Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dog Days of Christmas

A few weeks ago, I posted an appeal on Facebook for a loving family to foster my friend Elizabeth's dog Zeus for a year. Her family was moving, and they couldn't take him to their rental house. [You long-time readers may remember my pet-sitting misadventure with Zeus, that time I made him dreadfully sick by feeding him cat food and then Bill had to clean up after him.]

Well, despite my ridiculous mistake, Elizabeth and Shawn trusted me to watch him and the cat many more times over the years, and I've grown quite fond of him. He is the best behaved, most mild mannered dog I've ever seen. But when she asked me if we could take him, I said that our house is really too small for a big German Shepherd and two cats. And also, I hate picking up dog poop. (I don't think I said that part out loud, but it was a reason.)

In addition to asking my friends to take Zeus, I did some praying, asking that God would place him with a family who would love him and take good care of him, a family who would find him to be a blessing.

As the deadline approached, my prayers intensified. Elizabeth had said he'd have to go to the shelter if no one would take him, and I couldn't bear to think of that gentle dog being put to sleep. A crazy thought slowly took form in my mind, and then in my heart. What if we took Zeus? Yes, our house is small, but at age 13, he's not a wild dog--nothing like naughty Lola.

"Well, God, I guess we could take him," I said. "But if there's another family who would be better for him, I trust you to work it out."

A few days passed, and no other family stepped forward. A week before moving day, I was driving Ethan to school when I broke the rule against talking before 9 in the morning. "You know Elizabeth and Shawn are moving?"

Ethan didn't answer.

"...and they can't take Zeus with them. So he will go to the shelter unless somebody takes him."

He looked out the window.

Keeping my voice casual, I said, "So, I'm almost tempted.... I was thinking maybe we could take him. It's crazy, though, because our house-"

"We should totally take him," Ethan said, with more enthusiasm than I've ever heard from him at that time of the morning.

"But I don't know how the cats will do with a dog. You know how crazy Arwen got over that cat in the backyard."

"The cats will be fine. We should take him."

"I'll pray about it."

"We should take him."

"Have a good day. I love you."

A few prayers later, I felt a softness in my heart. Didn't God put me on this earth to love? Doesn't Zeus need my love? Three animals, two animals? What's the difference?

That afternoon, I sent Elizabeth a text: "If no one else takes Zeus, we will foster him."

"I love you!!!!!!!" she replied.

I told both kids the exciting news, but warned them that we were just the last resort. "I'm trusting God to put him with the right family. It might not be us."

"He can sleep in my room," Ethan said. "I'll have to clean it up first."

Having a dog could have some perks, I thought.

About a week later, on Friday the 19th, Elizabeth brought Zeus over, along with a big bin of dog food, his bowls, and two beds. She taught me his voice commands and the corresponding hand signals for Sit, Stay, Go, Lay, and Up.

After she'd given me all the instructions she could think of and answered all my questions, she took her leave.

Zeus tried to follow her out the door.

"Stay, Zeus!" she said, holding her palm out in front of her like a stop sign.

He waited at the closed door. Was she coming back?

Yes, she was. She'd forgotten her purse. Again, he tried to go with her. "Stay, Zeus."

And then she was gone.

When Arwen and CiCi came out of hiding to investigate, both of them arched their backs and fluffed their tails. I found that fascinating. I'd seen them arch at each other in play, but I'd never seen the puffy tails. Arwen hissed menacingly, but Zeus didn't even notice. He was too concerned about where Elizabeth had gone.

He waited quietly by the door for a long, long time. Finally, I called him into my bedroom/office, where I'd laid out one of his beds. "Come in here with me," I said. I touched the bed with my index finger. "Lay down."

He lay down and stared at me dully. Oh, such sad eyes! I felt a lump forming in my throat.

Stroking him gently, I prayed for God's comfort. "Let him feel safe. Let him feel loved," I prayed. And then I cried. Over a dog. Can you believe that? I knew that must be the Holy Spirit moving me to compassion.

As soon as I sat down at my desk, Zeus went back to the front door to wait. That's where he stayed until Allyson came home from school.

Over the next few days, the cats cautiously watched him, getting closer and closer. Here they are looking down at Zeus, who was minding his own business lying on his bed just below them.

See the ridge of hair along Arwen's spine? And CiCi's fluffed tail?

CiCi warmed up to Zeus first, touching noses with him by the third day.

Zeus warmed up to us, too. Allyson, Ethan, and a few of their friends gave him lots of attention and love. But it seemed to be my attention he wanted most, maybe because I was hard to get. He'd walk up to me throughout the day and nudge my hand with his nose. I petted him awkwardly, grimacing at the hair that sloughed off each time I touched him.

On Saturday the 20th, day two, we took our Christmas card picture in front of our Charlie Brown tree, which looked much more bedraggled this year because I haven't figured out how to keep CiCi out of it. Allyson and I were determined to have all three pets in the picture, but Ethan was skeptical. He held Arwen, the most reluctant of the party.

Allyson's friend Ellie gamely took a few shots with Ethan's iPhone while we tried to keep the pets calm. Here's one that didn't make the cut:

This was the best we could do. I figure in ten years when our clothes and hair are ridiculously outdated, I can sell this picture to a greeting card company for one of those quirky cards that people love because they can relate. Real life isn't as pretty as your average photo card....

A Christmas Miracle
Just when I was starting to think of Zeus as one more branch on our crazy family tree, the story took an unexpected turn. On Christmas Eve, Allyson and I stopped by my friend Nicole's house to drop off the aforementioned Christmas card and a little gift. As we chatted on her porch, somehow the topic of Zeus came up. "I just can't believe we ended up with a dog," I said. "I am such a cat person. Definitely not a dog person."

"My kids have been wanting a dog," she said wistfully. "Our dog died recently, and they want another one."

"Maybe you could..."

"No, I don't have time to train a dog," she said. (As a home schooling single mom with three young children, she's possibly one of the few people who are busier than me.)

"Oh, but you wouldn't have to train Zeus," I said. "He's the best behaved dog I've ever seen." I sent Allyson to the car for my phone, and we showed her the pictures I've posted above.

"Oh, he reminds me of the German Shepherd we had when I was growing up," she said.

"He's such a good walker," I said. "I bet he could be your running buddy."

"Can I come see him?"


"How about now?" she asked. "I want to have some time with him before my kids come back from their dad's. This could be their Christmas present."

An hour later, I was teaching Nicole all Zeus's voice commands and their corresponding hand signals, giving her all the instructions I could think of and answering all her questions. She said she would take him on a trial basis until next week, when she'll need me to watch him while they go out of town.

"Oh, I've been pet-sitting him for years," I assured her. I didn't mention the time I'd poisoned him with cat food.

And then they were gone. And I was unaccountably sad.

When I broke the news to Ethan, he took it pretty hard.

"This is better for Zeus," I said. "He'll have a much bigger house and a bigger yard, and he can get lots of exercise running with Nicole. And we'll get to see him again whenever they go out of town."

Ethan wasn't convinced. "Why'd you take him if you were so ready to give him away?"

"I was only taking him until we could find another family," I said. "I'll keep praying. If he's meant to be our dog, it won't work out for her family."

It's been a few days, and Nicole says Zeus is doing well--except that he got tired when she took him for a run. "He was all happy at first," she explained, "but around mile three he started lagging behind. I almost had to drag him home."

Poor dog! By mile three she would've had to carry me home! Maybe he can work his way up.

"Well, if you change your mind, it's no problem," I said.

"Oh, I don't know about that," she said. "Let's wait and see how he does with the kids."

I'm sure her kids will love him at least as much as mine did. So I guess that's the end of our dog story. I'll keep you posted.

In Other Pet News
CiCi has gotten into so much mischief. It's a good thing God made her so cute!

Here she is after she jumped up on the table and helped herself to a tub of sour cream:

A few minutes later, that dollop of cream on her forehead was gone. I suspect big sister Arwen might have helped her with that.

I was horrified when Ethan asked what I'd done with the sour cream.

"I threw it away, of course!"


"Because CiCi was eating out of it."


I frowned at him in disbelief.

But guess what happened a few days later? I was sitting down to a German oven pancake, left over from Christmas morning, when CiCi jumped on the table and snatched it right from under my fork!

She jumped down with the pancake in her mouth, and I tore off after her. Despite her growling, I jerked that pancake back. And I ate it!!! (I can't believe I'm telling you that. You'd have to try a German oven pancake to understand.)

I don't know what I'm going to do with that naughty cat. No matter how many times I spray her with vinegar water and set her on the floor, she will not stop jumping on the table. And now she can jump up on the kitchen counters, too, which is a big problem. If anyone has any pointers, I'd be most grateful.

All Hiss
One more story, and then I'll turn in for the night.

Remember the video I posted in my last entry of Arwen going berserk over a strange cat in our backyard? I am now pet-sitting for that cat, who lives right next door. Her name is Emma, and she's very fat. She has diabetes, so she drinks a LOT, which also means she pees a LOT. But she is very sweet.

Tonight, Ethan texted me that Emma had slipped into our house when he came in. He hadn't noticed for about 20 minutes. After that, he held her and petted her for a long time. "She's so chubby and cute," he said.

I thought of Arwen's enraged screams just a couple weeks before.

"Wasn't there a cat fight??" I asked. "Did Arwen see her?"

"Yeah, but she just stood there frozen," he answered.

I guess she is all hiss and no scratch. Whew!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Every Day Is Kitten Day

Okay, as always I don't have any time, but I've just got to share a few cat stories. I'll go way back to the beginning....

Wednesday, October 22nd was the big day when we got to pick up CiCi. That week of waiting was torture for Allyson, who counted down the days to Kitten Day several times per day.

At long last, the day arrived. We brought our 1.5-pound kitty home in a carrier, lined with her favorite blankie. Tucked under my arm was a spiral notebook with frantically scribbled notes that I probably never actually referred back to.

I was most nervous about introducing CiCi to Arwen. She made wide circles around the carrier, nose twitching. When Ethan opened the wire door and CiCi stepped out, I heard Arwen hiss for the very first time. Over the course of a few days, the cats approached each other cautiously and even touched noses, but it usually ended with Arwen hissing. I had to keep them apart, which is how CiCi ended up taking over my master bathroom.

On the first morning, I crept into Allyson's room and snuggled up to her. "Good morning, beloved princess, daughter of the Most High."

Her brow furrowed, and she turned her back to me.

"Good morning, Kitten Mama. Happy Kitten Day."

She grinned.

"You said Wednesday was Kitten Day," she murmured.

"It was. But now every day is Kitten Day," I said. "Okay, Kitten Mama. Your baby is crying for you."

It was true. CiCi cried plaintively, stretching her tiny front legs through the bars of her carrier to touch Allyson's arm. (Every night since CiCi came, Allyson has slept on her roll-out mattress on the floor, with CiCi's carrier next to her head.)

At first we fed CiCi a revolting blend of kitten formula mixed with wet cat food, which she sucked greedily from a medicine syringe. She chewed the tip of the syringe, turning her head from side to side so that much of the slop ended up in her fur, leaving her smelling perpetually like tuna. Worse, she clawed frantically at the syringe, scratching our fingers in the process.

So we quickly abandoned the syringe in favor of a saucer on the floor of my bathtub. In her excitement, CiCi walked all through the food, tracking it all over the tub and smearing it over her belly, so that she still smelled perpetually like tuna.

Gradually, we phased out the kitten formula and just gave her the wet food. And on the first day that she dove into Arwen's full bowl and stole some food, we started dropping a few pellets of dry food onto her plate.

Since then, we've had to lock her up when Arwen eats. Otherwise, she makes a beeline for the bowl. While Arwen stands back politely, CiCi climbs right into the bowl and growls menacingly as she gobbles as much as she can get down before I gingerly pull her out, holding her by her chubby belly and trying to avoid her razor-sharp claws.

Allyson and I had to watch Gremlins recently so she'd understand what I meant when I said that our sweet little CiCi turns into a mean Gremlin any time she gets around food. Even when she's alone in her bathtub, she growls quietly and kind of mutters to herself while she eats.

CiCi's not the only cat who's obsessed with food. Arwen is always on the lookout for any wet food CiCi might have missed. The moment I open the bathroom door to let CiCi out, the two cats pass each other on the way to check each other's bowl for leftovers.

They've become pretty good buddies, mostly. They love to tussle. CiCi seems to be the aggressor, but Arwen subdues her with a well placed bite now and then. Sometimes a sharp little cry from CiCi sends me running to separate them. Arwen gives me a guilty look, as if to say, "What? I didn't do anything."

Early on, Arwen started grooming CiCi, which always warms our hearts. CiCi isn't sure what she thinks of that, especially when Arwen holds her with both paws and gives her a good bath. CiCi kicks at Arwen's face with claws extended, and then the grooming session usually turns into a wrestling match.

The cutest thing is when they sleep side by side on Arwen's favorite perch on the back of the couch. That cushion has seen better days, but do you think I mind? I have become such a cat person!

Both cats are very nice nap buddies. We discovered this when Allyson and I were in bed for days with the flu recently. CiCi slept on Allyson's chest, which surely was good medicine. On the day I thought I was up to returning to work but ended up taking a five-and-a-half hour "nap," CiCi and Arwen were with me nearly the whole time. CiCi made a nest between my knees, and Arwen slept on my shin. 

This past Sunday, I was feeling particularly exhausted after church, still sapped from the flu, I think. We'd be putting up the tree that night, and I told God I really didn't feel up to that. We couldn't put it off any longer, though, because Allyson would be at Bill's for the next two days.

"Oh, Father," I prayed silently, over a sink full of dishes. "I'm so tired. Please give me strength to make it through this day. Help me to enjoy decorating the tree, for the kids' sake. Okay, for Allyson's sake." (Ethan had been less than enthusiastic about decorating the tree last Christmas, so I wasn't expecting much.)

God told me to leave those dishes and go take a nap. I set the microwave timer for 35 minutes, allowing 5 minutes to fall asleep and 30 minutes to sleep--which is my maximum, if I don't want to feel groggy for the rest of the day. 

The moment I fell into my nap chair, Arwen climbed onto the ottoman and curled up in the crook of my knees. Ah! And then CiCi climbed into my lap and curled herself around my belly. I smiled my thanks to God as I felt an infusion of joy giving me strength even as I slipped out of consciousness. 

When the beeping timer pulled me out of sleep about 33 minutes later, I was ready to face  both the dishes and the Christmas tree.

God had a wonderful surprise in store for me. After Allyson and I had put up the tree, Ethan came right out when I called him. He cheerfully hung all of his own ornaments and a bunch of the others, even the boring red and green balls (most of which Arwen and CiCi removed over the course of the next few days).

We drank some eggnog and then all three of us sat on the couch to admire the tree while I read the first few stories from our Jesse Tree book, which outlines Christ's lineage. 

Next, I read The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, which never fails to make me cry. This year was no exception. 

What a delightful evening! This Christmas season, God has been blessing me with so many little joys, filling my heart to overflowing. When I think back to last year, I remember how lavishly He showed me his love--with the scripture-stuffed stocking from my friend Gentle and the cross painting from my sweet niece Hillary. This year, I want to give out that lavish love. God has put many ideas in my heart, ways to share His love with friends, family, and strangers. What a sweet pleasure. 

So, back to the cat stories... 

Within 15 minutes, the cats had run off with the tree skirt. I remembered last year, when Arwen drug it all over the house. This year I'm not even bothering to put it back. It will just lie in random places until Christmas Eve, when I weight it down with presents. 

We keep a big spray bottle with water and a bit of vinegar on the hearth, right by the tree, and I spray the cats liberally if they touch the tree. The temptation is too great, though. Every time my back's turned, CiCi bats at the branches or even nestles on a branch halfway up the tree. When she spots me, she tries to flee the scene, but I chase her down with the spray bottle. It's actually pretty fun. 

A Confusing Family Tree

Allyson considers herself CiCi's mama, which makes me... Grandma. Yes, Allyson calls me grandma when she's talking to CiCi. Ethan is Uncle, but sometimes he's Brother. And Arwen is Big Sister, which kind of makes her Ethan's sibling.

It's weird family dynamic, but it works!

Some Weird Cat Psychology

Okay, now for the stories I've been dying to tell you. First, a strange cat has been hanging around our backyard for the last week or so. The first day it showed up, Arwen cried like a baby as she watched it through the window. "How sweet! She wants to play," I thought. 

And then she started hurling herself against the window, rattling the blinds. She screamed and hissed, struggling to get to the other cat, who was hissing at her from the other side of the glass. 

If you don't find a cat's screams stressful, take a look for yourself...

Before this, I'd had no idea that our mild kitty had such a temper. It was pretty amusing until Arwen turned on CiCi, arching her back and hissing. I quickly separated them.

I've watched them closely since then, and Arwen seems as motherly as ever. But tonight a high-pitched shriek from CiCi brought me running to the living room. I found Arwen crouched at the back door, moaning piteously. That stupid cat was back. 

I don't know what Arwen had done to CiCi, but she seemed pretty spooked. When Arwen took a step toward her, she arched her back, all her fur standing on end. Allyson scooped her up and cradled her like a baby. "I won't let Arwen hurt you," she crooned. 

Arwen isn't the only cat acting weird. A few days ago, I was sitting at my desk when I heard loud purring coming from the bathroom. CiCi was sitting on the fuzzy bath mat alone, sounding like a vibrating engine. 

"Why is CiCi purring?" I asked Allyson. "She's just sitting on the rug by herself." 

"Oh, she always purrs when you put her on the mat," Allyson said.


"I don't know. She just likes it."

I went into the bathroom for a closer look. CiCi was sucking noisily on some rug fibers, kneading the rug luxuriously with her claws spread wide. "Allyson, she's trying to nurse the rug!" I said.

I grabbed my phone and took a video. If you turn up the volume, you might be able to hear CiCi purring.

Because I usually drape the mat over the shower door to keep CiCi from tracking kitty litter onto it, she doesn't have much time with it. Every time they are reunited during one of our showers, she purrs and nurses.

Have you ever heard of something so bizarre? 

It's humbling, actually. I'd been feeling so loved each time CiCi greeted me in the mornings with her loud purring. Now I realize that she feels the same way about my bath mat!

It's never a dull moment around here. Every day is Kitten Day. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Let Go of Your Agenda

Remember The Great Pumpkin Fire of 2010? Well, last week, I had another pumpkin pie adventure that was a lot less dangerous but much more frustrating....

It was my second time to buy sugar pie pumpkins, but the first two I'd used to make pumpkin milkshakes, pumpkin mini donuts, pumpkin oatmeal, and pumpkin pancakes. The second two sat on my counter for about three weeks because Ethan had declared that I couldn't make any more pumpkin things until I made some pumpkin pie. Ain't nobody got time for 'dat.

Last Thursday, I'd planned to take Allyson clothes shopping, but we were way late with dinner, and I didn't want to keep her up. To ease her disappointment, I suggested that we'd make the pie instead--because surely that wouldn't take up the whole evening. (What was I thinking?)

While we ate dinner, I roasted the two miniature pumpkins whole. After the dishes, I ground the pastry flour and whirled up the ingredients from my no-fail whole-wheat crust recipe in the food processor. I formed the dough into a disk and let Allyson cut it in half with the bench knife. I put half in the fridge and tucked the other half in the freezer for next week's pot pie.

Next I washed up the food processor bowl and pureed the now cool pumpkin flesh. I guess it was around this time that Allyson alerted me to a disaster with the kitty. "Mama! CiCi found a noodle and she's eating it."

I wiped some sweat from my brow with the back of my wrist, keeping my pumpkin-slick hands away from my forehead. Darn it! Why hadn't I picked up that bow-tie noodle that Allyson had dropped under the table during dinner? I sighed heavily. "Well, take it away from her."

"I'm afraid to. She's growling at me," Allyson called from the living room.

I smiled. A kitten growling? My daughter was obviously exaggerating.

"It's gone. She ate it."

"Well, one noodle won't hurt her."

"It's as big as her whole stomach," Allyson pointed out.

"Well, nothing we can do about it now."

While the crust chilled in preparation for rolling out, I prayed and read the Bible with Allyson and Ethan, smiling at my own efficiency and time management skills. But my smile fizzled when I looked at the clock afterward. It was now approaching 9 o'clock, and we still had to roll out the crust, prebake it, mix the filling, and bake the pie for over an hour.

"I'm afraid you won't get to eat any tonight," I told Allyson. "Maybe I can just finish it tomorrow."

"No!" Ethan called from his room. "You said we could have pie tonight."

I heaved another sigh. No way I was making my 10:30 bedtime this time. Maybe I could skip the pre-baking; whether or not this step is actually necessary seems to be the subject of vehement debates online.

I sent my sister Melody, the pie master, a text. "Do you prebake your pumpkin pie crust?"

No answer. I thought back to the last successful crust I'd made. I was pretty sure I'd prebaked that one. Better stick to the plan.

"Okay, time to roll out the dough," I said.

Allyson followed me back to the kitchen. "Can I help?"

"Sure, baby," I said. "Just let me get it rolled out. You know pie crust is tricky."

"I can do it," she said, taking the wooden rolling pin from me.

Reminding myself that this pie wasn't going to be in the state fair like my Melody's famous pumpkin pie, I stood back and watched Allyson struggle with the cold, stiff dough. "Don't make it too thin," I said. "Make sure you get it even."

Wonder of wonders, the crust turned out great! It was soft and pliable, but firm enough to hold its shape. And unlike the other times, there was plenty of overhang around the pie pan. We worked together to trim the excess dough and roll it under, and then we crimped it all around between our index fingers and our thumbs. Oh, it was a masterpiece. I didn't take a picture, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Following some instructions I'd found online, I made an egg-white wash and let Allyson paint it on with a pastry brush. "Gently," I warned, clasping my hands anxiously. "Not too thick!"

After we'd poked holes all around the crust, I carefully lined it with some foil and poured a handful of barley grains on top to weight it down. No risk of a parchment fire this time! As I slid the crust into the oven, I smiled smugly. "We're getting pretty good at this," I said, squeezing Allyson's shoulder.

While the crust baked, we mixed up the filling ingredients, dirtying the food processor bowl for the third time.

Now I got an answer from Melody: no, she doesn't pre-bake her crusts. Oh well.

Sixteen minutes later, I pulled the delightfully fragrant crust from the oven and gently peeled back the foil... and half the crust along with it! With the foil off, I saw that the beautifully crimped edges had slid right down the sides of the pan.

 "Oh no!!" I wailed. "I don't understand. I followed the instructions exactly. The pie is ruined!"

At this point, we had eaten a lot of the botched crust.

"What will we do?" Allyson asked.

"I'll make the other half of the dough," I said. "And this time I won't prebake it." Stupid Internet instructions, I thought. But something was starting to come together in my mind. I pulled out my cookbook and compared the whole-wheat pastry crust recipe I'd used to another crust recipe I'd looked at to remind myself how to make dough in the food processor.

Uh oh.

The food processor recipe, which used 75 percent more flour, called for 3/4 a pound of butter--three sticks. But the recipe I'd made only needed 3/4 a cup of butter--one and a half sticks. I'd gotten the two recipes confused! No wonder our crust had been so supple. And no wonder it had slid to the bottom of the pan in a greasy heap. (And no wonder it tasted so yummy.)

"Argh!" I cried. "I can't use the other half of the dough. It has too much butter, too."

"What will we do?" Allyson repeated.

"We won't do anything. You're going to bed. I'll to have to start all over. I'll make the dough tonight and roll it out tomorrow. Go to your room and get your jammies on. I'm going to grind some more flour and then I'll be right in."

Alone in the kitchen, I took a few deep breaths. I'd wasted a whole evening and had nothing to show for it. And now I'd have to stay up a lot longer. If only we'd gone to Penney's instead! Could I possibly be any more frustrated?

Just then, Allyson's shrill cry interrupted my pity party.

"Mama! CiCi found another noodle. You come take it from her."

I trudged into the living room, ready to show Allyson how to show a 1.5-pound kitty who's boss.

"She's under the chair," Allyson said, pointing. "And she's growling again."

I knelt and peered under the chair. "You come out of there, CiCi," I commanded.

"rrrrrr-rrrr" she answered.

I gave her rump a little shove. "Get out of there."


"Give me that!" I said, reaching for the noodle protruding from her mouth.


"Owwww!" I howled. "She bit me!"

I squeezed my ring finger to see if it would bleed. A large, crimson drop blossomed on the side of my fingertip, and another tiny bead appeared on the top of the same fingertip.

CiCi licked her chops. There was now no sign of the noodle.

"You bad, naughty kitty!" I said. But I had to admit that she had warned me. Unlike Allyson, I hadn't had the sense to heed her threats.

Here's the sweet little culprit.
I scrounged up the second-to-last Band-Aid, doctored my throbbing finger with Neosporin, and tucked in my sous-chef and her vicious kitten, who sleeps in a carrier next to her bed.

And then I trudged back to my wreck of a kitchen and whipped up another crust. As I worked, I went over the evening's trials in my head. But then something unexpected happened. I had to smile as I thought of the satisfaction Allyson and I had shared in making that beautiful, ill-fated crust. This was no wasted evening!

"It's not about the pie," I thought.

A Walk In the Park
Three days later, God reminded me of my pie adventure while we were walking in the park before church. That morning I'd been excited over a whole hour for my quiet time, but then I couldn't decide how to spend it. When I asked God what I should do, I just kept thinking of the trees in the park, and how long it had been since I'd gone on a Sabbath walk.

"But it's cold out," I said. "Can't we talk in here?"

My head turned to the gorgeous crepe myrtle just outside my kitchen window, and I felt a tugging in my heart. "Okay, I'll go for a walk," I said, "as long as it isn't raining."

I opened the front door and squinted out at the front yard. No rain that I could see.

Layered up with all the gear from my Three-Day Walk, when I'd walked 60 miles in temperatures just over freezing, I headed out the door--only to discover that it was indeed raining. It was just a heavy mist, but my feet were already feeling damp in my Five-Finger shoes. I hurried back inside.

"God, why did you tell me to go walking if it was raining?" I asked, feeling a stab of disappointment.

Just then, I thought of all the rainy walks I'd taken with my mother-in-law up in Vancouver, where it rains practically every day in the winter. Sandi always says that you can't let a little rain stop you from getting your exercise.

So changed into some boots and dug out the pink pancho that I'd never worn on the Three-Day Walk. Oh, I was a sight in my sweat pants, casual boots, long coat, knit hap with flaps, and pink pancho. But it didn't matter because nobody else was crazy enough to be out in the rain. And I think God thought I was beautiful.

We had a great walk. Some of the trees were still green, so vivid against the gray sky, while others were bright with fall colors. I had to pause on the foot bridge to watch the rain drops making interlocking circles in the creek. "Oh, oh," I said. "Thank you."

As we walked, I told God about my frustration lately with being so busy. "I feel overwhelmed sometimes," I said. "And there are so many things that don't get done, important things. Like when I showed up at Dad's birthday party last week without a card or a present. But what could I have done differently last weekend? What could I drop that I haven't already dropped? Should I stop getting together with friends?"

Tears trickled down my cheeks. "I need your help with this. You know I'm no good at organization. Show me how to make my time go farther, like you do with my money when I put you first."

I walked on in silence for a few minutes. In my favorite part of the park, where the branches make a canopy over the path, I heard God's answer. "You need to let go of your agenda."


"I need to relax," I said. "I need to rest in you and accept that I can't do it all. I can't be perfect."

I thought of my "wasted" evening, with its hidden treasure of fun with my daughter. I thought of Mary and Martha--how Jesus said that in spending time at His feet, Mary chose the more important thing despite Martha's legitimate need for help in the kitchen.

"Show me what's really important," I prayed. "Help me let go of all my expectations and let you have my whole day, each day."

Such a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I realized then that I never have to be disappointed about what I can't accomplish, whether that's an unmade pie or an unmopped floor. As long as I surrender my whole day to God, I can be sure that the important things will get done. And the rest of it doesn't matter. It's not about the pie.

As we headed back home, a large, green tree next to the stream caught my attention. My latest scripture memory passage bubbled up in my heart:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, 
whose confidence is in him.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
that extends its roots by a stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I grinned over the way God had confirmed this passage for me just that week, even though I hadn't asked because this was just Bible study homework. After I'd copied the verses onto blank business cards, I closed my eyes and pressed a hand to my chest. "Help me trust you like that, Lord. I want to be like that tree, with green leaves that display your splendor."

I flipped on the radio then, just in time to hear "like a tree planted by the water... roots going deep... leaves always green." (It was a song I'd heard only a few times, and I can't remember now who sings it.)

I was so surprised I almost jumped. And then I laughed with delight. I'd never received a confirmation so quickly before!

Now, a few days later, I saw why God had given me this passage. I'd always thought of droughts as trials; I know from experience that troubles can make our roots go down deep, deep to the living water. But now I saw that my drought is this constant busyness. It's a dryness that comes from being too busy and needing more time with God. When I get overwhelmed, that's the time to send my roots down deeper, to drink the living water and thrive.

"You tied it all together for me, didn't you?" I said with wonder. "I can trust you with this season. You're taking care of everything, and I don't have to be anxious. I'm going to bear even more fruit now, as long as I keep letting you make the agenda."

If we had more time, I'd tell you about the rest of that amazing Sabbath, which went almost nothing like I'd envisioned but was so much better than anything I could have planned. I will say this... when I went to church last night, one of the first things I heard was, "Tonight we're letting go of the agenda."

I felt a thrill at that sacred echo. I'm so excited to see what God's agenda holds for me.

P.S. I finally made the pie on Saturday. The crust wasn't nearly so pretty as the first one, but it held its shape. The pie was delicious!

P.S.S. I'm saving up lots of cat stories, but for now I'll just share a few pictures...

I think it's love.

My sister Amy syringe feeding CiCi

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sweet Little Mama

My long-time readers may recall that Allyson has been begging for a cat for a couple of years, and that when Ethan got Arwen about this time last year, I promised her a cat of her own in a year or two. Every now and then, she reminds me, and I usually respond with faint promises, like a campaigning politician.

Well, I have a feeling she must have been praying about this, and I think God answered her prayer in a most mysterious way. One Tuesday evening around the first of the month, I found a young cat in our yard. I walked slowly toward it, crouching low and holding out a hand. I expected it to run, but instead it walked cautiously up to me and nuzzled my hand. Oh, it was cute, a little white kitty with big eyes and rather bony ribs. My heart went out to it.

"Are you hungry?" I crooned. "Stay here and I'll get you some food."

I filled one small plastic bowl with Arwen's food and another with cold water, and then I went to Ethan's room. "Hey, come see the kitty in our front yard." 

He hurried out to the yard ahead of me. "Aww," he said. "It doesn't have a collar. Can we keep it?" 

"Well, we're going to feed it. I think that's one way to get a cat. Maybe it can be an outdoor cat." 

We set the food and water down on a flat rock halfway between our driveway and the kitten's spot under our neighbor's tree. It didn't make a move.

Ethan crept over and held out a hand. The cat pressed against his hand, rubbing it with its scent. He petted it for a couple of minutes, and then I convinced him to come inside so that it would hopefully eat the food. 

"So will we keep it?" Ethan asked. 

"We'll see if it comes back," I answered. "If we keep feeding it, I guess it will be ours."

I wasn't sure how I felt about that, but I knew I couldn't let that little kitty starve. The next day, I watched for our little visitor, but it didn't return. I guess I was a little relieved. But Allyson was pretty crestfallen when I told her the whole story after school. 

"See, it was right here," I said, pointing to the spot under the tree. Right where I was pointing, I spotted something tiny, brown, and furry. A dead rat? 

Gingerly, I leaned in for a closer view. No, it was a baby squirrel, no bigger than my hand. A couple of iridescent green flies hovered over its eyes and mouth. "Oh, look, Allyson!" I said, extending an arm to keep her from stepping on it. "A dead squirrel. But isn't it cute?" 

"Aww!" she cried. "I've never seen a baby squirrel before."

"Me either," I said. "Poor little thing." 

Allyson ran to our neighbor's open garage, where Steve was visiting with our other neighbor Neil, my "30-second hero."

"Come and see the dead baby squirrel," she said.

"Nnnnh," said Steve. 

Neil, an "Arkansas boy" who loves squirrels--but also traps them and carries them away because they like to destroy his attic--came over to have a look. "Aww, so cute. I've never seen one that small.... Hey, wait a minute. It's alive." 

"Are you sure?" I asked, bending lower.

"Yes, it's breathing, but just barely." 

Sure enough, its tiny side was heaving. Neil shooed away the flies and carefully picked it up. He cupped it in one palm, petting it gently with one finger. It seemed to rally, opening its eyes for a moment. 

"Can you take care of it?" Allyson asked. 

"Yes, can you? You're the squirrel expert," I said. 

"We'll see. I'm sure it's dehydrated. Do you have an eyedropper?"

"No, but I have some medicine syringes. Will that work?"

"Probably. I'll go get some almond milk."

While Neil got the milk and I hunted for the syringe, Allyson gathered all the neighborhood kids. Two minutes later, we all trooped into my kitchen, where Allyson heated the milk and I tested it on the inside of my wrist. I felt that dull pang that I feel each time I remember that I'm too old to have any more babies. 

With five kids and one fluttery woman looking on, Neil fed that baby some milk. See how it clutched the syringe, just like a baby holding a bottle. 

After we'd oohed and ahhed for a couple more minutes, Neil and the squirrel took their leave. I laughed. "I guess you've got yourself a baby squirrel," I said.

"Mmm," he answered. And I knew what he must have been thinking. As an airline pilot, he's gone about as much as he's home. How could he care for a baby squirrel?

Allyson and I took off then on some errand or other, and when we returned, we hurried to Steve's garage. There was the baby squirrel, wrapped in one of Steve's hand towels. Neil informed us that it had taken a bit more milk and was now sleeping. 

"I was thinking," he said. "I think you guys need to take it. Honestly, it probably won't survive, but you should try. It would be fun for your kids." 

"Mmm," I answered, battling the pulling in my heart. As a busy single mom, how could I possibly care for a baby squirrel? Oh, but it was cute! And utterly helpless. And hadn't I just returned from my HeartQuest determined to start taking chances and really living life? 

"Okay, we'll take it," I said. "There's always the Internet."

Allyson clapped her hands, and may have jumped up and down too. Neil placed the little bundle into her eager hands. 

Worried about Arwen's hunting instincts, we shut ourselves in my bedroom. Allyson looked the squirrel over while I ran some Google searches. 

I quickly learned:
  • There isn't a squirrel rescue organization near us. 
  • A baby squirrel's biggest dangers are hypothermia and dehydration.
  • Wrapping a baby squirrel in a towel doesn't help because it doesn't generate its own body heat. You need to put it in a small box, lined with a towel, and put that on a heating pad. 
  • A baby squirrel shouldn't drink anything but water or Pedialyte until it is well hydrated. Giving it milk is too exhausting because it requires energy to digest. 
  • Baby squirrels need to eat every two to three hours.
Reading over my shoulder, Allyson said, "I can do that.... I can do that...." 

But when I got to this fact...
  • After each feeding, you should wipe the squirrel's rectum with a moist, warm cotton ball. This stimulates it to pee and poop.
she said, "I am NOT doing that! You'll have to do it." 

I sighed. "Oh, God," I thought. "What have I gotten myself into?" 

But I guess it was worth all the bother to see Allyson's joy. 

"Look, it's a boy," she said, pointing to his little... nuts. 

"Yes, I think you're right," I said. I took a good long look at his intricate body, the tiny curved claws, the thin tail, the delicate nostrils. "Everything you make is beautiful," I prayed silently. "He is fearfully and wonderfully made." 

"Let's name him Peanut," Allyson said.

"Sure, baby. Now we have to get out the heating pad and go buy some Pedialyte." 

We drug out Arwen's cat carrier, a shoe box, and my miniature heating pad (a hand warmer that Santa brought me a few years back). Just then, Ethan and his friend Bryce came home, and we showed them Peanut.

"Cool!" Ethan said.

"Cute!" Bryce said.

I settled Peanut into his new home and plugged in the heating pad. 

Twenty minutes later, I warmed the Pedialyte and filled a syringe. 

"Can I feed him?" Allyson asked.

"If you're careful," I said.

I unlatched the cat carrier and drew Peanut gently out. My heart sank. He was gone, already cold and stiff. 

"He died, baby," I said.

Allyson heaved a sigh. "Well, we tried." 

We went next door again to get Neil, who helped us bury Peanut in the same place where we laid Fluffy to rest last November. (I really need to remember to buy a shovel.) Surrounded by the neighbor kids, I said a short prayer thanking God for allowing us to spend this time with sweet Peanut and for taking such good care of him in Heaven. 

Okay, so what does all this have to do with Allyson's cat? I'm getting to that. 

Over the next few days, although I didn't consciously think about it, something changed in my heart. My mind was still rather set against a second cat, but... 

"I think we can look for a kitten after the holidays, when you get back from Canada," I told Allyson one afternoon. 


"I think so."

"I want a little kitty, so it can get attached to me and not be scared like Arwen," she said.

"We'll pray about it. God knows just what kitty we need." 

Fast forward to a weekly meeting Tuesday before last.  The first thing my friends Joe and Lauren said to me, after "Hello, Sarah," was "Say, would you want a kitten?" 

The words came out of their own accord. "Um, yes. I think I might."

Lauren pulled out her phone and showed me the cutest, teeniest kitty, about three weeks old. "We've been syringe feeding it," she said. "It was abandoned." 

Oh boy. "Can I pray about it and let you know next week?" I asked. They agreed. 

The next day, I told Allyson that we might be getting a tiny kitten. And you can imagine what happened next.

Yep, there was no peace for me for a solid week. She wanted to see pictures. She wanted to know if the kitty was still available. And why, oh why, hadn't I gotten Lauren's phone number so she could send us pictures? 

Through that week, we did a lot of praying. We prayed for God's will, that he would work it out for us to have this kitten if it was the right one. Each time we prayed that, Allyson added in a tiny voice, "But you know I really want this cat. Still, we want your will, God." And then we prayed that God would help the little kitty grow big and strong.

"This kitty was abandoned," Allyson prayed. "Please let it be loved. And help it know that it is loved. And if this is our kitty, please help us be prepared for it, not like when we got the hermit crabs." 

Allyson didn't only pray about being prepared; she took action. She spent every spare moment researching how to care for kittens. These are the meticulous notes she took:

Those are food stains. She left this in the kitchen.

At long last, the week passed and it was time for my weekly meeting again. Allyson and her friend Ellie came along this time, and afterward we looked at about 50 pictures on Lauren's phone. Allyson was ecstatic. "This is just the kind of kitten I had pictured," she said, referring to its gray and white fur. "God knew exactly what kitten to send me." 

"I'm not sure whether Allyson wants the kitty," I teased. "Maybe she wants another one."

She socked me in the arm. "No, I want this one!" she squealed. 

We went to see our cat in person the next night, bringing Allyson's friends Ellie and Alivia along. We stayed about 30 minutes, and Allyson got to feed it kitten formula with a syringe. Like the baby squirrel, the kitten clutched the syringe with both paws. She got shockingly dirty despite being wrapped tightly in a hand towel.

Oh, if you could have experienced the love!

Ethan was pretty smitten, too. But then they started arguing about names, just like when we got Arwen. Allyson wanted Tootsie or Sugar, which Ethan thought were dumb names. I reminded him that he got to choose Arwen's name, and Allyson reminded him that she had hated that name at first. 

In the end, she asked her friends to help her think of names, and then she polled our family and all the neighbor kids. The winning suggestion was Cookies & Cream, or CiCi for short. 

We agreed to pick up CiCi in one week, which will be next Wednesday. By then, Lauren thinks she will be eating wet food because her sharp little teeth are starting to come in. She said the vet's office where she works will provide the first shots, and she will give us all the things we need. (One of Allyson's prayers: answered.) 

Since then, I've been amazed at Allyson's little mama's heart. Here are a few of the things she has prayed:
  • That God will show us how to care for this little kitty.
  • That CiCi will not be afraid of her.
  • That Arwen won't feel the way kids sometimes do when a new baby is born, that we will not forget her but instead show her lots of love. (I thought this was pretty impressive since she often complains that Arwen hates her.) 
  • That Arwen won't hurt CiCi, and that she will be a good big sister, like a mama. 
Most of all, she's rejoicing over this gift. 

I'm still a little scared about caring for such a tiny kitty, but I'm also excited over the adventure of it. I feel an assurance that God did bring us this little cat, and that He carefully prepared my heart so that I wouldn't miss the opportunity. I can't wait to see Allyson caring for her cat. I'm sure I'll have more adventures to share in the next few weeks.

All you cat lovers out there, do you have any advice for us? 

Monday, October 6, 2014

More Beautiful Than a Sunrise

Week before last, I spent six days on a spiritual retreat called HeartQuest, completely unplugged from civilization. With 28 total strangers, I boarded a bus for a ranch in the Texas Hill Country, where we would steal away with our Beloved.

I won't share the details of what we did there because our time was sacred. But I will tell you that I came home with 28 sisters, all cherished daughters of the King. Here are some of my favorite memories of my time with God....

On Thursday, I set off at sunrise to find the place where God was calling me to spend the day alone with Him. I was excited but also nervous because I wondered how I would hear His leading. I walked straight down the ranch house drive, a backpack on my back and a camp chair slung over one shoulder. "Should I go left or right?" I whispered. "Or just keep going straight?"

All I heard was birds chirping.

As I waited for direction, I couldn't keep my eyes off the sunrise. Looking to the east, my eyes fell on a little drive. I was drawn to it, as if following it would take me closer to the rising sun. But I hadn't heard the Voice of God. "Is it okay to go this way?" I asked.

All I heard was the leaves rustling in the gentle breeze.

Squinting against the sun, I struggled to breathe against the gathering tightness in my chest. "How will I know where you want me to go?" I asked, not bothering to hide my frustration. "I don't hear anything."

A couple of tears rolled down my cheeks. "Why is it so hard to hear you?"

Just then, I spotted a white and black metal sign: Keep Out.

I laughed out loud and wiped my nose with the back of my hand as I turned in my tracks. "Okay, that's pretty clear guidance."

With that rueful laughter, all the tension drained away and I began to just enjoy walking on these gorgeous grounds. I stopped listening so hard and just let my feet take me where they wanted to go. I squeezed through a crack next to the large iron gate, crossed the country road, and followed some wheel ruts that could pass for a road. Both sides of the road were wooded, with rather squat trees and a few cactus plants.

 After a few hundred yards, I lurched abruptly to the right, headed into the woods. I hiked due west, but didn't stray too far from the wheel-rut road; I've always had a fear of being lost in the woods. I set up my purple chair under a circle of evergreen trees. The branches were only sparsely covered, but they were still pretty, and later I would be thankful for their modest shade.

I'd just settled into my chair when six or seven deer trotted past. I could barely glimpse them through the trees, but I could make out a couple of does and some fawns. One of the does froze, nose lifted in the air as she searched me out. A moment later, they all ran deeper into the woods, their hooves thundering softly on the pine needles that cushioned the ground.

Tears pricked my eyes as I sang softly, "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee. You alone are my heart's desire, and I long to worship thee."

I thanked God for sending the deer and asked Him if he could send some a little closer so I could get a better look.

Over the next few hours, I didn't see any deer, but I did see an assortment of baby trees ranging from two inches to about three feet tall. They were so cute, these miniature trees with nearly adult-sized leaves. One tiny tree had just four leaves which dwarfed its spindly branches. I thought of all the Bible verses about trees and imagined my own growth, my gradual transformation into an "oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor." (Isaiah 61:3)

As I examined a tree trunk intently during a short hike, a lizard startled me, and I cried out. It darted away to safety before I could get a good look at it, and I was disappointed. But God graciously sent me another lizard later while I sat in my chair inside the circle of trees. It stood at the foot of my chair as if it were posing for me. Instead of cringing as I usually do when I spot anything lizard-like, I marveled at its tiny snout, tail, and clawed feet.

Several times throughout the day, I noticed what appeared to be a hawk circling lazily overhead. (I later learned it was a turkey vulture, but I prefer to think of it as a hawk.) As I admired its effortless flight, I praised God for the way His creatures delight in doing what they were made to do. That's how I feel when I write, and even more so when I open my heart to love someone.

I also saw a jackrabbit at one point. Its tall, pointed ears were definitely rabbit-like, but I was shocked to see it walking on all fours rather than hopping. It was most peculiar and quite cute.

The only creatures I did not enjoy were the gnats that buzzed relentlessly in my ears and nose. I figured they must have some spiritual meaning, like how we have to persevere and push past the distractions that pull our focus from God's purpose in our lives.

It was an imaginary creature who made me laugh at myself. A city girl to the core, I haven't had much experience with peeing outside. The first time, I didn't take gravity into account, and I ended up making a puddle right behind my heels. The second time, I felt pretty clever when I found a gentle slope and tried to pee downhill. However, I'd been drinking so much water and Gatorade that I--well, let's just say that the stream was so strong that it defied gravity and probably splashed a bit onto my jeans. [Men, count your blessings.] The third time, I went back to my gentle slope and bent into a deep pliĆ©with my behind just an inch or two off the ground so as to minimize the splashing.

I'd just started peeing when a tuft of grass tickled my butt. Thinking it was a bug, I lurched forward, spraying pee onto my shoes. Aiyee! There was no one to laugh with but God, and we shared a good chuckle. It reminded me of the first time I had shared a joke with God.

The best moment came at the end of the day, while I was engrossed in reading some notes from friends and family that brought me tears of joy. When a loud snort interrupted my reverie, I looked up to see a proud, magnificent buck staring right at me. He was standing in a clearing, maybe 50 feet away. I caught my breath, eyes wide with wonder. After ten seconds or so, he snorted again and galloped away.

In all the day's adventures, I'd forgotten my morning prayer, but God hadn't. He'd even prompted that deer to catch my attention so I wouldn't miss the moment. "Oh, thank you," I breathed. I felt certain now that I'd found exactly the spot God had chosen for me.

Early Morning Rendezvous

Two days later, I awoke long before 6, much earlier than I'd planned. I lay in bed for a good 30 minutes, trying vainly to fall back to sleep. At home, when I wake up in the dark, I figure God wants to talk to me. But at the ranch, I shared a room with three other women, and there was no cozy prayer closet, only a cold hallway. "Can we talk later? I'm really sleepy," I prayed silently.

At last, I gave up and drug myself out of bed. As I pulled on my clothes by the light of my flashlight, a wonderful thought occurred to me. I could watch the sun rise! It would be so amazing to see it peeping over the horizon across the wide open field. I hurriedly gathered my Bible and journal and padded down the stairs and into the darkness, grabbing a camp chair off the porch.

I set up my chair next to the ranch drive, just at the edge of the meadow, and watched the sky intently. Slowly, slowly, the blackness gave way to gray light. Where was the sun?  Could I be facing the wrong direction? I thought of the time my friend Angela and I had stayed at Hideaway Ranch. We watched the most gorgeous sunset over the back porch of our cabin, and then watched for the sunrise on that same porch! We were so mad at ourselves when we remembered that the sun rises on the opposite horizon from where it sets.

This time, I was certain. I distinctly remembered admiring the sunrise across that same meadow.

While I waited, I talked with Jesus. I shared something that was heavy on my heart, and I felt a peaceful assurance that He was not only going to take care of everything, but that His plan for this situation would end in a beautiful picture of His grace.

After 20 minutes or so, several of our leaders emerged from the gray darkness, walking down the long drive toward the main house. "Sarah, is that you?" one called. "What are you doing?"

"Waiting for the sunrise," I answered.

"Oh, I don't think there will be much to see today," Toni said. (Or maybe it was Ginny; it was hard to tell in the darkness.) "Too many clouds."

I smiled. Surely God hadn't woken me up and brought me out here if there wasn't going to be a sunrise. Besides, don't the clouds usually make a sunrise even more colorful?

After another ten minutes, I had to admit that Toni was right. It was now fully light, but there was not a hint of color on the horizon. Instead, there were many, many shades of gray. I had to laugh. A gray sunrise!

And then it dawned on me (so to speak). The beauty of this silent morning wasn't in the sunrise. It wasn't even in the birds chirping. The beauty was Him. He had called me out there to spend time with Him.
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her. (Hosea 2:14)
"Thank you that there was no sunrise," I prayed, my cheeks wet with tears. "If there had been, I would have been distracted. You are so much more beautiful than a sunrise, Beloved."

I want to carry the beauty of that gray sunrise the rest of my days.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Loving Our Sweet Mindy

Today we will bury my beloved niece Mindy, the daughter of my brother Rick and his wife Diane, the little sister of my nephew Mitchell and the heart sister of Mitchell's wife Michelle. She passed away unexpectedly this past Thursday from a medical condition no one knew she had, only two months after her 25th birthday.

There is so much on my heart to share about Mindy; it's hard to know where to begin....

Mindy was such a sweetheart. I don't mean that in the trite way. She really had a sweet, sweet heart. She was gentle and kind, and she loved her whole family, from her grandparents to her cousins and their children.

Mindy was quiet and laid back, but she wasn't shy. I've heard over and over the last few days that Mindy could light up a room, and that is true. It was her dazzling smile, which I always felt was especially for me. Each time I came to Rick's for a family gathering, I rounded the corner to the kitchen to find Mindy at the stove, trying out a new recipe that I knew would be delicious. Her whole face would light up because she was delighted to see me. I felt like the guest of honor no matter how many people were there. And I suspect we all felt that way.

She had a dry, irreverent sense of humor like her father, and she could always make me laugh. I loved to listen to their banter.

Oh how she loved dogs. I've never seen someone who loved them more. I'm not a dog person, but the love she lavished on her two Dachshunds made me wish that I were. Howie and Chloe were her joy.
Mindy and Howie

From a very young age, Mindy loved travel. She's a big part of so many of my best family vacation memories. She camped with us, went to San Antonio with us, and flew to Canada with us twice. Having her along added so much joy for us because that girl just really knew how to have fun. She loved any kind of outdoor activity, and I had the privilege of watching her learn to water ski, wake board, rock climb, and snowboard. She wasn't exactly fearless; she was certainly nervous. But she didn't let fear stop her from having fun, and whatever it was, she was confident that she could do it.

Probably my favorite picture of Mindy -
Sledding with Uncle Bill in Vancouver

On the Vancouver trip when she learned to snowboard, she spent a lot of time on her behind, as all people do when they are learning. Yet she still managed to talk me down one steep hill when I kept having those wipe-outs where your skis go flying. "You can do it, Aunt Sarah! Don't give up," she called, as she drug herself back to her feet. When we finally made it to the bottom, we laughed over the irony of a niece coaching her aunt.

I wish I had time to tell you all the stories stored up in my heart. I'd like to share one silly one that maybe no one else knows. Mindy posted this comment on a blog entry I'd written about running a country convenience store back when she was a very small girl (about 9):

Oh man do I remember those burgers, they were to die for! My memories of Mitchell and I staying out there with y'all are vague but one really sticks out in my mind. When he would bully me or give me a hard time, I would write it all down so that I could tell my parents when we got back and they could punish him for all of the horrible things: "Mitchell hit my arm", "Mitchell called me stupid 2 times", "Mitchell told me to to shut up!". Lol I think by the time I got home I was so excited to see my parents that I forgot all about it.

I'm happy to say that she and Mitchell worked through their differences and have been dear friends for years now.

My favorite recent memory of Mindy is the pasta cooking lesson we attended with Rick in December 2012.

Rick, Me, Mindy

Family Pasta Night at Rick's
Family Friend David in the Back

It had been less than a month since Bill and I separated, and I was hurting terribly. Mindy was a normal, busy college student, and it was the Christmas season, yet she made time to spend a whole Tuesday evening with her aunt. Laughing with her and Rick was medicine for my torn heart.

Mindy and I developed a closer bond over the next couple of years. She was compassionate and kind, always concerned for me. She didn't necessarily say a lot, but she had a way of drawing me out. She was a great listener, and a cheerleader for me as my heart began to mend and I started enjoying life again.

We loved to talk about cooking and about eating. She shared my love for vegetarian meals, and we liked to swap recipes.

Mindy was a strong, determined young lady. She had some struggles with college, and it took her some time to find the right direction. But she stuck with it for seven years and finally achieved her goal this past spring. I was more proud of her than I could have been if she had breezed through it in four years.

I don't know how we can bear losing our sweet Mindy, but of course we must. Rick shared his concern last night that because Mindy was the glue that brought the family together, that we might drift apart. Mindy was the one who thought up activities and arranged them. She was the one who organized the cancer walks.
Me, Rick, Diane, Mindy - Undy 5000

We agreed that this was Mindy's legacy. She loved family. I think it was because of the ordeal of Rick's colon cancer in her mid teens. She visited him every day after school, and she sat with him during every infusion. She never forgot what it was like to almost lose her daddy, and she never took any of her family for granted.

Last night we vowed to honor Mindy's memory by making our family time a priority from this point on. Right now we need each other desperately, but truly we always need each other.

These last few days have been a good start. The love binding us together has been palpable. We've hugged each other tighter, and much longer--way beyond the usual quick squeeze. We've added kisses to the hugs. We've rubbed backs and squeezed shoulders. We've said, "I love you so much."

In the middle of her own loss, Diane has comforted her nieces and nephews, speaking words of affirmation and hope.

Diane with Susie, Allyson, and Halle

I see the same strength in her that held her family together during Rick's illness. Here is what Mindy said about that in a comment on one of my blog entries titled Circle of Strength:
I love that you wrote this. I vividly remember that day.
I never really stopped to think about just how much of a Mama Bear that my mom was during that time but you described it perfectly. She was (and still is) definitely the rock in our family. When my dad was suffering, I was falling apart and Mitchell was shutting down, she kept herself and us together.

Diane is still a Mama Bear, but I pray she will realize now that she doesn't have to be strong. She is surrounded by people who love her, and we are still a Circle of Strength. I've never been more thankful for the love of my family. This is surely a treasure in the darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5)

Mindy, we are so thankful that we had 25 beautiful years with you. You touched our lives deeply and we will never forget you.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Sacred Echo for Allyson

Last Sunday, I brought Allyson to a monthly worship service at a local church. It was my second time to attend this service, called Habitation, and I knew that Allyson would love the music. Still, it was hard to convince her to come along because the only other time she'd been to a branch of this church, she had not enjoyed the Sunday School.

"This time, you'll be in the service with me," I explained.

"I just really hate that church," she said. But she grudgingly agreed to come along.

When we arrived, I was thrilled to see that my friend Wendy had brought her daughter Hayden, who is about the same age as Allyson. All through the service, when the two of them weren't standing with hands raised to heaven, they were huddled together in their seats, heads together.

The worship was just as thrilling as I'd remembered, but this time it was even sweeter with my mom on one side and my daughter on the other.

This was a special presbytery service, which included words of encouragement and prayer over individuals in the congregation. Even though no one in our group was singled out, I still enjoyed hearing the words given to others, having received permission to "steal" any message that resonated with my own spirit. But as time wore on, I feared that Allyson would become bored with all that talking.

After the service, Allyson begged to visit the gift shop because she said she had some money she was just itching to spend. It was getting late, and we still needed to drive Mom home, but Allyson managed to wear me down.

After five or ten minutes of shopping, she selected a scripture journal for the low, low price of $9.99. She jubilantly explained that she'd initially passed this journal by, thinking it would be too expensive, but it turned out to be cheaper than the one she'd planned to settle on. "What a blessing!" she said.

We hadn't even left the parking lot before she discovered another blessing. "It has my favorite verse on page one!" she announced. "See? 'I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.' It's Psalm 139."

"That's wonderful, baby!" I answered, grinning over the joy of sharing my favorite Bible chapter with my 8-year-old daughter. It's no wonder, since I've been quoting it to her since she was a toddler. As soon as she could speak, she began quoting it with me.

Allyson exulted over that verse most of the way to her Aunt Emily's house, where Mom had left her car. When we arrived, she talked me into going inside for a drink of water even though it was after 9 by now.

Inside, Allyson's eyes fell on a picture on the kitchen counter, a Sunday School paper belonging to her little cousin Charlie. She read the verse at the top of the page aloud: "God made me wonderful."

"Hey! Isn't that...?" She snatched the paper off the counter. "Yes! That's Psalm 139. I thought it sounded like the same verse."

I smiled, touching her shoulder. "Allyson, do you know what this is? It's a sacred echo!"

"Yes, it is a sacred echo," she agreed. "It's my very first one!"

On our way out the door, Allyson told Aunt Emily and Uncle Paul some of the stories we'd heard about prophecies fulfilled. She was still calling out last words over her shoulder as I led her to the car.

"Wow, you were really paying attention," I said.

"I wasn't just sitting there, Mama," she answered.

I laughed. "I figured you might have been bored."

"No, it was awesome. I loved all of it," she said. "I want to go again next month."

Allyson exulted over that sacred echo all the way home. "I know God must have led me to that book," she said. "I didn't even think I could afford it."

"I'm glad you found it," I said.

"God must really want me to think about that verse," she continued. "What does He want me to know?"

"Yes," I agreed. "He must be telling you something,"

She was silent for a mile or so.

"Maybe He wants me to know... Well, you know how sometimes I wonder if I am pretty enough?"

I bit my tongue, afraid to interrupt. No, I did not know my daughter was already wondering that in third grade. "Mmm hmm?" I murmured.

"Well, I think he wants me to know that I am beautiful because He made me just the way He wants me. I am beautiful on the inside."

It was all I could do to keep from pounding the steering wheel and hollering, "YES!!!" Instead, I said, "Yes, Allyson. You are so beautiful. It's not because of how you look, even though you are very pretty. It's your heart. God made your heart so beautiful."

"Yes," she said. "God made us all beautiful."

After another block or two of silence, she said, "I'm so glad that I went tonight. If I hadn't gone, I would have missed the scripture journal and the sacred echo. I was so set against going to that church, but I was wrong. God knew I needed to be there."

At home, she wrote her very first journal entry. She wrote out a prayer, asking God to help her be willing to try things more than once, even when she thinks she doesn't like something.

It's so exciting to see my little girl learning such vital truths about herself and about her maker. I pray she continues to have a heart to hear God's voice.


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