Category Archives: faith

Dog Days

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Love beyond understanding…

There is a commercial for Subaru that makes me weepy almost every time I see it.  Willie Nelson sings “You’re my buddy, my pal, my friend…”, as a man prepares for a road trip with his dog, with a close-up shot of a bone-shaped birthday cake decorated with the number 14.  The spot goes on to show the man and his dog marking activities off what looks to be the dog’s bucket list.  The tag line is, “Love—it’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru”.

Now, I realize that that ultimate goal of the commercial is to sell cars.  However, there is a category of advertising known as “image-building”, into which this particular spot falls.  Instead of listing specifications about safety ratings, gas mileage and dealer incentives, spots like this instead help the viewer (or listener in the case of radio advertising) build an emotional connection with the product.  I can imagine the pitch meeting for this particular commercial, with creative service professionals discussing how they could target pet owners as potential buyers for this car.  That’s their job, and in this case, they performed it extremely well.

When I see this commercial, I can’t help remembering our first dog, Ernie The Wonder Beagle.  He was actually a Beagle-Basset mix, adopted from the local shelter and estimated to be 1.5 to 2 years of age when we took him home.  We enjoyed nearly 11 years of unconditional love with him, even as we became acquainted with his emotional issues.

It was pretty clear that at some point he had suffered abuse, and possibly starvation.  He was skittish around people he didn’t know, especially men, for a long time.  But with time and love, he learned that he could trust us, and could trust the people we trusted.  He especially seemed to enjoy it when he had a chance to see The Aunts at Dad’s for Christmas Eve and he was quite affectionate with them.

He was both extremely sensitive and ridiculously funny.  Countless times he emerged from our bedroom with a cotton swab he’d swiped from a wastebasket hanging out of his mouth like a cigar.  He “stalked” his stuffed toys by circling around them on the floor before grabbing and shaking them with all his might, eventually throwing the offending toy down and descending on it in a growling, playful frenzy.  He listened to 11 years of tears, joys, secrets and meltdowns from me, served as a heating pad when I was cold or had backaches or cramps, showered me with kisses and snuggles every day when I came home from work.  He loved me when it felt like no one else in the world did, or could.

For about the last 11 months of his life, Ernie lived with cancer, and we lived with it as well.  We and our veterinarians exercised our best judgement regarding how to give Ernie his best chances for both survival and a decent quality of life.  There were several surgeries to remove tumors, multiple rounds of steroids and other medications trying to keep his cancer at bay.  He was a brave little fighter, much more so than I was during his illness.

In the end, though, the cancer took him from us.  Ten years have passed since he died.  A couple of months after he died, we adopted Our Boy Roy, who came home with us on the same day that Ernie had, September 4…Ernie in 1996 and Roy in 2007. Roy’s adoption is a story for another blog post, one I will get around to writing, eventually.

As wonderful as Roy is and as much as I love him, I still miss Ernie every single day.  Our pets provide us with a kind of love that is beyond understanding or explanation.  We humans would do well to emulate the kind of simple love our pets give us and share that love with other humans.

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Above, me with Ernie shortly after adopting him, September 1996, and on his last night at home, July 4, 2007, before he went to the hospital for the last time.  He died one week later.

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One of the best friends of my life, Ernie The Wonder Beagle.  God rest his little Beagle-y soul.

Five Years And A Thousand Words

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My own personal D-Day…

Today, June 6, 2017, is the 5th anniversary of my weight loss surgery.  I kept a blog chronicling my journey from the initial consultation with my surgeon on October 25, 2011, through the 2-year anniversary of the surgery itself, writing the final post on June 6, 2014.  Those stories, trials and tribulations still live in Cyberspace at:

http://www.incredibleshrinkingdiva.blogspot.com

I hope people still stumble across that blog and gain some insight, inspiration, information and humor from it.  For numerous reasons, I did not include photographs in that blog.  It just was not part of the journey I felt like sharing at the time.  However, I admit there is truth in the adage that, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  So on this, my 5-year-Surg-I-Versary, I am posting some before-and-after pictures…with some caveats.

I have bounced back from my lowest weight, more than I would like.  And I am working on shaving some of those pounds away.  It is a lifelong journey and my weight will always be something of a struggle.  That is all part and parcel of this process.  Even with my bounceback, I am profoundly grateful that I am not where I started.  I am stronger and healthier than before surgery and I am free from the hip and ankle pain that drove me to pursue surgical intervention after having exhausted every other means available to me.  Weight loss surgery is a true last resort and should only be considered when all other measures have failed.  Knowing all that I know now, I would make the same decision.  For me, it was what I needed, when I needed it.

So, here are some pictures.

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With my longtime friend Mary K. Briggs, April 2010 and March 2017

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With my husband, Sweet Pea aka Jeff Cutshaw, August 2010 and April 2016

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With friend and singing partner Marc Hampton, November 2011 and April 2017

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With mentor in music and weight loss Eric Thorson, November 2010 and December 2017

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With Delta Omicron sisters and friends Allison Hendrix and Ann Jones, July 2009 and July 2015

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Me.  Just plain old me.  July 2009 and April 2017.

I’m not where I want to be, but thanks be to God, I’m not where I used to be.  Life is good and I’m healthy.  I am blessed and greatly loved.  I am thankful.

Memorial

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Five years ago this weekend…

I know that Memorial Day is a tribute to our brave armed services members past, especially those who gave their lives in service to our country, and I am grateful to live in a place that observes such a holiday.  America is not perfect and the great experiment of democracy is still very much that, an experiment.  This post is not about politics or patriotism, however.  I have other people and events I’m remembering this weekend.

Memorial Day weekend Sunday, 2012, I took the pager for my last overnight on call during my extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE.  We had already celebrated our graduation and I’d presented my final self-evaluation to my peer group and received their evaluations of me during the unit.  This last on-call night was all that stood between me and my final evaluation from my supervisor, an insightful pastor and educator who managed both to bust my chops and to affirm my gifts for ministry during our time together at the hospital. I needed someone to provide both these things for me and I received them in spades from Randy, for whose insights I am forever grateful.

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I’m sure I hoped for a calm night as I dropped off my belongings in the small on-call room with its bed, toilet and sink, desk and lamp (the shower was down the hall and everyone on call took turns taking hurried showers and praying not to get paged while we were in there!).  This was my home away from home 2 nights a month from January through the end of May that year. I didn’t get to spend a lot of leisurely quality time there, as Sunday nights were notoriously busy!  Looking through my notes from the unit I remembered each patient who came through, each page to a room I received, hugs and prayers and tears shared.  And laughs, too, with my peer group and mentors, other staff members, patients and families.

My last night on call was typical of every other Sunday night I spent there, crazed, rushed and filled with the sounds of the pager beeping with one trauma after another…with one notable exception.  Every time I was on call and a code was called because a patient had gone into cardiac arrest, I watched as the transport team, doctors and nurses resuscitated, defibrillated and revived the patient, achieving at least a brief reprieve between life and death.  This last code did not end that way.  The patient did not come back.  It was the only time I saw that happen, and it has stuck with me.  As the chaplain on call, I sat with and attended to the family as the doctor explained what had taken place, offered presence and care while they attempted to absorb the news, and when they asked me to pray, I did so with solemn gratitude for the privilege.

It is a sacred space we occupy when someone dies.  Sharing that space with my own loved ones, and with acquaintances and strangers during my time as a hospice volunteer and working through the extended unit of CPE, honored, humbled, taught and blessed me in ways I am still processing even now.  Presence in that space has informed the ways I interact with everyone in my life, and it will continue to do so until it is time for me to be the one who dies.  I pray that the people who share that space with me and my loved ones when the moment arrives will draw comfort, strength, insight and peace from being there.

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Holding Space

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Learning by doing…

Recently while reading I came across a phrase and a concept that instantly struck a chord inside me:  holding space.  Specifically, holding space in my heart for others as they walk their path in life, especially when that path is a difficult, painful one.  It is actually something I have been learning to do my entire life.

Sometimes I’ve described this concept with the following phrases:

“You are in my prayers.”

“I’ll be remembering you.”

“I’m thinking of you.”

“My heart is with you.”

During my work in CPE, I learned that the work of the chaplain is mostly about meeting and caring for people where they are, walking alongside them in their pain, providing compassionate presence, sometimes without words.  It is often uncomfortable simply to “be” with another person, without trying to fix what they are enduring.  We want to fill the silence with words, or noise, or activity.  Often what is needed is for us just to sit with someone, quietly.  These are ways we hold space for a person in need, or in pain.

I remember the morning a few years ago when my friend’s father was actively dying and ultimately passed away, when my friend and I sent Facebook messages to one another as she kept vigil at his bedside.  Just four months ago, another friend and I exchanged messages and a photo as he lay with his beloved dog while she died.  Even though I was unable to be present with these friends in a physical way, I was able to love and care for them…holding space.

The truth is, I’ve been learning how to hold space all my life…I just didn’t know it was called “holding space”.  And that phrase may be one that comes and goes away, replaced by another “concept-of-the-moment”.  I do like the idea, though, especially when someone is of a different faith tradition from mine, or from no faith tradition at all.  Sometimes telling someone that I am “praying” for them might hold negative associations, if the church has hurt them (which happens so much more often than we want to acknowledge).  Sometimes my own spiritual life is not such that I can truly pray…but I can always hold space.  God hears what I can’t say, and the person I am caring for knows they are being remembered with compassion and tenderness.  I’m holding several people even as I write this, people dear to me who are enduring pain that I cannot begin to imagine.  I communicate as best I can with them, and when we are not talking or writing, my heart is with them…holding space.

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Alone

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Strength and struggle…

I am having a hard time right now.  It’s not easy to admit this, as I am usually “the strong one” and “the good girl”.  People come to me with their troubles, secrets and struggles.  And usually that’s fine.

Sometimes, though, I am given information that I don’t need, or want, to know.  Sometimes people tell me things they wouldn’t even tell their best friend.  Does this make me a real friend to them, or just a dumpster for something they needed to purge?

I haven’t been my best self lately for a number of reasons.  I’ve been distracted, preoccupied, unfocused.  Not feeling like a strong woman or a good girl.  Sometimes I wish I could stop time and escape from reality for a day, or even just a few hours.

I don’t want so much to lose control as much as just to…relinquish it, if only for a little while.  I want to surrender to the strength of someone else.  I want it to be OK for me to be vulnerable, even weak.

Being too strong for too long just leaves a person feeling alone.  I know I’m not truly alone, but my struggles are mine alone.  Nobody can live my life, walk my path or fight my demons except me.  And some days, I don’t have much fight left.

It will work itself out in time.  I’ll find my strength again.  And I’ll return to being my best self, intact for the people I care for, and able to care for them properly once more.

Just not today.

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Wings

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The blessing to soar and to sing…

This past Sunday the lovely people of Messiah Lutheran Church where I have sung and served since 2013 said “Farewell and Godspeed” to me as I have begun a new chapter at a different church, Ebenezer United Methodist.  Both churches have referred to my “ministry”, which I have never considered my singing to be.  For me, it’s just doing the thing God gave me to do, offering back to Him the gift that He has lent me to use while I am here.  Semantics, I suppose.

People who know me, or who read this blog, know that I collect feathers.  On my way into the church, I spied a tiny little white feather on the ground, no bigger than my thumbnail.  “Thanks, Lord, ” I thought, tucking it into my bag.  It was a beautiful little piece of comfort on a bittersweet day.

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Joan, Messiah’s director of music, had mentioned in an email that I collect feathers and that if anyone at church found one, they could bring for my last Sunday as a member of their staff.  What a sweet gesture, I thought, and such a nice way to say not “Goodbye”, but “Until we meet again,”.  Because Christians, and musicians, never really say goodbye.  We remain part of the same family.

I had the chance to sing some of my favorite things, with some of my favorite people, in a place that I’ve grown to love.  At the end of the first service my friend Anne came up and handed me a Baggie with a collection of large feathers inside, explaining that she had her son Cameron had collected them on walks over the years.  I said, “I hope this isn’t the whole collection!”, to which she replied, “It is, and Cameron wanted you to have them.”  When I went into the choir room to drop off my folder before Sunday school I found a feather lying on the floor, and picked it up thinking someone had just dropped it.  They had…and that one was just the start.  All over the fellowship hall floor, feathers…on top of every table, feathers…little children tugging on my skirt to bring me feathers!  It felt like I’d won the lottery!

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During Sunday school, Joan presented me with a parting gift, a gorgeous piece of art depicting a treble clef and feathers combined, inside of which she had tucked a small white feather that one of her dogs had tracked into the house after a walk.   And then she had me explain the significance of feathers in my life, how God sends them when I need comfort, a reminder that He is watching over me.  When I see a feather I pick it up, because, while my brain knows that feathers come from birds, my heart likes to imagine that the feathers drop from the wings of guardian angels God has placed in my path to look after me.

As the choir gathered for the second service, Mary Soprano (because we also have a Mary Alto!) presented me with her own take on a feather gift, a hilarious pink and purple boa, which everyone agreed suits my Diva personality perfectly!  I squealed like a child when I opened it, and posed for a photo showing my bounty of gifts and blessings from the day.  Pastor Eric prayed for me during both services, and Pastor Pauline blessed me, anointing me with oil after I had received communion.  Tears of gratitude welled up as I received love, hugs, affirmation and the blessing to continue singing in another family even as I remain loved by this one.

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Over my shoulder the banner reads “Cantate Domino”, Latin for “Sing to the Lord”.  I LOVE that Joan framed the shot this way.  It’s a reminder for me why I do what I do.

And I love that my feather gifts remind me of both the birds and the Angels, creatures that soar and sing to the Lord.

 

 

Broken Ground

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The 15th anniversary of 9/11…

I remember the events of 9/11 as vividly as if they occurred yesterday.  We all do.  My closest connection with the tragedy was the fact that my brother, Reed, was caught up in it.  He worked for American Express in the World Financial Tower, which was very close to the WTC towers that were destroyed that morning.  Like many other families, we watched the footage unfold on TV, horrified by the images bombarding us.  And like many other families, I and my loved ones anxiously waited to hear from Reed, praying that he was safe, at least physically.  We were among the more fortunate families, hearing from him hours, rather than days, after the towers fell.  I was working for the local Fox TV affiliate at the time, and I reported to work that afternoon, thankful that Reed was out of harm’s way, and surrounded by my work family as we all watched the horror replayed for hours on end while news people and experts tried to make sense of it all.  Our boss, Tom, my friends Larry and Dan, and I, kept master control running that day and into the night.  One of my clearest memories of the day was when Dan’s sister came by that evening with her baby boy, and she let me hold him.  Cuddling that sweet child comforted me, reminding me that God is still at work in our world, and that life indeed goes on.  Dan told me on Facebook that his nephew has his learner’s permit to drive now, and that he has been told the story of how he blessed me on 9/11.

The world seemed to break that day.  Buildings, peace, faith, even the very earth underneath the city.  Broken ground.

Flash forward 15 years, and I am sitting in a church service at Ebenezer United Methodist Church where I have just recently accepted a call to sing and serve, leaving behind a church I have served since 2013.  The decision was not made lightly or without deep soul-searching, consideration and prayer.  On the 15th anniversary of the broken ground of 9/11, my new church family celebrated the groundbreaking of a new sanctuary, welcoming me into their heritage.  The significance and timing were poignant and emotional for me.

At the end of the service, we each received a river stone symbolic of “raising our Ebenezer”, then went out onto the lawn to stand where the new sanctuary will be built in the days and months to come, to pray for God’s continued blessing on the church family, and to break ground.  As I took my place on the lawn with the rest of the choir, I noticed something at my feet that has become a meaningful symbol of God speaking to me…

 

I hollered at my friend Marc to show him the feather, and he said, “That’s just like something that would happen to you!”  I replied, “It’s more like something God would do,”.  Then he and I dug into the dirt and celebrated the same blessed peace that holding that sweet baby 15 years ago had given me…that God is still at work in the world, and life indeed goes on.