Tuesday, August 30, 2011


When my son, Selby, was six, my husband got it into his mind that he wanted Selby to have a beagle.  Why a beagle, I really don’t know, but he was determined to find the boy a beagle.  He talked to a friend who had one, and told me when his friend’s dog had a litter he was going to get one for Selby.  That never happened.  What did happen was my husband did a service call at the local animal shelter, and lo and behold there were two beagle pups there someone had found on the side of the road and brought in.  Two little girls.  He told me about them and said he was going back to get one for Selby.  I don’t think I had much of a choice in the matter.  Not that I minded.  I do love puppies, and we had a 15 year-old dog, M.L., at home and I thought she could do with some company.  Well, the next day he brought home one of those little sisters.  I honestly expected him to bring both of them home, but one had already been adopted.  Our new puppy was about eight weeks old, and her ears were bigger than she was.  She was almost bald because she was getting over a case of mange.  Selby was so proud of his new puppy.  I was proud too, but I couldn’t see how she was ever going to grow into those long ears.  Selby named her Sam.  Just Sam, not Samantha, even though that is what she was called when she was naughty.

That first night I made a comfy bed fit for a puppy in Selby’s room, and settled her in for the night.  When the lights went out I heard a little whimpering howl followed by the sound of puppy feet bounding into my bedroom.  So that was how it was going to be.  And that’s how it was.  She was Selby’s, but in my heart she was mine, too.  

We quickly learned that beagles are not known for their house training skills, so Sam was deemed to be an outside dog and given over to M.L. to look after.  And that she did.  M.L. took her right in and taught her manners and how to be an endearing dog.  Then, she became M.L.’s, too.  The only bad thing M.L. passed on to Sam was her fear of thunder, a trait Sam passed onto her charge, Lily, a few years later.  

Sam loved being outside.  It fit her nature.  I never had a beagle before, so I wasn’t prepared for the hunting and barking.  She hunted and barked at everything she could smell.  Once, she dug a ditch in our backyard about 10 feet or more long and probably two feet deep trying to catch a mole.  A mole!  Squirrels were her favorite.  She would position herself on our deck and watch for squirrels.  When she had one in her sight she would leap off the deck, about four feet off the ground, and start the chase.  If she missed she would track it from tree to tree, barking that howling bark the whole time.  This exercise could last for hours.  Once she had a target she was relentless. 

She had a different bark for everything.  One for the UPS man, one for strangers, one for family, one for tracking, one for a pending storm, one for an actual storm, etc. etc.  My favorite bark was the one she did when she would find the trail of rabbit.  She loved to hunt rabbit.  If I saw a rabbit in the yard all I had to do was walk out, point, and say “rabbit” and off she would go.  She didn’t need to see it to track it.   It would only take her seconds to find the scent and then she would show me everywhere the rabbit had been in the yard, including how it got in and how it got out.  She once lucked up and caught a rabbit.  It was a good chase and the rabbit ran into a tree, bounced off and right into Sam’s mouth.  Priceless.  She was proud that day.

Once, after we had her for only a few weeks, her beagle nose led her away from home.  We thought she was lost forever, but an old man, maybe her guardian angel, walked her home.  When she saw us in the yard he knew by our relief he had found the right place.  As much as she loved to hunt, and chase, and bark she loved just as much to play with her human family.  Get on the ground with her and she would pin you down and clean you like puppy.  Give her a pillow by your side and she would be on it.  Throw a rug or pillow down by your bed and she would sleep on it, anything just to be part of the family.

So many other things about Sam come to my mind…how she wanted to eat the UPS man; her obsession with flying squirrels when they would come and eat the birdseed at night; the way she finally made peace with the housecats she once wanted to eat; how she made a ditch next to the fence from running back and forth barking at our sheep, and later, goats.  This summer she started to show signs of slowing down.  Instead of running the fence with the goats she had taken to quietly watching them while sitting under the shade of a boat we have leaning against the fence.  

As Sam grew into her ears, her human, Selby, grew into his as well (so to speak).  They spent their childhood together, until this past weekend when Sam slowed down to a halting stop.  Our little dog, now 12, got sick with some unexpected auto-immune disease beyond a cure.  If that old man had not walked Sam home that day long ago I wouldn’t have been able to have a mature conversation with my six year old son about losing his dog.  Instead, I did have a very mature, very touching conversation with my almost 18 year old son, as we discussed the options, and he made a very adult decision.  After all, she was mine too, but ultimately she was his, and the decision was his.

He knew we had to let her go.  She was her sweet, loyal, self through her whole ordeal.  She slept on her pillow, she slept on the rug beside the bed, and she enjoyed her pets and ear scratches.  But most of all she got to be with her family, and I know that is what she loved best.  I hope all dogs do go to heaven.  I’m believing it anyway.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Being still

I seem to do my deepest thinking in the earliest hours of the morning; that time of day when I am awakened and cannot go back to sleep.  I think this is when God finds it most quiet and knows I will listen.  I’ve been trying to listen lately because my heart has been heavy.  The death of my mother, changes in my family’s dynamics, financial burdens, and undue stress at my job have been pulling at my spirit.

There is a time after a death when you start missing the person who died.  It’s not just “oh, I miss her,” but you notice something in your life is truly amiss.  Immediately after a death our body, mind and spirit are in a state of shock that carries us through the actions that must be done at that time.  It is not until the daily routine returns that you start to notice a little thread is hanging from the weave.  You try to skip over it each day and not disturb it, but it slowly unravels until there is a hole you cannot ignore.  That is when the mending begins.   

Now is that mending time for me.  I am not good at sewing, so this is always the hardest part.
This anxiety added to the other stresses I am experiencing make me feel as though I am standing at the edge of a pit, looking down into the blackness and knowing it is not a place I want to be.  So I have been listening, waiting for God to speak to me and tell me everything is going to be alright.  Listening and waiting can be the most difficult part.  Maybe that is why Psa 46:10 keeps going through my head, “Be still and know that I am God.”  This is the first step, to be still.  It is easy for me to be physically still, but being mentally still is a different story. 

Background noise is the soundtrack of my life.  My mind is always occupied with the noises around me.  In my car I am listening to the radio or my iPod. Music and talk radio keep me company on my daily commute.  At home the television is either on, whether I’m watching it or not, or I’m reading something.  Even when I go to bed I tune my ears to the music of the night sounds outside.  It’s all about the noise.  Silence does not suit me.  Silence is louder than the background noise.

I guess God doesn’t want to scream at me to reach me through the noise, so he gently shakes me awake in the early morning hours, the only time the entire house is silent and my mind is still.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  So this morning I am awake and the recent troubles of my life start to play in my head like a tape recorder that keeps rewinding, and I get up to find the words I have been longing to hear. 
Joh 14:26  But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Mat 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Sometimes you cannot wait for a loud voice from heaven to speak into your ear.  Sometimes you have to be still and calm and find these messages of hope for yourself in the Word He has given us.  Be still and let the Comforter lead you.  It is not easy.  It is hard to find the faith to give it all up.  I’m not saying my faith is that strong, but I never give up on it.  I know, for me, it is the only way to stay away from the edge of that black pit.  

So pray for me, and I will pray for you.  Together, united under the Comforter, we can make it through the hard times and mend the hole.  Remember, He told us in Mat 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


August 9, 2011

My job as an international student advisor has offered me the opportunity to meet many gifted and interesting people from all over the globe.  Some students graduate and go on to great things and I never hear from them again, but there are a few over the years who have remained in close contact.  One such student is a woman from Costa Rica who received her doctorate in piano.  She is a professional musician in every sense of the word.  I am in awe of her talent.  She’s now employed as a music professor at a college in another state.  So when I answered the phone at work today, and she was on the other end of the line, I was delighted to hear her voice and catch up on her new life.  As we were chatting the subject of learning came up.  She told me how her life as a student never prepared her for the things she has had to learn to do as a professor.  She told me the only thing she ever knew how to do all her life was to “move my fingers”, and now she’s learning things so out of her realm she is amazed at herself.  She never imagined she could ever learn so many things unrelated to music.  

Move my fingers.  I liked those words.  Our conversation made me reflect on my own talents and accomplishments.  What is the only thing I’ve ever known how to do all my life?  I’ve never considered myself an expert at anything even though I have had the same job for twenty-one years.  How do I “move my fingers?”  I certainly don’t move my fingers over a keyboard like my friend.  The only keyboard I know is the kind with letters and punctuation marks.

I was born into a family at the end of the line.  There were six before me, so when I came along my mother was tired.  I don’t blame her.  Seven children and a full-time job would wear anyone out.  I was also handicapped with a crippling shyness that led me to hide behind her apron strings and cling to them for dear life.  Maybe this is why my mother never pushed me into anything.  I didn’t take music lessons, dance lessons, or endeavor in any activities outside of school.  My sisters and brothers were the artists, scholars, musicians and photographers.  I was their biggest fan.  My talent was to follow them around and be the baby sister.  I’ve never considered myself to have any special talent.  There are things I wish I could do, like sing, dance, paint, the usual.  These are only dreams, though, because my voice is crackly, I have no rhythm and the most I can draw is the outline of a house or the sun setting over the ocean.  Of course my biggest talent dream is to be a writer.  A writer of novels that move the reader to laugh, cry, and think profound thoughts.  The usual. 

My dreams continue, but in reality I have come up with a list of potential talents I like to think am good at, but I’ve never been confident enough in myself to be sure:
I am good at my job, but promotions and raises do not come my way.
I am a good listener, but not a good communicator.
I am a good mother, but I do not see myself as motherly.
I am often empathetic, but rarely sympathetic.
I am a good planter, but not a good gardener.
I am spiritual, but I am not churchy.
I can be a good friend, but I can be neglectful.
I am a good writer, but not a good grammarian.

I seem to have a talent for making definitive statements followed by negative clauses.  I have many “I ams” followed by “but nots”.   

One day I hope things will become clearer to me.  I want to be rid of the negative clauses.  I have faith that God will open up my eyes and ears and I’ll say, “So that’s it!”  I don’t think it will have anything to do with the arts, but He could surprise me.  Regardless of what it is or is not, I may yet learn how to move my fingers.