Random


Sunflower Day 

Here’s some sunshine (or at least sunflowers) for your dose of simple beauty for the day.

Photo credit goes to my awesome husband!

Sunflower Sunset

Sunflower Sunset

Sunflower Sunset

Sunflower Sunset Panorama

Our seven-year- old planted skyscraper sunflowers and this one finally bloomed!

He diligently watered and checked them every day.  He’s so proud of his sunflower! 

 EnJOY your day!


7 Things I Want to Write and Share 3

Ok, so in my last post I asked what I should write about.

Thank you Deanna for your comment here and for your ideas!  Since then, I now have a few exciting events and interesting subjects to write about and share.

I’m sharing the 7 things here so that, just in case I don’t get to them soon, you’ll at least know what’s been on my mind lately – because you’ve probably been wondering, right?

One: Hiking and Summiting a 14’er 

Yes, I did!

Two: Recharging in Colorado’s Beauty

Took an kind of impromptu family vacation before summer ended to visit good friends and bask in Colorado’s beauty.

Three: Total Solar Eclipse Amazingness!

It was…I still can’t come up with a word to adequately describe how amazing it was. Amazing pictures to come!

Four: School Resumes and Life Adjustments

Summer ends, school begins, and routines change – again.

Five: Exercise Plans

I love staying active and find it helpful if I share what I’m doing/going to do keep myself accountable.

Six: Simple Cooking

Life’s easier when cookin’s simpler.

Seven: Autism

My son, he’s ten, has high-functioning autism. Yup, betcha didn’t know that. I didn’t either until about a year ago. I’m ready to start sharing about it.


A Healing Goodbye to Our Dog 1

About three years ago, we welcomed our first dog into our family Bella.

Sadly, a few weeks ago, we had to let her go.

I had been resistant to getting a dog despite my husband’s and kid’s desire for a family dog. We had a chance to dog-sit Bella a couple times for our friends and loved her.

I told my husband, “Well, if we had a dog like Bella, then maybe we could get one.”

Then, one day, our friends told us that they were going to have to find another home for Bella and my ears perked up and I started thinking….hmmmm.

Long story short, one day, for Father’s Day, we brought Bella to our house and surprised everyone – especially my husband – when we told them she was ours to keep if we wanted. It didn’t take long for everyone to say, “Yes!”

Bella was about seven, we weren’t for sure, and so it was the perfect way to introduce our family to dog ownership. She was trained, wasn’t quite as energetic as a puppy but loved to play with all of us, even the toddler at the time, and she was used to being an outdoor dog – my main requirement.

We all grew to love Bella and, in the beginning, everyone did a good job helping to give her attention and care. Like most new things, the excitement wore down over time and she had a few bad habits we didn’t appreciate (chewing on kids’ toys, peeing in the house if we weren’t constantly watching her, eating her…nevermind that’s too gross.) Nevertheless, we all still loved having her, including me.

She was a good friend for me especially last year in the dream-like daze of intense grief. Sometimes I’d go outside and just sit on the back steps. She’d come up to me, tail wagging, and set her snout on my knee and beg me to stroke her. As I stroked her soft fur, it brought us both comfort. The repetitive action and the soothing texture calmed my mind and soothed my sorrowful heart. My Dad loved Bella so, in a way, I felt connected with him during those moments.

Whenever I was feeling frustrated and angry with myself or because of behavioral difficulties with the kids, I’d go out and throw the ball around with Bella or run around the yard with her  – providing her needed exercise and entertainment and me a positive release of my emotions.

Admittedly, she was so  laid back it was easy to take her for granted. One evening, after being gone for the day, we came back and I noticed her stomach area was suddenly very enlarged, which was unusual since she was always on the skinnier side of an average lab.

The next day, I noticed it even more and I remember sitting out on the back porch and rubbing her tummy like she loved so much. I gently pressed on it and could tell it was very hard and it made her uncomfortable, though she didn’t whimper or show any other obvious signs of pain.

However, there was something….familiar. I had felt this feeling before. The feeling of knowing, somehow, that death is close. I stroked her fur and scratched behind her ears and felt a foreboding sadness for her, and our family. Later that day, I went out to throw the ball around with her and noticed she didn’t seem interested. She’d run and get it and then slowly trudge back. With the last toss, she trotted over to get it but then dropped it back in the grass and sulked back to her favorite spot to lay down in the sun, as if she was saying, “I want to…but I just can’t anymore.”

The next morning, I brought her to the vet to see if we could figure out what was ailing her. After poking around and examining her, she determined the cause of her abdominal swelling was pretty serious.

“Possibly liver disease…or a cancerous tumor…,” I heard the vet gently explain.

I knew where the conversation headed and, to my surprise, I started tearing up as memories of sitting in a doctor’s office listening to the doctor briefly explain my Dad’s diagnosis suddenly flooded my mind.

Lung cancer….mutation….stage IV….incurable….

I looked at sweet Bella, peacefully ignorant to the meaning of our conversation, and felt pity and shame. She had probably been in pain for a little while now but, being the sweet mild-tempered dog that she was, just didn’t show it until now. I knew we could choose to go all out and try to “cure” her illness. I also knew this would be highly expensive and, as the vet agreed, had a low chance of success.  In the end, I left the clinic with Bella and a day’s worth of pain medicine for her.

That evening, my husband and I sat down with all the kids and Bella in our family room and shared what the vet told us about Bella. (another familiar scene) We gently explained why exploratory surgery or medicine most likely could not help her. Our oldest picked up on what the other option would be and cried out, “No, not that, we can’t do that to her!”

The younger boys picked up on her emotions and pretty soon everyone had tears in their eyes.  Gently, slowly, calmly, we explained that we needed to think of Bella and her pain. There was a lot of confusion and questions.

“But, I thought we weren’t supposed to kill?” Our oldest son, so practically and black-and-white minded, couldn’t quite understand how this could be ok.

“We all love Bella,” I said, “and we don’t want her to die….but we also don’t want her to be in so much pain. We can’t keep her alive for us and make her continue living a life of pain.”

They took these words in and it was the same oldest son, who usually struggles with showing empathy, who was the first to say, “I think we should do option two. So she isn’t in pain anymore.”

My heart swelled and broke all at once in that moment. My son grasped the reality of the situation and was able to appreciate what Bella really needed.

That night, we let Bella sleep in our daughter’s room, since she was struggling the most with the decision and because we didn’t want Bella to sleep on her own that night. Despite the pain medicine we’d given her, Bella was very restless. She wouldn’t sit or lay down in her bed no matter what we tried. In the morning, our daughter said Bella never went to sleep and kept pacing around the room.  Through that night, our daughter’s reluctance over having to let her go turned to a sorrowful acceptance. She had seen how much pain Bella was in and knew it wouldn’t be right to prolong her life just because we wanted to keep her with us longer.

We let the kids each have time to say tearful and quiet goodbyes to Bella before leaving for school, knowing she’d be gone when they came home. My husband and I brought her to the vet together and they kindly showed us into a room. The vet gently and compassionately explained the procedure and let us know we were welcome to stay for however long or little we wanted.  We said we’d probably only stay for the first part – the Valium that puts her into a relaxed state before the final injection.

We had a few more moments alone with Bella while they prepared the medications. Though still in obvious pain, Bella stood alert by the door, her ears perked up listening to the sounds of other dogs or cats and people there for regular check-ups. It struck me, how she stood in front of me then with no idea what awaited. In that moment, I felt a conflicted sorrow.

Is this ok? To purposefully end her life instead of letting her die naturally?

I tried again to get her to sit but she wouldn’t, her abdominal pain too intense now. She looked up at me with kind and loyal eyes, and I stroked her back and rubbed her ears like she loved so much. In that moment, looking at her, I felt a great sense of gratitude. 

“Thank you, Bella, for being such a good dog for our family. ”

The door opened and the vet and her assistant came in. They laid a white towel on the floor and had Bella stand on it. Gently, slowly, with soothing words, the vet injected the Valium in. Within seconds, Bella let out a low groan, as if she was saying, “Ahh…that feels good.” Then, she sat down – the first time she’d done that since the day before – and then her legs gave in and her body melted down to the floor as my husband and I gently stroked her. The vet explained that she was now in a deep sleep.

I felt happy for her, relieved of her pain and finally able to sleep after the past restless nights. This was the point we had decided earlier that we’d leave but now that we were there, we couldn’t leave, we wanted to stay with her until the end.

The vet quietly injected the final medication. We stayed with her as her body went limp, her eyes closed, and her chest stopped swelling in and out. I wiped my eyes  filled with tears I couldn’t contain. In those moments, my body was with Bella in the vet’s office but my mind was back in the hospital room watching the same process happen to my dad’s body a little over a year ago.

I felt like a hole in time opened up in that hospital room, all other noises outside vanished and a warm glow of light vignetted us.  The seas of time parted and swirled around us, the whirlpool of eternity spiraled in, gently pulling and guiding my dad’s soul through the “birth canal” of death into new life.  Once his soul passed through, his heart deafeningly silent and his chest formidably motionless, the whirlpool lifted out, the warm glow of light faded, and the seas of time crashed down around us again, pushing us down into the intense pain of shock and grief.

The nurse came back in the room and put her stethoscope on his still chest. I asked, “Is it done?” She nodded and gently confirmed, “yes.”

Back in the vet’s office, the vet put her stethoscope to Bella’s chest, paused, then quietly confirmed, “She’s gone, at rest and in no more pain now.”

We nodded our heads and let out long sighs.  Slowly I wiped my tears, we offered our final thank you’s and gave Bella one last stroke goodbye. Then, we stood up, opened the door, and walked back into the world of time.

We drove back home in silence, both of us struck again by the jarring finality of death and surprised by our grief. After all, she was “just a dog”. But…she had been our dog. And, in the way only animals can, she loved us and we loved her. We hated that we had to do that, wishing she could have gotten better on her own, but accepting that, for her sake and not ours, we had to let her go.

I hated that my dad got sick, that he had to leave us so soon before we had barely begun to process his out-of-the-blue diagnoses. In the 24 hours I spent with him in the hospital, I saw his pain and his incredible discomfort. The more we tried to save him, the further away he sank. Through a torturous night, I began to see the reality of his prognosis.  By the morning, I knew we’d need to let him go, for his sake even if not for ours.

And so it is, with life and death:

The Lord giveth…and the Lord taketh.  (Job 1:21)

He blesses us with the gift and joy of life….and then, after a time, He retrieves life – His beloved creatures – back into Himself where we ultimately belong.

Thank you, Lord for the gift of Bella. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of my Dad. Take them into you, and bless our mourning hearts with your loving and comforting mercy. 


Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion #Book Review

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

I visited and ate at the delicious Homegirl Cafe when on my “pilgrimage” with my brother in LA back in February and was immediately intrigued and impressed. I finally had the chance to read Fr. Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart, a couple months ago.

I had no idea how much I would get out of this book and was blown away by his profound reflections on God, Love, and the Greatest Commandment:

“Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus (John 13:34)

Fr. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J. is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, a rehabilitation program for gang members.  You can read more of Fr. Boyle’s history here.  Long-story short, this guy knows everything there is to know about gangs – or at least he knows the important inside-out side of things better than anyone, aside from maybe the gang members themselves.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the book. I would say it was nothing like I expected yet so much of what I yearn for.  Like Fr. Boyle explains in the book, it’s not exactly a memoir, nor a history of Homeboy Industries per say, it’s a…song…a dance!…a beautiful piece of art hanging on the wall expressing all the ugliness and all the good  that makes our world so immensely and paradoxically beautiful. 

For many people, hearing about or seeing the terrible tragedy of gang violence is enough to send anyone running, hiding, or shaking their heads and think, “What a shame,” and then move on to whatever they were doing in the comfort and safety of their own lives.

I, admittedly, know very little of the history of the gang violence in LA and throughout our country but, from what I got from the book, it’s been bad. Real bad.  And Fr. Boyle was “stationed” right in the very heart of it all.

He thought he was sent there to bring Christ’s love to the people there but ended up learning about the true deep-down essence of Love not in spite of the gang members but because of them.

You know, most people, when they think of gang members or criminals, they easily cast them off as only that – criminals and “no good” people of society. The world doesn’t even see them as humans anymore – only monsters who have lost their souls without any chance for redemption. Once a gang member, always a gang member.

And I’m no better. I’ll admit if I found myself in the heart of LA’s “gang district”, I’d feel terrified.  I’ve been taught to “love everyone”, but it would be hard to look into a gang member’s eyes and look past the tattoos and threatening demeanor and not immediately assume the worst of that person or what he or she might do to me.

It’s so hard to see past the thick wall of our natural inclinations of self-preservation and prejudices.

I truly want to…I just don’t want to put my life,  or my family’s, in danger because of it.

But that’s exactly what Fr. Boyle did.

With Tattoos on the Heart, Fr. Boyle invites us to turn and look. Look beyond the scary. Look beyond the actions or “records”. Look beyond the outsides of people and see. See the person for WHO that person is. Not what they’ve done, not how they act, talk, or what they wear, who they associate with, their gender, age, demographics or ethnic appearance and really and truly look at who that person is, to his or her very core. 

And then, love that person.

You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.

That said, this book isn’t only about how to take Jesus’ Great Commandment to “love one another” to the ghetto or prisons. It’s a profound theology of love: God explains Love and Love explains God. 

[Leon Dufour said], “I have written so many books on God, but after all that, what do I really know? I think, in the end, God is the person you’re talking to, the one right in front of you.”

Reading this book came to me in a time of my spiritual life where I often feel like I have never desired God with such an intensity as I do now while, at the same time, with such a frustrating inability to reach Him and feel Him.

Tattoos on the Heart showed me the intimate  and subtle ways God works on the hearts of the wounded and showed me I need to allow myself to “marinate” in the Love of God, in His Mercy, in His quiet and healing presence. 

Tattoos on the heart page excerpt

Other quotes I jotted down from the book worthy of “marinating” in for a while:

Thomas Merton – “We discover our true selves in love.”

Thomas Merton –  “No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there…We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”

Thich Nhatt Hahn, “our true home is the present moment…”

“[Bill Cain said] – ‘Living within the withinness of God.’ This is the intimate union and full promise of kinship that is being offered to us every second.

Breathe it in, breathe it out. The Lord is everything I want. A yes that means yes… Isaiah has God say: ‘Be glad forever and rejoice in what I create… for I create my people to be a delight.’… delighting is what occupies God, and God’s hope is that we join in. That God’s joy may be in us and this joy may be complete. We just happen to be God’s joy. That takes some getting used to.

Chew on that for a while:

YOU are God’s Joy!


Running on Grief 6

Running on Grief

I’d like to try and start sharing a few other thoughts here about running and exercise and faith and grief that I’ve “kept in my heart” and pondered over, even though it’s almost impossible to try and put these feelings into the right words.

Sometimes while I’m running, I suddenly feel a little self-conscious as I think about what I’m doing and how silly it must look. Not just because of how I run (which I’m sure looks silly enough by itself), but I think about the why? Why would I run unless I was late (which happens often) or unless a hungry tiger was chasing me? (That happens less frequently.)

I’ve been a runner – meaning I’ve freely chosen to go out and run for “fun” – off and on for many years since about the time I was in 5th grade and track season was starting up. To many people, and even to me at times in the middle of a hard race or practice, I’ve wondered –

Why? Why in the world am I doing this?!

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s always a deeper meaning and reason to running beyond pumping your legs as fast as you can and trying not to die in the process. 

For me, that reason has varied during different seasons of my life but it’s always provided a great space and time to process my thoughts and pray.

Around this time last year, I decided I wanted to make exercise a daily habit instead of something I did every now and then when I felt like it. A friend invited me to join her in an online “Challenge Group” – basically an online fitness accountability group.

Together with that and another friend’s advice to try the Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred programs and the BeFit videos and acquiring a treadmill from another friend (I have great friends!), I was doing very well with developing a good routine and starting to feel pretty good too.

Then mid-November came, when my Dad’s doctors found cancer on his lungs, and then early December, when they confirmed it was non-smoker’s stage IV lung cancer (but with a very positive “years not months” prognosis”), and then, just a few weeks later, his incredibly unexpected and shocking death right before Christmas.

 

Needless to really have to say, I had a hard time exercising during that time – it’s hard to run or do much of anything when you have a big huge emotional knot in your stomach.

In the weeks and months after that, it was still too hard to think about exercising – it was hard enough just getting out of bed and trying to continue life “as normal” since it was anything but normal anymore.

By March, I decided I needed to do something to get myself moving again but knew it would be too hard to do it on my own at home. I needed a place to plug in until I could get moving on my own again. So I joined the Y, knowing that by paying money per month I’d have to go and make the money well spent.  I made a daily schedule for myself based on the group exercise schedule and asked a few friends to help me stay committed by inviting me to come with them when they went.  I thank God for the many good friends he has blessed me with.

Most people say exercising helps them feel better when dealing with anxieties. At first, for me, it made me feel worse.

I honestly didn’t really feel like doing it and I mostly hated it while I was there. I struggled a lot with thoughts and questions like, “if we’re all going to die one day and the eternal life is all that really matters why waste my time on the things of this world by exercising?” I didn’t feel like dying (though I wished I could at least take a peek and see where my dad was), yet I didn’t know how to continue living, I honestly didn’t really know what I was supposed to do.  I was stuck in a room with no obvious way out.

I wanted a place to escape my grief and instead found myself confronted with it – it followed me and even intensified the harder I worked out. 

The faster I ran or the harder I pushed, I’d get flashbacks of our 24-hour ordeal in the hospital, re-living the trauma of those moments.  Images of my Dad in the hospital and weeks preceding it flashed in my mind with every surge of adrenaline. I missed him so, so, so much. I couldn’t get away from it.

I was lifting weights with my arms while hauling around the deadweight of grief in my heart. 

Yet, since I didn’t know what else to do, I just shrugged my shoulders and forced myself to keep going.

I remember one evening – or maybe it was morning, I can’t remember that time very well – I couldn’t stand it anymore. My spirit was drowning in grief and I could hardly breathe anymore, frustrated, annoyed, desperate and confused about life, death, God, everything. 

I angrily went downstairs, grabbed the treadmill key, turned it on and, like Forest, I just started running, and I ran, and ran, and ran. (Though I didn’t run till I grew a beard or reached every ocean in the US.)

I ran and it felt as if my heart opened while I ran and all the waves of emotions of sadness and confusion flowed out of me and pumped through my veins, powering me along. My legs and arms pumped and my heart sobbed and sobbed and prayed and cursed and grunted and screamed.

When I finally stopped – I have no idea how long I ran and didn’t care – a strange feeling came over me. Peace, maybe? Relief? Whatever it was, I knew it was good.

My body ran and my soul began thawing – healing.

Ten months later, I’m still running, still exercising regularly, and even ran my first 5K in my life! Slowly, I’ve started enjoying running and exercising again instead of just forcing myself to do it without any satisfaction.

I used to see people’s pictures they’d post of themselves captioning their exercise or running accomplishments and feel almost jealous of their outward “perfection” and happiness. Now I wonder if that’s what others think when they see me at the gym or hear about my running/exercise accomplishments. Maybe others think “she’s got it all together”. But really I’m still healing.

I think everyone finds different ways to process grief or anxiety or other challenges in life. For me, running and exercise (and writing about it) have become an important tool and aid in my own healing process.

Running and exercise have always provided an analogous way for me to better understand life and my faith. I’m still pondering how the finite and temporal act of exercising fits in with the whole eternal life thing. More on that to come…

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