Contemplating Home and the Passing of Days

Contemplating Home and the Passing of Days

Fall is turning to winter and we are, once again, considering Christmas preparations. But as we do, I think back on the events of my fall and they seem to coalesce around one concept: HOME.

What a loaded word that is.

HOME. My third-grader listed it as one of the places he most likes to go on his “All About Me” poster for school. This blessed me greatly. For him, home is close to what it should be – a refuge and stronghold of love.

And I fervently hope my children will always feel this way about the home they’ve grown up in.

HOME is where we live, where we once lived, and what will be our place of living at some point in the future. And yet despite our best efforts to make HOME stable, it is perpetually in flux.

From one year to the next, home changes.

Because the people are changing. Moving in and out. Closer and farther away.

This is my lesson from fall 2018.

Last month, I sat across from my 15-year old son at a wedding our family attended, and felt the years stretch out ahead and behind.

The bride was radiant (as all brides are) and the groom was dazzled by her. Family and friends wished them well and prayed for their happiness. I was especially hopeful, as the bride is a diamond of a person whom I’ve known for 15 years. Yes – ever since she started babysitting an infant boy – who grew into the teenage boy sitting across from me at her reception dinner. Back then, she herself was his exact age.

I see the way his increasingly broad shoulders fill out his blazer, how remarkably relaxed he is in a tie, joking with his teenage sister in a manner closely approximating adulthood. There are clear outlines of the man he will become; only the shading need be filled in.

And I returned again to my mind’s refrain – the one I’ve heard daily since September.

I miss him already.

He’s only a sophomore in high school. A couple years to go.

But you can see a bird is going to take flight when it raises its wings off its back, and that’s where we are now.

How do you sit with melancholy?

The instability of knowing the inevitability of an event that is both happy and sad? Desirable – even prayed for – and yet – not exactly what your heart craves.

He will be leaving his home.

I can stand back and watch time pass quickly – like sand through an hourglass – or I can break open the glass and examine each grain.

So I watch him eat. I listen to him laugh. I hear his stories and respond empathetically. Try not to react with alarm when surprised or concerned. I ask questions that I hope will bring us closer, and when he shares with me – I thank him. His life is his. I know this. And yet….and yet….

Home is where we want to be….together. But togetherness is fleeting. All homes are temporary shelters of love since the members come and go. They draw closer to us. And pull away. For days, months, years, or forever.

There is no real home here on earth.

I bear this in mind, and take my heart to the only One who can console, and who loves my son more than me. It’s his Creator, and mine, after all.

And while I pray for my son’s protection, I am reminded that this boy was given to me for a time, and no more.

Let’s live the days as if they are numbered, for indeed – they are.

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. – Psalm 90:12

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

Today is World Kindness Day. I wrote another blog post about it yesterday, but the real question is this: How will we mark this day?

We all know from experience that…

A good seed planted in darkness can burst forth to produce a tree large enough to host entire communities in its colorful branches.

Things that start small can become big.

So what seeds of kindness will you plant today? Tomorrow? For the rest of this month? I want to know.

Are you making soup for a neighbor?

Giving more than usual to a charity of your choice? Which one? Why?

Mending a relationship because you know you’re not guaranteed tomorrow?

In November, we focus on gratitude. And gratitude is good. Very good.

But it isn’t enough to be thankful – to sit around enjoying the fullness, ruminating on all that’s pleasing or teaching us. We are called to share what we have and know.

If we have love – we share love.

If we have hope – we share hope.

If we have means – we share our treasure.

If we have time – we give hours or moments – with intentionality.

If we have hands, or feet, or ears, or eyes…..If we’re alive, friends! (so that’s all of us) we offer ourselves. Whole and present when nudged to do so.

When you hear the whisper in your heart….Help her. Go to him. Say this in peace….Do it. And make a mental note.

This is God’s work in the world.

And then, please share your stories with me. I’m saving them for an end-of-the-month blog post, where I’ll offer a few tips about the ways we’ve all found to share love throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

Your kind acts will inspire others. And wouldn’t more love and kindness be a nice gift for the world?

Tomorrow’s “World Day of…”

Tomorrow’s “World Day of…”
Photo by Dawn Lamper. creationswap.com

Do you know what tomorrow is? November 13?

It’s World Kindness Day.

Haven’t heard of it?

Neither had I.

Not until I saw it on a “Content Calendar” created by Amazon for bloggers and other creatives like me. But apparently it’s been around since 1997 and even has an official flower, the Cosmos bipinnatus. Pretty little thing.

(In other news, National Button Day is coming up on Friday, November 16. Don’t miss it.)

Humor aside, perhaps we really do need a day every year to reconsider the merits of kindness. Especially now.

For clarity’s sake, let’s review the word’s definition.

Kindness is the quality or state of being kind – and that is, having a sympathetic, helpful, forbearing, or gentle nature. (Combined definitions from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.)

We can all think of someone we know whom we consider to be kind. And a few whom we think are not.

We also know what it feels like to extend kindness, and to be on the receiving end of such a gift.

(A door held open, a garden bouquet, or some of Mom’s fresh cookies come to mind.)

And all too often, we write off certain people as “unkind.” The truth is, they probably do the same to us. We can all seem cold and unfeeling at times.

We know what kindness is and what it isn’t – and that we don’t see true kindness nearly enough.

In today’s world, strength and power are prized over self-sacrifice and humility – two components that are necessary to make an act kind.

Kindness goes farther than tolerance, which is also touted as a modern virtue. But tolerance of others – simply living side by side with them without doing them harm – does not require the deeper level of compassion that kindness brings to interactions.

Kindness creates connections; when it’s sustained over time, it builds bonds.

Kindness is about extending grace and love. It’s meaningful because it’s a movement of the heart.

The giver’s heart touches the heart of the receiver, and both feel the tug of something more.

A vastness…the Truth.

Our hearts are connected to our souls, friends, and our souls know what’s what….

That every person is to be valued beyond measure. Every person is imprinted with the eternal.

We are here to love and be loved. And acts of kindness remind us of that.

Few of us are actually cold as stone. Most of us beat with warmth at our core.

Imagine…. if we were really convening with our hearts, souls, and Maker before we set out each day….

If every decision was based on the principle that each person unequivocally mattered….

If we always took the time to look into one another’s eyes….

And listened for as long as necessary to find common ground until we could say in all sincerity, “I sympathize. I understand.”

That would be a kind world. We wouldn’t need World Kindness Day.

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The tiniest phrase in a recent article about the latest massacre – the one at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh – infuriated me.

It said the shooter “raged against Jews.”

Who are these “Jews”?

I’ll tell you who “they” are. Over the course of my life, people – who happen to have Jewish heritage and espouse a time-treasured faith – have been to me one or more of the following: family members, neighbors, classmates, teachers, doctors….friends.

They are people I love, respect, and deeply admire – just as I would anyone of integrity and goodness who seeks to do unto others as he or she would do unto himself or herself.

And over this week, as I cried for the beautiful people who lost their lives while worshiping God, I considered the state of things…a nation where “raged against Jews” still seems an apt phrase.

Our world repeats many lies to its constantly thrumming drum, but the biggest one is this…

There is a “they” – separate from us – that we can treat as “other.”

The list of self-identifying groups and sub-groups is endless….Christian (i.e., Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical and hundreds of denominations in-between), Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Democrat, Republican, Men, Women, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Straight, LGBTQIA+, Graduate of Such-and-Such College, Having X Degree, No-Degree, Hard Worker, Slacker, Pro-this, Anti-that – you follow?

Add on your own tags – the ones you apply to yourself – as many as you can think of – and stand in your circle to see how many fellow humans are left there with you. One? Two? None?

When we push outward we discover we are all alone.

There is NO “they.”

They are us.

And we are them.

Mother Teresa said it best when she declared, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another.”

I don’t know much about the shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue, but I do know this: his hatred was homegrown and it started as a seed in his heart.

The call to action for us as citizens of the world is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

There are no caveats in that.

No exclusions if we think the person has strange ideas, smells, does her hair in a funny way, or is infringing on our space.

And whether you happen to agree with me when I say that God created each person – and in His own image – formed to be imperishable for all eternity, unique and sacred as an individual – I would venture this…

Deep down you know that freedom from self-absorption and egotism – those inclinations that isolate us and proliferate fear by pushing others away – means reaching out and extending the thing we all want most. Love.

We all play a role in making this world the place we want it to be.

Call out the darkness and bring it to light.

The darkness within each of us is where the battle is waged.

There is no THEY.

There is only US.

And LOVE that surpasses us all.

Here’s What You’re Doing Right

Here’s What You’re Doing Right

I’ve been deliberating for days about how to open this post. But since the words won’t come I’ll just say this to whomever you are who needs to hear it: “Here’s what you’re doing right.”

You might be having doubts about doing anything right.

I get it because I’ve been there….recently.

Sitting at an intersection wondering if my daily life is making any difference at all.

Maybe you’re concerned about a loved one, a difficult job, a good friend with personal troubles, or the general state of the nation or world….something along these lines. These things may keep you up at night. You never seem to have the right words of consolation and don’t know what to do. Despite your best efforts you can’t shake the feeling that your days are fits and starts – that you are not making any real progress in helping anyone toward a better future.

If that’s the case let me tell you what I saw sitting there at the intersection, listening to those negative voices in my head that threaten to bring me down if I don’t beat them back with a huge stick at every turn.

Within 30 seconds, I spotted two things: a man on the sidewalk giving directions to a driver who had pulled over onto the shoulder; and a woman stop to pick up a black garment hanging over a metal railing. She unfolded the garment and I saw that it was a sweater. Her face lit up with surprise and delight. Clearly, it was hers – a lost item now found.

The man giving directions….the unknown person who placed that lost sweater on the railing where it would be visible….they have something in common: they performed the simple, good, and oh-so-important deed of showing up.

And whether you realize it or not, whether you feel like you’re doing anything of note or not – you are doing this one important thing too.

You are showing up.

I am showing up.

When it feels like we are making no progress, no forward steps, no visible change – but we continue to get out of bed and live each day with kind intentions – however small, however feeble – we are showing up.

We are showing up when we hold a door open to a stranger, offer kind words to a grumpy cashier, call a friend we know is lonely, and even make a bit of room to the poor driver shoving his/her way into our lane just before the exit.

We are showing up when we keep to our routines, such as predictably shuttling and feeding kids, day in and day out. It creates for them a sense of security and safety that gives them freedom to explore, knowing they have a haven, a refuge to come back to when the world seems cold.

We are showing up in our workplaces when we collaborate with our colleagues, are enthusiastic and thoughtful, and contribute energy and ideas that fuel success.

We are showing up in our neighborhoods, towns, states, and nation when we vote, write our representatives, and make ourselves heard. And that matters – because whether we see the fruit of our efforts now or later, generations are watching and taking their cues from us. Our ideas and our voices – they matter.

And most importantly, we are showing up when we meet every single person who crosses our paths today with eye contact, sincere regard, and kindness – when we see them for who they are – children of a loving Creator who made each of us unique and dearly beloved.

When we love one another as God calls us to love ourselves – unconditionally – that REALLY matters.

You, friend, are doing this. You are SHOWING UP in your life.

So you are doing the most important thing of all.

Rest in this. Be easy on yourself today.

It’s Time to Go to Bat for Kindness

It’s Time to Go to Bat for Kindness

“Ah?! What was wrong?!! That one was good!”

Coach Smith* groans with feigned anger, looks at me through the chain link fence, and laughs. He’s a college mathematics professor and father of three boys, the youngest of whom played baseball with mine in the spring. Now, on fall Wednesday nights, he’s taken it upon himself to help the boys on his old team brush up on fundamental skills.

Most of the time he’s got a few assistant coaches to help him (i.e. other dads), but tonight he’s all alone. His attitude never flags, though his arm and shoulder are clearly tired. Each kid is getting about 20 balls both times he’s up for batting practice, and for a 40-something guy, a couple hundred curve balls and speed balls don’t fly as easily as they used to.

I eye my son at home plate, look back at Coach on the pitcher’s mound, and raise my arms in mock despair. I have no idea why my 8-year old son didn’t swing at the first 10 or so balls that were pitched to him, or this one either.

Coach just smiles and reaches into his bucket again.

“Ok. Get closer to the plate. Let’s try again.”

He grabs another ball and throws it toward home.

Finally, there is contact. A long drive toward first.

“Good job!”

Before we leave, I tell my son, “Coach Smith was really nice to throw you so many balls. It’s been a long day for him. Be sure you say thank you,” and my son nods vigorously as I watch him trot off to show a tiny bit of gratitude.

We know kindness when we see it, but sometimes we need to be prodded into acknowledging it.

I would argue that right now is a critical time to point out when someone in our midst is going out of their way to be kind and generous with their spirit, time, and/or resources.

On a day when a father/teacher was helping kids learn American baseball, the FBI was investigating a Supreme Court nominee for alleged sexual assault.

No matter your feelings on this particular matter, one thing’s for sure: this type of news stirs the stomach.

We hear so much unsettling and distressing news every day. Headlines concerning both natural and man-made crises never end. And you don’t have a to be a social psychologist to understand that spending too much time reading and reflecting on the news can negatively affect your emotional and mental health.

Social media compounds the problem. I treated myself to a 1-week Facebook fast awhile back and found it enhanced my life in ways that I would do well to remember more frequently. It was especially  helpful for me as I processed the competing claims of candidates vying for elected positions.

So – if our media-saturated environment is bringing us down, one way to lift ourselves up is to consider the good we see around us in local, less-publicized venues, and – most importantly – to talk about it, especially with kids, who need real-life, accessible role models and reminders more than ever.

By choosing to highlight the kindness we see in others – be it in our homes, schools, workplaces, supermarkets, libraries, or while waiting for a train – we can refocus our lives for ourselves and our families on what really matters – the way we are to treat one another, day in and day out.

*Not his real name.

One Fun Book – One Beautiful Dream

One Fun Book – One Beautiful Dream

The burnt chicken on the cover speaks to me. Maybe because it sums up my current mojo…My mojo for like, the last 15 years.

When this book was released in the spring of 2018, it was the week of my youngest son’s First Communion, and despite the fact that family were coming in from 4 states to celebrate, I made a little time to read it – late at night, curled up in my bed, laughing out loud – because I just couldn’t put down this page-turner, Jennifer Fulwiler’s, One Beautiful Dream.

Having recently ‘met’ Jen through podcasts of her daily Sirius XM radio show and our shared connection in #hopewriters, I knew I couldn’t miss out on this book. I too am caught up trying to navigate the treacherous terrain where family life meets personal passions, and I desperately wanted to know how to say yes to them both.

Jennifer is a master storyteller with a coach’s spirit, and this book did not disappoint. Through this memoir, she has lifted me up – painting a raw and honest portrait of motherhood, faith, and a desire for something more.

After describing a harrowing supermarket experience in Chapter 1 (achieved while pregnant with 2 toddlers in tow) she writes, “On the average day I found myself exhausted, my brain running in the red zone like a car about to overheat….All of my personal goals had been buried for so long that I was starting to forget what they were.”

Amen to that. I have been there and you probably have too. This friends, is a woman I get. She is unflinchingly real.

Life with a young family feels – more often than not – like only partially controlled chaos, but there is deep and meaningful beauty in it, and Jennifer Fulwiler has found it. As a fellow Catholic convert, mother, writer, and survivor of disastrous supermarket visits and pointed (i.e. ‘unsolicited’) advice from “Green Bean Ladies,” at the supermarket, I salute Jen in this achievement. I love it.

Oh – and Jennifer? – if I were ever to come to your home, I would devour your burnt chicken and bless the hands that prepared it, too.

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.

 

All the days of my life

In our first week of dating, attending an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. January 1997.

The first 7,304

It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice.  Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath.  I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again.  Breathing that is.  But you get the point.

We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done.  I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.”  It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.

I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel.  But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before.  It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life.  I recall thinking calmly to myself,

“So this is her. The love of my life.  I knew she’d be smart.  Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”

And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.

Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences.  To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment.  The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come.  Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.

The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy.  I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach.  Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.

I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards.  I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later.  After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.

When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened.  It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.

And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.

May 23, 1998.

An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate.  That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.

That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups.  These include:

  1. No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns.  No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
  2. No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy.  We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
  3. Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other.  Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
  4. No quinoa. Ever.  I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit.  Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.

Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals.  Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws.  I still bring me into every situation.

That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together.  We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to.  For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert.  Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy.  On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.

Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple.  Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times.   But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.

When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road.  I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.

The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles.  Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about.  Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.

I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life.  Gretchen is my greatest blessing.

When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead.  And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.

Who Are Your Cheerleaders?

Who Are Your Cheerleaders?

Mom, how did you do that?” my daughter asked me a couple months ago as she studied this old photo.

“Practice,” I told her, “And abs. I had really strong abs.”

I ignored her skeptical glare.

The truth is, some days I can hardly believe this myself.

But I was – at that point – fit and, come game time, loud.

Today, I make it a point NOT to raise my voice. And my abs? Well, I exercise, but I’m 45 and have brought 3 kids into the world. They are worth every bit of physical sacrifice, but I don’t wear bikinis anymore.

Way back then, I was a cheerleader, which in theory means we were encouraging others to play to their best abilities.

And whether we were effective at helping the football team win (questionable – but it was SO MUCH FUN!), the fact remains that our role precipitated one we’d all need forever.

Throughout life every person requires cheerleaders in some form. We need individuals who are rooting for us when times are hard and we forget how to summon the strength within ourselves to meet the current challenges.

So who are your cheerleaders?

Last week, I rediscovered a couple of mine when I suffered from a strong bout of anxiety.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, unease, and nervousness, sometimes for no apparent reason, but typically related to an imminent event with an uncertain outcome.

For me, the attack was triggered by the realization that at the writer’s conference I would attend on Saturday (my very first ever), I would show some of my work to editors, who could offer criticism. (The idea that they might also approve of it never factored into my thinking.) Selecting a piece and the idea of having to “sell” my writing to potential publishers filled me with such dread that I sailed right off the ledge of reality and into a pit of fear. I had myself convinced that I had never strung two words together that made a bit of sense, and that I must be a moron for ever having started a blog in the first place.

Thank goodness, I’ve learned that anxiety is not something you entertain, and I called in reinforcements, which arrived in spades in the form of four good friends.

One of them texted with me over two days until my head was in a better place. Here’s just a sample of her words to me:

This brief exchange illustrates how your best cheerleaders: 1) remind you that you can handle the struggle, 2) call forth your truest self, and 3) push you back into the game.

Your cheerleaders should be people who share your values. People who speak the truth about life in a tone that shows their love and concern for you and your welfare. They build up and never tear down. They should focus on what can be done instead of obstacles and limitations. They care about the state of your soul, mind, and body.

My cheerleaders also have these things in common with me: they trust God and have an interest in reading and learning about Scripture; they listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit; and they know that their identity is found not in their accomplishments or worldly assets, but is rooted in Jesus Christ and His unconditional love. If that last bit makes no sense to you, here’s a piece that might help.

As adults we don’t often publicly admit that we have moments of self-doubt, abject panic, and baseless fear, but it does happen. And we need people we can count on who won’t laugh at us or call us cowards.

We need people who will rush in to talk, laugh, cry, and pray with us. We need a loyal team.

So consider – who are your cheerleaders? And who do you cheer for?

Choose your core supporters wisely. And when you need them, don’t be afraid to call them in.

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words.” – C.S. Lewis

Shame On This Dog!

Shame On This Dog!

It’s public knowledge that dogs – as much as we love them – sometimes do disgusting things. Try as we might to keep them out of trouble, even the most adorable and lovable ones will occasionally drag their butts across a carpet, sniff the crotch of an unsuspecting guest, or worst of all, eat poop. Dealing with this nastiness is the dark side of pet ownership. You must be aware of the potential for your pet to act like the totally irrational and – heaven forbid I say it – bestial creature that he is, and be armed to the teeth at all times to fight the demons where they lurk.

And yet – doodoo still occurs.

Last week I was on the phone with the vet’s office giving them an update on our Beagle Luna (who currently has bronchitis), when I noticed that our other dog – a 22 lb. 13-year old mutt named Seamus – was voraciously chowing down on something in the far corner of our yard.

He’d had his breakfast of premium “keep your old-dog young and lean” kibbles just 2 hours before. Whatever this was, it was not OK.

I hung up with the vet, grabbed a Target bag and trekked out to deal with the “prize.”

I got closer and could see a fuzzy grayish cylinder protruding from Seamus’ mouth.

“Seamus!” I said in my best Mom-Boss voice. “Drop it!”

He ran.

Across the yard.

Wolfing down his treasure with a glee that brings new meaning to the verb I just used.

“Seamus!!” I screamed, “I saaaiiid, ‘Drop it!’” as if reprimanding a toddler.

By that point I could make out that the victim was a squirrel. Only its’ tail hung out of our dog’s mouth.

Seamus stopped and hunkered down. Mouth covering his prey. Frozen. Waiting for me to make my next move.

I stood over him, hands on my hips, my pathetic plastic bag flying in the wind from between clenched fingers.

“Seamus!!!! We DO NOT EAT SQUIRRELS!!”

Did I really say that?!

Yes. Yes, I did.

I was losing my mind.

Here we go, I thought.

I reached down, grabbed him by the collar, wrapped the flimsy bag around the mangled squirrel tail, and pulled.

I’m fairly sure Seamus used the opportunity to savor the last juicy bits, because it felt as if he scraped off the insides as I pulled out what was left of the outsides: tail, two hind feet, and about two inches of furry skin that would have covered a non-existent spine.

Five minutes later we were back in the house. Seamus was strutting around like Henry VIII with a visibly swollen gut after a palatial feast, and I was back on the phone trying to mask my fear and trepidation.

“Um, yes.…This is Gretchen Matthews. We spoke just a few minutes ago? Well, now I’m uh…Now I’m calling about my other dog. Seamus. He… Well, hmmm. He was in our backyard while you and I were talking and…and…and he ate a squirrel.”

Shocked silence.

“I mean, he actually ATE a squirrel. I know this can’t be good for him. Microbes and diseases and who knows what!? What do I do?”

I heard shock give way to mild amusement in the tech’s voice. Then she reassured me that since Seamus is up-to-date with his shots he’d likely be fine, and that Dr. Roy* would want to speak to me after finishing with another patient. Meanwhile, I could try giving Seamus two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide (one T per 10 pounds of dog) to see if that would make him vomit.

Oh – if it were only so easy.

I put the ‘magical elixir’ in one of the kids’ old medicine dispensers, leashed up Seamus, and dragged him outside again. There was NO WAY squirrel was coming up onto my carpets.

Five minutes of attempted administration looked like a clown act gone off the rails. I pried open his mouth and got one drop in. That was enough to convince him he would have no more of it. So, I squatted on him like he was a log; and he backed out from under me. I cradled him next to my rib cage and he pushed off my thighs. In the end he was running around me endlessly, wrapping me in the leash loops as if I were a Maypole.

My neighbor walked by and took pity on me. She lovey-dovingly cooed over Seamus until he calmed and together we managed to get about one TEASPOON in.

I thanked her, and the pot-bellied mutt and I trudged inside, where I locked him in his crate and sat beside him, listening to his stomach gurgle for the next 15 minutes.

Dr. Roy called and told me there was a solution. They would put drops in his eye that would make him nauseous and in about 5 minutes he’d bring up the carcass.

I got our beloved mongrel to the vet immediately, where he was greeted at the door: “Here comes THE SQUIRREL EATER!!” and “Some dogs try their whole lives to catch a squirrel. Not bad for 13!!” Seamus soaked in his moment of fame, never flagging in his wags.

He weighed in at 23.5 lbs. Yep – that’s 22 pounds of dog and 1.5 pounds of squirrel.

The remedy worked as hoped, and when I talked to Dr. Roy later he asked me, “What did you get from him?” After I explained, he said, “Well, that makes sense. Because I got the rest of it.”

He told me it was all there – head, spine, innards. All of it. And when Seamus had finally given up the goods, he turned around and lifted his front paws up onto Dr. Roy’s chest, the way he always does when he’s perfectly content.

The dog was proud of himself.

“I heard you say to the staff that there was an eyeball lookin’ at you!”

“Yes, I was just having fun with them because they didn’t see the whole mess. And Seamus didn’t kill it; it’s pretty clear he found it dead. But he sure enjoyed it! I’m definitely going to tell my wife about this tonight. Once in awhile I see something a little unusual in here.”

Now, those of you who read my blog regularly know that I usually try to say something about life, love, and faith to encourage you. Today, I’m not so sure I have many words along those lines, except maybe these.

Dogs can’t change who they are. Seamus is – apparently – a squirrel eater. Given the right circumstances, your dog might be one too.

We, on the other hand, are blessed with a Creator who will help us to grow into improved versions of ourselves. The men and women He intended us to be. All we have to do is ask Him for the grace we need to transform us from those who favor the ways of the flesh, to those who walk in the Spirit.

“I say then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want….Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.”

– Galatians 5: 16-17, 24-25

*Name has been changed.