Pain in the Greeting Card Aisle

Greeting card aisle

When I was younger I used to love browsing greeting cards. I found it entertaining to read the sweet sentiments and clever humor.   While I still enjoy the quest to find the “perfect” card for someone, I also find that perusing the wide array of cards can trigger twinges of sadness, too.

One of the first times I felt pain in the greeting card aisle was in May 2008. A bright display of Mother’s Day cards was positioned strategically in the grocery store to make sure no one forgot to say “I love you” to mom on her special day. I wouldn’t have forgotten. In fact, I always purchased a second card along with a Mother’s Day card because my mom’s birthday was May 11 (sometimes the two occasions fell on the same day)! The problem was, that year I had no mom to purchase Mother’s Day and birthday cards for. She had gone to heaven five months earlier. The cards ushered in a wave of sadness as a realized I would never purchase another Mother’s Day card again.

Today I made a trip to the Dollar Store, where the wide selection of inexpensive cards wooed me in.   As my eyes swept the different headings, I became painfully aware of how few categories I could buy from.   I jumped from section to section: Grandparent cards – no. Mom cards – no. Sister cards – no. Nephew or Niece cards – no. Husband or romantic connection cards – no.   Son or daughter cards – no. Grandchildren cards – no.   I also noticed the type of cards I had never received: bridal shower, wedding, anniversary, and birth congratulations, to name a few.

We all face reminders of what we’ve lost or of what we’ve never had. Sometimes those twinges of grief or sadness hit us at unexpected moments. While it’s probably not advisable to start bawling uncontrollably in the card aisle, I think it’s healthy to give ourselves permission to acknowledge the pain caused by a loss or an unfulfilled dream.   Let’s admit it; it hurts. To bury our feelings and pretend we are “just fine” is as artificial as some of the cheesy greeting cards on the shelf.

In addition to admitting the pain to ourselves, it’s often helpful to share how we’re feeling with others. The first place we can go is to our Heavenly Father. God is immediately accessible and we can whisper a prayer anywhere, anytime and be assured he is listening.   He is an ever-present help in times of struggle, and encourages us to cast our cares upon him.

We can also seek out earthly friends. Recently I was carrying (and trying to hide) my deep frustration about an ongoing struggle. In a moment of vulnerability I shared how I was feeling with a trusted person in my life. While my friend couldn’t “fix” the situation, the simple act of verbalizing how I felt lifted my spirits. In return, I need to be that safe place for my friends when they need to share their areas of pain.

The reality is, very few people have a reason to buy cards from every section of the Hallmark store. Each of our lives unfolds differently, and everyone skips certain sections of the card racks. In addition, most of us end up receiving cards we wish we didn’t have to, like those that arrive when we are ill or have lost a loved one.  In truth, the greeting card aisle can be a reminder of painful things. But, it can also be an indicator of life’s blessings.

My scrapbooks and file boxes are overflowing with cards from precious people over the years . . .birthday cards, holiday cards, graduation cards, congratulations cards, encouragement cards, thank you cards, sympathy cards, and “just-because” cards. They remind me that my life has been rich in experiences and in relationships with amazing friends and family.  And I have sent oodles of cards in return, celebrating their joys and expressing my support during their losses.

The next time I go card shopping, I won’t be afraid to admit it if a sneak attack of pain comes along with the task. If it does, I know that God and my friends are available to get me through it. I’ll also strive to be thankful for the opportunity in front of me. As I hunt for the ideal card, I will think of the intended receiver – and be grateful for that person’s presence in my life.  And I’ll remember that the simple act of hand-picking a card, writing a personal note, and sending it may be just the encouragement my friend needs to deal with the greeting card aisles in his or her life.

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“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you . . .” Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .” I Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NASB)

 

 

 

Trusting God in the Dark

 

ultrasound machine

It felt like the walls were closing in. A dim, recessed bulb cast a faint ray of light from the ceiling. The only other illumination was the eerie glow from the high-tech machine just used to perform a test on me. I was alone, lying on a paper-covered exam table. A white towel covered the suspect part of my body and a medical gown barely covered the rest.

The unsmiling technician had routinely performed the test without emotion, lending neither comfort nor revelation. “I’m going to get the doctor to discuss the findings,” was all she said as she closed the door behind her.

I knew the specialist could walk in and announce that I had a deadly disease. I had waited weeks for this test after an earlier exam revealed something suspicious. Only in my thirties, fear clutched at my throat as I tried to brace myself for what could be the worst news of my life. I instinctively began praying: “God—where are you? Please help me not to be afraid. Please help me feel your peace.” Fear’s grip didn’t loosen, and I felt utterly alone. I prayed with more determination. “God, you say that you will never leave or forsake us. Please take away this fear!” Still, the calming sense of peace I cried out for refused to permeate the sterile environment.

The doctor arrived, and though he delivered good news, joy escaped me. I was exhausted from feeling as if I had borne the stress alone. And I was hurt and confused because God had not responded the way I thought he should. For several days afterward my faith was shaken. But gradually I began to see that the rattling was for my own good. My concept of God was being jostled right out of its tiny box.

After being a Christian for many years, I thought I knew God. I thought I could predict how he would respond to my cries for help. My experience in the exam room reminded me that God is much bigger than my understanding. While I rest secure in His goodness, faithfulness, and grace, His ways will always be higher than mine. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). He is all-knowing and all-powerful, and does what he deems best, even if at the moment it might not feel comfortable or “safe.”

C.S. Lewis captured this aspect of God in hisAslan portrayal of Aslan, the character who represents Christ in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Mr. Beaver describes Aslan to the four children: “Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

As I grappled with the dual concepts of God’s goodness and his untamable nature, some of the peace I craved in that dark room showed up. I learned that I cannot approach God with a vending machine mentality (insert prayer, immediately receive the answer to my specifications). I now realize that even though God didn’t instantaneously take away my fear when I asked Him to, it didn’t mean he wasn’t there. Psalm 34:15 confirms that “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.” He was there even when I couldn’t “feel” him.  He was there even when he didn’t act the way I thought he should. He heard my cry for help—but in his wisdom he allowed me to experience a situation that stretched my faith.   I learned the important lesson that I can never control God—only trust him.

In his book, “Knowing God,” J.I. Packer states, “We may be frankly bewildered at things that happen to us, but God knows exactly what he is doing and what he is after. Always, and in everything he is wise. We shall see that hereafter even where we never saw it here. Meanwhile, we ought not to hesitate to trust his wisdom even when he leaves us in the dark.”

Like he did with me, in that exam room. It was right where I needed to be.

The Kisser (Bailey, Part 3)

To get the complete story, please read Chosen (Bailey, Part 1) and The Fearbiter (Bailey, Part 2) first!

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It was a break-through moment.  My dad and I had persevered for close to a year, gently trying to help Bailey overcome his abusive past.  To that point Bailey had exhibited fear and oftentimes aggression if anyone other than me came too close.   That Sunday dad arrived for his routine visit and sat down in his usual place on the couch. Bailey boldly jumped up next to him. Then, he did something he had never done before—he laid  down with his front paws overlapping my dad’s leg, anticipating a treat. We rejoiced, as it was the first time Bailey had ever intentionally touched my dad.

Bailey's miraculous moment--touching dad for the first time
Bailey’s miraculous moment –touching dad for the first time.

From that day on, Bailey only continued to improve. In the six years since his adoption, he has changed from an abuse-scarred animal into a loving, well-behaved, handsome fellow—in short, the perfect pooch for our family. Now when we go to my dad’s house for a visit, Bailey can’t wait to tear through the door and run straight for my dad, who is usually sitting in his recliner. Bailey takes a flying leap into his “granddad’s” lap and my father delightedly exclaims, “Well, hello, buddy!” When family visits from out of town, Bailey is in doggie-heaven. He makes the rounds, moving from lap to lap to receive the maximum number of tummy-rubs.

A moment of mutual adoration--Dad and his granddog
A moment of mutual adoration–Dad and his granddog

A few months ago Bailey was due for some booster vaccinations.   A vet who had never seen him before came into the exam room to administer the shots. Opening the file, she saw the word “FEARBITER” highlighted at the top of the folder—a label that had remained on Bailey’s record since his first fateful visit to the clinic.   “When should we muzzle him for his shots?” she asked. “I really don’t think that’s needed,” I replied. “Bailey is not the same dog he was when he first came out of the animal shelter.”   The vet took my word for it and proceeded to inject Bailey in the scruff of his neck. He didn’t even flinch. Then my “boy” did something that made me burst with pride. He reached up and gave the vet a lick on the nose.

She immediately grabbed Bailey’s file, reached for her pen, and scribbled furiously. When she turned the folder so I could see it, a huge smile broke out across my face.   “Fearbiter” was obliterated, and in its place a new word was written in large capital letters: KISSER. I couldn’t have been more proud than if I was a parent watching my child cross the stage at commencement. That moment officially commemorated Bailey’s transformation. And it reminded me that it was no accident that God led Bailey to choose me to be his “mom.”

Jane and Bailey 9-12 003 (2)
Bailey the Kisser

Bailey’s story taught me many lessons. I learned that negative behavior often has hurt and fear at its core. More importantly, I witnessed the transforming power of persevering love, gentleness and kindness.   I now realize that when God brings someone into my life that is exhibiting behavior that is difficult to be around, I need to be patient. The Creator isn’t finished with him or her yet—or with me. It’s possible that fear-biter may really be a kisser in disguise.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

I John 4:18

“Love is patient, love is kind . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 

1 Corinthians 13: 4, 7

Bailey on Don's lap (3)
Bailey this summer, loving time on his “uncle’s” lap at a concert in the park.

The Fearbiter (Bailey, Part 2)

To get the full story, please read Chosen, Part I first!

Our first visit to the vet was a disaster. Bailey trembled and huddled next to me in the exam room as we waited. The veterinarian entered and sat next to us on the padded bench. Though he spoke softly to try and calm Bailey, he was met with a growl and a flash of teeth every time he tried to reach for him.   The vet opened Bailey’s fresh medical chart and wrote in capital letters at the top: “FEARBITER.” The veterinarian never was able to touch Bailey that day. I drove home disappointed and confused. Had I made the wrong decision in adopting this dog? What had I gotten myself into?

Over the next few weeks I saw the same pattern repeat itself. Any time someone got too close to Bailey, especially a man, he nipped in response.   Things came to a head one day as we were walking through the neighborhood and two unleashed little dogs ran aggressively toward us. Not knowing what would happen, I scooped up Bailey to avoid a tussle. The dogs’ owner crossed the street to try and gather her wayward pets. As she came up behind me, Bailey transformed into a Tasmanian devil and wheeled around to try and bite her. In the process, he nicked my chin. . .the same chin he had kissed so tenderly at the animal shelter the day we met. Still carrying Bailey, I kept walking, my face bleeding. I could feel his heart beating wildly in his chest. My heart was pounding, too, and breaking. This was not the type of dog I had wanted.

That day added to the evidence that Bailey must have been seriously abused before I got him. Only he (and God) knew what cruelties he had endured at the hand of his previous owner. It deeply angered me to think of how someone could mistreat such an innocent animal. I knew I had a decision to make—take him back to the shelter, or stick with him. I decided to commit to Bailey for the long haul, choosing to believe that at his core he was not a vicious dog. I had no idea how long the road would be, but I hoped that the power of persevering love would help him overcome his fears.

Over the next few months, I continued to give Bailey a safe home filled with gentleness. My dad joined the mission during his routine visit every Sunday afternoon. While Bailey trusted me, my dad was another story.   I thought it might help if Bailey associated a man with good things, so I started having my father toss treats to Bailey every time he’d visit. Bailey would warily snatch the food, staying as far away from dad as he could. Gradually he started inching a little closer to grab the delicacy, but would never let dad touch him. A few months into the process, I added another element of placing Bailey on the couch between dad and me for brief periods, reassuring him the entire time. Bailey would stiffen up and press hard against me to remain as far away from dad as possible. Over time, I tried holding dad’s hand in mine and stroking Bailey’s back a few times. I could sense Bailey’s anxiety as he expected dad’s large hand to deliver pain instead of comfort.

Sometimes the progress seemed imperceptible, or would even take a step backwards. More than once dad said, “Do you think he’ll ever change?” Then one landmark day, eight months after adopting Bailey, something miraculous happened.

Read the conclusion  here.

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Chosen (Bailey, Part 1)

The day was finally here. After many years of renting, I owned my own home with a fenced yard and could bring a dog into my life again. It had been a long wait—three decades since my precious terrier-mix Dusty had to be put to sleep. I still kept Dusty’s little homemade ceramic grave marker, with the words “He truly was man’s best friend,” painted in gold.   The new adoptee would have big paws to fill.

As I entered the animal shelter, excited barking ensued as dogs of all sizes pressed their noses against their wire kennel doors.  I was on a specific mission – looking for a small smooth-coated, sweet-natured female dog I had seen two days before. I remembered she had been sharing a kennel with a whitish scruffy dog. I found her (or so I thought) still sharing space with the same muttly creature. “I’ll take a look at that one,” I said, pointing to the brown dog.

The animal shelter worker brought the dog into a private room so I could get to know her. Immediately I noticed something was different. For one, she was a he! And he wanted nothing to do with me, as exploring the room and piddling on the floor were his top priorities. I realized this was not the same dog I had seen before. I poked my head out the door and say “Um, this one’s not for me.”

With no other small dogs to choose from, I motioned to the bedraggled cell mate of the piddler. “I guess I’ll give that one a try,” I said. The door closed behind us and I sat down on the cement floor with my legs crossed. The pathetic little fellow surveyed me for a moment, then to my surprise, walked over and gingerly climbed into my lap.   I reached down and tentatively petted him. He was anything but appealing. Besides the odor rising from his body, he had a matted scraggly coat, a grease streak blazoned across his head, bare patches of skin on his legs and his face, and a strangely protruding lower lip. In short, he was downright homely. But as he sat there in my lap, I noticed his tense muscles began to relax. He looked up at me with hopeful brown eyes and gave me a quick kiss on the chin.   I realized this little guy, who didn’t even come close to the mental image of what I thought I was looking for, had chosen me.

I carried him out into the lobby area and held him on my lap. “He’s the one,” I said to the woman who had been assisting me. While we were waiting, an animal control officer entered the room. He told me how one of the City’s police officers had found my new friend foraging for food in a remote area of the county, where he most likely had been dumped. “How old do you think he is?” I asked. The officer gently reached down to check the dog’s teeth to help determine his age, and was met with a growl and a lightning-fast nip.

Something inside me said this was not a good sign, but I chose to shove the warning aside.   In a couple of days, the dog, who by then I had named “Bailey,” was officially cleared for adoption.   I brought Bailey home and introduced him to what I thought would be his “forever home.” Over the next few weeks I would begin to wish I had heeded the warning.

Continued in The Feartbiter (Bailey, Part 2).

 

Bailey photo - 1st day
Bailey on his first day home