Pentecost with Cullen – Speaking in Tongues in Haiti

Cullen Two Girls Crop

 

 

Yesterday was Pentecost, which will always remind me of this story:
The next morning found us walking a hot dusty road to the school that served the entire area. Hundreds of children wore blue plaid uniforms that were crisp and clean. Amazing. They take great pride, we were told, in sending their children to school clean and well put together, as a form of family pride. The children were all over us, but especially Noah and Cullen. I doubt they had ever seen white children before, and everyone wanted to hold hands and touch their strait hair. We arrived as they were beginning religion class, and were asked if we wanted to read to them out of our bibles; Pastor Beau and Kirby would interpret, line at a time. I was a bit embarrassed to realize that I didn’t know an appropriate passage to look up and read. I remembered the time Jesus was inundated with children, and the disciples were upset with them, sending them away, to which Jesus replied, “Let the children come.” How I wished I could remember where that was, because it seemed so appropriate now, as we were each about 50 deep with these beautiful children. So I blindly opened the book, initially disappointed to not have the Holy Spirit guide me to that very verse. Beau was interpreting each phrase, with the animation that would have looked like he was using sign language.

Soon my voice cracked as I read aloud the passage that I had turned to, Mark 9:36

36 And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Not exactly the verse I was looking for, but even better – I’m pretty sure my opening the book here was no accident. (By the way the “Let the little children come” verse was actually amazingly close to where I had opened to (Mark 10:13)

Life is sometimes funny, and humility is so much more beautiful than pride.

I turned from my exuberant group, all jumping up and down and shouting for me to notice them, to the other side of the room to tell Cullen what a cool “coincidence” it was for me to “find” that verse, and I was stunned. Cullen’s group were all silent, staring intently at him, captivated by something. I moved through dozens of children to get closer. Instead of interpreting every his every line, Kirby was standing staring at Cullen also. I have no idea what verses he was reading, but one thing was clear. My son was reading out of his English bible, but the words that came out of his mouth were in Haitian Creole. My eyes then met Kirby’s, as we both mouthed the same word, “Wow.”

From then on I got it. I’ll never be the same.

(This is a shortened repost of a two part Recollection from last year of time spent on mission in Haiti. For the full version, click here).

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 15 Remembering the Greatest in France

Not Alone on my Camino

French folks have quite a reputation for being rude.  Last year, I noticed the Spanish so obliging that I felt humbled.  If they didn’t speak another’s language, they did what they could to communicate and be so very helpful.

Now, reputation aside, what I have discovered here is an extremely friendly France.  No one has uttered an unkind or rude comment (not that I would know!), and frankly, I’ve felt quite welcome here, especially by the older folks in the country.  I even noticed a kind of excitement when they heard my accent.  The expression, “A Yank!” or “Yaunkey!” wasn’t with disdain, as a pejorative, but rather a bit of “Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here.”

French baby

But how could this be so?  Clearly, it wasn’t because of the money I’ve been dropping here.  The pilgrim travels in an austere fashion, often sleeping in an alberge for 12€ a night.  Could…

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Join my 2014 Camino – La Voie du Marie

Follow my 2014 Camino to Lourdes at http://www.caminowithcullen.wordpress.com

Not Alone on my Camino

Fourteen year old Bernadette Soubirous was the poorest of the poor.  Her father was unemployed, having been pushed out of his job as modern advances made his profession obsolete.  The entire family of six existed in the single room that had years ago been abandoned as unfit for the village’s jailhouse.  The stench of the town’s overflowing sewage was overpowering, but the family was literally destitute, and at least had a room together where they could huddle around the fireplace.  Bernadette had been sick much of her entire life, with her asthma resulting in chronic respiratory disease.  Malnutrition, the cold weather, and lack of medical care was taking its daily toll on her.  She had missed more days of school than she had attended, and as such could barely read, the homely girl was labeled “simple” by her teachers, and teased as “stupid” by her classmates.  She was poor white trash of her day.

The story would feel uncomfortably…

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Villarente, just past Mansilla, Thursday, May 2nd

As I prepare for my 2nd Camino, I’ve spent sometime looking back at my posts from last year (on CaminoWithCullen.wordpress.com ), many for the first time since I wrote them, which of course, brought back some emotional memories. I’ll be leaving May10th, so keep me in your prayers!

Not Alone on my Camino

IMG_4405 Today´s weather was just miserable, cold, windy, rainy, but I just really felt good.  It must have had something to do with the story Peter shared with me last night.  The wonderful night´s sleep in a room with 15 others, 2 or 3 always snoring allowed me to consciously process what he had said.  Wow, if he feels like he´s got so much to be thankful for, I REALLY do.

I am truly blessed with a wife that thinks I mean the world to her.  I have loving, incredible kids.  All of them.  I got to walk 19 years with our dear Cullen.  I have the utmost confidence that our loving God has him in His warm embrace in paradise.  I have a great job, I do for a living what many dream of, what I´ve always wanted to do.  I have a supportive family and a medical practice that allowed me…

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Scott Burrows Paralyzed Kickboxer Walks at FVMA

Scott Burrows on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

Scott Burrows on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

What if the measure of your success is determined by how you react and change from catastrophe in your life? What belief system must you possess to conquer those challenges? Only rare events force people to change. Even more rare are those individuals who can inspire people to the core and move them to action.

The Florida Department of Professional Regulation mandates that veterinarians participate in 30 hours of continuing education every two years in order to maintain an active license.  This is a good thing.  But honestly, sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other veterinarians hasn’t been at the top of my bucket-list these last two years.  Frankly, I’ve been working on me.

But May 30 is the deadline, and I do love what I do, so I “enthusiastically” attended the 85th Annual Florida Veterinary Medical Association Convention this last weekend, just a month before the deadline for my remaining required CE hours.  If the likes of:  Immune-mediated Thrombocytopenia: Pathophysiology & Diagnosis, Icteric Cats – More Than Just Hepatic Lipidosis, Cyclosporine/Apoquel Versus Glucocorticoids, and Resection and Reconstruction Techniques for Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs sound like three riveting days, you would have been captivated.  And, believe it or not, I thoroughly enjoyed all of these.  But, me being me, what made me want to get up at 5:30 to drive two hours was a keynote speaker named Scott Burrows.

Scott played college football at Florida State University under legendary coach Bobby Bowden and was a top-ranked kick boxing champion, having his Last fight broadcast by ESPN. Later that year, his life took a dramatic turn when the car he was a passenger in lost control in a serious accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down and diagnosed a quadriplegic.

After years of frustrating and painful therapy, and a phenomenal will to succeed, Scott is now a best-selling author and in-demand speaker.  He employed his paralysis as a visual metaphor, as he rolls himself out on stage in a wheelchair, obviously able to pretty effectively use his upper body now.  With dramatic  arm gestures, he explained how he personally utilized his three principles: Vision, Mindset, and Grit, that are now the focus of his motivational/inspirational addresses.  He encouraged us to “stand up” when we are “paralyzed” by life’s challenges—regardless of circumstances—and achieve our best.

Clearly aimed at a secular audience, Scott used a Tony Robbins” style “You can do it,” positive motivation that we can accomplish anything we set our minds on.

Scott Burrows 2 on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

Scott Burrows 2 on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

Scott has keynote addressed hundreds of multinational corporations all over the world.  That’s how I had heard of him.  In doing so, he is ambiguous as to the source of his immense inner strength.  But I did a bit of digging on his website and some of his other addresses, and discovered his faith in Christ, and the use of his suffering as part of an offering up from which to be lifted out of his tragedy.

So, why not tell the whole story?  Why not “give Him all the glory?”  No doubt a “You can do it yourself style Motivational Speaker,” has an easier time paying the bills and is in less demand at PepsiCo, GE, and Polaris than a Christian inspirational speaker.

Far be it from me to know someone’s heart, but I tend to give folks a pass.  Scott let us fill in the blanks with our own hearts and minds.  If we look inside and don’t really have such a source, it’s likely we’ll dig deeper until we find Him.  I thinks this is an example of “God meets us where we are.”

Scott held a gold club (9 iron?) and raised it, and waved it and twirled it for dramatic effect several times during the talk.  He shared a story of golfing with someone and showed how he swung the club from the chair.

Towards the end of his keynote presentation, to demonstrate that his are not just words, that we really can do whatever we really are determined to do, he scooted himself to the edge of his seat, and with his hands, lifted one foot out of the chair, then the other.  He flipped the golf club around and, pressing it to the ground as support, lifted his body weight and walked across the stage.

Of course, this was met with applause and a standing ovation.  Indeed, with a true faith, we can certainly move mountains.

Much Love.

 

Scott Burrows 3 on dogtorbill.wordpress.comScott Burrows 4 on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

 

 

 

Road to Emmaus

I first posted this here exactly a year ago today, and it just feels fitting today to do so again

dogtorbill

behindme4

Everyone who knows me, knows that I have a horrible memory.  Not just, “Where did I put my car keys?” or “Crap, I forgot why I came in here” type of bad memory, rather more like, “I could hide my own Easter eggs!”  I could watch the same movie ten times and be shocked each time at the ending!

So, I dread seeing clients in public.  As a veterinarian, I form personal relationships with my clients, and get to know them, their children, and their pets – often a very real part of their family.  People appreciate when you connect with them, and I do genuinely love my job and (most of) my clients and their “families.”  So when I greet them by name and remember their kids, and that their cat purrs on Grandpa’s lap and the dog digs up the daffodils and enjoys leg humping Uncle Donnie, and never left…

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A Father’s Love

van der woude 2cvan der woude1c

Although Josie has Down’s Syndrome, he had been such  a “big help” that day to his dad. After a summer of fun with all his brothers and their children at their pool, 20 year old Josie Vander Woude, living with his parents, was helping get the pool ready for winter. They did this together every year, and he was really good at holding one corner of the pool cover while his dad tied the other in place. While 66 year old Tom Vander Woude secured the final knot, Josie wandered over the small berm towards the horses. He never noticed the metal cover because he’d walked this way every day his entire life.

On September 8, 2008, Joseph Vander Woude stepped onto an old sewer cover, which broke through, sending him splashing to the bottom. He was confused, cold, and scared; he screamed and cried. Joseph’s father quickly came running.

The father of seven grown sons had recently settled into retirement from decades as a commercial pilot, and filled his days with service to his church and community.  His other sons and their families had spent much time that summer at their home there with them in the country.

Tom looked into the dark sewer but was unable to recognize his child, in the dark tank and covered with filth, he saw movement and heard the gasping, “Daddy, Daddy!”

Without hesitation he jumped in to help his son.  This was not simply a sewer that we might think of, containing storm water.  This was a septic tank, filled with months of feces and human waste from the farmhouse.  Josie embraced and climbed upon this man who had always been there for him. Tom struggled to get underneath his much smaller son to hold him up, his head above the disgusting muck. Still, Josie struggled to breathe the noxious methane gas that had replaced the oxygen in the air.

When the firemen finally arrived, Josie’s brother ran them over to the cistern.  They were relieved to see Josie alive, although unconscious from the fumes.  One of them remarked how lucky the boy was that the level wasn’t much deeper.  He was just a few feet down, so the workers reached down and pulled him from the disgusting pit.

Tom Jr., and his mother frantically tried to get the words out, explaining to the firemen that Tom had jumped in, and was still down in the sewer.  The tank hadn’t been so shallow after all, rather Josie’s unconscious head had been held up by his loving father.  As he lifted Joseph up, his eyes closed, and he collapsed into the tank.

The firemen and the EMT that had now arrived had all been friends with Tom for years, small towns were like that.  The flashlight search and frantic shouts were immediately answered with the splashes of two men into the darkness.

The grim task of securing a rope around their friend and lifting him out of the waste was performed quickly in complete silence.  Unresponsive to their best efforts, Tom Vander Woude had left this world.

“It’s so right that he died saving one of us,” commented one of his sons.  That’s just how he lived his life.

In fact every man is called upon to give himself to God and his neighbor.  A boy learns this lesson of “self gift” in the family, particularly from his father.  Even more important than a father’s words to his sons, is his example.  When a father speaks of sacrifice through his actions, a boy learns the essence of manhood.  Even in our skeptical, self-centered culture, something is compelling about the story of a father giving up his life for his son.  It affirms everything we know to be right, and echoes the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

As I read this beautifully tragic story of the Van der Woude family on Good Friday, I was so moved by the metaphor.  We see the Lord, who lays down his life for us.  And we’ve heard this message repeated until perhaps it loses some of its impact, until it hits closer to home.

Because our grief is not the “end of the story” when we encounter tragedy.

Psalm 30:  At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with joy rejoicing.  You preserved me from those going down into the pit.  You changed my mourning into dancing.  Oh Lord my God, forever I will praise you!

Do we have any grasp of what this means?  Perhaps the Van der Woude story can show us more than we had considered.

Truly, the God of the universe became one of us.  That sounds incredible, because it is.  And when I look into the mirror, it is humbling to know that the “Creator of the Universe” cares enough about us, about me, that he would enter into this septic tank of a world to save me.  Because of His love.

That He enters into the “muck,” and that He pushes us out of that “muck.”  Each and every one of us are sinners, because we live in a sinful world, and that sin is deadly.  It will lead to our death.  But Jesus jumps into that muck, immerses Himself in it, in order that He can push us up out of the filth, that we might have salvation.  That’s the story of salvation.  That’s the story of His love for us.  As St. Paul said in a phrase I’ve always had a hard time understanding, “He became sin for us.  He takes on for us our failings.  He enters into the muck of this world, so that we may be pushed out of it.

This story reminds us that love is so much stronger than death.  Our life, in this fallen world, is but a journey, not just to God, but with God.  We walk together to that life eternal, where there is no more weeping and tearing or anguishing over the past.  Saint John Paul II, in his commentary on Psalm 30, states, “Nor should we fall into the illusion that we can save ourselves.”  We need some one, if you will, to jump in and save us from our sins.  And the good news is that Jesus is that one who we can climb upon, in order to be brought out, pushed up from this place.

Much Love

van der woude 2c

All Dogs go to Heaven?

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The thud of bumper against flesh makes a nauseating sound that tears a family apart.  As we sat together enjoying dinner after a long day of work, school, swim practice and homework, going around the table with our “high point of the day,” we barely took note of the sound of impact outside.  We all heard it, but just didn’t realize that sound, was to be forever part of the horrible memory.

People often find a veterinarian’s compassion remarkable.  You have so much empathy, I’m told.  “You’d think after dealing with this time after time, it would make you numb to it all, but when we brought Callie in last week, you acted like she was your own!”

Whether a body is brought in from a passing at home the night before, a tragic accident, or a humane euthanasia in the office, I know a family will never be the same.  The sweet memories fade into forever ago when confronted with a sudden loss of a beloved pet.

Somehow people often just seem to know that I take my faith seriously.  The cross I wear is tucked under my shirt, and the Third Day silk screen is covered by my scrubs, but I find myself often responding to complicated questions;  Philosophy and theology discussions that my veterinary training ill-equipped me for.  “I know you’re a believer, but why?  There’s so much suffering in the world – if He’s actually up there, why doesn’t He care?”  Often I force myself simply to sigh and remark something about there being so many mysteries.  And all this is true, but I thoroughly enjoy sharing and discussing my evolving theologies with others who are curious, or want to spar with our respective apologetics.

But I simply can’t typically do this at enough length for justice in a 15 minute office visit, so I mainly just sigh, and smile, and agree that it’s a mystery.  But sometimes I’m asked, especially by children, what used to be considered a softball question with a reflex quickie answer.  But now lots of adults also ask me, and I know some of them well enough to realize they want an honest, scripture based answer.

“Dr. Bill, do our pets go to heaven?” or specifically, “Will I see my dear Killian in Heaven?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used to kneel down by the child and say with consoling confidence, “Of course!”  I’d never give it a second thought, but I find myself questioning the reason and logic for pretty much everything I do anymore.  And it began to bother me a little bit.

In simplest terms, Christians believe entrance to God’s kingdom is based on our choosing to accept Jesus as Savior and applying His message as the way to live our lives and interact.  As a pretty serious Christian, I do believe this.  Well then, how on earth could we possibly think animals could get to Heaven, since they have no ability to even make rational choice?  Besides, they don’t even have souls … do they?  So I’m supposed to look down and lie to a child so everyone is happy?  Or say callously with a pat on their head, “No Susie, cats don’t have souls!”  Or pretend that I believe the New-Age Gobbletygoop, “Susie, Heaven will be everything you want it to be, and if you love Callie, she will certainly be there.”  Because we’ll all have our own little heaven of anything we want it to be.  (Although this may indeed be true, for so many members of the “church of me,” where you get to pick and choose what you think should be right and wrong.)

Or maybe I should simply shrug with a smile, and say, “It’s all a mystery!”None of that really works for me.  However I do have two thoughts on the subject.

First of all, I’m certainly no theologian, I’m not even particularly intelligent.  So on a plethora of topics, I choose to yield to others in history who have devoted entire lives to research on philosophy, meaning, and of course theology.  I have many favorites, but at the top of the list is St. Augustine (also know as Augustine of Hippo).

Saint Augustine clearly wrote “that all the beautiful and enjoyable things of nature … including animals … and all the delights that image God and lead us to him in this life will do so even more perfectly in the next. (Sermon 242).

St. Francis of Assisi wrote in “Canticle to Brother Sun,” about what he had discovered in scripture , such as Psalm 148, and he added a personal touch, giving the title of “Brother” and “Sister” to the various creatures. Francis seems to emphasize all the more the viewpoint that all creatures make up one family of creation under one loving Creator in heaven. We are to form one community—one symphony of praise—with our brother and sister creatures.

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes a woman arriving in heaven surrounded by her pets, and he notes, “Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love… And now the abundance of life she has in Christ… flows over into them.”

Lewis believes that animals receive a sense of self or personality from association with their human masters. We give our pets names and they answer to those names (hopefully), and perhaps recognize themselves by them. “If a good sheepdog seems ‘almost human’ that is because a good shepherd has made it so,” says Lewis. “And in this sense,” suggests Lewis, “it seems to me that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters.”

Secondly, Scripture itself seems to support this premise.

Consider the story of Adam and Eve before their disobedience as well as the story of the animals, the birds, the trees and plants in the Garden of Eden. Not only Adam and Eve, but the other creatures as well seemed to find peace and happiness in that first paradise. Why then would God want to exclude them from the paradise that is yet to come? (Even if it has nothing to do with their merit, but simply for us.)  Thus, I would have no argument with Christians who believe that the animals and other creatures are with God in heaven, just as they were in the story of the original paradise.

In the New Testament we are told God sees every sparrow that falls, which means he takes notice of each little life. In the Old Testament, we read about a future kingdom where the wolf will live with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the goat.

And finally, in the Book of Revelation, John describes a heavenly vision of all creatures before the throne of God. In that glorious gathering, he sees more than saved humanity: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever ” (Rev. 5:11-14).

Claire was my 14-year-old daughter’s very best friend.  She came one year for Christmas to chew on the piano bench, and grab the roast from the table, and teach my daughter about unconditional love.  And that she could lean on her Heavenly Father when strength was no-where to be found.

This was the first of many horrific losses my family would face in 2012.  Another death to confront.  Another opportunity to ask, “Why?”  Another reminder to cherish every loved one, and welcome every opportunity to embrace as if it’s the last one.

We believe in a God who understands loss and grief, pain and anguish.  He’s been here, and walked in our shoes, and fills our hearts with hope and joy, confidence and consolation.

Of course dogs can go to heaven.  So many things to look forward to.

Blessings for this Holy Week 2014

Much Love

claire1a

 

 

The Teenage Prank and the Angry Driver

A1A is a dangerous road to back into from your driveway. The middle-aged woman was late again for work as she quickly jolted the lever into reverse, placing her coffee on the dashboard and fumbled blindly to buckle her seat belt. Susan’s emotions were so focused on the fight she’d just had with her husband that her flash-glance right and left for traffic proved faulty. As she lifted her foot from the brake to accelerate onto the road, something quickly surged into her periphery. She slammed the brakes, just as the bicycle sped past, coffee spilling all over the passenger seat and down onto the console. His angry words were shouted before he saw her puffy eyes and wet face, “Ass hole!”

He was right, she thought. She was an ass hole, and she had almost killed someone Why couldn’t she and Gerry get along anymore? Maybe he was right too. Every day lately seemed to start like this. She just knew he didn’t care about her anymore and neither of them seemed to put forth any effort at all. Now most mornings seemed to start with these emotions. She would find herself snapping at everyone in the office, and acting out her own misery by causing theirs. This could not go on.

“Please, oh dear God, if you’re even up there, send me some kind of a sign,” she thought the words, hoping He was up there, and somehow could read her mind. Her own mother and now, just last year, her sister had gotten divorces because they were miserable. But they still seemed pretty miserable. Regardless, wasn’t Gerry supposed to “make her happy?” What was the point of being married if they couldn’t be happy? “You complete me,” how distant the memory of those words. How long had it been since he brought her flowers? She’d give anything for roses, or even a single rose. She had to stop crying and get her self together before she arrived at work, so she switched on the radio.

“Happy,” by Terrell Williams was just finishing up, and she snickered cynically just as the DJs on the morning show started talking about today, February 14th. Her anger and frustration now seethed into a depression, and her bottom lip quivered as she bordered on tears again. And she prayed again.

But this time she spoke out loud, for emphasis. “Just send me a sign, any kind of a sign God, and I’ll do anything. Our marriage was supposed to be different, not like all those crumbling around me! Really, I’ll do anything. It won’t be about me, I don’t even care if I’m happy. I am SO SORRY I’ve been so selfish, WE’VE been so selfish. It’s not about me at all, I DO still love him, and I’ll work so hard to show him. Then he’ll see the difference, and start giving for me. That should have been how it worked all along! We’ve been so selfish, so stupid. Send me a sign God, just send me a sign to let me know this is even possible!”

My son Noah glanced down at his new Nixon surfing watch to make sure he wasn’t going to get another “tardy note.” The neighborhood carpool sometimes fell victim to the morning lethargy of its riders, pulling into the high-school parking lot just as the bell rang, with the first class across campus. Sean ran across the grocery store parking lot, clutching the card and bouquet of roses he had procured for his “valentine.” As he charged through the parking lot, the bouquet accidentally met a rear-view mirror and ended up on the pavement. He quickly swooped them back up and slid into the car full of laughing adolescents.

As his sister Kaylie just made it through the yellow light, Sean smiled proudly at the ten-dollar bouquet, but then noticed one of the roses was now drooping down, because the stem had broken in the fall. Pulling that one from the bunch, he rearranged the rest, and said, “These are really pretty!” Everyone laughed, and his sister teased him mercilessly, and reminded him not to leave his trash in her car. The rejected bloom lay on the floorboard, and as they pulled up to the red light he reached down to throw it out the window.

As the window went down, they all looked over to see the woman in the car next to them at the intersection. They laughed hysterically at her angry face, as she seemed to be talking, no shouting at herself. There was no one in the car with her, but she was carrying out quite a conversation. With no one. Or whoever it was, she seemed so mad, or just upset with them. Kaylie pleaded, “No!” as Sean finished lowering the window and motioned to the crazy lady to lower her window. She just knew her brother was going to further torment this emotional looking woman. And perhaps he was, but as he saw the tears in her eyes, he tossed the single rose over at her, and said, “Smile, it’s Valentine’s Day!”

They continued to laugh as they sped off, because Sean’s aim had missed its mark. He hadn’t accounted for his sister’s acceleration, and so the rose hit the car door and slid to the ground. The laughter turned to howls as Noah turned to inform those in the front seat that she had gotten out of her car and picked up the rejected flower.

Having witnessed how this played out, the cars behind did not honk with impatience. This fleeting moment, this silly little adolescent prank had changed Susan’s day. Perhaps her marriage. Perhaps her relationship with God. That rejected rose now was now such a good thing. From out of nowhere, Susan had received the sign she had pleaded for, just seconds before. She smiled as she realized the work ahead of her.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (MT 21:42)

You think there’s no God? Or that you’re too small and insignificant? What’s the point of talking with Him? So many people really feel this way. I think we all do sometimes. But this would be a “vending machine” god – ask for something, and get it – or else its a “broken” machine – or an “imaginary” machine. Our Lord may indeed ZAP away a cancer, or change the trajectory of a bullet, but I think our everyday, subtle miracles are much more common than we think. We’re given choices to change our lives. If we pray for patience, we don’t wake up one day as Mother Theresa. No we’re presented, over and over again, with opportunities that require patience, so that we can choose that road, and develop that virtue. We can ask for Faith, but then we’re frustrated with our lack of faith, and then “come to our senses” that it’s all just a joke, some imaginary fairy tale for weak people. But didn’t we plead with God in our times of trial and our own weakness? Is it possible that we simply expected Him to ZAP us with the graces of faith, but ignored His response? All those opportunities He presented us with that required faith, would have enabled us to change our lives and grow.

I truly do believe we live in the midst of so many everyday miracles. We simply fail to see them, and grow frustrated and cynical.

This was a parable. But it was based on true events. Life is based on these very same truths. I pray that I may always see them.

Much Love.
wilted rose

Svedka and the Gifts Left Behind

“I never really liked little dogs, but now that my wife is gone, ‘Sandy’ is all I have left of her.  My God, she loved this dog.  I don’t think I could go on if anything happened to her,” the old man told me as he clutched the Pomeranian. Sandy was getting on in years and had severe periodontal disease and now an abscessed tooth from years of having refused routine prophylaxis. Seventeen years or not, the old dog was suffering and we really needed to so some dental work, the risks of anesthesia were now irrelevant. But Sandy was not just this man’s pet, she was how he was gasping to keep alive this only remaining part of his spouse.

A Jack Russell Terrier named “Buddy” squirmed and bounced on the exam table, a complete lunatic. These little dogs (what we like to call Jack Russell Terrorists) are out of control on a good day, and this one was truly a “special needs” case. This dog hadn’t heard the word “no” in months, and was coddled and talked to in ways that defied logic, unless you know the story. Buddy had been best friends with the 16-year-old daughter of this couple – one of the teens killed last year in a horrific auto accident that made state headlines.

Cullen and his best friend Tim ran up the stairs with all the excitement and giddiness that would accompany a new puppy.  They had slipped out of Tallahassee after classes, passed us in Melbourne and spent the morning sitting on the ground in South Florida, with a litter of Siberian Husky puppies running, licking, and jumping all over them.  He would leave in Miami half of what he had saved that semester, from tutoring classmates in Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese, and return with so much excitement he was ready to burst.  “Svedka” was an absolutely stunning pure white Husky with eerily transcendent crystal blue eyes that would pierce into me.  I’ve been a vet for almost 30 years and had never seen a white husky before (although now they seem to be everywhere), and I was taken back at this beautiful creature.  She immediately squatted to urinate when he put her down, no surprise to me after a 4 hour car-ride, but Cullen was surprised and embarrassed, as he was so proud and thought everything about her was “perfect.”

Having had no prior knowledge of his stealthy plan, I was astonished and confused.  I do remember the YouTube video of the Husky howling “I love you” that Cullen had thought was so cool, playing it over and over in amazement and asserting that he was going to get one and teach it to talk too!  But my prodigy would be graduating at age 19, and leaving on a Chinese Master’s degree fellowship in just a few months.  “Have you lost your mind?  Why would you get a puppy right before you leave for two years in China?!!  Are you crazy or just irresponsible?” (One more thing I said over the years that I wish I could take back)

He just looked at me and smiled, telling me to calm down, that he had all the details worked out.  Tim would take care of Svedka while he was gone!  That seemed pretty logical to a 19-year-old.

Cullen Sved Puppy Sved Puppy Crop

Amy Hollingsworth authored a book entitled, “Gifts of Passage,” where she describes “gifts our loved ones leave behind.”  She artfully weaves Where the Red Fern Grows, the “Myth of the Red Thread,” lots of C.S. Lewis, and experiences from hospice care nurses into this masterpiece that finds the reader constantly nodding their head in affirmation.  This had been one of a dozen or more books I had been given when I was in the depths of grief after my darkest day.  The baby boy that I had prayed for and been given on my (our) birthday, nineteen years ago, would leave for China, and be killed in the strangest of accidents.

One can not comprehend the anguish of losing a child, nor be of any consolation.  Witnessing the sobbing of several old men when they shared with me the loss of their own child makes it clear that the grief, like the love, endures decades, and forever.

I have, however, come a long way.  I can type these words without weeping, although a later re-reading, as I proofread, will tend to prove painful.  We’ve struggled with lots of things to make sense of, or at least accept our loss.  I went to one Compassionate Friends grief support group for parents.  It was so depressing with many parents still hysterical with that drunk driver, or that f’ing cancer, or simply at God, and ironic that now so many were now drunks and addicts themselves, climbing inside the bottle or vial of Zoloft to be numb.  But I did not want any of this stuff.  An open, bleeding wound where my heart used to be would probably remain forever, but surely there was some form of healing to be had.  And so we worked on it, and “working through” grief is truly work.

Sharing stories and feelings with the rest of the family, mentoring with friends and priests, lots of conversations with our Lord, and my infamous 500 mile Camino de Santiago have all helped immensely.  I have become an avid reader, having read more in the last year than my preceding 50 years combined.  My days always start with a page or two of scripture to think about during the day, and usually end with a few chapters of my “book of the week.”

I’ve now read this Hollingsworth book three times, and always tear and laugh at the same places.  There is a legend in Asian culture of “the read thread” that connects and pulls certain people destined to be together or to impact each other in some way, providing  love, a lesson, or support.  Wending its way, crossing time and culture, spanning age and death, this red thread connects me to those whose stories would matter to me, would teach me.  Each gift has unraveled like a mystery, so that I have learned not only about the gift, but about the process I am going through to discern my own.  With each of these stories, the red thread tightens, pulling me closer to the meaning of his “Gift of Passage.”

This may well be what we Christians call “God’s Providence.”  Our days, our very lives are directed by our free, often stupid, choices.  However, His hand presents us with continuous new choices and second chances to live righteously – despite, or perhaps especially because He knows well in advance the outcomes, and how our time here will end.  His loving hand guides us to opportunities and choices where we can overflow His love, or not.

Hollingsworth tells of these gifts left behind – the most obvious ones are the conscious, intentional gifts of those who know they are dying.  Sometimes in a will or a list of “worldly goods,” or may be simply a conversation or heartfelt confession.  They plan out thoughtful comfort, meant to convey a loving message, something they want to be remembered by.  But the surprising gifts are those where an acute or catastrophic accident occur, where no one has had warning.  Such times the gifts aren’t so obvious but they become evident as the journey continues.  The “seeds have been planted” to help us cope, or even understand.  Like The Red Fern, there’s no way to know where seeds are planted until the red fern begins to push its way out of the soil.

Cullen had left many such gifts: Stories from his friends of his acts of love and kindness, memories of the recent times spent with us, the loving compassionate things he had said to complete strangers, the fighting people he had brought together, the itinerary he had planned for us to visit him in China, and the most loving text message he had sent me that very morning.

Svedka was also my gift left behind.  I had been so adamant that his getting a dog was such a stupid, irresponsible decision.  So after moving him out of his apartment at FSU, we dropped Sved off with Tim’s grandmother, Joyce.  We already had three big dogs who had destroyed the yard and made the house impossible to keep clean.  Our house was too full of dogs already.

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Svedka on floorboard under sleeping Cullen, on the way home from FSU

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Cullen inscribed a classmate’s notebook, “Cullen was here.” They later added, “For a reason.”

But on May 18th 2012, our home suddenly was very empty.  Much like our hearts, this house was desolate and drained, devoid of happiness and life.  We tried desperately to force some normalcy to feign sanity, especially for Cullen’s siblings.  So we sat on the bleachers, watching Noah enter the dugout with his head down.  Without prompting, each of the South Beach Dodgers went up to my 11-year-old son and hugged him that day.  As he approached the plate for his first “at bat,” he crossed himself and pointed to the heavens.  It was more than I could handle; before I left, I leaned to Shar and said, “I want to get Sved.”  She smiled through her own tears, glad that I had suggested something so rational.

I don’t remember Kayla and I speaking as we left the game and made that long drive.  Nor do I remember Joyce and I speaking.  Not with words anyway.  We wept as we hugged in her driveway; Svedka had already jumped in and was on Kayla’s lap, kissing her.  Now she rides with my old boxer, Nieve and me every day to work, and never complains about the long commute.  Most of the drive she leans against the back of my seat, often leaning her head on my shoulder.

These gifts are not a “consolation prize” for my broken heart, but rather they set in motion an anguish through which the real gift is given.  Like Psyche‘s rage against Cupid in C.S. Lewis’ Until We Have Faces, my real gift is that I have learned how to love, really love the god who separated me from my son.  The real gift is the transformation of the beast into something beautiful, a true understanding of the love of God.

Much Love.

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