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The Age of Adaline

Exactly one year ago today and at about this exact moment, 1:42pm, I was hanging a picture in our Living Room when it happened.  Life as we knew it thrown upside down…  Baxter was gone…  R~ had witnessed the entire thing play out in front of her 9 year old eyes…  I’d go on, but I’ve already captured that story once before and to be honest… its just too painful.

So for today… Happier thoughts…  The following is a republishing of a Facebook note from early last summer.

B-waxy…  I miss you bud!…


It’s been just over 4 LONG, GRUELING, & PAINFUL months since Baxter died. If we’re new friends or if we’re old friends & you just happened to have no internet access in the month of February, I wrote a lot about Baxter back then. You can catch up by starting with Part 1 and continuing on from there if you like.  It’s raw & its uncensored & it didn’t quite go the way I thought it would when I started writing, but… such is life… Raw, uncensored, & rarely going the way you thought it would. Nonetheless, I recovered some pieces of me in the process & I quickened my resolve to fight for my family’s hearts in the wake of tragedy.

So how’s that working out you ask? Well, I doubt they’ll be making a Disney movie about it… We have all dealt with the loss of Baxter in our own ways. But I think common for all of us is that everything has just felt magnified… Every emotion… Every reaction… Every social interaction… Every high… Every low… Just way too intense… Much weightier than it should be… And that’s made it hard on those around us I think. People tend to like easy… People tend to like uncomplicated… And we have all been anything but easy & uncomplicated lately.

Part of me wants to apologize for that… for all of us… But then I realize that no apology is necessary. What is necessary is recognition & gratitude… Recognition for those that don’t shy away from the uneasy or the complicated. And we are eternally grateful for them in this moment of darkness we’ve had to endure. You folks that encouraged & kept checking in & persevered through walls of insecurity… You’re the heroes here and I can’t thank you enough!


They were born on April 1st, 2016… April Fools’ Day… I started my current job back on an April Fools’ Day a few years back… Since God made man in his own image, I don’t feel bad at all that I tend to have a very dry & somewhat off sense of humor. Clearly he does…

They were born a litter of four… Clove, Cedar, Cashmere, & Cressida… All girls… Did I mention that sense of humor yet? Anyway… here’s all the cuteness…

addie-littermates
R~ nearly came out of her skin when she found out they were finally born. She’d been counting down since the day she found out Belle & Dickens were… um… expecting… Sidebar: That whole birds & bees discussion became unavoidable as a result… But I digress…

After they were born, it became all about pictures… And once we had the initial pictures, she wanted to see their faces after their eyes were open. And after that… the Name Game started. Literally from mid-April until the day we picked her up, every other conversation with R~ was about the name. She researched & googled & polled complete strangers.. And LISTS… She made lists… Many lists of potential names… And the final week before we were to pick her up, you’d have thought she was a momma bird in the nesting phase… She took inventory of everything we had saved from Baxter, but some things wouldn’t do for a girl… So we had to go shopping… multiple times, before we got everything on the list… Finally though, the day came!..

We didn’t have the first pick of the litter with Baxter. The litter back then was down to just two boys. And Baxter chose us, so it wasn’t all that difficult. But now we had four to choose from & they were all perfect in their own way. We thought we had it sort of figured out based on the pictures, but that pretty much went out the window once we got there.

So we played… & we played… & we played with them for about an hour… and we weren’t making much progress. They’d just been to the vet the prior week for their initial shots and they found out one of them had an umbilical hernia. It was really hard to tell which one because they moved so fast & looked so similar, but I was convinced that was NOT THE ONE we wanted.

I could imagine this scenario where that puppy could develop a complication & ultimately wouldn’t make it. We had a family friend with a similar story about a kitten that didn’t survive and I WOULD NOT expose my family to that… Nope… Not on my guard…
Of course, then I realized that the one we were finally zeroing in on was, you guessed it, the one with the umbilical hernia. Somewhere deep inside, that little voice spoke up… “This dog needs healing…” Well okay, yeah… That’s sort of obvious… “Your family needs healing…” BUSTED… I was completely undone…


There would be no inside jokes with the naming of this one… Named Adaline, because of the movie that my wife fell in love with this breed of dog… Middle name Harper, because we rock like that at creating names that flow well… A by-product of having a run-on First & Middle name myself…

And she is a much different dog from Baxter. Smarter because she is female… at least that’s what my family tells me… So house breaking has been a breeze… Hardly an accident to even count. But she’s also smart enough to figure out that if she whines in her crate long enough at night, we’ll eventually cave & take her out… That sleeping through the night thing is still a work in progress. But regardless of the differences, she’s all ours…


EPILOGUE

R~ & I had a chance to do some hiking & rock climbing over Memorial Day Weekend. She LOVED it!… Like she’d found some piece of herself out there or something… That type of LOVED it!…

BUT IT WAS ALMOST ERASED BEFORE IT EVEN STARTED… Catawba Falls is a neat attraction that draws lots of people from nearby Asheville. And many bring their dogs & make a day out of it. In fact, we had multiple conversations about how Addie would not have liked this hike. Too strenuous for a little puppy & we’d have had to carry her the whole way.

R~ spent most of the hike leading me by 10-15 feet… so much in her happy place. About 20 minutes into the hike, we approached a blind corner in the trail. And next thing I know, two fairly large dogs are bounding around the corner, chasing each other off leash. In a FLASH, R~ was behind me & shaking like a leaf. The dogs ran right by us like we didn’t even exist. Their owners appearing around the corner in the next instance. Just two dogs having a romp… nothing more…

R~ was frozen for a few moments, no doubt re-living the entire experience from the day Baxter died. For a moment there, I wasn’t sure but what our day wasn’t over at that point. But we talked about it for a good bit the rest of the way up the trail. Still reminding her… “Its not your fault”. She shook off the cloud over her much faster than I expected and was back in pure delight by the time the rock climbing started.

In truth, part of me wishes that four months + constant affirmation + new puppy = healed R~. But shortcuts in healing rarely work to the advantage of the wounded. So we persevere and continue the fight because that’s what we do for the ones we love.

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Who is Negan?

Just in case you’re among the 30% of Americans that are not completely caught up with The Walking Dead… You may want to skip this entry & come back to it.  But if you’re at least through Season 6, I’ll try to tip toe delicately here without giving away any Season 7 spoilers…

And with that out of the way… “Who is Negan?” was a big theme for much of Season 6…  In short, Negan is the BIGGEST of BIG BADS that Rick Grimes’ merry band of survivors has ever faced in the Zombie Apocalypse.  He’s possibly the best villain captured on film since Darth Vader… And that’s saying something for me because Star Wars is near & dear to my heart.

I suppose for the 1% of you that may not be Walking Dead fans, I should back up & give you some context here.  Negan is a 100% Grade “A” NARCISSIST… He is the leader of an extremely violent group of survivors known ironically as The Saviors. And by leader, I really mean brutal dictator.  The guy takes other men’s wives, makes them his own, & flaunts it back in the former husband’s faces.  And those are the people within his own group!  He forces people to kneel to him as a show of submission.  He walks around with a bat covered in barbed wire name Lucille and uses it to intimidate & if necessary, prove a point… or perhaps just reinforce one.  “She’s a vampire bat… And she is thirsty…” he proclaims shortly after bashing in the skull of one unfortunate soul.

But what makes Negan such a great villain is that he’s SO CHARISMATIC.  At times, he can seem downright charming, but do not be fooled because he is also a MASTER MANIPULATOR…  He’ll flash you that winning smile to draw you in today… and then feed you straight to the wolves tomorrow…  if it serves his purposes…

So add all that up and combine it with the one final characteristic…  He’s COMPLETELY convinced that he’s right in doing the things he does.  And from a certain perspective, maybe he is…  He has managed to “save” a large number of people  from likely death and in doing so, has grown the largest group of survivors we’ve yet to encounter in the universe of The Walking Dead.  If you were on your last legs when he found you, you really might think of him as a savior…


While Negan makes for a compelling villain on the big screen, he & his kind can make life quite hellish for others in real life.  It’s been almost 10 years since I ran into my own personal Negan…  And just like Rick Grimes’ group, I was totally unprepared for it. But the similarities go even deeper than that…  Like Rick, I too made some very wrong assumptions about Negan…  Like assuming that adults can agree to disagree without resorting to cheap power plays.  Like assuming people in positions of authority & leadership are worthy of those positions.  And just like on the show, Negan was completely convinced he was right & justified in the way he dealt with me & many others.  He played the manipulation game as well as anyone I’ve ever encountered & as a result, he had a huge “following”, most of whom weren’t even aware of the evil happening right under their noses.

And that brings us to the crux of this blog post… Sooner or later in life, we ALL run into a Negan.  In my case, I didn’t recognize the signs at the time and I paid a price for it.  If I can accomplish anything here, its that I could spare someone else the same pain & suffering.


I’ve just finished reading a great book by Donald Miller called Scary Close and it parallels nicely with this particular topic.  Its all about relationships… healthy ones & otherwise…  In the middle of the book, Don identifies Five Categories of Manipulation and as it relates to this post these are all excellent tools to help recognize when you may have a Negan operating in your midst…

  1. The Scorekeeper… “A Scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win.  Scorekeepers are in control of the scoreboard and frame it any way they want, but always in such a way that they’re winning.”
  2. The Judge… “A Judge strongly believes in right and wrong, which is great, but they also believe they are the ones who decide right and wrong and lord it over others to maintain authority and power.  Right and wrong are less a moral code than they are a collar and leash they attach to others so they can lead them around”
  3. The False Hero… “The False Hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do…  You might be dealing with a False Hero when the future they’re describing seems too good to be true.”
  4. The Fearmonger… “Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination.  The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell.  Fearmongers manipulate by making people believe they are strong.  They are never willing to be vulnerable for fear of being perceived as weak.”
  5. The Flopper… “A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention.  Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can.  This is a powerful and destructive form of manipulation.  In order to be a victim, a person needs an oppressor.”  Hang around a Flopper long enough & that will inevitably become you.

If you start paying closer attention to those you interact with, you’ll find subtle hints of all 5 Types in just about everyone… including YOU!… But with a Negan, there is nothing subtle about it.  Negans are some blend of all 5 Types, but almost always lean most heavily on Fearmongering, Judging, & Scorekeeping as their “go to” forms of manipulation.  If I’d picked up on even one of these traits, I could’ve saved myself and my family a lot of heartache.

So identifying that you’re dealing with a Negan is one thing…  But even if you get that far, you may feel that you can help them see the light…  Help them overcome their tendencies & transform into a healthier version of themselves…  Don offers us some sound advice about dealing with this type of person…

“The harshest people I’ve met over the years have had two things in common:  they don’t fully trust anybody, and they view relationships as a means to an end.”

“You will never have a healthy relationship with a deceptive or manipulative person.”

The reality is… You can’t fix Negan…  And its not your responsibility to do so…  A good friend of mine shared this advice with me a few years ago & its stuck with me ever since…

“We must at all times remember it is not our job to institute change in another’s life, but to be the bringer of good news. Conviction and change is the role of the Holy Spirit. Failure of change is not a lack of the gospel or a condemnation of us, but the indication of the heart of another not yet ready for the movement into abundant transformation.”

So if you can’t help Negan see the error of his ways, what can you do?  In some cases, you may feel a sense of obligation to confront Negan & his manipulations head on…  If you do, you better apply some of the lessons Rick Grimes group had to learn the hard way…  You will need allies… And LOTS OF THEM!…  You’ll also need to recognize that the cost of doing so will almost always be more than you could have ever anticipated…


I hope this somehow helps you & yours…  And if you’re looking for some new reading material, I highly recommend Don’s book.

And for what its worth… the fate of Negan on the show remains unknown.  In the comics the show is based on though, Negan’s ego eventually gets the best of him… And while it took quite a few years to play out, the same was true for my Negan as well…  #karma

That Damn Wardrobe…

Once upon a time…  We lived in the most magical place…  And it was called Community…

No… I’m not talking about the same thing our friend Webster describes.  That is a pale imitation of what I’m talking about…

And I’m also not talking about that TV show starring Joel McHale… Although that Community was great in a totally different way…

I’m talking about something totally  OTHER here… It’s really hard to define, so let me just give you some examples…

Community is BACK DECK time…  It looks a little different in each season…  Currently, we’re deep into Fire-pit Season for instance…  But some common threads never change…  Relaxing with your closest friends… Unwinding about your week with people that know your heart & your soul…  Losing track of time & finding the kids passed out in the playroom…

Community is having a medical emergency that sidelines one of you in the hospital for a few weeks and your kids think it’s the greatest thing in the world… Because from their point of view, it just looks like endless sleepovers with their besties…

Community is crashing your friends house at 10pm… in your PJ’s…  Because you were both bored & couldn’t sleep…

Community is knowing each other deeply & being known deeply… And choosing to overlook the faults & flaws and love each other anyway…

Community is having mentors that so easily seem to guide you along the most difficult paths of life. Community is having younger people that you have earned the privilege to mentor yourself, even though you doubt your own worthiness to do so.

Community is encouraging each other as we run this race… Be it about work or parenting or dreams or faith…  It’s equal parts building each other up YET ALSO KNOWING that “fixing” isn’t always the priority, but instead simply sitting in the struggle together is what is needed…

Once upon a time lasted about 4 years for us the first time…  3 years the second time…  And life has been almost intolerable outside of those periods ever since…


I was recently sharing some of these thoughts with a new friend & he said… “It was like you were living in Narnia…  and now you’re not…”

Holy Cow Batman!…  That guy just crushed it and barely even knows me!  I mean, honestly… That’s about the most accurate description of how life felt both at the time & ever since.  Life in Deep Community felt like about the closest thing to Eden we get to enjoy on this side of the divide.

And all the moments in between and since, feels JUST LIKE the Penvensie children did trapped here in the “real world”.  Having had a taste of Narnia, the children were unable to accept life “as we know it” here.


Once Upon a Time… Or Narnia as it should be known… Fell apart both times for multiple reasons.  Someone moves… something tragic occurs or nearly occurs…  And The Ring is broken… No wait, that’s Tolkien, not C.S. Lewis… Anyway, things happen an POOF… Narnia is gone.

And I have been so angry about that at some level…  On some level, I’ve cursed at that Wardrobe for ever letting me in… And I’ve cursed at that Wardrobe for kicking me out… And I’ve cursed at that Wardrobe for not letting me back in…  I’m not proud about any of that… Just being honest…

Being in Narnia felt as right as anything has ever felt right in my entire life.  It was life as close to as it was meant to be as we’ll ever experience here on Earth.


So where dear reader does that leave us?…  Well…  I’m a far better person for ever having been to Narnia…  That needs to be recognized.  Also, it has left me with a deep longing that has been positive in two ways…  1)  I have a much greater appreciation of the times I do get with my friends from Narnia.  Its not much time these days, but when we can make it happen, we drink it in deeply.  2)  I’m resolved to fight for it.  While so many circumstances have shifted since our time in Narnia, I know what is at stake.  We are not meant to run this race alone.  In fact, we are opposed in so many ways, its nearly impossible to do so alone.  And so we fight to find our fellow Narnians here in this world.


Just one more thing…  Narnia wasn’t meant to be the final destination…  Perhaps that is why it has proved to be so elusive over the years…

At the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep leaves Narnia & enters Aslan’s Country…

dawn-treader-reepicheep-sails-to-aslans-country

You see, there is a place even better than Narnia…  And The King is far too kind to allow us to settle for anything less…

Baxter’s Story Part 7 – Beauty From Ashes

The following is the final post in Baxter’s Story…  If you’ve been following the story, you know that these were initially presented as a series of Facebook Notes back in January & February of this year.  If you haven’t been following and want to catch up, here’s a link to Part 1


I’ve held off writing this final entry for Baxter’s Story, probably because I was so hoping to be able to put a nice pretty bow on this story. We Christians like to do that sort of thing… put Happy Bows on sad stories. I think its because we don’t like to embrace suffering as part of the Christian experience. Way back in 2010, we took a small group of college kids to Passion 2010 in Atlanta and in one of the breakout sessions, Francis Chan forever changed my perspective on this… He started with the book of Matthew in the New Testament, quoting scripture from each book of the New Testament on Holy Suffering… He made it all the way to 1Timothy before he admitted that there was in fact a book of the New Testament with no mention of suffering. And then he goes on to quote NINE instances in 2Timothy that referenced Holy Suffering. Its all there… just google Suffering and New Testament if you’d like to see for yourself.

Yet somehow, it doesn’t get a lot of play from most pulpits… or in your typical Sunday School or small group… You can find a handful of books on it in your local Christian bookstore, but they’re largely overshadowed by much shinier, happier books like Your Best Life Now… I believe it is this lack of transparency in the Christian experience that turns off so many that choose not to believe. Western Christianity sells the shiny & happy BIGTIME… diminishes the much harder topics… and the end result is a perceived experience that does NOT match at all with the trials we face daily on this side of Eden. People either can’t buy into it at face value or they give it a try for awhile & when the results don’t line up with the promised prosperity, they move on… We’d reach far more people for Christ if we were just honest about things… The truth is… SALVATION IS HERE!… But it must also be “worked out with fear & trembling” (Philippians 2:12)… And it is not always shiny & happy… It is in fact, quite messy and humbling…


SIX DAYS after “R” witnessed Baxter’s brutal death at the hands of two pit bulls, the above picture was captured by my brother-in-law… R & his pit bull Bo… That picture gets me through A LOT these days… Its a LOUD reminder of what God is capable of… You see God built the universe in 6 days… And he healed some deep wounds in R’s heart in that same amount of time… #BeautyFromAshes

That is not to say that things for R are perfect. She waffles between periods of being her vibrant self, followed by periods of deep sadness. She passes the location where his crate used to be… SADNESS… We walk by the pet food aisle in the grocery store… SADNESS… She still won’t sleep in her room alone… BUT… She is not terrified by the images from that day… She is not afraid of dogs or animals in general… She is still R and for that, I am grateful..

There have been SO MANY acts of kindness that have come out of this tragedy. Flowers… Cards… Gifts… Some for all of us… Some just for R… So sweet… and SO NECESSARY!… Every one has been precious…

Likewise, the breeders have been so awesome… Even though they have more expensive bloodlines than the one Baxter came from, they’ve guaranteed us first pick of whatever litters they have this Spring…

Response to these stories I’ve written has also been overwhelming… My hope in sharing all of this has been to move people… get you to consider the things that have happened in your own lives and re-consider them in a new light. Some of you responded publicly… Some of you have responded privately… Some of you haven’t responded at all, but I know you’re reading… 😉 I won’t go into any details here, but it is so good to know that it has connected with so many…


REGRETS… For my wife’s birthday, I put together a picture book of Baxter. I scoured every electronic device in the house for pictures that we’d forgotten about. R’s ipod was a treasure trove. My wife’s ipad as well… I even got pictures from some dear friends that saw Baxter in the park the weekend before. It was excruciating & it was necessary… so many happy memories.

One thing that became obvious as I pulled it all together though… I didn’t have one single picture of me & Baxter anywhere. That makes me so immensely sad on so many levels. I despise having my picture taken with a passion that’s probably way beyond healthy. And in this case, it cost me… leaving me with nothing but memories now. There’s a lesson in all that and I’m not sure I’m really ready for it. But there it is…


And on that sad note… The Enemy continues to be loud & active… So many of our closest friends are being attacked in ways I can’t explain. Just know that it is exactly what I said in Part 2… He is relentless in his pursuit to take us out. We either confront that head-on or he wins…

This latest round has impacted my oldest “A” the most… She lost it last night in a way I haven’t seen before. Probably the culmination of Baxter & everything else that is going on. Thank God it finally all came out…


This weekend, our family is starting a study of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters… If you aren’t familiar with Lewis’ works, please check them out. His ability to wrap the realities of the Christian struggle into works of fiction are both spot on in their accuracy and yet completely disarming because they are NOT overtly churchy. I specifically picked this book because it dives deeply into the spiritual warfare happening all around us.
You see, I’ve come to realize that while scripture does promise us beauty from ashes… Our reality is this… IT MUST BE FOUGHT FOR…

Baxter’s Story ~ My Story (Part 4)

From a January 30th, 2016 Facebook Note…  See Parts 1, 2, & 3 for the backstory…


Its funny what you remember from your childhood. Take this picture above… I have always hated that picture… It might be because of that haircut… which I didn’t get to change until high school. Or it might be because it reminds me of how much hair I used to have. Or maybe its because this picture MUST have been given out with free Tide samples at JC’s Grocery, because every friend, relative, & acquaintance from my hometown seems to have landed a copy of it somehow. I have worked DILIGENTLY to keep this picture off of Facebook. It was easy in the early years of FB, but increasingly harder as more & more relatives, friends, and elementary school teachers migrated onto this platform.

I also remember that the house I grew up in was approximately 25 yards from the edge of Highway 158 when I was a wee lad. Then the state decided to put in a turn lane and 25 yards turned into 10 yards somewhere around the late Elementary School years.

conway-house

I remember that distance really well because it made pets EXTREMELY problematic.  You see, we did not do indoor pets in my house. That was just a thing… Pets, unless they swam in a bowl or a tank, were for outdoors. And really… fish are more decoration than pet. So, I cannot really remember how many dogs we attempted to have growing up, probably because each experience ended up the same way… with that dog dead in the middle of Highway 158. We had better luck with cats… Not with all of them mind you, but enough to be statistically significant.

But I do have one very vivid memory of the last dog we had while I was growing up. He was a mixed breed (see my last post), but if I had to name it… I’d say he was a Yellow LabraBeagle… I don’t remember his name. In fact, I don’t remember the names of most of my pets growing up. That’s not a small detail btw… But anyway, this memory is etched permanently in my brain…

It was the summer of ‘79… I say that because I’m pretty sure I was younger than 10 and I was definitely wearing shorts… and I really like that Bryan Adams song… In truth, it could’ve been ‘80 or ‘81… (my sister later confirmed it was 1980)

I do not remember what I was doing at the time. I was outside my house, playing I think… and my dog was nowhere around. I heard an extremely loud YELP and my big ears pinpointed it to my left and at least two neighbor’s yards away… And it was definitely my dog… I took off in a full sprint and arrived in one of our neighbor’s yards… My dog was under the rear wheel of a mammoth car I did not recognize. He was alive, but he was not moving. A lady I did not recognize started apologizing… At least, I think she was apologizing… But I’m pretty sure she was also the voice actor for that school teacher in all the Charlie Brown cartoons.

They say that wounded animals can act in unpredictable ways and frequently bite people that are trying to help them. I did not know this at the time and it totally would not have mattered. I was moving to pick up the dog out of complete reflex… He did not bite me though. I scooped him up in my arms and ran for home. I remember that one of his hind legs was drooping very badly (it was broken)… And I distinctly remember his blood running down my right leg as I ran…


Let’s pause here & acknowledge something… My dad came from a completely different era than most of my readers can imagine. He was a man’s man that grew up on a farm in central NC… And when animals got hurt on a farm in the mid-20th century, they did not take them to fancy hospitals to be patched up while you sipped complimentary lattes… There was no money for that sort of thing… That animal usually got put down, depending on the nature & severity of the injury.

Now I did not know any of that at the time I arrived in my yard. All I did know was my dog was hurt badly and needed help. I’m standing there with this dog in my arms, his leg broken, his blood all over me, pleading without words… PLEASE DO SOMETHING!!!

And my dad did what a REAL man’s man does… He came through for me & we took that dog to the local vet. Doc Brown patched him up & he wore a little makeshift cast on that leg for awhile. He healed up pretty good… just a minor limp to show for it… And then one day not too far removed from that day in the summer of ‘79… ’80, he must’ve gotten interested in some vehicle that was going down Highway 158 and…


Now flash forward about 35 years to Sunday and I’m standing there holding Baxter’s body in almost exactly the same way as I did the other dog in 1980. He’s wrapped in a towel that was completely soaked in his blood. My coat that I’m wearing is now also covered in his blood. I am not running like before… Instead, I’m watching R run… Down the hill towards home… Completely hysterical… Tears streaming… But she is not running home to get help like I did… Doc Brown was a VERY gifted Vet, but there was nothing he could’ve done to help Baxter that day.

I watched R run down that hill… I turn to the right & see my wife talking with the other family… She is BARELY holding it together… And I think… “DEAR GOD… HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO COME THROUGH IN THIS?”… There is no voice from Heaven that responds. Something else does happen though, but its for another entry… Maybe tomorrow’s…

Come through?… You cannot be serious… Its all I can do to not stand in the street & cry like a toddler. I can see R made it into the house… And I can see my wife is winding down whatever conversation is happening off to the right… And I’m still standing there, holding Baxter… My only thought at this point is, “I can’t let either one of them see him like this.” So I walk slowly down that hill… Its still pretty icy… Somewhere in between, I realize I’ve got to bury him and it cannot wait… I carry him around to the back yard and set him down… I’m returning to the garage to get the shovel and see that my wife has made it back now… That’s good… R won’t be alone…

She says, “We need to take pictures…” My heart stops… I know she’s right, we don’t know how this thing will play out… And that means I have to take the pictures…


>>>STOP… I’ve left most of the details of the other family ambiguous intentionally up until this point because there’s a whole other entry I need to make there. That’s unfortunately left a lot of gaps in the story for people to fill in on their own and I need to clear this up for the moment. That other family is CRUSHED!… They not only had to see the whole thing play out in front of them on their front lawn… They also had to make the decision to put those two dogs down. They have made this thing as right as they can for now, I promise… and my heart breaks for theirs as much as it breaks for my own family’s.


Pictures… right… I have to take pictures… So there I am, unwrapping Baxter in the snow to take pictures. I want to throw up now… Not because of what I’m seeing in front of me, but because the weight of it ALL is starting to settle in… I turn Baxter one direction & then the other… And it is HELL!… There are so many wounds that I cannot tell where the killing blow landed. There is a very large hole in his jugular though, so I’m guessing that was it. Based on what R later tells us, we believe this was the first blow, so at least he didn’t suffer long… Finally… all the pictures are done…

Now, where to bury him?… Well, live in a typical subdivision, so the options are a bit limited, but I settle on a spot just behind our yard through the woods a little bit. The ground was hard and covered in ice & snow. It took awhile to dig that hole, probably because I had to stop frequently to wipe snot & tears off of my face. I laid him as carefully as I could in the hole, paused and spoke words of truth over him. I’ve buried lots of animals over the years… never felt compelled to do that before. I covered him up gently and took a step back.

I need to make a cross or something to mark his grave. I’ve NEVER done that before… I find some old pallet wood I had left over from some wine racks my wife asked me to make for Christmas the year before. I cut a short piece from a longer piece, then nail them together in the shape of a cross. I wrote Baxter across it with one of those fat Sharpie’s I found in the garage. And then I take it back to his grave & drive it into the ground.

My wife shows up about this time… I tell her its done and then she points out the bloody towel laying in the snow. I hear R coming… I manage to fold that towel faster than any other laundry in my life and somehow, manage to find a section of it without much blood on it to leave folded out. R is almost there & I decide to take no chances so I toss the towel behind a tree where she can’t see it. Now we’re all there, standing around Baxter’s grave… We had an informal burial ceremony right then & there. It was mostly blubbering & crying… Later on, we added a wreath that had been made from the clippings of a Christmas tree. It had hung on our front door through the Christmas season. We picked it up the same day we got our tree. Baxter had gone with us that day to pick out out the tree… He had an awesome day & was the superstar/VIP of that very busy tree farm… It had been a perfect day…


A tragic thing happens to most of us as we grow up… We tend to lose little pieces of ourselves along the way to adulthood. Sometimes its in large chunks… And sometimes its 1,000 paper cuts… Sometimes the pieces are taken from us… And sometimes we willingly give them away… But worst of all is that many times… we don’t even know that it has happened.

For instance… I willingly gave us musical training when I was in the 6th grade… Because I thought playing piano was for sissies… Then I bought my first electric guitar when I was 19 & fell in love… Now I wonder what my musicianship would look like if I hadn’t given up on it… Or would I have found my love of guitar sooner?…

I also gave up Singing in public when I was about 5 or 6 years old… Must’ve been something traumatic, right?… No, not really… I just couldn’t stand how uncomfortable it made me. So I told myself, I couldn’t really sing all that well. Even worse… I convinced myself I sang quite badly… Trying to sing out of the Methodist Hymnal helped reinforce that too… Those hymns are theoretically written in keys to fit the “average person”. But I was constantly having to switch octaves mid-song because it either went too high or too low. Pretty soon I just mouthed the words like the older men did. I bought that lie that I couldn’t sing for about 30 years. God eventually pulled it out of me kicking & screaming. Now I LOVE to harmonize and I’ve got a good ear for it. I lead songs at church every so often and I love that too. But every time, that fear & discomfort are still loud & present. I just choose to feel the fear & do it anyway… God takes care of the rest…

And then there’s writing… I NEVER EVEN GAVE WRITING A CHANCE!… I figured out pretty quickly that I could absolutely crush it in Math & Science and that was enough to get me by. We humans tend to glam onto things that work for us and Math & Science were my B-’s… So Writing never stood a chance… Who knows how that could’ve turned out differently?… Maybe that’ll be my retirement plan…

Gave up on Jesus too!… For about 12 years or so… I couldn’t reconcile the faith I grew up with to the world I lived in. How could God allow ____fill in the blank___? At the time, I didn’t truly understand that Evil I talked about a few days ago. Didn’t get that spiritual warfare was happening all around me. I was literally Neo in The Matrix before he took the red pill… (pause to give credit to John Eldredge on that analogy)… I found my way back eventually, but it was touch & go for awhile there.

Back to Baxter… I realize now that at some point in my childhood, I gave up on pets too. Now, we continued to have pets after that Yellow LabraBeagle died. And we’ve had plenty of pets over our married years too. And I loved them all to some degree… but always at a distance… Always with something held back… I realize now that at some level, I was expecting that they’d inevitably end up in the middle of Highway 158.

But Baxter was having none of that… Without even knowing it, I did try to hold back at first. But it didn’t last long. He wouldn’t allow it. Eventually, I loved him deeply and I held nothing back. And I didn’t realize that either until he was gone.

God had a design in mind for each of us. And we usually manage to screw that up… giving away what isn’t taken from us… Or life does it for us in chunks & papercuts… But “the Glory of God is man fully alive!” ~ St. Irenaeus.  So we must fight to get those chunks back… We must work out our salvation with fear & trembling. ~ Philippians 2:12… We must commit to being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory ~ 2Corinthians 3:18…

Baxter reminded me of this in the most beautiful & tragic way possible. And that’s really when I realized what I had to do for R. For while this would forever be a defining moment for her… I refuse to allow it to be a RE-defining moment for her. God defined her perfectly and I will fight like hell to help her hold onto that as long as I have breath in my lungs. That is how I come through…

So dear reader… What chunks have you lost, or had taken away over the years? What papercuts became so relentless, that you just gave in & bled out? What have you willingly given up & now regret? Jesus can heal all of these wounds if you invite him to. And even if you don’t, he’ll keep pursuing you… Its what he does… Beauty from Ashes…


Continue on to Part 5 here

Baxter’s Story (A Reprise) – Part 1

One year ago today, my family brought home a sweet new puppy & we named him Baxter.  We were not yet “dog people” at that point and we had no idea of what lay ahead. What you will read in this & subsequent posts, was originally presented as a series of Facebook Notes as I struggled to make sense of the tragedy that would unfold for us.  I didn’t know then that the words I spilled out would have any impact beyond my own catharsis.  But the reverberations were loud & ultimately led us here… to The Bible, The Spirit, & Diet Mountain Dew Blog…

So grab some tissues  & get ready to get yer Feels on…


 


When personal tragedy comes your way, its hard to know what to share via Social Media and what not to share. On the one hand, why burden the ‘internets’ with such a thing? On the other hand, there are some things that can be learned from the tragedy of others, so why not share. The longer this has lingered with me, the more I’m inclined to take the latter approach. “Beauty from Ashes” as my best friend said the other day…

And that’s really the crux of the situation right there. Romans 8:28 says… “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  TBH… its really hard right now to imagine the “good” in this for me & my family. But I’m hopeful that if I throw this thing out there, God will use it for someone else’s “good”. As he’s stirred this in me, I’ve realized I’ve got quite a few things to say about it all… Not really at the “I need to start a blog” level, but definitely more than a 144 character Tweet. And though the temptation exists to hate & rage on this thing… I’m committed to saying what I need to say in love.

And so… I’ll start Baxter’s story at the end…


January 24th, 2016 was not a typical Sunday, but we had no idea how atypical it would be when it started. Because typically, we’re pretty predictable on Sundays. If we’re in town, most Sunday’s we’re going to be at church until 12:30-1:00, then we go out for Mexican for lunch, because its in the bible somewhere. We’d usually meander homeward about 2:00-2:30 and that frequently meant nap time because if I was serving on team that Sunday, I would have been up since 6:30’ish in the morning. But there was no church that day… Cancelled due to the snow & ice & more snow that fell Friday & Saturday.

My youngest daughter, “R” (age 9 at the time) made a new friend during the snow days that weekend… She does that alot that fearless child o’ mine. She just goes at life with reckless abandon… offering her friendship to anyone that’s in her orbit. What you do with it is up to you… she’s just going to keep on being R regardless. My wife & I met the new friend for the first time on Saturday. Very nice kid… well mannered… polite… had his own light saber with him… They sledded & played hard in the weather all day Saturday & got started again early on Sunday. They knew it was going to get warmer on Sunday and wanted to get all they could out of that hill before everything started to melt.

But it did melt… and so they moved on to other adventures. Over lunch, they watched a Star Wars prequel because Star Wars… (obviously)… And then it happened… They had an idea to take Baxter and one of the kid’s small dogs for a walk around the neighborhood. Seemed harmless enough. Before we knew it Baxter was on the leash & they were out the door. I remember that I was hanging a picture in the living room. They hadn’t been gone but maybe 10 minutes when R busted through the front door wailing…

They had walked Baxter to “the kid’s” house and R stayed with him on the front lawn while the kid went in to get one of their family’s small dogs. In trying to exit the front door, the family’s two pit bulls blew right by the kid and…

Let me stop there & say that this will not become a referendum on pit bulls… My brother-in-law owns a very sweet one that R adores. There’s much more to this story on the dogs… R… Me… but for now just this…

Baxter died at approximately 1:58pm… January 24th, 2016…


Continue on to Part 2 here

Dear Future Boyfriend…

In the 1991 World Championships, Midori Ito had one of the most epic wipe-outs ever witnessed in Women’s Figure Skating.  Why was I watching Women’s Figure Skating in 1991?… Girlfriend…  Future Wife… ‘Nuff Said…  But let’s see the wipe-out in question…

skater

Shortly thereafter, the skater was being interviewed by an eager  NBC sports anchor person.  And in an attempt to bring some real depth to the experience for the viewers back home, asked the skater “What was going through your mind when you realized you weren’t on the ice anymore?…”  The skater, in the best broken English she could muster replied…  “I ask myself…  What am I doing here?…”


With all apologies to Ms. Trainor…  We’re not even close to being THERE yet…  But nonetheless…  What am I doing here indeed?…

This was NOT the PLAN people!…  Her commitment to dance has repelled all other suitors in less time than you can binge watch a season of Stranger Things on Netflix.  The PLAN was perfect…  Finish High School… Dance Professionally all over the globe…  Then maybe at about 30, she might consider dating… Transitioning in her late 30’s from a career in performance to choreography… Start her own company… Conquer the known world…  I mean it was a beautiful plan people!…


But here we are…  And now that I’ve had several days to process the situation, there’s a few things I need to bring you into the loop on…

  1. I distinctly remember 15, 16, 17, & 18…  Like ALL OF IT…  And she has been well versed in all of the things that go along with boys at 15, 16, 17, & 18…  Countermeasures are in place.  You have been warned.
  2. Also… I don’t often shoot firearms, but when I do… I NEVER miss… #CountryBoyStrong the-most-interesting-man-in-the-world
  3. I hope your ego is stable…  She’s in Home School all day… Then Dance until about 10pm…  EVERY… WEEKDAY…  And about a half-day on Saturdays…  There will necessarily be long droughts in communications.  So far, no one has survived this more than a few weeks.
  4. The intensity of the Dance Season is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.  So let me try to give you a glimpse of what a Competition Weekend is like…  If you’re not at the event, she’ll disappear from social media & other forms of communications no later than Friday… sometimes Thursday evening…  And she will not resurface until most likely sometime on Monday…  There are no exceptions…
  5. If you should happen to try attending a Competition in person… Pucker up buttercup!…  It’ll be 6-8 hours of waiting around to watch her dance 3-4 times in 3 minute bursts… And that’s if its a well run event.  The poorly run events have all that, but then make you stick around until midnight for awards.  Before you poke your eyes out, if you’re nice & I like you… I’ll point out a few entertaining Twitter accounts to help you pass the time…
  6. The aforementioned Dance Season is about an every other weekend event from January to May.  Forget the PromPosal…  She’ll be at a competition…  If she’s not at a competition, she’ll be recovering from a competition…  Pretty much just don’t plan to see her or hear from her for those 4-5 months…
  7. If you have survived up to this point, you still need to realize that she has multiple uncles that love Jesus, but not too much… So they’re more than willing to go back to jail again.
  8. She’s a complex individual that equally enjoys The Walking Dead & the Hallmark Channel… Especially during Christmas Season… If that intimidates you, I have a suggestion…

officerbarbrady


Someday, some special someone will clear all the hurdles.  And the thing that pisses me off the most is… I’ll probably like him.  Cause she’s a good kid with a good head on her shoulders.  She’s also a good judge of character & understands how high the bar needs to be set.  And she’s extremely grounded, knows what she wants out of life, & she will not be denied.  So whoever it is… He won’t be a scrub…

scrub

And if one does slip through the cracks…  I’m still very familiar with swamp lands in both Carolinas…

Of Cow Patties & Grace…

DISCLAIMER:  If you have a weak stomach, are faint of heart, or have delicate sensibilities… You may want to skip this entry…

 

A few blog entries ago, I mentioned that I grew up with cows on the “farm”.  I use air quotes for “farm” there because it really wasn’t a farm in the conventional sense.  It was more like 20 acres out in the country that had a house, a good-sized yard, some farm land (that we rented out to other local farmers), & in one sliver of the overall 20 acres…  a small barn & cow pasture.  My dad maintained a small herd of 8-10 cows from as far back as I can remember until he had a heart attack in the late 90’s and could no longer maintain them.

Growing up, I could not for the life of me figure out why he even bothered.  They were A LOT of work… We’d sell one off at auction every year or so when the herd got too big, but the amount you’d receive hardly justified the effort to me.  And as the only son, that meant a lot of effort (aka… work) for ME.  It wasn’t until much later in life that I figured out that those cows for him were actually stress relief.  And he had a plenty enough stressful job.

But for me, they were just work…  And the reason I missed Saturday morning cartoons most of the time.  Or the reason I couldn’t go to a sleepover at a friend’s house.  That was as far as I could see it at the time…  I’m not at all proud of how selfish that sounds now as I type this all out…


There are certain things that have to be done in order to manage even a small herd of cows.  One of the more glamorous annual chores that fell to me once I was old enough, was the cleaning of the stable.  Our stable area wasn’t huge…  Maybe 20′ x 12′ if my memory serves.  It didn’t take much more space than that given the small number we had.  The main purpose it served was it gave us an easy place to feed them.  But it also gave them a place to stay warm in the winter or provide cool shade in the summer.  So when the cows weren’t out grazing the pasture, they inevitably ended up in the stable.

I wonder at this point if any of my readers even have a clue about how much poop 8-10 cows can produce in the course of a year…  I’ll pause here so you can try to get a visual…

smiling-cow

Let’s start with the rough dimensions…  I’ve already given you the stable dimension… 20′  x 12’… But let’s talk depth now…  As it turns out, 8-10 cows… over the course of a year or so… can generate poop that is roughly 2′ deep in a space of that size.  That’s almost 500 CUBIC FEET of cow patties my friends!…  And it was my job to remove them…

Why did it have to be removed you ask?  Wouldn’t it just biodegrade?… Au contraire mes amis…  You have to understand that there is an Imbalance in The Force at work here…  The rate of cow patty degradation is FAR LESS than the rate of cow patty production…  So if you do nothing about it, eventually your cows would trap themselves between the ceiling of the stable & the pile of manure under their hooves.  Because really, they’re not all that bright…

So how exactly does one remove 500 cubic feet of manure?…  Well, one shovel full at a time of course…

Actually that’s not true at all…  There are much greater subtleties involved than just this…

Oh sure, the fresh stuff is of a consistency that requires the use of a shovel.  But once you get beyond that top layer… to the 6, 9, or 12 month old poo… That requires a totally different approach.

You see, cow patties of this maturity have basically hardened into a substance stronger than concrete.  A shovel will do you no good in this scenario…  No, Step 1 involves breaking the substance up into manageable fragments.  For this, a Pick Axe is your weapon of choice.  There’s not much art form to it… Just grab the non-pointy end & swing it like a West Virginia Coal Miner…

coal-miner

With the poop broken down into at least basketball sized chunks, you can move on to Step 2.  Here you’ll just need a good pitch fork.  Just back your trailer up and start pitching the chunks from Point A to Point B.  Its back-breaking work, so you’ll want to pace yourself.  And LOOK OUT for the occasional immature chunk… Those sneaky bastards in the 3-6 month old range still carry some water weight with them and they will wretch your back in a heartbeat!

Once you’re done with those big chunks, you’ve reached the final step.  This is by far the easiest of the three steps as it just involves raking up the small bits into piles so they can be easily scooped up… It’s basically the same process as with leaves in the Fall… Only it smells worse… And you’re less tempted to jump in the pile & make snow angels…


“I’m the man in the box
Buried in my shit
Won’t you come and save me…

~ Layne Staley (Alice in Chains)


Give credit where credit it is due because Layne Staley got this much right…  We’re just like the cows…  If left to our own devices, we’ll bury ourselves knee-deep in our own crap EVERY TIME… We proved it in the Garden and we’ve continued to prove it collectively on a daily basis ever since…

Christians don’t like to admit this, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  I’m not really sure why, but Christian culture… which is based on the need for a Savior… drives us to act as if we really don’t.  It’s a messed up paradigm & one of my biggest daily struggles.

TRUE CONFESSION:  I do not have it all together… but I AM working at it with his help.

And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. ~ 2 Corinthians 3:18

My closest friends in this world recognize this about themselves & are vulnerable enough to admit it.  And they accept me where I’m at on this journey and we encourage each other to persevere in this race we run together.  This type of fellowship is available to everyone… but you have to be willing to let your guard down to get there…  and maybe deal with a little poop along the way…

Inside Jokes

Six months had gone by since I surrendered my life to Jesus and I was still struggling with so much of the “church stuff” that turned me off when I was 18.  But our church had done the Purpose Driven Life study as a congregation and it gave me some hope that hadn’t previously existed.  As the study drew to a close, one of the key points was to find somewhere to plug in & serve.

So on a Wednesday Night in April, I found myself wandering around the church campus praying to God to reveal to me where it was I was supposed to serve.  My wife had already settled into the choir.  My oldest was in the nursery.  So I’m alone, walking around, feeling like I fit in exactly NO WHERE.  After an hour or so of this, I’m started to get really agitated and I’m quickly drawing the conclusion that there’s no point to ANY of this…


24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” ~ Matthew 17

What an odd little story we have here…  Does anybody else ever have that feeling reading the bible?… No?… Just me then…

Let’s get some perspective here & see if what happens…  We know that Peter is one of Jesus’s closest peeps… He was one of the Big Three…  Peter, James, & John…  You know… Mount of Transfiguration…  Raising a girl from the dead…  Garden of Gethsemane…  At all of these pivotal moments, Jesus pulls in his closest allies…

But in this story, Peter is having a moment of doubt about his friend.  Jesus offers him an explanation without him even asking, but he knows this is something Peter will have to chew on for a bit…  So he sends him fishing…

DID YOU CATCH IT?…  He sends the FISHERMAN… FISHING… to work out his doubts.  That’s either the best or the worst Inside Joke ever!


And its not like this is the only example of Jesus enjoying a good inside joke with the boys…

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.[a] It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. ~ John 21

DID YOU CATCH IT?…  Jesus stands on the shore, but conceals himself from being recognized .  The boys haven’t caught a thing?…  Throw your nets on the other side?…  Remind you of anything?…  Like that other time by the lake?… Peter caught on quickly, that’s for sure…

Have you ever considered that Jesus has a sense of humor?  That may unnerve some of my readers, but seriously?… Where do you think we got it from given the whole Man in His Image thing?…


[PAUSE]  I’m no theologian…  And I certainly don’t intend to dive into anything so deep as The Trinity in this blog post…

But I have this mental image that has stuck with me ever since that night.  It’s Jesus as he turns to the Father & the Spirit with this big sheepish grin and say, “Watch this!”…


So I’m just about to give up and call it a night when I hear it.  At first, I thought maybe I was hearing things… Because there is NO WAY that I am hearing For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica coming from the Old Chapel…  There’s just so much wrong with that picture… I mean did the Southern Baptist Convention know about this?…  Was I being punked?…  Like, where is Ashton Kutcher, cause I know he’s around here somewhere?…

Nope…  Just the Youth Praise Band warming up before someone came in & made them get serious about rehearsal…  Which is actually pretty typical as Youth Praise Bands go…

And so through a love of 80’s Metal he drew me in…And launched a journey into Worship Ministry I could have never seen coming… Inside Joke indeed…

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