My Response to Matt Walsh

Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. I’ve heard others talk about things they’ve seen Matt Walsh say and/or do that left them with very poor opinions of him, but since I wasn’t there at the time, I won’t make any judgments about that. After the emotional turmoil of the past few days, I’m just not in the mood to pick sides in any fight, particularly when I have reason to like and/or respect people on both sides. This is purely my response to the fiasco that has erupted over the past couple of days after Matt published a blog post about Robin Williams, depression, and suicide. I don’t think Matt’s evil, cruel, or heartless.  I am appalled but not shocked at the vitriol that many have aimed not only at him, but even at his wife and family. I’m a fan of sarcasm and snark and employ it frequently, but wishing someone would die or that they would lose someone they love to suicide is pure cruelty. The world is full of mean, angry people, and the anonymity of the web just makes them less likely to rein in their viciousness. In short, a lot of people out there on the internet suck.


I have spent the days since RW’s death having many online discussions about depression in general and suicide in particular. I’ve struggled to help others understand how someone in the throes of a severe depression can reach the horrible conclusion that suicide is the only solution. I’ve had some argue with me and others thank me for helping them see the topic more clearly. The fact remains, though, that it is impossible to truly explain how and why someone begins to consider suicide. As recently as earlier this afternoon, I would have also said that it’s equally impossible to explain why some suffering from severe depression act on their suicidal thoughts while others do not. However, thanks to Stephanie Zubcic PhD, who provided a link to this article, I now have a better understanding of that hard question. If you know someone who is depressed or still think suicide is purely a choice made by weak, selfish, or cowardly people, you should read it. Perhaps it will open your eyes a bit.

So, back to Matt Walsh. I readily admit that I have read several articles that he’s written, and by several, I don’t mean most or even half, though there have been quite a few. I’ve shared a few of them as well. I usually agree with most of what he says, though perhaps not always with the way in which he says it. His thoughts on depression are the first time I’ve ever read anything he wrote that left me feeling…uncomfortable or offended, though. I originally intended to simply leave a comment on his blog, but quickly realized that my “comment” was more of a post, so I’m going to write it here and send him a link. He can follow it or not. I’m quite certain that he’ll be getting thousands of new comments, emails, tweets, and Facebook responses, so I don’t know that he’ll find me in the midst of that torrent. If he doesn’t, that’s fine. I merely feel the need to address the problems I have with some of what he said.


Before I post my thoughts, though, I will proved a couple of links to the specific posts he made that I am addressing.

1st post: Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice

2nd post: Depression isn’t a choice but suicide is: my detailed response to the critics

My response follows:


Dear Matt,

I read you regularly and agree with most of what you say, but I struggled with the original post because it simply felt less compassionate than preachy. I give you the benefit of the doubt, however, because I know that tone is difficult to impart via typed words and when emotions are running high, it’s all too easy to ascribe the wrong intent to the words of others.

You touched on some points in the follow up that made me personally feel a bit better about things you didn’t say in the first post. Here are a couple of my biggest problems – for lack of a better word at the moment – with the posts, though.

Quoted from the first post:

“Depression is a mental affliction, yes, but also spiritual.”

“I can understand atheists who insist that depression must only be a disease of the brain, as they believe that our entire being is contained by, and comprised of, our physical bodies. But I don’t understand how theists, who acknowledge the existence of the soul, think they can draw some clear line of distinction between the body and the soul, and declare unequivocally that depression is rooted in one but not the other. This is a radically materialist view now shared by millions of spiritualist people.”


I’ll just pause here for a moment to let you know that I find the declaration you make in that final sentence deeply offensive. I have been living with severe clinical depression my entire adult life. I’m not a “spiritualist,” I’m a born again Christian. Nor am I in any way an “adherent of philosophical materialism.” (The definition of materialist.) I have been a Christian longer than you’ve been alive, Matt. I realize that’s no guarantee of spiritual maturity – if it were, Paul wouldn’t have felt the need to complain about supposedly mature Christians needing milk instead of meat. I’m not going to spend untold amounts of time trying to verify my spiritual maturity, though. The post is long enough as it is. Suffice it to say that your dismissal of anyone who does not share your views on the nature of the connection between the body and the soul (as well as the Spirit, which the Bible makes clear is not the same thing) comes across as arrogant.


If the argument is to be made that no mental illness can exist without being a spiritual illness as well, then it follows that you must admit that the reverse is also true. Times of spiritual doubt or questioning, rebellion, or backsliding should cause a corresponding physical affliction. I know people who think this way. They’re usually the ones who blame every single “bad” thing that happens in anyone’s life on some sin they’re refusing to repent of.

It boils down to this, if depression is a physical illness that affects how the brain and body function, resulting in manifestations of symptoms defined as “mental illness,” then it must also be conceded that it can be a purely physical illness. You state that theists should not declare unequivocally that depression is rooted in the brain/body. I say you should not declare unequivocally that it cannot be. This article lends further credence to the physicality of depression, including suicide risk: Genetic Biomarker Identified That May Predict Suicide Risk


I also read the article about you on The Blaze and this specific bit jumped out at me because it’s precisely what I noticed from your first post as well.

“Walsh called it ironic that some Christians will turn to prayer to address physical ailments like cancer, but won’t do the same when it comes to depression. While he said relying solely on prayer wouldn’t be something he’d endorse, the decision by some believers not to turn to God to address mental anguish confounds him.”

I absolutely believe there is profound help to be found in seeking spiritual help in addition to physical remedies. There is no doubt at all that I would have suffered far more than I have had I not had God to turn to. Yet, the reality remains that I do have depression. I have been severely depressed even while crying out to God. I have been so lost in the darkness that I could barely breathe, even while serving God daily. I understand that you quantified your words about Christians not seeking God during times of mental anguish with the inclusion of the word “some,” but again, this comes across as a sort of indictment. I’m not saying that’s how you meant it, only that I can understand how it might be perceived that way.

I know you never said that depressed and/or suicidal people would be “cured” or “healed” if they just embraced joy and hope or if they prayed a more, but you have ruled out the possibility that a person can be physically ill with depression without being equally spiritually unwell. If that were true, then the only successful way to combat depression would be with the necessary inclusion of some form of spiritual therapy, defined however you like. My treatment for the severe depression I’ve been living with for as long as you’ve been alive has included medications, psychotherapy, and cognitive therapy. Those are physical things that impact my physical body and the thought processes of my brain. They are not spiritual. My spiritual life is an intrinsic part of me, though it is not a part of my depression beyond the point where I seek God’s help to resist the pull of the depression and His guidance when determining what medicine, doctor, treatment, therapist, etc. is the best, right choice to help me continue fighting.

You are absolutely correct that love is the most powerful force in the universe, particularly the love of God for His creations. You are also completely correct when you state that there is always hope, and that we are “meant for joy.” You are undeniably right to state that we must make a conscious decision to reach for joy, to see hope, to deny the darkness that seems so powerful a force in the world. All of that is completely true. Here is where you went wrong:

Many intelligent folks have pointed out that suicide is a choice, but one made by a mind submerged in an unspeakable darkness. Suicide is a choice, but one chosen under great duress.  [snip]

But ALL destructive choices are made under these circumstances. ALL. Every single one. The more destructive the choice, the more troubled the mind.

Destructive choices are not all made under duress or by “a mind submerged in an unspeakable darkness.” People make destructive choices every single day that are not born out of mental illness but out of selfishness or lack of knowledge or rebellion or any other number of things that may or may not have some connection to some measure of emotional distress, but that are not remotely comparable to the horror of severe mental illness. A person who chooses to smoke because they enjoy it even though they know it comes with a number of risks isn’t the same as someone who cuts or commits other acts of self harm in an effort to find some measure of control amidst an overwhelming maelstrom of mental and emotional anguish. To suggest otherwise is profoundly disingenuous.

Likewise, suggesting that suicide is a choice (in the most technical terms) that many suicidal persons don’t actually see as a choice does not automatically equal equating it to dying from leukemia or in a car wreck or any other manner of death that is wholly beyond the control of any person.

Even if they take medicine, they have to choose to take it. If they talk to someone, they must choose to speak. If they seek help at a facility, they must choose to go. In some cases people are committed against their will, but eventually they also must choose.

For someone who made a point of discussing how complex depression is, I find it absurd that you would try to then turn around and boil it all down to something this simplistic. Suggesting that choosing to reject suicide is the same as choosing to take meds or go to therapy or enter a psychiatric facility is like stating that choosing whether or not to try an experimental treatment after being diagnosed with terminal stage IV cancer is the same as choosing whether to eat a salad because its healthy or a slice of pizza because that’s what you’re craving. They are simply not comparable. At all.

I choose to take my meds and go to therapy because I never, ever, want to return to the absolute horror of the blackness of a major depressive episode. When I was in the depths of my first major episode, I wanted nothing more than to not be there. No depressed person wants to be depressed. You know this. You’ve admitted it yourself. We do not want to be depressed. We do not want to feel unworthy of love or hope or happiness. We want the pain to STOP.

What would you say to someone who tells you they are suicidal and they feel they have no choice but to kill themselves? What do you say when confronted with that specific statement? Have you been confronted with it? I have.

I have.

And do you know what I said?

Yes, you feel like you have no choice — but you do.

You feel like you have to leave – but you don’t.

You feel like there is no help — but there is.

You feel worthless — but you aren’t.

You feel like nobody can love you — but they do.

I do.

Your answers to the question of what we should tell a person who admits that they are contemplating suicide are not wrong. The question you did not ask, though, was “What next?” Shouting at someone standing on a ledge, telling them not to jump, is obviously what anyone with any shred of humanity would do. Telling a person considering suicide that they are loved, that there is hope, that they have a different choice is all fine and well, but it amounts to absolutely nothing at all if it isn’t immediately followed by action, because as much as they want to escape the nightmare of depression, they most likely won’t believe what you’re saying. They may nod and smile and say, “Okay,” then turn right around and follow through on ending their life because no matter what you say to them, they may very well still think they have no other choice. They may have already made up their mind that suicide is the only answer. And this is why your posts are so potentially dangerous.

Your focus was and still is on the choice. Even when you talk about how to confront someone considering that choice, what you fail to do is state unequivocally that while trying to talk them out of it is good and right, what anyone in that position should be doing is calling a suicide prevention hotline. The moment anyone starts talking about ending their life or wanting to escape or being ready to give up or too tired to fight any longer, you should be telling them that you love them while driving them to the nearest emergency room or dialing 911 or a hotline.

You never even talk about that, Matt, and that is what makes both of your posts so terrible. It isn’t that everything you say is wrong, it’s that you’re preaching about the spirituality of suicide instead of saying in loud, clear, unmistakable terms that priority number one is never, ever, under any circumstances, take talk of suicide from anyone with anything less than deadly seriousness.

I’ll assume you thought such basic truth was implied and didn’t need to be mentioned beyond your, “If you are thinking about suicide, don’t keep it inside. Tell someone. Never give up the fight. There is always hope.” You were wrong, though, and your omission of the importance of addressing suicide as more than a philosophical or spiritual topic is a huge part of what bothers me most about both of these posts.

I like a lot of what you say, and agree with some parts of both posts. I find the reaction of the idiots on the web that wished you or your family harm, grief, or suffering every bit as abhorrent as the twisted sickos who scream for people on ledges to jump. But as smart as you can be on a variety of topics, you can also be completely wrong. You’re wrong here, not necessarily in intent, but certainly in method.

I’m quite certain that many people out there agree with you completely. I’m sure that some who are or have been depressed found comfort or encouragement in some of what you said. But it’s just as possible that someone out there saw “Never give up the fight. There is always hope,” and heard, in their head, in their own voice, “You are such a worthless piece of crap. You’re a coward. You aren’t fighting. You aren’t even trying! You’re hopeless!” Because that’s what depression deep enough to make a person consider suicide does. It straight up lies, and no amount of talk will change that. It takes intensive therapy to learn how to recognize the lies and reject them. It might also take medications to help quell the worst of them just so you can find the energy and willpower to even try the therapy.  So, trying to reduce suicide down to a simple yes or no choice is, frankly, asinine.

I hope you see and read this. I don’t expect you to respond. I’m not seeking recognition or “hits” for my blog. I have no desire to become the next internet sensation. I mostly felt the need to respond with this much depth because I like you and because every single day that I wake up, I am grateful to not be in the hellish depths of a major depressive episode, and I want to do anything I can to help others understand the reality of depression. The moment I heard about Robin Williams’ death and saw that it was a suspected suicide, I was immediately taken straight back to the darkest moments of my life, when I found myself facing that same terrible, desperate choice, and my heart broke all over again. It always does when I hear that someone has become so desperate that they saw suicide as the only option.

I sincerely hope and pray that you continue to win the fight against whatever personal sorrow or anguish that you are living with. I bear you no ill will and hold no animosity at all toward you. I will continue to read what you write when I come across it and will share it when I feel led to. God bless you, Matt, and your family.


National Suicide Prevention Hotline

1-800-271-TALK (8255)

If you or anyone you know has talked about or contemplated suicide,

call the hotline or 911 RIGHT NOW!

Posted in About me, Depression, Health | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Depression, Suicide, and Survival

Robin WilliamsI just cannot believe it. I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes as word of Robin Williams’ death spreads across social media and all the news channels. I’m old enough to have seen some episodes of Mork and Mindy and of course grew up watching the seemingly endless number of movies he’s been part of. He was a great entertainer who brought both hilarity and pure entertainment to our lives. But he was also a human being who suffered the same foibles and struggles that all the rest of us have to endure.

Right now, there are people out there who are hearing that it’s possible that he took his own life. Possibly for the first time, people who have grown up laughing at his antics, are learning that he battled addictions to alcohol and drugs as well as episodes of severe depression. I know that some one, probably a lot of someones, are going to see “depression” and “possible suicide” and immediately scoff. “What could he have to be depressed about?” they’ll ask. “Suicide is just selfishness!” people will declare. Well, if you’re one of those people, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Horribly, heartrendingly wrong.

I was in my teens when the first signs that I had an emotional problem began showing. I didn’t recognized them then. I wouldn’t recognize them until years later when I was able to look back through the lens of experience and knowledge, but they were there. I was in my late teens when I had my first major depressive episode. It would last more than a year and a half. A year and a half of emotional darkness the likes of which no one who’s never suffered from clinical depression can possibly understand. There are huge gaps in my memory from that one and a half to two years. I mean I have absolutely no idea what happened. People who were there talk about things that took place and I might as well be a complete stranger because I simply cannot remember most of that time. What I do remember, though, is the agony.

There’s a well-known blogger out there called The Bloggess. Her real name is Jenny Lawson and her sense of humor is frequently vulgar but utterly hilarious. She also has battled depression as well as other issues. It was on her site that I first read the words, “Depression Lies.” This was not that long ago, a few years ago only, long after I’d accepted that the emotional issues I have dealt with my entire adult life are major clinical depression, after I’d had that diagnosis confirmed by doctors and a therapist, after I’d begun taking anti-depression meds, and been through a significant amount of therapy, which all came after I’d learned – out of pure necessity – to live with the depression and not allow it to rule my life. All of that experience, wisdom, and knowledge, and the pure, simple truth of “Depression Lies” hit me like a lawn dart to the forehead.

See, depression isn’t just a chemical imbalance that causes someone to feel sad or down in the dumps. It screws with every single aspect of your body. Not just making you feel bad emotionally, but physically, too. It’s the lies it encourages you to tell yourself, though, that are one of the worst aspects. Lies that when spoken aloud to someone not in the throes of a major depressive episode sound, well, crazy. Looking back on some of the things my depression has caused me to believe, I can see how insane they were. Part of the lies it tells revolve around day to day life. It makes you believe small, unremarkable events or mistakes are colossal errors that can and will ruin your life. It makes you feel like nothing you’ve ever done is of value. Worse, it makes you feel like there is simply no hope at all of things getting better. Ever. And that’s when some of us begin considering suicide.

I’ve been there…more than once. I’ve been so deep in the darkness, so overwhelmed by the lies and the mental anguish that suicide began to feel like a reasonable option. Thank God, I never followed through on that impulse. I certainly considered it. I have taken time to think about how I’d do it, where I’d do it, and what I’d want to say to the people I love before I did it. Do you know what I learned from being in that terrible place? I learned that suicide is not selfishness, it’s desperation. It is the most tragic symptom of an illness that plagues more than 350 million people in the world.

The worst thing about depression is how misunderstood it is. People hear someone is depressed and think, “well, just stop it,” or “stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I have heard both of these things from people I care about and respect. They’re wrong, though, and that kind of dismissal is what leads so many people to keep their depression to themselves. It’s hiding those emotions, feeling like you aren’t free to express them openly without fear of being looked down on or treated like you’re being selfish, that makes the whole situation worse. I’ve been there. I’ve had people I adore, people I needed, look me in the face and tell me it’s basically “all in my head.” That is a profoundly painful thing to endure when you’re already in emotional agony. Again, thank God, those people have since learned that whether they understand clinical depression or not, it is real, it is serious, and it is absolutely not my choice to simply stop being depressed.

I’m writing this because when I saw the first alert pop up on my phone telling me the breaking news that Robin Williams was dead at 63 in what was suspected to be a suicide, my heart immediately broke. Not just because he’s a great talent gone to soon. Not because I’m some kind of celebrity junkie who values the “famous” more than the “average” life. My heart broke because I was immediately taken right back to that dark, terrible place in my past where I was so desperate for some – any – relief from the pain that suffused every  moment of my life that I too considered ending it forever. I have that flashback every single time I hear of anyone ending their own life. It shatters my heart because I wish so much that they’d had someone there to remind them that DEPRESSION LIES!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way blaming Robin Williams’ family or friends or the family and friends of anyone who’s chosen that ultimate final solution. Certainly, there are times when those suffering from depression are truly alone in their pain, but just as often they are surrounded by people who love and support them completely, yet they still end their lives. We all have different tolerances, different breaking points. Those who survive aren’t stronger than those who don’t, they’re merely the ones who were in the right place at the right moment to resist the pull of the desperation. Sometimes, even when we are surrounded by those who love us, we are convinced we are utterly alone because we just don’t know how to express what we’re feeling. Sometimes we just need someone to hold our hand and simply be there, to listen if we need to talk or to just remind us we aren’t alone if we are unable to speak.

I had a bracelet made. It’s a leather band with a stainless steel plate into which the words “Depression Lies” have been stamped.

Depression LiesI wear it with the words facing me whenever I’m feeling like I could use the reminder.

Depression isn’t an obvious affliction. Most mental problems aren’t. It’s easy to become frustrated with people suffering from emotional disorders, particularly if you’ve never experienced one yourself. There are warning signs, though. They are many and varied and change from childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood, to the elderly. Worse, every person with depression will not have every or even most of the recognized, most common symptoms.

Just a few spots to do some further research: SAVE(Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), WebMD.com, Caring.com

Since we’re talking about suicide here, I’ll include WebMD’s warning signs for suicide:

  • A sudden switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
  • Always talking or thinking about death
  • Clinical depression (deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating) that gets worse
  • Having a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving through red lights
  • Losing interest in things one used to care about
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
  • Saying things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out”
  • Talking about suicide (killing one’s self)
  • Visiting or calling people one cares about

If there’s someone in your life that is depressed and has been so for a long time, consider doing research about what depression is – and what it isn’t – then talk to that person. Make sure they know you are there for them unconditionally. Don’t condemn them or judge them or lecture them, just be there. Once you make it clear that you aren’t judging them, listen. Really listen. And never forget that some of us become very adept at hiding our pain. Like Robin, we mask it with humor, not wanting to burden others, not wanting to seem like a killjoy, not wanting to have to see the annoyance in the eyes of others if we admit that we’re struggling…again.

Believe me, I would give anything to never be depressed again. I wish I could say I’d been cured by therapy or meds or just time. The truth is, though, that I’ve been living with depression for almost thirty years now, and while it is absolutely far better controlled now than it was when I had that first major episode, it is still an everyday part of my life. From one day to the next, I might be perfectly content or find it a struggle to quite the ugly little lies my depression is whispering into my mind. I now immediately recognize the signs of a flare up, even the small ones like restlessness or an uptick in obsessive tendencies. I know there are good days and bad days and that I don’t need to worry until there are several bad days in a row. My greatest goal is to never, ever allow myself to sink back into one of those seemingly bottomless pits of despair where every moment is filled with desperation and hopelessness and pain, so I live in constant awareness of my moods and know to seek help if I feel the need.

Depression isn’t a joke or a choice, it’s a disease just like diabetes or cancer or arthritis. Suicide isn’t selfishness, it is unbearable desperation. That’s why my eyes fill with tears and my heart aches every single time I see another story of another life lost to this evil monster. I wish I could have reminded them that they aren’t worthless. They are priceless. The pain isn’t endless. The world will not be a better place without them in it. Their spouses, parents, siblings, children, and friends will not be happier without them there to “bring them down.”

If you are the least bit concerned about someone you care about, take action. Never, ever view any comment about suicide as a joke.

If you are depressed, please remember that you are valuable. You are precious. Please seek help from someone: a doctor, a friend, a family member, a hotline (National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255). Please remember that DEPRESSION LIES. There is no shame in needing help.

 

Posted in About me, Depression, Health | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Maggie May

Sigh. I love writing, but I’m terrible about making updates to this blog. I had someone ask me about Katie recently, which reminded me that I hadn’t transferred the final entry about her from my other blog to this one. Seems like it should be easier to do that automatically, but it never seems to work well for me. Anyway…

We lost sweet Maggie May just a few months after we brought her home. She made significant improvement before leaving us, though, so here are some pics of her life in our family.

I took this after she'd finally gotten a bath.

I took this after she’d finally gotten a bath.

I gave Maggie her first bath a couple of days after bringing her home. She was horrifically filthy. I was worried that she’d be afraid of the water, but she actually seemed to enjoy it. Once she was clean, I dried her as well as I could, then wrapped her in a towel and a blanket before bringing her into the living room and placing her beside me on the couch. She immediately curled up right against me and dozed off. She absolutely loved being close to me.

Briscoe checking out the new addition.

Briscoe checking out the new addition.

This is the day I brought her home. Briscoe was obviously curious, but didn’t mess with her beyond just a quick sniff.

Maggie turned out to be a burrower.

Maggie turned out to be a burrower.

I was in the kitchen making supper one evening a few days after Maggie came home and heard a noise and looked up to find her rooting her way under the poofy bed she’d been lying on. It was the first time she’d done much movement on her own, proof that she was feeling better and gaining some strength.

Maggie passed out snoring in her dog bed sandwich.

Maggie passed out snoring in her dog bed sandwich.

This was taken a day or two after she had her first surgery. She was spayed, had her huge mammary tumors removed, and had her rotten teeth extracted. We were very happy that the vet managed to get that much done in a single surgery. As you can see, she’d gotten quite comfortable by this time, feeling far more secure in her surroundings than she had when I first met her.

ComfyThis was taken before she’d had her surgery. You can see one of her enormous mammary tumors if you look closely. Her nails hadn’t been clipped, yet, either. It wound up taking three of us to get that chore done. I’m sure she’d never had it done before, plus her feet were still quite raw and sore.

What dog?

Marble the cat was not the least bit intimidated by Maggie.

Maggie couldn’t see more than light and shadows, as well as movement. That didn’t keep her from trying to “catch” the cats when she was finally strong enough to get up and get around a bit on her own, though. She mostly tried to smack at them with her foot, which none of the cats actually enjoyed, but Marble wasn’t at all afraid of her. Briscoe just hated feeling left out. This look on his face is him wondering why I’m not making Maggie and Marble move so he can have the whole end of the couch to himself.

I'll just lie right here.

I’ll just lie right here.

This is Maggie’s passive aggressive way of trying to get Briscoe to give up his spot on the couch. He was on the end and I’d put her between us on a blanket of her own, but that wasn’t good enough. So she got up and moved over to crowd up next to him, knowing he wasn’t into cuddling with her.

Success!

Success!

And, her plan worked. Briscoe gave up and surrendered his spot to her. This was pretty much how it always ended.

IMG_0688Briscoe was a good, tolerant brother.

IMG_0689Maggie’s “happy place.”

IMG_0827She was a incredibly small girl and loved to be held.

IMG_0737She gained a bit of weight, but never stopped looking frail. Her front shoulders always splayed outwards from her body. Her back hips were unnaturally formed as well, making it impossible for her to run. She toddled around happily, though. She would wander around in the living room and kitchen, then come over to the couch and wait for one of us to lift her up onto it. Many of her problems improved dramatically and she got through her initial heartworm treatment okay, then had to go into the clinic for the second one. Tragically, her system just couldn’t withstand the stress.

She was such a sweet girl. Just precious in every way. Even now, months after her death, I’m still furious at whoever treated her so contemptibly. I also still struggle with the tragic reality of her life. I take comfort, though, knowing that the last few months of her life were filled with comfort and love.

Rest in peace, sweet girl.

 

 

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This is Animal Cruelty…

Brace yourselves, I’m about to launch a colossal rant.

Anyone who’s on Facebook knows how easy it is to miss a post by any friend or liked page, particularly with Facebook’s “we know better than you” attitude that leads them to show us the posts they think are most important without any real say-so from us. I was constantly switching to the “Most Recent” feed until I was fortunate enough to find a script that allows me to tweak several of the settings on Facebook, including forcing them to stay on Most Recent instead of Top Stories. Anyway, I’m mentioning this because of all the posts made by the Switzerland County Animal Shelter since I “liked” their page, the first and only one I’ve actually seen was one that was made last Tuesday, February 5. It was post of very cute Golden Retriever puppy who was one of the dogs currently available for adoption. I clicked on the image, which took me to the SCAS page where I caught sight of another image of another dog. This is that image:

Here are the words that accompanied it: This is Marilyn. She is an English bulldog approximately 4-5 years old. Marilyn was found curled up freezing and starving in the North Dr area.

This blog is named Winsomebulldog. My header is a picture of my two Bulldogs, Katie and Briscoe. Katie was my husband’s dog, a dream come true for him. A friend’s family had one that he spent time with as a young man, and from then on, he always dreamed of owning one. Clearly, we are Bulldog fans.

First off, let me just confess that both Katie and Briscoe came from pet stores. We weren’t as aware then as we are now of the horrors of puppy mills. For us, the consequences of purchasing our two darling Bullies at a pet store instead of from a reputable breeder were a significant array of various health issues that could undoubtedly have been avoided if their breeders had been more interested in producing healthy puppies than in the obscene amount of money they could make while forcing dogs to produce litter after litter after litter of unhealthy puppies. Having said all that, I wouldn’t trade either of my precious babies for any amount of money. Losing Katie was and still is one of the most painful things I have endured.

So, what does any of this have to do with Marilyn? Well, Marilyn was almost certainly used in a puppy mill. Let me tell you why I believe that.

She is skin and bones. She has a list of health issues that is almost impossible to believe. One of those issues is swollen, raw feet with pads that have spit open. This happens when a dog is forced to stand in their own urine and feces. You can’t see it clearly in the above picture, but instead of being white, as she should be, she’s more a dingy yellowish brown. She smells terrible. Just so you get a full picture of her condition, let me show you a few more images.

Have you thrown up, yet? I’ve come close a few times since I first saw her.

The obvious issues:

  • She’s been starved. 
  • Her nails hadn’t been trimmed in, well, probably ever.
  • There are mammary tumors all along her stomach because she was never spayed.
  • Her eyes are milky and constantly gooey because of entropion. (Entropion is a situation where the eyelids basically roll inward, causing the lashes to constantly rub the surface of the eye. Very uncomfortable.)
  • Due to the untreated entropion, both eyes are severely scarred, making her almost blind. The damage from the constant irritation was so bad that her left eye developed an ulcer that eventually ruptured. Translation, she has a hole in her eye.
  • Her feet are raw.

Now for the not so obvious, but not unexpected, issues:

  • She is heartworm positive. 
  • All her rear teeth are so decayed that they’re essentially mush and will have to be removed before they cause her jawbones to rot as well. 

More possible issues that haven’t been confirmed, yet, but that I wouldn’t be surprised by:

  • Heavy internal parasites.
  • Hip and/or knee damage from being caged constantly.

She can barely walk. This could be due to her painful feet, arthritis, or the fact that she’s barely more than skin and bones. Probably a combination of all of them.

When she was found, she was curled up on the cold ground beneath a rabbit hutch, waiting to die. The lady who picked her up said she just looked like she’d given up. She was so cold that she spent the rest of that day shivering, just trying to get warm.

When I saw that picture of her, taken as soon as she was brought into the shelter, I knew I had to do something. I sent the shelter several messages, asking for more information. As soon as my husband got home, I showed him the picture. He was as horrified as I was.

The next morning, I began communicating with the shelter about her. They’d guessed her age to be 4-5 years. By the end of that day, I was positive that I wanted to bring her home with me.

The next day, Feb. 7, she was due to see a vet. I had errands to run in the morning, but went over to the shelter as soon as I got home to meet her. I’d seen the picture, so I knew she was terribly skinny. The shelter had informed me that the picture didn’t show how truly bad it was. What really got me when I first saw her, though, was the way she was curled up in a tiny ball on her blanket. She was in the isolation room along with several other smaller dogs. As dogs do, they all began barking like mad as soon as the door was opened. Marilyn’s head lifted, then dropped once more in dejection. She began to tremble. All I could think was how much I wanted to take her to a quiet place, wrap her in warm blankets, and cradle her in my lap.

She had her vet appointment later in the afternoon and the shelter assured me that they would call once they knew something. I got that phone call at 5. That’s when they told me about the heartworms, her eyes, the mammary tumors, her teeth, and that she was closer to 8 years old. The vet suggested putting her down, but they didn’t because I’d already told them that we would still take her if she turned out to be heartworm positive. I’d prepared for that. I hadn’t braced myself for all the rest of it.

When I got off the phone with the shelter, I sent my hubby a text message explaining all the additional issues she was facing. Her teeth will have to be removed. This is surgery. The entropion can be fixed through another surgery. The mammary glands can be removed when she is spayed. ANOTHER surgery. And don’t forget those heartworms. Want to know how they kill those suckers? Arsenic. That’s right. They poison the nasty little things. Follow that up with having countless dead worms flushed through damaged arteries and you’re talking about a huge physical impact on the body. Look at those pictures again. Think she can survive that? The vet had concerns that she’d be able to survive any of the treatments she needs.

I hung up the phone and started crying. I just couldn’t help it. I kept seeing her curled up on that blanket. I kept thinking about the hell she’s been forced to endure. It is obvious that she’s been bred repeatedly. Whatever bastards – yes, I know it’s an ugly word – had her, used her, abused her, and then threw her away when she got too sick to be of further use. This is what I kept thinking about. Would it be kinder to just put her down? Would it be cruel to try to “fix” all her problems?

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night. But when I got up Friday morning I’d made a decision. I had to give her a chance. She’s known nothing but misery. She deserves so much more. I eventually came to the decision that even if she doesn’t survive one of the cures for her many ailments, I could at least give her the best life possible for however long she lives. I can keep her full and warm and give her all the love she has never known but so obviously needs. And she just might survive it all. Katie was 11 before the cancer took her from us. This precious little girl could have several more years of life left to live. Happy, healthy years. I simply could not deny her that chance.

So, I went to the shelter and picked her up. I brought her home and gave her a chance to sniff a bit in the yard and potty. Then I brought her in the house and put her down on the large orthopedic dog bed that we keep in our living room for Malcolm to lay on. The boys gave her a few cursory sniffs. She wasn’t sure what to think of them, but I laid down beside her and gently stroked her head and ears until she started dozing off. I tucked her blanket in around her so she could nap.

Since then, she’s had some food and water, and been outside several times. She got a little bit sick, probably from drinking too much. She was a thirsty girl. She’s napping on Malcolm’s bed, occasionally waking up to look around, as if she’s making sure she’s still in a warm, safe place.

She has a very long road ahead of her. She needs a bath terribly, but I don’t want to put her through the stress. I want to give her a few days to settle in, to feel at home and completely safe before I start doing things that I know will make her uneasy.

I have no idea what her personality is truly like. She’s so weak that she doesn’t do much more than eat, drink, and sleep. She is just so painfully thin. Watching her try to walk is agonizing. I want to do something, to make her better, to make her happy. Every time I look at her, I am sickened again by how much she has suffered.

Somewhere out there is a person or persons who used a beautiful, gentle, sweet, loving dog to make money with absolutely no regard for her welfare. They could make money off her because people buy dogs off the Internet and out of classified ads in the newspaper, sight unseen. They don’t visit the breeder or insist upon meeting the parents of the puppy they’re buying.

There is very serious problem in this country. We continue to view dogs, cats, horses, livestock, any domestic animals, as property, no different than a car or a sofa. We blame dogs for being dogs, condemning entire breeds or even breed types for the actions of a few while simultaneously deifying those who contribute to the problem. Michael Vick not only participated in dog fighting, he tortured his dogs to death, yet he didn’t actually go to jail for that. He was allowed to plea to “Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture.” Racketeering. In the state of Virginia, he submitted a guilty plea to a single Virginia felony charge for dog fighting, receiving a 3 year prison sentence suspended on condition of good behavior, and a $2,500 fine. He spent less than 2 years in prison, got out and picked his NFL career right back up where he left off. He was named the 2010 NFL Comeback Player of the Year and was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl.

This from a man who admitted to providing most of the financing for the operation and to participating directly in several dog fights in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina. He admitted to sharing in the proceeds from these dog fights. He further admitted that he knew his colleagues killed several dogs who did not perform well. He admitted to being involved in the destruction of 6–8 dogs, by hanging or drowning.

How many thousands of people have cheered for Michael Vick during his “comeback?” How many people out there look at him and think he served his time and should be granted a fresh start despite the fact that he was never convicted of animal cruelty? He never spent one day in jail for it. Even if he had been convicted of animal abuse, he would have gotten little to no jail time for it and a monetary fine of a few thousand dollars.

Abusing an animal is a misdemeanor. No matter how terrible the abuse, how horrific the suffering of an animal, current criminal laws make it nearly impossible to convict anyone of animal cruelty short of having film of them committing it, and convictions carry penalties that tend to amount to a slap on the wrist.

Marilyn is not an inanimate object. She is a living, breathing, feeling creature. She has emotions. She feels pain and fear, suffers grief and loneliness. She has her own personality. She’s an individual just like I am or you are. She is beautiful and sweet, wholly undeserving of the hell she’s been put through.

So I’m left to ask, how many of you out there have a dog tied up out in your yard? How many have a wire kennel that you visit once a day just to drop off some food and water while the dog you’ve caged inside spends every single moment all alone? How many of you don’t bother to get your pet spayed or neutered, or give the heartworm and flea prevention? They’re just dogs, right? All dogs have fleas. So what?

Just because I can’t bear to end this on a completely depressing note, I’m going to add one final picture.

Marilyn and her blankets, curled up on her comfy bed. No more shivering. No more fear. Whatever the future holds for her, at least she finally won’t have to face it all alone.

I’ve used the name given to her by the shelter workers during this post, but that isn’t the name we’re going to call her by. I wanted something less formal sounding, so we’ve called her Maggie. Maggie May. Of course she doesn’t recognize her name, yet. But she’s already beginning to respond to the sound of my voice. Perhaps more telling, there have been at least two times that I’ve seen her wake up and turn her head toward me, her scarred eyes struggling to focus. I speak a few words to her, telling her what a good, sweet girl she is, and she lowers her head back down and returns to her sleep. Don’t anyone dare try to tell me that dogs don’t crave the companionship of their people.

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Loss

Katie’s gone…

A glimpse of how she got her name, Katie-Bar-the-Door.
This is the expression I loved most on her face. Joy.

The image that inspired the winsomebulldog name. 

 And finally…

Yesterday, at the emergency clinic.

If you know me, then you know that our girl, Katie, has been sick for a while. Yesterday, she was so weak that she could barely stand. I took her to the ER and they ran some tests, but couldn’t find anything wrong. (It should be noted that we all thought her problems were connected to either her chemo or the heart issues that were brought on by the chemo.) So, I brought her back home yesterday evening but she got worse during the night. I took her back up to the clinic this morning and they took some x-rays and spotted what they thought was pneumonia in her lungs. So they kept her to give her fluids and antibiotics.

I got a call this afternoon a little before 5 letting me know that she had stopped breathing. They did their best, but as I was on my up there a little while later, they called to let me know she had died. I’ll spare you the gory details and just say that additional blood work revealed that her kidneys were failing badly. It is likely that the cancer spread despite the chemo and caused significant damage, bringing on the kidney failure and other symptoms that were mistakenly attributed to her heart. No one is at fault. She was just a sick baby.

Right now, I’m fairly numb. I cried all the way up there. Spent almost an hour with her and cried some more. Then cried a good portion of the way home. So now I’m just in a holding pattern until the next wave of grief hits.

Losing her sucks, plain and simple. But it’s made worse in so many ways because Mark is not home. He has made what should be his final trip to retrieve machinery from New Jersey and is due home this evening. His plane should already be in the air. So he had to deal with all this while being unable to be here for either me or her. Please pray for him, as Katie was particularly special to him for a variety of reasons.

I’ll say without shame that we both loved Katie as though she were our child. I know some people take offense at that, but I’m sorry. Katie was a part of our lives every single day for eleven years. She will forever hold a home in both our hearts and nothing and no one will ever replace her in any way.

I wish I could somehow convey how incredible she was. So much unconditional love packed into one short, pudgy dog doesn’t seem possible. And there’s simply no way for me to express how much pure joy she brought to my life. I still can’t quite make myself imagine living without her.

I needed to get this out there, to share it for her, to honor her. I’m so tired and I have one of those “after crying” headaches. I’m thinking that I might need to lay down for a little while. Maybe, in a few more days, I’ll be able to be more philosophical about it all. Right now, I just want my baby girl back.

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Golden Honey Pan Rolls – Lazy Version

After yesterday’s Buttered Rosemary Rolls, I decided to try the shortcut version of the Golden Honey Pan Rolls that I already know are fantastic. The link will take you to the full recipe that has instructions on how to make them from scratch, using a bread machine. I’m going with the short version here, using store-bought dough, which means the rolls themselves won’t have any honey in them. I’ll just use the glaze from the original recipe and see how they turn out. I’m fairly certain that they’ll be very nearly as good as the from scratch version.

Here’s the recipe for the glaze:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 egg white 

This is the recipe for a full 13″ X 9″ pan of rolls, but I’m not going to bother trying to halve it. Half an egg white? I don’t think so. And just in case you’ve never, ever done anything like this before, I’ll include a few pictures of the process. Brace yourself.

Step 1: Go to the store and pick up a bag of Rhodes frozen dinner rolls.  Bring them home and toss them in the freezer. When you’re ready to fix your rolls, take the bag out of the freezer and cut it open.

NOTE: You’ll notice in the upper right-hand corner of the bag that it has an arrow with the words “EASY OPEN Tear Here.” This is a blatant lie. I tugged and pulled and twisted and not only was it not easy to open, it in fact did not open at all. No tearing, though the plastic did stretch quite well. I  eventually had to resort to using a pair of scissors. (This may well be the hardest part of this recipe.)

Step 2: Pick a pan. Any pan, assuming it’s not so large that 36 rolls couldn’t hope to fill it up when fully risen. Unless you’re cooking for an army or possibly a potluck dinner, an 8″ or 9″ cake pan should be plenty big enough. If you want to get really rustic, break out a cast iron skillet. I’ll admit the skillet makes a lovely presentation, but since I’m more interested in eating them than looking at them, and since I have not yet crossed into the world of professional food blogger, I just grab whatever is handy. For this post, I went all out and broke out a “fancy” piece of Corning Ware, so the pictures would look pretty. Yep, I’m trying that hard to impress you guys. 

Spray the pan with cooking spray and place the rolls inside.

(See – pretty pan.) You have a couple of options at this point. One, you can lay a kitchen towel over the pan or you can spray a sheet of plastic wrap with more oil and lay it over the pan. (Do I need to point out that the towel should be clean?) Pick whichever way suits you, then just set the pan aside and WALK AWAY.

That’s right. You are DONE for literally HOURS! Just go do something else. 

This shot was taken after 6 hours. (My kitchen was fairly cool, especially in the morning when I started. Your rolls may thaw and rise faster or slower, depending on ambient temperature, altitude, humidity, etc. Basically, just leave them alone until they’re big enough that you’re happy with them.) Mine in the above pic are risen enough to be baked, though I’m letting them go longer just because I’m hoping to wait long enough for my hubby to come home so that he can have them fresh out of the oven. They will keep getting bigger. The bigger they get, the more careful you’ll have to be when brushing on the glaze because they’ll be so fluffy that too much pressure will make them collapse. (If that happens, they won’t look very pretty, but they will still taste just fine.)


Step 3: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix up your glaze.

It will be slimy and VERY thick. But once baked, it is oh, so good. Brush, or if your pan is big enough and your rolls haven’t risen to the point of billowing over the sides, drizzle this concoction over the rolls.

By this point (after about 9 hours) mine had risen so much that I couldn’t get as much of the glaze on them as I would have liked. My rolls completely filled up the pan, so none of the glaze could ooze down to the bottom, which meant that most of the sweet goodness was confined to just the top of the rolls. If I’d glazed them when they were smaller (say, in that earlier picture after about 6 hours of rising) the glaze would have more fully permeated the bread and they’d have been sweeter than they turned out to be. Still good, mind you. Hubby polished them off with no hesitation, and like I said yesterday, he’s not really a bread eater.


Step 4: As soon as the oven is ready, place the pan into it and bake for 15-20 minutes or until they’re golden.  Mine were ready after just 15. If you know your oven cooks really fast, you might want to back the temperature down to 325 degrees, just to make sure you don’t over-brown them.

Take ’em out and let ’em cool just long enough so that you can handle them without needing a trip to the emergency room. Begin scarfing them down.


This is insanely easy. And the sweetness, especially when done like this, isn’t so overwhelming that it gives you a toothache. In the original recipe, the dough itself is sweetened with honey, so it’s by default sweeter even without the glaze. Still, this is a really nice way to get almost the exact same flavor without all the extra work. And it’s really especially nice since rising bread isn’t something that requires constant attention, freeing you up to do whatever else you need or want to do. Hope everyone enjoys them!

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Buttered Rosemary Rolls

Buttered Rosemary Rolls

Okay, made these yesterday. Didn’t use the iron skillet because… well because I just didn’t want to dig it out and I already had a square cake pan handy. The pan held nine comfortably and I just let them rise pretty much all day, which kinda became an issue eventually because they got so huge and fluffy that a couple of them finally collapsed. That was when I decided to go ahead and bake those puppies. (I’d been waiting for Mark to get home, but wouldn’t you know, it was one of those 15 hour days, so I finally had to give in and get them into the oven.) Anyway, been wanting to make them since I first saw the recipe and finally picked up some rosemary. Let me just say that they are absolutely AWESOME! And by awesome, I mean irresistible and so blasted good that you’ll be tempted to forgo whatever you actually intended to eat as a main course. Mark ate four of them, and he is NOT a big bread guy. He kept telling me last night that it was all really good. He’s not stingy with compliments in general, but by the time he’d said it three or four times, I figured he liked his supper. Just FYI, I made a big pot of beef stew that I’ve been wanting but that I have no recipe for. I just started tossing stuff into the pot and added whatever struck my fancy at the moment. Then let it simmer all day long and it turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself. Anyway, I scarfed down 2 of the rolls right after they came out of the oven, then ate 3 more with supper. Or maybe Mark wound up eating five and I ate 2 more. I don’t really know. All I know for sure is that the pan was empty before we went to bed, half the beef stew was gone, and I was feeling a bit like a balloon that was ready to pop. I was a bit leery of using too much rosemary because it’s one of those spices that has a fine line between just right and overwhelming. But I think the next time I make them, I’ll ad a bit more than I did this time. I didn’t have the fancy sea salt that the recipe calls for, but did have some regular old sea salt and that’s what I used. Seriously, they were just insanely delicious. I’m making another pan of rolls today, though I’m going with an old favorite – Honey Pan Rolls, with the shortcut of using the frozen dough. I’m going to take some pictures of these, and maybe post them assuming they all turn out okay.
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Sometimes Reality Bites…

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how I’m coming to the end of my journey with cancer. (Assuming it never returns, and I’m going to make that assumption for my own peace of mind.) Everyone seems to bring it up. My doctors, my therapist, even Mark and myself. A very tangible evidence of the end will arrive at the end of this week when I go in to have my port removed. It’s not any kind of major surgery. They won’t even put me under full sedation. My surgeon says it’ll be over in a blink and the last remaining “cancer” tie will be gone from my body. Not counting the scars.

I told my therapist a few weeks back when she asked me how I was feeling about it coming to an end that when I look back on it, it almost feels like it wasn’t real. It all came and went so very fast. It feels like some strange interlude outside of time, as if everything came to a halt while I dealt with this thing that had grown inside me. And now it’s gone and in a couple of days, the contraption they stuck inside me to help them fight it will be gone, too. Which is why I suppose I have found the past ten days to be so blasted frustrating.

It’s no secret that we have dogs. It’s also no secret that our dogs are very much a part of our family. They are, for all intents and purposes, our children. And if you have a problem with people who love their pets like kids and generally treat them as such, you might as well stop reading right now.

Katie is our baby girl. That’s her on the left in both pics at the top of my blog. Mark spotted her in a mall pet store a few months after we came home from a trip to England in the spring of 2001. Mark had been wanting a Bulldog his entire life. And Katie pretty much wrapped him around her paw the first moment he saw her. She stepped on her food bowl and flipped it up and over onto her head, then proceeded to wear it like some kind of hat. That was that. He was in love. He didn’t bring her home that day, but over the next day or so talked himself into it by saying that he’d stop by after work and if she was still there, then he’d bring her home. She was still there, so he snatched her up. I can still picture her running around out in the yard when he got home. We had three other dogs at the time, Malcolm, Beulah, and Wiggles. Katie went after all of them with brazen bravado. Poor Beulah was just too shocked to know how to react. Anyway, it took us a couple of days to settle on a name for her, but we eventually chose Katie-Bar-the-Door, because she was like a little ball of wild energy and true to her breed name, pretty much bulled her way into and through everything.

It didn’t take us long to learn that Katie was flat out the smartest dog either Mark or I had ever known. And he owned a Border Collie when he was a kid. Katie picked up on words we spoke and learned them without us actually trying to teach them to her. I have joked for years that if Katie had opposable thumbs, she’s be ruling the world by now. Anyway, despite the fact that Briscoe is four years younger than she is, Katie still somehow manages to be the baby.

Katie used to worry us because she grazed grass like a cow. I mean she’ll go outside and literally graze from one patch to another, eating all the way. We’d always heard that dogs ate grass when they were sick, so we worried until I finally bought a book or looked it up on the internet or something and found that some dogs are just that way. It’s the ones who don’t regularly eat grass and then suddenly start doing it that you have to worry about. Which brings up Briscoe. Katie is something of an atypical Bulldog. We read books about them when she was a baby, that warned of issues with drool and flatulence and snoring and breathing issues, so we kept waiting for all that to develop, but it never did. So we decided to get her a little brother and along came Briscoe. He, unlike Katie, is the quintessential Bulldog. He drools consistently. And he snores loud enough to wake the dead, sometimes. And the gas! Oh, Lord, the gas can be bad enough to bring tears to your eyes! Plus, he has other issues that are typical of Bullies, including some trouble with breathing and eating due to the cramped nature of his snout and throat. He has this lovely thing he does where he goes and drinks half a gallon of water, then walks into the living room and regurgitates it all right back up. He does it with food, too. (The things we’ll put up with for the sake of love.) He’s done it most of his life, which is why it doesn’t freak us out any longer. It’s just part of who he is. Katie, on the other hand, never gets sick.

This is why Mark and I got very worried about her on Sunday night, Jan. 8th. She started vomiting and kept on vomiting until there just wasn’t anything left to come up. Eventually, we decided to take her to the same ER Vet who’d saved her life a few years back when she developed Pyometra, which is an infection of the uterus requiring immediate surgery. So we rushed her all the way up to Wilder, KY. Keep in mind that Mark was due to fly out to New Jersey first thing Monday morning. It was about 12:30AM when we decided to take her. We got her there and they took a look at her and confirmed that something was definitely up. We were afraid that she might have swallowed a piece of a toy. Katie is a serious power chewer. She absolutely must kill anything that squeaks. Which is why we buy her the hardest, toughest squeaky things we can find. No fluffy little fake rabbits for her. She’d have them gutted and de-stuffed within a matter of seconds. She got a new toy for Christmas that we hoped might last more than a couple of days. She killed it faster than we expected, though, and sat about ripping it to pieces out of spite because it had dared to SQUEAK at her!

Katie has never, ever been one to actually eat her toys. Or shoes or wires or any of the other things puppies often find so appealing. Briscoe, however, did take the opportunity to use the gear shift in my car as a chew toy when he was still a little thing. It still has the teeth marks. Anyway, despite the fact that Katie has never made it a habit to actually eat the things she chews on, we started worrying that she might have swallowed a piece of this toy. That’s what we told the vet on duty that night and pretty much what she expected had happened. She took Katie off to take an x-ray, then came back a few minutes later and I knew from the look on her face that it was something bad.

The good news was that Katie had not eaten any pieces of her toy. The bad news was she had some kind of enormous mass in her abdomen that was so large it was shoving all her organs out of place. The vet that night wasn’t sure if it was one of her kidneys or something else. It was just too big to be sure. So we left Katie there and got home just in time to take a short 45 minute nap before we had to be back up and on the way to the airport. Later that morning I got a call from the day vet saying that they wanted to do surgery. We’d already figured that was going to have to happen. The surgeon called a little while later and said he’d go in and try to get all of whatever it was out. He did the surgery that afternoon.

Bulldogs are always risky to operate on. Their short noses make breathing normally a bit of an issue. Add in sedation and it can become a dangerous situation very quickly. But there was no choice. So I waited on pins and needles all afternoon until they finally called and said the surgery was over and she was fine.

I won’t go into all the gory details about what he found when he opened her up. Suffice it to say that this thing was nearly the size of a soccer ball. It was full of fluid and pretty much deflated when he cut into it. He took what he could out, but there was a lot he could not remove because it was very extensive. He sent biopsies off to be tested and I went and picked her up on Tuesday afternoon.

She was very sore and any movement at all was hard for her. Plus, we found out pretty quick that she had some trouble keeping food and even water down. (It was a bit like having two Briscoe’s in the house.) Mark came home on Thursday afternoon and had a meeting he had to go to. It wound up being after seven by the time we got home. There was a message from the vet waiting saying he had the biopsy results. I didn’t call him back that night. Mark had another meeting on Friday and had to go before I even had the chance to call the vet. When I did, he told me that it was cancer.

What’s the likelihood? I get done with cancer and now my dog has it? So, I wound up taking her back up there Friday afternoon so the surgeon could check her over and he started telling me about what she had and how they’d treat it. Chemo, of course. What else do you do for cancer? He mentions the names of a couple of the chemos they use and low and behold, one of them is Adriamycin. I had to stop him there. I explained that I’d just finished cancer treatment and one of the chemo’s I received was Adriamycin. I was plenty familiar with it.

We came back home with Katie. Just like me, her surgical wound had to heal before they could start the chemo. But the problems holding down food never did quite go away. Then, this afternoon she suddenly stopped being able to hold down anything at all, again. It was like deja vu from the night we took her up to the ER. I called the vet and he said to bring her in. They took her away from me again, to give her fluids and medicine to try to stop the vomiting and nausea. It looks like she might get her first chemo tomorrow. It will depend on how she does tonight.

The surgeon believes that the cancer in her abdomen is so extensive that it is essentially causing a blockage, which is why she keeps having problems keeping down food. His hope is that the chemo will shrink the size of all those tissues, thereby making it easier for her to eat comfortably. I called to check on her earlier this evening and at that time she still hadn’t eaten anything, but then they’d just put food in her pen right before I called. All her vitals were fine, which at least means she isn’t getting markedly worse. I’ll call in the morning to check on her and to see if they’re going to go ahead with the chemo.

So, here I am, trying not to worry about her and praying that she’ll improve and not take a turn for the worse. I cannot tell you how much I love that dog. She is so very sweet and gave me more comfort and laughter during my own cancer journey than I could ever express. I am trying very hard not to worry about what I cannot change. It isn’t easy, though. I miss my baby girl and I am very afraid that this may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to missing her. Because if she doesn’t respond the meds, then there’s only going to be one other option. The very thought of it makes me nauseous.

I’ve been fighting tears all afternoon. I don’t want to lose my baby girl. Not now. Not yet. Please, Lord, let her hang on. Let the medicine work. Give me strength, Lord, to face whatever is coming.

Posted in Animals, Cancer | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Squeaker…

[This post will have to wait a few days to be published, because we have a rule about making it public (as in broadcasting it to the world on the web) when Mark is out of town. This week he’s in Costa Rica for business. The events described took place on the night of December 7th and the following day, Thursday, December 8th.]
I am SUCH a sap. 

We have mice. Now, I am not the kind of woman who sees a mouse and runs screaming for help. (I reserve that for spiders, as they are clearly the deadliest creatures on earth and perfectly capable of ripping my arm off and beating me to death with it.) I do not fear or even hate mice, per se, but neither do I appreciate them chewing on and/or pooping all over my stuff. We have made several attempts to deal with them. Poison seems to have no effect. (Judging by the fact that I put it out, they scarf it down, and yet still keep right on living.) We tried one of those live “catch and release” traps but our mice are apparently too smart to fall for it. Neither Mark nor I could quite bring ourselves to set out the old-fashioned snap traps. 1) I don’t want to have to empty them; 2) we have cats who would undoubtedly get their noses or feet snapped off while trying to steal the mouse bait. Which brings up the whole thing with the cats.

We have 3 cats. Generally speaking, they are fairly sucky at mouse catching. That, or they are just too lazy to bother. (Mark’s theory.) At least one of them is capable of catching mice. There have been a few times the we got up in the morning to find a partially eaten and/or mutilated mouse corpse waiting for us on the kitchen floor. (Gross, I know, but at least she doesn’t feel the need to bring her “present” into the bedroom and leave it on the bed for us.) There has been much debate about which cat is the capable, if lazy, mouser. Of the 3, there are 2 candidates: Lily and Marble.

Lily
Marble

The 3rd cat is not an option. Phoebe is too old to care about chasing much of anything. She spends most of her time sleeping. Plus, she has this frustrating little problem with being unable to retract her claws. We call her the Velcro kitty because she tends to stick to things. Just walking across the carpet can be funny to watch. If she took a swipe at a mouse, the thing would still be stuck her foot hours later. So, either Marble or Lily is our off/on mouser.

Mark is not a big fan of cats. He prefers dogs. You wouldn’t know he has a preference, though, considering how willing he is to buy them toys. Lily generally deems herself above playing with “fake” mice and plastic balls with bells in them. Marble, on the other hand, goes bonkers for all of them. She will carry the fake mice around the house in her mouth, sometimes meowing at them. She chases the jingle balls until she loses them beneath furniture. Watching her play is not only cute, but entertaining as well. Which might explain why, when we were browsing the pet aisle at our local Wal-Mart a few weeks back, Mark took me seriously when I picked up a specific cat toy and joked that we ought to buy it.

Normally, when I get toys for the cats, I stick to the cheapest stuff I can find. I get the multi-packs of ridiculously colored fake mice or plastic jingle balls. This toy was different, though. It was a good-sized fake, stuffed mouse. What makes this mouse so special, besides its cute little ears, is that it makes a realistic squeaking noise. Every time the mouse moves, even just a tiny bit, it squeaks. I joked about how much the cats would love it and Mark was like, “Get it.” So we did.

We brought it home and tossed it in the floor and Marble went nuts for it. Lily even plays with it sometimes. The cats find and lose and find and lose it over and over again. We’ll see them batting it all over the place and laugh about someone finding “The Squeaker.” Then it will disappear for a couple of days. The squeaking is fairly loud, so we can hear it whenever they have it, even if the TV is on. Mark says he’s been woken up a few times during the night by the non-stop squeaking while Marble swatted it around. I’ve never heard it then, but I’m good at tuning those kinds of things out.

So I tell you all this so that I can tell you THIS. I was sitting here last night messing with my computer. Not sure what I was actually doing. Reading or something. Anyway, the TV was on but I wasn’t really watching it. Then I heard the squeaker start up and I thought, “Oh, they’ve found it.” I haven’t seen or heard it in a few days. There’s no telling where it was. I heard the squeak, then the sound of cat feet running around in the kitchen, then more squeaking. This went on for a few minutes before I sat aside the computer and glanced over into the kitchen. That’s when I realized that the “squeaker” Lily and Marble were playing with was NOT the one we’d bought in the store.

There, in the middle of the floor, was a little mouse. A live one. Lily was doing that thing cats do where they let it go and wait for it to try to run before they smack it again. Now, as I have said, I do not appreciate the mice making themselves at home in my cabinets. I am always proud of my cats when I find that they’ve rid the house of one more of the little pests. However, I am way too much of a sap to actually sit and watch them kill one. So, idiot that I am, I got up and grabbed a cup and a paper plate and joined Lily and Marble in chasing the thing around the kitchen. It was pretty much worn out after what it had already been through. Plus, Lily and Marble actually helped herd it. I put the cup on the floor and used the paper plate to prod the mouse into the cup, then stood there trying to figure out what to do next.

If it were summer, I would have just put it outside. No doubt the mouse would have just found its way back into the house, but my primary goal was to not have to watch it die. But it was freezing cold out and since the thing is used to living in the house, I was standing there thinking that tossing it outside would be no better than letting the cats kill it. So I parked myself on the couch with my cup o’mouse beside me and sent Mark an email.

This is the actual email exchange between us.

Me: I heard squeaking & figured the cats were playing with the mouse.

I was right. It just wasn’t the one I thought.

I couldn’t stand to watch (or listen to) them kill it, so now I have it in a cup & have no idea what to do with it. I’m such a sap!

Mark: Unfortunately if they broke the skin it is dead already. I can get a habitrail for Christmas if otherwise

Me: I think it’s actually all right, unless there’s some kind of internal damage. It was clearly terrified, but running all over the place trying to escape Lily and Marble. I’m not actually going to try to handle it, of course, but from what I can see, it looks fine physically. It was panting like mad, but has settled down now that it’s not getting cat paws to the head. It’d toss it outside, but I figure it’ll just freeze to death.

Mark: Keep it. There is a small aquarium in the barn you can get tomorrow rip up the old clothes for bedding water cheese what more does a mouse need until we buy some bedding chips and a habitrail . I not sure what to put it  in until tomorrow. Probably needs water and warm dark place.

Me: Great. A pet mouse. What the heck are we going to call him? Her? God in heaven, I’m screwed up!

 Love and miss you. Guess I’ll go hunt up something to keep the little twerp in.
Mark: Twerp is a unisex name.
Me: I have to be in Madison tomorrow so assuming the mouse survives the night, I’ll stop in at China-mart (our nickname lately for Wal-Mart) and see if they have a small habitrail. At the very least, I’ll pick him up some hamster food, as apparently cheese is not actually what they should be fed. Seems that they are lactose intolerant. Who knew? I gave him some dog and cat food, plus some sunflower seeds. Water too, of course. We’ll see how it goes.
My appt. tomorrow isn’t until 9:45, so you should have no trouble getting hold of me in the morning.
I love you. Twerp loves you, too, since you didn’t suggest I let the cats eat him/her. :) happy

And so, Twerp got moved into a fairly large plastic tub that once held kitty litter. This seemed somehow appropriate to me. I stuck him/her in the hall bathroom, so that I could shut the door and prevent the cats from finishing what they’d started. This morning I got up to check on Twerp and sure enough, he/she was fine. (I’m leaning toward she, because as I told Mark earlier, with my luck she’s already pregnant and will soon give birth to a dozen more little Twerps.)

The big white thing in front is a toilet paper tube that I put in there thinking Twerp would like the idea of hiding in it. When I first checked on her this morning, she was inside it. I could just see her little butt sticking out. When I went back to check on her right before I left, she’d come out and was just sitting there.

So I went to my doctor’s appointment, then went by Wal-Mart and picked up some stuff, including a little cage, complete with wheel, house, and water bottle. I got a couple of different kinds of feed, one for rats and mice that looks like little cardboard bricks and a hamster/gerbil mix that has seeds and stuff in it. Plus Twerp has a little salt wheel to lick and some apple sticks to chew on. Mice are like rabbits that way. They need to chew. Anyway, I got home and put the cage together, then added some bedding/litter made from ground up corn cobs. (I figure Twerp will like to eat that, too.) And finally I was ready to add Twerp. This was a bit more complicated than I expected, mostly because the door on the cage isn’t all that large. Plus, Twerp proved to be completely uninterested in getting back into another cup. Eventually, I did convince her to go into her little toilet paper tube and so I picked it up and carefully put her into her new home. She does not like it.

She spent a couple of minutes running around, trying to figure out how to escape through the bars. Then she just parked herself in a corner and glared at me.

Of course, she has no idea that I not only saved her life last night, but am bending over backwards to keep her alive. See, when I got home from the store this morning. I found a gruesome little present waiting for me in the kitchen floor. This mouse – possibly Twerp’s sister or brother or even a parent – was not as fortunate as Twerp. I was not here to rescue it. And so all that was left was a head and a bloody smear on the linoleum. (Double gross!)

Apparently, Lily did not appreciate me taking her super realistic “squeaker” away from her last night, so she went and caught herself another one. I do feel kinda sorry for it, but honestly, I’m just glad that she waited until I was gone to do it so that I wouldn’t wind up with a pair of mice instead of just the one!

Ah, well, such is life. I don’t know what’s worse, me for being too much of a sissy to condemn the thing to death (either by cat or by freezing) or Mark for immediately suggesting we keep it like a pet. I have told him many times that when I was a kid I always wanted a hamster or gerbil. I had friends who had one and I thought it was just so cute. Mamma wasn’t going for it, though. Dogs and cats were as far into the pet pool as we were going. Well, there were some chickens and a horse. And a duck named Seymour who was actually a female. But no rodents of any kind. Mark had a hamster when he was a kid and it escaped. His mom never quite forgave him for that.

Anyway, we now have a pet mouse. More accurately, we have a captive mouse, since Twerp does not actually seem interested in being a pet. I guess she’ll live out her live in comfort and luxury though.

Anybody know how long mice live?

UPDATE: Well, I got up this morning (Friday, Dec. 9) and went to check on Twerp. Apparently, I did not secure the door properly and there was no Twerp in the cage. I looked all over the place, just to make sure, but she/he was gone. I was both saddened and relieved by this.

Then, tonight, right about the time I was due to start getting ready to go pick Mark up at the airport, I heard something fall over on the counter. A second later I heard a cat hit the floor. Sure enough, here came Lily trotting around the bar with a mouse in her mouth. I sighed, then got up and grabbed a cup. By the time I’d done that, Lily had dropped the mouse and it was making a run for it. She and Marble gave chase with me right behind them. This went on for a few minutes, Lily or Marble grabbing the mouse or swatting the mouse, me trying to keep them from killing it, it running behind anything and everything trying to get away from all of us. Eventually, the mouse faked the cats out and ran behind a box. I moved the box and it shot across the kitchen and behind the door that leads to the laundry room. The cats went after it and I followed. None of us was sure if it was still behind the door or if it had gone around the corner into the half bath. I was going in there to check when it took off back toward the kitchen then hung a right and darted across the living room floor. Lily caught sight of it and gave chase all the way to the end table. I sank onto the floor to look under the end table to see if Lily had caught it or if it was hiding somewhere. Right about that time, Katie (the dog) decided that she needed to join the fun. She came over to investigate all the action going on around the end table. The mouse picked that moment to dart out from behind the curtain where it had hidden. It spotted Lily and veered off, disappearing under the couch. Lily came out from under the end table, trying to follow the mouse. Katie took that opportunity to give Lily some of what she’d been dishing out to the mouse. She smacked Lily with her foot and tried to hold her down. Lily was too slick for her, though, and slid out between her back legs.

So, the mouse was safe beneath the couch. I have no idea if it was Twerp or not. If it was, then she clearly didn’t learn her lesson about tangling with the cats. Mark came in and took a look at the cage and all the stuff in it and was like, “What mouse would leave this?” I must say I agree. It’s a pretty snazzy setup. We’re now thinking about getting a gerbil for it.

Posted in Humor | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Old Prejudices…

I am positive that I have talked about racism here before. Being Southern by birth and heritage, it’s an inescapable part of me. I openly admit that I had racist parents. But I also will add that they were what I think of as “generational” racists, meaning that they believed and repeated what they’d heard from their own parents. It had nothing to do with their personal experiences with people of color. They just grew up hearing a bunch of garbage and regurgitated it right back out.

This brings to mind a snippet from a live recording of a Carmen concert that I have on tape. On it he quotes Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Then he says, “Basically, garbage in, garbage out.” I have never forgotten that. And as it relates to the vast majority of the racism I grew up being exposed to, I know most were just dumping out the same old garbage they’d been ingesting all their lives.

I grew up being exposed to it all, too. I won’t even repeat the countless things I remember hearing my parents say. And I know I repeated at least some of it before I was old enough to recognize it for the garbage it was. I also know that my mother at least learned that much of what she’d been taught to believe was wrong. Mostly this came when she was finally in a situation where she worked with a black woman on a daily basis. That experience changed much of how she thought and felt. Still, I can only imagine the bedlam that would have ensued if I had met and fallen in love with someone of color, then tried to bring him home.

Which brings us to the situation that has got me thinking about all this. You may or may not have already heard about it.  But it comes from a Freewill Baptist church in Eastern Kentucky. Here’s the link: US Church Bans Mixed-Race Couples.

Man, my heart sank when I first read that headline a day or so ago. Mostly because I knew that it would ignite a firestorm of backlash from untold numbers calling the church in question racists and worse. I know that it is likely less about straightforward racism though, than about a handful of people clinging to old prejudices and Bible verses taken out of context.

God laid out an extensive list of rules for the Israelites. One of them was that they were not to intermarry with other nations. The Old Testament mentions this more than once. Clearly God meant what He was saying. And He was kind enough to give us the reasons why He did not want His people marrying those of other nationalities. That reason is not only a sensible one, but a practical one. In short, He didn’t want His people marrying people from other nations because those people would have their own gods and beliefs and this likely would cause the Jews to stray from their devotion to God. Makes a lot of sense. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to remain strong in your faith when the person you are closest to not only didn’t share it, but urged you to dump your faith and follow theirs. And even if your spouse wasn’t pushing you to share their beliefs, it would inhibit complete unity between you if your core beliefs differed. So God forbade His people from mixed-nationality marriage. (Notice I said nationality, not race.)

As a quick aside, He also forbade them from wearing blended fabrics. He commanded that they should wear tassels on the corners of their garments. He commanded that men should not cut the hair on their temples. He commanded that His people observe a series of festivals and feasts throughout the year. He commanded that on the seventh day no work of any kind was to be done. He declared that certain animals could not be eaten because they were “unclean.” The list – if you want to call it that – goes on and on and on.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that God laid down these laws. And I believe that He not only expected but demanded that they be obeyed. There are multiple examples in the Bible of people who flaunted these laws and rules and paid some steep consequences. Many of the great men of God were led astray by wives (or concubines – another thing God did not condone) and wound up turning their backs on God and worshiping other deities. Most of them came back to God eventually, but that straying caused them a lot of grief. So, there is absolutely Biblical evidence that God did indeed prohibit certain marriages.

HOWEVER – and this is the thing that so many seem to either miss or intentionally turn a blind eye to – these edicts about marriage are all in the Old Testament. They are all a part of the Law that was given to the Jews. Which is where the problem with prohibiting interracial marriage TODAY arises.

First, we are not under the Law. Jesus made that abundantly clear. He came to fulfill the Law. And even if one wants to make some kind of argument against that (though I can’t imagine how) there is the also ignored point that the Law was given to the Jews, not the rest of the world. I am not a Jew. I am not a descendant of Abraham. Nor, I assume, are any of the members of this Baptist church. Since we are what the Bible refers to as “Gentiles” we have never been under the Law. Not buying that either? Then please, for the love of everything Holy, explain to me why it is that this particular tenet of the Law is the only one that seems to be singled out for adherence? What about that tassel thing? Or not eating pork? Or not wearing clothes made of mixed fabrics? And why is it that I’ve never heard a Protestant Christian teach or preach that we ought to be observing the Feast of Tabernacles or Passover? What about stoning our kids when they lie to us? Or how about stoning a woman who is raped in a town but didn’t scream for help? And if sin is sin (which the Bible tells us it is) then how is any man who cuts the hair at his temples different than someone who marries a person with a different skin color?

You see the problem, I hope. We cannot pick and choose bits and pieces of the Law and claim that they are still in effect without in turn declaring the entire Law to still be our governor. This is exactly what we are taught NOT to do! The Law is not our master any longer. The New Testament tells us repeatedly that we have been freed from the Law. It’s rules are no longer binding. Circumcision is no longer required. Sacrifices are no longer necessary. And God made it abundantly clear that the strict separation laws are no longer valid as well.

This is what I have always had trouble understanding. How is it that so many Christians flat out overlook what God tells us in Acts 10? God didn’t just tell Peter to go preach to a Gentile. I mean, most Christians will swear with their last breath that God wants everyone to be saved, regardless of the color of their skin. Anyone who would dare to say otherwise is not what I’d call a Christian. Anyway, people have no problem with the idea of people of other colors being saved. (They’d have to flat out ignore that whole Ethiopian getting saved and baptized in Acts 8.) Yet some of these same Christians draw some kind of line at the idea of – lets just say it – a black man marrying a white woman or a white man marrying a black woman. I’ve often wondered if they would make the same distinction with say a person of Hispanic descent, or Asian, or Native American ancestry, or is it just black/white? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they would.

So, God tells Peter to go preach to Cornelius, a non-Jew. No problem. But wait, that isn’t just what God said in this passage. Remember all those rules from the Old Testament? One of them is “No pork, because it’s unclean.” Yet, while Peter is praying, his stomach presumably growling because the Bible tells us he was hungry, God gives him a vision. He shows Peter an assortment of animals, some of which were obviously on the “Do Not Eat” list and says, “Get up and kill yourself some food here and eat it.” (Obviously I’m paraphrasing, here. If you want the word for word version, read Acts chapter 10.) Peter is not only stunned, but seems to be a bit insulted. He puffs out his chest and says, “No way! I’ve never eaten anything unclean!” Does God give him a big old pat on the back? Nope, He says, “Don’t call anything unclean that I have cleansed.” And God didn’t just say this once, He repeated it two more times. I reckon He wanted to make sure Peter got the message.

While Peter is sitting there, trying to figure out exactly what God was trying to tell him, here comes a bunch of Gentiles wanting him to come with them. And suddenly, things start to click in his head. He goes off with them and meets Cornelius where he says, “I know it’s supposed to be unlawful for me to keep company with a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should call no man common or unclean.” The actual verse just for emphasis:

And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
Acts 10:28 (KJV)

Peter goes on to point out that he now realizes that God is no respecter of persons, meaning that God has done away with that whole “I’m extra special because I was born a Jew and everyone else is lower than the dirt beneath my feet.” (I am not saying that the Jews are no longer “God’s chosen people.” God made a covenant with them that is everlasting. They hold a unique and special place in God’s heart and in His plan. But they are NOT the only ones who can or will be saved. Not anymore.)

But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
Acts 10:35 (KJV)

Tell me that this does not expressly say that anyone, in any nation, of any nationality, who fears God and accepts Him is deemed acceptable in His sight. Jesus didn’t die just for the Jews. He didn’t die only for a select group of people with a single color of skin. The fact is, we are all the same race. We are human. The color of our skin is a quirk of nature and genetics. God is no respecter of persons. He isn’t a blue eyed, white man with flowing white hair and beard. Jesus absolutely did not have blonde hair and blue eyes. Which brings us full circle back to old prejudices.

God made it abundantly clear with the story of Cornelius and Peter that the old laws about who the Jews could and could not associate with were null and void thanks to the sacrifice made by His Son, Jesus. Peter points out that it was previously unlawful for a Jew to even spend time with someone from another nation. Never mind marrying one of them. Remember how surprised the Samaritan woman at the well was when Jesus not only spoke to her, but asked her to give him water? She had good reason to be surprised considering Jewish tradition and Law. Yet Jesus Himself refused to be swayed by such prejudices.

He staunchly ignored the Jewish notion of superiority and routinely spent His time with the very people the Jews abhorred. I don’t imagine it was easy for Peter and the others to let go of the things they’d spent their lives being taught and possibly even believing themselves. The Bible doesn’t give us any extra info about Peter’s meeting with Cornelius, like whether or not Peter felt uncomfortable but pushed it aside so that he could honor God by obeying His will. I can’t help but wonder if Peter had to remind himself a few times that things were different than they used to be. Oh, wait, I’m pretty sure the Bible told us that he did struggle with such issues. In Galatians 2 Paul has to call Peter to task because Peter is living a dual life, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. Basically, Peter seems to understand and accept that God has done away with the separation between the Jews and Gentiles, but when other Jews show up, he falls back into the old prejudices and starts observing the old traditions. So clearly it took some time for old habits and patterns of thinking to be done away with. If Peter had to work at letting go of the prejudices that had been instilled in him all his life, then I don’t expect it to be any easier for us.

I don’t know how old I was when I first started to realize that the things I’d heard my whole life were based in ignorance and prejudice. I can’t remember when I first turned that corner in my understanding. I only know that these days, I’m regularly appalled by the racism I see in people who proclaim themselves to be Christians. (Let’s not even get into political and social racism, which is not just a problem with whites.) Got told us that all scripture is given by God and is of benefit to us.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
2 Tim 3:16 (KJV)

All means ALL, including the Old Testament. We aren’t under the Law any longer, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no value in it and no lessons to be learned from it. My take from the whole ban on marriage with other nationalities is that there is plenty of reason to be careful when entering into a relationship with someone of a different nationality or “race.” Along with different nationalities come different cultures. I’ve known white people from South Africa who believe and practice things I find exotic and strange. They’re white and so fair game as far as marriage goes according to the Kentucky church and those who share their beliefs. But I say that “legal” marriage could be far more troublesome than one between people of different skin colors because if both of them aren’t Christians, then all those same problems that God mentioned back in the Old Testament come into play. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, it matters who your God is. This is such a simple, undeniable truth, that I find myself repeatedly stunned by how unwilling some are to accept it.

To be sure, interracial marriage isn’t something to be entered into lightly. Obviously, it is still going to cause some issues because there are clearly some out there who find it offensive. But I can see no believable, sustainable argument against it in the Bible. What I do see is Christians, often very decent people, who just can’t quite seem to rid themselves of the deeply imbedded threads of racism that they very often aren’t even willing to admit they possess. But then that’s the flaw we all suffer from, isn’t it? We are all incredibly skilled at ignoring and/or excusing our own flaws and failings. And that’s why I’m writing this. Because I wonder how many of us are willing to take a long, hard, critical look at why we believe what we believe? How many of us are willing or even able to look at our own motives and beliefs objectively? It isn’t an easy thing to do, especially when our beliefs and prejudices are challenged openly. So how about taking a little time wherever you are to look inward at what you believe? Is it really something you can back up with Scripture, or are you merely clinging to things you’ve heard or been told that conveniently line up with your personal feelings? It would do us all good to ask ourselves these kinds of questions. And it would do the whole world good if we would not just ask the questions, but act on the answers.

Posted in America, Racism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The End of This Trail…

It is so hard to believe that I’m pretty much at the the end of my cancer journey. I got my final treatment last Thursday. I have other appointments. I will get a heart scan and then see my oncologist in early December. I’ll make regular trips to the treatment center to get my port flushed until they finally decide to remove it. I guess that will be the true end of it all.

I’ll keep the port for a while, just in case a new problem arises. Lord willing, that won’t be an issue. But better safe than sorry. I’ll have a second mammogram on the breast that had the tumor some time early next year. I’ll see my doctors regularly for the next year or so, then, assuming nothing new pops up, I’ll be done with the cancer.

Of course, I’ll never be truly rid of it. I’ll spend the rest of my life feeling a bit like Damocles, always aware that there is a sword dangling overhead that could potentially drop at any moment. The difference, of course, is that unlike Damocles, I cannot simply choose to return to my carefree life. No cancer survivor can. Gosh, that sounds morbid, but I don’t mean for it to. I’m simply pointing out that a cancer diagnosis is always life altering. Once that diagnosis is made, things change forever. Or they do for most of us. Because even if the cancer itself never returns, there are other consequences of having beaten the disease. Like the damage that can be done by the treatments that might not show up until years later. It becomes something of a waiting game, always wondering if that sword is going to come crashing down one day when you least expect it.

The point, I suppose, is that we have to keep going forward in spite of the danger we might face down the road. I can’t just sit here and wait for the cancer to return or for my heart to fail or for any other frightening, unexpected, life-altering event. I have to live. I have to accept that things are different and always will be. I have to reject the part of me that is afraid of what might happen. It would be easy to live in fear. But I refuse to do it. Oh, I worry more now about little things. I mean, anything that “feels” wrong is enough to make me debate whether I need to talk to the doctor about it. Usually, I do. Because it would just be stupid not to. But I do not and will not let those concerns rule me.

God has given me freedom from the urge to worry or be afraid. To reject that freedom would be to reject Him. I won’t be foolish, ignoring possible problems, but neither will I let fears of what might (or might not) happen at some point in the future ruin today. I had cancer. It will take years – a decade – of not seeing it return before doctors will give me the title of “Cancer Free.” That’s a long way off. And those words don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things anyway. Because cancer doesn’t operate on anyone’s timetable. No matter how many times doctors and insurance companies tell us that we’re not at the age where we need to worry about it, there will still be women like me who get a diagnosis in their thirties – or even younger. There will be women like my mother-in-law who get diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor that is generally considered a “man’s cancer.”  There will be people who beat it and go for decades before it suddenly rears it’s ugly head once more. There will be children who barely begin to live before this damned disease takes their lives. And if it isn’t cancer, then it will be something else. Life just can’t be planned out like a business conference.

It is up to each of us to decide how we will live. Are we going to go through life with a massive chip on our shoulders, just daring God to knock it off? Or will we trust that He is always in control? That everything we experience, even the tragic, painful, or terrible things, are part of a grander plan that we cannot begin to see or understand? That’s the belief I choose. I cannot fathom how anyone could do otherwise. Life is not easy. As the cliche says, no one ever promised it would be a bed of roses. And even if they had, roses have thorns. It is our responsibility to grow and learn from every experience. Our responsibility to understand that the world does not revolve around us. We don’t have to understand everything. We don’t have to have the answers to every single question. We just have to keep moving forward, keep growing and learning and trusting. And if we can do that, I think most of us will find that life comes with much more laughter and love than tears and pain. Because peace doesn’t come from a lack of tribulation and storms, it comes from knowing that there is always a safe place in the heart of those storms. As one of my favorite expressions says, “God doesn’t always quiet the storm, sometimes He quiets His child.” Jesus said, “peace, be still” to the wind and waves, but He said it to us, too. Sometimes we just have to obey and let the waves and wind rage on around us.

Posted in About me, Cancer | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My, How Time Flies…

It’s almost over. There is one treatment left to go. There will still be a few more months of cancer related tests and appointments, of course. And the port will have to be flushed every six weeks until they decide to remove it. But after the first week in November, my cancer treatment will officially be over.

Looking back, it hardly seems possible that it has been more than a year since that moment when my doctor got that worried look on her face while doing my breast exam. It also seems hard to believe that that moment was truly the worst one of the whole journey. That instant when the whole world seemed to stop and my stomach dipped uneasily as I realized she’d found something she didn’t like. That single split second when my mind leapt forward to the idea of cancer.

I know we’re all different. From our individual personalities to our faith – or lack thereof – to our specific cancers and the treatments they require. Compared to so many others, I think I got off easy. I did not need a mastectomy. The cancer, while aggressive, was confined to that single tumor, making a lumpectomy the best option. My chemo was potent, but relatively short in duration. (Only 4 treatments of the worst stuff compared to others who’ve needed far more.) Eight total chemo treatments and six or so weeks of radiation just seemed to fly by.

When I look back, it’s actually kind of hard to remember just how difficult it was. The pain could be intense at times. And the radiation left me feeling like a severely overcooked slab of meat, complete with blisters and peeling skin. There is still soreness. My breast varies from being mildly sore like an overworked muscle to being so sensitive that washing it in the shower is uncomfortable. It feels different than the other one. And while the Herceptin that I’ve been getting for the past year carries only one real side effect, it’s a serious one. Potential heart failure at any point down the road. So that’s something we’ll have to keep an eye on. But all in all, I still count myself as having been profoundly blessed. Because I know I had it easy.

I think that’s one of biggest keys to getting through the treatment. We have to keep in mind that it could always, ALWAYS,  be so much worse. Worse for me would be if it were someone other than myself. Because one of the things I have realized is that I find it profoundly easier to be the patient than to be the caregiver. Not because I dislike caring for others, but because it absolutely breaks my heart to see those I love in pain. I’m a fixer, I guess. Sadly, cancer isn’t something that can be hugged or loved away.  Plus, I have no fear at all of dying. Losing those I love, however, is something I abhor.

Caring for and loving a cancer patient was infinitely more difficult for me than actually being the patient myself. Seeing what cancer did to my sister and mother-in-law hurt me in ways my own cancer couldn’t begin to. I would gladly take on every illness of those I love just to keep them from having to go through it.

Which brings up another issue. My darling hubby has been diagnosed with type II diabetes. I have suspected it for a while and could kick myself for not forcing him to get tested sooner. It took his eyesight going haywire for him to finally admit something was wrong. Sure enough, his A1C test revealed that, at least for the past few months, his blood glucose levels have been hovering somewhere around 300! No wonder his eyesight went crazy. Funny thing is, it actually got better. A lot better. He’s been on diabetes medication for about a month now and his eyesight is returning to normal, though it is still not back to where it was before.

He’s a good patient, once he’s actually convinced that there’s a problem. He watches what he eats and was testing all the time until he got a handle on how certain foods effect his levels. I don’t know if he’s where he ultimately needs to be with his medication dosage, but he’s come a long way from the high 200s and low 300s he was testing at in the beginning.

Ultimately, I see this as just another thing to be thankful for. Because God saw fit to give him a symptom he couldn’t ignore. Because he’s now being treated and is losing weight to boot. (Now, if I could just do the same. [sigh])  I’m almost finished with my treatment, he’s easing into a new job, and life is incredibly good. I wake up every day thinking about how blessed we are.

So, I suggest that anyone out there who is struggling to find the good in their cancer battle might want to simply be thankful that it is them in the battle instead of their spouse, parents, siblings, or children. That’s what I am most thankful for.

Posted in About me, Cancer, Faith, Treatment | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Squirrel!

We don’t have children. This has not kept us from watching and enjoying several “children’s” movies, however. These days studios that have traditionally always produced movies strictly for children are injecting expressions and moments into their children’s films that are intended to be picked up by more mature audience members. They decided to do this so that the parents who are by necessity watching these movies with their children – hopefully in the theater when they are first released – will not be bored out of their minds. The problem is that sometimes, these “adult moments” are just a bit too overt. At least, I feel that way. There have been a few times that we were watching something obviously targeted to children that had a scene that was just too suggestive for my comfort. If I had children, I would be disturbed to have them watching it. I don’t know what would be worse, having them understand some of the things that are meant to “go over their heads” or having them start asking, “What does that mean, Mommy?”

Anyway, despite the fact that we don’t have kids, we have seen and in fact own quite a few movies that were made for kids. Hubby and I still quote lines from “Finding Nemo.” That movie was so cute. And many of the other movies like it were funny and cute, too. But this post is about a different Disney/Pixar movie. “Up!” came out in 2009 and like so many of the Disney-Pixar movies that have come before it, was a hit. And also like all it’s Pixar predecessors, “Up!” was filled with quotable moments. One quote from this movie stands out far and above all the others, however. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it. Just as a reminder, here is the quote I’m referring to.

As one commenter on another site said, “Who could have guessed that one word could be so epic?” And epic it is. Since the time we saw this movie, shouts of  “squirrel!” have been a common part of our family vocabulary. It’s become a bit of a game to see who can shout it first when we see a squirrel while driving down the road – or anywhere else for that matter. But while the scenes and the basis of the quote are obviously founded in the reality that most dogs lose all thought of whatever they were doing when a squirrel catches their eye. the meaning goes far beyond this simple truth. And so “squirrel!” has come to mean more than the literal appearance of the furry little critters known for hoarding nuts. “Squirrel!” is a ubiquitous term referring to any instance where our train of thought or focus is inexplicably broken or snatched away by some transitory thought or event.

My husband has even taken to using the term “squirrelled” to refer to these moments. IE, “I was going into the bedroom but then I squirrelled and forgot what I was doing.” He has especially used the reference in recent weeks because of an event that could have no other – or better – explanation than “squirrel!”

A few weeks ago, he drove my car to work because his truck had been acting funny the day before. He always calls me when he gets to work, to let me know he got there safely. This day was no different. I answered the phone. He said, “I’m here…… I wrecked your car.” You’d have to know my husband to imagine how casually he said this. He has a devastating sense of sarcasm, which he thankfully reins in with me, but he’s also capable of being incredibly deadpan sometimes so that it’s often difficult to tell when he’s being serious and when he’s being sarcastic or joking. Even after 24 years together, I sometimes still have trouble telling when he’s being serious. So for a moment I thought, “He’s kidding.” I think I probably said as much. Then he launched into his explanation of what had happened. I won’t go into it because it was a rambling and breathless account that made little to no sense at the time. He forgets, sometimes, that I don’t know everything he knows. Meaning he sometimes talks about situations or people or things, especially from his work, like I actually have personal knowledge of them. Which I don’t. Not most of them, anyway. This event was no different. He was talking about a light and didn’t seem to hear me when I asked him, “what light?” Then he mentioned that he looked down at the radio to turn it down and that’s when it happened. He hit the cement base for a lamp post in the parking lot. The lamp post itself was apparently already gone, thanks to a semi truck at some point in the past. He hit this thing with the right front of my car and literally tore the bumper off. He made quite an issue of not understanding how it could have done so much damage considering how slow he was going and where he hit.

The long and short of it is, he was distracted first by this light on the building – which I finally later managed to get him to explain was in fact a light he was supposed to make sure was either turned off or on (still not clear on that part). He was trying to figure out if it was on or not. Then he jumped from that to the radio as he thought to turn it down so that he could call me to let me know he was there. And somewhere amid all that, he collided with the lamp post base. Later, he summed it up very succinctly by saying he “squirrelled.” Since then, the term has become even more prevalent in our conversation. (My car has been fixed now, and looks better than it has in years. A blessing for sure.)

I’ve seen tee shirts that deal with this phenomena of sudden loss of focus by poking fun at how easily we are sometimes distracted by something “shiny.”

And I own a shirt that pokes fun at the loss of focus associated with chemotherapy, called “Chemonesia” by the very creative designer of the shirt. Having experienced this firsthand, I can attest to how difficult it was to keep my train of thought, even while speaking. There were times that I would literally lose what I was saying in the middle of saying it. Thankfully, that seems to have stopped along with the chemo.

The point is, we are prone to being easily distracted, especially by fleeting thoughts and objects that flash like a mirror in the sun so that they immediately snag our attention. (This post is itself a testament to my own issues with difficulty maintaining my focus. I started it two days ago!)

Generally, these little distractions that pop up are harmless. They come and go, catching our focus for a moment or two, then we go right on with whatever we were doing. (Just like the dogs from “Up!”) But sometimes, those distractions rob us of something important. They can interrupt our peace, intrude upon on times of prayer and meditation on the Word, and disrupt our thoughts when we’re on the verge of gaining enlightenment. I’ve had this happen to me. I’ll be reading my Bible, talking to the Lord, or listening to a sermon that’s stomping all over my toes and suddenly, “squirrel!” Something completely random will pop into my head, or some flicker of movement or flash of light will jerk my attention away. Sometimes I can shake it off and get right back to where I was. But sometimes whatever I was on the verge of grasping is simply lost. The question arises, is this a tactic of the devil or a failing within myself?

I’m not a proponent of blaming everything on Satan. He’s out there and he certainly does his best to get in our way whenever he can. But doesn’t the Bible teach us that we are the ones with the power? That we can drive him away with the mere mention of the name of Christ? That if we make the effort to resist him, he will flee from us? Then why is it that we so often try to blame him for the problems in our spiritual lives?

I think that perhaps we are the ones failing to resist his lures. We let our minds wander when we should have them wholly focused on God. We place less importance upon our devotion and worship than upon the fleeting things of this life. We let thoughts about spouses, children, work, and countless other things, both large and small, intrude upon the time we ought to be wholly devoting to God.

Fortunately for us, God is utterly faithful. He tolerates our finite little minds wandering all over the place while He is trying to talk to us. He gently draws our attention back to Him when we’ve let it drift off to something else. He waits patiently for us to chase the squirrels that catch our eyes, and remains right there for us to come back to once we’re finished with the chase. God’s amazing, like that. I only wish I could do a better job of ignoring the squirrels. Because I hate thinking that I might miss out on something magnificent that God is trying to reveal to me simply because I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the laundry that I need to do or the grocery list or something else equally unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps it is like any other skill. Focus needs to be exercised and practiced to be strong. And that’s where I fail so often. I don’t practice like I should. I don’t devote enough time to focus on the things of God. If I did, maybe the squirrels would be easier to ignore.

Right now, I’m trying desperately to ignore the intrusion of a desire to go scrounge up something to eat. [sigh] I’m hungry and that’s just not easy to ignore. Nor is my dog, who is apparently needing to go out. (He doesn’t bark or whine at me. He just won’t sit or lay still for any length of time. And when he really gets desperate, he chomps his teeth at me.) Then there’s the washing machine that dinged a while ago, letting me know I need to toss the sheets into the dryer if I want to sleep in my bed tonight. Oh, and there’s the reminder I have programmed into my iPad that nags me until I finally get up and go change the bag in my litter robot. (Have I posted about this thing? It’s amazing. Only has to be emptied every several days and by empty I mean take out the sack that collects the “waste” and put in a new bag. Takes all of two minutes. Thank You, Lord, for technological advances!) [sigh, again] My stomach is rumbling. Doggone it!

Oh, well. Might as well get up and deal with all the distractions. Then maybe I’ll be able to focus on reading my Bible without – squirrel!

Posted in Faith, Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Baaack… (Not the cancer!)

You know, I’ve gotten a lot of comments since my diagnosis about how wonderful my attitude was. Several folks along the way have commented on how awesome it was that I was not only able to maintain my sense of humor, but to also use it frequently in relation to the many varied issues that come up with cancer treatment. (I make no claims to be a comedian, but I have seen quite a few people crack up at my response to some of the things that have come along.) Apparently, one of my most popular sentiments relating to cancer is a t-shirt I designed on Zazzle that says, “I beat cancer and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!” “One more MRI and I’ll stick to the fridge!” has also been popular. Then, of course, there was the infamous “lint roller” trick to dealing with those last stubborn head hairs that just didn’t want to let go. I can’t take credit for the original idea. It was actually a trick someone on the Cancer Survivors Network mentioned. Still, if using a sticky tape lint roller on one’s head isn’t utterly absurd, then I just don’t know what is.

Anyway, a lot of people seemed to be impressed by my attitude. Frankly, it came solely from my utter trust that God was in control. I mean, what’s the point in getting all worked up over something that we cannot do anything about? It’s cancer. Throwing a temper tantrum won’t do a single thing to help it. Being furious that it came knocking at your door won’t do anything but make you and everyone around you miserable. Cancer (along with countless other illnesses and troublesome issues that come up in our daily lives) is no one’s “fault.” Being mad about it just makes it harder to deal with. Plus, if you believe much of the current data, a good, “positive” attitude actually helps us heal faster. My point? It wasn’t really so much me having a positive attitude as it was me flat out trusting God.

I should interject here that my faith and trust did not just wipe out all my natural concern about the situation and about what the future holds. I mean, I’m human. The moment my Dr. got that frown on her face while doing my breast exam and started focusing on that one spot sent a shock wave through me that I will never forget. We all dread hearing that word. CANCER. It’s one of the major health terrors of the past several generations. But, I can honestly say I never panicked. I can’t ever really remember even “breaking down.” There were a few (and I stress few) tears, just moments when the enormity of the situation kind of overwhelmed me. Ultimately though, I just sat back and let God lead the journey. I was on the path and there was no point trying to find a shortcut, a trail off the the path, or balking like a stubborn donkey and forcing God to drag me forward. It simply was what it was and forward was the only way through it.

Yikes! This is not where I planned to go with this post! Funny how that happens.

I did my best to find the humor in all the absurd situations a cancer patient can find themselves in. It is my nature to seek out humor and to use it to help me cope with difficult situations. I just can’t help myself. Then again, I can’t help but notice that God has seen fit to place me into a LOT of situations throughout my life that, even if they weren’t at all funny at the time, would wind up being some of the most hilarious moments of my life when I look back.

Case in point: And I mention this because it just came up a few days ago in response to something posted on Facebook by one of my favorite comedians, Chonda Pierce. Here’s what she posted:

Thank you for all the prayers for David. He is healing nicely….the Dr said one half inch further and he would have lost his leg. Here’s the call I will never forget, “Hi Hon, I was out in the boat with my chainsaw and had a pretty bad accident.” He is now grounded from using power tools for the rest of his life!!

Yeah, I have absolutely NO idea what her husband was doing on a boat with a chainsaw. I mean, try as I might, I simply cannot come up with a reasonable scenario where this would make any kind of sense. But then, as I replied to her, I also have a husband who has not been gifted with what I consider to be a “normal” measure of common sense.  While my darling husband has never had any serious mishaps with power tools, he does have a rather dubious history with fire. I should point out that he grew up in a home with a wood stove. He ought to be more than capable of grasping not only how one works, but the utter lunacy of, say, throwing kerosene into one that is already lit!

Have I mentioned that my husband is a genius? Literally. He was tested in school. He has an understanding of and appreciation for mathematics and physics that I will never, ever be able to match. And I’m no slouch in the intelligence department, either. Yet, though he is perfectly capable of grasping the finer points of the inner workings of space and time and things like singularities and string theory, he cannot seem to wrap his brain around the fact that one does not need highly flammable fluids like kerosene, gas, or lighter fluid to start a fire.

So, many years ago, (before I’d fully grasped his utter incapability when it came to fire) we were living in a home we rented. We had bought a wood stove from his parents when they decided to switch from wood to oil heat. Our rental home had a large living room and large kitchen that shared a good sized open doorway. There was a location just inside the kitchen area that was meant to hold a wood stove. We did use kerosene heaters to heat the house when it wasn’t too cold, but once winter set in fully, we switched to the wood.

Anyone who’s ever had a wood stove will be aware that they generally have two settings. Hotter than lava and off. We literally had times when that thing would be going that we’d open the front door – in the dead of an Indiana winter – to try to cool the house off a bit. (I’m smiling now as I look back on this. We laugh all the time about the joys of having a wood stove. Despite the sometimes tedious difficulty of regulating the temperature, there is just nothing quite as warm and comfortable as wood heat.)

I did not grow up with a wood stove, per se. We did have a fireplace, however, and somewhere along the way my brilliant mother decided to purchase an insert for it. This was, essentially, a wood stove that was designed to fit into the space of the fireplace. It was sealed up like a wood stove, meaning it had gaskets around the doors and a damper and various air vents to regulate the air flow and thus the rate of burn. It also had a nifty blower system that forced the hot air from the cavity around the insert out into the room. Now we lived in Mississippi, not exactly known for it’s frigid winters, but that wood stove saved my parents a lot of money on the utility bill in the winter. And it was how and where I learned how to build a fire using novel things like newspaper and kindling. (No kerosene or gas.) The wood stove my husband and I had was merely a significantly larger version of that fireplace insert. I started it regularly with no difficulty at all.

Another feature of wood stoves is that, so long as they are sealed up nicely, you can bank them at night when you go to bed and there will still be plenty of coals waiting for you the next morning. Generally, all you have to do is rake those coals a bit to get them a little air, then toss some smaller logs on them so that it starts burning actively again, then you can fill that puppy up with some big hunks of wood to keep it going for hours. This is all contingent upon making sure there’s plenty of wood in the stove the night before, however, and on making sure you almost completely close all the vents so that it doesn’t get too much air and burn too fast. Make that mistake and you wake up to a cold stove that has to be completely re-lit. Apparently, that’s what happened one cold morning.

We had a water bed at the time. We were too cheap to buy one of those fancy dresser drawer stands for it, so had the base that consisted of nothing more than a simple frame to support the bed. This meant the bed was fairly low to the floor. Which was fine. We were both a lot younger then and had no trouble getting in or out of the thing. I shudder to think what that would be like these days! So, Hubby gets up before me. I don’t even remember him getting out of bed. My first memory that morning was coming slowly awake and frowning as an odd smell hit my nose. While I was sniffing, trying to figure out what it was, I heard his voice right beside my head. He was calling my name in a soft voice, gently waking me. I opened my eyes to find him kneeling beside the bed, his face mere inches from mine. His first words when my eyes opened? “Honey, do I still have any eyebrows?”

Yeah, that was right about the time that my sleepy brain kicked into gear and figured out what that smell was. Burnt hair. (You need to realize that my husband is one of those truly hairy men. He had a full beard in something like eighth grade and has only shaved that beard off completely like once in the more than 2 decades that we’ve known each other.) Needless to say, his words brought me fully awake. He did still have eyebrows, though all his facial hair was a bit singed. It seems that he’d gotten up to find the stove too cold to fire up by just tossing wood into it. So, in his profoundly brilliant and logical mind, he came up with the notion of pouring kerosene on the wood before putting it into the stove to light. It lit just fine, then promptly went right back out as soon as all the kerosene burned off the surface of the wood. Apparently, his next logical leap was to determine that it must have been getting too much air, making it burn too fast. If he could just repeat the procedure with the door shut, then it would burn slower and thus actually catch the wood on fire. The problem, of course, was how to actually start the fire with the door closed. Clearly this is a logistical problem. So he put some kerosene into a mason jar he’d taken from the kitchen. He poured some of it over the wood INSIDE the stove, put a bit more kerosene in the jar, then got himself ready. He first tossed a match into the stove, which lit the kerosene. Then he took the jar of kerosene and flung its contents into the stove with the intention of slamming the door closed right behind it.

I wish I could convey my expression via these typewritten words. This all happened somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty years ago and I am still torn between the desire to laugh myself senseless and to smack him with the nearest heavy object. Needless to say, his plan did not work. Though he has a complete understanding of the laws of thermodynamics, he was incapable of applying those in any practical way, it seems. Because the result of his “plan” was a massive fireball that came shooting out the door he was, of course, kneeling right in front of while trying to slam it shut. He said he was quite sure it shot well into the living room. Fortunately the only flammable thing in its path was him. (Excuse me for a moment while I pause to laugh again.)

Okay, I’m back. He was unharmed by this stunt. His hair, while singed, was not truly burned and returned to normal quite quickly. I did, however, have to get up and start the stove, since all his kerosene had burned off again and there was still no actual fire in the stove. This was the first moment I realized that fire and my genius husband did not mix. There have been other incidents through the years. The most serious being the “brush fire” he started on a windy day on the hillside down below our barn, in a place where our water hose would not reach. I wanted to call the fire department right off the bat but he insisted he had it under control. The milk jug he was running back and forth between the fire and the end of the water hose would work just fine. (Head shaking at the memory.) I watched him for a few minutes, then decided when the fire hit the first cedar tree and sent flames forty or so feet into the hair that it was time to dial 911. I was halfway to the house when I heard him yell for me to call the fire department. They came and put it out pretty quickly, before it could reach our house and just about the same time that it jumped the road below us and tried to spread into the valley. (Funny as this story is to look back on, it wasn’t at all funny at the time and would not have been even remotely amusing if it had indeed spread into the valley below our home. People live there. Lives could have been lost and property certainly would have been because there are no such things as fire hydrants out here. They had to use a tanker truck. They would have had nowhere near enough water to douse a fire that big. Thank You, Lord, for sparing us all that disaster!)

My beloved husband, whom I adore with all my heart, put the blame for that fire on me! He and his brother-in-law, who’d taken part in the starting of the blaze, stood there with the firemen after they’d put it out and explained how they’d told me and his sister that it was too windy to start a fire but that we’d insisted. He was being facetious, but my husband’s sarcasm is often difficult for others to grasp. I have always doubted that the firemen realized he was making a joke. Anyway, for a few years after that, we were recognized around town as “the people who’d had the fire on the ridge.” Literally, we would walk into the local grocery store and while checking out, the cashier would say, “Oh, you’re the people who had that fire out on the ridge.” Ah, life in a small town.

Suffice it to say, that was the day we instigated new rules in our family. Hubby is no longer allowed to start any fires unless he’s under my direct supervision. He has been flatly forbidden from ever, under any circumstances, using flammable liquids like gas, kerosene, or lighter fluid to start any fires. There have been a few instances, however, when he has ignored these rules. Or at the very least, skirted them. This series of shots was taken last year on an outing to a state park.

We had the dogs with us, so I did not realize what he was doing because I was taking pictures of them. Then I turned around and the first image is what I saw. The charcoal had already been lit, but wasn’t going fast enough for him. Of course I felt I ought to snap a picture of it, seeing as it might be the last good shot I would get of my husband. I was yelling at him to put the lighter fluid down as I took the shot, though. You can see in the second shot that he wisely backed away from the conflagration, ever mindful of the singed facial hair of his past. And that look on his face in the last shot is his typical reaction to being caught doing something he knows very well that he should not be doing. Even as I was shooting the pictures, I was reminding him of his history with fire. God bless him, he just doesn’t ever learn.

So, maybe a good part of my sense of humor is a result of my husband’s sense of humor. We do laugh at and with each other quite a bit. I mean, it is a common occurrence for us to laugh so hard we get tears in our eyes. Often those laughs are due to something absurd one of us has done or said. Long story short: God blessed us by giving us both senses of humor that the other appreciates for the most part. I do so wish God would just see fit to gift my husband with a bit of wisdom when it comes to fire, though. Barring that, I simply pray that God will continue to protect him from his own idiocy. Lord knows I love that man to death.

Sigh. (Now I’m feeling all sappy and love struck.) There’s a reason or the wild swings in emotion, though.

Getting chemotherapy has a lot of effects on the body. One of the major ones for a woman is that it sends us into medically induced menopause. That means we get all the joys of hot flashes and such for the duration of treatment. Those hot flashes were brutal. I lost track of how many times I literally thought I was going to up and melt. But, hey, it came with some up sides, too. Primarily, no menstrual cycles.

Not to get too graphic, but my menstrual cycles have never been what I’d call normal. They started kinda late and hit with a vengeance that literally had me wishing I would just die. I can remember being in what I can only describe as agony. Laying in the middle of my bed in a fetal position, praying it would just stop. I remember being at school once when I was in so much pain that any touch on my body, even on my arm, hurt. My mother, whom I flat out adored and respected, did not grasp just how bad it was. She was of the “if you aren’t running a fever and/or throwing up, you aren’t sick” mindset and so I went to school in spite of the pain. You’ve got to understand that this was before the days of the internet where we could research something on a whim. And frankly, she was from the country and the notion was that women have been having menstrual cycles since the dawn of time and they got through it just fine. I do remember more than one person making the joke that if I thought menstrual cramps were bad, then I’d never make it through child birth.

All joking aside, I quite literally cannot imagine labor pains being much worse. I don’t blame my mother for not taking it seriously. I don’t remember how seriously I complained about it. I know for a fact that it wasn’t something I’d ever mentioned to a doctor. I just remember that it was a nightmare. An unpredictable nightmare, since it didn’t come on any sort of schedule or remotely reliable cycle. Anyway, I was 18 when I started taking birth control pills. I had no idea at that time that the pills could and would impact my periods. I was beyond pleasantly surprised when I found that they not only became regular, but that the pain not only became easily manageable, but often didn’t manifest at all. It was years later that I learned, either from a doctor or from my own research on the internet that the hormones in birth control pills were designed to regulate the hormones within our bodies that trigger menstrual cycles. Not only that, but the pills were often prescribed specifically to help women with cycles like mine. Who knew?

So I stayed on the pill continuously from the time I was 18 until last year when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 39. It was last fall when my oncologist told me I had to not only stop taking the pill but that I would never be able to take it again. I don’t mind telling you that I hated hearing that. But, the consequences of that fact weren’t of immediate concern. The chemo brought on temporary menopause, which in turn meant no periods. For months now, when doctors asked me when I had my last period, I’ve been telling them October of 2010.

I saw my OB/GYN in June and we talked about when and if my periods would come back. I was very encouraged when she told me that it could easily be months or even years. Possibly maybe never. I was desperately hoping it would be never. Because without the pill, I feared I would be facing the agony I remembered from my teen years. She said that it wouldn’t necessarily be so. But even if it was, there were things besides hormones like the pill that we could do. Still, I really hoped it wouldn’t be an issue.

Then, day before yesterday, I got the gift of my period for the first time in 9 months. In all seriousness, it scares me more than the cancer did. I know that sounds insane, but it’s the truth. I just cannot stress how horrible my periods were before I started taking the pill. And it’s not like I feel comfortable telling everyone who asks how I’m doing that I’m fine, except for the cramps. LOL

I got up and went to church yesterday morning, but then came home after Sunday school because I could feel the pain getting worse in spite of the ibuprofen I’d started taking the day before. It didn’t get too bad. As I told my hubby when he asked me how I was feeling that evening, “I’m not wishing I was dead, yet.” So that’s something to be grateful for. They’re worse, today, though. Still nothing like what I remember, but I can’t help worrying that they’ll get there eventually. If not this month, then the next time, or the time after that. I did research about it yesterday when I got home from church and learned that doctors recommend taking ibuprofen or Aleve or the like before the pain starts and on a regular schedule for a few days whether there’s real pain or not. I’ve been doing that since Saturday afternoon.

It’s crazy to be more afraid of menstrual cramps than cancer. It’s crazy for any child of God to be afraid of anything. But somewhere deep inside me there is a teenage girl who remembers being curled up on her bed, crying and praying for the pain to stop. Lord, help me, I don’t know if I can take it again. So, while I would never realistically wish to go through chemo again, I do miss the benefit I got of not having to worry about a monthly agony.

In the long run, my menstrual cycle is no different than the cancer. It’s beyond my control. I can’t stop it or fix it or wish it away. If the pain gets just as bad or even worse than what I remember, there’s not one thing I can do to change it. I’ll seek a doctor’s help if that turns out to be the case, but it will be up to God alone whether that doctor’s suggestions have any impact. The thing about the cancer is, it didn’t really hurt. Oh, there was pain here and there, days of discomfort, difficulties like hair loss and nausea and that nasty taste in my mouth. There was the exhaustion and the hot flashes, the difficulty concentrating. But somehow, it never truly scared me. Maybe because I saw it all as temporary. It would come and it would go. The treatment would work or it wouldn’t. Either way, I wasn’t in true pain. This, however, is different. I not only hurt, I potentially might hurt A LOT. And I could very well be facing years of hurting badly on a monthly basis.

Funny how some things scare us more than others. (There’s my utterly irrational fear of spiders as a prime example, but we’ll just leave that for another day.) While I am a bit of whiner, and I certainly do not enjoy pain, I do in reality have a fairly high tolerance for it. Or perhaps it’s better described as a resignation to enduring it when there’s simply no other choice. Still, I am praying for God’s mercy and intervention in this situation. If I’m on the cusp or revisiting the terrible pain of my adolescence, then I pray God will help me endure it with grace. Lord knows I’ll need Him. I need Him every moment of every day.

And now, I’m going to go lay down for a little while. Maybe I’ll drag out the heating pad, since the stuff I read yesterday said it can help. The ibuprofen isn’t working as well today. But laying down will give me a chance to get ahead on my bible reading. (I’m still doing the 90 days through the bible thing.) I have been not only staying caught up on my reading, but I frequently read ahead, sometimes even a full day ahead. It just gets kind of hard to stop right in the middle of the story, even when I know how the story’s going to end. 🙂

See, there’s always an upside. Always something positive to be found if we will just look hard enough!

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Day Two…

 Today’s reading: Job chapters 6-20

Alright, I’m in the middle of today’s reading and feeling the need to comment on thoughts that are coming to me as I go. I’m afraid that if I wait until I’m finished, I won’t remember everything. Frankly, I have trouble remembering what comes to mind long enough for me to put down my Bible and type it up here. LOL Anyway…

Job’s getting just a little bit whinny. Then again, with all the things his “friends” are saying to him, who can blame him? I can’t help but notice, though, that Job is ascribing attributes to God that are less about Who God is than about how hopeless Job is feeling. For instance:
When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the faces of its judges—if it is not he, who then is it? Job 9:23-24

Sound familiar? How many times have you heard people in grief “blame” God for the failings of this fallen world? After 9/11, how many people accused God of not caring, of “allowing” it to happen when He could have stopped it? When we’re facing tragedies that are so great they overwhelm us, we often want someone to blame and the larger the scope of the tragedy, the higher up the ladder we go when looking for a culprit. In mind-boggling tragedies like 9/11, or hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, we can’t seem to help looking to God and questioning why He would let so many suffer and die. But we need to remember that God isn’t sitting up there plotting ways to cause us pain. Tragedies happen because this world is fallen. Sin exists and pain and suffering and grief are direct results of that fact. All tragedies are not the result of personal sin, but merely a byproduct of the fallen state of this world. God cannot be blamed for that.

Here’s another verse that jumped out at me.For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both. Job 9:32-33

The KJV uses the word, “daysman” for arbiter. Another translation I read uses mediator. Immediately the first thought that popped into my head was 1 Timothy 2:5: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
Job’s complaining that there is no mediator to stand between him and God and reconcile whatever problem God has with him. Wow. Praise God that we have a Mediator, that Jesus Christ makes intercession for us with God!

You just have to love Zophar the Naamathite. He is the very picture of a good Christian today! What’s his response to Job’s troubles and grief and hopelessness?
For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.’ But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves. Job 11:4-6
Boy, if that doesn’t sound like a “good” Christian, I don’t know what does. You know, obviously Job deserved what he was getting. In fact, ol’ Zophar is quick to let Job know that he undoubtedly deserved a lot worse than what he was getting!

How many times have you found yourself sitting in judgment over someone else’s misfortune? Not that God doesn’t punish. He most certainly does. He corrects His children when they need it. But I find myself consistently amazed by how many Christians claim to know the mind and purpose of God. They look at tragedy and declare, like Zophar, that it must be “deserved” or it wouldn’t be happening. Sticking with my earlier theme of major disasters, I know plenty of people who said 9/11, Katrina, and even the earthquake and tsunami in Japan were God’s judgment on those affected. I saw some make the same claim about the tornado that ripped through the heart of Joplin, Missouri.

Amazing how many Christians seem to have a direct line into the heart and mind of God. They know these tragic events were His judgment, not merely evidence of the fallen state of this universe. Same thing with disease. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard a fellow Christian say, usually with more than a hint of haughtiness, that the reason someone is sick is because they just weren’t living their life right before God.

My point here isn’t that global, national, local or personal tragedies are never God’s judgment. Sodom and Gomorrah were wiped of the face of the planet in spectacular fashion as a direct warning to the fact that God can, will, and does exact judgement upon people and places that deliberately turn their backs on Him. Yet, even in that instance, God said that He would have spared the cities if there had been just 10 righteous men left within them. It speaks volumes that even that small number could not be found. But I have to ask, do you seriously believe that of all the people who died, or who lost loved ones or their homes in tragedies like 9/11 or Katrina or Japan or Joplin, not even 10 of them could be called righteous in God’s eyes. Or maybe we’re just assuming that 10 was an arbitrary number and God really wouldn’t have stood by it? Or maybe it’s changed somewhere along the way? Or just maybe, like what Job is going through, it is meant as a test for the righteous, an opportunity for them to bring glory and honor to God by remaining true to Him in the midst of their tragedy.

In short, I can’t help but feel that while the Bible tells us that we will judge all things, it also warns us not to be judgmental of others. It warns us to have compassion on those who are suffering. And if there’s one thing I think gets in the way of a vast number of Christians both growing in the Lord and being effective in serving Him, as well as in witnessing to others about Him, it’s pride and arrogance. Every single time a Christian points a finger at those suffering in some tragedy and says, “yep, that’s God’s judgment right there,” it hardens one more heart against God. It leads one more person to say, “If that’s what it means to be a Christian, then I don’t want any part of that ‘Holier than thou’ attitude.” We really need to be careful how we not only treat others, but how we speak to and about them. The Bible says very plainly that we are recognized as Christians by our love; love for each other, and love for all men. First: Love God. Second: Love others as you love yourself. It’s very simple. Yet we seem to have a lot of trouble being as kind-hearted, forgiving, encouraging, and loving to others as we are with ourselves. That’s a real shame.

On a somewhat lighter note, I absolutely adore Job’s sarcasm in Job 12:2-3: No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these?
Basically, “well aren’t you just a pack of know-it-alls? I guess when you die, all wisdom will die with you! Well, I know a few things, too – and you’re no better than I am! Who doesn’t know the things you’ve been saying?” Priceless. I love that the Bible isn’t just staid words, but that it’s alive with feeling and emotion, just like we are.

The rest of today’s reading is more tit for tat between Job and his 3 “friends,” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. I couldn’t help but notice that keep calling each other windbags. Funny how typical that is. One uses an insult and their opponent promptly turns it around and uses it on them in return. Don’t we all do the same thing when we let our tongues get away from us?

This trio of men keep talking about how the wicked will fall, how they will be judged by God, implying not so subtly that Job is being judged and must therefore be wicked. And poor Job just keeps on asserting his innocence and asking them why they’re so determined to tear him down even further when he’s already at rock bottom. He wants to know why they aren’t there to lift him up, to encourage him, to offer their support as he wades through this nightmare of grief.

One thing I started wondering was what Job would have done if they hadn’t shown up, though. He starts off feeling pretty doggone sorry for himself. That’s still there and it’s completely understandable given his circumstances. But he’s talking about how much he just wants to die, how God’s out to get him for no reason at all and he’d have been better of if he’d died in his mother’s womb. As a person who’s battled clinical depression my entire adult life, I can certainly sympathize with his feelings. I’ve been there myself. And while Job’s pals aren’t doing anything at all to support him, they are making him focus a little less on feeling sorry for himself.

Job winds up chapter 19 with this: (verse 25) For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 
And verses 28-29: If you say, ‘How we will pursue him!’ and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him,’ be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment.
An indictment against them for blaming Job for all the troubles that had befallen him and a warning that they are the ones who ought to be worried about being judged for their self-righteous attitudes.

I guess my biggest take away from these chapters is a reminder to stay humble when faced with the tragedy or troubles of others. While it is our job to represent God, to spread His Word and to lead others to His salvation, it would benefit us all to remember that, though not a Biblical verse, this old adage is still very true and pertinent: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If we want to draw others to God, to be the kinds of Christians that make non-believers stand up and say, “I want what they’ve got,” we have to be loving people. Not condoners of sin, or so afraid of being disliked or misunderstood that we refuse to confront sin no matter how heinous it might be, but people who are wise enough to seek God’s guidance in every word we speak. We can confront sin without being confrontational. We just have to be willing to swallow our personal pride and our need to “one-up” whomever we are confronting, and let God guide us in how we speak and act. Because it isn’t our actions or words that will lead anyone to Christ, it is His love shining through us that will draw them in.

Lord, please help me to bind my wayward tongue, to rein it in when it would speak rashly or with anything less than Your great love. Remind me to be humble, to seek Your will and Your guidance before jumping into any conversation, especially when it involves another person’s grief or pain. Remind me that no matter how long I have known You or served You, I do not know Your holy mind or the breadth or scope of Your great plan for anyone’s life, including my own. Forgive me for being arrogant and thinking that I can “shame” others into being who and what I believe they ought to be. Please let me be a beacon for the immeasurable depth of Your love, demonstrated by the death of Christ on the cross for all mankind. Amen.

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