Friday, April 14, 2017

Ping Pong Balls

“Tell them you had a bad dream,” he said when I began to cry.  But I was taught never to tell lies.  So I told the truth. She picked me up and laughed. “There’s something funny outside,” she said, distracting me from my tears but only enough that I knew what she was doing. I was four.

“How could you tell anyone about this?!” she yelled at me. “What will people say?” So I stopped crying. I stopped telling. I stopped trusting. Anyone. And I learned to protect myself from people who fear honesty. Once taught to tell the truth, now I was told to keep quiet. I was twelve.

“Welcome back,” he said. I thought I’d feel happy, but anxiety came instead. Why didn’t I trust him? What was I afraid of? Random memories bobbed up like too many ping pong balls in a pool of water. I was only beginning to discover how tiring it is to keep them all submerged at the same time. I was twenty-seven.

I told her about being twelve and twenty-seven . . . and four. She listened quietly, respectful but without comment. I felt foolish for telling my story. For not having dealt with it all by now. My words hung in the air expectantly until they floated away, unseen. Maybe I should have kept them inside. What did I know? I was only thirty-five.

“You must forgive others for your own sake,” she said when I was forty, “so it doesn’t poison you.” I heard her say that remembering is a sin. Remembering means you haven’t forgiven. Forgiveness is required after all that Christ has done for me. I got the message. So, let’s say I was in a car accident that was someone else’s fault and I was left paralyzed. Forever. Clearly I’d never forgiven the other driver. Because if I had, I’d be able to walk again.

“It doesn’t do any good to dig up the past,” he told his son. That’s not what the doctor told me when she discovered cancer. She cut into the sickness, took it out, and saved my life. The cancer had been there for a while, but no one recognized it. No one went searching for it. Not until she did. Then I became whole again. I was fifty-five.

All these years I have believed that my feelings didn’t matter. That my instincts were wrong. I was told that I judged people unfairly and refused to forgive. They loved me, each of them, and I tried to tell them how I felt. But words failed me. Perhaps I was just speaking Italian and they weren’t bilingual.

But my feelings do matter. I can see truth because Truth lives inside me and hasn’t left me once in all of my life. I desperately needed validation. I finally found it in a few friends and a counselor. But many others were too busy trying to keep their own ping pong balls submerged.

“You will know the Truth,” He said, “and the Truth will set you free.” Isn’t it interesting He didn’t say forgiveness will set you free? That reconciling will set you free? That keeping secrets will set you free?

All along I believed this truth—that being honest is the bottom line and staying away from abusive people is as important as avoiding someone with a contagious disease. Maybe feelings are a God-given radar system to alert us when we’re in danger. And maybe choices have consequences, even if the choosers are Christians.

Now I see it’s a gift, rather than a weakness, to have a functioning intuition. To be a person who has learned to tell the truth and draw healthy boundaries instead of enabling damaged people to count me among their assortment of collateral damage.

Or maybe I’m wrong. What do I know? 

I’m not quite sixty.

With appreciation to Beth Cortez-Neavel for the use of the photograph above. The original photo can be viewed at

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Best Christmas Present Ever

“He sure does have some stinky toots,” my husband said while we played cards with friends. We all wrinkled our noses in agreement and waited for the air to clear.

“Maybe it’s his food,” I muttered later, as I walked past a dog dish full of canned organ meats. The smell hung right there in the air, all fingers pointing to our new pup’s putrid digestive system and unappetizing menu. Then I noticed the jar of freshly fermenting sauerkraut overflowing onto the counter above his bowls. I had no idea homemade sauerkraut and doggie toots smell identical.

Our new puppy, recently adopted from a pretty nasty animal control facility in the Phoenix area, got sick two days after we brought him home. I know—shocker. Somehow, surrounded by dog cells adorned with “This dog is sick but adoptable” signs, our little lab contracted a nasty case of kennel cough. But he wasn’t coughing. He just had . . . tummy issues. Which morphed into an eating and drinking fast (who knew he was a religious dog?) and landed him in two vets’ offices the same week.

“Where did he come from?” they asked us.

“The pound.”

“How old is he?”

Blank stare.

“Is he a Labrador/shepherd mix?”


As best we can tell, he has absolutely no medical history and has left no paper trail. He just appeared on a street corner on Christmas Eve somewhere in Phoenix and was delivered to the pound sometime on Christmas Day. Which wasn’t a very nice present for him, if you ask me.

But I’d been praying for a new dog for almost a year. Specifically, I prayed for a dog who needed us. It’s hard to figure out how to find a dog like that. I did have some important specifics, though.  First, he/she needed to have a kind heart.  Second, he must be allergic to the following: 

Garden hoses
Lawn chairs
Household furniture
Extension cords, and
Chocolate truffles. 

By the time our first dog dissected all of the above, my husband figured out Harmony suffered from a PVC deficiency. I discovered she loved Lindt’s truffles when I dropped one and, before I realized it wasn’t in my mouth, it turned up in hers.

I never forgave her for that, by the way.

So, how were we gonna find the perfect dog? Our last two pets were both pound puppies. They each had a history we were forced to figure out one weird experience at a time. Harmony, our redheaded beagle mix, had clearly been abused by a tall, dark man wearing a baseball cap. Either that or she just didn’t like my brother-in-law. But she loved riding in the car, especially if we took her to the junipered hills of Payson. Sound asleep for the two hour ride to the mountains, the first whiff of pines and burning woodstoves that floated in through the car vent woke her up. That’s the first time I ever saw a dog smile.

She was perfectly portable.

Our next pet, like the first, was the quietest dog in the pound. She had exotic eyes seemingly enhanced by black eyeliner, faint brown spots beneath a silky white coat, and the agility of a ferret. For her whole life, she had the playful spirit of a puppy and didn’t care whether we joined in on the games or not. But she hated the car. Was terrified of travel. Taking her anywhere spelled torture, so we stopped doing it. This afternoon I found her collar and tags and cried all over again.

See why we needed a new dog?

“Well, maybe we should find a puppy who has no history or baggage and doesn’t need a therapist,” Rob suggested.

“Yeah, a dog with a clean slate,” I said.

“Or a lopsadoodle who doesn’t shed so we can keep a clean floor,” my husband answered.

I’m absolutely positive those of you who own doodle dogs are thrilled with them and the frugal way they keep their hair to themselves. But they remind me of those little metal dog pieces in a Monopoly game. I’d have to name it Park Place or something. 

Nope. No doodle dogs.

I’d found a few lovely labs online that were so precious their breeders wanted between $300 and $2300 for them—and wouldn’t throw in food or toys for that amount. Even I choked on those prices. Which makes sense. The same way we search out new cars is the way we find family pets—used dogs with low mileage.

Puppies were definitely out. My husband is now and forevermore on blood thinners. Puppy punctures and Warfarin are not a great combination. Rescue dogs didn’t make the list, either. As much as we love our dogs, at the end of the day they are still dogs. We are not co-parents of canines with a rescue organization calling the shots. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Once again, we wound up at the nasty Animal Control facility where sixty dollar dogs are at a premium.

“I thought we preferred females,” my husband said as we peered through the bars at convict number 361.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I answered. “We can figure out how to cope with boy dog bathroom habits.”

“But this one isn’t a chocolate lab,” he pointed out.

“We can paint him.”

“Are you sure he’s the one?”

I was so sure. We’ve discovered that I have a talent for picking out great pups. The next day, after a lot of anxiety (mostly revolving around an impromptu raffle at the last minute for the yellow lab everyone recognized to be a great find), that brave little stray took a chance on us and became ours. We brought him home, named him Buddy, re-named him Brody, normally call him a “her” and wonder why he doesn’t answer to Body (“His name is Brody!” my husband keeps reminding me.)

Now you know why we needed a dog. We were shriveling up into old retired people.

Brody the Brave got well. And I think we’re getting younger every day he’s here. I don’t know who loves who more—the creamy young lab we rescued from the clutches of five other people who probably would have adored him as much as we do, or my husband and me who are laughing and moving more than we have in the year since we lost Sydney.

So what if he toots as bad as homemade sauerkraut? And even if, between specialized dog food and dog toys and beds and blankets and two vet bills and double antibiotics and vitamins, our $60 dog is now valued at more than ten times that much, we still saved $1700 over the price of that cute little piranha toothed lab I read about online.

I prayed for a dog who needed us, but all the while I knew what I was really asking for was the buddy we desperately needed. We found him. Maybe we found each other. 

It looks like Brody had a merry Christmas after all.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Brody, The Big White Dog

We’ve had Brody, the Big White Dog, living at our house for three weeks . . . today. It’s been a learning curve. But we expected that. You don’t live with a mass of clean floors, boring quiet, and a sweet smelling lawn for a year without noticing some changes after a puppy shows up. It’s just that this puppy fooled us for the first week.

We picked him up at the pound two days after we won him in the Greatest Animal Rescue Raffle of All Time. He looked a little shell shocked. A week before, he had been a free agent, roaming the highways and byways of some street in Phoenix, when suddenly a concerned citizen saw him, reported him to Big Brother and, just like that, Brody was locked up behind bars in the Big House on Christmas Eve. You might think that snitch probably got coal in his stocking the next morning, but if I ever get to meet that guy, I want to shake his hand. He did us a favor.

This may turn out to be the best dog we’ve ever had.

But things got off to a rough start. Our seven-month-old yellow lab/German shepherd mix got neutered, inoculated with half a dozen vaccines, chipped, and handed over to strangers all in less than eight hours. He seemed in good spirits in spite of a pretty Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day—right up until we tried to convince him to jump up into the back of our Chevy Tahoe, directly inside the open door of a dog crate we’d brought with us. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Just in case during the hour long drive home a fifty pound Labrador tried to climb into the driver’s lap, we thought “containment” was a good option for a nervous animal who’d just spent the last week of his life in “containment.”

Not our brightest moment.

The three of us compromised, though, on a ride home on the floorboards behind the front seats where Brody behaved like a perfect gentleman and never once acted like a backseat driver. When we got home, he inspected his new place like a kid seeing Disneyland for the first time, overwhelmed by a basket of toys and too busy looking around to want to eat. Considerate of the beautiful condition of the backyard lawn, he chose instead to christen our living room carpet when nature called.

“Okay,” I admitted to my ever patient husband while I knelt on the floor and scrubbed at the soiled spot, “we’ve all learned something important today.”

“And what is that?” Rob asked.

“Brody’s not housebroken.”

But he adjusted quickly, tolerated his crate at bedtime, and never complained to the authorities about the way he was being treated. And then he got sick. Two days after he came to live with us, on a holiday weekend when even vets have locked up and gone home to be with their families, he went downhill fast. We didn’t know what was wrong, only that he had an intestinal problem, stopped eating and drinking, was clearly wasting away to skin and bones, and became lethargic.

Finally, when it was clear that something more than PTSD was affecting him, we found a nearby animal hospital that worked him in and learned that Brody brought home a souvenir from the pound.
Kennel cough.

This is nasty stuff. We’ve never seen it before. And we didn’t know he was coughing. We thought he was gagging. Who knew dogs don’t cough like people? He was sneezing like people, but I just thought he was allergic to our carpet. So he got the mother of all antibiotic shots while we bought fancy canned food and probiotics and more antibiotic pills and yummy pill pockets to hide the pills in and, three hundred dollars later, brought our pound puppy home to recuperate.

I’ve added up the costs of dry dog food and canned dog food, dog treats and dog toys, dog beds and a dog blanket, antibiotics and two vet bills, and so far our $60 pound puppy has cost us close to $800.00. I sort of overlooked the possibility of spending our kids’ inheritance on a dog when we decided to adopt another one.

But he got well. And then he turned into a puppy. A giant, fifty pound, creamy white puppy with a huge Labrador head and a German shepherd tail, feet the size of coffee mugs and an appetite the size of Clifford’s. He looks like he’s full grown until you peer into his deep, dark eyes and realize you’re staring into the mind of a toddler canine who has no idea that my red polished toenails are not tiny toys asking to be chewed on or that he’s four times too big for anyone to think of as a lapdog.

We’ve got our hands full over here. It’s awesome.

I’ve laughed more in the last three weeks than I have in the last two years. This dog is Hilarryous—I should have named him “Larry” for short. I’m pretty sure when they found him in Phoenix that he’d just run away from the circus. If we’re too tuckered out to play tug of war with him, he doesn’t care—he can throw a football and catch it mid-air in his mouth all by himself. He’s already chewed and gutted three and a half stuffed animals—yesterday he chewed the ear off of an innocent squirrel, but squirrels are tougher than elephants and giraffes. Those last two were drawn and quartered in just under thirty-two minutes the very first night.

He’s the reason we’re getting up off the sofa thirty more times a day than we did a month ago—because he’s learning how to stand at the back door when it’s time to pee instead of taking the matter into his own hands in our living room. He’s become our physical trainer. Walks in the park are no longer an option—they’re a necessity if we want this overactive roommate to burn off his energy with exercise instead of chewing up our furniture. And you should see us chase the ball for him! Labs fetch but they don’t share.

Everyone thinks it’s so great when you turn up your nose at dog breeders and go to an animal shelter to “rescue” a dog. But that’s just because they don’t know the truth. We didn’t rescue Brody.

He rescued us.