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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. 

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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.

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Salvation, Sickness & Singleness

Three “s’s have defined my twenties: salvation, sickness and singleness.

At the age of twenty, salvation changed everything about me. In the blink of an eye, Christ’s redemption did a complete overhaul on my life, reinventing me from the inside out. Now, when I look back on pre-salvation Stephanie, I can’t believe I was that person. The old me is someone I don’t even recognize – and I thank God for that. 

On the heels of salvation came sickness. At the age of twenty-one chronic illness changed everything about my life and the course it’s taken. I had an image in my mind’s eye about what my future would look like. We all have one of those, don’t we? It’s totally normal and natural – especially for a young adult – to envision what lies ahead based on dreams, desires and previous experience. But when I became sick all of my thoughts about the future were upended by the uncertainty of my physical condition. Sickness dramatically altered life as a knew it and derailed many of my hopes and dreams. I had to grieve the loss of my health and my plans for the future before I could accept that God’s will, although far different from my own, is still perfect and good.

Then there is singleness. Being completely and utterly single (read: not a date in sight) for nine years has been a journey onto itself. Again, I’ve had to grieve more dreams and more plans while coming to accept that a solo life is not a lesser life.

I’ve also had to learn how to do life on my own. This was a first for me. All throughout my teen years, right up until my sickness, there was always a special someone to accompany me on life’s adventures. Companionship was my comfort zone and I didn’t leave it willingly. To be candid, my first few years of singleness were spent complaining and wishing I wasn’t alone. Being content with single has been just as challenging as being joyful while sick. But, as always, God has been faithful and gracious, repeatedly reminding me through His Spirit of love that the only person I need to be whole is Jesus.

The more seasons of life I’ve spent being single, sick and saved, the more I can relate to the Psalmist, David, who wrote, “You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands. How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are!” (Psalm 16:5-6)

While experiencing the shadows and clouds of earthly troubles, David leaned into the almighty God and discovered that He is all-sufficient, all-powerful and all-faithful. By spending intense time with God, David’s view of Him was completely transformed.

Like David, I’ve gone through dark valleys and, in the midst of them, experienced glorious glimpses of Jesus. As it turns out, sickness and singleness are fantastic tools for strengthening dependence and reliance on Christ’s Holy Spirit. Thanks to those two s’s built on the bedrock of salvation, I’ve been blessed to spend my twenties getting to know Jesus as more than just a far-off God reigning on a throne, wearing robes of white. I’ve gotten to know him as my personal Sustainer, very best Friend and unfailing Father.

At the start of my twenties, when my three s’s were fresh and new, I never imagined I’d be grateful for how they disrupted and altered my life. But one more thing I’ve learned in the past decade is “never say never.”

Now I can say, “thank God” for my twenties because the holy work done on my heart in the fires of illness and loneliness has been truly incredible. Through tears, grief and sorrow I have been cleansed, renewed and strengthened. In His perfect way, God has used unexpected challenges to mold and shape me into a woman after His own heart.

The closing verses of Psalm 16 are the perfect bow to wrap around a life saved and sustained by the almighty hand of God. In that beautiful chapter, David wrote, “I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. And so I am thankful and glad, and I feel completely secure, because you protect me from the power of death. I have served you faithfully, and you will not abandon me to the world of the dead. You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.” (Psalm 16:5-7, GNT)

Praise God, He is always good, perfectly faithful and still isn’t finished yet.

 

Today’s reading: Psalm 16

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How to End a Pity Party

The aqua blue waves brushed gently against the silky white sand, covering my feet and cooling me from head to toe. It was a picture perfect day at the beach; the kind of day that refreshes a person in both body and soul.

But that’s not what was happening to me.

I didn’t feel refreshed at all and it wasn’t the sun or the sand’s fault. It was all me. I was too blame because I was too busy have a pathetic pity party to enjoy a walk on the beach.

The pitiful party all started when I began rehearsing the past. I just couldn’t seem to get the last nine years out of my head. I kept returning to opportunities gone by, missed milestones and a decade of disappointments. For days my thoughts had been traveling down “poor me” lane, lamenting time and dreams lost thanks to Lyme Disease.

While the pity party was going strong, joy and contentment were nowhere to be found. Consumed with thoughts about what I don’t have robbed me of enjoying the gifts that were right in front of me – namely the beach, sun and life.

It was that last, critically important gift that put an abrupt end to my pity party. As I wiggled my toes in the sand, it suddenly dawned on me: You’re not dead.

To most people, that wouldn’t have been a shocking or profound thought. Especially while sitting upright and very much alive on a beach. But, given my past nine years of ill health, thinking about the life in my body stopped my party dead in its tracks. And with that, I called off my pity party and showed my ungrateful, pathetic, self-absorbed thoughts, feelings and emotions the door.

A moment later the pity party had completely packed up and gone home and, immediately, in it’s place, a new thanksgiving party up shop.

With gratefulness back as the host of my heart it was as if the beach transformed before my very eyes. With my gloomy attitude lifted, the sun began to shine brighter. Suddenly the water took on a sparkly hue and the sand felt softer, like a heavenly mattress just begging me to sit down and take a rest.

And so I did.

As I sat myself down on the sandy earth and dug my heels into the sand, I thanked God for my feet and the incredible healing that’s occurred in each and every toe. As I glanced up and down the beach I thanked God for restored eyes that can see such a beautiful world. Next, I looked at my legs and arms and thanked God for muscles that are relaxed and no longer flaring. Then I looked up to the cloudless sky and thanked God for Jesus, my friend and Savior who rescued my soul that once was perishing.

During my silent and solo beachside worship time, I was reminded that the joy of salvation is mine to enjoy the moment I stop the pity party and invite Jesus back onto the throne of my life. As soon asI put an end to the  lamenting and ask the Holy Spirit to come and refresh me with the joy of salvation, Chris always comes flooding my heart, renewing me from the inside out with streams of abundant gladness. Resurrection power ushers in the indescribable peace that can only ever be experienced while content and at home in His presence.

Let’s face it. Pity is never a very good party. It is always pathetic and sad. But when Jesus enters in that’s when the real, holy, eternally jubilant party gets started. And the good news is, it will never, ever have to end.

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A Table for Two

It was six o’clock in the evening and time for dinner. But I didn’t feel like eating alone…again.

As my tummy grumbled, my heart did, too, longing for someone to share a meal with. For a few pathetic minutes, I sat frozen at the kitchen counter, wishing there was someone to sit across from me and exchange conversation between bites of food. As I glanced at the empty chairs, I silently lamented the fact that no one would be arriving to fill them. “Oh, how I wish I did not have to eat alone anymore!”

My inner dialogue was interrupted by inner rumblings of hunger. So, to satisfy my need for food and desire for company, I hopped in the car and drove to my go-to place for a bite to eat. “At least there will be people around,” I told myself.

Twenty minutes later I found myself seated at a round table with three chairs and only one person to fill them. My purse took a seat and I took another, then I prayed over my cup of chicken noodle soup and began to eat.

As I filled my spoon and ate my dinner, nothing visibly dramatic happened. I didn’t spill my soup bowl or run into anyone I know. It was, by all outward appearances, an uneventful meal. But, on the inside, an attitude-altering transformation was underway.

The change occurred when I opened my Bible and began to read Philippians chapter three. In his letter, Paul wrote about living as a citizen of heaven, not a citizen of earth.

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

And that’s when it dawned on me: loneliness is always an earthly emotion.

Loneliness is not of God. It is of man. It is a self-absorbed feeling that has nothing to do with eternity and everything to do with what is temporary. Loneliness is a sneaky trick of satan used to distract God’s children from enjoying fellowship with Jesus. It is an emotion born out of self-pity – “Poor me, I’m alone again.” Not born out of thanksgiving – “Praise God, I am never ever alone!”

Whenever I am lamenting loneliness, I am always focusing my attention inward and downward. My forlorn feelings arise when fixating on myself and what I want. But, praise God, He does not abandon me in my pathetic, self-absorbed state. The way out of lonesome sadness and sorrow is found by refocusing outward and upward, on Jesus and who He is. The crippling grief of unwanted solitude is supernaturally dispelled by the cheering gratefulness of God’s unfailing companionship.

The moment I turn from my lonely lament and let Jesus satisfy my desire for companionship I am always relieved to discover that He was right there all along. The third seat at my table was never empty. The table is always full because God’s Spirit is always with me. He is my faithful friend who never fails or leaves me. He is with me every step of the way and seated beside me for every bite of every meal.

Because my citizenship is in Heaven, my company is, too. My faithful friend, my Savior, Jesus is always with me and I am truly never alone.

 

My table is never set for a party of one.
There are always at least two seats taken – one for me and one for God.
Jesus meets me at every meal and walks with me every moment in between.
He never leaves me nor forsakes me. He stays with me through thick and thin.
At times it may appear that I am all alone but don’t be fooled by the earthly view of my companionship.
The truth is I am always in the best company – the company of my Savior.