Oliver’s Obituary: A Farewell Letter to my Cat

+Job 12:7-10 But ask the animals, and they will teach you… In God’s hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all humankind.

My dearest Oliver,
We said goodbye to you this afternoon.

My heart is broken.

You were a witness to my adulthood, my prayer partner and my confidant.
You were a soft, gentle, warm spot in my life.

We met when I was 22 years old.

I had just moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts for graduate school and I was anxious. One night I had a dream that a cat jumped up on the foot of my bed, rested on my chest and I was finally able to sleep. The very next day I adopted you. I remember calling my roommate on the drive home, you in my lap, asking “how do you feel about cats?“

The shelter grilled me the day I brought you home. They told me “this is a 20 year commitment.” And I still resent it. 14 years feels too short when they promised me 20… though I would never be prepared to say goodbye.

You were a source of comfort. I’ve cried so many tears into your fur, holding you at the end of long days, and in the midst of stressful times.

You were my first family member to meet Andrew, and you liked him. Your endorsement meant everything. You let him hold you and you would purr when he came around, I knew he was a keeper.

In 2010, three weeks into my first ministry calling, the vet diagnosed you with cancer and said we had three months. We took extreme measures, far more than the average cat mom would do, I’m sure. We amputated your back right leg and put you through chemo. Everyone thought we were crazy, they probably still do. But that bought you eight more years with us. It was worth every penny.

You met my children. You allowed Felix to explore your fur and tug at your ears. Bless you. You were always so patient. You let Zora squeal with delight as she watched you. You forgave us for displacing you when a bassinet came into our bedroom, and when our attention turned to the care and feeding of our babies. Thank you.

Letting you go has been excruciating. We were told in February that you had acute kidney failure, and that we should prepare to say goodbye within weeks. For the last six months we administered subcutaneous fluids to you, sometimes twice a day. Everyone told us we would know when it was time to say goodbye. But Oliver, I never knew. Today feels like the worst day.

For your companionship, loyalty, your spirit of calm, your non-anxious presence, and most of all-for the strength you gave me: thank you.

You taught me how to love. You opened my heart. I will remember you always, you handsome fellow.

It’s an honor to love a pet like you. It reminds us that unconditional love is possible. Pets teach us that it is worthy and right to care for those who are smaller than us, who depend on us. You help us make room for the tender, soft, warm things of the world.

I believe that all of God’s creatures have a place in the choir. So I picture you on percussion, purring to the rhythm of God’s heart, and tapping your tail to the music of the heavenly hosts… waiting for the day we will be reunited. I promise you eternal snuggles when I find you again.

Rest well, my love.
Sarah

 


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Families Belong Together

Dearest Felix and Zora,

When I dropped you off at school this morning, you both struggled to let go of me. Zora- you tightened your tiny fists around my shirt and wailed when your teacher lifted you away. I could hear the echo of your cries in the hallway as we walked to your brother’s room.

And Felix, when we stepped outside into the beautiful courtyard of your classroom, filled with cars and tools and a water table waiting to be used-you didn’t want to play. You wrapped your feet and arms around my right leg like a monkey and wouldn’t let go.

It’s as if there is a fear of separation in the air. Maybe you both sense the painful separations of families at our border. Perhaps you can pick up on the heartbreak of children taken from their parents when seeking refuge or asylum in the U.S.. Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families under the zero tolerance immigration policy.

I want to tell you a story.

A few weeks ago I had both of you at a rundown grocery store in a part of town we usually avoid. Felix, you were sitting in the seat at the front of the cart and Zora, you were in your car seat filling up the cart itself. I tucked three father’s day cards around you and a bag of grapes, a bunch of bananas, and a box of Benadryl. We were headed for the checkout stand and I paused to look at a magazine. The next thing I know, a man is standing between me and the cart- offering to help me hold one of you while I check out. I said no thanks- but he ignored my request. Felix: he started to lift you out of the cart and he reached for Zora. Everything felt off and I immediately panicked. I shouted “Stop!” and rushed out of the store, piled everything in the car and drove home fast.

I realized I had stolen $42 worth of groceries. In Ohio, shoplifting that amount is considered a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. But I’d do it again if I felt it would keep you safe. Any parent would.

I went back to the store on my own and paid my bill. And today, I will pick you up from school today and we will be together again this evening. But there are children who do not know when they will be reunited with their families because their parents committed a misdemeanor by crossing the border illegally. This is unacceptable and wrong.

And parents fleeing their homes to protect their children isn’t new. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with baby Jesus to escape Herod. They were refugees. They were immigrants. They sought asylum.

When I read scriptures from Romans 13 (a biblical reference used by many today to justify harsh laws separating families at the boarder) it says:

Romans 13:9-10: The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Here’s what I know:

-when in doubt, loving one another and acting out of love is the greatest law of all

-Mothers from every culture and community would break a human law to protect their children

-Families belong together

My darlings, in these troubled times, I can tell you we are paying attention. We are going to do all we can to help children just like you who need their mommies and daddies.

To work for change, we can give money to organizations working to reunite families like this one: https://www.theyoungcenter.org/stories/2018/5/8/young-center-announces-the-immigrant-child-and-family-rights-project

We can call our representatives (find yours here: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members_) and demand action (find a script for the call if you need it here: https://www.aclu.org/issues/call-senators-stop-dhs-separating-children).

You inspire us to work for the good.

Love, Mom and Dad

 

 

A Letter to My Future Daughter on International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

Dearest Child,

Today is International Women’s Day.

For the first time in my life, I celebrate being a woman AND- having the great honor of ushering another woman into the world this year.

The world desperately needs you- and I cannot wait to see the ways you will bring change, compassion and justice to it.

May you come into this world ready to shine.

Be your whole self from day one. Be bold. Be courageous. Speak your mind. Dream big dreams.

You can do anything and be anything you wish. Generations of women before you have worked hard to ensure this inheritance for you.

As you grow and spread your wings- be sure to take others with you. In your lifetime, there will still be many women with less opportunity than you. Notice them. Listen to them. Take their hands and partner together as you grow. Invite them along as you make your way in the world. Never feel threatened by collaboration or sharing with other women- instead, live with a lens of abundance.

One of the greatest resources you will experience in your life is the power of women joining together.

As a woman: you will have a voice. Use it to speak up, to ask for what you deserve, and to advocate for others.

As a woman: remember you are more than what you look like, more than who you birth or who you marry. You are more than a token, more than a quota. You are a full human being. Never let anyone tell you differently.

The world you will enter this July is still evolving. We have work to do to make sure all women are safe, empowered, and encouraged. But I can promise you that you are joining a family that will work hard to ensure that your rights, your safety, and your potential are protected and promoted.

We are so excited for your arrival. On this International Women’s Day, I celebrate all women- but more than anything- I celebrate the promise and mystery of your life- which will begin in July. When you arrive, I know the whole world will be changed, and blessed.

I leave you with this excerpt from the poem “I am a Woman” by Riffat Hassan, may you always trust your eternal heart:

I am a woman

with the eternal heart of a woman

the bearer of life

the nurturer of life

the protector of life

I can give life

because I am not afraid of pain

for I know that love is always pain

even joyful love is ringed with pain

and no one can love

who cannot embrace with heart and soul

the pain of living

the pain of loving.

Love, Mama

Week 2: Bags for Moms

40 bags week 2

This week, my 40 bag challenge continues for Lent.

I focused on my son’s belongings.

When he arrived, we received so much support and love. We filled his book shelves with stories to read. His closet and dresser overflowed with clothing for the first year. He received a mound of blankets that kept him warm each night. Church communities, friends, and family rallied around us to offer resources and supplies.

But we live in Canton, Ohio. Our city is ranked #29 for the most single parent households in cities over 50,000 people in the United States. Canton made national headlines 10 years ago when 64 girls at Timken High School became pregnant in one school year. Even as national teen pregnancy rates dropped- Canton’s numbers remained high, and teen pregnancy cut across all ethnic and cultural lines.

So in the very same city where our son has been encouraged and spoiled- we have neighbors who struggle to provide for their sons and daughters. The disadvantages faced by teen moms in Canton and across the country are heartbreaking.

Nationally, studies show that the average cost for baby clothes alone is about $60/month for the first year. Usually basic toys, books and blankets average $20 to $40 per month as well.

Diapering is another story. Parents spend on average $76 a month on diapers.

These costs are only a small part of the expense of having children.

We know through Felix’s journey with allergies that health costs can be astronomical. Additionally, we pay roughly $10,000 a year for childcare.

This week, as I thought about what we have, and what we really need- I realized we have beautiful, gently used clothes that can help other moms in Canton. We have a stash of extra cloth diapers we can pass on that will help a mom cut costs. We have extra swaddle blankets, more toys, an extra baby carrier and baby bed that we can pass along to children who did not receive the support of churches, friends and family as they came into the world.

So bags #5-10 are going to a support center for moms in Canton, Ohio.

It is a small gesture. There is still so much work to be done. But what if we each took a step every day to be generous with our neighbors? Could the world be different?

“Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world.” –Pope Francis

 

Not Locker Room Talk: A Letter to My Son

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+Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer…

Dearest Felix,

As far as I can tell- you are ‘all boy.’ You love to throw a ball across the room with the full force of your arms. You take your sweet, soft stuffed animals and use them as hammers on our furniture. You flirt with your teachers and church grandmas by blowing them kisses and playing coy games of peek-a-boo to make them smile.

As you grow up, I imagine you will hear a lot about what it means to be a boy, and a man. You will learn from your dad, your peers, and your role models. You’ll spend time with a lot of other guys and you might talk about sports or cars or maybe women…

Tonight, as you sleep soundly snuggled in your moustache covered pajamas- I am reading about a candidate for the presidency who is trying to explain his ‘locker room conversations’ about grabbing women, kissing them without consent, and rudely commenting on their looks.

Sweet child- hear me when I say: this is not what honorable men talk about. The things we say influence what we do. Words create worlds. You cannot joke or whisper or tease about violating women- not even in the locker room.

Do not believe boys in your life who will try to tell you that this is the way to be ‘a man.’ Remember, that to be ‘all boy’ does not mean that you touch without asking or that you talk about women as if they are not made in the very image of God.

No matter how far we’ve come- women still face harassment, objectification, and unwanted touch. Almost every woman you will meet will have a story.

Darling boy, it happened to me, your mama.

25 years old, I was riding my bike home. I was wearing a Habitat for Humanity t-shirt and yoga pants, but it doesn’t matter. I stopped at a red light and as I stood over my bike at the crosswalk- a middle aged man who I did not know walked up to me and grabbed my breast. Then, he walked away.

At first, I was in shock. I was embarrassed. By the time I got home, I was in tears.

He touched me without asking. I do not know where he learned that this was OK, but I want to make sure you know it isn’t.

It is not OK. It is not locker room talk. It is not that ‘boys will be boys.’

Felix: in your life, you will have a voice. As a privileged, white male in the United States- people will listen to you. If you continue to grow up as ‘all boy’- remember, being a boy and a man means that you have power. You will be an influencer. You will have opportunities.

My deepest hope for you is that you use your power, your influence, your opportunities, and your voice to stand up for justice, to seek equality for those with less voice than you and to protect those who are more vulnerable than you.

You are just learning your first words: cat, Dada, ball, good, uh-oh… But before we know it, you will be jabbering away in full sentences and soon- bonding with your friends in the locker room.

Use your words to build up, not to tear down, my love.

Use your voice to respect, honor, and empower others- not degrade them, my sweet.

On this night, when I see so many people trying to defend ‘locker room talk’, my prayer for you is that you will use your voice to speak with gentleness, honor, and respect for men and women alike- because the words we use shape the culture we live in.

Love,

Your mom

 

 

 

A Letter to My Son After a Mass Shooting

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Dearest Felix,

It’s been 48 hours since the deadliest mass shooting in US history. As your mom, I want to shield you from this reality. I never want you to know about such violence, such tragedy.

But also, as your mom – I need to be the one to talk to you about this.

Sometimes – unbelievable tragedy breaks out in the world and we do not know why.
Sometimes – one’s own pain and anguish translates into mass destruction like this.
When this happens in the world – you will see fear emerge. We start to fear the other; we fear what we do not know; we fear public places and political leaders-and most of all we fear our neighbors.

I do not know how we find security again after such a horrific event, but I do know that only love can overcome hate, only light can overcome darkness.

My dear child, as you grow and learn and experience the world- I pray that you remember to know and love your neighbor: your gay neighbor, your Muslim neighbor, your black neighbor, your Asian neighbor, your homeless neighbor, your mentally ill neighbor, your NRA member Neighbor, your green party neighbor, and everything in between.

By know your neighbor – I mean learn his mother’s name. Understand what he loves, and what he fears. Figure out where his passion is and what hardships he’s faced.
Remember that all of your neighbors are human beings as well – trying desperately to navigate in this broken world.

Remember that we are all in this together, and that we belong to one another.

Never forget the vulnerability and tenderness within your neighbors.

Always remember that every person you meet is made in the image of God – therefore they are an opportunity to know more about goodness and grace.

Knowing and loving your neighbor will not stop tragedy in the world – but it can stop your fear. It can stop the temptation to draw lines between insider and outsider, good and evil, sameness and otherness – and this will begin to heal the world.

I love you with all my heart, darling. And each of your neighbors has a mother that loves them too. Or they don’t – all the more reason to show them compassion.

I long for you to be safe, secure, confident, courageous, but most of all compassionate because the world desperately needs your loving heart.

When the dark times come – remember my voice. Remember how much you are loved. Remember that every human being deserves the same love. Be that love in the world, because that is where the healing begins.

I believe you will be someone who can make a difference. The bright light of your soul gives me hope and times like this.

Love, Mama

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Soft, Warm Things- A Cat Obituary

Phoebe

 

+Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is a dwelling place, And underneath are the everlasting arms…

 We lost our cat Phoebe last night. We found her curled up in her own bed- we hope she passed peacefully in her sleep.

We are sad.

She was the first shared investment for me and Andrew.

She was a witness to our lives for 9 years in 5 different homes across 3 different states.

We loved her.

Phoebe struggled from the beginning. She hated sharing space and attention with my cat Oliver. She rebelled against her domesticity by sabotaging her environment regularly.

Once, she found an unopened, 10 pound bag of food and chewed her way into it- secretly eating from this hidden stash for weeks until we noticed she’d gained 4 pounds.

She groomed herself and others obsessively. Her back was covered in bald spots from over-licking. Her sandpaper tongue scraped our hands and wrists without ceasing every time we held her.

Phoebe struggled.

Last night, the struggle ended. She was released into the great beyond, held by the everlasting arms- and I’m grieving.

Sure- there are bigger problems in the world. There is more to grieve than a family cat.

But still- I will miss that soft, warm being.

I will miss her fur under my palms as I pet her after a long day. I will miss the warmth of her tiny body on my lap and the vibrations of her happy purrs as we leisurely sat on the couch. I will miss the simple joy she brought to our house. I will miss how she connected with us, listened to us, loved us, and reminded us to be still for a moment.

I will miss her because she was a good pet- but also because there seem to be so few soft, warm things in the world.

Daily, we encounter the sharp edges of a brutal election season. We face the piercing headlines of young women raped on college campuses or musical icons overdosing in elevators or righteous Internet debates about children vs. gorillas.

The world can be hard and cold.

I will miss our sweet bundle. I will miss the escape our cat offered to us no matter what sharp or piercing realities swarmed.

I will mourn the loss of her soft, warm presence in the world because we already have a deficit.

I picture Phoebe in her own soft, warm place now. I imagine her in the everlasting arms- and this new dwelling place is free from all pain and struggle.

To honor Phoebe’s life, perhaps we can all set aside more time for connecting, listening, and loving one another.

Phoebe taught me the value of soft, warm stillness. So to Phoebe, I say: thank you. Rest well, dear one.

 

 

A Lesson on Love

Allergy

+John 13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

 My son finally likes food. It’s been a battle against avocado and his first taste of green beans. He’s cried through mouthfuls of applesauce and pureed carrots. But finally: he eats.

He loves bananas and pears and prunes. He loves cereal and sweet potato and even mango.

We are giving him spoonful after spoonful of food at home.

14 days ago-Felix took a little bite of hummus, and immediately- his lips puffed up with blisters. His tongue swelled so large it could not fit into his mouth anymore. He couldn’t swallow. He vomited over and over. His body became bright red with white welts everywhere.

He was losing consciousness as we drove to the ER. My husband shouted at me: ‘Felix is dying!’

He had an allergic reaction. He went into anaphylactic shock.

As we drove, I started to pray: “why can’t I trade places with him! This should be me! God- let this be me not him! Let me suffer, not him!”

But we can’t do that for one another, can we? We cannot suffer for one another or die for one another or trade places with one another. No matter how much we love someone- and I love Felix with ALL my heart- we cannot trade places. Instead, to really love someone through their suffering- we must be present. We must endure together.

I remember wiping off Felix’s sweaty forehead and patting dry his soaked onesie in the emergency room. It is the only thing I could do. That is all any of us can really do for each other. It’s our only choice when the going gets rough.

Last Saturday- as Felix struggled to breathe- I pleaded with God “let this be me!” But we cannot take each other’s suffering.

And yet, sometimes that is what we attribute to Christ. Sometimes, we get caught up celebrating Christ’s sacrifice. But is that the best way Christ loved?

Maybe we get it wrong. Maybe our focus on Christ’s sacrifice is not the part we are called to mimic. Maybe it’s something different.

In this pre-resurrection scripture, Christ told his disciples to love as he has loved them already: by sticking close to one another through difficult times, standing by one another in the darkest, loneliest, most isolating moments, being community with one another even when it feels like the world is falling apart.

I learned 14 days ago that we cannot sacrifice for one another or take each other’s place in suffering- if we could, I would have been the one with the swollen tongue trying to breathe. Even the deepest love can only be shown by showing up, standing by, holding each other close, and enduring together.

When I hear the words of Christ’s final commandment to love as he loved, I hear this message in a new way these days. Loving one another as Christ loved is not promising to sacrifice ourselves in each other’s place- because we can’t. Instead, it’s standing by one another, enduring together, and most of all- allowing others in to our most vulnerable moments- being community together. This is how Christ loved, I hope we all seek to do the same.

40 Days Broken: Thoughts On Ferguson, Good Friday, and God’s Light

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In 4 months, we’ll have a son. A little boy! A bright, lively spirit that I imagine will be loud, adventurous, wild, curious, tender, rebellious, and deeply loved all at once.

8 months ago, another mother lost her son 557 miles from where I live.

In Ferguson, Missouri on a hot August afternoon, Michael Brown was shot by a police officer. Michael: another little boy- a bright, wild, rebellious and deeply loved all at once little boy-was shot at just 18 years old.

Different accounts about what happened to Michael Brown swirled. But somehow, that renewing and truth-telling commandment from God to love your neighbor as yourself was lost in the midst of a police chase after an afternoon convenience store robbery.

Somehow that deep and old commandment from God found Exodus and repeated by Christ in the gospel of Matthew that thou shall not kill… was broken in the midst of a young black man standing with his hands up, OR charging a police officer- who can say? But 12 shots were fired and a mother lost her son 8 months ago.

As I prepare for motherhood my joy and hope builds- but there is still a small whisper that reminds me: mothers are losing their children every day.

Tonight, we reach the end of our 40 day season of remembrance. On Good Friday, we come to the cross: another place where a mother lost her son.

On Good Friday, we are asked to bear witness to this pain.

We are called to go to the foot of the cross with Mary, a mother who lost her son. We are called to stay at the foot of the cross with Michael Brown’s mother as she grieves her son. We are called to go to the foot of the cross with all mothers who have lost children.

Good Friday reminds me that perhaps the world must be broken open first, to let the light in.

It is not difficult to see the broken pieces of the world around us. We live in a world where mothers still lose their sons and where 1 in 9 people go hungry each day worldwide.

We live in a world where 150 million people are homeless or live in refugee camps and temporary housing.

We see these 40 day cycles of brokenness throughout the Bible, and throughout the world today.

In the book of Genesis, God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights in the great flood of Noah. Water filled the streets and spilled into everything. In 40 days the world was destroyed. (Genesis 7:4).

In the 40 days after Michael Brown was shot, protesters and swat teams swarmed in Ferguson, and tear gas filled the streets- spilling into everything. In 40 days, the shrine to Michael Brown was burned down, and the town was nearly destroyed.

In a world where God’s people were wandering in the desert- homeless and living in refugee camps on their way to the Promised Land… Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God in the book of Exodus. Here he received the 10 commandments that would build the moral backbone of the world.

In a world where 150 million people are wandering- homeless or live in refugee camps, we must remember that during a roughly 40-day fall Habitat for Humanity season in any given city, groups of people construct over 15 houses for families in need, building the backbone of communities.

In 1 Kings, Elijah spent time speaking to God about shifting power, about rising up so that people would be brought back to God. He spent 40 days and 40 nights walking to Mount Horeb and it made a difference. (1 Kings 19:8).

In Selma, Alabama in January 1965, Martin Luther King spent time speaking to God’s people about rising up so that they would gain equality and voting rights. For just over 40 days and 40 nights, the people of Selma planned to walk together to Montgomery and it made a difference.

Through homelessness and wandering, through long walks to Mount Horeb and Montgomery Alabama in search of redemption, through water and tear gas flooding streets, through mothers for generations grieving the death of their children dying out of order… at the foot of the cross and on the streets of Ferguson…

In Lent, we remember that God shows up and brings hope at the moment we are broken open.

Good Friday is a night to remember that God’s work often begins with a death- and rises out of the midst of 40 days of brokenness.

But soon, we will encounter the empty tomb. Soon, we will be reminded that a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome the light.

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