Dear Coasting Christians

I realize there are many reasons you stay on the periphery of your faith community. You are burned out but don’t want to stop going completely. You try to be hopeful that maybe someday church will be relevant again. You keep your toe in the water where you are, while you periodically dip your toe into other pools nearby just in case the next one is a bit more to your liking. You stay because of your friends. You stay because you are members. You stay because that place has been part of your identity for so long that you decide it is better to be on its periphery than not there at all.

I understand these reasons because I have been where you are. I reached the point in my community of faith where it no longer stirred me or challenged me or inspired me, but I stayed anyway.

Eventually I did realize the need to move on. Staying, but only on the periphery, was giving me a false sense of engagement. While I might show up, I risked nothing. I offered little. I expected even less. I wasn’t really part of a faith community. I was merely pretending to be. And so I left and went to seminary because I knew what had led me to my church’s periphery is what I needed to better understand. My interest in God and faith hadn’t diminished. But the church where I attended, and many that were just like it, were increasingly unable to adequately and appropriately facilitate an exploration worthy of the 21st century.

The reason I write to you today is to let you know how much you are needed. There are many of us attempting to bring the church beyond it’s defined walls. It is in this space that so many wander. Paradox, honesty, complexity and wholeness dwell here in this space. But the space is not an easy one to navigate. It requires commitment and courage, companionship and endurance. We need you not because you have the answers but because you believe in the work to be done. You know that while faith can be difficult, it is also rewarding. We need you to be willing to be challenged and encouraged so that others who are just beginning to learn the value of community can be accompanied on this journey of faith. We need those of you who already believe in a God of grace to be bearers of that grace. We need you so that the church doesn’t merely survive but thrives. We need you. I need you.

And I think you need us too. I think your soul is tired of the periphery and hungers to reengage in a way that matters, that makes this world better, and you better too in the process.

Find a church – a community that will both love you and challenge you. Pick a place where you will give generously and maybe even sacrificially. We are meant to be in community with one another, and we need a community that will intentionally connect us with God too. It isn’t the savvy services, polished leaders or right programming that feed our souls. It is being known and loved, and doing the knowing and the loving of others. And once you find it, go for it.

With love,


To My Officially Middle-Aged, Sometimes Grumpy Husband


Dear Jeremy,

Last year I finished the year by writing a letter to my dear friend I had lost earlier that year. It was cathartic and painful, reflecting while looking ahead. I have reread that letter several times because the reflection continued beyond the letter’s inception. Because of how valuable I found that process to be and because another year is coming to an end, I thought it would be good to once again close out the year by writing another letter. It didn’t take me long to choose its recipient. (Aren’t you feeling lucky right about now?)

2015 has been quite a year for us. Our oldest child turned 21. Our youngest child finished her first year of high school. We celebrated 25 years of marriage. You turned 50. We said painful goodbyes to four pets. We welcomed two new pets into our home. We sorta planned an anniversary getaway, only to instead send our son to Rome for a trip of a lifetime. Wow, what a year.

While the milestones easily come to mind, it is all the ordinary days of 2015 that probably had a more cumulative impact. It is the way in which we do life together – talk, argue, laugh, cry, love, ignore, listen, scream – that built the foundation upon which our milestones stand. Sometimes we worked together seamlessly. Other times not so much. On occasion you carried me. Other times I carried you. But we kept going. We kept talking. We kept working things through no matter how hard the work got. Well, except for the times we took breaks from working because we couldn’t stand the sight of each other. But we always came back.

What I have learned from 25 years of marriage is that a healthy marriage isn’t about being happy or having great chemistry or partnering well together, although those things are great. A healthy marriage is one that weathers all weather together, storms included. A healthy marriage requires the efforts of both involved. It would be easy for you to enable me, or me to enable you. And I’m sure we do that somewhat. But I love that you call me on my shit. That we can walk away angry and live with the discomfort for awhile. That we have gone to counseling when we needed it. That we still have so much fun together. That our marriage isn’t about a pretty exterior, but a rich, deep, complex, and real interior. Our marriage is as imperfect as we are. Maybe that right there is the point…

Thank you for putting up with my penchant to challenge. Thank you for tolerating my profanity. I don’t want to thank you for all the sports stories you share, but I do want to thank you for wanting to share them with me. Thank you for making me laugh. Thank you for always loving me. Thank you for liking me on most days. Thank you for being my biggest supporter. You can thank me for putting up with your occasional grumpiness, although now we know it’s a serious disorder. While our differences are often part of the challenge of doing life together, I now celebrate those differences because of the depth and breadth they have have carved out within my sometimes stone heart.

For 2016, I hope to be kinder and gentler towards you. I hope to be more grateful and less critical. I marvel at where we have been and I am excited by where we will go. While a shirtless Hugh Jackman might catch my eye, you, Jeremy, have my heart. Happy New Year!

With love,


What Just Happened?

Every once in awhile, something happens that leaves me utterly speechless. It is as if someone has stolen my words before they were formed, leaving me with what feels like a vacuum in my mouth. I can open my mouth, but nothing comes out.

Maybe it is the introvert in me, but at times like this, words can feel profane. As if somehow filling that vacuum with forced sentiment might actually accomplish something. But perhaps that is because I have no words. Instead I sit in the silence, which feels somehow like a scream. Silently screaming, or screamingly silent for what has occurred that is both unimaginable and utterly heartbreaking.

If you have the luxury of comfort tonight, pray for those who need to feel peace in the midst of chaos. Pray for those who need to feel love and comfort in the midst of heartache. Don’t be a self-centered, self-seeking jerk. Not tonight. Instead think of those who are desperate for something, whether that is physical, emotional, or mental. And for God’s sake, if you can help, offer. Don’t ask yourself if they deserve your help. Just do it. Life is too short, my friends.

Friday Favorite, 6.19.15

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

These are the words of Nazi concentration camp survivor and Nobel Prize winning author Elie Wiesel, and they ring true deeply in my soul today. I am praying for wisdom in how to best stand with those who need an advocate, a friend, an ally.

Finding Peace in the Past

The problem with being reflective is that you eventually encounter the long-buried, unresolved shit in your past. Just when you think you have made great progress and acquired some wisdom, you are smacked in the face with a realization so significant that it nearly brings you to your knees. It is a reality that has become so intertwined with your thoughts and actions that at first it is hard to tell where IT ends and YOU begin.

For me it was a hurt of sorts. It wasn’t a traumatic event; those are easy to recognize. This was a quieter sort of thing. Not one event but something that unfolded over time and took its toll. If I told you what it was, you might just shrug your shoulders in confusion.

I am now seeing clearly all that has been impacted over the years, like the ripples in a lake after you have thrown a stone into it. As the ripples keep rippling, knowing it is too late to take back my stone’s throw, I am left with only one choice. I have done too much work to deny its effects any longer. And so I sit by the water’s edge, figuratively speaking, and watch the ripples grow. I feel the feelings that come with those ripples and I cry as I realize the impact. I cry for the years I had tried to protect myself. I cry for how ineffective that protection really was. I cry for what would never be. I cry for what I had lost…

I suspect some can relate. Whether it is a hurt, a regret, a lost love, a do-over you would give anything to have, there is a similarity among the experiences. It is either deeply embedded within, so subtle that its presence is hardly known, or it haunts and never lets one forget. Or maybe it is a bit of both. The ripples keep coming whether we watch for them or not. And when we periodically get a glimpse of a ripple that we intuitively know is connected, we close our eyes or look away. Or we rationalize. Or we reinterpret to suit our logic.

I was aware for a long time of the hurt I held, although I would not have called it a hurt. I had a very rational, reasonable explanation for what had happened way back then. But I irrationally denied its impact. And thus I was shaped by it far more than I realized. I can now see the hurt that was caused by outside forces. But what is both freeing and horrifying simultaneously is how the lasting impact of that hurt has been largely my doing. My rationalization might have satisfied my mind, but the little kid in me still continued to seek healing. Thus I carried the hurt with me like a heavy carcass, which impacted nearly every step, nearly every turn, nearly every perception. And I did so subconsciously.

Now I sit with it as it is. And although I am watching the ripples, they seem to be smoothing themselves out. By bringing the hurt into the light, or simply by naming it for what it is, I am disarming it. I can feel it losing its grip on me. It’s like the space between the unknown and the diagnosis. You hold your breath anticipating what will come. As soon as you know, it doesn’t go away, but you now know what you are dealing with. I hold my breath for just a moment, whisper what I have been feeling all along, I make peace with myself and my past. No more excuses. No more reframing. No more denying. It happened. It is part of me. And I am going to be okay.


Four-Letter Words

I hardly ever used profanity until I became a church elder. Why the change? Because I realized how subtly dangerous personal piety could be. As an elder I thought I should look the part and so I thought it best to hide what didn’t fit the part. I watched my words and my actions in an effort to be a mature person of faith. The problem is that when you start covering up the rough edges, you actually start believing you don’t have them anymore. I still had the doubts and fears. I had unkind thoughts. I could be impatient or judgmental. And in my effort to be a spiritual leader, I hid all of them.

It is important to distinguish discernment from authenticity. Certainly situations warrant keeping thoughts to oneself. The woman whose outfit I found atrocious didn’t need to know that I thought so. Not saying something to her was an act of good discernment on my part. But hiding my cattiness to everyone meant I wouldn’t be held accountable for it. If I was to be an effective spiritual leader, my fellow leaders needed to know who I was and how I was doing, cattiness and all.  And so I decided to trust that the people who had asked me to do the job were already aware of at least some of my imperfections.

Up to this point, I would periodically use profanity in my thinking process but rarely said those words aloud. Perhaps I didn’t because I wasn’t allowed to while growing up. But it became clear to me that in my head, profanity had a place and a purpose. And so in my desire to be authentic I decided to share my thoughts without attempting to sanitize them.  I quickly learned that I like this kind of honesty. If I thought something was shitty it felt good to say so rather than substitute a more socially acceptable word. The experience was empowering. I liked that I could gather my neighbors, friends, and fellow elders into the same room and didn’t have to decide which version of me to be. My honesty gave my co-workers a real look at who I was and the opportunity to hold me accountable. I took my job seriously as an elder, and my authenticity seemed like the right thing to do.

My use of profanity increased when I began classes at seminary. I think the increase occurred as my way to offset the christian-speak I encountered daily.  What is christian-speak, you ask? It is the use of theology in everyday language that has seemingly nothing to do with everyday life. For example, I might be greeted with “God bless you, sister-in-Christ.” Or when I would ask, “How are you?” the response might be something like, “God is good all the time.” I love a good theological conversation, but this kind of talking feels very disconnected from real life. Theology is meant to be practical in everyday life. God is meant to be accessible. A life of faith is not meant to be a list of words and phrases that make no sense outside its circle of followers. Your biggest secrets? Your worst fears? Your most embarrassing mistakes? God already knows. A life of faith is about learning to live with what is true without being held back by what is true. For example an elder who uses the word shitty might actually be an effective spiritual leader.

It is important to also distinguish authenticity from effort of doing better. I am not addressing the part of faith that causes one to strive towards being a better person. Of course I want to be more disciplined, kind, gentle, patient, and I need to practice those things into being. What I am referring to is a life of faith that appears sterile, void of what is difficult or real. People have become good at sterilizing even their blemishes. It’s all a facade, a bubble of sorts, that families and communities perpetuate through an intolerance of the undeniable messiness of life and people. If we don’t deal with what we are struggling with in self or others, we think maybe it will go away. And perhaps most tragic of all, the sterilization replaces the work of good, hardworking theology – the theology of a God that meets us right where we are.

So back to profanity. Here are my rules for its use:

  1. You must be 16 or older. If you are younger, you lack both the vocabulary you should have and the discernment you need.
  2. You should not use profanity in anger towards another.
  3. Profanity is best used when serving a purpose. If you cannot articulate its purpose, then you should reconsider its use.
  4. Words only hold the power that you give to them.
  5. If profanity offends you, I will do my best to not use it around you. But I think there are much greater tragedies in the world by which to be offended.

I am not sure what my fellow elders thought of my honesty. By their frequent deer-caught-in-headlights looks, I assume they often didn’t know what to say in response. I frequently asked for accountability, but was never challenged or corrected. I think it is easier to ignore what makes us uncomfortable. We don’t want to be reminded that life is sometimes profane, as are people. We would rather believe that somehow the bubble we have created really does exist, and that if we do and say the right things, life will be good and God will be predictable.

In reality, we are surrounded by what is profane, and I am not referring to four-letter words.  Words, thoughts, and deeds that hurt or divide are profane. When I am selfish, I am profane. When I am catty, I am profane. When I lack love or grace, I am profane. And what I believe to the core of my being is that my use of four-letter words is actually the least profane part of me. Maybe someday God will convict me to clean up my language. But for now, four-letter words are a declaration of sorts that life isn’t neat and tidy, that sometimes being uncomfortable is good, and that in spite of all that I might accomplish I am still flawed. 

Happy Birthday to Me!

Later this week I will turn 46. It is not a particularly exciting birthday, but what is note-worthy is having your child turn 21, which also happens this week. How did this guy…


become this guy?


I can deny gravity’s impact on my body. I can ignore the aches and pains. I can allow my increasingly faulty vision to blur the crow’s feet around my eyes. But I cannot deny that my little boy will soon be able to legally buy alcohol. And that is a strange feeling. I don’t feel old enough to have a 21 year old, and yet I have watched him grow up. I don’t feel old enough to have a child who is a junior in college, and yet I have seen the tuition bills. I don’t feel old enough to go out with my son for a beer, and yet that is exactly what we will be doing soon to celebrate his birthday.

I used to think of 46 as quite old. I remember in 8th grade discussing the year 2000. It was 1982 and I was 13. I did the math to figure out how old I would be at the momentous occasion. 30? Wow. Life would practically be over, I thought. When I was 18, my mom told me that she and my dad were separating. She was 41 at the time. My thought was, “Why divorce at this stage of your life?” I wondered what she could possibly want that would cause her to make such a radical change. At 18 I was still thinking of people in their 30’s and 40’s as old. Coasting through life. Boring. Maybe even stagnant.

Of course I would learn that those decades are anything but boring. They are ripe with opportunities to learn and grow. My 30’s was a decade of self-discovery. I explored interests and discovered talents I didn’t know I had. I carved out the life I wanted as I raised my children, and I lived it with great pleasure. I became increasingly less interested in what I was supposed to do and instead focused on what I wanted to do. I took on leadership roles in volunteer positions and studied areas of interest including a foreign language. One of the best opportunities was a weekly visit my daughter and I made to my grandparents, who lived about an hour away. The stories I heard while we ran errands, the recipes I learned while we prepared lunches, the affection I received as they faced their mortality, these were priceless gifts. The visits started off as social in nature. As my grandparents aged and their abilities lessened, the visits became a lifeline for them. It was a humbling transition for all of us I think. And it was a time that was rich and full and sacred. Those weekly visits that lasted almost a decade still shape the person I am today.

As I neared 40, I began intensive counseling to understand myself on a deeper level. I wanted to face my demons and battle them. I learned how patterns that had developed early in my life were still impacting the way I handle stress, conflict, and disappointment. I became empowered to be the person I want to be. My demons weren’t nearly as complex as I had assumed. It was hard and sometimes painful work. It wasn’t up to others to change. I could change. And I did change. I strove to be healthier physically. Having always abhorred exercise in the past, I was now playing recreational soccer frequently and I loved it. I was eating better. I was stronger mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I felt better at 40 than I had at 25.

My 40’s is proving to be a decade of personal accomplishments. I began full time work again. After a few years in a job that was not my passion, I went back to school. Three years of full time schooling followed and I graduated. I don’t typically put much stock in degrees or credentials because, well, let’s be honest, a piece of paper does not guarantee much of anything. I have known people with impressive resumes who turned out to be completely ineffective, and I have known people with virtually no resume at all who amazed and inspired me. But I worked hard for my degree and I am proud of it.

In the midst of these wonderful accomplishments, it should be noted that there has been plenty of shit too. There are days that I seem to forget everything I have learned. There are challenges I don’t feel prepared to face. There are disappointments and hurts and fears. I have days where I don’t want to get out of bed. And I still manage to make plenty of mistakes. But because it’s nearly my birthday, I am celebrating the good today. My life is far from perfect, but it is my life. And I am grateful for all of the years in it thus far. My grandparents lived into their 90’s. Maybe I have recently entered my life’s second half. If that is the case, I still have so much to live, learn, and enjoy. I am still young. And yet I am not.

There are things about aging that I don’t like. I don’t like having wrinkles deepen to the point of where they never fully disappear. I don’t like needing a longer recovery time after my soccer games. I don’t like having to be more intentional about what I eat so that my clothes continue to fit. But I do love how I’ve gotten to know who I am and what I want. I love that I’ve become gentler toward myself and others. I love that I know what I am looking for in relationships. And I love that my streaks of white hair look like “blonde” highlights. To being 46 and to my boy, of whom I couldn’t be more proud, here’s to the both of us – CHEERS!



The Perfect Dog: part 3

If you’ve read my previous posts about “The Perfect Dog” you’ll know that my desire for the perfect canine companion goes way back. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what a dog could offer in friendship that I have always longed for and/or enjoyed. Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that there is no such thing as a perfect dog in the literal sense. Each dog has its annoyances, its imperfections. But what is it, sometimes in spite of that dog, that does so much for one’s soul?

Here are a few aspects of what I love and value so much about my perfect dog, Lucy:

  1. She’s uncomplicated. I don’t need to understand her past. I don’t need to anticipate her future. She needs to be fed, played with, walked, and given affection. When she receives those things, she’s content.
  2. She’s a great listener. She never interrupts or tells me to hurry up.
  3. She’s always up for whatever I suggest, whether it’s a nap in the early afternoon, a ride in the car, or playtime at 10pm. When I ask, she always says yes.
  4. She makes me feel special. When I return home I’m always greeted with tail-wagging. It doesn’t matter if I was gone for a few minutes or several days. She’s excited when I return and she lets me know.

In this list, I see not only what I long for, but what I often fail to give to others. I’m complicated, sometimes excruciatingly so. I am not always a great listener. I rarely hear a suggestion without offering at least a slight amendment. I never wag my tail. My perfect dog has been perfect because she’s made me feel loved, needed, and special. She’s been a faithful companion in the good times and the not-so-good times. When I skimp on a walk because it’s too cold, she doesn’t hold a grudge. When I cut playtime short because I’d rather put my feet up, she doesn’t punish me. She enjoys what she’s given. She gives back without condition.

Lucy is well over 13 now. We have had so many wonderful adventures over the years. She has gone with us to the beach and the woods and the wide open fields, romping and chasing and playing all the way. She has never refused an invitation to climb under the bedcovers for a nap or full night’s sleep. She has protected us from countless squirrels and cats that have dared to step into her yard. She has run more miles than most, an eager companion to Jeremy and me over the years, although admittedly far more of those miles were Jeremy’s. She has rescued us from ocean waves she thought were dangerous and UPS workers she thought were sinister. She has given our family countless memories.

While my children have nearly grown up, Lucy has grown old. She has a heart murmur that causes her to cough deeply. She periodically has a leg collapse which often results with a faceplant to the ground. Why can’t dog years be the same as people years?  For the time we used to spend playing, I find myself petting her and thanking her for loving my family so well. She’s now got several lumps, “fat pads” the vet said, apparently common in aging labradors. The lumps used to gross me out, but now that it’s almost unavoidable to touch one, I pet those too.  She looks at me with longing eyes, almost confused by what she’s done to warrant the affection.

Because animals are easily cared for and unconditional in their love, one has a choice whether or not to do the bare minimum. I could have met Lucy’s basic needs and left it at that. But I wanted to do more for her. And I guess that’s one of my biggest lessons from this perfect dog. Just because one can get away with the bare minimum, doesn’t mean one should. I have also learned how important silence can be to another human being. I see the value in trying to put into words or actions what I feel, rather than assume my feelings are understood. It’s not that my humans lacked these traits, but a dog offers them without expectation of something in return. I don’t know any human, myself included, who doesn’t get in the way of a relationship from time to time. Dogs are different.

As I watch Lucy age, as I awaken more frequently to her coughing, as I see her struggle to sit her long legs down or get them back up, I find myself saying “not yet, don’t go.”  Letting go of what has become part of you is so hard. Because she has been part of our family for so long and is integral to who we are, it is nearly impossible to imagine “us” without “her”. And yet, life has been showing me for awhile what that will look like. We are reluctant to bring her along on our adventures, knowing she doesn’t have the stamina she used to. We are making memories without her. We are saying goodbye in little ways. But we are also a different family because of her, and so even when she’s not physically present, she’s still with us. I will give Lucy all that I can give, including letting her go when it’s time to say goodbye. It would be easy to ask more of her than I should by extending her life longer than she might want. But I won’t. I love that dog, knowing she deserves to live and die with dignity. I will be with her to the end. And until that last day comes, we will love her and play with her and pet her and tell her over and over how wonderful she is, giving her all the joy we can give just as she has done for us. Thank you, Perfect Dog, for being my perfect dog. Your human is so grateful to you and for you. Wag, wag.


The Fear of a Blank Page

This post was supposed to be the conclusion to my “Best Dog Ever” series. I have most of it written, but something was missing. I considered stretching it out a bit to make it work, but Lucy deserves more. And I know there is more of that story to tell, but my brain feels like it’s working on fumes. I then considered pulling something out that I’d already written, and just tweak it a little. But I remembered a conversation with a pastor from a few years ago. He said that whenever he has a sermon to give but runs out of time to prepare, he goes to his file of previous sermons and pulls something out. “Always there when I need it.” Somehow this filing cabinet perusal to replace time, effort, thought, and preparation seemed to cheapen the whole experience. In reality it’s not a bad idea. When you have worked hard on something in the past, why wouldn’t it also have potential future relevance? I was probably just being a snob. But today, I procrastinated in finishing up this post and now face a looming deadline. The reality is I didn’t put the time into this when I should have, and now that I need to pull it all together I am struggling to do so.

I began this blog for two reasons: to build a body of work that articulates some of my personal journey, and to practice the exercise of writing regularly. Pulling something off the proverbial shelf could have accomplished my first goal, but it would have denied my second goal. I have spent the last few hours going between previously written essays and staring at a blank page. The blank page has proven to be the most daunting, the one I find myself most wanting to avoid. How do I fill this stupid page? What should I say? Do I have anything worth saying? At what point are my words forced and inauthentic? And yet as I tried to work and rework previously written words, it just wasn’t coming together. In my fatigued state, it finally occurred to me that maybe an opportunity was staring me in the face. Rather than exit quietly and replace what I’m trying to do with something previously written, I have decided to trudge ahead, explore my surroundings in spite of how difficult it is, and see what comes as a result.

This is all beginning to sound a lot like my journal as of late. Over the last several years, I found prayer increasingly problematic. I have wrestled with questions such as why do we pray? What happens when we pray? Do we strive to get God’s attention or change God’s mind? Is it simply one’s own exploration of thoughts, dreams, fears?  Phrases I previously used regularly began to sound increasingly hollow or trite or self-centered. If my healing means I am blessed by God, what does another person’s lack of healing mean? If my family’s good fortune means God is with me, what about that family that is falling apart? This kind of theology has contributed to poor behavior on the part of God’s “faithful” while alienating others who assumed they weren’t good enough for God. So as I wrestled with why or what or how to pray, prayer for me became either an exercise of silence, or words that someone else had written.

For 2015, I decided that it was time to start finding my own words when I pray. Not just meal prayers or end-of-the-day prayers, but working-out-my theology kind of prayers. Prayers that come from deep within expressing the most intimate part of my thoughts and feelings about God, self, and life. The work is hard, perhaps because it is both the most revealing of who I am and the most easily contrived. Yet I have to take risks through my words in what is perhaps the most vulnerable part of my spiritual journey. It is time. I decided that I would start to write a prayer each day to force myself to use words and to document what, if any progress is made. It typically goes like this:

  1. Stare at the blank page in my journal for awhile.
  2. Write “Dear God” then stare at the page with those two words for awhile.
  3. Avoid adding the words “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret” because that joke isn’t very original and I’m funnier than that.
  4. Stop thinking and just write.
  5. Seriously, just write something.

For now it’s just a few sentences that are honest and raw. Or it’s a question that I have. Or it’s something silly because that’s the only offering I’ve got to give. But it’s still taking a risk and I think that the effort is the point. As I finish this up, perhaps the same could be said for my writing today. My fear of the blank page isn’t so much about whether or not I can fill it because I’ve chosen to do so in spite of myself. My fear is more subtle and complex. I’m taking a risk by putting words to where I really am. But I have an opportunity to learn something and do better next time. There is freedom in acknowledging what is true, and interestingly enough I find myself not quite as tired as I was several hours ago. I find my mind a little more engaged. I will try not to procrastinate next time, and I am grateful that it’s okay that I did so this time.

The Perfect Dog: part 2

184001_10150094379129299_4124971_nAbout a year after we got our beloved Lucy, we traveled from Pennsylvania to Michigan. Jeremy had work where his extended family lived, so we packed up the car, Lucy included, and traveled 650 miles for our week away from home. Although his parents were in Arizona for the winter, we stayed at their house which was on a lake. While Jeremy worked, the kids and I enjoyed the beautiful setting. We walked and explored and relaxed. Ice was still on the surface of much of the lake, but we knew that it was thinning.  I repeatedly warned my eight year old son, Isaac, that he could not walk on the frozen lake because it might not be able to hold his weight.

A few days into our vacation, with Jeremy not vacationing but rather away and working, the kids and I ventured outside with Lucy. Isaac was looking for anything to pick up, throw, or pull apart.  Liv, who was not quite two, was by my side and barely able to walk with all the clothing I had on her to keep her warm.  While in the midst of our exploration, I heard a sound that didn’t register. I looked around and on the lake about 20 feet from shore was Lucy. The sound that I had heard was her paws navigating the ice as she slipped and jumped and played. As I opened my mouth to angrily call her back to shore, the ice broke and she went completely under water.  Her head came up and she placed her front paws on the ice’s edge.  She attempted to pull herself up, but couldn’t get her front legs high enough to pull her back legs out and onto the ice. The kids were silent. My mind raced.

Lucy attempted a second time, a third time, and a fourth time but failed.  With each attempt I could see ice breaking and her getting weaker. By this point I was using my most upbeat, I’m-not-freaking-out voice to call her. “Come on, girl! You can do it! Come on, Lucy! You got this! Come on now!” While yelling, I was also thinking, “My dog can NOT die with the kids here to watch.” Seriously. I clearly remember thinking that her drowning in that lake on that day was something I could not allow. I think this refusal to stand by and watch was my mind’s way of pushing me forward into action. I made a decision in that moment that I would do everything I could to get that dog out of the water alive. I was cognizant enough to know that I couldn’t put my life in danger, but there had to be more I could do.

And so I formulated my back up plan while I continued to call for her. I figured the water was maybe 5 to 6 feet deep where she was. I would send Isaac with Liv to the neighbor’s house to get help. Meanwhile I would run to the garage and grab some rope, tie one end to the fishing boat on the shore nearby with the other end tied around my waist. This would enable me to walk to her with some connection to shore. I had unsettling images in my head of her slipping under and beyond the ice’s opening and my trying to get her. I kept planning and calling for her and planning and calling for her while keeping an eye on my kids. Isaac was now calling her too while Liv silently watched by his side.

Lucy continued to try to get herself out of the water, but she was pausing longer in between tries. She wasn’t pulling herself up as high. I thought, “This is it. Either she gets it this time or she’s giving up.” I called her with every ounce of my being knowing that my next move would be a sprint to the garage while yelling instructions to Isaac to take Liv next door. And finally, miraculously, Lucy did it. She got her front paws far enough onto the ice that she was able to just barely get one back paw up as well. She scooted herself forward and eventually got the other back leg up. She crawled to the shore’s edge and collapsed once she reached us. We wrapped her in towels and I carried her to warmth. The kids were thrilled. I sat down and wept. All the emotion, the intensity, the fear, the near loss, the what if’s overwhelmed me and I shook uncontrollably as I cried.  My kids stared, unsure of why I was crying since Lucy was now safe.  I could see their alarm as I kept crying, but I couldn’t stop. I cried until I had nothing left.

When Jeremy returned later that day, we told him what happened. He scolded me for even considering going onto the lake to get her. But as I think back, I am quite sure that while I would not have done something stupid, I would have tried whatever was reasonably possible to get her safely back to shore. In this near tragedy, I learned that I am able to stay calm and be proactive in a crisis, and a complete wreck afterwards. I learned that miracles do happen. I learned that love can be painful, because even the thought of loss hurts like hell. I learned that my kids come first, but my pets are a close second. I learned that dogs need to be told to stay off the ice just as much as eight year olds do. And I learned that a good, hard, shoulder-shaking cry is cathartic. I was crazy mad at Lucy that day, but even still I’d have to say she’s the perfect dog.