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

 

 

Parenting in the Midst of Valentines and Violence (A Confession to my Son)

Peace

Dearest Felix:

On February 14th, you came home with your arms full of Valentines-small red and pink papers covered in finger paintings and stickers. You and your classmates exchanged these cards during circle time. In the very moments that you exchanged gestures of love and sweetness with your peers- students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida witnessed one of their peers kill 17 people and injure dozens more.

Today, a little boy at our local middle school took a gun to school and hurt himself in the bathroom.

You are 2 1/2, so you probably won’t ask me about this sad event today or what happened last Wednesday. But soon, my sweet child- we will have to have the talk about what to do, what to think, and how to respond when such horrible events happen.

I don’t know where to start. I don’t know how to talk to you about this.

As a parent in 2018, when our country averages 3 school shootings each week- I live with such fear. How do I protect your innocence and still prepare you for tragedy?

When you hear “pop” you think of Pete the Cat and his groovy buttons popping off his shirt. But I think of the way the students in Parkland described the sounds of gunshots.

When you say “Crash, bang, boom”- you mean to imitate the sound of a front end loader building a road from your A to Z construction site book.

When I hear “Crash, bang, boom”- I fear the sounds of an attack, and I shudder.

Your eyes light up when we talk about heroes and yet I want to teach you how to hide behind a desk, and how you don’t need to be a hero for me, you just need to survive.

Darling boy: please forgive me-forgive all of us- for letting it get like this.

These are broken times, and I do not have the words to begin to explain to you how we got here, or why there is so much to fear.

But I know this: blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

I know that you are made out of love. And so is everybody else.

I know that you are a source of light and you were made to shine that light. And so is everybody else you meet.

I know that things can be different, and we are going to work together to change them. I will teach you how we can work for change.

In the meantime, we will continue to be kind and gentle with everyone we meet. We will practice building people up. We will build bridges instead of walls and extend welcome instead of exclusion.

And every day- I’m going to hold you close, remind you I love you, and encourage you to be the good we wish to see in the world.

Love,

Mom

A Letter To My Kids After The Las Vegas Shooting

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Dearest Zora and Felix,
I just tucked you into bed after hours of rocking on our front porch chairs and singing 13 verses of “the wheels on the bus” at the dinner table. In our sweet little nest, it seemed like an ordinary evening.

Zora-you showed off your cooing and kicking on the baby gym.

Felix-you splashed in the tub and practiced counting to 14.

We shared a few family hugs at Felix’s request.

Then, as we turned out the lights, I sang our usual night night songs.

We honored all of our family traditions at home and it seemed like any ordinary Monday. But, my darlings, inside- my heart was aching.

Because last night, other families were trying to have an ordinary evening of singing songs together and sharing food at a country music concert – but a gunman opened fire and hundreds were wounded, dozens lost their lives.

It feels like the ordinary has become unsafe in this broken world.

How can I let you go to school tomorrow? How can I let you out of my sight?

How can I sleep knowing other mothers, just like me, lost their children last night?

How can I rest when it seems the news is always reminding me to be afraid, to shield you from the outside world, to keep you all to myself – which is the only way to be sure you will never see terror like our country saw last night in Las Vegas?

But then, I remember the wonder that lives in your eyes.

You both carry such courage and such hope in your bright faces. You long to learn and grow. You have an openness to the world.

My job as your mom is to foster that courage. Because you, my dears, will be the change I wish to see in the world.

I promise you I will do my part as you are growing up.

I will vote for smart gun laws and I will pray for peace that passes all understanding. I will teach you to be leaders and bridgebuilders.

I will cling tightly to the good in the world, and I will make sure you have eyes to see it too.

On a night like tonight, as our community grieves the violence and terror we saw in Las Vegas, you remind me to help. You remind me to advocate for change.

I wish I could take away the threats of the world. I wish I could stop these horrible events from happening. But even though I can’t wipe away this sorrow and tragedy, being your mom reminds me that I’m obligated to do something.

So tomorrow, we will all get up and go to work and to school.

We will all show kindness to our neighbors and compassion to those who are different than us.

We will show patience and understanding when conflict arises, and we will offer forgiveness and gentleness in the midst of frustration.

This is how we shine a light when the darkness comes. This is what we can do in our own little neighborhood. This is how we stop fear from winning.

Tomorrow, we begin again. One step at a time, one spark of goodness in the world that needs it so desperately.

May it begin with us,

Love, Mom

 

 

 

Possessed by Possessions

As I prepared for this week’s Lenten cleanse, I felt the familiar clinching in my chest as I began to choose items to purge. What if I want to use that again? What if I regret getting rid of this? What if I need this some day?

I hesitated at the initial thought of getting rid of household items- and yet research tells us that less stuff actually brings more joy.

I began to look at statistics on American clutter this weekend, and I realized we all seem to hesitate or struggle to purge. I read a compelling article on becomingminimalist.com by Joshua Becker- who provided some astonishing facts about the issue of consumerism in the U.S..  

I learned that the average American home contains 300,000 items (LA Times) and the average size of our homes has tripled in the past 50 years (NPR).

Even with our larger homes, 1 out of 10 of us rent a storage unit for our stuff (New York Times Magazine). In fact, there are over 50,000 storage facilities in the US- five times the number of Starbucks.

We rent storage units because we’ve already filled our homes, and our garages- 25% of us cannot fit cars in our garages due to our stuff and an additional 32% of us can only put one car in our two car garage because of our belongings (U.S. Department of Energy).

In America, we seem to be completely possessed by our possessions. We are only 12% of the global population and yet we use over 60% of the world’s resources. We are pushed into these practices by our culture too.

Did you know that Shopping malls outnumber high schools and 93% of teenage girls rank shopping as their favorite pastime (Affluenza)?

Joshua Becker pointed out that statistics show women will spend more than 8 years of their lives shopping (The Daily Mail).

After learning these facts about our culture, I had new eyes to look in my cupboards and closets. I boxed up underused items over the weekend. I realized, clearing out my shelves allows me to live and love my everyday life, instead of longing for what was or what might be.

Goodbye to the margarita glasses- instead of keeping a set of six stemmed cocktail vessels that I haven’t used since graduate school- I boxed them up- so that my shelves have plenty of room for sippy cups and lunch boxes in the next few years.

Farewell to the party supplies and excess platters I imagined I might use for some elaborate grown up party with the friends I might meet in the next few years- instead, I need enough room to welcome the Christmas plates my children will decorate at school.

This week, I boxed up and hauled out the housewares that represented what might be or what once was- so that I can embrace this beautiful chapter of kid tea parties, close friends over- whispering in our living room after baby bed time, and the simplicity of our life just as it is- not as it might be in the future.  

Goodbye: boxes and bags #17-22. Already, I sense the relief of letting go, and the peace that can come with gestures of simplification.

boxes.jpeg

Confessions of an Allergy Mom

Del Monte

Tonight, I’m headed to a Chili Cook-off at my church.

My secret recipe has been simmering in the crockpot all day. This year, I aim to win the taste contest. I’ve been secretly campaigning all month- whispering to church members “mine will be the black bean chili in the black crockpot”.

But I will head to this youth group fundraiser alone tonight. My son and husband will stay behind- not because I don’t want them there- in fact- I will miss their precious votes for my chili- but because even a chili cook-offs pose a threat to our little guy.

We recently learned that Del Monte canned tomatoes contain sesame oil. A small ingredient meant to enhance the taste of these tomatoes- and yet- those few drops of oil could send my son to the E.R.

Even if he only tried my chili at the event tonight- a small kiss from a loving church member with sesame oil on their breath would swell his face and possibly affect his breathing. Or, an embrace from someone using essential oils or face cream that contains sesame oil (a very common, hidden ingredient in many beauty products) could cover his body in welts.

This is the new normal for our household. Before venturing out to potlucks or parties- we have to ask the question: will someone use Del Monte tomatoes? Or bring hummus? Or will there be bread from a bakery that might have cross contamination with sesame seeds? Even Campbell’s chicken noodle soup has added sesame to their ingredients this fall.

Tonight, Felix won’t miss the chili cook-off. Instead, he and his dad will make loops around the kitchen- racing shopping carts and Tonka trucks. They will stack all of his blocks as high as possible- just so Felix can crash them down.

But tonight makes me think of the many Friday evenings ahead- when Felix will be invited to social gatherings or fun events- and we will have to consider the risks, the potential exposures, and we may have to curb his enthusiasm in favor of his protection.

This is the reality for allergy families. Tonight, my heart breaks a little bit- because I can already imagine the day I will have to explain to Felix that the BBQ may not be safe because of sesame seed buns, or the friend’s birthday party won’t work because they are going out to Asian food… or that he cannot participate in the chili taste tests because someone may have used Del Monte tomatoes…

I am grateful that Felix is a healthy, energized, vibrant boy. I have no doubt he will savor every ounce of life ahead of him. I believe that a world without sesame is still a fun and exciting world.

And yet, a part of me will always worry about his allergy. I will always flinch as he continues to explore the world- hoping he is safe, hoping he never has an anaphylactic reaction again… these are the confessions of an allergy mom….

 

40 Bags- A Lenten Practice

 

lent-bags

Today, Lent begins.

We are putting away our Alleluias and our bright colors. We are welcoming in more quiet, more reflection, and more piety. For the next six weeks, we are all invited to lean in to our faith, to pray more, to fast, to give up practices or habits that hold us back from experiencing God.

I always enjoy giving something up for Lent. I look forward to the opportunity of letting go and setting limits. Over the years, I’ve given up make-up, alcohol, dessert, or meat. Other years, I’ve added in a practice of blogging each day, or taking quiet time each morning, or reading before bed for all 40 days.

This year, a friend of mine suggested a ’40 bags’ Lenten practice. Participants are urged to fill up a bag of things from their home to get rid of for each day of Lent. It’s a way to make room in our homes, to de-clutter, and to think deeply about what we really need.

As our family prepares to welcome a new member in July, we are all focused on making room in our home. So, this year, I am taking on the 40 bag challenge.

Today, I filled my bags for this first short week of Lent. With each bag, I wanted to make sure that I was not only emptying space in my own home, but that I could imagine these bags blessing others.

This week:

Day 1: a bag of magazines.

I plan to bring this bag to our pediatric dermatology office. The bag is full of Harvard, Bucknell, and Divinity School publications- as well as a year’s worth of Marie Claire’s. As I put together the bag of magazines that I never have time to read in this busy life, I remembered the many hours I spent sitting in the waiting room of our dermatologist and allergist’s offices. I would have loved a sweet distraction, a scholarly article, or a light editorial about women’s fashion. My mind was so full of worry for our son that I would have paid big money for something to read besides my Facebook feed. I hope these magazines will be a blessing to other families who have to wait for a diagnosis or a treatment plan.

Day 2: a bag of toys and books

This is a bag of duplicate toys and books from our son’s extensive collection. He has so many wonderful people in his life, that we found ourselves with several copies of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you See”, at least 3 shape sorting toys, and several variations of toys on wheels. Our boy has been gifted everything he could ever need and more. So this bag of toys and books will be donated to a shelter that can use these toys and books to bless other kids.

Day 3: a bag of vases

We have received some beautiful flowers over the years. At our wedding, the birth of our baby, a special anniversary- and more. But the truth is, we only use one vase at a time. So I put together a bag of our extra vases to donate to my church- so that our weekly altar flowers can be divided and delivered to our homebound members or those in the hospital with ease. I love imagining these vessels that carried such joy into our home bringing joy to others.

Day 4: a bag of food

Over the holidays, we hosted our families. We stocked our pantry with a variety of food to appeal to the different tastes and preferences of our 8 out of town guests. But the holidays have come and gone, and our pantry contained food that we do not need- at least, not as much as those who use the Zion food pantry for their weekly staples. So the final bag for this week is filled with pastas, soups, jams, and other treats that will hopefully help a family eat well this week.

I believe this will be a fulfilling and gratifying practice during Lent. And there is still time- would anyone else like to join me on this journey?

Whatever your Lenten season looks like, my prayers are with you in the days and weeks ahead.

A Story for the Day After: A Letter to My Son

little-blue-truck

Dearest Felix,

You are the joy of our lives. You are the reason I hope for peace and justice in the world.

You are the reason I long for a country that values unity without requiring uniformity.

You are the reason I will fight for a culture where every child grows up believing they have inherent worth no matter how they worship, who they love, or what they look like.

I am writing to you on November 9, 2016. The election is over. But I do not want to write to you about the election. I cannot talk about it anymore. I cannot lose hours at home looking at the news or the Facebook rants or the political commentaries anymore.

Instead, I want to hold you tightly on that big white chair in the corner of your room. I want to read one of your favorite board books and watch you turn the pages.

Tonight, for the 200th time, let’s read The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle.

We’ll practice the beautifully diverse chorus of animal voices together: “the sheep said ‘baa’, the cow said ‘moo’, ‘oink’ said the piggy, and ‘beep!’ said Blue.”

We’ll turn the pages in suspense to the moment when the big Dump Truck comes along- interrupting that diverse chorus of voices, slinging mud, and getting stuck.

But we’ll turn the page again, because that’s not the end of the story.

Together, we’ll remember that the Dump cried for help from the mud, and at first ‘nobody heard, or nobody cared.” The duck, the cow and the toad were still feeling bitter, burned, and bulldozed.

Together, we’ll turn yet another page- because it’s still not the end of the story.

We’ll read about how eventually everyone got in line to help, to make a way when there was no way. We’ll read to the end: when love wins and kindness overwhelms the Dump.

We love this story because even in the midst of mud bullies- the Little Blue Truck reminds us that we are all in this together. Even after Dump hurts those he passes on the streets and insults those who are smaller than him or different than him- we see that kindness and unity triumph.

We learn again that even small voices who speak differently and look differently and have experienced mud in their faces can take the high road and work together for the good.

We’ll read this story together tonight, my love. Because I don’t want to talk about the election.

Instead, I want to talk about the importance of you being a voice for good. I want to talk about you being an agent for change. I want to talk about you being a team player, a helper, a Blue Truck. I want to talk about you valuing the diverse voices you will hear in your life, the many different folks you will encounter on your path- and I want you to remember how to work with them and for them.

Sometimes, that means you are called to work with Dump so that none of us are stuck in the mud, and that is good work to do, my child.

I believe in you and the hopeful world you will help create. Even when Dumps come along- remember that we all belong to one another. We all deserve love-even those who bully or bulldoze. We all will eventually need to work together if any of us are going to get out of the mud.

Love,

Mama

 

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

 

 

 

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