Another Dog Who Loved Us

After our golden retriever, Lady, left us it was some time before another dog found us.

One summer afternoon, I played a terribly dirty trick on our little boys.  I retrieved a new tent I placed on layaway and put it together in the back yard.  I went inside where the boys were eating lunch and said I had a surprise for them.  I went back outside and yelled, “Here!  Come here!  Here boy!”  I whistled, then went back inside.  Of course, they were all excited, “Did you get a puppy?!”  I took them outside and when they saw the tent they started crying, “We thought you got a dog and it’s just a tent!”

Not long after my ill-advised stunt, my wife saw an ad in the newspaper for a rescue shelter.  There on the page was a very cute little terrier-beagle mix with adorable eyes saying, “Please, please take me home!”  We went to the rescue and the puppy adopted us.

Our boys were excited as they could be.  They played with the puppy in the back seat of the big car I was driving when all of a sudden, “Dad!  She’s pooping!”

Sure enough, the pup was hunched over in the familiar pose, leaving a warm pile of fresh steamer filling the car with an aroma never mistaken for anything else.  I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and cleaned up the mess.

Libby grew quickly but was never bigger than a small beagle.  She loved playing with the kids and was very attentive to them.  Her energy never ended.

We moved to another rental home to get close to the university where my wife was attending classes.  Now that our boys were in school, she was studying to complete her degree in elementary education.  Our neighbors had a boy who was about the same age as our triplet sons so they spent a great deal of time playing together.  One afternoon our Libby grabbed the neighbor boy, but luckily did not break the skin.  She was very protective of her turf and her boys.

We accepted the pastorate of a small church in a distant town which meant another move.  We quickly settled into our new home, our children into a new school district.  The church we pastored was in the beginning stages of building a new facility which was going to be on the same property as our home, which was also owned by the church.

Sunday morning was always a very tense and anxiety-filled time for me as I anticipated speaking to the people.  Five minutes before the morning worship service was to begin, with my anxiety peaking, a church leader walked into my office and with his familiar exaggerated gesturing, said, “Your dog bit the builder!!”

I pictured a limb torn and tattered, and expected the builder to be furious.  The truth was much less dramatic.  The man went into a metal shed in our yard to retrieve something he needed.  When he came out, the dog grabbed just his pants but no skin.  It was becoming apparent that a change was going to be necessary.  Our Libby was unpredictable and that was making us nervous.  As she got older, she was becoming more protective.

We had Libby for two years but determined it was time to find her a new home.  The wiry and energetic little dog would no longer be running around our yard.  We would not have to worry about her anymore.

Once again, we were without a dog.  A ten-gallon fish tank and several gold fish took her place.  Fish don’t fetch and they’re hard to cuddle, but they generally don’t jump on or bite anybody, either.

(The dog in the picture is not Libby, but looks just like her.)

Dogs Who Love Us

Our lives would not be the same without the many dogs who shared our home.  Each in his or her own special way brought happiness, love, laughter, and heartache.

Lady was a beautiful golden retriever who claimed us as her own when she was just a pup, a few weeks old.  (I realize the photo is terrible, but it’s actually Lady.)

Lady was a real princess, and all puppy.  She was the perfect addition to our family and she showered us with love and play.  Lady was happy to ride a rubber raft in the waves when we were able to spend time at the beach.  We still have furniture with Lady marks on it.  It’s not damage, it’s memories.

Lady was with us for a temporary move to Tennessee.  She liked riding on the back seat window ledge behind our daughter and three boys.  By this time, she was a full-grown playmate and loved romping with the kids.

After a year in Murfreesboro, we prepared to move back to Michigan.  We were down to one car, an Olds Cutlass that had seen much better days.  The fan only had one speed that was equal to a breath of air.  I found a small oscillating fan and attached it to hang in front of the vent.  I thought it was a perfect solution.  When we loaded the car for the long trip, the kids were in the back seat, and I tried to put Lady in the front.  She took one look at my motorized contraption and flew over the back seat onto bare legs.  We started the trip with screams and scratches.

We settled into a rented two-story house, Lady had her own little house in the back yard.  There were two old ladies living next to us who took a strange interest in Lady.  We started receiving anonymous letters in the mail condemning us for having our dog hooked to a leash in the back yard.

After returning from a trip out of state, during which we had friends feeding and taking care of Lady, we arrived home to discover our dog looking at us through the fence of the old ladies’ yard.  I was furious!  I couldn’t lift her over the fence, so I went to their front door and demanded they return our dog.  I should have called the police!

On a cold snowy winter morning, Lady gave birth to a litter of puppies. They were a mixed breed, half of the pups were black, the others looked like purebred retrievers. For the first several weeks, Mary snuggled each of the puppies every day. One of the males was taken by family friends who named him Charlie.  Charlie was a great dog with all the character and appearance of a beautiful golden.  For many years, even though we might not see our friends for quite a while, when we visited, Charlie came bounding through the house to climb on our laps as if we were his long-lost parents.  Our friends said he didn’t act like that with anyone else.

The next year, our hearts were torn apart when Lady began having seizures.  We called the veterinarian who said she would probably not recover.  As cold tears rained down from the sky, our Lady was put to rest. We placed her in a grave as we all cried.  One of our little boys asked if we could sing his favorite song, “Arise, Shine for Thy Light Has Come.”  We held hands and sang as the rain continued to fall.

Stuff

Thirty-one years in ministry afforded many experiences that were…well, funny, crazy, and some were just stupid.  In our first job, nearly forty-six years ago, we were youth pastors at a small church, two hundred miles south of where we were attending college. We had a small upstairs apartment across the street from the church, which was convenient, until the landlady decided to put all our belongings out on the curb while we were away during the week. She was upset because some of the youth showed up and knocked on their door after they went to bed.

We were on our way back to school late one wintery Sunday night, with our brand new little puppy someone from the church gave us.  In the middle of nowhere, the engine quit and we were stuck, freezing.  A kind state trooper rescued us, returning us all the way to our trailer-park home at the college.  On the way, our puppy threw up on the back seat of the squad car.

Our second position was at a small church in our college town, so, no more four-hour drives after Sunday night services.  Again, I was a youth pastor, but was also the choir director.  Directing choirs was just something I decided I could do.  I never had any musical training other than piano lessons.  I enjoyed directing very much and it came in handy many many times over the years.

One Sunday morning a new young couple visited the church.  I happened to notice the man wore a ring that looked familiar, although, oddly, I didn’t recognize him.  As we became acquainted in the following weeks, conversation finally included asking about his occupation.  “I’m a state trooper,” he said.  Yes.  The same officer who gave us a ride home over a year earlier.  And, yes, he remembered our puppy throwing up in his car.

Being young and eager sometimes combine energy to push common sense into the ditch. A ministry whose big plans and dreams far outweighed resources was looking for young people.  We agreed to join them and moved to northern Illinois. We were told we would receive a certain salary, but after we arrived with our belongings in tow, they told us, “We can’t pay you.”  Rather than running, we stayed.  We told them, “God will take care of us.”  There were only two redeeming factors in our year-long ordeal. Our landlords were a lovely old couple living in the other half of the large old farmhouse which was our home.  They watched over us like parents, and were especially helpful when our daughter was born. Our beautiful little girl was the second blessing.

When we finally left for a real job, the leaders of the “ministry” actually said, “We couldn’t help you because you told us God would take care of you.”  Abuse of employees by those who should know better is far too common in ministry.

We worked for a ministry in Texas the next four years.  We were worship leaders on Sundays, and I was the conference planner and musician for the travelling ministry during the week.  One Sunday as I was singing and playing the piano I happened to notice a large cricket hopping up behind me.  As I continued to play, I waited until just the right moment and stomped the cricket with my right foot, never skipping a beat.  Of course, the whole front row was laughing instead of singing.

There used to be a chorus, “All God’s children love livin’, livin,’ all God’s children love livin’ bread” to the tune of “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread.” One Sunday I was teaching the song to the congregation, but when I started singing, instead of “All of God’s children…” I sang, “Mama’s little baby…”  The pastor cackled and nearly fell out of his chair.

Perhaps the setting for some of the craziest things was the year we travelled across the country on our own.  We preached, played and sang in churches, large and small…some were very small. On one occasion we were invited to California for a series of conferences.  One thing that was always difficult for us was staying in homes rather than having the privacy of a hotel.  We never knew what to expect and sometimes it was anything but comfortable.

One morning, after having arrived at a pastor’s home late the previous night, I walked into the kitchen where our host was cooking.  “I have fried potatoes every morning,” he said. “Want some?  Or maybe some toast?”  I said toast would be fine.  A few minutes later he tossed a piece of toast bouncing and flinging crumbs across the table to me.  No plate, butter, or anything else. “Later,” he said, “we’re going to the grand opening of our new grocery store for lunch.”

At lunch time, we all piled in the car for a short trip to the new grocery store.  I pictured maybe a buffet, or hotdogs, or burgers.  Nope.  We went up and down the aisles for small samples of items the new store was selling.  This story has been told many times.  The pastor and his small family was probably struggling to survive and what they shared with us came at a high price.

We were scheduled to be at a church in another state for four days.  We had been with the pastor and his family before, so we looked forward to seeing them again.  At the end of a long drive, we met the pastor and his wife at a restaurant.  He asked if we would be willing to stay an extra day and do a concert the fifth night.  We were happy to do it, until we arrived where we would be staying.

We walked into the old house and immediately felt uneasy.  There was a young man sitting at the kitchen table studying.  We noticed the coffee maker on the counter had mold growing in it. As the pastor showed us through the home we asked about the owner. “Oh, she died,” he said, “they found her in a coma in the house.”  Ugh!  We asked about the man in the kitchen, “He’ll be staying here with you.”  I told him we weren’t comfortable with that and preferred he not stay.  All I could think about was that we had just agreed to stay an extra day!  We were creeped out.

One time I was playing and a mouse ran out of the piano by my feet.  I guess he didn’t like the music.  In one city I was privileged to play a nine-foot Steinway concert grand piano for a four-day conference.  What a blast!  I also enjoyed playing a Bosendorfer grand piano one time.  I don’t remember if I actually used the extra keys.

For seventeen years we were lead pastors, in three churches.  We continued doing music and directing choirs.  I found the choirs provided relief from the pressures of pastoring. The piano was a constant companion, and at one church I even had the pleasure of choosing a brand new grand piano to be donated to the congregation by a family who lost a loved one.  What a pleasure it was to play that beautiful instrument every Sunday and spent many hours playing during the week.  I hated to leave it behind when we moved.

One Sunday I was about to play a studio piano which is taller than a spinet, shorter than an upright.  I joked with the congregation as I was sitting down but hit my head on the edge of the piano and left a large creased goose-egg on my forhead.  I can’t remember what I played.

One congregation met in a rented hall which had a stage with three steps.  It was time to begin the service but I remembered something I needed at the back of the room. Walking to the edge of the stage, I tripped and rolled down the steps, plowing into the legs of two women sitting on the front row.  As I lay on the floor, trying to decide if I was hurt, a lady leaned over and said, “Pastor, this is my friend, she’s here for the first time today.”  I reached up and shook her hand.  I don’t remember if she ever came back.

On a Wednesday night during the old-fashioned mid-week prayer meeting, I was giving a handout to the attendees and banged my leg on a pew and loudly said, “Ohhh shhhhiiinnnn!”  I’m sure there were several who thought I was going to say something else.

A major leap forward into the 20th century involved replacing the old overhead projector with a very modern digital projector so worship songs could be projected onto a screen.  I used my laptop so I could control the new machine while playing the piano. One thing I forgot to consider was the screen saver on my computer.  After a Sunday morning service a man said to me, “Can I get equal time?” “What are you talking about?” I asked.  “During the morning prayer, ‘Model Railroading Is The Greatest’ was scrolling across the screen.”  Yep, my screensaver.

The all-time clincher happened on Easter Sunday morning, perhaps the most solemn, meaningful, revered, holy day of the entire year.  The “Easter Sunrise Service,” for those who don’t know, means you have a service at the crack of dawn and then eat cold scrambled eggs and toast afterwards.  I was reading the Easter story from the Scriptures, which included the description of Jesus being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the soldiers grabbed Jesus, the Apostle Peter took a sword and cut off the ear of a man named Malchus.  Later, as Jesus was being questioned, the disciples stood around a fire with several others, trying to keep warm. I continued reading, “And standing at the fire was a woman, the sister of Malchus, whose Peter was cut off…”  Obviously, it was supposed to be “Malchus, whose ear Peter cut off.”

I really need some more coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Just to make sure I don’t get nailed for copyright infringement, this is obviously a photo of the “Muppets Christmas Carol” when Marley and Marley come to heckle Scrooge. I love the part in the movie when Scrooge is apprenticed at Fozziwig and Mom’s Rubber Chicken Factory, and Fozziwig was going to make a speech. The two old hecklers in the balcony hollered, “It’s time for us to take a nap!” Fozziwig’s speech was something like, “Merry Christmas to everyone!” The Marleys said, “That was dumb! It was short! We loved it!!”

You often hear about the Christmas season being one of the most depression-causing times of the year. There are statistically more heart attacks on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year. What the heck?! It’s probably easy to figure out why.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time, maybe unconsciously, trying to recreate all of the cherished feelings of Christmases past. I think I’m not alone. It becomes exhausting, trying to make everything just perfect, like our memories faithfully recall, so that we can relive all of the best moments once again. The problem is it’s impossible. The past can’t be brought back, recreated, or experienced again. Every moment and experience is brand new, nothing is exactly the way it used to be. That’s not negativity or sarcasm, it’s the truth. And the longer we spend and the energy we waste trying to do something that can’t be done, the more likely it is the actual result will be depression and maybe worse.

Enough therapy, it’s time to remember some fun things.

Most boys at some time want a BB gun, and I was no different. Our dad was an avid hunter, so I naturally wanted to follow. I think I was ten when my wish came true. On Christmas morning I first opened a heavy box that was filled with little packs of BBs that looked like shotgun shells. That was the neatest thing ever. The BB gun I received made an annoying “pinnnggg” sound that was supposed to be like a ricochet. It wasn’t. But it was a BB gun, and I loved it. We spent Christmas Day in the basement shooting at plastic army men with the backdrop of a big box with a quilt folded up inside to catch the BBs.

Another great gift my brother got was a slot-car race track. With super-realistic video games that put you in the driver’s seat of a race car, it’s hard to imagine kids today being interested in slot-car racing, but back then it was the best! We had that track for many years and wore it out.

A gift my sister and I still laugh about was her EasyBake Oven. How I loved it! Yes, I meant to say “I”. My young sister, obviously, had to be shown how to do everything, so I did it for her. We made all of the goodies that first Christmas Day and just about made ourselves sick eating all of the little pies and cakes. (I just thought of something. That EasyBake Oven is probably why I love baking so much and now have people hollering “enough already!!” because all the sweets I made will probably last til April).

Reading back over the paragraph about the BB gun reminded me of the year, I think I was seven, that I received two six-shooters in a holster, designed after the old TV show, “Have Gun Will Travel”. Oh my gosh!! The basement was blue with smoke from the rolls of caps we shot at each other all afternoon! I’m amused how often I see six-shooters like that in antique stores. Until I finally got a BB gun, I took my holster and six-guns on hunting trips with our dad.

One last favorite. When I was fifteen I received my first HO scale train set. For the unaware, HO actually means “half-O”. O scale is the size of Lionel trains. I prefer HO, because, to me and many others, it’s more realistic, and doesn’t take up as much space. That Christmas was fifty years ago, but I still love HO trains, and am getting ready to build another big layout in the basement of our new home. And, by the way, we model railroaders do not “play trains” and we don’t care how fast they go, so don’t ask! They are not train sets, they are layouts. Now that we’ve settled that, I’ll move on.

Merry Christmas.

I think it’s time for coffee.

Holiday Fun

Christmas is so much fun! I have always loved it, and have wonderful memories of growing up, looking forward and counting the days to Christmas. I can remember not being able to sleep the night before, and we were never disappointed on Christmas morning.

My mother was an incredible cook and the house always smelled amazing as she prepared the feast. In the early days she baked the turkey all night, so in the morning the aroma coming from the oven just made everything better. I always made sure Christmas music was playing very early in the season. I remember listening to the Firestone Christmas albums while decorating the house for Halloween.

We carried the traditions of Christmas into our own family and it’s fun to see our children doing the same with theirs. We are now experiencing “sharing” our children’s families with the in-laws, so we get them every other Christmas. This year happens to be our turn, so we are excitedly anticipating the arrival of all of the kids and grandkids.

One of the earliest Christmases I remember, my older brother received an American Flyer train set. The train was rolling around the track when we ran into the living room on Christmas morning. My favorite toy that year was an operating miniature washing machine. I loved it! There were even little boxes of Tide and Oxydol! My mom cut little pieces of fabric I could wash.

Another Christmas that stands out was several years later. I campaigned for a new toy called a Vacu-Form. It was a contraption that softened small sheets of plastic with heat, then as the plastic was pulled over a mold, a handle was pushed several times creating a suction pulling the soft plastic down over the mold. What a blast I had with that! (I saw one in an antique store a few months ago!). The only hiccup that year was that I sent a letter to my grandmother’s sister and asked for the Vacu-Form. Of course my mother found out. “You don’t write to Aunt Maxye and ask for Christmas presents!” I didn’t know that, and it worked.

When our kids were young, on Christmas Eve I used to video-tape them while they were sleeping. As they grew older, knowing that I would be taping them became a challenge. One of our boys set a trap for me that sprung when I opened his bedroom door. Now those tapes are in a box, waiting for someone to have the motivation to transfer them to digital media. Probably won’t happen.

It’s funny how the menu has stayed pretty much the same through all these years. We still have the cranberry jello, with crushed pineapple and walnuts, that very few people eat. I sometimes make the cranberry relish my mom used to make, I’m the only one who eats it. I still make Aunt Maxye’s coffee cake. Yes, the same Aunt Maxye who bought me the Vacu-Form. The real stuffing crammed into the turkey’s bottom has been replaced with Stove-Top. The turkey is most often replaced with pork loin (delicious!) We always make chocolate and lemon-meringue pies, not everyone eats those.

This year, my theme is, “I plan to make everyone sugar miserable!” As you can see in the photos, I have made white chocolate covered Oreos, no-bake cookies, homemade cinnamon rolls, sugar cookies for decorating, and I’m not done yet. There will be seven-layer bars, coffee cake, and lots of other goodies.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, and enjoy a Happy New Year!

Where’s the coffee?

Tell Your Children!

Someone said grandchildren are God’s gift for not killing your children.   We did our best with our children, and in spite of our efforts, they still turned out wonderfully.  We are so proud of all of them!  And now, with six grandchildren, the oldest, fifteen, the youngest, under a year, we are enjoying the amazing experience of watching our own children raise children.

This morning we saw an interview with Michelle Obama on one of the morning shows.  Something she said really hit me.  She said she grew up with constant encouragement and was influenced to believe she could become anything she chose.  Reinforcement was constant.  While I know very little about Mrs. Obama apart from being the former First Lady, anyone paying attention can tell the message she received when she was young had a tremendously positive impact on her life.

My own experience was much different.  I did not grow up with that kind of encouragement, or anything close to it.  What I learned was fear and insecurity, which led to a constant sense of anxiety that has lasted throughout my life, to this day.

What I endured back then would be called abuse today.  Psychological, emotional, and physical abuse.  Giving my father the benefit of any doubt, his purpose was to demand obedience.  What he actually did was protect himself from ever being shamed or embarrassed by his children’s behavior.  Never hearing “you can do this,” or, “you can be anything you want to be,” or,  “believe in yourself like I believe in you,” brought crippling results.  Instead of learning what was possible for us, we learned what would happen to us.

My dad lost his own father when he was a young teenager, just when he needed him most.  His father left home and never returned.  As a result, my father became skillful at keeping others from hurting him, especially those in his own family.

One of my earliest memories of my dad was being afraid to stay with him when my mother was leaving the house.  Years later in the 7th grade, I delayed giving my father a report card because I was afraid he would be angry.  When I finally brought it home he laughed and teased as he looked over the report.  I said, “I got this a month ago.  I didn’t bring it home because I was afraid you would be mad.”  He exploded in rage. Removing his belt he screamed, “If you didn’t have a reason to be afraid before, you sure do now!”  He began hitting me with his belt and kicked me in the shin with his “wing-tip” shoe, leaving a big knot on my shin.  “You’ve got a lot of confidence in your dad, don’t you!” he yelled.  I didn’t understand then, and I’m not sure I do now.

In December of 1989, my father died from cancer at age 62.  I never had the privilege of an honest, strong, confident, reciprocal relationship with him.  Were we loved?  Yes.  Did he provide for his family?  Yes.  None of that overcame the fear that reigned in our home.

Now, with adult children and grandchildren of our own, our kids will laugh about the look on my face and the things I said when it was time for discipline.  I love it.  It’s funny and embarrassing to hear them mimick the way I was as they were growing up.

Once when I was going to be away,  I had a serious conversation with my three boys.  I said, “Hey, guys, I want to ask you a question, and I want you to be completely honest.  I won’t be angry no matter what you say.”  Then I asked them, “Are you happy when I’m not here?”  I explained that I was excited when my dad was gone.  The pressure was lifted, it was vacation time while he was gone.  I wanted to know if my boys felt the same way.  I was relieved to hear them say, “No!  We don’t like it when you’re gone.  We miss you, it’s more fun when you’re home.”  I tried not to instill the same fear and doubt I had, in my own children.

Why have I shared all of this?  If you have children, please, please, encourage them!  Praise them!  Tell them they can do anything and become anything they want to be, even if there’s not a chance in the world they can actually do what they’re dreaming.  Who knows?  Can you see the future?

Kids will be kids.  They’re going to upset you, they’re going to make mistakes, maybe big ones.  But don’t ever lose sight of them being YOUR children.  You are shaping them, and they will shape others who will shape others.  That is a huge responsibility!  Speak affirming, not shaming words to them.  Don’t say, “You know what you should have done?”  Tell them they did a great job.  Tell them you believe in them.  Tell them they can, whatever it is.  Say continually, “I am so proud of you!”

The effect of you, their parent, whether you are a single parent, step-parent,  guardian, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, believing in them will last a lifetime!