The Worst That Can Happen…

This past weekend was one I could not have dreamed up had I earnestly put the effort into doing so. Far from the three days of Indian Summer bliss I had intended, it was one that my wisdom-dishing father would have quipped “built character” instead.

For the record, I learned never to utter the words, “What’s the worst that can happen” again!! Should I ever start to spew those fateful words again – please wash my mouth out with bitter lye soap!

Let’s start at the beginning.

On Friday afternoon, I received my much-anticipated bright shiny new camera that also calls people (!!) (whose delivery in itself, was a hostage situation worthy of a write up – but I digress…) I was thrilled it arrived in time for my hike on Saturday – quite possibly that last of the non-snow season. There is nothing like a fancy new camera for those fantastic fall photos – eh? I was up quite late Friday night rushing through the phone transfer and activation process. I admit to getting a bit flustered at times as I am not tech-savvy but it appeared to be a success and I went to bed confident I was ready to go for my 4 a.m. wake-up call.  Aside from user error multiple times, the phone/camera worked great on the trail – or so I thought.

Upon returning home Saturday night from my frolic in the mountains, I had received an email from the carrier saying I needed to complete my phone activation – which seemed odd since I had already called and texted with it – but I went ahead and followed the steps…. BIG MISTAKE!!  My cell connectivity shut down immediately – and of course I had already factory reset and shut down my old phone. Relying on the carrier’s online chat until 10:45 pm, I attempted to resolve the matter. Unfortunately, the rep – who desperately wanted to secure a sale of a whole-home tech warranty – after my fourth politely typed and appropriately emoji-ed refusal – finally said he couldn’t help me and I would have to speak with a higher tier support team.

I protested! ” I have no phone – which is why I have been chatting with you for the last 90 minutes!!” ” Oh well, then you will have to go to a dealer to assist you…”

Defeated and exhausted after an 18-hour day, I went to bed saying, okay what’s the worst that can happen? I’ll go to the dealer tomorrow and get it fixed. (Remember – I am soloing it in this great big world – it’s just me and Ember with no one to come to our aid if something happens)

Now the rest of the story… AKA -The Worst That Can Happen!

Ember and I headed out bright and early for our walk Sunday morning and all was right in our unconnected world.  We took our usual route through the neighborhood and down by the river – hoping to catch the sun as it peaked over the mountain.

Our neighborhood is “blessed” to have a drug/dump house. This one takes the prize in my book -years ago a giant tree fell and partially collapsed the roof, the front yard serves as the trash bin- food refuse covers the entire lawn, and 4 dilapidated vehicles spew garbage as well. Walking by, one can almost get high just from inhaling the pot-laced air.  When I first moved to the area, I naively felt compassion for the poor souls that inhabited the place – 5 years on – not so much.

It was at this exact spot that Ember snatched something off the ground and swallowed before I could pry his mouth open.  He is amazingly quick when he smells something interesting. Even faster when it is something to eat!  Naively, I gave him a good scolding and we continued on our way. It was a beautiful morning after all!

When we got home, I gave him his good boy treat and he happily went out to chase leaves as they fell, flush a few birds, and generally frolic in the back yard.  This was about an hour since the street-snatching. 10 minutes later he was at the door but instead of being right at the door as usual, he was standing off the steps on the patio- swaying. He tried to walk up the steps and his back legs went out from under him. He was able to recenter and tried to walk again but tripped over his front legs. I got him to his bed and he laid down right away putting his head in my lap. I petted him for a while and then got up – he tried to follow me but stumbled and swayed again. I reached out for him and he flinched away – his eyes were glassy and he looked perplexed and worse – frightened.

That was it, I went to call the emergency vet… no phone…

I quickly put on my shoes and as I was doing so Ember started to get frantically wild – jumping off and on the footstool before collapsing on the floor.

I carried Ember out to my Santa Fe and drove the 20 minutes to the Emergency Vet I had taken him to before only to find it was closed.  I kept driving thinking I had seen another emergency vet closer to Kalispell the next town over – I found it, pulled in and lifted a listless Ember out of my car.  As I carried him to the door, I was met by a vet tech who told me they only took patients whose owner had called ahead!!!!

Exasperated – I told her I couldn’t call ahead – I had no phone!!! She looked puzzled for a moment then went inside and came back out – took Ember from my arms and said they would see him.

After filling out paperwork authorizing tests and answering the questions about CPR /DNR and did I want treatment for Ember at any cost – of course!! – she left me to sob in the patient room.

I reflected that when I recently established by Living Will, I declined heroic lifesaving efforts! It’s a very different thought pattern when the lifesaving event is happening… and it’s my dog instead of me.

An hour later a very kind veterinarian came in – he asked me if Ember might have gotten into something – I told him Ember was always into things! He replied, “I ask because he tested positive for THC poisoning. WEED!!!!”

Ember – of all dogs!!!

Ember would need to be treated with IV fluids and activated charcoal and monitored overnight.

I could not go back and see him so I reluctantly left and headed to the cellphone dealer to get help with my phone. They close at 4 pm. It was 2:45 pm and the store’s floor manager greeted me by asking if I had an appointment as there were already 5 people ahead of me. Responding with a no, she said I could wait but I would likely have to return the next day.

Exasperated again I told her, while indicating my wretched no-coffee-or-breakfast-or-shower-appearance, that my dog was at the Emergency Vet and I had to have a way for them to contact me and my brand-new phone was not working!!  She looked at me far longer than I felt necessary then replied “I think we can cut you in.”

Thankfully, it was a fairly easy fix- at least for them.  The friendly down-to-business rep discovered my SIM card was corrupted and he was able to fix it before the next appointment showed up.

I went home and waited for my phone to ring with news on Ember.

After having breakfast for dinner, exhausted and feeling blessedly broke (Emergency Vet – $950.00) and blessed in my brokenness by those who sensed my distress, had compassion, bent the rules and let me in not once but twice in one day – I called it a night.

Monday morning, the same kind vet called and reported that Ember had a remarkable improvement overnight and I could bring him home.

The drive to the clinic seemed every bit as long as it was when I was in emergency mode. It sounded so downright wonderful to hear Ember’s frantic and happy paws scampering down the hall of the Flathead Pet Emergency Clinic compared to the limp and listless boy I carried in on Sunday.

Now as I write, Ember has fully recovered and is loving life again.

Happy endings are the best, and this one – while building character – also magnifies the love I have for my sweet boy, Ember and the gratitude I have for the angels I met along the way.

Keep letting your light so shine, Ember!!!

Remember

Sunrise – September 11, 2022

As the sun finally gained the mountaintop this morning I paused and glanced at the time – it was almost exactly the same moment the first plane hit 21 years ago.

A car sped past me. I wondered if the driver was thinking about the day as I was – or was this just another day?

A passing mention in the prayers of the people, a few flags waving in the morning breeze, a wince of ennui as names are read and a bell rung – yet again – in memory.

I was forever changed – I will never forget.

God Bless America – may we never rest from the call to compassion and courage for our country.

May our light so shine – forever.

Life Begins Where Fear Ends

Inspired by: Matthew 25:14-30,Psalm 90

With Thanksgiving around the corner, my mind has turned repeatedly to two things – my family who are far away and what I have done with the gifts bestowed upon my life in the past year. Both of which are triggered by the back-page stories in the newspaper – one of the few reasons I still subscribe to a local paper. I love to read obituaries, much more than write them mind you. I often find myself skimming past the headlines of the day but once I get to the obituary page, I read them word for word. It is the only time, that I know of at least, that the dash takes center stage – the life in between the numbers. I know what an impact the dash can make. Seeing the dash on my family’s headstone with both of my parent’s birth – dash – death years is one thing. Seeing my name with my birth date – dash – (blank) is a rather unsettling experience! But I digress…

Obituaries can move me, leave me awestruck, and inspire me. The really good ones cause me to reflect on what I have done with the dash in my life. They don’t dwell so much on one’s scholarly or professional achievements, though certainly worthy of mention, but where those achievements led the person and the impact that person had outside of themselves during their dash. We get to learn about what is really important in life and we get to laugh at the humorous side of our humanity.

I have noted two commonalities among most obituaries: they often recount a person’s relationship with God and they rarely list one’s fears. For good reason. With God, our lives are lived with anticipation, whereas fear negates the talents we are given – the opportunities and the possibilities God entrusts to us. Fear can have a very powerful role in the direction of our lives. We see that play out in Matthew’s Gospel in the parable of the talents.

Imagine if you will:

Jesus was going on a journey, one that he knew he would be on for quite some time.  He called a few of his followers to him and entrusted some very valuable treasures to them. To one, named Martin, he gave stories; to another named Paul he gave compassion; and to a third, Goodwin, he gave the bread of life and the cup of salvation. These treasures were of incredible value – he deemed each of them of equal importance even though the weight and substance of each differed.  Then Jesus went away.

Martin took those stories and studied them and wrote them out so the stories could easily be read and shared. While a little unsure of where Jesus was leading him, he knew his guide well. His Lord had been a dwelling place for all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever he had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting He was God. That He had entrusted Martin with stories filled Martin with joy as he set to work. Soon there were five more followers of Jesus reading and sharing those stories and those stories are still being read and shared today.

Reflecting often on his mangled past, Paul couldn’t believe Jesus had entrusted him with compassion – him of all people! And yet, Paul, acknowledging Jesus’ decisive impact on his life, changed his name from Steve to Paul and relinquished his life to Him. The freedom he found in trusting Jesus fueled him with a drive that couldn’t be stopped. He took that compassion and traveled all over the region offering compassion to all who would hear and open their hearts to him. The first two who opened their hearts shared the compassion with another 2 and so on and so forth. Soon all across the world many were receiving and giving compassion in the name of Jesus.

But Goodwin, who had been given the bread of life and the cup of salvation, dug a hole in the ground and buried them because he believed the Lord would plunder his wealth and lay his house to waste. He was afraid— afraid of messing up, of not getting the theology right, of what Jesus would do to him if he didn’t get it right, and finally, because he had no idea what might happen to him if he shared the bread of life and the cup of salvation with anyone else. There were so many unknowns! People might expect him to do more than he thought he was capable of! Surely, all would be better if he just stored the bread and cup until Jesus got back. Besides, Goodwin thought, he was a much better farmer than an evangelist.

Finally, back from his journey – no worse for the wear – Jesus stopped by each of his follower’s homes and asked them what they had done with the treasures he had given to them.

The first two followers offered Jesus some coffee and cookies and told him about how the stories were now in book form and in their millionth copy! They told him how the compassion had grown and was now administered not only on the streets but in buildings called churches. They introduced Jesus to some of his new followers and the new followers in turn introduced Jesus to their friends and families.

Jesus was very pleased.  He thanked each of them for their wonderful hospitality and told them, “Well done, good and trustworthy followers! You have been trustworthy in a few things, now I will trust you with many things. Enter into my joy!”

Martin and Paul and all Jesus’ followers, now called brothers and sisters in Christ, went about their lives with the joy and freedom knowing Jesus brought them. For all those who have the Good News, even more will be given to them. Gone was their need to control and worry about everything, for Jesus showed them that He was their true Master, who, with grace and mercy, would lead them through life’s ups and downs and welcome them home at the end of their days.

Then it was Goodwin’s turn. After a long hot day working in the field harvesting his hay crop, he was slow to answer the door when Jesus knocked.  “Hello Goodwin,” Jesus greeted him, as he looked over his shoulder at an empty room except for a Lazy-boy recliner and a radio blaring some hotheaded advice guru. “I’ve come to review your work. May I come in?”

“Geez, Jesus, now? Can’t you see your interrupting…”

“Goodwin, please, it is time. Let’s talk.”

Goodwin stepped aside and let Jesus into his house. He felt a bit nervous – no make that terrified – worse than when he was first given the bread and the cup. But Jesus just stood there and waited patiently until Goodwin cracked.

“Jesus, I knew you were a harsh man. I knew you reaped where you didn’t sow and gathered where you didn’t scatter seed. I don’t much care for people who trespass on my property.”

Jesus raised an eyebrow.

Goodwin’s reddened face paled. He continued. “Alright Jesus, I was afraid of messing up, of not getting the theology right, of what you would do to me if I didn’t get it right. Besides, I had crops to tend to. With no idea of what might happen to me if I shared the bread of life and the cup of salvation with others, I just couldn’t bet the farm.”

Jesus stopped him mid breath. “Goodwin, I think you’ve misread me. Of course, I reap where I don’t sow! I give you free will to live your life as you will and sometimes, I get really lucky when someone gets a brilliant idea – like your friend Martin did with that printing press! Boy, I never saw that coming! But I entrusted you with a few tasks I thought you would be perfect for. I guess you didn’t see what I saw in you.”

Goodwin continued in his protest, “But there were so many unknowns! People might have expected me to give more of my time than I was able! So, I thought, surely all would be better if I just stored the bread and cup until you got back. Besides, I am no evangelist.”

And that could have been the opening line to Goodwin’s obituary and the engraving on his headstone. There would be no dates with a dash in between. What would anyone want to remember him for? After their conversation, Goodwin gave the bread and cup back to Jesus. Condemning himself to a place of darkness rather than risk the unknowns, he turned Jesus away. Feeling what was left of his poor sham of a life suck out of him, he wanted to stop living – after all what was the point? He did the same thing over and over again and look where it got him?  Nowhere.  Standing in the darkness of his empty living room he ground his teeth so badly he felt a filling fall out.

That is what happens when you let fear be your Master. Indeed, we all have times of anxiety — times filled with worries over the direction our culture is drifting or concerns for our children, our marriages, our businesses, our finances, our personal health and well-being. Whether it is fear of losing control  – so you live your life so tightly shut that no one can venture in and you cannot get out, fear of being alone or standing alone in your beliefs, fear of not measuring up, or fear of the unknown – staying well within your comfort zone, walled off from the risks of new opportunities and possibilities – nothing Godly or goodly can come from fear.

Fear limits us. But our fear cannot limit God, nor can it limit what God wants for us.

(The story continues)

Goodwin walked to the sink, spit the metal out of his mouth and went to bed. After a restless night with little sleep there was a knock at the door. “Now who could that be? Why won’t people leave me alone?” he muttered as he passed by the empty mail cache and phone that never rang.

He opened the door and a radiance shown into his dreary space and forlorn face.

“Jesus! You came back!”

“I just couldn’t let it go – you saying I was a harsh man.” Jesus looked at Goodwin. He looked pretty scruffy and what was going on in that mouth of his? Could it be he wasn’t frowning quite so much?  “You’ve had a long night. What do you say we go get some of this bread of life and a good swig from the cup of salvation? It really is far more appetizing than you think, and I know just the place.”

Jesus put his hand on Goodwin’s shoulder – he felt the tension release and the strength he once saw in him come back.  Goodwin closed the door to his emptiness and headed down the road to this place Jesus had heard about from Paul.

“You say they call this a church?”

“Yup,” said Jesus. “It’s full of people just like you – I was kind of surprised, but then not so much as it is kind of hard to surprise me. There are people in there just as fearful as you. Life isn’t easy, I know.  There are people inside who see me as harsh and full of judgment, easy to ire, impatient, and kind of surly and so they go to this place because they think they have to. And then – then there are those inside who have fully embraced the new me – loving and kind, patient and enduring – I like to think I’m their Great Protector – of course, I am, to all of them.”

On the way they pass by a few who see Jesus as someone who will not do good or do harm – Jesus shook his head, “They think I’m a willy nilly – to them I’m some old man from ages past who doesn’t much impact their day to day lives. Do you know how that makes me feel? After all I’ve given? But enough about me, we should welcome them.”

Goodwin and Jesus went inside the church and found themselves surrounded by children of the light – clothed in their Sunday best – faith, love and hope. And they heard the story of a God who loves us so much that He came in the person of Jesus to experience our lives first hand, to share our hopes and dreams, and our fears and failures. A God who does not want the time between our numbers to be spent in fear. A God who wanted working knowledge of our trials and tribulations and to see just how amazing His creation turned out to be. A God who entrusted us with stewarding his amazing creation for our joy and our fulfillment.  A God who fell so in love with us that He died for us on the cross, so that we could be freed of our sins, and live our lives abundantly – without fear.

Goodwin felt his fears melt away. He realized his life was not his alone to live – his life belonged to God – the One who gave his own, so that he, Goodwin, might live fully. And so, by golly, live it fully he would! Surrounded by fellow brothers and sisters – the very living body of Christ – who would continue to hold him and each other in love while encouraging and building one another up in their various pursuits, until the day of Our Lord comes again.

Wishing you a Thanksgiving that is abundant in life and absent of any fears – whether you are spending the holiday with family or staying apart out of love.

Peace and blessings to you.