Definitions

toys letters pay play
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As a writer – or at least a person that attempts to write on occasion – I love words. I am in awe of the fact that one simple sentence can make someone’s heart dance and just as quickly shatter an illusion. I find inspiration in individual words and the way their meaning can undulate like a wave depending on its context.

About a year ago, I wrote a post talking about the meaning of the word “home”. Circumstances in my life had required me to move to a shared house and the definition I had created in my heart and mind for “home” didn’t fit this new circumstance. I was angry and hurt about where life – and God – had led me. While I didn’t blame God for where I was, I did feel confused about why I couldn’t finally rest in the definition of home that I had; why my life had to, yet again, be sent into upheaval like a game of 52 card pickup. I didn’t know where I was going to find the strength to yet again move forward.

Now here I am, a full year later, and the definition of the word “home” has changed again.

I have been lucky enough to find a new place that to lay my head at night and over the past three months, have worked hard to create a space that is an image of me now, not who I have been in the past or who I may be in the future. As lovely as this has been, it has also been a difficult process for me because for nearly 10 years, home always meant the place where my adoring dog was. The actual building or what the building housed didn’t matter. What mattered was that whatever door I walked into, my baby girl was there to greet me.

But now she’s gone.

And now, here I am in beautiful new place – a place she never even stepped a little white-tipped paw in – and I see her everywhere.  I yearn for her to be at the door to greet me when I come back from work, I still turn to give her a piece of cheese when I made a sandwich, and I find myself wondering where she is or how her day is when I’m away. Her loss has broken my heart, but it has also done something else.

It has allowed me the chance to redefine what home looks like just for me. For the first time in my life, I am not worrying that someone else is going to dislike my choice of décor or that there isn’t a place to house knickknacks or heirlooms. I am not wondering what things I need to arrange to make it easier for my girl to get around nor do I have to worry about the bunnies that reside outside my door being chased or barked at all day long. No, this was not what I had planned or desired, but it is what God has given me for this time in my life and I have chosen to embrace it.

The thing that I have found as I work through this grief is that I – and I believe all of us – are often not willing to allow the meaning of the words and the importance they hold in our lives to change as they need to in order to adapt to our every growing and changing lives. We like things the way they have always been and spend a good deal of time and energy fighting the changes that come our way to help us grow.

Recently, I have seen this play out clearly and painfully with some friends of mine who are going through some similar “growth opportunities” where they, too, are having to redefine some words for themselves – words like family and love. In some situations, this is because of the blessings of marriage or children, but in some situations, this is because the current definition of what family or love looks like no longer fits the reality of the situation in front of them and they are angry, frustrated, and sad.

I get it. I really do. We go into situations with an idea of what they will look like only to be disappointed with the fact that our expectations weren’t met. We start a new job with an idea that the people we will be working with will be great only to find out that we don’t mesh well with them and struggle. We go into a new friendship thinking our new friend feels the same way we do about issues we feel strongly about only to find out they have very different views and we are forced to decide whether or not we are willing to accept those differences.

Or we get married and believe that marriage looks a certain way and that the person we married will either always be the same or that we will grow and change in the same directions as do they do because, after all, isn’t that what married couples do?

But that isn’t the case. The definitions of the words marriage and love must change with time but just because we accept this intellectually doesn’t mean that we don’t fight hard against the reality of the situation. We fight the need to allow the definitions we have created in our hearts and minds for these words – these relationships – to change with time.

How many times have you heard or said my spouse/friend/significant other isn’t the person they used to be? And how many times, when you’re expressing this thought, are you absolutely devastated or infuriated by that reality? It happens to me all the time and since I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, I assume it happens to you as well. The way I see it, this happens because we haven’t allowed our definition of who that person is – their role in our lives and the word we have attached to the emotions we have for that person to change. We want them to be who we imagined them to be from the get go. But that can’t ever actually be the case.

All people and all relationships must be able to change and grow and we, as loving, faith-filled people, must grow and change along with them. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily change in the same direction that they do, but it does mean that we allow ourselves to see beyond our own desires and needs and move in a direction that is unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable.

Here’s the bottom line.

Life is full of change – good and bad. Our jobs as members of this society and this faith community is to must allow the words that we use to frame experiences and relationships grow and change instead of putting them all in a big, black, margin-indented book and assume that they will forever be the same. God did not create us to live in a vacuum so despite the pain change can cause, we must trust that His plan for those changes is greater than the pain. We must allow those nearest to us to define themselves – their thoughts, needs and desires – as fluidly for us as we want them to allow us to for them.  In so doing we allow the individual words used to describe a person and relationship to as unique as they are. Sure, there are only a few words in the English language that express what we refer to as love, but if we are gracious with the people around us, we will see that each use of that same word will reflect the specific qualities of the individual to which it is attached.

So as I spend this summer redefining “home” for myself, I pray that you also can find ways to redefine important words and phrases for yourself with the full understanding that these definitions, too, will change.

Advertisements

My Lexy-Girl

27797427_10156091638402359_1129368443817258567_oHer toys have all been discarded, blankets and dishes washed and put away and I am left with an overwhelming sense of emptiness and sadness. I know it will go away with time, but for now, the feeling of grief and loss like standing in quicksand and every breath and heartbeat sucks me further down into its darkness.

There are those who will likely say she was only a dog and while you would be right technically, Lexy was far from “just” anything.

1931098_45645022358_894_nFound under a pallet that served as a porch in the woods in central South Carolina at just a month old, she was scrappy and determined, ready to take on the world – and take it on, she did.

Lexy made friends with nearly everyone she ever encountered. On the farm we lived on for her first few years, she made friends with the barn cats and the horses. She would excitedly lick the cats every morning and run up and down the fence with a young horse, Sport, who tossed things to her to catch and happily waited at the fence every morning to greet her.

27798070_10214412055551640_8198879065367142503_oShe was playful and loving with a heart to serve those who she felt were in need. If we were at the dog park and she heard a baby cry (human or other), she would rush to their side and nuzzle and lick them for comfort. One time, I remember walking past a young man in a wheelchair who appeared to suffer from some pretty significant autistic issues. Lexy walked up to him, sat next to him, and leaned just close enough that he could pet her. He placed his hand on her head and she just sat, waiting, giving him time and love in the way that he was able to accept it. It brought tears to both my eyes and his mothers.

On weekends when she would stay with my parents for one reason or another, Lexy would come home completely exhausted after having forced herself to stay awake all day to watch over my dad and stepmother to make sure they were safe, and then keep guard over the house and each of them as they slept.

27788497_10156098614587359_4162020583359323514_oAside from her color, the only scary thing about her was her bark which could honestly wake the dead. But once someone came into view, she would run and get a toy for each visitor. I could always tell who her favorites were based on the toy she brought. Some received whatever was closest, while others would get the “prize” of her favorite bone or newest treasure.

Coughing was always something that bothered her and if I were ever sick and started coughing in the middle of the night, Lexy would come up beside me (yes, she slept on the bed – don’t judge!), literally pat me on the shoulder with her paw, and then lay as close to me as absolutely possible to keep me “safe”.

There are so many stories that made Lexy unique and wonderful – some I may not even know about – but I can honestly say that she was a gift to me.

27788497_10156098614587359_4162020583359323514_oI wish I could say that on her last day, I took her to all her favorite places – her dog park, her boyfriend’s house, to the trail – to see them one last time or that she got her favorite foods and pets from all of her favorite people, but sadly this was not the case. Her illness came quickly and unexpectedly and I was left with that most horrible of decisions. I now find myself apologizing to her for not seeing what was happening so I could have stopped it; apologizing for not being with her that final weekend; apologizing for being human.

My Lexy-girl was the best thing in my life. She came at a time that I desperately needed someone to care for and to care for me. She took her job seriously and I fear she may have done it better than I. As my friend would often say, she carried the burdens of the world on her shoulders and it was because of this, her life here was cut shorter than we expected.  I don’t know if this is why she passed to unexpectedly, but I do know there are not enough words in the English language to express how incredibly thankful and blessed I am to have had her in my life. She was my best friend, my sole companion for nearly 10 years and I will forever miss her.

Hard to Say Goodbye

13667727_10206694363826567_1814928283392333504_oThe blue lights of the sanctuary covered the back wall and reflected off the horns that were scattered across the stage. Trumpets, coronets and flugelhorns all caught the light and reflected it out to the seats below creating an atmosphere that was at once soothing and sad, much like the jazz that my friend had played on them.

I was walking in to say my goodbyes along with several hundred other people, all of whom were touched in some way by this man.

His death was unexpected and heartbreaking. He was a grandfather, husband, brother and father – all of the things one would expect of a man of a certain age – and yet he was so much more.

As a musician, he challenged everyone he played with to be better; to be more than they were before the set started. As a man of faith, he carried with him a sense of peace and joy that exuded through every part of his being and showered down on those he came into contact with. I don’t doubt that he had days of uncertainty and struggle, but during the brief time I was blessed to know him, I never saw a glimpse of that. As the song from then musical Wicked says, I have been changed by knowing him.

because I knew you

It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it? Even at times when the goodbye isn’t necessarily permanent, the very word seems to stick in our heart like a barb. It isn’t supposed to be like this, our heart cries! My time with this person was supposed to be longer! I never got the chance to say thank you or I’m sorry or whatever it is we so desperately want to say when the option no longer exists.

As I listened to the sermon during this somber event, the pastor of the church indicated that God didn’t intend for us to say goodbye; that our need to do so only exists because of the fall of man in the garden. While this may not be a popular opinion, I beg to differ.

I don’t, as I’ve said in the past, believe that God makes mistakes. Therefore, it only logically follows that God absolutely created us to feel loss and ache at the departure of people and things we love. To me, to believe otherwise means that God neither foresaw Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit nor planned for the repercussions thereafter. For me, my God is bigger than that. He knew before He created a single microorganism that we would fail. Actually, to me, He created us to do so because the bigger plan was dependent upon our human curiosity to overtake our desire to obey.

Sounds contrary to probably everything you have ever been taught, but follow me on this for a moment.

Without failure, we would never learn that we need God. We would mindlessly follow, devoid of passion or conviction. The God I believe in wants so much more for us than that.

 

I believe that God created the ability for us to sin so we would learn to turn to Him; that he created the ability to stumble so we would feel the security of being carried; the ability to mourn losses great and small so that we could know the full breadth of love.

Love is bigger than happiness and joy. It aches with yearning, cries out with pain, and sobs uncontrollably for endings. The ability to feel these things is what makes love such a unique and complex emotion and is the one thing that makes us truly a part of God.

At times like this – the death of a friend or loved one – it certainly doesn’t seem like much of a gift, but it truly is.

Without the depths of despair that loss brings we would never fully realize the heights of bliss that are also part of our emotional spectrum.

Perhaps more importantly, without the stillness that comes with loss we would never come to experience the excitement of renewal. If nothing ever left our lives, there would be no need for us to reach out for something new – a new hobby,  a new friend, a new life experience. The life that God envisioned for us would not exist.

Maybe it seems odd to say, but I would absolutely choose the life of emotional ups and downs over a life of status quo. It seems to me that God created me to be able to feel these things so I could know Him more fully; so I could more fully grasp the extent of His love for me and the purpose He has for my life.

shelby quote

I know what you’re thinking. What kind of sadistic god would want me to suffer?

The thing is, it’s not that He wants us to suffer per se, but  that He wants us to realize that through these experiences we can grow to be so much more that who we were before them. Oh sure, we can choose to wallow in self-pity for the rest of out lives, or we can change.

As I thought about how this particular death was calling me to change, I took a moment to look around the sanctuary all of the various people who had been affected by this person – and it hit me.

I desire to make a difference the way my friend did. No, I’m not going to take up brass instruments and try to teach or try to replicate his life. That would just be silly and I would be an utter failure. But what I am going to do is make a conscious effort to be that person that makes others feel welcome and comfortable; to be that person that creates a sense of peace and laughter.

On the day of my first gig with the band I met this wonderful man in, I was nervous and felt uncertain of my ability to carry the role I had been given. This man not only told me at every opportunity that I was doing a great job, but caught my eye to do silly things like use his horn as a dancing snake making me laugh and relax. This is the piece of my friend I want to carry forward.

Thanks to my friend, I am going to work harder to reflect the characteristics of God to others so they can feel His presence in their lives, even when they don’t realize that’s what they feel.

I only hope that when I meet him in heaven, he will be able to see the change he made in me and the way I was able to carry the torch for him.