, , , , , , , ,

Belief: Is it bigger than butterflies?

“Do I believe that God is good even when His will and ways don’t feel good?”

This is the faith-revealing question I’ve been asking myself on repeat ever since Pippy passed away twenty days ago. As a devoted follower of Christ, I know that my response should be a resounding, “yes” but my emotions have tempted me to reply with a noncommittal, “I’m not so sure.”

And so, like a doubting Thomas, longing for confirmation to strengthen belief and faith, I prayed, “Lord, show me that you’re good. Send me a sign!” In short order, God answered my pitiful prayer with remarkable butterfly encounters.

My first butterfly encounter occurred just hours after Pippy passed away. It flew up in front of my car’s windshield and proceeded to do a little dance in front of the glass. That particular monarch lingered for quite some time and, as I watched her wings flutter, I felt the sadness in my heart lift. The butterfly delivered an overwhelming assurance that Pippy has gone home to Heaven where she is safe in the presence of God.

Over the next few days more butterflies arrived. In fact, not a day went by in the entire first week after Pippy past without a noteworthy butterfly encounter. Each day I was gifted a dazzling demonstration of God’s goodness winged its way into my world and, in response, I thanked God profusely for answering my prayer. I praised Him for reassuring me of His promises and vowed to keep looking up and out with an open heart and mind so that I would never miss a single butterfly blessing.

But, in recent days, something terrible has happened to my butterflies. They’ve disappeared. My world has become suddenly and dramatically butterfly-less. I’ve searched for them outdoors and even paused near bushes just in case God has one waiting in the leaves, but they’re no where to be found.

In the absence of the butterflies, God has turned the tables on the questioning. Instead of me asking Him to prove His faithfulness, He is asking me, “Even when you don’t see any sign of it, do you still believe I am good?

In the book of Hebrews, Paul wrote, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) If that’s what true faith is, then my questioning God and requesting a special sign was faithlessness. By asking God to prove that I have grounds for believing He is good, I make my faith evidence dependent instead of Jesus dependent.

Now I know why God gave and then took away the butterflies. He gave them because He loves me, and He took them away because He loves me too much to let me remain weak in faith. He is invested in growing and developing my belief in who He is, just like He was for the doubting Thomas.

In John chapter 20, right after Jesus rose from the grave, He gave His follower, Thomas, an opportunity to feel His hands and side so Thomas could have physical proof that the Messiah was alive. After Thomas affirmed his belief, Jesus made an important distinction about faith with sight versus faith without sight. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Jesus obviously loved Thomas – that’s why he made a special visit just to see him – but Jesus wanted Thomas to understand that the faith God desires doesn’t require the aid of a visual. The faith that receives the blessing is the faith that remains unshakable even when there is no hand to touch or sign to see.

As we know from scripture, Thomas’ living color experience with the Risen Savior was only temporary. And so it is  with my butterflies.

God’s removal of my butterfly encounters is a gift unto itself. It is a second chance to use this season of grieving to affirm my belief that, in all seasons and circumstances, God’s will and ways are always perfect because He is always good.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Grief & the Power of Giving Thanks

I stood paralyzed in the doorway, staring at Pippy laying lifeless in a Rubbermaid box on the living room floor. To think that she would never again experience the wind blowing through her ears or prance at the park overwhelmed me with shock, disbelief and heartbreak. I cried, desperately hoping it was all a terribly bad dream – the worst I’d ever had.

But Pippy’s lifeless body couldn’t lie. This wasn’t a dream. It was real life.

I must admit that part of me wanted to pray and ask God for a resurrection miracle. He did it with Jesus, couldn’t He do it with Pippy? I knew that He could but, even in the midst of heartache, I knew in the depth of my soul that Pippy’s passing was God’s will. He had allowed her to leave this earth earlier than I had hoped but right on time according to His perfect schedule. It wasn’t my place to beg Him for a rewind and redo. It was my job to ask Him, “How do I glorify You in this moment?”

God’s answer came like a lightening bolt: “By giving thanks as you walk with me through this season of grief. That’s how you glorify me in this moment and every moment of suffering, pain and loss you will encounter as you travel down this road called life.”

At first, I was hesitant to give thanks. I was worried that by being thankful I would dishonor Pippy and minimize her importance. But God’s word spoke to me again, “Give thanks in all circumstances. That’s my will for you.”

All meant right there and then – even with Pippy’s lifeless body still in a Rubbermaid box.

All meant in grief, loss, sorrow, sadness, heartbreak and pain.

All meant in the face of life and in the face of death.

All meant that I couldn’t withhold my thanks on account of worries and concerns about hurting my deceased pup’s feelings.

All meant that I was compelled and commanded to give thanks right then and there in obedience to God.

And so, that’s precisely what I did.

I started by thanking God for blessing me with Pippy eight years ago and providing me with an incredibly loyal and faithful friend. I thanked Him for creating Pippy and filling her with gentleness, kindness and love – the very fruits of His Spirit. Then I thanked God for making Pippy a furry little teacher who demonstrated so perfectly priceless lessons on walking obediently with Jesus and following Him by faith and not by sight.

While giving thanks to God for my departed Pip, the pain of losing her was replaced with the joy I experienced in loving her. With each praise of thanksgiving offered up to God, a deeper level of peace and comfort descended on me from above. By the time I walked away from Pippy’s side, my Spirit was transformed by the very presence of my Father God.

What’s so incredible about the night Pippy passed is that, even in death, God was using her to teach me how to trust and obey Him. This particular lesson could have been titled, “Grief And the Power of Giving Thanks” with the objective being to understand that, by giving thanks, an open invitation is extended to the Holy Spirit. When we thank God, it is as if we are welcoming the Wonderful Counselor into our brokenness so that He can comfort and console us with His love and grace.

When grief threatens to crush my Spirit – and Heaven knows it will try – the way back to peace is always through the doorway of thanksgiving. As soon as I put God’s lesson on giving thanks in all circumstances into practice, my heart is opened wide to the Spirit of Christ and I am once again comforted by the assurance that Pippy is in a better place.

Although Pippy’s spirit has left this earth, she is not truly dead. She has gone to her heavenly home, experiencing more fullness of life than ever before. The good news that I am choosing to celebrate is that my best walks with Pippy are yet to come. I will rejoice and give thanks for the adventure’s we’ve had thus far while looking ahead to Heaven’s streets of gold, where an eternity of togetherness awaits us.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

, , , , , , , , ,

Pippy Love

At 2:39 AM on August 9, 2019, my dear Pippy Love departed this earthly world and entered into doggie heaven.

I know that some people don’t believe there is such a thing as doggie heaven, but I disagree with some people. Ever since my childhood dog, Puff, crossed over that rainbow bridge I’ve believed that God has set apart a special place in heaven for our furry friends. After all, He allowed dogs to be given His name spelled backwards. Could there be any question He has a special place for them in His heart?

Bottom line: our God is too good to not prepare a place for our pets.

To say that I’m devastated is an understatement. Pip was only eight years old. She was supposed to live till at least fifteen – at least that’s what the dog gurus said I could expect given her size and breed. Even when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease and congestive heart failure a few months ago, I was confident she’d beat the disease. After all, that’s what she helped me do when I was diagnosed with Lyme and I was sure I’d help her do the same.

In her last weeks of life, Pippy’s future looked bright. At Frontier Park – her favorite place to sniff and explore – she ran with the vigor of a dog half her age. Her energy was such a source of hope that Mom and I even said to each other, “Look, the Pipster is coming back!”

But, then, on the evening of August 8th, Pippy took a sharp and dramatic turn for the worse. Her breathing became so labored she couldn’t relax. She stretched out her neck, gasping for air. A panic look pierced her sweet, tender eyes. It was terribly distressing just to watch. I can’t even imagine how much more distressing it must have been for my dear Pip to experience.

At the vet we were given two options: put Pip down or put her on oxygen and drain the fluid around her heart. The first option was a sure death. The second was a possibility of three more months of life – best case scenario.

I hated both options, especially since both meant leaving Pippy on a cold metal table in the hands of an equally cold veterinarian. Knowing Pippy, I know she hated those options just as much as I did.

In our eight years together Pip never had to say a word to speak volumes. The two of us communicated on a deeper level. With one simple head tilt to the left I could read her detailed message. It was different than the message she sent when tilting her head to the right. That’s how tight Pippy and I were. We could read each other’s head tilts.

So, when the vet gave me two options, I knew what Pippy wouldn’t want. She wouldn’t want to be left hooked up to a machine with tubes and wires. But I didn’t believe Pippy would want to die by injection underneath the fluorescent lights of a vet’s office, either. The idea of playing God and deciding Pippy’s destiny was unfathomable to me. I wanted God to play God, so I prayed and waited for divine feedback.

It was the middle of the night and we were back at home, laying hands on Pippy and praying for the Holy Spirit’s intervention. That’s when Pippy began struggling even harder to breath. I told my Mom we couldn’t stand by and do nothing. She suggested we get in the car and drive. I agreed.

As we began heading east, in the direction of the vet, I fervently asked God to step in before we reached the doors of that sterile place. “Heal her or take her home,” I asked, hoping for the former but surrendered to God’s will no matter what the future held.

And that’s when it happened. In the arms of my Mom, while listening to WCTL on the radio, Pippy’s labored breathing became shallow. The struggle suddenly ceased as her body relaxed. Her heart beat slowed to a stop and within a few minutes she was gone.

I pulled over near Frontier Park, overcome with heartbreak, shock and disbelief. Just a few hours earlier Pippy had been enjoying a walk along those paths, sniffing grass and breathing in the great outdoors. I couldn’t – and still can’t – fully comprehend that she could die that same night. It didn’t make sense but, then again, when does loss ever make sense?

Pippy was an incredible dog and saying goodbye to her is breaking my heart for a million reasons.

While I was alone and single for the past eight years, Pippy was my companion. I hopped from Florida to Ohio to Florida again to Pittsburgh, with multiple stints in Erie in-between, and Pippy always came along for those rides. She was my constant in a world of change.

Then there was her spirit. Pippy had such a great way about her. She was docile and sometimes even timid. Pip was so kind she would never have dreamed of hurting a fly let alone a human. She was good natured and sweet. Truly a gem of a dog and friend.

Pip was obedient, too. She could walk off leash nearly anywhere and behave like a good dog should. I’ll never forget when we lived in Chagrin Falls, OH where I used to walk with Pippy down in the village – off leash, of course. Bystanders couldn’t believe that Pip stuck right by me without ever venturing into the street. She even stopped respectfully at crosswalks. Before stepping one paw into the street she’d look back at me for guidance, as if to ask, “Is it okay to go, Mom?”

Pippy was my baby, my friend, my comforter and my reason for living for the past eight years. When I was too sick to do much of anything, I still always walked Pippy. There were so many days when my own illness threatened my life and will to live. I used to cry because I felt so useless. “What good is my life if I’m always sick?”

Once again, Pippy gave me my answer. With her big, sweet brown eyes, she would look at me as if to say, “Your life is important to me.” Getting up and doing right by Pippy was incentive for me to keep fighting for my health when defeated tempted me to give up. She gave me reason to keep pushing ahead and, for that alone, I owe her a debt of gratitude that I could never repay.

Pippy was the most incredible dog and I am the most blessed dog mom to have had her by my side for the past eight years. I will miss her more than words could ever convey and I’ll certainly cry more than I will ever admit. But, even in season of mourning as I grieve the loss of my best buddy, I will give thanks to God for the life of my precious Pippy who provided me with such great friendship, comfort and love.  

Pip, I can’t believe your gone but I know that we’re going to meet again.

You were such an amazing dog and I can’t imagine my life without you being in it. You brought joy, laughter and comfort to the hardest decade of my life. Before I ever knew I would need you as my “therapy dog,” God knew and He provided me the perfect pup for the job.

I am going to miss you more than words can say but I will keep your memory with me every single day.

I love you Pipster…You’ll always be my Little Bear. 

, , , , , , , , ,

Looking Back with 20/20 Vision

Hindsight is 20/20.

When troubles and trials are dominating our reality, we rarely see past the pain they inflict. Our thoughts are so consumed with the sting of loss, hurt of rejection or sorrow of despair that it becomes nearly impossible to conceive of a happy ending to our anguish. The idea that there could be a good, redeeming purpose for our suffering is out of sight and certainly out of mind. In the heat of a trial our vision is darkened, and it is hard to picture the world ever looking bright again.

But, as anyone who has ever endured trouble knows, the pain subsides. Day by the day the sting, hurt and sorrow begins to diminish. It doesn’t happen all at once and, sometimes, that pain sneakily returns with renewed force for a brief time. But, slowly and surely, what caused us such grief begins to lose its power over us. Life keeps moving, changing our reality and our view of it.

Some people say, “don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” And I understand their point. Looking back can be a trap but only if we look back to grieve. Looking back can be a gift if we look back to grow. When we use our past pain as a treasure trove of experience instead of a load of baggage, those memories become stepping stones, not stumbling blocks.

I used to try to force myself from looking back and recalling my most painful moments in life. When old memories popped up that featured the sting of a breakup or the hurt of a massive failure, I tried to push them aside, reminding myself not to look back because I wasn’t going that way.

But then I drove past an old friend’s house – or what used to be her house. About a year ago my friend’s house burned to the ground in a tragic fire. Thankfully, everyone in the house escaped and no one was hurt. But the house was an entire loss. There was nothing left to salvage of her two-story home. As I pulled down the road where my friend’s house used to sit, I recalled what the scene had looked like in the days following the fire. Charred cars still parked in the burned-up garage. Black soot and ash covering the property. Busted out glass and empty windows. Loss – so much loss.

But as I approached my friend’s lot I was greeted with a beautiful sight: a brand-new house in the making.

It was seeing my friend’s new house, still in its framing stages, that got me thinking about how I look at the past. Do I look at it as destruction or do I look at it as the plot of land where a new house is destined to be built? When I consider what I’ve lost, do I mourn what was or do I thank God for it as I anticipate what’s to come?

At one time or another in all our lives, we will encounter loss and the struggle to imagine how our ashes could possibly become something beautiful. But, take heart. If Jesus has overcome death, don’t you think He can overcome your pain and hurt? Since Jesus rose from the grave, shouldn’t we believe He can redeem our brokenness and restore what we’ve lost?

Jesus can turn our trials into testimonies, but we have to give Him the ashes and allow Him to work out the transformation. We cannot be afraid to look back nor can we be afraid to move forward. It is a great balancing act of faith and by the grace of God, it is not impossible.

When we look back at the men and women of the Bible who trusted God with their ashes, we are reminded that He truly did make them beautiful. Look at Abraham and Sara, Noah and the ark or Job. God was faithful to the men and women who bowed down and acknowledged Him as Lord. The people who entrusted their lives into God’s care were never disappointed. They encountered trials, troubles and tests but remained true to the Lord their God and He, of course, remained true to them.

If you’re carrying ashes around, why don’t you try giving them to God? Stop trying to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. You don’t need to be afraid of them or worried that they are doomed to ruin your life. Once you give them to God, He’ll do something incredible with them and then give you His perfect 20/20 vision to see why the pain was for your good.

Loss has a purpose greater than shattered hearts can ever comprehend. In the hands of our Heavenly Father, He takes what has been reduced to ashes and makes them a beautiful masterpiece by the redemptive power of His Son. He takes what breaks us and uses it to bring us back to the Savior’s throne. When God is given control and authority over the past, we can look back on it and smile, knowing that, even in those painful moments where the sting was so intense we didn’t know how and if we’d survive it, God was there all along. He was there, working out the details of His glorious, grand plan.

That’s beauty from ashes but you can only see it if you’re willing to look back.

, , , ,

Old Dog, New Tricks

Pippy is stuck in a rut.

On our daily walks, Pippy insists we stop at exactly the same spots so she can conduct her regular sniffing routine.

First, she demands (via stubborn pulling) that I stop at her favorite corner where the scent of a particular pine tree tickles her nose. Then, one block later, she pulls again next to the tall bush with an earthy aroma. Pippy finds this bush intensely enticing.

After she sniffs for a moment, I give her leash a tug and direct her back to our walk but, less than a minute later, she yanks on the leash again. This time we’re near the rusty mailbox. Pippy loves this rusty mailbox. By her frantic sniffing, I suspect there is gold underneath all of that rust. Or maybe rust just has a tantalizing scent to a dog’s keen nose.

On our short fifteen-minute walk around the neighborhood Pippy encounters at least a dozen of these specific stop and sniff locations. This is her habit and, for years, I’ve allowed it to become ingrained in her doggie brain, controlling the pace and pauses of our walk.

But that’s about to change.  

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but I’m determined to prove “them” wrong by teaching Pippy how to live free of her routine.

After some at-home dog psychotherapy exercises, I discovered that Pippy doesn’t actually need to stop and smell the same patches of grass every day. She doesn’t use these stops to fulfill the basic needs of her bladder. She just wants to stop because she’s used to stopping. It has become her habit. Routine sniffing is Pippy’s rut.

But Pippy isn’t the only one stuck in a rut. I’m stuck in one, too.

Like Pippy, I do the same things over and over again, day in and day out. I go to the same places, at the same time. I think the same thoughts on repeat. I speak the same words to myself day after day after day.

The truth is, I’m no different than Pippy. I’m trapped in a well-engrained cycle. I’m stuck in a rut.

But I’m confident that this old dog can learn new tricks.

Teaching Pippy to break her stop and sniff habit is helping me get unstuck, too. While walking Pippy I’ve discovered that my will power is key to reforming her behavior. If I am halfhearted and weak, Pippy is bound to pull me back to the same sniffing spots she has a thousand times before. In order to change her pattern and teach her how to walk obediently I must hold firm and keep walking (even when Pippy is pulling so hard on the leash it feels like my arm might pop out of its socket).

The same principles of determination and will power apply to breaking free of my own rut.

In order to get unstuck I must surrender my will to God and follow Jesus, not my habits and hang-ups, with determination. I must let obedience to Christ dictate my day, not my routine. I must cease trying to take the lead and let Him order my every start and stop.

While trapped in the rut of my routine I will never be a fluid follower of Jesus. As long as I’m caught up in my habits I’m doomed to a life of stubborn rigidity. Like Pippy yanking and pulling on the leash, my walk with God will be unpleasant and short on peace until I release my will and let the Holy Spirit direct my life.

Jesus must be my pack leader. He must be the one who is telling me when I can stop and go. When He says, “pause,” that’s when I pause. When He says, “walk this way,” then I need to be free of my rut so I can heed the call.

Outside the confines of my rut and routine is a great, big, beautiful world and God will show it to me if I will just stop yanking on His leash. As soon as I relinquish control of my habits and hang-ups and let Christ renew my routine, He will amaze me with awe and wonder as He daily rewrites me a new, wonderful normal.

Pippy and I are both getting older but we are never too old to learn new tricks.  

 

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Galatians 5:25

, , , ,

The Dog Wash

The dogs desperately needed a bath but the groomer was booked three weeks out. Pippy and Molly would have gladly waited that long. They dread the groomer. Pippy shakes the whole way there but I could not endure three more weeks with two stinky schnoodles. My girls desperately needed a bath so it was on to plan B.

The upstairs bathtub. Although convenient, at home washing never gets the job done. While kneeling on the floor and bent over the porcelain surround I can’t scrub well enough to really eradicate the dirt. Then there is the problem of the water pressure when it comes time to rinse. The girls hate the faucet and panic when we get too close to its powerful stream. Pouring water from a pitcher is the only inefficient option.

On to plan C.

The Dog Wash. The girls were excited when I grabbed their leashes and opened the front door. They thought we were headed for a walk but when I went straight to the car Pippy’s face fell into a panic. This wasn’t a mission for a walk. This was a mission for a bath. I could see the anxiety written all over her furry face. She thought she was headed for the groomers.

For the next seven minutes on our way to the dog wash Pippy panicked as if her life were about to be over. I did my best to reassure her. I said, “You are not going to the groomer.” And added, “Or the vet.” But Pippy was relentless in her fearfulness. She refused to settle down.

Until we arrived at our dog wash destination.

The moment I opened the door and Pippy jumped out of the car with relief and joy. She could smell the air and it wasn’t the groomers. She could see the pavement and it wasn’t the parking lot she had dreaded. Pippy pranced with glee because I wasn’t about to leave her behind to be shampooed by a stranger. I was going into the dog wash with her and I would be staying the whole time.

Fifteen minutes later the dogs and I had completed our cleanliness mission and were back in the car headed home. Both dogs behaved beautifully in the bath tub and Pippy never panicked. All three of us enjoyed the ride home in peace.

 

Poor Pippy, her fearfulness isn’t her fault. As I watched her panting in the backseat I realized that she’s just behaving how she was taught from her Mom. Pippy learned how to be fearful from watching me.

The truth is, I am fearful and prone to panic. While riding on the road of life I shake and pant with all of the anxiety of an unsettled Schnoodle. Even though God is behind the wheel I become anxious and tremble as if something terrible were about to happen. Even though the Word of God reassures me that the destination ahead is going to be good and glorious, I hold onto my concerns. Even though the Lord commands me not to worry I refuse to release my fear.

Until we arrive at God’s destination.

When the door is opened and God’s plan is revealed I leap into the future with joy because the reality is never what I feared. My anxiety disappears and all shaking is settled because God is not dropping me off at the groomers. He is not leaving me behind. Every time He opens the door the glory of His presence is revealed. God isn’t going anywhere. He is staying right there with me.

There is nothing to fear and no reason to panic. God is not about to abandon you and me, His precious children, at the groomer. Christ is going with us into the dog wash. The restorative, redemptive hand of God will go with you into the tub. The Spirit of God will surround you in every cycle and see you  through until His work is done and you are clean!

Thank God the groomer was booked and the tub at home wouldn’t do. As it turns out I’m the one who needed the trip to the dog wash so God could cleanse my heart of panic and fear and restore peace as I ride in the backseat with Him.

,

Immediate Obedience

It was 2:30 AM and Pippy was desperate for a bathroom break. This is not part of her usual routine. The last time Pippy begged to be let out in the middle of the night was seven years ago.

At the time Pippy was just a puppy and unable to hold her bladder. On those hot August nights I recall reluctantly pulling myself out of bed and sleepily shuffling towards the steps holding Pippy in my arms. Slowly but gingerly I would tiptoe down the wooden steps, careful not to slip with my restless schnoodle puppy in toe.

Once successfully past the treacherous treads and out the front door I plopped Pippy down in the grass and instruct her to do her business. With a bewildered look she would glance around the yard as if contemplating what to do next.

To help my puppy along in the decision making process I repeated a familiar training command. “Go pee, Pippy,” I would say with authority. Looking back at me with her head tilted to the side and a confused look in her puppy eyes, it’s as if Pippy would say, “I have no clue what you’re saying.”

Seven years later I shuffled down the steps in the middle of the night carrying my grown up “puppy.” To this day she refuses to walk down those treacherous treads. After successfully making it down the steps we exited through the front door and I softly set Pippy down on the front porch. As she walked into the yard I gently whispered, “Go pee, Pippy” and immediately, she obeyed on command.

A few seconds later Pippy completed her mission and dutifully returned to the porch. We carefully made our way back up the steps and climbed back into bed. Both Pippy and I quickly fell back to sleep and enjoyed the rest of our night in uninterrupted peace

 

During Pippy’s short nighttime waking she reminded me of an important lesson about obedience. When I am awoken and interrupted by restless nights and worldly trouble obedience to the voice of God will always restore me to His comfort and rest. When I hear the call of the Holy King and comply without hesitation He is faithful to carry me into His glorious presence of unending peace and rest.

 

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.

1 Peter 1:14-16