Heads or Tails?

I had that momentary panic when I couldn’t find my female dogs, though my boy Checkers was following me around the yard. My husband had just left the house, and I wondered if they could’ve gotten out of the fence. I checked inside again, and all was quiet. I hustled back out and called their names. Oakley traipsed up from the side backyard followed by Goldie Hawn. I could tell by Goldie’s posture that something was up. IMG_6585Head lowered, sheepish squinty-eye glances, and then I saw the tail in her mouth. Oy vey! I ran to the garage and grabbed a grocery bag—my daily go-to improvised mitten for yard pick-up—in an attempt to retrieve the catch from the clutch. Goldie hurried away, but halted when I called her name. She tried to get a better grip on her fresh catch, and I reached for whatever I could grab. I saw a leg and a tail.

IMG_6584Not sure what kind of sounds sprang from my voice, a cacophony of repugnance blended with high-pitched squeals of disgust. I pulled and groaned. I think it scared Goldie into releasing her hard-fought treasure. It wasn’t just in her mouth; it was partially down her throat—probably why she was taking her time with it. I wince just thinking about it again. So grossed out, but I got another grip of the leg and yanked it feeling like I was dislodging some internal organ as her throat released its hold. Oh mercy. Cuisinart could’ve done no better on the chipmunk than the jaws of Goldie. I tried not to look; one glance was more than enough for a lifetime. The mitten-bag became the content holder, double-bagged as a proper vault, and into the green bin for Waste Management to haul away later.

Fresh water, I insist. Forgive me for taking away your trophy, girl. Excuse me while I go throw some words out with my fingertips…better than throwing up, I suppose. From that sweet little dog snuggling with a stuffed animal last night to Goldie, the chipmunk hunter. Goldie, the multi-dimensional fast-as-lightning Golden-Labrador. No, I’m not mad at you, but let’s just hold off on the kisses for a while, okay?

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Now here’s some roast beef as a thank you for being my loving exterminator, Goldie, and for giving me your fresh catch without a struggle.

 

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License to Speak to Strangers

This morning while out to breakfast with my son, I received such a nice compliment in regards to my foster service-dog-in-training, who had blended in so well with the dark carpeting that someone almost stepped on him. An older gentleman walked up, took a chair at the table next to ours, pointed to the black lab on my leash, and asked, “Is he from that place around the corner there?” I assured him he was. Pleased with his recognition, he said, “I thought so. I saw something about that on the television.”

“Oh, Operation Max on Fox 5?” I presumed.


He shook his head not knowing what I was talking about. “No, this was a couple years ago.” He looked up at nothing in particular as if remembering details of the TV special. “And once I saw a van full of them getting out at the Wal-Mart. They were golden retrievers, all of ‘em. Little bitty things.” He grinned.

I’d instantly thought it must’ve been the organization’s bus that hauls camp recipients around during their stay in town as they’re meeting and getting accustomed to their new dogs, but the “little bitty things” comment threw me for a loop.

Regardless, he went on, “I don’t have anything to do with them, but I’ve always felt proud of ‘em. You know, because they’re right here, right here in our community.”

IMG_6181My foster dog, as if on cue, was resting his head on my foot underneath the table being a perfect model for Canine Assistants. “Yes sir. I completely understand. Today is this one’s second birthday. He’s an Irish boy born on St. Patrick’s Day, and next week he’s going to find his special person. He’s going to break my heart in a hundred pieces, but that’s what we’ve been working towards for the last couple years.”

That’s a fine thing.

A fine thing indeed. A dog born on St. Patrick’s Day wearing a green vest, causing recognition in a public place, where strangers can connect, recount, and in a hectic world can find something to be proud of that fosters the sense of community

Who Needs Andy Stanley’s Sermon?

My Tweet from this morning read: While pastors fume over @AndyStanley’s sermon, my college son chose to serve HS ministry this wkend instead of frat bid day. TY @NPInsideOut.

That’s the crux of it. I’d rather have a son with a heart for Jesus who’s willing to serve and give up a big event at his university than bicker over who’s “righter” than others over Scriptures. Doors opened to him in a way he was able to understand, and he did not have to take an ALL OR NOTHING pledge to participate. The people who are upset the most over our pastor’s delivery of his “Who Needs God” messages (or the words therein) are really preaching to the choir. Don’t try to right yourself by wronging one of the most dedicated men of God this world has ever seen. Don’t stand on the hill waving your flag higher than other flags waving for the same cause. Remember what team we’re on here, folks.

I’ve read some scathing responses by highly educated men up in arms this morning about this sermon series, picking words apart. Some of the remarks read like an old wife fighting with her husband, bringing up every last thing he ever did wrong and unleashing it when it had nothing to do with the current matter being discussed. Fibber Magee’s closet door opened, and all the mess came spilling out.

Does it really do the Kingdom any good when bickering amongst the faithful happens? Ever heard the story of the prodigal son…don’t focus on the prodigal but take a look at the brother. Remember how jealous he acted: “Hey, look at me. Look at how good I’ve been all this time. That’s not fair for you to give more attention to my brother.” Totally a different situation, but hopefully you will understand my point. But then, maybe not. You missed Andy’s point, and he’s a master storyteller.

img_0290Ironically, the same day Andy was delivering one of the sermons in this “Who Needs God” series, I was on stage in the UpStreet children’s ministry at his church telling over 400 children the story of Noah. Yes, Noah, you know, the ark, the flood, the animals…part of being faithful to God and letting him take care of the rest. Did Noah have all the answers or understand why? No, but he trusted that God did and obeyed. Do we have all the answers here on all these biblical questions? No, but we trust that God does. It’s called faith.

I’m no Bible scholar and don’t claim to be, but thanks to what we’ve learned at North Point Community Church over the last thirteen years, my family and I have personal relationships with Jesus Christ. My childhood faith has indeed grown up.

So if you’re still angry, riled, upset about what Pastor Stanley said to his congregation, maybe it’s time to let that go. Maybe that isn’t the battle you need to fight. If you’re already a believer, isn’t that the main thing anyway? Maybe Andy wasn’t talking to you. Maybe you’re not his audience.  As I recall, Jesus told us to go out into the nations and make disciples of the unbelievers, not go out and see who could be “righter” than the other guy. Who needs God? We all do. Go ye.

Pup & Circumstance

IMG_7002 (1)I love the nights of Canine Assistant graduations. I’m just back from seeing the November 2015 class of dogs and recipients graduate after their two-week camp. It’s emotionally draining, especially if your foster dog has matched.

Our CA volunteer team is like a family of friends. We have an active, private Facebook page where we post pictures of the puppies on outings, share funny tales, seek advice from others, and cheer each other on. We are rarely at the farm at the same time, so the FB site is our best way of becoming familiar with other volunteers. We get to know each other through our dogs—which aren’t our dogs at all—and at no time is that more apparent than graduation.

When the dog’s name and its recipient is called, the standing-room-only crowd applauds as they see the “couple’s” picture on the big screen. Everyone is happy for them, overjoyed even, but for the volunteers there is an extra hidden layer of which casual onlookers aren’t even aware. Eighteen-plus months of service comes down to one sentence when staff-trainer Kevin, a volunteer’s first-line of contact with the organization, announces, “Fluffy was fostered by so-and-so.” We hang on that one sentence. That one sentence is a volunteer’s seal of approval, diploma, and compensation all in one. That verbal “attaboy” conjures a mixed flash of pride and agony and loss and accomplishment and how-can-I-even-breathe followed by the last moment when you muster the will to look that brown-eyed puppy dog in the face and tell him or her to “go and do great things” as the hand who now holds the leash is no longer yours.

I didn’t even have a dog in camp tonight—no “skin in the game,” as they say, but I felt the emotions. My heart broke for those fosters. It’s not so much heartbreak as it is this overwhelming sense of love that floods the room. Support for the volunteers. Congratulatory words. Adoration for the canines. Compassion for the recipients. And an all-around adulation for Jennifer Arnold, founder of CA. When you see that dog who you’ve worked with all those months or even on occasion, being held by that boy or girl, or man or woman whose limbs are bone-thin, mangled, prosthetic, or not there at all, the pain in your heart is assuaged and replaced with a complete sense of “THIS!” We want to shout, “THIS IS WHY WE DO THIS.” And our hearts feel at ease.

I’m reminded of long ago when my father was a Shriner and drove a mini T-model car in parades with these words painted on the car: We ride so children can walk. Though that slogan didn’t make too much sense to my 11-year-old mind, I completely understand it now. People often say to us: How can you do that? I could never give the dog away. I’d want to keep it.

It is part of the process, and we know, it’s not about us. It isn’t for us. When we see the recipients, the answer is right there breathing in living color. That’s why I love going to graduation. It’s the best place ever to empty out our hearts and fill them all back up again. It’s the reason we do what we do. Graduation is our chance to renew ourselves to our commitments to the organization, strive to work harder, give more of our time, and go “two hands all in.” We do it because they can’t.

An Ode to the Southern Belle

I love this post so much that I had to share. Southern Belles, don’t get swept up in all the yahoo noise of today. What we share by our birthright has been recognized by one Southern gentleman and worded so nicely that you’ll likely want to change your baby’s diaper, change a tire, and then change your license plate to say BELLE. Enjoy.

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After reading a scathing attack in some yankee newspaper, I set out to write a spirited defense of the Southern Belle. After several well-meaning attempts that quickly descended into yankee bashing (always fun, but not quite the point), I realized I was making a grave mistake for two reasons. First, it allows the yankee hit-piece to falsely elevate itself to a place of importance—masquerading as a piece worthy of response. It was not.  Secondly, never—in the annals of history—has there been a creation less in need of my defense than the Southern Belle.  Regardless, being the gentleman that I am, when some shrill, soulless harpy from up north decided to needlessly attack them, something had to be done. Since mounting a defense seemed to imply she had done something that placed her in need of “defending,” I decided instead to laud her—offering praise for who she is, how she conducts…

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Propes Bound

We’re heading to Oakwood, Georgia today for the memorial service of Louis Propes, a second-cousin who finished his time on earth after 87 years. In preparation for seeing seldom-seen relatives, I’m reading the Propes family history that was well researched a number of years ago and recorded on color-coded pages for each branch going back to my generation’s great-great grandparents. I’m fascinated by the information and to read that my great-great grandfather, George Dallas Propes, was a veteran of the 43rd Georgia Infantry Company F CSA in the war of northern aggression, which may explain the innate sense of history and Southern pride I’ve felt during all this recent debacle over the Confederate flag (and misuse by those who didn’t understand its origin). However, I digress.

To see my connection to the page as simply one name, Gladys Propes, my grandmother affectionately known to my sisters and me as Mema, is both a point of pride and a bit unsettling. Mema died when I was in the ninth grade, 1976, so long ago that most of the cousins barely remember Aunt Gladys. But to look back at that one name and to think of all the family members who came after her stirs something strong inside me. It’s a connection to a part of my history I do not want to disappear, to be erased, or scrubbed off the side of a mountain. I know my sweet mother loved her Propes relatives in immeasurable ways—perhaps since she was an only child—and held on to her cousins in a way that kids with siblings barely think about. Perhaps that thing inside me comes from acknowledging my mother’s desire. It’s why I made a point to become acquainted with more of my third cousins over recent years. I don’t want to lose that connection. I do not want my family history erased. I do not want to be isolated.

This purple page of the family tree could be expanded, and it would take a lot more paper to complete it, since these people believed in big families back then. But the more contemporary relatives are not listed in the report. My mother and all her many first cousins for example, go unnamed. The names in bold print on this report are the great-grandparents of today’s youngest adults (as in my children). They don’t feel this connection in the same way I do, so it’s my job to keep that conduit alive as long as I can and to tell him that gal in the seat next to him at the university is his distant cousin. (That actually happened a few months ago.) That’s when it all comes full circle. Each emboldened name is much more than that—it’s a life, a complete story, all with intertwined pages sewn up to the same spine.

So today as I visit the church and the adjoining cemetery where roots of my family tree run deep, I will feel a sense of pride and connection to those who have come and gone before me perhaps in a broader sense than ever before. And I will make it a point to meet as many of the relatives as I can. We are the living legacies. We are bound together on the Propes family tree.

Summer Learning—Had Me a Blast

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Do you remember those first days of summer as a kid, when you no longer had to get up early for school? Remember how excited you were for the possibilities? Remember the freedom of coloring your day however you wanted?

You slept late. Instead of the bacon, eggs, and toast your mom cooked every morning before school, summer meant you got to eat sugary sweet cereal for a late breakfast in front of the TV catching episodes of 10,000 Pyramid, Password, and The Price is Right. You called your friends on the telephone and found out they were doing the same thing. After a few days of this non-routine routine, you found yourself stuck at home, bored from the sameness. You didn’t have a pool or access to one. A few of your friends were away at camp or VBS or their grandparents’ house. You couldn’t go anywhere. You didn’t even have a leash to walk the family dog.

When the noon news came on, you got up to turn off the TV. On your way to the kitchen, you walked by that set of green and white encyclopedias on the shelf you’d passed a million times and out of sheer boredom, picked a random volume. You flipped through the pages and a picture caught your eye. You backed up to the sofa and slid onto the soft cushion. Next thing you know, two hours had passed, and you’d looked through the entire book. Your interest had been piqued. You awakened a hidden urge inside to know more. You wanted to learn something new.

I remember moments like that—making a deal with myself—deciding to read a classic novel or to learn a new craft. Maybe finding another book on the shelf and diving into it. The year I was eleven, I decided to learn about dogs with the help of the D-volume encyclopedia. With notebook paper, colored pencils, and a pen, I read about each category and the breeds that fell within them. I sketched a picture of the dogs and wrote a paragraph about them highlighting something special about each breed. I found my favorites to be sporting and working dogs.

It’s hit again. That summer-time freedom. That wide-open schedule ready for me to color it however I want (within reason, of course). Before I putz away an entire summer, I decided it was time to learn something new. I don’t have that shelf of World Book Encyclopedias, so my favorite place to browse for new topics now is The Great Courses catalogs. A couple issues can always be found on the coffee table. I peruse them carefully, mentally trying on the topics, and add my favorites to my wish list. I’ve completed a few courses already (which I’ll go into at another date), but the one that caught my eye for now is called, “The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins.” http://bit.ly/1IswzME

As a freelance copyeditor, I’m often asked about a word or doing a quick check on my computer’s dictionary for accuracy. How fun it will be to delve into these quirky bites of our language to see what interesting tidbits I can savor.

Just like with my childhood dog study, I may doodle and set my creative spirit free once again as I learn—on my own—not because I need class credit, or a grade, or am facing a deadline. I want to learn because I can. I am alive. Any day I learn something is a productive day. I can hardly wait to get started. I hope you fill your days with something new as well. Happy summer.