So I’m sitting outside the other day with Loco and one of the neighbour girls who often comes over to visit, and she turns to me and asks, “Can I have your dog when you die?”
Ah, I’m thinking to myself, the innocence of children. She thinks my little Loco (who’s already nearly ten in people years—making her eligible for Old Age Security in dog years, if they actually paid it out to dogs [I’ll have to write a letter to Peta]) is going to outlive me.
“Oh,” I say, “Loco’s ten years old.” But she keeps looking at me for an answer, so I continue, “She’ll most likely only live to be about 15.” She continues to look at me as I rock back and forth in my porch chair, feeling now like I should be knitting socks and pulling a shawl over my shoulders.
“Um, do I actually look to you like I’m going to die before that?”
She nods. And with childlike sincerity adds, “Yes… well, except for your hair.”
Definitely not getting the dog. And, although I did enjoy the rest of our time together (I have THE most darling neighbours), all I could think about was getting back inside so I could look in a mirror and scrutinize the latest attack the aging army had launched against me unawares. Should I have invested all that money in a good straightener when a set of curlers was more my speed?
Suddenly, how old I looked to the rest of the world mattered very much to me.
I have to admit, though, getting older isn’t the struggle I thought it was going to be—it’s those other areas of my life where people’s opinions have either validated or demeaned who I am; those areas set in stone, cemented into something sculpted by what others have said about or to me–and I find the Christian life is somewhat of a perplexing paradox at times.
We have within us an inner witness to the forgiveness, life and promises of our Creator—while outward circumstances bear down with such force they threaten to snuff it all out. And, if that isn’t bad enough, those looking on can threaten to annihilate us completely by their erroneous assessments—judging who we are by our situations.
True, we sometimes bring the storm on ourselves, and often we’re just reaping what we planted—but even then, when our hearts are repentant God is with us, and we must hold on to that truth without ever letting go, because that, alone, is our lifeline to getting through. We must learn to swim against the onslaught of opinion.
A man who’s fallen overboard and is floundering to keep his head above water in the middle of the ocean does not worry about how his hair looks as he clings to the lifesaver tossed out to him. God is not concerned about how well we impress others as we ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling;’ clinging to what His Word says about us as the umbilical cord keeping us securely connected to the womb of faith.
Joseph had to do it. So did Job. David did it, too. All of them looking pretty insignificant in the eyes of their contemporaries—suffering scorn and contempt. One thing they didn’t do, though, and that was listen to popular opinion, not even their own. They believed what God said about them; they chose the path less travelled—and that, like the famous poet said—made all the difference.
Feeling a little boxed in by other people’s opinions? Don’t give up, God has a lot to say about who we are…
even when the rest of the world has our days numbered.
I’m hoping to be just like my dog, Loco, when I grow up. Not that I want to bark at strangers and follow myself around the house all day—just that I’d like to be as consistently happy as she always is.
From the moment I surface beneath my mound of blankets to hit the snooze button for the first time each morning, until I submerge again into the sandman’s shadows—she’s happy. And she’s not just ‘happy’ happy, she’s ecstatically thrilled about everything. If I get up from reading, a wagging tail propels her into spirals around my feet. Any sudden movement brings on a whole new carnival of contentment; a gala celebration.
If she goes outside she’s overjoyed. When she comes back in she tears up the floorboards with her enthusiasm. Even if she’s sound asleep and I slip quietly by, her tail—as if stirred by my overwhelming presence—wags at my passing. She’s no less enthusiastic about everything life has to offer than she was nearly a decade ago when she christened the threshold of every happy moment at the altars of our affection, with her wiggling wee bursting bladder.
Everything with her is as new as a freshly spanked baby’s bottom—she lives on the delivery ward of blessings about to be birthed; the cusp of perpetual penchant.
She’s the sound of an ice-cream truck on a sunny Saturday morning. She’s new furniture and old books, slapstick comedy, clowns and every happy thing you could conjure up.
If she were a drink she’d be champagne; if she could fly she’d alter the earth’s orbit. She lives life like it’s some huge pie eating contest—gobbling up all she can before time runs out.
And, it’s not as though she’s any stranger to hardship, either.
Oh, the troubles she’s seen…
She just knows how to bounce back from it is all. She doesn’t know anything about letting circumstances keep her down.
So, yeah—that’s pretty much the way I’d like to embrace the rest of my life. Living like it’s a walk in the park, because truthfully—sometimes it’s more like a walk down the plank.
And as much as we’d like them to be—trite and shallow canine comparisons, however clever—are not enough to keep some of the very sobering situations and circumstances from seeping inside and petrifying the very marrow of us.
We can’t always tear up the floorboards to the next adventure when the next adventure is another disappointment or letdown. Sooner or later, exuberance buckles beneath the last straw. It’s not all that easy to wag your tail in that place, much less sit up and beg for more. But God doesn’t expect us to, either. He promised to find us wherever we’ve been scattered to—bring us back, bind up our injuries and strengthen us. That’s where I’ve been lately—getting all bandaged up and better.
I can’t help feeling more exuberant about life again, though I’m nowhere near altering the earth’s orbit yet. Some of those circumstances and situations are just as foreboding.
Still–I aspire to live life like my loco little dog–in a carnival of contentment; on the cusp of perpetual penchant–bouncing back from the brink like it was just a nasty old bath or something.
In case you were thinking of asking me to take care of your plants while you were away for the holidays, there’s something you might like to know.
This is what my poinsettias looked like only hours after bringing them home last week.
When I’d spotted these lush plants on sale as I was scooting down the aisle, I couldn’t help but imagine how wonderful they would look on the piano. Since it was my last stop—just a moment’s drive from home—I scooped them up, and off we went.
But we live in a dangerous part of town (what with KFC being just across from Canadian Tire) and after my senses were assaulted on the way to the van, we were taken captive and somehow I found myself in a line-up handing over a ransom for supper.
By the time Shopper’s Drugmart enticed us in for a little pick-pocketing fun I’d completely forgotten all about my plants. It wasn’t until we started to unload the van, and I saw the cavalcade of wilted petals weeping between the passengers seats like a funeral procession, did I remember I was supposed to get them straight home—out of the cold. I had, once again, assassinated another houseplant—two this time around.
That meant I needed to plop them atop the piano for a while.
Part of me secretly hoped they’d bounce back. They didn’t. Part of me wanted to be reminded of how beautiful it would have been… if only. And part of me thought I should remind myself of my mistake. After all, wouldn’t it be living in denial if I didn’t? Having to face up to them for awhile might make me feel rotten enough about wasting all that money to never do it again.
I felt the need to explain it to my friends when they were over. Susan, of course, thought it gave a sort of ‘Goth’ look to my Christmas decorating. They all thought it was a funny, unfortunate mishap.
But every time I saw the dead plants, I only felt worse. It was just another one of those ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’ reminders tearing away at my confidence. So, yesterday, when I happened upon this gorgeous poinsettia (on my very last stop), I decided to give myself another chance.
This morning I threw the dead ones out.
Sometimes we keep little reminders of our shortcomings around. But what we really need to be reminded of, is that life is already hard enough. We have to be intentional about not letting all the things that go wrong (even when it’s our own fault) flash-freeze us on our way to where we’re going.
But if they do?
For goodness sake, throw them out! Don’t set them up somewhere in front of you where you’ll always be reminded of them.
It’s okay to start over.
When we first got Min, the ‘nasty’ cat, she was, well… she was nasty. My daughter talked me into getting her from her uncle’s friend because no one else would take her and she absolutely had to have a new home.
This, of course, was after she’d talked me into getting ‘Loco,’ from the girls’ dance group teacher because no one else was going to do it, so we absolutely had to.
“Min likes being brushed every day,” he told us. So we brushed Min.
Min liked being brushed very much. She liked being brushed the way a serial killer loves stalking their next victim. She loved to let the brush glide gently over her silky fur and around her appendages, and then suddenly thrust her front talons deeply into your humerus, while pummeling the exposed flesh of your forearms into shreds with her back paws. It would sometimes take two of us to pry her off.
We tried oven mitts, but she would only exact revenge later by swiping out at us from unexpected locations while we went about our day. We gave up.
Min also liked to back Loco into a corner and lash her repeatedly. I had no idea cats could move their paws so fast it looks like a blur. It took me a while to rescue the dog the first time I saw it because I was mesmerized by how much it seemed like I was watching an old cartoon flick.
Min grew older and mellowed. She adapted to our dog and rabbit, and eventually became approachable when Mia came on the scene. She’s the CatFather, still–and the other pets know it, but she’s become affectionate over the years (in her signature scabrous style), and we love her dearly–nasty quirks and all.
Lately, Min seems to be aging exponentially, though. At first she couldn’t hear very well. Now she can’t see–we find her sleeping in odd corners because she just ends up somewhere, and there she stays. She’s become skeletal. If not for the huge amount of fur she has, she’d be an eerie sight.
She’s also slow going up and down the stairs and doesn’t always make it to the kitty litter on time. She makes messes almost daily. I have to lock her in the room where the litter is every night so that I can keep the messes to a minimum.
And, I am battling the age-old, old-age pet dilemma–when, if ever, is the right time to put them down? Now, see–I can’t do it. Just typing those words makes me cry. There’s still so much life in her yet. She loves to hop up on my lap and fall asleep. She loves for me to bring her out on the back deck and brush her–I can finally do it without oven mitts or fear of retribution.
I left her out there the other day and after a few minutes found her emaciated body curled up, fur wafting in the breeze and tail thumping the deck, a look of contentment across her face. So, I came up with my grand, baby gate idea.
Surely, the two younger pets would learn to leap over it, and Min would be confined to the upstairs–with food, water and kitty litter seconds away.
I propped it up and started teaching Loco how to jump it.
She cowered and waited until this afternoon when I lifted her over, and made a beeline for the food and water. Mia slept through the whole thing.
Then I heard a loud thump, followed by a lamenting meow, and Min limping down the stairs. She walked into the kitchen, spread herself out on the linoleum, and wagged her tail. How can you mess with determination like that?
I don’t have the heart to put her down, so I’m praying God will take her peacefully in her sleep–on billowy clouds of ascension, while angels play harps, and visions of tuna pâté dance in her head. But, in the mean time, if you have any ideas, I’m game.
Part of today’s message at church was about taking off our old selves and putting on the new. Sure sounds easy enough up in the balcony, praising with the angels. But, I know this week I’m probably going to get stuck in my old ‘me.’
I’m not really the ‘button-up-the-front,’ dress shirt kind of self you can just slip in and out of on a whim–more like the smothering, ‘too-tight’ turtleneck type that gets stuck around my shoulders while I’m trying to wrestle me over my big, fat head. I might need someone else to grab an end and give me a good yank.
I was thinking about this on the drive home: how changing isn’t always easy. Getting rid of some of the old things is… well, it’s hard. For one thing, I can’t always remember where I’ve left the new self, and sometimes I feel like–at least the old me’s got me covered.
You know what I mean: it’s hard to stop being angry at someone when you feel like it might leave you naked–exposed and vulnerable again. So, I just want to hang onto that outfit a little longer while I rummage through the house and find that forgiveness jumper. And, anyway, I like the way it enhances my curves. Oh!–you said it gets on your nerves.
I had no idea it was going to be like ‘Groundhog Day,’ either. You know–the movie where he keeps waking up the next morning and starting the same day over? No matter how many times I take myself off–I’m all wrapped up in me the very next morning. When I was young I had some friends who carefully laid their clothes out every night before they went to bed– I also had some friends who stuck my head in a snow drift till I thought I was going to faint–I just can’t live up to trying to be like my friends anymore.
This is why I’m glad the pastor reminded me that I have to let God change the way I think about things–by getting into the Word. It’s all by grace–I can’t earn it, or be good enough to do it, or feel bad enough to get it right. God does it–but I have to ‘co-operate.’
And, BOY, do I really want to learn to get it right. God is forgiving–this I have discovered with great delight–but, people? Honestly, sometimes sitting out in an arctic snow bank in my birthday suit with a pack of ravenous wolves seems more appealing than apologizing for a sudden slip of the old nature. Especially if my ratio of old to new days is one in ten, and no one even notices the other nine. Dressing to the ‘Nines’ doesn’t always cut-it with other people–which is probably a good thing because putting off ‘falsehood’ is right at the top of the list, anyway. It’s the first thing to go.
I was thinking about that, too, because, let’s face it–we’re all a little deluded about ourselves, and sometimes we’re just the last to know–wouldn’t it be easier if we could rip off each others’ outfits, instead? Cause I sure wonder if some people aren’t getting dressed in the dark… What’s that? Did I get this log suit at the lumberyard?
Jasper and Ralph could only watch helplessly behind the locked door at the aftermath outside–when the Small Rodents truck collided with the Small Flightless Birds truck . . .