To Choose to Love

Nearly 10 years ago, I had forgotten how to be loved well. I have heard it said that we accept the love we think we deserve. It may, to an extent, be true. But I hadn’t always believed that I deserved to be where I was. It was a slow degradation; the result of many bad choices and unkind people, some of whom I allowed into my life and some who forced their way in. However, those led me to enter a span of time where I came to believe that everyone leaves: they leave marks, brokenness… and me.

But then came Moose, this shelter puppy who seemed as broken as I was.  And he chose to love me a LOT. He would panic when he couldn’t see me. Break cages to get to me. Try to dig through doors and bust through fences to be where I was. I’m not saying he was 100% stable; his need was sometimes exhausting. But it also revealed to me that to this little (now giant) guy, I was beloved. I was valuable. I was preferred. I’d never felt loved like that before.

Tonight I realized that Moose represents the first time I really believed any creature in Creation could choose to love me. Every day, in every moment, for his whole life. Even when he was destroying things, killing creatures, digging through doors, breaking cages. Even when I lost my patience or got frustrated at our inability to understand one another. Usually, his purpose in those moments was solely to find a way to get to me and get my attention, my comfort or my care.

This reckless love forced my hand… I made a choice to love this neurotic and somewhat uncontrollable dog right back. I decided to love him as relentlessly as he loves me, without restraint and against the sound advice of my veterinarian and friends who said this young pup was just too much. Somehow, his love slowly moved me and mine him. Moose taught me how to love again, and just as important, how to receive love. He taught me to give and receive affection and comfort. He revealed to me that love didn’t always have to hurt. At least, that’s what I thought.

But as Moose has entered the geriatric phase of his life, I find myself bargaining with God. Because I know sometime, Moose is going to leave. Not because he wants to but because such is the nature of this world. And I find myself in a tug-of-war within my heart to love him well and harder. I fight to resist the instinct built over decades of practice that tells me to distance myself, to harden my heart.

I really don’t know how I can bear the loss of him, and that moment seems to be drawing closer. I recently experienced the loss of my dear Grandma, and that loss has triggered some things I’ve managed to ignore for a really long time. I prayerfully ask God to bless Moose and I with a little more time together; that one devastating blow would not follow right behind the other. It’s freaking hard to just be right now. To allow myself to grieve and mourn in a world that thinks pain and sadness are things to avoid and medicate. It’s even harder to love fully when Death hovers right at the edge with the promise of heartbreak. I wish we knew how to deal with “hard” as a community…

So in this raw and vulnerable state, I’m going to call my heartbreak good because it meant there was tremendous love there. I’m going to continue to love Moose well, even if it is tearfully. I will give thanks to God that I can love so deeply and completely as I do, and that I have received that same love in return. I praise God for giving me the strength to bear the weight of loss. The fatal misstep I see so many make in this time is to believe Loss when she tries to convince us that Love makes us weak, vulnerable and guarantees suffering. Some of the best lies are the ones that are mostly true. Love is all those things; but in these very things I am reminded of Christ, and my desire to grow in Christ-likeness. He LOVES us. He loves us in a way that our ability to love only hints at. He reminds me that those who love do not flee from suffering, but bear it in the most intimate and vulnerable of ways. He reminds me that His greatest victory and manifestation of the strength and might of God was only revealed through His humility and weakness, to the very point of death. But most critically of all, and the one we often fail to see when the veil of Death hangs over those we love, is that Death is not the end. Nor is Death the victor. We are all more than conquerors through Him who loved us… (Romans 8:36-39)

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No Lukewarm Love

I am not a lukewarm love

Found in riddles or sideways glances.

No games will I play with a heart

So treasured as yours.

 

There are no butterflies in my stomach

because there is no question mark in my heart.

I am a declaration as I weave my fingers through yours

and lay my head on your shoulder.

 

I fall asleep to the sound of your voice

Telling me stories I’ve heard before

My body arched around yours

our breathing synced.

 

Our lives together are full

full of God and joy, laughter and fun

and yes… pain and tears

A lifetime full of firsts and lasts.

 

Until it’s just me

Saying my last goodbye to you.

And there’s no more stories at night.

Just quiet and the memories of a love that was never lukewarm

to keep my heart warm at night.

 

A Moose’s Love

They take me into a clean, sterile room with a weird cat picture hanging up. As I make light conversation he hears my voice through the door, down the hall and in another room. I can hear his cries. Louder, louder. I feel his panic, his pain. He’s calling for me and my heart is breaking. I think of my mother’s stories from when she would drop me off at daycare and she would stand outside and listen to me cry and cry. And her heart would break.

They finally brought my Moose into the room and his tail beat against the wall, the cabinets, myself, the vet technician. He was so happy. When we didn’t start leaving he sat as close to me as he could and cried, shoving his head into me. The vet comes into the room and Moose leans deeper into me, finally collapsing on the floor and wrapping his paws around my foot, his head around my leg. So much love.

She tells me he’s got torn muscles in the knees of his back legs, the ligaments on the outside building up to compensate and limiting his mobility. They’re arthritic. His front right leg has a mass in his shoulder that would usually spark a discussion about the benefits of amputation, if it weren’t for his one good leg which is showing wear in the shoulder because it’s bearing the weight of the other 3 legs. He’s weak. He’s in pain. If anything happens to any one leg, the other 3 aren’t strong enough to support him anymore. Which is why he collapses. Which is why he is crying.

She gives me some meds, and we order some allergy medicine for him to be delivered. We leave and he’s so happy. I get the ramp out and he uses it without a fuss; he knows he can’t get in the car anymore without it. On the way home I cry. Quite a bit. I pour so much of my love into my sweet boy. My protector. My companion.

I think about how the depth at which we love is the depth to which we might feel pain, sorrow, grief. I momentarily doubt it being worth it. And then I look at him and my heart overflows with compassion and affection. Our eyes meet and I see his pain but also his love and I know that whatever happens, he has lived a life in which he has been well loved, and taught me how to love in the process. My dear, sweet Moose. How different life would have been without you.

Dream

From July 21st

I look down and there’s a cow carcass. As my view expands and I see more and more animal carcasses: elephants, goats, pigs, all sorts of lifeless creatures reaching to the horizon. The view is gray, foreboding, desolate. There is no “nature,” not a tree or a flower in sight. There is no sun or moon.

Then a man (impression of Josef or Francis?) is standing near me and I sense he is a saint (but I don’t even know what that means). I can’t tell if it’s his voice or Gods that speaks: “You’re missing so much of me.” A great and heavy sadness settles on my heart. “Are my creations not facets of me?”

I feel confused and start to wonder if I was somehow responsible for so much death; this innumerable loss. Yet even in my confusion and sadness I feel a compassion surround me, like warm sunlight. I feel how finite I am; I sense how little I know but it is reassuring. I get the sense that if I were to understand, it would be too much for me. I would be unraveled by the burden.

Overall though, the feeling of mourning and loss dominates this world.

Being Beings and Discovering Mystery

John Shea’s essay, “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light,” outline four different environments that we all share, best understood as “the basic contours of our existence.” (Shea 2) The environments are made up of the self, loved ones, society and institutions, and universe. Our experience as humans may appear to be summed up by our interactions with these four, but there is a fifth environment which encompasses these: Mystery. Our basic experience can be understood in having two points: ourselves and the environment we encounter (for instance, I (1) eat bread (2)).  When this interaction reveals a dimension of Mystery, we experience sacramental awareness (the addition of the third point). In the instance of eating bread, I might understand it to be not only bread but my personal participation in the account of Christ who gave his followers bread and told them it was his body, broken for them.

There are five primary ways Shea outlines as a means of becoming aware of the ultimate dimension of our experience as humans. First is contingency, “what Kazantzakis calls the luminous interval between two darknesses.” (Shea 13) Sometimes it looks like the gift of living fully and joyfully in the moment, amazed by the very experience of it all. At other times, it can be a reminder of how very fragile and finite out lives on this planet are. The second path is dialogue and communion. Through dialogue people discover who they are and in communion they discover a love and acceptance gifted to them by their community. The third path is collapse. “When order crumbles, Mystery rises.” (Shea 16) This is the falling apart of the beliefs or knowledge we clung to and our reaction to that loss. “A fourth path to Mystery leads through a deepened sense of the ambiguity of our moral activity.” (Shea) While we strive for moral ideals, we most often find ourselves falling substantially short.  Last is disenchantment. Well known throughout history, it refers to an awakening which ultimately calls us into a maturing religious consciousness.

When we read Pigeon Feathers, by John Updike, we see a boys journey to sacramental awareness. The main character, David, experiences these environments in such a way that he becomes disenchanted, one of the five paths mentioned by Shea. David has an encounter with Reverend Dobson over heaven when he didn’t answer David satisfactorily.  “His indignation at being betrayed, at seeing Christianity betrayed, had hardened him. The straight dirt road reflected his hardness.” (Updike 36) He searched and searched for truth, but he was lost in the darkness that can fall when one realizes there is a question but no answer. He saw his classmates and their ill-fated path towards imminent death and eventually lost his desire to read altogether. Although concerned, his parents resolved to give him a gun for his fifteenth birthday. We can see the “universe environment” and it’s influence on David as he practiced shooting, which put fear into his dog who he would sometimes comfort. “Giving this comfort to a degree returned comfort to him.” (Updike 43) Ultimately, David is asked to use his new skills to clear out the pigeons in the barn. Although he didn’t have a desire to, he did as he was asked. As he killed more and more pigeons, he enjoyed it more, feeling the power he held with his gun and his ability to predict the pigeons path. Yet it was when he went to bury them that Mystery entered into his world: “He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog’s hair… a pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides…And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers….no two alike… designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him.” (Updike 50) He was startled by the intention behind them and the fact that they were treated like pests. In this encounter, he rediscovered his God, “….that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.” (Updike 50)

References

Shea, John. “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light.” Stories of God. Liguori, Missouri: Liguori Publications, 2006.

Updike, John. “Pigeon Feathers.” Olinger Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 1964. Short Story.