They told me she was found alone on the street. Abandoned. She was just a puppy. Then the shelter lady closed the file, looked up and said, “That’s it. That’s her story.”
If only dogs could talk.
What would Coco-Seven Sunday tell me?
Would she tell me the reason she’s afraid to go outside in our front yard? Or why she can barely stand on the sidewalk without bolting in blind panic when a car drives by? Would she tell me why she bucks like a tiny wild horse, slipping out of the pink collar she’s yet to grow into, when I tug at the leash, urging her to come explore the neighborhood with me?
I hold her against my chest and stroke her hair while she cries. She says she has no friends. She says every time she asks one of her classmates to “be her friend”, they say no so she runs away.
My heart breaks into a thousand pieces inside my chest and I can’t think of the right thing to say.
So instead I try to buy time by asking her questions like, “Who says no? Which kids? What are their names?” Like somehow this makes a difference. Like somehow that’s going to help me zero in on some way to turn that no into a yes.
She takes a few minutes because she doesn’t want to tell me or maybe she’s just trying to formulate her thoughts into words, which is hard for her even with the four sessions of speech therapy a week.
Finally she mentions the name of a girl I know. I’ve noticed her while chaperoning field trips, or helping with classroom parties. She’s the popular one. The leader. The one all the other girls clamor around. The one who, Annie says, tells her to “stop” whenever she tries to join in. The social gatekeeper.
And I feel the anger simmering in my belly. I wish I could just grab this girl by the arm and make her be friends with Annie. But that’s not the way to make friends, so I say nothing.
Does this nonsense really start as early as first grade? Are these the same sweet little munchkins that circled around her last year, full of welcoming hugs and kisses, when two months into the school year, she was placed back into a kindergarten class for the second time around because she wasn’t keeping up with the first grade curriculum? How did they grow fangs already?
So I squeeze her a little tighter, and say, “Forget those girls. There must be other girls in the class you could try to make friends with.” Other girls looking in from the outside, like her. Yes, that’s it. Outsiders unite!
“But I want to be friends with ________!” and she breaks into breathless sobs again because another wave of humiliation and rejection crashes over her.
I’m at a total loss. As a mother, I don’t know what to do to make this better. I have not the slightest clue how to ease these emotions she’s processing. As a person in general, who’s lived and functioned in this society for nearly 41 years, I’m baffled by my social skill set deficit. How the heck do you make friends with the popular girl?
I’m desperate so I say, “Maybe if you bring her a present, she will be nicer to you.” As soon as it’s out of my mouth, I sense there’s something really off about this approach. It doesn’t sit right with me. It feels like bribery and it’s pathetic but it’s all I’ve got so I roll with it. “I just bought some really pretty lollipops for our treasure box. You can bring her one of those tomorrow.”
She lifts her head and her eyes brighten a bit.
Uh-oh. I can see I’ve given her some hope.
Oh God, please let this work. And God, if it doesn’t, please give me the words to get her through it.
“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:13-15
I grew up in a financially unstable home. While we always had food to eat and a roof over our heads, I recognized, even at a young age, the struggle to keep what little we had. In my adulthood, I’ve realized a deep, unhealthy urge to rely on money for my sense of security. When there is enough of it, I feel like I can conquer the world. But when funds run low, my soul starts to tailspin into worry and irrational thinking. What a flaw of mine! What a lack of trust in the amazing God I walk with.
God is the only eternal source of security and peace. Money has never been able to heal my heart or give truth enough to help me overcome some of my deepest fears. Yes, we work at our jobs and one of the end goals is a paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with needing or wanting things money can give. The problem arises when our faith and trust in money overpowers our faith and trust in God. When it consumes us, we become slaves to it. It’s a lesson that God reminds me of over and over. He is the one providing, not only for my financial needs but for my spiritual and emotional needs as well. I could have nothing by the world’s standard but if I have God, I have EVERYTHING.
God, help us to focus on the things that matter to You. Lift our eyes to see only You. Help us to be a good stewards with what you have given us. Help us find peace in You and let us rest there, Father. Help us to not care about the worldly things. I know, I know and I know, You are the only treasure worth having.
God or money? I choose God. He will take care of the rest.
Our mailbox is huge. I could literally shove my 15 pound dog into it with plenty of room to spare. My point? It holds a lot of mail. It’s the reason I’ve slipped into the bad habit of checking the mail only twice a month, when it’s time to pay bills. I should drag a small wagon out with me to collect it all instead of chasing after bits in the wind when it slips from my arms. This morning, among the flurry of grocery store circulars of sales I’ve missed, credit card offers, and utility bills, was a giant USPS envelope addressed to me from my dear friend, Ana who’d moved away this past November.
I turned it over in my hands curiously, hoping it hadn’t sat there for days, buried in the dark, bottomless pit of our mailbox. I noticed the return address, remembering the night she told me her husband had accepted a job in Nebraska and they would be moving in a month.
“What? Next month?” I’d said, shocked.
She nodded and her dark eyes shone with that sparkle she gets when she smiles really hard. I listened to all the details and cried with her when she talked about leaving all her extended family behind. I hope I seemed supportive that day, because although I was happy and excited for the new adventure in store for her, I was mainly disappointed with the loss seeing her regularly.
She was one of the girls in our bible study group and so special to me. From the beginning, God placed her right smack in the middle of that tender spot in my heart. I realized from the first few study sessions, how intensely private and guarded she was. She was quiet, doing more listening than sharing but as the weeks went by, she opened up more and more, revealing some of the things she’s had to face and overcome; things others rarely see or ever have to think about. Her strength struck me. It attracted me because I often felt so weak. To me, she is something to marvel at, a silencing mystery, someone worthy of respect. She was a tough nut to crack but how amazing it was to watch God courting her and witness her faith blossom right before my eyes, like a delicate rose in the soft light of a new day.
Some weeks, when she was the first to arrive at my house for bible study, we’d have some precious one on one time before the weekly flurry of girls arrived, turning the conversation and our attention to other things. At the close of one of our weekly studies, knowing that I was facing one of my greatest fears, flying, she spoke up and suggested that the women pray for my upcoming trip and even more shocking, she’d actually led the prayer. It might have been the first time I’d ever heard her pray out loud which made the words all the more powerful and treasured to me.
Thinking of all this, I opened the envelope and out slid one of those new adult coloring books, the exact kind I’d pondered buying for myself a few weeks ago, hoping its promise to cage some of my untamable worries for a few hours proved true. I’d lingered in front of the display at my local craft store, thumbing through the books but never bought one. Now here it was. There was even a pack of colored pencils to go along with it.
I was touched that she’d thought of me and actually gone to the trouble of mailing it. I’d seen the snowy white pictures she’d posted on Facebook. I’m spoiled by the freedom of Florida’s reliably warm sunny weather and imagined the extra effort it must have taken to send. I stared at the book on the counter and started to cry. Hard, shoulder shaking sobs and all, right there in the middle of my kitchen. Ana’s feather of genuine friendship lightly landing on my overly stretched bag of emotions was all it took to pop me. I wasn’t expecting a flood to break me this morning. I wondered why I was crying. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to sink to the floor and finally release it all.
I think I’ve barely been holding it together lately. The last month or so has brought huge changes that have left me anxious, frustrated, and feeling out of control. I’ve spent most of my time seeking God’s will within these changes. I’ve repeatedly sensed the Holy Spirit urging me not to worry, yet still, I’ve worried.
In my quiet time with the Lord, I’ve been led to Matthew 6 which says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink;” and “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I’ve been led to Matthew 13 which describes Jesus’s Parable of the Sower and shown how I was in danger of becoming the one who received the seed that fell among the thorns, the one who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.
As usual, trusting God is a process for me. It always takes me being hit from multiple angles before it finally sinks in. Now this little Color your Blessings book, each page highlighting a different bible verse, dripping with the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, shouted of how Ana had acted obediently on the prompting of God when she’d sent it.
Then I read the letter tucked inside the front cover and cried some more for the way God has taken hold of her heart. The verse at the bottom of the letter she’d chosen to quote for me, speaks volumes into the depth of what I’m going through.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.
I’m full of gratitude for His workings within our little bible study group and bringing me more than just new friends but spiritual confidants that can uphold one another by following His lead. He is so good. When I’m face to face with the wonders of how God works within us and through us, I can hardly breathe.
Ana is special. She’s one of my God selected sisters and I love her.
Its the perfect way to start out my 2016. Thank you, Ana. I love it.
It was a lazy Thanksgiving morning even though I had a few things to get done. Bill had to work half a day which meant more of the load would fall on me. The house needed picking up. I’d have to drag the fleshy twenty-two pound turkey out of the cooler it’d sat in all night, soaking up brine and put it into the oven. I went over the dinner menu in my mind, tallying up the hours and minutes I’d need to start cooking the side dishes before my sister and parents arrived for dinner. I contemplated showering and getting ready first thing that morning but opted to stay in my PJ’s instead. Mid-morning, Sarah finally wore me down and convinced me to give her a much-anticipated haircut. She wanted bangs and had begged for days now. We put on the radio, dancing around to Yesterday by The Beatles, and cleared a space for a mock salon by the kitchen sink. I laid out the comb and scissors while Sarah perched on the stool, twitching like a nervous squirrel.
“You’re going to have to hold still if you don’t want me to mess up, Sarah.”
She stiffened in a valiant effort to hold in her excitement. I parted the hair at the crown of her head and combed it forward. I could see her smiling behind the curtain of hair. I wondered why she wanted bangs so badly. It had taken her months and months to grow her bangs out the last time. Whose haircut was she admiring so much, she felt compelled to imitate it? I held the scissors up to the edge of her face, the first strands of hair in between the blades.
“Are you sure?” I asked one last time.
“Yes, Mommy. I’m sure!”
I let the scissors close with a snip. A six-inch clump fell into her lap.
“No turning back now,” I declared.
She sat quietly as I made my best attempt to cut a straight line across her forehead.
I was just finishing up when Bill walked into the house. Something about the way he stood in the doorway, smiling through the beard he keeps because he knows I like it, or the outline of his strong thighs through his jeans, or the same familiar black and white sneakers he buys over and over, or his laughter as the girls tackled him to the floor, just took my breath away. Suddenly, I wished more than anything I’d gotten myself ready first thing that morning. I wanted to kiss him but I turned away because I hadn’t brushed my teeth. I didn’t hold eye contact with him either because, in all his overwhelming handsomeness, I suddenly felt shy.
It’s amazing that after twenty years together, there are still these rushes of unexpected affection that send me into a slow swirl of stomach flutters and teenage self-consciousness. To me, this proves that, in all the things we have gotten wrong through the years, we are still doing something right. I don’t believe in soul mates. I believe love is a choice and yes, sometimes very hard work. It’s not easy to put away your pride for the benefit of this thing called marriage, or act lovingly toward your other half when the elusive romance muse hasn’t shown up in months. It’s not easy, but the effort is worth it.
When you can reach out and feel his strong hand in yours while walking the dog, or fall asleep with your head tucked into the nook of his neck, or sink into his arms and let the tears roll freely without having to explain why, it’s worth it. I’m convinced there are no good or bad marriages. Like fruitful or barren backyard gardens, there are only those that are richly tended to and those that are dispassionately neglected.
This Thanksgiving I stole a thousand glances towards Bill and drowned in the fullness of gratitude for my husband’s presence. I’m thankful for the way he fathers our children, the way he loves me through my worst moments and yes, the way he looks in his jeans.
Today’s post is part of the Hearts At Home blog hop, encouraging mom’s to lighten up and laugh. Please visit jillsavage.org for more great viewpoints.
“I got one! I caught a fish!” My six year old daughter, Annie, waved frantically from the edge of the dock. She’d developed a thing for fishing since school let out for summer, spending hours casting lines into the lake behind our house and relentlessly teasing the mossy green slider turtles with her fishing bait. Her first catch ever was a striped, twelve-inch long Mayan fish that she’d snagged using a piece of a hotdog as bait. After that, just like that Mayan, she got hooked.
“Yeah!” shouted my husband, Bill who’d been sitting on the patio. He raced the length of the yard in her direction. He was the designated fish “unhooker”, the one who guides the hook out of their gasping mouths and places their wiggling scaly bodies back into the black water.
I ran behind him. “Don’t let her touch it! God knows what kinds of germs are crawling on those fish.”
No doubt, Annie would put her fingers in her mouth, or rub her eye before she’d washed all that slime off.
“Oh,” he said with a snap, suddenly turning back. “Let me get the camera.”
“Oh geez, the fish is going to die! Why do you always to this? Are you going to take a picture of every single fish she ever catches?”
“Yes. I am.”
Annie was blissfully hopping on one foot in front the day’s catch, a slick black catfish, as it lay slithering on the dock.
“Put it back in the water until Daddy comes. It can’t breathe.”
She lifted the pole, peeling the fish off the dock and placed it into the murky water. Immediately, it began thrashing back and forth, splashing us with the dirty water. I shuddered, imagining what bacteria could be lurking in the droplets. Brain eating amoebas? Flesh eating bacteria? I recalled a new article a few summers back about a boy who died from meningitis after swimming in a lake.
Annie gripped the pole tightly and looked up at me with wide blue eyes. Her smile was beaming brighter than the afternoon sun.
“You have to take a shower after this,” I said quietly, wiping her face with my shirt.
“Alright Annie!” Bill cheered as he jogged towards us, camera in hand. “What’d you catch?”
“It’s a catfish! It has whiskers, Daddy.”
“Those are the slimiest of them all.” I muttered.
Bill brushed past me. “Let’s see. Bring it up and let me take a picture of you with the fish.”
“Don’t touch it, Annie.” I cautioned over Bill’s shoulder. “Just hold it up by the pole.”
Annie reeled in the line a few feet and then carefully lifted the pole out of the water. It bowed under the weight of the fat catfish, dangling in front of her like a piñata. She threw her shoulders back, puffed out her small chest and holding tight to the fishing pole, she grinned towards the camera, like a true fisherman.
“I can’t get the fish in the shot. Hold it closer to you, Annie.”
Annie pulled the pole upright into a ninety degree angle. The fish swung like a pendulum on the wire.
I slapped my forehead. “Oh my God. Really? The fish is suffering! You’re going to kill it for the sake of a dumb picture.”
“Relax. The fish will be just fine. It’s got at least five minutes before anything happens,” he said, still angling the camera.
Annie squinted at the fish each time it passed close to her face. The silver hook jutting out of its mouth flashed in the sun beams streaming through the tree branches above us.
“You don’t know that for a fact,” I argued. “Ugh. Just please hurry. Annie, put it back in the water for a minute.”
Annie let the pole drop towards the water.
“No!” said Bill. “Annie, just grab the line and pull the fish a little closer to you. I’ll take the picture really fast.”
Annie jerked the pole upright again reaching for the end of the line as the fish swung back towards her like a wrecking ball. Before she could gain control of it, the slimy fish slapped against her cheek. She scrunched her face and turned away, as the fish swung back out over the water, only to circle around, barreling back towards her. Bill reached out, trying to stabilize the fishing pole and the camera crashed onto the damp wooden planks of the dock. The fish landed against Annie’s chest with a thud.
I gasped. Bill cringed. Annie was a wide-eyed statue with her face pulled as far back into her neck as it would go. The mucky fish squirmed against her thin shirt.
She looked back and forth from me to Bill. Finally, she shrugged. “Eeww?”
Bill and I locked eyes. His face contorted trying to stifle a giggle. Then Annie joined in with a laughing snort that sent us all into such fierce hysterics, I had to cross my legs and cling to the dock railing in desperation.
Bill picked up the camera. “Hold it right there, Annie.” She smiled a wide exaggerated smile, revealing one adult sized front tooth crowding out rest of her tiny remaining baby teeth. Bill snapped the picture and got to work on removing the hook.
Within seconds, the catfish was diving back down into the quiet darkness of the lake.
As our laughter died down, Annie put her little hand in mine and gave it a tug. “Mommy, don’t I have to take a shower now?”
I looked down at all the new little brown freckles that had surfaced on her nose and cheeks so far this summer.
“Why don’t we try to catch another fish first, Peanut?”
“Good morning.” He hesitated, but then bravely leaned in to kiss my cheek. I shrugged him off, still seething from an argument the night before.
“Leave me alone,” I hissed over the dishes I was washing. He backed away. “So we’re going to keep this fight going, huh?” He waited, but I offered nothing. I focused on the stream of water dividing around the cup in my hands.
Our five-year old daughter, eyes still swollen from sleep, wandered over to him, her arms raised. He scooped her up. She clung to his neck, melting into him like warm candle wax. He kissed the top of her head, carried her into the living room, and dropped her neatly on the couch beside her big brother. He gathered his wallet and car keys and left for work, letting the front door slam behind him.
I let out a long deflating breath. My throat felt bruised from holding it all in. I dried my hands, making my way into the living room to flip on the television, hoping to keep the kids occupied until I could gather myself.
Over the earlier weeks, my husband and I had argued over everything from financial burdens to the way he slurped his coffee. I felt voids everywhere, convinced he wasn’t living up to be the husband I thought I needed.
Some days I’d cry out to God in frustration, “Don’t you see how he is failing me? When are you going to fix him?”
In response, God would consistently shine the light back on me, convicting me to change. My soul would scream in protest.
But why me, God? What about him? I am in the right, not him!
Eventually I’d stopped taking my complaints to God. But then, that morning…
I watched my daughter scoot across the couch towards my son, digging her tiny body in as close to him as she could get. She leaned into him, laying her head on his shoulder and draping her arm over his chest. She exhaled a blissful sigh as she settled in. I felt myself smiling genuinely for the first time in days.
But I noticed how my son’s body stiffened. The day before he’d caught her in his bedroom, dismantling some of his most prized Lego creations. Still harboring bitterness over it, he looked down at her with annoyance. In one exaggerated move, he rose up, throwing himself on the other end of the couch. My daughter tried to steady herself as her head slipped off his shoulder and her body fell into the cushions. She sat up,confused looking after him. As the rejection slowly registered, her countenance crumbled. Her spirit seemed to collapse within her while my son stared indignantly at the television. I felt disappointed in my son’s inability to rise above what she’d done and extend her some grace. I was in anguish for my daughter. My entire being wanted to protect her, revive her sense of value and mend her bruised spirit. Then God unveiled His heart in the gentlest whisper.
This is how I feel when you treat Bill that way.
Suddenly my perspective shifted in a way that rocked me to my core. That simple revelation, at that specific moment, was the perfect antidote for the crusty shell encasing my heart. It cracked wide open and revealed the simple bottom line. It was as if God himself had turned my chin, saying,
Your husband is also my child. Put me first and all else will fall into place.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Matthew 22:37
Once I understood the significance of that verse, I was free to experience marriage the way God designed it. It must start with a genuine love for God. It’s the power source that melts hearts, crushes attitudes and administers deep compassion for one another. That’s why He must come first, above everything else. As partners in marriage, when we consider that God is our father but also our father-in-law, grace is abundant. Forgiveness is swift and easy. Now my husband is the runner-up, behind God, in the order of my heart and yet somehow, I love him more now, than I ever have before.
This month’s blog hop theme is Unleashing the Power to Rise Above.
Please visit http://www.hearts-at-home.org/ for more courageous stories of women rising above circumstances.
On the way to the hospital with Sarah, I thought about what life would be like if we suddenly lost her. I have become very loose with my thoughts lately when I get frustrated with the kids. Once or twice in the midst of breaking up one of their arguments, drowning in a chorus of whines about what I’ve served for dinner or picking up and putting away the same toy for the ninth time, I’ve indulged myself, considering what I’d be doing at that moment instead, if I’d not had kids. It’s always something quiet and simple, like reading a novel, working on a novel, meeting a friend for a glass of wine and some intelligent conversation or an evening bike ride. Not one image or another lingers for long but rather they all flash through my mind like a furious Rolodex of someone else’s life. The whole thought is over within seconds but the guilt seeps in, settling into the cracks of my mind and haunting me at times like this. What if this is happening to Sarah because the universe or God was trying to teach me a lesson?
If something happened to Sarah how would it impact not only me but Foster or Annie? Even though she does not have the esteemed title of first-born or the privilege of the constant coddling that “the baby” of the family enjoys, she is the critical link that connects them. Her relationships with Foster and Annie are quite distinct yet the whole thing flows together so smoothly.
Foster and Sarah will steal away in Fosters room and play Star Wars games. She is a good soldier and lets Foster take the lead in mostly all of their games. They giggle at inside jokes at the dinner table. Foster walks her to her classroom in the morning and waits for her in the school hallway at dismissal. Even though he claims that Sarah lives only to annoy him, he has reluctantly admitted more than once that she is his best friend. Foster hasn’t connected with Annie in the same way. From his perspective, the five-year age gap between him and Annie defines her eternally as a baby sister and he treats her so. I’ve caught him showering her with affection from time to time, I doubt she will ever be raised to best friend status.
That doesn’t mean that Annie doesn’t have a partner. She has a best friend and that best friend is Sarah. She always considers Sarah in her daily decisions. If she gets a piece of candy, she must also insist on one for Sarah. She follows Sarah everywhere. They shower together, play dress up, sneakily apply my lipstick on each other inside the confines of their bedspread forts. They share a bedroom and I hear their giggles late into the night, long after I’ve sent them both to bed.
As the middle child, Sarah is in the best possible position. She is a best friend to Foster and a best friend to Annie. If Sarah were to suddenly be taken from us, the void would be immeasurable. Of course losing any one of my children is an utter horror to me, however losing Sarah specifically would completely devastate the dynamics of our family in a way that one could consider the worst possible scenario.
So what now? Waiting around the ER since 8 am while they run test after test I’ve spent the hours counting my blessings. I’ve sat at the edge of Sarah’s bed studying her little purple polished fingernails. I brushed and braided her long golden hair. I counted all the little freckles sprinkling her nose and cheeks. I held my palm over her stomach, quietly begging God to take her pain away and protect her. Even if all the moments from here on out are hard ones, I’ll wholeheartedly take them and ask for nothing else. I stroke her sore arm from where a spiderweb of IV tubes invades and I cant wait to get her home so I can give her a bath, cook her dinner, and pick up her toy for the tenth time.