You Need Beauty

One son is away at church camp. The other son has driver’s ed in the mornings. My husband is at work. This means I’m home alone for THREE whole hours. I honestly cannot remember the last time that happened.

Still trying to remember.

Nope. No wonder I’m so giddy.

Instead of filling this time with chores, I’ve been trying to fill it with what I actually need. This means slowing down and thinking about what it is that I actually need. I know exactly what everyone else needs. For starters, they need clean socks. They need, they need, they need.

What do I need?

I say a little prayer while driving in the car where I practically live these days.

Lord, what do I need today?

You need beauty.

Ah, yes. Beauty. I know how peaceful I feel when I’m surrounded by beauty. I know I never get enough of it. I crave it and yet…it’s not exactly on my daily to do list.

John and Stasi Eldredge explain the need for beauty in their book Captivating:

Beauty is essential to God. No–that’s not putting it strongly enough. Beauty is the essence of God. Scripture says that the created world is filled with the glory of God (Isaiah 6:3) In what way? Primarily through its beauty.

Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Stop for a moment and let that sink in. We’re so used to evaluating everything (and everyone) by their usefulness that this thought will take a minute or two to begin to dawn on us. Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Which is to say, beauty is in and of itself a great and glorious good, something we need in large and daily doses (for our God has seen fit to arrange for this).

So I decide to go home and change into my walking shoes. The dog gets very excited whenever she sees my shoes because she thinks I’ll take her for a walk. I have let her down so many times, but today she is going to get her wish.

I take the dog leash off its hook as she thumps me with her thick tail. She is beside herself. The back of the SUV lifts and she leaps into the car like a young pup.

We back out of the driveway and head toward the county park. It’s beautiful there. As we get closer I start to wonder if it will be busy. My heart starts to race and I feel fear.

The last time I took the dog to the park for a walk without my husband it ended badly. A grandpa type man yelled at me and my children. He threw the f bomb around and threatened to get a gun. Because of my dog. Because of me. Because I couldn’t control her and he thought she was going to hurt his small dog. She would never. She’s just a big dumb lab. He was out of control angry and I was afraid. He even followed me in his car out of the park. I thought he was going to follow me home.

That was five years ago.

I park the car and look around. There are only a couple of people out in the field. This shouldn’t be that big of a deal so I open the back hatch and let Mocha out. She is so excited that she can barely stand still long enough to put the leash over her head, but I am afraid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mocha wants to sniff and explore and pee and I am holding on for dear life because I am afraid.

I look around and see no one. There are no bullies here.

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I bend over to remove the leash and set her free.

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She darts ahead and sniffs her chocolate heart out.

She is free to run ahead. I allow her some distance and then test her by calling her name. She comes running back to me. This is progress.

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She’s not the same dog she was five years ago. She’s mellowed a bit and I see that even as she runs ahead of me she stops to make sure I’m not far behind. She’s looking out for me too. Suddenly I’m not afraid. I’m able to look around and take in the beauty that Jesus wants me to see.

Everything is green. The ground is soaked from the storms. Birds soar and wildflowers sway. Frogs and insects sing their song. My lungs are breathing in the sweet fragrance in the air. It’s gorgeous. We follow the bend in the trail and come to a fallen tree. I have to decide whether to turn back or keep moving forward.

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I see that it’s possible to go around and I try not to think about the ticks hitching a ride in my hair as I go off the trail. Mocha is having the time of her life while I coach myself out loud. You can do this, Nic. Going off the trail is not the end of the world. That’s big news for a girl like me. Going off the trail is not really my style.

A few moments later I make my way around the tree and I’m back on the path. Mocha is still in the thicket sniffing out deer and God knows what else. I stop and notice above my head are red, white, and purple berries. I don’t know if they’re edible and I don’t care because I don’t eat fruit that doesn’t come from the grocery store. They are lovely.

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A few steps further the path becomes swampy and my feet are soaking wet. It dawns on me why we are the only ones at the park today.

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Still, there is beauty all around me.

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We allow things to grow here in the wild that we don’t allow to grow in our yard.

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My heart is pumping harder and there is mud on my calves from tromping through the soaked ground. It’s time to follow the path toward the car. I take a deep breath and thank the One who invited me back here to this place today. I thank him for beauty. I thank him for keeping the bullies away. I thank him for helping me around the obstacles on the path and for keeping an eye on me and those I love every single day.

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I’m not the woman I was five years ago.

I needed to come back to this place today to experience this beauty from the lover of my soul. The One who knows me best loves me most. It’s good to be loved.

Jesus, thank you for loving us enough to invite us to experience the beauty all around us. Thank you for calling us back to places marked by fear and regret to redeem us and set us free. Thank you for trusting us in these wide open spaces to hear your voice and come running back to your open arms time and time again. You are beautiful, Jesus. We love you.

 

No Time for Dog Drama

This winter when the polar vortex would not let it go my boys got a chance to attend a sledding day event with some homeschool families. I teetered between gratitude that they would be socializing somewhere other than at work with me and guilt that I wouldn’t be able to be there like the other moms. On any other Tuesday this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but I had scheduled a hair appointment for our two Labs at our favorite boarding kennel. Carpets full of fur had gotten the best of me and even in the dead of winter I knew it was the only way we were going to make it until spring. Something had to go. Hair seemed to be the easiest way. Normally the boys would corral the dogs and save me some stress, but not that day. I decided to take one for the team and take the dogs in myself. I should have rescheduled the appointment and saved myself a lot of drama.

I drove ten miles per hour under the speed limit the entire way because of icy road conditions. The SUV’s outside thermostat read -4 Fahrenheit. My sons had given me the longest leashes known to mankind for the dogs and they were completely tangled by the time I got to the boarding kennel. As soon as I opened the back hatch of my car, the dogs jumped out while I tried to hold on to their leashes as they wound themselves around me. I began to shout like a mad woman.

Sit! Minnie! Mocha! Sit! Don’t you dare knock me down out here! I!!! Said!!! Sit!!!

It took a few minutes to get them signed in at the front desk. Before I could catch my breath I was back in the car on my way to work trying not to have a total meltdown because they had nearly killed me in the parking lot. I had become Cruella Deville and my husband was going to get what was coming to him! Heads were gonna roll! I’d had it with those puppies! Thank God I work near a Starbucks because I had more than earned it this morning! Venti! Breve! Pumpkin spice latte! Please. I was paying for my drink when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number on my screen, but answered it anyway. It was the boarding kennel.

A man on the other end of the conversation began to explain that our 9 year old black lab, Minnie, had been assaulted by another dog when she was introduced to the doggy daycare group. I cannot believe I just typed those words, but there they are. A more aggressive dog had bit her left ear and caused it to bleed. The staff was trying to get the bleeding to stop, but they weren’t having much success and wanted to make me aware in case they couldn’t get it stopped.

Here’s the thing: I am not a dog person. You probably already figured that out, but I struggle with being seen in public with our dogs because I feel like a fake. They are not my dogs. They are my husband and sons dogs. Get it? I just make sure they get fed and watered and let them outside no less than 476 times a day. I’m not a dog person.

I thanked the guy for telling me what happened to Minnie and then a wave of guilt crashed over me. I had been so angry because of these animals just moments before, and now Minnie was hurt. She was in a strange place with people she didn’t know.

I called my husband at work. I was planning on giving him a piece of my mind anyway. The call rolled to his voice mail and I explained what was going on with his dog and began to sob. I didn’t know what to do or how I should even be responding at this time. All at once I felt bad for the people taking care of Minnie, but I didn’t have time to deal with dog drama. I had to get to work and stop blubbering about the stupid dog.

Why couldn’t my dog to take a self-defense course and stop the cycle of being the victim? I knew it wasn’t her fault that she had been the runt of the litter when we brought her home almost 9 years ago. I had watched her be dominated by her sister and was constantly trying to get her to stick up for herself. Minnie just needed to get aggressive and fight the lies she’d believed from her past and refuse to accept that she was stuck forever. Because dogs can do that, right? Ok, maybe not.

Once at work I dove into the distractions (and joys) of my job. Somehow I managed to miss every single call from the boarding kennel throughout the day updating Minnie’s progress. Their final message said they had tried everything they knew to do to stop the bleeding but were unsuccessful and were taking her to a nearby vet. My mind was reeling. How did a simple grooming appointment turn into an emergency vet visit? They assured me that Minnie would be fine and updated me every step of the way. Minnie ended up getting four stitches in her ear by the time I left work.

When I picked the dogs up to take them home Minnie was wearing one of those plastic cones of shame. She was woozy from being sedated and anxious to get home. I had a stress migraine and felt as if I was going to vomit any moment and could have gone for some serious sedation myself.

Once we were in the front door, Minnie bumped into her kennel because the cone distorted her vision. She couldn’t even get past the trash can to go outside to do her business without our help. She thought she could, but she couldn’t. We felt so bad for her, even though it was funny at times to watch her so disoriented. My gut churned because I knew how she felt all too well. I know what it’s like not to be able to do the things that seem easy to other people…to try to do it on my own, only to get stuck and feel like a fool.

imageMy husband kept telling me she’d be fine. My brain knew that Minnie would be fine, but I wasn’t so sure about me.

The haunting memories of being bullied by my classmates in the 6th grade would not leave me alone. I could see their faces and I felt the shame all over again. It didn’t make any sense. I kept trying to push down the pain that happened 30 years ago! 30! I thought that I had dealt with a lot of that pain, but it had surfaced again because of my stupid dog. Why did she have to be such a wuss in the first place? What was it about her that made her a target for a bully? These kinds of questions kept pestering me and I couldn’t answer them.

I knew Minnie’s history and there was nothing I could do to change her. She was destined to play the victim from the very start. In the animal kingdom she was the runt of the litter which meant she got whatever was left of her mother’s milk. There were always bigger, stronger, more dominating dogs that got there first. She learned to not expect anything more than what she got. I watched it play out a thousand times in how she interacted with her sister. She unravelled when we brought Mocha home from the same set of dog parents just 2 years later. Mocha was anything BUT the runt of the litter and made her presence known from day one. Minnie acted out…she started peeing on the floor again. Even in my frustration I could see the pain in her eyes…please help me. I don’t know how to stop.

We could have given up in frustration that Minnie was a bad dog and taken her to the pound to become someone else’s problem. Honestly, the thought crossed my mind more than I care to admit. That would have devastated my children and broken a deep trust with them. That trust is sacred and I wasn’t willing to give it up without a fight.

And so my husband asked some friends at work about crazy dog behavior. We searched the internet. There was an explanation for Minnie’s relapse and there were answers to help fix it. She needed to be treated like an alpha dog even though Mocha clearly had the alpha instinct. She needed to be shown respect. It seemed silly to us, but we began to make extra effort to give Minnie what she needed. This meant that Minnie would be petted first when my husband came home from work. She would be allowed to go out the door before Mocha. She would be first. It didn’t seem like a lot, but it meant everything to Minnie. It didn’t take long before Minnie was back to her old self. No more peeing on the floor. No more acting like she was having a total meltdown. Whenever we left for vacation and had someone watch our dogs, I would leave specific instructions for Minnie because her mental and emotional health depended on it.

Funny the lengths we’ll go to for a pet, or our kids, or even a friend, but not for ourselves. Surely the care vital and necessary to our mental, spiritual, and emotional health is just as valuable, if not more?

As I thought about how Minnie was targeted and wounded, I couldn’t help but see how differently our wounds had been treated. Minnie had a team of caring adults with her all day long making sure she was comfortable and getting the care she needed. Sadly, that was not true for me. Nobody helped me when my classmates shamed and humiliated me over and over and over again. My mom tried to get my teacher to intervene, but it only made it worse. His idea of helping me meant singling me out to let me know how attractive he thought I was. No, that was not helpful at all. It was inappropriate and only confirmed the negative messages I had received about my body. Unlike Minnie I was not safe with the people who were supposed to be taking care of me.

It was a busy week and I didn’t have time for revisiting 6th grade hell. I had a birthday party to plan, but I could not be present because my dog’s wounds had uncovered my own. Finally I sat at my kitchen table with a pen and my journal and asked Jesus to help me. The tears came because I could no longer hold them back. Jesus gently took me back to the young places in the 6th grade so that this older me can move forward. He saw my pain. He knew I was struggling and invited me to take His hand. This time I wouldn’t go alone. He would go with me.

I wrote down the names of the classmates who had made my life a living hell. Their vicious schemes replayed in my mind as if they had happened yesterday. The pain washed over me and I sobbed.  I wanted to ask them why they chose me as their target. What was it about me that invited that kind of cruelty? Why me? Why did they perceive me as a threat to their social structure?   

It was time for someone to tend to my wounds. I kept hearing Jesus say, “I bind up your wounds.”  It’s core to who Jesus is and what He does for us. He heals the brokenhearted, binds up our wounds, and restores us. But in order for Him to bind anything, I had to be willing to allow Him access. I could no longer ignore the meanness and the affect it had on my heart…the affect it was still having. I had to stop blaming myself.

The truth is that I deserved to have teachers and people in authority come to my rescue. I deserved to have justice. I was worthy of all the care and attention required to stop the cycle of abuse. That’s what it was and it’s ok to tell the truth about it. The truth is that I had no idea how to navigate the abuse and pain I experienced when I was 11 and 12 years old. It shattered my heart and I pieced it back together as best as I could. Looking back, I can see how I mishandled my wounds in every way, but it’s not too late.

Receiving healing meant I needed to let go of the pain. It meant forgiving the kids (and adults) who inflicted the pain and letting them go. It didn’t mean that what they did was ok. It meant taking that power from them. I had been afraid for so long of being made fun of. I would often assess everyone when I walk into a room full of people I don’t know, assume the worst and work my way backwards. If you happen to be a man, consider yourself condemned until proven you otherwise. I’m only beginning to realize how fear has dominated my interaction with the opposite sex for far too long. Jesus has been showing me how He has put good men in my life and that I don’t have to be afraid. I have never been alone. Nor am I alone now. Jesus has always been there. He’s here now.

It’s never too late for Jesus to heal and mend a broken heart. Healing comes in such unexpected ways. It often comes when we don’t have time for it, but it does come and when it does it is beautiful.

I’m not a dog person, but I am forever grateful for the dog that Jesus used to help heal and mend this broken heart. She loved me well. I hope her story encourages you today. It’s never too late for Jesus to heal and mend your broken heart.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Mac with Minnie Sue Christmas Eve 2006

In memory of Minnie {April 4, 2005-April 24th, 2014}

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