Filters

Life is complicated. Tasks, challenges, opportunities, and information are bombarding us all the time and we deal with this overwhelming flow by using filters. Rather than looking at all jobs available, we filter down to the ones in the area we are interested in, or pay what we hope to get, or are closest to us. We filter down class options to the ones that will help us get the future job we want, or that we think we will do well in. We filter our relationships, paying more attention to people that give us a feeling of warmth and connection, or people who have a skill, style, or personality we admire. Very often we filter tasks, opportunities, and relationships to those that seem easiest. We are not necessarily lazy about it, but physical and emotional energy is precious, and we guard it by using it on the easiest things and on things we value the most.

Last month I wrote about how feeling like we belong (in church and in the world) is so valuable. Feeling disconnected and isolated can make it hard to participate in a group, and often makes a person feel guarded, or afraid of being judged. I also wrote we are more like to experience a feeling of belonging only when we let that guard down, and embrace that we are created well by God, and believe that even if not everybody “gets us,” that we are still beloved and do belong. Today, I would like to challenge us to examine how we help others feel THEY belong. If all of us are waiting for someone else to welcome us into a place of belonging, to make the first move, we will all wait forever. It helps to remember that Jesus himself calls us into ways of belonging to God and belonging to each other.

No one has to earn a place in the community of Christ. We may not know each other as well as we could, but we all belong here. Once we accept that, and invite the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us (I am seriously asking you to pray for this to happen,) we can turn our attention to the people around us, in church and in the world. What neighbor will you bless with a hello, or a smile, or a question to invite a conversation? That serious looking person sitting alone may seem intimidating, but may just be sad or uncomfortable and aching for friendly gesture. That person who is a different age, or race, or is differently dressed may have a word you need to hear or be a connection that will turn out to be a gift. I am not saying it will always go well. Your effort may feel awkward or be refused, and that is okay. Just the act of reaching out in hopeful and willing obedience to God’s call to love others is rewarding and plants a seed in both you, and the person you reach out to. The more obedient we are to God, the more we grow in connection with God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. As more of us are obedient to God, the more connected and powerful we become as a congregation. The early church in the book of Acts believed in Jesus and they followed his teaching and example because of that belief. Their reputation of being so powerful in love and the Holy Spirit made the church grow in astonishing numbers as the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the vulnerable were attracted to their caring community. Could choosing to extend a welcome to someone you don’t know well or feel awkward around do something good in your life? Could it increase your hope, joy, power or faith? Could it grow our reputation as a community that loves God, uplifts people, inspires hope and grows disciples? We won’t know unless we try. Let’s set down our guards and let go of our filters for who we want to welcome. Let’s trust that God has a purpose for us, and for the people God brings into our lives. Let us trust that there is room for us all.

In or Out

I grew up in a small town in eastern South Dakota. My entire grade in school had under thirty kids, so we all were very familiar with each other from kindergarten on. You might think that knowing each other that well and that long would mean we all felt connected and close, but like most places you go we had the “in” groups, and we had other groups, and we had outsiders. Especially up through 7th grade, I tended to be an outsider, never confident that I belonged in any of the groups. The more visible the “in” group was, the more ostracized and inadequate I felt.

When I started attending my church as a young mom, I saw many groups of people who were very close. These were people who really knew each other and enjoyed being together. I was excited to be part of that. But as time went on, I noticed I wasn’t really fitting in like I saw others did. These other folks had history together, and work and family connections that had helped them form easy friendships. They also had “done church” together, serving and being involved in many ways. I taught Sunday school and served on committees, really hoping to both help the church and forge friendships. I tried not to appear as uncomfortable as I felt, because even though I was met with kindness and encouragement I still didn’t feel “in.” How do people get it right? I wondered. How do they get over the barrier between “out” and “in?”

I got through it, and part of it was giving up the focus on being accepted by others and allowing myself to believe I am accepted by God just as I am. I came to understand that embracing my true self, the way I was created by God is key to true belonging. God made me curious, sensitive, and enthusiastic about lots of things. That comes out awkwardly sometimes, but that awkward, outside feeling has turned out to be very helpful. Because I know the feeling of being on the outside, I truly want to reach out to others who may also feel like outsiders. Fully believing that we are all beloved children of God has helped me be brave about extending welcome to others even when there is a risk of getting it wrong or being rejected.

One passage from the book Love is the Way, by Bishop Michael Curry that spoke to me on this topic was in chapter 5 “Love’s Call—and Love’s Calling.” He says this: “Somehow, when we come to love ourselves through God’s eyes, and through loving others, we become whole again.

We are beloved children of God, called upon to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors. It is all tied together in a package. This is the most fundamental part of following Jesus, and all the rest is built upon it. What if we are having trouble really believing in our core that we are beloved children of God? We ask the one who can do the impossible. When we ask God to work in us, God will always answer yes. Praying, meditating, worshiping, or reading scripture aren’t things we do to earn this love, they are acts that make room for that love and that belonging to take root and grow. Doing this in community makes it possible for our church to deepen its roots and grow in us and through us.

Looking back, I can see that even though I didn’t feel like I was part of any “in” group either as a child or when I started at my current church, that I really was an important part of the community, and all along was building the foundation of relationships. We do this when we extend a welcome, a word of encouragement or a request for help, and open ourselves up to the love of God and others.

If I Called Someone A Deplorable or Libtard Am I Going To Hell?

The A-Team was one of the hot TV shows when I was in high school. The team was irreverent and ingenious in their fight for justice for the little guy, and Dirk Benedict was a hunk. Their dysfunctional bond, which was obviously formed during some dark times in Vietnam, sang out in their humorous banter. My friends and I delighted in calling each other “Fool” a la B. A. Baracus played by Mr. T. My mother overheard me once and pulled me aside. In a way that was both prim and dramatic she told me that she never used the word fool because the Bible says that “whoever calls another a fool shall be in danger of hellfire.” This was shocking, as intended, but I eventually reasoned there had to be something more to the passage than I understood and joyfully returned to saying, “I pity the fool…!” I am thanking God right now that TikTok was not a thing back then and there is no video evidence of this time.

The passage my mom was talking about is Matthew 5:21-22, regarding murder and anger. Right now it feels like we are swimming in a river of anger and violence, both threatened and actual, so this morning, rather than picking up my phone and doom-scrolling the news and social media sites for the next outrage, I re-read a section of Dallas Willard’s “A Divine Conspiracy” on this passage. Willard walked me through the scripture to show it isn’t the word I use, but my attitude towards other people that creates the hellfire danger to my soul. It is the underlying contempt which causes the name-calling that is destructive to my spiritual, emotional and physical well-being, not to mention what it does to the people around me.

My takeaway is that if I hold contempt for any person or a group of people in my heart, I am denying the commandment to love my neighbor (and/or my enemy). I am denying God. I often do not love what someone is doing, and may be dismayed or even infuriated with them, but if I follow Jesus I have to let that emotion go. If I don’t let that go, or worse, if I nurture that fury, I am harming myself.

Today we don’t use the word fool so much to convey contempt but we have a lot of other words. “Deplorable” and “Libtard” and racial epithets are words intended to hurt, mock and dehumanize. Using them amplifies the underlying desire to dominate and destroy the object of our contempt, which is maybe why Jesus compares name-calling (and by extension, racism and any other de-humanizing “-ism”) to murder. When we share those words out to the world, it draws to us other people who have the same dark seeds in their hearts and the menace grows. We are responsible for what we hold in our hearts and what we put out into the world. Loving our neighbors who may also be our enemies doesn’t mean we can’t oppose them if they are doing what we believe to be wrong. We are called to resist evil and injustice, but if we do it with contempt in our hearts we are adding to the churn of violence which feeds the fear which in turn validates hatred of the “other,” the opponent, the fool.

The remedy, according to the Gospel, is to love our neighbor and our enemy (Matt 22:37-39, Matt 5:44-45). This might feel impossible, and if left to us it would be. We would never get out of this death spiral on our own feeble good intentions. But, as in Matthew 19:25-26, when the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” When I give God my anger, and ask for love to grow in its place, I can be saved. I must put God first and put my neighbor ahead of my indignation, anger and fear. And I must do it over and over until it sticks.

No matter what team I think I am on, it is seductive to think of myself as part of the A-Team, the plucky underdogs who stand for justice against self-serving wrong-doers. But this isn’t TV. I am biased and imperfect. My opponents have all known heartache and loss. We are all created with purpose: to seek and love God, and to love each other while we are in this fragile place. The people who are letting go of anger and living that purpose make up the team I want to be on.

Getting a CLUE

A couple of nights ago, three of our youth joined me in an online game of Clue with twenty

other youth groups across Minnesota. After some introductory games and orientation, our team was sequestered in a chat room where we were visited by characters from the game; Colonel Mustard, Mr. Green, Professor Plum and Mrs. White. Col. Mustard had a fake yellow paper mustache that kept falling off, which was hilarious because the actor actually HAD a blond mustache underneath. Each character had us play a game (Simon Says, a scavenger hunt, memorize items in a picture) to earn clues to solve the mystery. In the time between character visits we were able to catch up a little with each other, which is always awkward and amazing (isn’t it interesting that most of the really meaningful connections we have with people start out or get awkward at some point? Food for thought; maybe we need to stop avoiding awkward.)

When time ran out we sent in our best guess of Whodunit, where and with which weapon, and while the game organizer, Tony Ducklow at Summer Festival Camp, prepared to announce the winner, we heard from youth pastor Joelle Hassler,

who shared a message about judgment. She talked about the lunch table judgment she witnessed as an elementary and middle school student, about how you could be judged by your lunch box (or lack of one) and the contents of your lunch. (No pudding cup? Lame.) It was an example of all the superficial ways the world judges us, using appearances or temporary situations to define us and make us feel unworthy. Joelle told us that God does not judge us like that; God sees our hearts and our passions and if we allow it, will draw out those good things we have inside us and use them! She took us to the story of the Loaves and the Fishes (John 6:1-14) where there were 5,000 men and many women and children who were hungry and Jesus took one boy’s basket of five small loaves and two fishes, and blessed the food which multiplied and fed everyone there with twelve basketfuls of food left over. Joelle pointed out that that one boy’s gift of food didn’t seem like much, but he offered it freely. She said that any good thing you have or are in life, big or small, if you offer it to Jesus to use, he will accept it, and multiply it beyond imagining!

Maybe you have something you are already proud of: athletic or musical skills, or a prominent status on social media, or great grades. God can use any of those things, if you offer them up and trust in the direction God will take you. Maybe you are still working on finding or developing your passion. God can help you. The real point is that God knows you. God sees you. God created you wonderfully and wants a relationship with you. The best way to be in relationship with God is to trust God. You might be skeptical. You might think your life is unimportant, or you might be worried that God’s plan for you will be boring or difficult. Nothing is further from the truth. God’s plan for you is perfect and you are the exact right person for that plan. How do we find out God’s plan? We pray. We open up our hearts and offer up what we have. (Personally, when I do this it feels amazing—kind of like a spiritual stretch that restores my center of balance and breath.) And then we trust. We spend time with God every day and watch, work on ourselves, taking opportunities as they arise and keeping God in front of us at all times. It is never too late or too early to start doing this, or if you have slipped away, to return to doing this. And remember, it isn’t about how much you accomplish. You cannot prove yourself worthy through service or achievement. It is about letting God lead, and trusting.

We did not win the game of Clue, but we were all winners there, not taking ourselves too seriously, taking time for each other, taking time to hear about God. I had a lot of fun and speaking for myself, I was glad I gave up an hour and a half of my life that I would have spent scrolling through my phone or watching Netflix to do it. I think everyone else on our team (which was the most awesome team present) felt the same. If you are a Holy Trinity Youth and weren’t able to be there, I am sorry you missed it but I bet we will have other opportunities to get together, and when we do, I hope you will say yes!

Envy Prayer

Good and gracious God,

I am nobody.
I see the bright and shining lights of your Kingdom, publicly affirmed and lifted up.
I feel shame that I am not among them, inspiring massive love for You,
I feel envy for their confidence and clarity of thought and purpose,
I covet their influence and ability.

I feel better when I acknowledge that my opportunities and my decisions brought me to where I am,
That my place and purpose here is necessary and valid,
That my comparison of myself to others is flawed and unhealthy,
That I am not equipped for other people’s lives and roles, and they might struggle in mine.

Lord, grant me peace and help me trust in Your plan,
Help me forgive and celebrate myself, made in Your image,
Fill my heart (so hard, so small) with overflowing, all-encompassing love for You and Your people.
Restore my soul, that shame and envy might find no home in me.

I am nobody, but I am somebody to you.
I give up my faults to you, that I may receive my life in you;
Exceeding all I can hope for or imagine.
Amen.

Cardigan Day

A few weeks ago my husband and I watched “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” a documentary about Fred Rogers, and the making of the TV show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” As we got started we confessed to each other that as kids, we really hadn’t been that excited about the show. It was better than the news or soap operas, but not as fun as Sesame Street or The Electric Company. The show’s slow, calm pacing had felt off to us. Later, parenting young kids, I appreciated the aesthetics of the show a lot more, especially when I compared it to Teletubbies or Barney. I sort of grew into Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.

It was so interesting to look through the lens of the documentary as it showed what was going on in the world and in the television industry during our early childhood years. Watching children interact with Fred Rogers at special events, and seeing how fascinated they were with him reminded me of a story I’d read about a boy in an abusive home who watched the show, and clung to Mr. Rogers’ words, “You are enough. I like you just the way you are,” like a lifeline. That message WAS his lifeline. And now I think that as a little kid, the reason I didn’t connect with the show was that I didn’t need that message. I didn’t need the world to slow down. I had that already, that cup was full.

While leading a middle school youth group about a year ago, I was emphasizing how Jesus came to help “the least, the lost and the left out,” or as I once heard Danielle Strickland say, “Jesus is Lord of the awkward and uncool.” A student asked, “But, what about the popular and cool kids?” The question caught me off-guard because never in my life have I identified myself as one of the cool kids, and I had never thought about it from that perspective. (Kudos to the kid who asked the question.) My answer was, sure, them too, but the cool and popular (or the rich and the powerful) don’t necessarily feel the NEED for what Jesus offers the way people who are really struggling in these areas do. If your life is good the way it is, if you feel satisfaction with your relationships, your place in the world and with your self, then Jesus may be no more than an inspirational leader to you. Your cup is pretty full. I guess that is okay, but I can’t relate very well to this.

I came to Jesus with an empty cup. By my middle school years, I was a lonely kid who felt misunderstood and like I couldn’t get anything right. People made fun of me or ignored me and I thought it was because there was something wrong with me. I was moody and suffered so much from storms of sadness and anger. When I went to church camp, I turned it all over to Jesus, saying “This is my life. I don’t know what I am doing, but I trust that you can fix it and make something wonderful.” I found healing. Jesus calmed my storms. I did not become perfect nor did I become cool. I did find new life, where before I had felt like I was dying. Jesus gave me a lifeline. Jesus was, and is my lifeline.

Today I put on a cardigan in honor of Mr. Rogers and his work to help children know that they are seen and valued just as they are. Every day, I try to take in and “put on” Jesus’ message of God’s love and redemption. No matter whether you feel you are part of the lame and left out crowd, or on top of the world, or somewhere in between, Christ has something better in store for you. If you want something deeper, more meaningful, more beautiful than you can imagine, empty your cup and reach for Jesus.

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Bear Hunt

A LONG time ago, I worked in a day care center and we took preschoolers on Bear Hunts pretty often. It started by sitting on the floor in a circle and making a marching sound by patting our legs in rhythm while chanting: “Going on a bear hunt,” pat, pat, pat, pat, “Gonna catch a big one,” pat, pat, pat, pat, “I’m not afraid!” pat, pat, pat, “Tall trees,” pat, pat, “Green grass,” pat, pat, pat. “Look at all the flowers!” After we appreciated the imaginary flowers there would always be 1) a river we needed to swim, 2) a mountain to climb, and 3) a field of tall grass we had to push apart to walk through. Then we started the chant again, “Going on a bear hunt…” We always found our way to a deep, dark cave, so dark it was like having our eyes shut (so we shut our eyes) and, as sensible bear hunters would, we went blindly into the cave, finding our way by sliding our hands along the walls. Then, instead of feeling the cold, hard, stone wall, we found ourselves in the dark touching a warm, soft, furry….BEAR! At that point we’d all shout “RUN!” and slap our legs furiously, eyes wide with excitement, racing through the tall grass, down the mountain, and across the river back to our cabin, where we’d slam the door, lock it and then peek through the window to find it was only a baby bear after all. We had dozens of bear hunts and it was always thrilling even though it turned out the same way every time. Except once.

It was not Kyla’s first bear hunt. At almost four years old, she was a veteran. She was the kind of kid who wore her blond, curly hair pixie short, hopped over mud puddles and climbed monkey bars as high as anyone else. What I am saying is that she could handle herself. So it was unexpected when, during one bear hunt, the rest of us had fled the cave and were racing for our lives toward the field of deep grass, we heard Kyla yelling, “Help! Help!” The rest of us in the circle stopped and looked at her. She was sitting between Philip and Brittany in our sunny classroom, her eyes closed, hands up feeling the air, with a look of terror on her pale, freckled face. Take this in; she couldn’t find her way out of the cave. “Kyla, honey, open your eyes!” I said. Her big blue eyes popped open, and she looked at us in surprise. Then she laughed in relief and we all laughed with her. The power of her imagination stunned me.

And yet, how different is this from what I (and maybe you) sometimes do? I get stuck in situations of my own imagining way too often. What if I lost my job? What if my son gets deployed to a conflict zone? What if I or someone I love gets really sick? These are worst-case scenarios, and when I start thinking too much about them I can find myself in a dark place. It can seem terrifying, when it isn’t even real. When I catch myself starting to figuratively drift into a dark scary cave, I try to remember to ask myself two questions: 1) In the history of all that I have experienced, how often have I actually faced what looks like a worst-case scenario? The answer to that is, almost never. 2) In those instances when I have faced a worst-case scenario, how many times did I survive? Answer, all of them.

If kept in perspective, worst-case scenario thinking can be a useful “what if” exercise for planning. My worries might prompt me to keep my resume fresh and to save up an emergency fund to cover basic expenses. Or try to live in a healthy way and encourage others to do so. Or make sure my son knows I love him and work very hard at praying for him daily then trusting God for the rest. This last one, the praying and then the trusting, is the hardest but it is critical in situations that are only partly (if at all) within my control, like my employment, or health, or the lives of other people. Worrying and replaying feared outcomes over and over doesn’t change what is going to happen, it is just groping around in circles in the dark. Memorizing Philippians 4:6-7 has helped me for the times when I am stuck in a cave: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV, emphasis mine.) Step one is praying, but step two, the gratitude, is where I seal the prayer by giving my trust and thanks for whatever comes. When I release my death grip on worry and truly trust God, it is like stepping into the light.

If a person practices worrying for a long time, it takes a long time of practicing trust to make it a habit. I am exasperated by how quickly and how often I find myself worried and anxious. But even when I let down my end of the deal, and forget to pray, forget to be thankful and trust, even when I find myself back in that cave, I am not there alone. When I am fearful and I call out “help!” I feel God is smiling at my side saying, “Child, open your eyes.”

My hope is that if you find yourself in the dark, feeling alone, afraid and overwhelmed, that you can let go of your fears, ask God for help and then let yourself trust God to handle what is ahead and to be with you, a powerful and loving presence in all things. Peace!

Daily Manna

I could have been one of the Israelites, wandering the wilderness for forty years, doubting and complaining the whole time, rationalizing idolatry,  fearing want, and sick to death of not knowing where I was going. And yet, God gave me what I needed to keep going daily until finally–finally I started to see the Promised Land. Finally, faith became more than an intellectual exercise and a list of shalts and shalt nots.

I still don’t know what this Promised Land will turn out to be, but I have moved past “lost” and am exploring where I am, and who I am created to be.

It has been a slow re-tooling of mind and heart. And we are not finished yet.

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What I Have Done

“You did WHAT?”

“Why?”

“Why now?”

These are the questions I have been getting, the questions I expected to get. Getting a tattoo was kind of a big move for me, but not a rash one. I have seen some beautiful and meaningful tattoos on people “like me,” forty-something and entrenched in family and career. I had seen a lovely tattoo on the arm of a woman I know from church who is 20+ years my senior. About ten years ago, I thought, “If I ever come up with something I’d be happy about having on my body for the rest of my life, and can figure out where on my body I’d want it…I would absolutely get one.”

Years passed and I couldn’t think of anything I thought I could be happy with permanently. I knew some things I didn’t want: no jokes or cartoons, no butterflies (nothing against butterflies, they just don’t speak to me), no symbols of other cultures or letters from alphabets I don’t use. I didn’t urgently want a tattoo, so I didn’t worry about it: I just let the idea drift in the back of mind. Then one day, I was browsing through Pinterest and saw some tattoos that were quotes from books and my interest was fired. Words were a natural choice for me, a writer, and they could be so beautiful in form and meaning. But, what book? It took a surprisingly long time for me to realize that the Bible was the best source, considering I have been reading from the Bible since I was a child, had taught from it in Sunday school for years, and at that point had been reading it almost daily for nearly a year.

There had been a significant shift in my outlook, my focus, and in my direction in life that started as I began reading from the Bible and doing daily devotions. While I never stopped believing in God, for a long time I believed that I was a mess, hopelessly letting God down, and the best I could hope for was to try to convince everyone else that I was fine and try not to bother, or rely on, God too much. I wasn’t fine. I was panicked and numb, angry and grief stricken. My life was awesome by the standards of many and all I could see was my epic failure to realize my potential, or to connect meaningfully even with the people I loved the most. Not fine at all. My sister (who thought I was doing okay,) suggested I check out Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. It was a revelation of reassuring scripture and interpretation that challenged and transformed my faith journey. I have read critics of Jesus Calling who describe the devotions as “New Age-y” and not biblically sound, but my experience was that those messages helped heal some very hurting parts of me. Leaning on scripture and faith that what I was reading was really true, I took some risks in work and relationships. I relaxed my grip on my impossible standards for self. I trusted. I edged toward wholeness.

If the Bible was helping heal me, then what words would I choose from it? At first I thought “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” a fabulous contradiction to the awful story I had been telling myself for a long time. Knowing I was choosing something forever, I played with it. I wrote it on my forearm. The location was good, I could look upon the verse easily, and share openly, but wouldn’t be obvious. I didn’t want my tattoo to be the first thing people noticed about me. I liked “fearfully and wonderfully” a lot, but decided it wasn’t my forever verse. Romans 15:13 is one of my favorites, but it was too long for the location, and I couldn’t come up with a short cut I liked well enough. Same with “For I know the plans I have for you…” “Be still and know that I am,” is awesome and meaningful but didn’t feel right. Then it came, a message that is repeated many times in many ways throughout the Old and New Testaments. “The LORD your God is with you” In these words I know that I am never alone, and that with God’s presence comes power: power to forgive, pray, act, give thanks, rejoice and love, even when I don’t feel like I can or want to. These were the words. And with the words, all at once, came an image of a dark bird perched on the branch of a tree. The living tree symbolizes the living God, and the bird is me, choosing rest and refuge.

Stephanie resizeFinding the studio and artist was almost a comedy of miscommunications and awkward connections, but finally there was a click when my vision met the skills of Stephanie from Electric Dragonland in Hopkins, MN. I had to wait three months to see her rendering of the art, and another month after that to actually get the work done. It took two hours on a November afternoon in 2015. It wasn’t as painful as I had thought it would be, but then I had imagined myself bursting into tears and running out the door a few minutes into the work, too. I love it.

I get a mix of reactions to this thing I have done. Most people are indifferent. A few shake their heads. Many admire the delicacy of the art and wording. I am delighted that I really don’t care what others think, good or bad. It feels like something I have always had, under the surface, now revealed. It has given me an opportunity to share my faith. It has reminded me to calm down, when my thinking has shifted into bad old rutted tracks.

I got a tattoo.

It is a reminder to me and a message to others.

I got it now because I have come through some trials and can claim the enduring truth that God is with me. And also with you.

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~Peace~

Good Boy

“Good boy, good boy, good boy…” The man’s reassuring voice filled the air, as it had many times before. “Good Boy” had been his name ever since that long-off day of pain and fear. The man, then a stranger, had coaxed him, limping and torn, into the man’s car and taken him to the vet, ultimately giving him a home. The man had called him “Smithers,” and other names since then: “Young Man” in casual conversation, “Bad Dog” when he’d sprinted off in irresistible chase through the weeds or peed on his sleeping arch-enemy, the cat.

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But he knew his real name was “Good Boy” by the way the man murmured it during years of friendly hugs and scratches, and, after a good long life, the way it was voiced with concern when merely walking across the room became a difficult task, and then with more urgency during those distressing times when  his muscles locked up in spasms and his bladder loosed uncontrollably.

Always the stroking hands and the reassuring voice of the man were there. And now they were back in the vet’s office, as they had been in the beginning, and Good Boy heard the sadness in the man’s voice and wished he could in turn stroke the man’s fur gently and call him “Good Man” to reassure him that everything was all right. If sadness was being apart, then joy was in being together, in the now, in the final breath, in feeling the touch and hearing his name, “Good Boy.”