Troublemaker: The Quarantine Puppy

Like so many people sitting at home to work over the past six or so weeks of “shelter-in-place,” it seemed like the perfect timing to get that puppy I had been contemplating for months.

Since the boys were clearly stressed by the sudden change in their lives and unable to say things like, “Gosh, Mom, I’m feeling really stressed and unsettled by this rapid change and don’t have great coping mechanisms,” they expressed this by fighting over who would get to sleep with our little cavadoodle. They cuddled up with Mitzy any time they were overwhelmed with big feelings. They found an outlet in loving a fuzzy little animal. So when a friend posted about Animal Lifeline on Facebook, we got our application in and waited for the next transport of puppies rescued from puppy mills or kill shelters in other states.

Scanning through a dozen or so photos of available puppies the following week, Mr. Ornery zeroed in on a tiny pure black puppy. “Look at those eyes, Mom,” he said, “that puppy needs us” (or the other way around). A few hours later, the boys were cuddling a black lab mix and I was signing paperwork.

All the way home, the boys argued over a name before

Amazon reminds me I purchased this in 2009

settling on Malachi. I tirelessly argued that was a boy’s name. The moment my friend texted a series of suggested M-names and I read her daughter’s suggestion of Mocha, I knew that was it. The next day, Little Guy came running into the room singing, “Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha. Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha, where’s my puppy Moka?” using my favorite coffee drink to remember a new name.  I laughed and I switched the spelling to match a book we’ve enjoyed.

 

Sure it sounds like a great idea to get a quarantine puppy. Why not pile on a lot more work? With the current crisis level of stress, I had started to sleep 8-9 hours a night. Now I sleep 6-7 and beg the puppy to go back to sleep in the early mornings as I lay there restlessly unable to doze off. With the constant disruption of children as I try to pay attention to Zoom meetings or put thought to paper for work, now every 20-30 minutes I have to figure out what the puppy is chewing on and take her out to pee.

But I can handle this, because having a new puppy is just like having boys:

Little Moka can’t come into the house without tracking in dirt or carrying in bits of nature. Mostly because she loves to dig the black dirt all over the sidewalk right in front of the door – so that everyone now drags in dirt! It’s especially awesome when it rains.

She contributes to the constant “I can’t find my shoe” issue. It’s been three days and I still can’t find the left flip-flop and my right running shoe. And I don’t know whether to blame boys or a puppy who picks it up and carries it around the house.

She leaves wet blotches in the carpet much like the boys do when they spill their drink and “forget” to clean it up or mention it until I find it with my socked feet.

An innocent appearing behavior, such as licking the front porch railing quickly becomes destructive and I think about all the repairs I’ll some day have to do because of the constant flurry of activity of all these little creatures in the house.

There are some lessons learned, as well. For example, when leaving the puppy home all day with the older boys while I’m at work, I might have needed to specify to remove the “solid waste” BEFORE using the spray and wet paper towel to rub the carpet! (Even magic Folex hasn’t been able to touch this stain.)

Also would have helped to be a little more specific in my note to the 11-year-old that read, “Please take puppy out every hour and feed at 12 noon.” When I unknowingly gave the puppy dinner and she groaned as she still tried to eat with a belly double its normal size, I learned that Mr. Ornery read that as “feed puppy every hour” as well as take her out.

Despite all this (and the continuing destruction that I’m sure we’ll have), I don’t regret the decision. The other night, on The Little Guy’s ninth birthday, the puppy jumped off the couch and landed on her front leg wrong. She howled in pain. The boys ran to find me and I held the puppy tight. Wrestling with whether she needed to get to the emergency vet, with time she started walking on it again. As she tucked in to sleep that evening and the younger boys cuddled into my arms on the couch watching a movie, they wept with worry about the puppy. Reassuring them, I thought, you know what, you boys are going to be okay. You have tremendous love for another creature. You have deep empathy for someone in pain. You find joy in the physical connection (even if it is a puppy licking your face). And you are learning more responsibility.

Welcome to the family, Moka. We’re all glad you’re here.

You Got This!

I had just finished the first leg of the Pittsburgh Marathon, running 5.3 miles at a pace generally faster than usual for me. This was a combination of a running partner who was clearly in better shape than I (since she could keep talking while running – ahhh!) and because we were having such an impassioned conversation that adrenaline was definitely flowing.

After giving sweaty hugs to the friend who took up the next leg of the relay and to my running buddy, I headed over to the river to soak in the majestic views offered by the city despite a gray and foggy sky. Along the way, I politely offered to push buttons on cell phones to convert people’s “selfies” into “real” photos as I feel it gives a much better perspective (I’m a bit snobbish that way!).

Eventually I approached the statue of Fred Rogers, I noticed a man in an animated face-time phone conversation who was showing his listener the views of the river and pointing out that you could see the runners on the other side. Having politely asked the mother of a two-year-old little boy (who was definitely “not” going to get close to Fred!) to take my picture beside him, I wandered back to the race course. There was the runner who had ended his conversation. We remarked politely as to how the weather had cooperated and the rain had ended. We wondered how we’d “politely” cross the course to get to where we had parked. And then we began talking about the charities that we had run for to raise funds. I explained the work of Haiti H2O and he listened intently. He explained that he had been a marathon runner and had survived a heart attack a few years ago. He was back to running and was clearly passionate about raising awareness of heart disease and helping others.

As we meandered across the road and then along the race course in the opposite direction, B started to cheer on the runners. I added some feeble-sounding encouragements as well, but his voice boomed. “You got this,” he exclaimed over and over again. He lifted his extra-large right hand enveloped in a neon green glove and started to give each runner a high-five. I often thought, “that person won’t move over for a high-five,” but they sure did.

We were along the course around mile 4.5 where those at the end of the long line of participants were making slow progress in running, jogging or walking the race. Some looked exhausted already. Some looked like they were determined to keep going. Some looked like they wondered why they were doing this in the first place. Some looked ready to quit. But each time B yelled out “You got this!” and gave them a high-five, their faces transformed into beautiful smiles and a spark shone from their eyes. Every one. Old. Young. Black. White. In shape or out of shape. They all responded to B.

“Look how they are lighting up and smiling,” I remarked as we continued along. “Yes,” he paused. “My kids often say ‘Cool it, Pop’ but to me, every moment is worth living.”

Every moment is worth living.

Every moment is worth giving another encouragement. Giving another a smile. Giving another just a little more power, a little more strength, a little more determination to continue on. Whether others are running a mile or a marathon or whether they are walking or running through this journey of life, may we all continue to share a smile, give a high-five, and boom out loud – “You got this!

Photo credit: Daniel Heckert; Story credit: Betsy Ann

 

Love will Stay Stronger than Hate

The other week I took the boys to see a movie with my neighbor and her two children. The back of the minivan shook with glee. The popcorn flowed over laps and floors. The moms constantly “shushed” the giddy kids as the movie began. But eventually, the story compelled them to quiet down, punctuated every once in awhile with a great contagious giggle.

There once was a group of Yeti’s who so feared continuing death and slaughter at the hands of man that they moved high up into the top of the mountains and created a layer of fog to hide the humans in the land below.

There once was a group of humans who believed that Yeti’s were so violent and dangerous that if they ever saw a Yeti, they would shoot to kill.

But, there also was once a Yeti named Migo who was so fascinated by the possibility of a “Small Foot” that he risked leaving his home to go see if these creatures really existed.

And, there once was a man named Percy who was so desperate for fame that he searched for the Yeti as a tool for popularity. But when his fellow men came out with guns and armor and shields to fight against the Yeti, Perry took a step forward in faith and solidarity. Standing together, Yeti and humans learned that they are more similar than they are different. They discovered that to dispel fear, they needed to begin to understand one another and to respect each other. They discovered that they did not need to live in fear, but could live in community.

Our world is filled with fear. We are so focused on how we are different from others, that we have become scared of those differences. We want to build up walls around us. We want to stick with “our own.” Instead of becoming more unified, the pressure is to become more polarized. More extreme. More scared.

And that fear leads to anger and anger leads to violence. Violence against those who are different. Violence against school children. Violence against anyone considered an “other.” Violence against the innocent. And this past week, that violence touched the lives of a peaceful community of people gathered for worship at the Tree of Life Synagogue in my former neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. In that moment, the lives of a Holocaust survivor, a physician, a couple, a grandfather, a dentist, a set of brothers, and other beloved family members were ended in a sea of blood. A sea of anger. A sea of fear.

As the days have crept on, as the funerals have taken place, as the songs have been sung at the vigils, as the community has marched and as the families have mourned, all of us have felt a deep, deep aching sadness that has called to our spirits. A deep despair that has tried to blacken our soul and nibble away at our hope. And each of us has had to reach out to our community of friends, family, neighbors and even strangers gathered around us to rekindle our flames.

Because when fear tries to sow hate and hate tries to capture our hope, we stand together to say “Absolutely not.” We raise our voices to say, “Love is and always shall be stronger than hate.”

When we take a step towards each other. When we learn about others and discover that they too are humans just like us. When we are willing to look into another’s eyes and see their fears and their hurts and their hope which is just the same as ours, then….then, we will learn to love others.

As I cleaned up around the house this morning, I heard The Little Guy upstairs reading to his brother, “Do not worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything.” When the current world wants us to worry about everything and everyone, we are reminded that God is bigger than that and loves us all.

So, together we kindle the hope.

Together, we maintain the love.

Together, we treat others as God’s Holy creation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reckless Love

(Verse 1)
Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me
You have been so, so good to me
Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so kind to me
(Chorus)
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ‘til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
(Verse 2)
When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me
When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me
You have been so, so kind to me
(Bridge)
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me
(Reckless Love: Written by Cory Asbury, Caleb Culver, and Ran Jackson)

 

We sang this song at church this morning. It is currently my favorite praise song. And it is one I really needed after dealing with Super Tall Guy’s latest “rage” fit yesterday in which quite a bit of anything that was not nailed down went flying. We even hit a new level – the next door neighbor who absolutely never talks, came out of her house and grumbled, “What in the world is going on?” Sigh….

But as we sang this morning, I realized that while this song was written about God’s incredible love of His children, it could so easily describe in a very imperfect way my relationship with my boys.

When they were infants – before they spoke a word – I would sing over them as I rocked them to sleep. (While I did not carry them in my body, their birth mother breathed life into them before they ever took a breath.)

When Super Tall Guy is in a rage and we are squared off foe to foe….my love fights for him. Fights to have him calm down. Fights for him to know that I love him despite the ugliness. Fights for him to know that I will be there with open arms when this hurricane ends. When he weeps in sadness and feels unworthy, I wrap around him in love. I pay such a price in providing for the boys, not just in material things, but in time and worry and stress and endless energy.

And should anything ever happen to my boys, I will always come after them. I will light up the world for them to see more clearly through the darkness that might threaten to overwhelm them. I will climb any mountain for them if they wander away. I will tear down any wall to free them. There’s no lie that the world could tell them about their brown skin or their worthiness or that they might tell themselves in self-doubt that I wouldn’t tear down.

And despite all their grumblings about how mean I am or how other families are so much better, I truly am trying to be good to them and kind to them. I would leave the ninety-nine, I would leave anything I had to for my children.

I am a failure every single day at this parenting gig. I want to do so much better. I get down on myself. But then I am reminded of the intense love I have for these three incredible boys. The absolutely overwhelming love. The never-ending love. The reckless love. Unconditional love. No matter what they are doing. No matter how many times they have ignored me or disobeyed. No matter how many mistakes they have made. No matter what, it is an overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love that tears up my heart and drains tears down my cheeks as I stand there singing.  And in those moments, I know that if I feel this passion for my boys….how much more does a Perfect God love each and every one of us. How much more does He breathe into us and come after us when we wander? How much more does He ache when we disobey, but has already paid the ransom? How much more overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love does He give?

Click on the album cover below and listen to reckless love….

 

Activation of the Extraction Code

He activated the “Extraction Code” and then realized he didn’t want to.

It was 8:54 pm on a Saturday night. Super Tall Guy was at a friend’s house where he enjoys countless hours of Minecraft, more junk food than his body needs, and stays up later than I would ever allow. But it’s a friend and he needs friends.

He has spent the night with this friend numerous times and always seems to like it, but this night he texted and asked me to come pick him up. He didn’t want me to tell his friend why. He didn’t want me to tell his friend’s mother why. He didn’t want to tell me why.

And I commenced the extraction.

Popped over to my neighbor’s house and asked their thirteen-year-old son to come sit in my house with my younger two and my nephew (who was planning to spend the night, but that didn’t work out either, which is another story for another day).

Texted my son over the course of five minutes to confirm the pick-up as his last message seemed unsure. Never heard back.

Texted the mother and “explained” a family emergency.

Jumped in the car.

Drove 5 minutes down the road.

Texted that I was in the driveway.

Super Tall Guy got in….and broke into tears. There had been a scuffle. He had been kicked (not sure if on purpose or accident) but what he really wanted was just to talk to me. He had decided to give his friend another chance….but there I was.

We drove off; him sobbing and me explaining the extraction system. At any moment, at any time, I would be there. No matter what. No questions asked. But if you activate the system – the system goes into play. There’s not a thing in the world that’s going to stop a mom from going to rescue her baby. Ever.

But I sit and wonder this weekend, who’s activating the system for the thousands of people stranded in airports or stranded overseas with fear and terror? Who’s running to the aid of immigrants and refugees? Thousands of people have arisen to protest the ban. Hundreds of lawyers working hard to overturn the discrimination against people based on their country of origin and their religion.

I sit and explain to my sons the extent of my love for them. It passes all my understanding. It is a very imperfect reflection of the perfect love of the Creator of the Universe. And it is the Lord who calls His people to love the homeless, the orphan, the refugee, the least of these in this world. Just as I love and protect my sons, I am called to love and protect the vulnerable.

May we all join the fight to carry out the extraction code which has just been activated by those in need.

 

 

 

Love matters.

I don’t remember how old I was, six or seven perhaps, young enough to still be holding my mother’s hand as we crossed a street in northern Thailand. A small group of blind men crossed opposite us and I looked up at my mother and said, “Look, Mom, three blind mice.”  To this day, I cannot remember what she said in response. I don’t remember her face when she looked down upon me. But I do remember the intense emotion of disappointment and shame I felt with her response. Forty years later, as a woman who has grown so much since then, I am embarrassed to share this story, but I do so for one reason. It was a defining moment in my life. The moment that my mother taught me that under no circumstance, absolutely no circumstance at all, will you ever mock, demean, or disrespect another human being. Each and every person is created in the image of God and therefore shall be treated with utmost respect as if looking upon the face of Jesus himself. Forty years and counting, I try to hold to that teaching.

Sure, I get annoyed at people. Sure, I am snippy and rude sometimes (especially when driving). Sure, I have a temper that flares, particularly at the boys (just ask Super Tall Guy this morning). And I have made some very egregious mistakes in relationships. I am sorry for that. I realize that even as an adult I am still developing; still learning self-control and wisdom; still learning to take another’s perspective; still learning to be a better person. Still learning how to love my neighbor.

The key thing is that I’m learning because it matters to me. Love matters. loveRespect matters. I want to be better. I want to do better. Which means that I will also expect that out of others and I will stand in the gap whenever there is injustice and maltreatment of the innocent. And, I will expect my boys to be learning about love and kindness as well. I don’t expect them to be perfect. I know they will experiment with rudeness and meanness. I know they will tease others. I know they will say hurtful things without realizing it as well. But I expect them to reflect on those moments and learn from them with my guidance. I expect them to gradually get better. I expect them to learn the power they have in the choice of their words and actions. I expect them to value love. I expect them to respect others. I expect them to be a light into their world, to walk as a child of God. And I expect myself to model that for them and do the hard work of teaching them.

I’m not sure I have the power to change my sons’ perspectives in an instant as my mother  did so clearly years ago. And I know that I have not always lived up to her expectations nor emulated her Christ-like behavior and neither will my boys. But I know that we will keep on trying each and every day to make this world a better place. To stand in the gap. To be a light into the world. To be faithful and courageous.

Love matters.

Choose love.

Advent Week Three into Four: Fighting for Joy

 

adventChristmas is always my favorite time of year. I think I just like lights…on trees, on bushes, on houses, on boys’ bunkbeds. They seem to emanate a feeling of peace and comfort. But the end of this year has been pretty bumpy and it’s been hard to capture any peace.  It could be the endless roll of medical visits for my three boys (two fractures, bead in the ear, strep throat, medication checks, flu shots) or the endless saga of behavioral crises that my sister’s boys are wrestling with as the year comes to a close.

It could be the pervasive sense of sadness that settled in in early November when less than half of the voters still triumphed. It’s impossible to see any Joy in the one who is to be our new leader, yet who is so far from a Christian role model that I want to shield my sons from all news until this crisis is over.

It could be the deluge of photos showing the reality of hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying in Syria. It could be the feeling of powerlessness as a hurricane wipes out lives and livelihood for thousands in Haiti.

It could be the unpredictability of violence in the neighborhood, the financial drain of a house still sitting on the market, the uncertainty of funding at my current employment.

It could be a lot of little irritants throughout a day. It could be all-consuming disgust and annoyance. It could be boys who squabble, or whistle in the car, or throw remotes in frustration, or roll around on a kitchen floor to trip over when trying to make dinner. It could be the slow slow slow plodding march every….single….night to shift three little brains from alertness to dream state. It could be any of a hundred of weights in a single moment.

But it could also be moments of Peace. (Nah, that’s only when they’re asleep). It could be moments of Love in the notes Mr. Ornery writes to say he’s sorry. It could be elfmoments of Joy in watching Super Tall Guy in his first performance playing the saxophone. It could be moments of Hope in the excitement of The Little Guy waiting for Christmas (and expectantly looking for the elf that the babysitter likes to hide).

 

It could be all these moments if the focus is in the right place. For there is only One from whom Peace passes all understanding, Love surpasses knowledge, Hope yields eternal life, and Joy fills the soul. Only one.

May we all seek and find that Joy, Peace, Hope and Love this moment, this day, this year and into the next.

Merry Christmas to All!tree