Family embraces, from Michigan to Hawai'i, (clockwise from top left) baby girl--Isabella--with her Daddy; newlyweds, Hailey and Jacob; Aaron and Bailey; Bailey June and Dege
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” ~ James 1:2-7
I’ve experienced some unique and painful challenges in the past nine months, but especially these last nine weeks. Some of us understand this as: life.
Life can often be beautiful and rosy. Sometimes dull, lonely or exciting. And sometimes, due to reasons we can control and other times well beyond it, life seems to unravel. Recently, life dealt me a gut punch. Not the first or the last, I’m sure.
As one of my friends likes to say, “Sometimes, life serves you a shi% sandwich.” This same friend recently treated me to a special outing, a private lesson from an expert on how to safely handle and use a firearm.
The trainer quickly earned our full attention and respect. She is super knowledgable, very friendly and a tad bit intimidating. My friend and I—rapt school girls, intent on acing the class—
really appreciated the lesson, replete with gun/ammo anatomy and an emphasis on the sights and trigger. We ended the lesson on the range and both put bullets in the center of our targets.
The trainer had a patch on her jacket that gave me pause to consider:
She said it is an Army motto. I like it. It’s a small phrase with a lot of meaning. I think that’s partly what James, the brother of Yeshua/Jesus meant when he said, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
When we face our trials with joy, embracing and persevering instead of dreading and defeated, we open ourselves to maturity and completion. James said if we do this, we won’t lack anything.
I want to be mature, complete and not lacking anything! This is a great prayer and aspiration, to daily take up my cross—carrying my and other’s burdens. This is love, resisting the urge to serve self and fight and instead being humble and poor in spirit.
How counterintuitive this can feel. But then, I refuse to be led by feelings. When I let my feelings lead, I become unstable, as James says, “blown and tossed by the wind.” Instead, I am ultimately comforted by the fact that in the midst of the messiness of life, Jesus wants my burdens. He asks me to give them all to him: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you,” his disciple Peter reminds us. (1 Peter 5:7)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ~ Matthew 6:25-34
And now, for a little levity...
Jacob and Jedi in 2008. (Sorry Jake, I think that haircut is my fault.)
Eight years ago, after our firstborn left for college, I decided to surprise the family with a new pet. Two years earlier we had prematurely lost a beloved dog, Jedi, to cancer. It was a very memorable day, 11/11/11, Veteran’s Day that year.
Jedi was in a lot of pain and when it became unbearable, we had a veterinary doctor come to our home and euthanize her while the strongest one of us—Scott—held her. We all scattered in the backyard, two-by-two, and sobbed, deep and guttural. It was so sad.
I liken the phenomena of getting another pet after losing one to that of a mother, who—after travailing through labor, pushing a relatively large baby out of a relatively small opening—goes on to birth one or more successive children. This says a lot about the power of love.
The September weekend in 2013 that I went up north with two girlfriends to obtain an Amish kitty, my brother fell 40 feet from a tree when the strap on his hunting stand broke while he was checking it. (Hunters, please always use a safety harness when you're in a tree stand!) Broken, bruised and brain-damaged, my brother had a slim chance of survival, let alone recovery.
When I brought our kitty home, her name hit me clearly—Tikvah, it means “hope” in Hebrew. Our fervent and hopeful prayers for my brother were answered as Jeremy eventually awoke from a coma and made a miraculous recovery. Interestingly, the first words I heard him utter in the hospital came when a therapy dog, a beautiful yellow Labrador retriever, came to his bedside.
Animals are amazing!! What an incredible gift from God, creatures that we can subdue to work for us and creatures that comfort us. When I approached the Amish farmer to ask if I could buy a kitty, he was tilling his field with the help of two large horses. I stood at the end of a row, waiting for him.
Sometimes we take for granted that for millennia, animals were the power behind many of our machines. Even today, our domesticated pets serve a purpose—dogs protect us and cats keep small rodents at bay, but mostly we keep them simply to bring us joy.
Though we never would have considered ourselves a “cat family”, Tikvah has grown on us exponentially. Weeks after we got her, we discovered that she was a he. It’s tricky to ID the gender of a young cat. No matter. He quickly became a beloved family pet.
We thought we might let him be an indoor/outdoor cat, but quickly changed our minds, confining him to a life indoors. I take him outside with me for short bits, to get some fresh air and sunshine, but on the whole, he spends his days “hunting” birds, chipmunks and squirrels from our big picture window. He has become quite a mouser, making our home much less hospitable to the unwanted winter “mouseguest”.
Recent feline events led me to some new observations...
I have an exceptionally unique work setting that includes an adorable 15-pound sausage-like canine named Gemma Jean. She is the sweetest, shortest and most submissive dog I’ve ever known. It took me a while to win her over, but this diva of the office now loves me. The feelings are mutual.
A couple months after starting this job, my wonderful boss invited me to bring Tikvah to the office.
"Really!? You mean it? Bring my cat to the office?” I asked.
“Sure! Why not?” he said. He's an animal-lover and overall way-cool boss.
This is really not the funniest part of the story. Yes, Gemma’s love has multiplied, as she now waits each morning, with bated breath, for our arrival. When we walk through the door, she bolts towards us, tail wagging, straight to greet Tikvah. There is possibly no better dog that Tikvah could have hoped to know, as Tikvah towers over this diminutive and gentle dachshund.
Tikvah has been less than thrilled, to be trapped in an office with this pooch. The fact that he smelled Gemma on me for a while before he actually met her probably helped him acclimate to her acquaintance. Tikvah is getting more tolerant each day, now walking confidently away from Gemma vs. running. He also has a clear advantage, jumping out of reach whenever he chooses. And, when in reach, Gemma—thinking this is a game—has learned to swipe back at Tikvah as though she is a cat. I imagine them one day snuggling together. Hmmm?
All of this has provided hours of entertainment in the office and at home, as Tikvah is now hiding somewhere in my basement in the mornings, trying to avoid the going-to-work routine. We are trying to outsmart him, but some mornings, after a fruitless hunt, I have to go to work cat-less. But that is short-lived as my boss sends me home on my break to get him. What a great boss!
OK, so here’s where this story gets really interesting. I walk to work. It’s a three-minute bike ride or a ten-minute walk. I decided not to let taking the cat to work put a wrinkle in that routine. So…are you ready for this? Before you read/see this, brace yourself and just know--because I know it, I own it--I AM officially THAT cat lady.
When I walk, I tuck Tikvah in this baby sling. (Thank you, Janelle) It works just fine. He doesn’t struggle. I can’t say he’s happy about it, but he stays put, mainly because I have him wedged in and hold him with one hand. This does remind me of my baby days, as he is only about four pounds heavier than my last two newborns.
I was a little unnerved last week when a Great Dane on the loose came bounding down the street, running from its owners. As I discreetly tucked Tikvah’s head down into the sling, I thought to myself, “That’s a very big dog on the loose and, um, I have a cat strapped to the front of me.”
So, you think the sling is a little zany? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
I really like biking. So, how does one bike to work with a cat, you ask? Easy. Just be the owner of this fancy bubble-backpack pet carrier. It’s so over-the-top, I consulted with an animal expert/caregiver/trainer. She assured me, as weird as it may seem, it is not cruel. Maybe unusual. No, for sure unusual. I mean, have you ever seen this?!?
I don’t actually have a photo of myself on my bike, but when I told my friend in Nashville about this situation, she laughed and asserted--FOR SURE, passersby have taken photos of me biking with a cat in a backpack. Have you seen me on Facebook?
Yes, there are air holes. No, he doesn’t like it. Yes, he’s fine. I won't tell you some of the things that my family and I imagine him saying to me. When I zip him in, he is not freaking out and when I let him out, he does not linger. Remember, I have to play hide-and-seek when it’s time for me to leave for work.
When I am biking with the cat on my back, I experience a wacky emotional cocktail of incredulity, sheepishness and “so-what?!" I hope no one sees me, but I am certain that when they do, they are thinking what I already know, "That lady is crazy!" Here, one more time, in case you didn't get the full effect with the first photo. Our faces say all you need to know...
I am crazy...crazy for my cat! So when I thought he snuck out of our office last Thursday, I was heartsick. After searching all the usual hiding spots, I headed outside for a tense 90 minute hunt. There were oodles of orange oak leaves on the ground to camouflage our orange kitty. I came back to the office empty-handed and despairing.
As I looked for my lost kitty, I prayed God would bring him back to me and if not, that he would not be hurt and that a good family would find him and love him. It was hard not to think the worst as I checked the ditches alongside the busy road.
My mind drifted to Adam and Eve and Eden, humans and animals cohabiting paradise. Adam assisted God by naming the animals (Genesis 2:19-20)! But then our sin ruined this unique relationship between us and God, us and creation, us and beast.
Adam and Eve’s lame vegan effort to cover themselves—fig leaves—(Genesis 3:7) was totally insufficient. Then the first death occurred, an animal that Adam knew and named became a skin covering for them (Genesis 3:21)! Our own efforts at salvation are useless. It is only by God’s amazing grace, and the shedding of blood, that our sin is atoned for—that we are protected from the sting of death.
It may be hard to believe, but I actually had all these deep thoughts while hopefully scanning the neighborhood for my lost Tikvah. Thank you Lord, for Yeshua/Jesus, my salvation, and the blood he shed for me! Thank you for animals and the joy they bring. Thank you that no matter if I find my sweet kitty or not, I can rest in your love and goodness.
I went back to my office very distracted. I sat trying to organize my thoughts. Fifteen minutes later, Tikvah nonchalantly tiptoed into my office!!! I was overjoyed. My enthusiasm caused him to waltz away from me. I ran to tell my boss, who had graciously placed plates of tuna around the office and outside the front door. Sweet little Gemma could tell I was really happy. I picked her up and she licked tears of joy from my cheeks.
By the way, the whole time I was looking in the office for Tikvah, Gemma was gone, home with the boss for lunch. When they came back, I was out looking for the cat. After Tikvah appeared, he disappeared again nearly as quickly but, distracted by joy, I barely noticed. Until. Until I saw Gemma sitting, staring at an office desk. I opened a desk door and, voila! Tikvah’s hiding place! This desk has an opening in the back...an opening through which a sleek cat can fit, but not a chubby dog.
Mystery solved. Cat back. Cat backpack. Cat sling. Cat love. No skinned cat. Crazy cat lady. I love Tikvah. I love Gemma. God loves me. Saved by grace. Jesus is the only way. Embrace.
"...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18