A few folks have observed with surprise that we still have a dog. I think it’s safe to go public, now.
Early on in this widowhood journey, I started posting about the God things on social media, as a way of keeping my focus on Him in the midst of missing … him. Over a year ago, I eased up on my public posts. While it seemed God was making His hand very visible in many aspects of our lives, in the Boaz-delivery department I imagined Him up there with popcorn, elbowing … I don’t know, Walter? My dad? Elbowing someone, anyway, in amusement. I needed to hush up and work on discernment.
Enter this furry guy last August. We met him when he was just a babe, nine weeks old, napping in a feed store customer’s arms – for sale, of course. It was an ambush. Ever looking for the God things, and having promised my son a dog for his birthday fully five months prior (with months of searching, no apparent matches found), I watched this placid puppy start to groom himself in Aslan’s arms and thought, “This is that feeling people talk about, when you know it’s right.” We took him home that afternoon. Aslan named him “Spotty.”
Earlier today, my friend told me how much I have changed since Walter flew to Heaven. “He was the responsible parent,” she remembered, and to a large extent, she was right. I was mired in depression and midwife-malpractice injury recovery for much of my kiddos’ early years. Aslan may have been accessorized in barrettes and a tutu, but Walter got him and his sister to church, dagnabit. Walter’s death forced me to change, and that change has been nothing short of miraculous. Yet there was an emptiness to this house that one significantly-more-kickass-than-she-used-to-be mama, two kids, one cat, one bunny and four chickens had yet to fill.
Nothing cures a control freak like the ultimate loss of control, death. But in time, that urge to at least try to control SOMEthing creeps back in, and having lost My Person, I was at least gonna control my space. A dog represented the ultimate threat to my control, but a quiet voice (do I trust it? Can I even discern whose voice it is?) told me I NEEDED to get Aslan a dog (strongly supported, of course, by Aslan himself). Thus began the battle: My control vs. growing puppy. And not just any puppy: 3/4 border collie, 1/4 blue heeler puppy. Once Mr. Fuzzy Pants was out of his nap-filled puppy stage, things got tough. I mean, TOUGH. Fully three times this pup had me at my breaking point. Have you ever seen photos of border collies herding cattle? They look like devil dogs. That’s what Spotty felt like, to me. I imagined him thinking, “Lady, I can herd cattle and I have the intelligence of a human toddler. You are no match for me!”
As for Aslan, “his puppy” decided he was going to be above at least one person in this pack, and poor Aslan was it. He was the first one of us to declare, “I’m done!” Elspeth was the holdout, gifted in animal whispering as she is, but eventually even she was done – done seeing Mama undone, so done with Spotty.
And me? I was a mess. For months I wrestled with this puppy. His needs plinked on my mind, falling to the ground, unrecognized. Not entirely, mind you – I took care of him, but I didn’t let him IN. And for one of the few times since Walter flew, I did not know my own mind. And it was driving me nuts.
In November, my gut told me it was time to be done, and I followed it. I did everything right: Found a caring placement service staffed by volunteers who know his breed (West Columbia Gorge Humane Society); they had room; we set the date. I breathed easier.
Now, in the interim, I had initiated Spotty’s neuter. It was the right thing to do, and Second Chance Companions makes it affordable (God bless them). Spotty spent many days wearing the cone of shame, in his crate, while he healed.
And then a funny thing happened. After days of recovery in confinement, off came the cone. Immediately, Elspeth decided to try some of the commands we’d worked on. “Sit.” He sat. “Lie down.” He lay down. “Turn around.” Around he went. We watched in amazement as he looked up at us, seeming to say, “Okay, I know what you guys are planning, I’m done messing around, I want to be your dog.”
But what happened the next morning, I will never forget. Spotty had a “resource guarding” issue. He growled at any threat to his food source (anyone near while he was eating), in spite of our attempts to train him through it. That morning, we fed him his breakfast in the kitchen. He growled loudly at us as we stood casually around him, just chatting. All three of us said “Ohhh …” altogether, disappointment in our voices as we stepped back and looked down at him. Silently, he looked up at us. He put his ears down. And, leaving his breakfast behind, he marched himself into his crate in the next room, punishing HIMSELF – and totally winning my heart.
Suddenly, my mind stopped crashing the idea of taking my dog to a dog park against “I’m a widowed-mama entrepreneur struggling to make ends meet, I can’t deal with the needs of a DOG!” The struggle gave way to, “We need to get you to the dog park!” And we need to get you challenging toys that meet your needs, and time and interaction to make you part of the family.
Spotty is learning my rhythms and my routines, and he is adapting to them. I am learning Spotty’s rhythms and routines and needs, and folding them into my life. Spotty is learning to respect Aslan and obey both him and Elspeth … but Spotty is, in spite of it all, MY dog. It took my friend seeing it over Christmas and reflecting it back to me (hi Melissa): I am His Person. Last night he sat in the kitchen as I comfort-cooked, just watching, just … keeping me company.
My kiddos still long for a daddy. I still long for my Boaz. But this house is missing significantly less, now. <3
Tonite I took a break from the sea of photos I’m currently swimming in and went to our favorite restaurant, Roots. I sat at the chef’s bar, in the exact place Walter and I sat when last we were there. I wrote him a card, the perfect one I found earlier today at New Seasons, and wrote his name on the envelope – keenly aware that it felt strange. It’s been a long time since I’ve written Walter’s name on an envelope. As I spent the next two hours telling him everything I miss (every inch and nuance of him, to be exact), I let myself think of him in ways I haven’t since he’s been gone; it hurts too much. But tonite it was joyous somehow, and it made me smile (as I was sitting there alone). I caught at least one of the cooks eyeing me a little curiously. Later, after I’d retrieved our babes and gotten them home and into bed, I went out into the backyard, read the card aloud (quietly; not fishing for more strange looks), then came back in and burned it in the fireplace. I like to think he gets to peek in on nights like this. I hope so.
I found this photo (shot by my sister-in-law’s talented father, Gary) last night. September 18, 2010 – my 39th birthday, four years ago. Walter’s birthday is September 30th – today – so we were celebrating both. Grey and his band had turned our backyard into a tiny 80s progrock concert hall. It took something that awesome to bring that day to an end like this. But when I look at this photo I just see everything I was holding back.
At the beginning of this concert, Walter and I weren’t speaking to each other. Aslan was seven months old; Elspeth, three. I looked okay, but inside – physically and emotionally – I was a mess. And what Walter witnessed our midwives do the day Aslan was born – let’s just say some people should never, ever play with scissors (or anything that’s alive or otherwise important, for that matter) – had freaked him out. He had PTSD, no question. He wouldn’t start opening up to me again for two more months, when I finally cornered him and asked, “You’re grossed out … aren’t you?” He didn’t answer. At least I had an answer, then. Or the start of one.
It’s not like we weren’t trying to fix things. Couple’s therapy, all kinds of physical therapy for me, then repair surgery. Two years after this photo was taken, we were finally, finally starting to find our way back into the sun – I remember a precious flirty smile at breakfast with the kids at Natalia’s in Camas (me realizing, “Damn this guy is hot … and awesome with these kids … and he’s still here. After all this, he’s still here.”), a sunny late-summer day at Mt. Hood (me realizing, “I don’t even remember how to have fun anymore”), my birthday at Tad’s Chicken and Dumplings. The romance was coming back. Still, I was holding back.
And then, his birthday – his last birthday. I messed up. I could give all sorts of valid, good reasons – busy with the kids, my not-yet-fully-returned health, my return to work, our growing photography business – we were like ships passing in the night. But in the end, I talked about how much I loved him, but on his birthdays (and too many other times) I didn’t show him, and he finally told me how much that hurt.
Less than two months later he was dead.
About nine months after he died, I finally learned what I had been missing.
I was let go from my job on a Friday. My artist neighbor gave me the most amazing pep talk about making it as a photographer that Saturday. And on Sunday, church met at the Heberlings, where the elders had just installed, of all things, a zipline. Something inside me knew I was supposed to ride that thing. And for the first time in my life, as my kids watched (so I HAD to make it look good), I experienced firsthand that I can take what I feel in my heart (abject terror), and let Jesus forcefully turn it around for good (total exuberance). I did it to look good for the kids. Inside me, it did so much more.
At first, I thought the point of that zipline was to teach me how to let go and fly as a photographer. Now, I think it was also to teach me how to love: Feelings follow actions. I’d heard it, but I’d never learned how to do it. I can be a good gift-buyer. I can be a good party host, a good … lots of (much more important) things. Feelings follow actions. Jesus can do a lot with actions. But excuses? Not much good follows excuses.
I love you Walter. Happy birthday, my sexy postal pirate angel.
It didn’t even register that it would have been our eight-year wedding anniversary today, even after one sweet friend remembered, sent me a message. My mind checked out. I could not go there. I sat in bed catching up notes in my kung fu bible at bedtime when it finally hit me. I considered going right back to forgetting about it when I remembered this beautiful box I never look at, full of three cards for each holiday, love notes, sorry notes. Full of all the evidence that I am a good woman fiercely loved by a good man – watching, I am convinced, from Heaven, desperately hoping I will not do what is so easy to do in my loneliness and grief: Be not alone at any cost. And I pulled out the box, and let Walter’s prolific note- and card-writing do the job I bet it was meant to do, in this time God knew was coming. And Walter can rest in a job well done tonite. #widowed #desertblossom#copyright2014narrowpathphotography #narrowpathphoto #love #soulmate#truelove #loveneverdies
These words keep following me.
Recently my sifu observed that I’m trying to walk forward while holding on to a boulder with both hands. That boulder … “is it fear?” I asked. He confirmed, but … fear of what?
This saying crops up a lot on pages that address narcissism … um … fallout. I’ve been staying up late for days trolling such pages, trying to figure out why I feel so gutted, a little crazy, and mournful; let that suffice as explanation of my summer. I do not think Walter’s up there pulling strings to see me (us) hook up with … that. But I felt so *led*. And then … I fell pretty hard. So I spent most of August extricating myself, but it hurt. Still hurts. Guess I was more vulnerable than I thought.
Then, this last Saturday night, God says, “I see you” through a friend. And this week, in conversations with my cool friends Judit and Helena, I start to see where God might be pointing me now. I see recurring themes of open-ended ministry, and I see need. Then I arrive to kung fu last night to – surprise! I’m leading basic class?! *terror* And Sifu Tristan coached me not on my fear of public speaking, or the fact that I’m choreographically challenged, but my fear of leadership.
Leadership: Like, the role you can’t escape when your husband dies. Of course. And I’m surrounded by the fallout of broken people raised by broken people who turned inward and embraced their brokenness, instead of turning outward and joining God in healing others’ brokenness — essentially, leadership. But have I been embracing it? Well … not exactly.
So, I ask Sifu Tristan this morning: Is it fear of leadership? “How about letting go?” He answers.
And wouldn’t you know it: This morning at Thatcher’s Coffee, Sheri says, “Look!” and here it is: “‘What if I fall?’ Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”
And Sheri and I have this beautiful walk on the Vancouver waterfront, and talk about the recurring theme of letting go in scripture, and I tell her all the stuff that’s been happening this past week. And it all falls into place.
Helena says revival’s happening all around us. Yeah, I think she’s right.