet agencies that would come and assist us with end of life services.

“Wait until noon, Chris.” That still, small voice. I put my arm around his neck as I lay on the floor by him, and he rested his chin in the crook of my elbow.

“If you need to leave. You can, and I don’t need you to stay. We will be okay without you.”

I felt I needed to give him permission to go, and so did my daughters. We each told him it would be okay.

I continued to look up emergency services as the clock ticked.

He got up and moved into the kitchen, and I followed, putting him on my lap. He had been avoiding me most of the morning. My daughter sat next to me.

“You can go. We will be ok,” I said again.

“I think he is going to leave,” she said.

“Me too.”

“He’s giving us a gift, so we don’t have to make the decision.”

“I know.”

He took a deep breath, and we knew. I looked at the clock, and it was exactly twelve.

For a brief moment, I felt peace, just like it should be. I saw him leap into heaven, from my lap into the arms of God.

The next part was one I didn’t see coming. His body shut down, and blood poured over my legs, ankles, and feet. I found out later this is common, but I panicked. I moved him off of me, and I knew it was over. I couldn’t breathe as I lay on the floor. I felt myself begin to blackout.

I suddenly was leaving my body. I wanted to go with him, and he just couldn’t leave me. It hadn’t even been a week since I had heard what was about to happen.

My daughter put her hand on me to call me back, and I could barely hear her voice. I just wanted to go with him. How was I going to go so long without him? He was my watchdog and guardian.

When I was sick once with a high fever, I hung on to his paw, and he let me while I had drifted into and out of sleep. He was the one to make me laugh when I didn’t want to and scratch my hand when he wanted attention. I couldn’t imagine being without him. He had arrived after my divorce and brought stability to a chaotic house. God had sent him to us, and I didn’t realize the depth of it until he left.

As I came back into my body and could breathe again, I had to deal with the next step. I went into the bathroom to wash his blood off of me. I didn’t want to, and it meant he was gone. I just kept telling myself I had to do the next thing. Step by step, as if in slow motion, I moved. I had to hand him over at the place I had taken him so many times to be made well.

He was cremated, and I took his ashes to the home where he was born. His dad and sister are buried there, so we thought he should be too. That drive is short, but it was the longest of my life. Each small thing felt like a new goodbye.

They say the first year is challenging following a death, and it is. I felt guilty sometimes because I missed him more than some people I knew that had died, and I felt like I had lost a child.

It’s an adjustment, but he lets me know he’s not far away. One night, I had a dream. I saw him sitting next to a little girl who was maybe about two years old. She looked bewildered, like she didn’t know where she was. He was on his best behavior, sitting up straight in guard dog stance. I saw dog tags on his neck, which I never had him wear.

I heard:

“His job is to welcome in those little ones who get to heaven young. He makes it seem more familiar so that they can get used to it. He earned those tags at your house.”

I wanted so selfishly to say..no! He is mine! But I couldn’t because he never really was. He was on loan to me for a purpose, which he fulfilled.

On a summer evening, I was walking back towards home, and I saw his doppelgänger. All black with the same little bounce and plume-like tail. He turned to bark at me just like mine would have.

“Shadow! No!” The lady said.

I sat down in the grass. He quit barking.

“They get scared when people walk by them,” I said. He came right up to me and sniffed my knee.

Then, he stood with both front paws on my leg and sniffed my face.

“Shadow! He never does this to anyone!”

“It’s ok.”

He started licking my face.

“He usually barks at everyone. He has never done anything like this!”

“Well, he must know I like his kind.”

He had all the same issues mine had…teeth issues, back leg problems, and quickly put on weight if they gave him too many snacks. He is only four, so I was able to tell her what I did to help with some of the problems.

“Does be fly off the couch to get to the chair? Without touching the ground?”

“Yes. You can’t stop him.”

“No, you can’t.”

When I stood up, he licked my hand one last time. Then he barked at me as if he had never met me. Just like mine would have.

His real name given to him at birth before I got him was Stinky. His perfect white stripe down his tummy reminded the breeder of a skunk. To my house, he was Mr. Hairy, Stinky La Rue, Harold, Frenney, my buddy, and whatever else we all thought he should be. He came no matter what we called him, especially if we had food in our hands. But most importantly, he was my boy.

(He always was a good listener when we needed a therapist)
One last look. This is my last picture of him. 12 o’clock came right after I took this.
My gift from heaven…

Retrieve Your Liberty

The drive was a dark twenty minutes from her workplace to our home. Post Christmas and New Year’s was evident by the lack of twinkling pretty lights I had enjoyed looking at on this stretch just a few weeks ago. While she sat in the back catching up on her social media, I glanced at the clock to see it was twenty to ten. I pondered what I should do first when I got home. The laundry was partly complete with some items still in the wash when I left and some in the dryer. The dishwasher was calling my name to be emptied of its clean contents. But, there was the lure of the lateness of the hour and the end of a full day which usually meant pajamas, a snack and a couch cushion that had my imprint on it.

All of this thinking led to other thoughts. Why had her Jeep Liberty blown up on her just a month before she finished school in December? The head gasket could have held itself together just a tad bit longer so she could finish, start her new job and figure out what to do next. However, that is not how life presents itself at times. On November 11, she experienced a rather thrilling ride home with a temperature gauge rising out of control. She made it safely, but the next day we took it to a local shop.

After the car was gone for about thirty minutes, the phone call came asking if we could meet with the mechanic. I knew while I was driving back that generally easy news is delivered over the phone and an in person explanation meant trouble.

We were escorted into the back where many cars hung suspended and the smell of oils and solvents penetrated the air. Or was that my fear? I am not sure. A young man with a clipboard approached us and said,

“You really have two choices. She has a blown head gasket, so we can put in a refurbished engine which will cost $4,000 or a brand new engine for $8,000.”

I think we both experienced a gut punch simultaneously. This was the first vehicle she ever owned and it had seemed so reliable with its four wheel drive in the winter over the past two and a half years.  Just minor tiny fixes here and there had been required but nothing she couldn’t manage.

“Do you have $8,000?” I asked her. “How about $4,000?” I was hoping that the mechanic would actually hear what I was saying and how crazy I thought he was for even telling us such a thing. The car had 175,000 miles on it.

She silently shook her head. I knew she was feeling just as frustrated about the whole thing as I was. She had taken nearly all of her hard earned savings and put it toward a short term college course so she could move ahead in life. A good decision that now seemed to be rewarded with a punishment.

I thanked him for his time and exited. I didn’t get out the door before the guy at the front desk tried to tell us to apply for their credit card offer and put the entire expense on it. I didn’t thank him for his time, and I got back out into the parking lot as quickly as I could.

Because I wanted to be sure we had both heard the correct news, I took the car to another shop that following week. It was determined that the car did indeed have a blown head gasket, and the work would be roughly over $3,000 for repair. We parked it in the garage, as if putting it into hospice, with its terminal diagnosis.

I would find myself walking by it on the way to my car often wondering why. It looked so nice on the outside, so why did it have to betray her? To make the situation sting even more was the fact that she still was making payments on it. So, to sell it meant she had to find a buyer who would give her enough to pay off the loan so she could walk away free and clear.   Our choices were limited by lack of finances, and nothing seemed to give us any freedom from the problem.

Thus, began my chauffeuring service so she could finish school and get to work. This also entailed car pooling to stores so she wouldn’t feel so trapped in the house without transportation. All of this was transpiring during Thanksgiving and Christmas which can always bring a mad rush to shop, prepare the huge feast, bake and shop some more.  At other times of the year, my time isn’t as constrained, but this was the height of hectic.

So, on this dark January night, as I drove along contemplating all of it, my wonderings of why became more prevalent.   I pulled into the garage and we both got out at about the exact moment.  Now it was nearly ten, and winter had set in.  It wasn’t below zero, but a crisp twenty degrees generally sends most into the house quickly.  However, I saw her turn her head and say something about a dog.  Then, I saw her crouching down just outside the garage in the driveway.

I looked toward the sidewalk and saw the most beautiful retriever come to a screeching slide as she tried to heed my daughter’s call.  I joined in saying,

“Come here!  Come on!”  I got down low as well so the dog would see that we would mean her no harm.  She did that belly crawl type walk where a dog wants to keep running but they are so enticed by the command to come, they can’t help themselves.  Then, she sprang into action and ran right to my daughter.

runaway

“Does she have a collar?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she answered as the dog was excitedly wagging its tail and trying to lick her face.  I reached down and found a collar to hang on to.  Just as I did, I heard a slight wheezing sound.

“Oh!  Hang on to her!  Oh!  Please!  OH!” The dog heard this too and tried to wiggle her neck out of the collar, but I knew that trick and grabbed on tighter with both hands.  Obviously, she wasn’t out for a relaxing evening stroll with her owner.

I saw a short woman puffing out quick breaths as she tried to get up our driveway.  It was like she was running and not making much progress.  The sidewalk was slick so she was also trying not to fall.

“OH!  You caught her!  Hang on to her!”  She was trying to breathe and talk so it was hard to understand her.   I pulled the dog into the garage with the woman as my daughter ran and shut the garage door.  At this, the dog happily took off to investigate the entire garage while the woman slumped over my car in sheer agony.  I put my hand on her shoulder and said,

“Breathe.  Just breathe.  She is okay now.”  Then, when she looked up, I said,

“Hey!  I know you!”  We hadn’t seen each other for awhile, but I had walked by her house many times during warmer weather and we would talk.  I had gone to a couple of her garage sales as well during my twenty-four year residence in the neighborhood.

“Well, hi!” she said and hugged me.  While doing so, she gasped,

“I am so glad you two came along!  I have been chasing her for awhile.  She got out and wouldn’t stop running.  I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was starting to panic.”

She draped herself over my vehicle again as she caught her breath.  I told her to inhale and relax.  Meanwhile, her dog was running around happy as could be.

“We took her in last July from a family that couldn’t keep her anymore. The lady had cancer and her husband couldn’t keep the dog, so we are all still adjusting.”  I watched as the dog bounded around so full of life for her young age without at clue that she had nearly given the woman some sort of attack whether heart or asthma.

It was decided that the owner would sneak through my house, go home, gather up a leash and return with her car.  While she was away, my daughter sat on the steps waiting.  I saw the dog sit down next to her, look her in the eye and give her an enormous slurp from her chin to her hairline.  We both laughed.  It was like the dog knew us her whole life and had strolled over to casually say hello.

This may sound odd, but in that second, I knew deep in my heart that my late night pick up and all of its hassle had a point.   Normally, when I pull into the garage, I shut the door and go inside.  If my daughter would have gotten done any earlier, that woman and her dog would have been out running the neighborhood in frigid weather.  It was as if on cue, we had returned to help out a neighbor who was struggling.  The grander picture began to fill my thoughts that I am not here just for the sake of myself. Things occur for a reason, and if I would just stop overthinking it or fighting with myself about it, all of it would eventually make sense.

The dog was answering some of my ‘why’ questions from my drive home.

The woman retrieved her retriever, thanked us profusely again and drove off safely back to her residence.

That night served as a small anchor as more days passed with no answers regarding our dilemma. I would conjure up the image of the dog kissing my daughter’s face just to help myself believe that there is a force who loves me completely and cares for my entire household.  Freedom comes when you are given a hint of something that is divine in nature.  If you can be given the gift of having the ‘why’ question answered, it makes the traveling through the pain easier at times.

As of this writing, a solution has come for my daughter and her car.  After much mental turmoil, I decided to send an email letting someone know of her plight.  I am not one to ask for assistance with my girls as we generally can figure it out ourselves.  To be honest, I think all of us should have some balance with that.  If someone offers to help you, then don’t feel guilt or ashamed in taking the assistance if you need it.  And, if you feel led to ask for help, then just ask. I have found that this actually brings the giver a blessing in return.

My intent in sending the correspondence was only to verbalize and get out on paper what she was going through. In turn, I received a response where my daughter’s car will be restored for her to alleviate the burden.  Did I know this when I wrote what I did?  No.  At no expense to her, an attempt is going to be made to see if the Jeep can be salvaged to its former state.  (Yes, I am still on the floor from fainting from hearing the news of this because I wasn’t expecting that or seeking it.)

I am learning that asking others for help, and allowing God to use me to be someone else’s helper is the ebb and flow of life.  Knowing that you are loved by your Creator makes it possible during a bleak time to stay strong, live a life with meaning, and help you to keep, restore and sometimes retrieve your liberty.

 

 

jeep