~ T ~
~ T ~
(Continued from previous blog. And final dog episode)…
The first dog to enter Kaiser’s oversized personal bubble was a giant, well filled out, tan and black German Shepherd. He had the straight back and full body and a general look of authority and confidence. Kaiser is lean and slanted with a bit of a wolfe-like face and mane area. Especially when his hair flares in aggression. And it did.
This shocked me.
Kaiser lived with seven or eight other dogs at camp, I was told, and did well. He went to obedience training and spent time with other dogs. He did well there too, I was told. So when he bristled at the sight of one old, unconcerned Shepherd, and looked like he was ready to slaughter him for lunch, I gulped. And I certainly didn’t know what to do besides pull back while he tugged forward, barking viciously .
The gentleman with the other Shepherd looked as unconcerned as his dog, and moved forward, even as I apologized for my dog’s behavior, which was drowned out by the raucous. At length the world was quiet, and before I could say a thing, the gentleman spoke.
“You have a pretty vicious dog there?”
I explained that I had owned him for all of under three hours, and still had quite a drive ahead, and I really didn’t know he was vicious. “When you look at him, does his face look vicious?” I asked him, because I couldn’t see my dog’s face with him pulling ahead of me like that, and besides, he owned a Shepherd. He was far more likely to know.
“Yes, he looks quite vicious, really,” he said.
“I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into,” I said. “No one mentioned any of this to me. I wasn’t expecting it.” I apologized again, this time without the racket, and said I would take him to another corner and figure it out.
But the gentleman encouraged me to stay. “Give them a chance. My old guy here can handle him. He’ll calm him down.” So, instead of moving further apart, we moved closer together. Nervously I watched as Kaiser barked and threatened, teeth bared, his bark carrying for miles around. And then he calmed again. We moved closer, letting both dogs move until they were face to face, and that is when I witnessed a most miraculous thing. Kaiser bristled a bit and barked loudly again. The older Shepherd returned a gentle authoritative bark, and kept walking. He walked right past Kaiser’s face, brushing gently against him–at which point the usual dog greeting ensued, which I shall not describe–and then the old fellow walked around to the other side and brushed right up against Kaiser again, ever so gently again. The barking stopped instantly, and Kaiser had a new friend. It gave me a shred of hope that I had not purchased a dog that would maul anyone and anything that approached me.
The other Shepherd went and stood at his master’s side. Kaiser came and stood ever so slightly in front of me.
“Look at that! You have yourself a protector. He’s already bonded with you and will defend you,” the man said.
I wasn’t sure if that was comforting or terrifying, after what I had seen, and with picturing a family and neighbourhood of children back home, but at least there was a bond. It was a starting point. We chatted a while before we each walked our separate ways. That’s when other dogs came. Not one. Not two. But dogs. Plural, way too many, walking around. I wasn’t ready to drive with Kaiser, and I wasn’t ready to deal with his aggression. I opted for the latter and kept walking, trying to keep him focused away from the other dogs, but he was on high alert, and it started all over again. The gentleman and his Shepherd walked our way, the old shepherd walking between Kaiser and the other dogs, and again Kaiser settled down, only distracted momentarily, to bark, when a new dog came too near.
We returned to the car, after about an hour of play, and a drink–his drink, not mine, because I knew I had hours of driving with no break–and headed for home. He nuzzled close to my hand when I reached back each time he showed signs of distress, and calmed right back down.
About an hour from home I noted my gas tank was running low, and stopped at the last rest stop to get gas and rid Kaiser of more energy. I pulled up to the gas bar, opened the door and Kaiser again dove recklessly at me. And at that moment I stopped being his comforter and I became his master. I pushed him back into his seat with great determination, much like a kid trying to force a heavy spring loaded jack-in-the-box into its container, and closed the lid. I mean, the door. I waited a moment and tried again to open the door and get gas. Again he tried to bolt. So I belted myself in and drove across the parking lot. And that’s when he figured out I don’t like his behavior. I talked to him like I would to any toddler in a tantrum, and knew he didn’t understand a word of it, but I felt better. And I was certain he understood my displeasure, because he whimpered and barked a quiet, sad little bark and then settled down when I told him, “No! You can’t behave that way and there is no way you’re getting out. You will learn to sit quietly and wait.” And he sat back in his seat in resignation.
We sat there for what must seem like ‘forever’ in dog minutes, especially a young one like him. And then I spoke to him before I opened the door. I explained that he needed to wait, and I would help him out on my terms. Amazingly, it went sort of okay. I wasn’t as ‘in charge’ as I wanted to be, but more than earlier, and that was progress. And all progress is good progress. This is what I tell myself daily right now.
We played for a good twenty minutes, after which I pulled back to the gas bar. I told Kaiser he would stay in the car, and I would get out without him, and commanded him to ‘Sit’. He sat. I held up my hand and said, “Wait”. And he waited. He watched me closely as I moved out of the car and filled up, but he waited politely.
I had opened the window a few inches and spoke before going in to pay–because of course the ‘pay at the pump’ wasn’t working. He sat there, all proper, and watched me. “Wait’ in Kaiser’s world means I will return soon, and you may move around while you wait.” He practiced in the next few minutes.
The guy in front of me was on a mini-winning streak, buying lottery tickets and spending the money faster than he was making it. He used his winnings and added from his pocket, before finally wrapping it up, whether due to boredom from not winning, or out of change. Either way, he shuffled along and I paid for my gas.
In the car Kaiser sat as properly as an Emperor should, in a fur coat and four legs, and waited, eyes on me with every move. I sat in with no lunging. He rose to his feet, kissed my shoulders generously, as if to thank me for coming back, and then settled down again.
The final stretch home was completely uneventful, until that moment when we pulled in the lane. Incorporating a German Shepherd dog with fear issues, into a family of seven humans and one other canine, is a very different challenge entirely.
It has been almost a month now, since getting Kaiser, and he has overcome most anxieties in the day to day. Nighttime anxieties still come and go, and, speaking of coming and going, that’s still not his favourite thing, to have changes to the household ‘pack’. So our last big hurdle is to have all of us leave him several hours a week, when the children return to school and I begin university next week.
Aside from this he has made himself at home enough to sneak into Tim’s chair, wear Bryan’s hat, and allow our 10-yr-old cockapoo, Akira, to visit his ‘house’. Keeping in mind that she despised him and would have had him for a snack if she wasn’t a quarter of his size, so some of that ‘allowing’ is her growth.
His favourite thing in the world is playing ball, of any sort but in particular soccer. And especially with Kordan, which has been a very good thing, drawing the youngest teen off the couch to play. I read that German Shepherds do their best to draw a family together, and that is accurate. His self-appointed job–because he is bred to be a working dog–is to engage the whole family in play. Everything from keep away, to high jump, to hide and seek, and whatever entertainment we can conjure up, he’s in. When playing ball we count down, “Three, two… play ball”, so that when Kordan randomly counts, he studies him closely, appearing confused as to why there’s no ball to play.
All around, I am glad I made that trip to Montreal four weeks ago, and glad that we acquired a dog of his intelligence, obedience and affection. He is a guard dog, however, so if you plan on ‘popping by’, call first and don’t walk into the house uninvited, or without an ‘inspection’ from the Emperor himself.
And now, having adjusted to life with a dog like Kaiser, and before I become the crazy dog lady if it’s not already too l, I will move on to a new chapter of life. Where the road will lead, after my next two years of being invested in intense study, doing the University of Waterloo Master Peace and Conflict Studies, I am not certain. Still, I am glad I made that decision to move in a new direction even though I do not love the uncertainty of dramatic change. That said, I am confident it will be good and a step forward… it always has been in the past.
~ T ~
It came out of the blue, the big German Shepherd dog sitting on my lap. And while driving at 120 km an hour down the 401, on my way home from Montreal. Well, almost out of the blue.
For the first few hours, things went well after we left the doggy camp, where Kaiser had stayed for some time, because his master had developed an illness. Without any fuss he left both camp leader and previous master without a fuss. He laid down, just like his master said he would, and went to sleep. Up to two hours or a bit more, she figured, he would be good before needing a break. And right she was. I made one stop within the first hour to fuel up and get a Timmies coffee and snack while Kaiser sat quietly in the car, windows down, and waited until I returned, then promptly settled back to sleep. We had passed the two hour mark, with no place to pull over, when he started pacing.
For two peaceful hours he had settled quickly whenever I reached my one hand back, rested it on the seat–which he had understandably slobbered on in his nervous state, panting furiously–and always laid his head up against it. His breathing calmed each time, and his panting slowed, and then he went to sleep. Ever so carefully I pulled my hand forward each time, and ‘Voila!’…
On an occasion or two, maybe even three, when I made this transition, I allowed my car to drift ever so slightly to the right shoulder, over the ribbed pavement. And we all know what happens then. That loud startling racket. Now imagine it for a nervous sleeping dog. After the momentary startle, each time, he settled nicely again.
What started it at that particular moment, I don’t recall. Was it leftover nervousness from that startling sound a bit earlier, or did I bring my hand forward and drift slightly again, hitting the ribs at just that moment? Whatever it was, the shock of a giant dog attempting to lunge into the front seat, wiped my memory of whatever preceded that moment. He stood in the seat, pacing as much as a dog can pace with a seatbelt on. I recall that much. His panting escalated. He whined and whimpered. In my rear view mirror I watched as he looked out the back, then side windows, then up at me, eyes wild, and then repeated the cycle pacing. It all happened in a matter of seconds… much faster than I can tell it.
We had just passed the sign: 2 km’s to the next rest stop, and I was relieved to see it, wondering how long before he would need a stop desperately. When he suddenly grew frantic, I reached my hand back again to comfort and calm, but that wasn’t going to cut it. Not this time. Sweet talking and charming him was off the table. I tried food. Rejected.
And that’s when he lunged. I felt it. Saw it. And I reacted as quickly, blocking the small space between seats with my shoulder and elbow, so that he rammed into me, full force. He pulled back and dove with such determination I didn’t know what hit me. I thought his seatbelt was designed to prevent what happened next. But it didn’t. His rump planted itself firmly on my lap, his head still facing back, where the seatbelt held him. And then he jerked his face forward, throwing his bulk to the front. All of it. Leaving his head draped over my stick shift. Whimpering and panting and half wailing. and gagging ever so slightly from the choke collar he wore.
Fortunately, I still had control of the steering wheel, and did the only thing I could do. I popped in the clutch and coasted, then pulled over, hitting those darn ribbed spots, before coming to a stop.
By this time Kaiser was borderline hyperventilating. With sheer force of will, I shoved him back to the back seat so I could get him out. He then lurched forward against my seat as I reached for the door, and wouldn’t back off for anything. The flow of traffic was steady and I knew if I opened the door–which I attempted–he would lunge again, and, I feared, break the belt and make a run for it. Then I would be left to find a spot for a gorgeous corpse. I swung the door shut, and tried to talk to him. He panicked all the more.
Finally traffic moved to the far side, and I held him back while I unbelted him, and led him to the grass. We paced there for about 15 minutes. I told him to go pee, but he just paced and looked at me with those wild eye.
In that moment I was sure I had picked up a possessed creature, the way he was. He never did go pee, even though it had been a long while since I had stopped earlier to give him a drink. I sweet talked him into the back seat, belted him on as short a leash as possible, and drove the 2 kilometers to the rest stop.
I’ve never been more relieved to see a rest area. And I don’t mean that ‘relieved’ in the way I usually would. No, that wasn’t going to happen. My bladder would be just fine the whole way home.
Reasoning with him was pointless, so I didn’t bother. I only made sure I had his leash, firmly in my hand, and let him make a run for it. He dragged me around the grassy area like I was his pet, for the first few minutes. And then I took charge. Well, mostly.
It went well for a while, but he was bored and I knew he needed to get rid of some energy. So I grabbed a ball and tossed it, careful not to go beyond the reach of the leash, so that he wouldn’t break away, or yank my shoulder or some such thing. This went well. Until that moment when I forgot that I used to be a baseball pitcher with a good arm, and I threw the ball way too hard.
I saw it coming before it happened, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I had to roll with it. Almost literally. I was in crocs, flopping around in the grass, not in running shoes like I used to wear for sports and still wear for long walks. And I’m almost 47 now. Not 14, 17 or 23. Also, I don’t run anymore. I still walk briskly, if I’m so inclined, but since surviving a massive heart attack in 2006, running pushes up my heart rate higher than it’s supposed to go. So I don’t run. Usually.
But that all changes in a moment like that, when you throw the ball and you have a leash firmly in your grip, wrapped about your hand a few times. Especially if the force at the other end of that leash is a muscular German Shepherd with anxiety and brutal pent up energy. In a moment like that you run again. Fast. And clumsy. Dragging those flip flops awkwardly and wishing to goodness they would fly off. But they don’t. No. They flap about carelessly and try to trip you, and you find yourself running and lurching forward most awkwardly, bent over in what should really end in a nose dive. But you are stubborn and fight back. You keep that leash firmly in your grip, and schlop along behind him, because this dog you just met… well… only God knows what he is capable of or what he will do if he is on the loose in the middle of God’s green earth with no one at the other end of the leash… so you run awhile at that angle, feeling more like ninety than forty-seven. And you don’t even have it in you to pray, because you’re focusing so hard on holding the animal back and staying on your feet. Until finally you surrender, let that leash fly and gradually bring yourself to an upright position. If he perishes, he perishes, you tell yourself. Which is almost biblical. And you’re no Esther willing to go down for the cause.
You stand there a brief moment, relieved to have landed upright, and, then, promptly bend over laughing so hard you cry. And being who you are, you look around to make sure you didn’t have an audience. But it’s a public rest stop and there are people here and there. Quickly you realize you are not alone; there are several bikers dying laughing with you. So you take it all in stride, and you wave, because what else can you do? And then you grab your dog, who now has the ball and is ready for another round.
In mere moments you become much older and wiser, and you set your forty-seven year old bottom firmly on the grass, like a tree well rooted, grab that leash yet more firmly, and throw the ball. Ever so gently. Because there is no way you will have that happen again.
No more have you started to play, when the other dogs start coming. And it’s almost like every dog traveling the 401 have timers set, to stop right then, and traumatize an already troubled, overgrown puppy.
…to be continued.
~ T ~
The thought occurred to me tonight, just randomly, how nice it must be to slip out to mass and confess sins and then feel better. Really. Like I had this funny longing just to go, sit on the other side of the wall of the priest, and start talking. And I don’t even have a long list of big unconfessed sins or anything. I try to keep my sins on a short leash, and confess them quickly. Because left unattended, they fester and grow and do more and more damage.
And God is nice about all that. His grace is there, on the other side, ready to wash over us. And His forgiveness is poured out long before we ask. It flowed without reserve from the heavens, when Jesus hung on the cross, washing over every sin ever committed. And the wrath of God, against sin–not mankind, was satisfied that day, just over 2000 years ago. After talking to God I feel much better, to be sure, but there are times when the body is weary and the mind exhausted when a voice on the other side of that confession, in human form, would be so reassuring.
Imagine the following when you go to confess:
The Penitent begins: Bless me, for I have sinned.
That first line, “Bless me for I have sinned…” Honestly, doesn’t it about melt your heart into deep repentance, right about there? I’d be far more likely to request a good thrashing so that I get what I feel I deserve, than to ask for a blessing. And maybe that’s what I learned in childhood–at home and at church–that I deserve. Good harsh discipline.
But not at confessional. No. There, having asked for a blessing, listen to the words the priest offers, “The Lord be on your heart and on your lips…” Such beauty! The Lord on my heart and lips, influencing me to speak truth and confess sins, not hide them.
Granted, if I showed up stoned a hundred times asking for the same blessing, and heard the same words, and confessed redundant sin, I might not be so deeply moved, but really those words are filled with life and hope. It’s not a gentle reminder of getting kicked out of church for doing the bad stuff, or a breathing of God’s judgment for it, but a gentle prayer and blessing that truth will be spoken in that confession, because the Lord is on your heart and lips.
I know, I know. It’s all ritualistic and how can there even be heart and meaning in it? But it sure as goodness beats getting clobbered over the head for sinning. And it sure would be nice to hear that reassuring voice on the other side of that prayer, offering counsel, direction and comfort. Audibly. (Lest someone is going to message and say, “But God does…” I know that too. But He is so very quiet about it. And sometimes I wouldn’t mind if He would just say it out loud, you know?)
But this whole thing started with one thought. I wonder if people who go to confessional are less depressed? And that led me to doing a Google search: Church with lowest depression rate. Which led me to reading an article in LaTimes called, Church Attendance linked with reduced suicide risk, especially for Catholics, Study says. And that kind of impressed me, to find the risk decreases like that.
There’s something to be said for generous grace and liberal blessings. And while I have no proof that this is what makes that difference, it did intrigue me. But it’s that voice on the other side of the confessional, talking back out loud, that is my first reason why I secretly wish I was Catholic. Well, not so secretly anymore. Only thing is that I’d have to be an out of the box one, because I will never fit inside a box again. Ever. In my life. I blew the sides out of that concept and, well, just couldn’t do it again.
The second reason is because their sex crimes are exposed. There’s not this big general delusion that the Catholic church is spotless and these crimes don’t exist, the child sexual abuse. It’s been plastered hither and yon (until it drew a big yawn from bored audiences) so that only the particularly naive and willfully ignorant would believe such a thing again. That exposure, in my opinion and understanding, is the first step to ending such violence. When leaders are exposed, held accountable and charged for covering up, there is greater safety in church.
But I’d be a lousy Catholic, and I’m not so naive as to believe their problems are solved, so I’ll let that idea go. Unless they recruit me as a priestess for victims. Then I might reconsider. (And with what I’m about to tell you, it is entirely possible that the events of this comedy video would be my fate, if I went Catholic and had a pet.)
So I didn’t join the Catholic church to preserve my mental and physical health. Yet. But I did get a Purebred German Shepherd dog given to me, and they are known to be good therapy dogs. (Currently I’m still determining if they offer therapy, or simply force their masters to find it.) He is stunning. He is brilliant beyond words. And he engages me as much as only one other animal ever has, if not more so; my first cat.
Boots. Almost anyone who hears the name could give a fairly accurate description: Mostly black with white boots and a white patch on the face and belly. All cats named Boots look like that. There’s girl Boots and boy Boots. It makes no difference about gender, when a cat looks like that. Boots is the only appropriate name.
Boots was a beautiful creature, sold to me for $1 of my dad’s money after much begging and pleading, when I was 9 years old, and only soon before we moved to the Mennonite community in the Clinton/Bayfield area. I loved Boots and waited a long while for her to get pregnant and produce offspring. She never did. More accurately, he never did. Eventually I learned how to investigate his gender and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t meant to be. Besides, I loved him so much that it didn’t matter a bit. He greeted me in the morning before school, and sat on my lap, licking my chin over and over again.
And then one cold day Boots crawled in the back of mom’s dryer to warm up. Mom, who always had more laundry than time, popped in a load and my beloved Boots had his back broken in three places. He was a limp rag, from what my sister told me, legs dangling carelessly. “Do you want to come shoot him?” she asked, “Or would you rather have someone else do it?”
I shuddered. No, I didn’t want to do it or be there. They could do what needed doing. I shivered at the thought, but resigned my heart to it. This is life. And I never cried even one tear. I willed my heart to move on and never again did I open it up for another animal. We’ve had cats, and I’ve liked them. We’ve had dogs, and I’ve liked them too. But I never loved another animal the way I loved Boots, with a sense of belonging and ownership.
That is, until eleven days ago when I met Kaiser, our new German Shepherd. I set my heart on having him, after I learned bits of his story, and even more so when I saw his face. Kaiser (German for Emperor) won my heart in the first five minutes of meeting. On a walk with his former master and doggy camp owner, he walked with me and obeyed my commands, looking me in the eye and not even attempting after a minute or two, to return to them.
I had already signed the contract before I met him; he would be mine at no cost, as long as he is still with us in two years, and if not he would cost us. A dog with his pedigree papers, chipped and professionally trained. I couldn’t believe it! But they had handed me the leash, given me a bag of toys, doggy dishes and told me his favourite things to do. He was mine. I commanded Kaiser into the back seat of my car, and strapped him in with his doggy seatbelt. (Who knew they exist?) And with that we set off, leaving the beautiful city of Montreal behind, and driving for seven hours together, to our home. It never occurred to me to muzzle him, a German Shepherd away from anything ‘home’ and familiar. Sure, someone suggested it, but this was about trust. When he whimpered, I slipped my hand to the back seat, let him lay down and nuzzle it, and immediately he would settle and sleep. It was magic
I knew I was in for an adventure of a lifetime when, about two hours in , while flying down the 401 at 120, I found myself suddenly comforting a giant German Shepherd, his butt parked firmly on my lap, his head covering my stick shift as he experienced an all out panic attack. I had never read about panic attacks or anxiety in dogs. I didn’t know they exist. Until that moment. We were two kilometers from an On Route rest stop, but there was no way to drive there safely, so I pulled over, traffic whizzing by, and tried to get a berserk dog out safely, to go pee or whatever the heck he thought he needed.
Only then, pacing back and forth on the far side of the rail, the dog running back and forth like he was going mental, and therefore me running back and forth at his will like I, too, was going mental… only then did I wonder if someone might have done me a huge favour to give me a generous smack upside the head, lock me in a room and talk some sense into me. And in that moment no one could have convinced me how much good this dog would bring into my world, combined with more challenge than I had any clue about…
And two kilometers down the road, at the rest stop, with five more hours of driving, I would see a side of this gorgeous animal that would make my stomach tighten in fear, and bring out more mental resolve and determination than I knew I had in me.
But the bigger story is another story, for another day… with a whole lot more background to share. Right now I have a massive dog to feed his supper and play awhile so he sleeps tonight. (Update before posting: It’s a rainy day and he’s lazier than he’s been since he arrived, lying here and snoozing.)
~ T ~
It is the middle of summer, or at least the middle of warm weather, if not summer exactly, here in Ontario and apart from the extreme dryness, it has been a beautiful summer! Roses are loaded with blooms! One bush I counted to 74 buds before concluding it has ‘a lot’, and the actual number doesn’t really matter. And the Limelight hydrangeas are about to bloom, as the delphiniums slowly die off from their first splash of colour.
Seasons are filled with wonder, and then they pass, each bringing in a new season with new wonder. And in each there are things we can long for or miss in another season, while fully embracing the one we’re in. At least I find myself doing that. I look at the evergreen, while sitting barefoot on my front porch sipping a glass of ice tea or some other summer love, and imagine it in winter with sparkling lights. But even as I imagine it, in that moment it is summer I am in love with the warmth.
Til winter rolls around, however, I’m happy to wear boots and a coat, with no desire to sit on my front porch, quenching summer’s thirst. And I certainly don’t sit there in bare feet.
Life experience isn’t that different. When changing of seasons is necessary, whether we like it or not, we are wise to adjust to the new season. And, figuratively speaking, I may have sat in the snow, barefoot, for a while already.
It has been six years now, since working closely with trauma victims, listening to broken stories, encouraging victims, trying to keep healthy boundaries in place–which can be easier said than done, for some. And they’ve been the best six years of my life, on so many levels. They have also been the hardest in other ways.
One of the things I encourage in clients is healthy boundaries, both in personal experience and in respecting the boundaries others set, which can be a difficult thing to learn when boundaries have been seriously violated, and we’ve been taught to give and sacrifice until we drop or burnout. But it’s critical to take steps that are in the best interest of personal well-being and family before such a thing happens. In the past two weeks, after trying to make adjustments and find other ways to ‘make it work’, it quickly became evident that the changes I was trying to make would bring more stress than relief and my lessons on boundaries needed a close look and personal application. So, after seeking counsel from several individuals, including my doctor who is a rather amazing woman, I knew it was time to take my own advice, and that of everyone I consulted. In the uncertainty of what is best right now, I saw these words, “Do the next right thing” and the words stuck. If I am to be healthy for my family, for university and to continue advocating for victims, I must do ‘the next right thing’. And that next right thing is to take a step back from working with trauma clients for the time being and focus on family, writing and then to University of Waterloo in September.
I have heard other individuals talk about needing to leave trauma support, due to secondary trauma, and am thankful that in this area God has given me resilience, rarely experiencing it. Admittedly, the area(s) I have struggled are in dealing with blatant manipulations, as well as when boundaries are ignored and violated, so that our world is invaded as a family and couple, or when focusing on personal commitments. Manipulation can only be faced as it happens with clients, and boundaries set to bring about healthier habits. And fortunately there is much good information out there, about healthy boundaries, how to set them, and when to ‘draw a line in the sand’ if they are violated. And on this front I have been blessed beyond words, having had very few problems with boundaries being violated. For this I am most grateful, and thank God, so that I can look back at six years of client relationships and see predominantly positive relationships, and wouldn’t hesitate to return to one-on-one sessions, when school is less intense for having had the most amazing opportunities to walk with victims and see healing come.
So, while I am making changes, I’m not ‘going’ anywhere, and will continue to blog occasionally, and focus more on doing public speaking engagements as far as Generations Unleashed goes, though more one-off engagements in various environments to create awareness, versus church-focused conferences. And, God-willing, I will be able to follow through with travel plans for this summer, where I’ve made commitments. And though I am making myself available to several past clients, and welcome requests from other past clients, to meet from time to time, I will not currently be taking on new clients, or working in intense and high-trauma cases. And it is unlikely that I will consider taking on any full time clients during the first four months of University, starting this September, as I will have 5 courses and must maintain 75% average or higher in each one, to be accepted into the 16-month Master program in January.
These changes leave me with a summer calendar that has nothing but ‘family, friends, and writing’ booked besides travel. While this feels odd and a bit sad in a way, it also feels right and necessary, especially as I focus more on finishing several writing projects and prepare for school.
I am thankful for these six years, and the many people I’ve had the honour of knowing in places of pain and journeys of healing, and only time will tell if this is ‘the end of an era’ or whether God will lead me again to this. While I sense it is ‘an end’, I also try to hold these things in an open hand, and not control every step and outcome, so that God can open the door again in the future if He needs me.
And I imagine I will sit on my front porch at times, figuratively speaking, sandals on my feet, and sipping a summer drink, imagining lights on the tree, all covered in snow. And I will long for it. But I will rest in knowing that ‘doing the next right thing’ will take me where I am destined to be, to accomplish a purpose higher than my own.
~ T ~
NOTE: Due to so many of my clients finding me through my blog, or word of mouth, I an sharing these changes here. (Clients have already been notified, in person or via message, of any changes.)
It was Sunday evening when the text came in asking me to listen to some ‘Father/daughter’ dance songs for the wedding. In the seven months of wedding prep, I’ve been shockingly composed. In fact, I was starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with me because I’ve not been all weepy about seeing our first daughter get married. I feel good about it, actually, having observed them these past few years, and how they accept each other, idiosyncrasies and all. And, yes, they do have some. We all do. I’ve observed how Andrew cares for Alicia, and that detail stands out above all things. So maybe it’s okay that tears haven’t been a big part of this journey. Still, I was a bit worried it would hit out of the blue on wedding day.
And then the text came in. A list would be on the way shortly, which I didn’t realize, so I searched the web. I should have expected it, but I didn’t. I found “Daddy’s Angel” and the emotions started. The memories…
Alicia used to come into our room and make a bed on the floor beside daddy when she couldn’t sleep at night and I had other babies, and with five in seven years plus to miscarriages, it was pretty much always. She would show up at our bedroom door, or beside our bed, blanket and pillow often already in hand. Daddy would reach his hand over the bed and hold her hand until she fell asleep, and her little heart would be at rest. As she grew to independent adulthood, through successes and struggles, Tim loves the little girl who made him a daddy for the first time.
It all took me back to the healing of my heart as I watched him, first with her, then with Nicole. An independent soul from the day she was born, and he patiently worked with her persistence and determination. That’s not said she didn’t win her fair share. In fact, one day she announced to her siblings, when she was six or seven that praying to God we have to be kind of like with Daddy, and keep coming back over and over again, until He gets tired of it and gives us what we want. While her theology wasn’t 100% accurate, she spoke with sincerity, celebrating her own determination. And she should. God made her with that determination for His purposes. And always Tim loved her, as generously as he loved his first.
And then came Bryan with a curiosity that led to a thousand and one answers to the question”Why?” and a whole new kind of rambunctious. An opposite to his daddy, with my spunk and crazy, he challenged and stretched his daddy in the rough and tumble of life. Rough-housing, which had never been something I saw in Tim, wasn’t optional. Granted, it tested his patience at times, but seeing them wrestle and roll, was delightful. It ended several years ago with Bryan sitting on Tim’s chest, having finally overthrown him, and having tested that patience to a whole new level, Tim looked up at Bryan, clearly at his son’s mercy, with arms pinned beside his head, and sternly said, “Have you had enough?!” And we all erupted in fits of laughter, regretting only that there was no video camera. In it all, with oreo cookies flying against the fridge like a hockey puck, and a soccer ball shattering the one and only expensive candelabra in our home, and the teasing and laughter, Tim loved Bryan well.
Todd, the fourth son, came with a quiet temperament, and eventually we would discover an incredibly busy mind. A youngster of few words, big deep eyes, and unspoken curiosity, he gave us both a run for our money on more occasions than one. Whether daring to explore a big department store alone, the instant we turned the other way, and scaring the life out of us, or hiding in the back of our friend’s van at four because he so badly wanted to go along with them, or curling up behind a chair and falling asleep, he kept us on our toes. Through the scares, the laughter and a whole lot of affection, Tim loved his fourth with the same dedication as the first three.
And about the time when we thought we were done, and ready to solidify our family of six with surgery, it happened, that thing I said I would not do. It all began when we dated, and discussed our hopes for having a family one day. Tim said four was a good number, and I wanted six. But, if not six, then four would have to do. Tim suggested a compromise, that maybe we could have five, but I had a list of reasons why five wouldn’t be a good choice, not the least of which would be the loneliness of being the odd number out.
It was almost three years after our first four–all of which were less than two years apart–and my feeling about odd numbers wouldn’t have been any different than during courtship, if I had contemplated a ‘plan’. Fortunately for us, God had a plan that superseded my logic.
Kordan was, from the start, a content and affectionate child. Physical touch, from day one, comforted him, but on his terms. One adult finger, held in tight grip, offered him the security he needed to relax and falling asleep. He was fortunate to be the fifth, and three years on behind the others, because practice and experience, not to mention age, relax us parents, so he faired well. The bumps and scrapes were fewer and farther in between, and life was a bit easier for him than for the others. And through it all, Tim loved Kordan as much as he loved the first four.
“Daddy’s Angel” plays in the background and my heart is full of thoughts from yesteryear. Memories of a handsome young man fathering so tenderly our five children, wrap around my heart and squeeze so tight that teardrops spill from it. Thoughts of yesterday, working side by side with that same man, attaching barn board, twinkly lights, burlap and lace to wedding things, creep in, and I am as crazy in love with him today as I was back then.
I told a friend about the song… about the tears and how it took me off guard to cry like that. “And it brings back memories of your own father too,” she said. And that’s when I realized those painful old memories of an abusive father, though long replaced by forgiveness and grace, were now officially replaced with memories of a kind man loving is children well. The man I married 22 years and five months ago this week.
This father’s day I honour Tim above all men I’ve ever known. And I’ve known some pretty amazing men in my lifetime. But not one holds a candle to the kindness of my husband. Sure, he’s imperfect, and I could point out some idiosyncrasies. But the one thing Tim taught me over the years, by his example, is to focus on the good and the strengths, and loving well. Thank you, Tim, and Happy Father’s Day! You’re the best!
And because of my own broken childhood, and not having a daddy to run to with safety and confidence, I can’t go through this day without thinking of those whose daddies are missing, for whatever reason. Tim can be many things in my life, but he can’t be my daddy. Watching him parent can warm my heart, but I’ve learned that I have to let my Heavenly Papa fill that one place that only a Papa can fill. This comfort is my prayer for all lonely children
For the fathers with empty arms, having lost children to death, miscarriage or due to infertility, and those whose children have turned their hearts away without just cause, I pray for you, that God will be near and that people will be compassionate and sensitive to your loss and loneliness.
My prayer is that if you are lonely and hurting this father’s day, whether you are a father, a son or a daughter, you will find Him faithful and feel His love in your loneliness. And if your heart is full and everything is perfect, that you will feel blessed and celebrate that joy this Father’s Day.
In memory of my father who has been gone fifteen years now, I’m listening to ‘The Living Years‘ by Mike & the Mechanics. It’s pretty much a tradition now, to think of Dad on this day and listen to that song… among others. There are things I would say, if I knew what I know now and had a day with him. I would keep the same boundaries, and I would still hug him and tell him I love him, in spite of all the abuse. It’s how I’m wired, a part of who I am, to be able to do that. Not everyone has to make themselves do these things. But if I had that one day, I’d tell him how much it hurt, and I’d ask more questions about his story, not to excuse what he did, but to have a better understanding. And I’d take him out for a day to some outdoor event with old machinery. But he’s gone, and what I have is the memory of God’s grace in his life and in mine. And that’s enough in a fallen world, where things are not as they should be. It will all be different on the other side of this life.
And, finally, a very special Father’s Day blessing to Tim, who is preparing his heart to watch his first little girl walk into the arms of another man, this Friday, for the rest of her life. Alicia will give up her father’s last name, and take on Andrew’s name to become Mrs. Martin. And there’s a thing about this whole process that tugs at a Daddy’s heart. It is a good thing–we know from experience–but the adjustment is worthy of mention, even while we bless her. Praying, Tim, that God will be near you this week and always. Thank you for loving your children well, and teaching me what a father should be. xoxo
~ T ~
It’s a funny thing how a daughter’s wedding becomes a life-focus for a time. Since their engagement, November 1, 2016, my subconscious has been busy planning, dreaming, experimenting and scheming, in an effort to make her and her fiancée’s dreams come true. Rustic and beautiful, burlap and lace, twinkling lights, old jars and doors and windows, tree stumps and slabs, and barn board. And food. Of course! A menu planned by our almost-son-in-law and approved by his bride-to-be…and blessed by the mothers. Those are the main ingredients for their day, from a planning perspective.
The past six years of my life have predominantly revolved around heavy, painful and intense ministry, inviting Jesus into the messy of people’s lives, and writing about it. And it has been a very good thing. It also has been heavy enough to squash some of my creative side. A thing this wedding has re-awakened. The more I plan and dream, the more the creative juices flow, and I find myself enjoying the therapy of projects, little and big. as I run them by our daughter for approval and bring to life the ideas in my head, matching them to their dreams.
From mini jars of jam for favours, to sewing cushions without patterns–because I can’t follow patterns anyway, if only because I don’t want to when I can make it up as I go along–to hammering wood together, cutting burlap, and various other little details, I’m enjoying the process. I forgot how therapeutic manual labour and brainstorming can be, and how freeing. I continue to meet with clients and offer support, though I’ve scaled back considerably on the number of sessions I do in a week, but all my spare time is invested in various projects.
So many creativities that once were part of my life, long dormant, and now one life-changing event has awakened them and I’ve not had more fun in years! Weekend after weekend, Tim and I have spent time at Mom and Dad Metzger’s place, and weekend after weekend, Dad, Tim and I have measured, sawed, and swung hammers, bringing to life these dreams and ideas that will give birth to the wedding of Alicia’s and Andrew’s dreams.
It’s been fun, spending that time with his parents, and teaming up for projects. At 79, Dad Metzger is still impressively active, and a brilliant man, pitching in with the building projects and throwing in suggestions. I realize again how blessed we are by their support and engagement in our lives.
And Tim, as always, remains my hero. And a saint, the way he walks with me, and partners together to unscramble all the crazy ideas in my head, improving upon them as we go along. He’s organized and wise, and patiently listens to my scrambled thoughts–which are all neatly organized in a perfect picture inside my head until I try to tell him what I see–and helps me create that picture. And of course we sneak in moments of hugs and kisses, all covered in sawdust and straw… because barn board has to be collected from a barn… and taking time to remember how crazy we are about each other is vital in the busyness.
And in the middle of all this, with busy things happening, God has offered unexpected little surprises and blessings. We needed a dance floor, because the wedding is outdoors and unlike King David, we have no street for dancing, only grass, so I started to dream up this idea of building one instead of renting one. Mostly because the children didn’t rent one and I was worried about just using the grass, or the risks involved with laying down plywood. So I searched Kijiji and in a matter of a few days the items we needed appeared, saving a bundle on the dance floor. But the best part of all was the night we took our daughter to Hamilton and stopped to look some flooring. There wasn’t as much as advertised, and therefore not enough for our project. We contemplated matching it because the price was decent, but I felt unsettled and in the end Tim said we should listen to my gut feeling. We started for home and I spent the drive on Kijiji, and that’s when it happened….
An ad popped up at just that moment, offering 300 square feet of flooring for free, set at the end of a lane. We detoured from our beaten path and there it was; gorgeous laminate. Lots of it and in excellent shape, like new.
Other little blessings have been sprinkled throughout each day, and every part of this planning phase, right along with the challenges. I’ve concluded that permits and bylaws are an unnecessary evil that must necessarily be lived by once you find out they exist. Still, you wish you had no idea when it all comes down. Putting up a tent for one day of celebration causes great stress when the rules come into play, when a township is religious about the laws, unlike other townships all around. But we got through it, and Rae Ann was nothing short of kind, in spite of the temporary migraine the stress of it all induced. And I step back and thank God that this really has been the biggest stress and drama we’ve encountered, because I’ve heard nightmare stories about wedding planning. I don’t think I could do all that, and stay sane while trying to pull it together.
I thank God for being part of everything in my life. He is gentle and tender, always present, in everything I am and do. It is humbling, really, to think about that. God, the Creator of the Universe, the One who made the heavens and the earth, chooses to dwell with us… with me. He enters into my journey, every step of the way. I talk to Him about the flowers I planted for the wedding, even though for some unknown reason they are scraggly and struggling to get rooted. A few have died. And every day I send a little plea to the heavens, asking God for a miracle, to make them do well, like past flowers have. And every day they look scraggly, and I realize that I’m still chattering to Him about how much it would mean to me if they did well for that one day. And if they don’t do what they should, we’ll say they have that ‘rustic’ look, which is the theme anyway, and all will be well. And God will still be good.
All in all, we are 7 days in from one of the biggest events of our lives (are we really old enough for this?!) and as the climax builds, I have moments where I catch my breath with all that needs to be done. There are moments of mild anxiety. But each moment I tell myself that it’s not about the details, it’s about two young people who love each other and are starting out like Tim and I did 22 and a half years ago. And I pray that they will be as blessed as we are, and even beyond, in their love for each other and in all things. I pray that she will always adore him, and he will always protect and cherish her, even when they are frustrated, hurt or confused, and when hard life hits. I pray that they will know God together and individually, and sense always His affection for them. Because He has carried Tim and me through loss, trauma and hard times we never imagined that January day at the altar. And He has, undoubtedly, smiled and laughed as we bumbled along doing life as we do it. Above all, He has walked with us and blessed us. For this we are thankful, and that is my prayer for our two young lovers.
And now off to one more week of burlap, lace, barnboard, food-making, and pulling together those final details.
….What in the world will I do when this is over?
~ T ~
Holidays and special days are a funny thing. We run around saying the ‘right’ words for the occasion without much thought for the other person, unless we know them well. Cheerfully we greet women with a ‘Happy Mother’s Day’, if they have children, at church, at the grocery store, or just about anywhere we see them.
I think about this every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. But, with today being Mother’s Day, I will focus on Mothers. Some of us are blessed with good relationships with our mothers or children, some of us struggle through broken or dysfunctional ones, some have been completely abandoned and rejected, and some are a blend. How does a chipper ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ greeting even begin to honour every mother?
In this stage of life I feel blessed to have a communicating relationship with my mother. For years it was virtually non-existent. And the scars and aftermath of the first fifteen years of my life–the years before I left home–remain, but have healed over and now remind me of God’s grace. What was lost then has not been fully restored, but God has redeemed it in my life. And I am blessed with five children who will be home for brunch today, and a mother-in-law whom I’ve grown to love deeply over the years, who will also be here later. These years are blessed and Happy Mother’s Day fits. It is, just that. Not perfect, but happy. And ‘blessed’, by the way, means happy or filled with joy.
It isn’t that because I have been a perfect mom. Not one of us is. Though it can seem like some are, and it’s easy to look around and start comparing with a friend who is ‘the perfect mom’, or judge ourselves or our mothers harshly for failures. But not of us are perfect, and we never will be. We vow to be better than the generation before us, and in our zeal we ‘perfect’ one area, while missing another, and we still fall short of becoming that perfect mother we want to become. Still, we are blessed if we have children, and have a relationship at all.
Today is Mother’s Day. And there are women–many who are my friends or family–who woke up this morning with deep dread and pain, because today is not their day. They have prayed and wept, like Hannah of the Bible, for an infant to be conceived in their womb, but the prayers seem to have a rubber coating, as they bounce off ceilings and echo from wall to wall. Disregarded. Ignored. Forgotten. That is how it feels to the ‘mother at heart’ who sits in the rocking chair of her early dreams, with empty arms. No child to hold. No grandchildren to dream of. This pain is real and it runs deep.
So this Mother’s Day I challenge myself and others to be mindful of those in places of grief. Don’t stop celebrating what is right and good and beautiful; wish mom’s a Happy Mother’s Day or some other blessing. But take a moment to say a word of encouragement to the mom whose child has passed away, or whose children won’t acknowledge her today, or the one whose children are but a dream in her heart. Bless the one who fosters or ‘adopts’–legally or emotionally–the abandoned children and gives them a place in her heart.
Today is a beautiful day. It is a sunny, warm Mother’s Day here in Ontario, and it couldn’t be more gorgeous! I pray that the One who made this day, and who gave us the honour of birthing children and raising them, will meet you, every one in your personal inner struggle or celebration, and lift you up, encourage and bless you. For those trying to conceive, I pray that God will grant you the desires of your heart, and fill your arms with a child. It is a good and beautiful thing, and a God-given desire. To those who are lonely and abandoned–whether mothers, or children longing for their mothers–I pray that God will fill your hearts with His love and grace. To those who have lost their mothers, and to those mothers who have laid their children to rest, I pray God will comfort you in your tears and sorrow.
Today is a beautiful day. It is sunny and warm, and couldn’t be more gorgeous. But even beautiful days welcome tears, grief and sorrow, in the midst of laughter all around you, when that is where your heart is. Whether it is a day of laughter or tears, or a blend of the two, I wish you God’s blessing! You are valued, you are loved!
~ T ~
“Don’t you ever struggle any more?” the young woman asked after our conference, looking deep into my eyes as if searching for the secret, hidden in the ‘windows to my soul’.
“I’m human. Of course I do,” I said, smiling. “But I’ve accepted that as part of life, and part of being healed.”
“I wish you had talked about that….”
Here’s the reality: the past has lost its grip, but the power of memories like that will always be part of my life. It is inevitable. There will be triggers. I hear certain screams and my blood runs cold. The unexpected popping balloon will make my heart race; it’s too close to a gun shot. And angry distant yelling takes me to a time and place, where a child’s heart falls silent with fear. These are my realities.
What has changed, however, is the impact of that power. Where once it was altogether negative and debilitating, it has now become a force for good, for right and for purpose. Even in the hard times. Even when occasional flashbacks blindside me.
The hard times used to knock me down for weeks, if not months. Now they are moments in which I turn quickly from my pain to reach for the hand and heart of God. They used to knock me down and out; now they present a challenge, an invitation to something greater, something more whole, more enduring, more fulfilling. When my chest grows tight with the anxiety of PSTD–something I fought against daily for years, and now experience mostly in new situations or relationships–I celebrate that I am growing, learning and stretching. Oh it’s still frightening at moments, but I’ve seen it often enough that I recognize it’s all part of moving forward, even though it hurts. Much like stretching a tight muscle, or discovering muscles you didn’t even know you had.
Mostly I guess I’ve stopped struggling against the impact of the abuse by accepting that I walk with a limp, while refusing to stay stuck in negative patterns. It’s somewhat like the cancer patient who loses the ability to walk during treatment, and ends up in a wheelchair. When the cancer goes into remission the individual can sometimes learn to walk again, but could as easily resign him or herself to being confined to wheelchair. To learn to walk again requires effort, determination and resilience. It is a choice. Some try and learn to walk again. Some try and remain in a wheelchair. Some never put in the effort.
And right about there the analogy falls apart because cancer and abuse are two very different things. But the reality is that our investment, as individuals who have overcome abuse, makes a tremendous difference. And even if we learn to walk again, and walk with strength, there likely will be things that trip us up more easily for the rest of our lives. This doesn’t mean we are not ‘healed’ and whole. It means we are healed with scars. And scars tell stories, and stories connect hearts.
Stories… Yes, they connect hearts. And as ours heal, and we become comfortable with them, scars and all, something rather beautiful takes place; the focus shifts from our pain and need, to focusing more on others and hearing their stories.
I thought of that yesterday when I walked into a store and started connecting with a young cashier, a beautiful young woman from Egypt. It all started with looking for pearl earrings to replace my ‘go to’ pair; one of which I lost recently. I don’t wear a lot of jewelery partly because I don’t care for the feeling, and partly because of metal allergies making it so that I mostly only wear gold, titanium, or stirling silver, with the latter being most common for day to day. I shared this with the young woman so she could point me in the right direction, and so it began. From allergies we moved to health, to research, to psychology, to dreams and whatever path women’s minds choose to take things. If one can call the spaghetti trail a ‘path’ at all.
She told me she is going back to school in the fall, having dropped out of studies that had not held her interest; she hoped this would be different. Being old enough to be her mother, I playfully told her I too was returning to school, which. We exchanged areas of interest, and our reasons for choosing our particular field of studies. And she told me how her mother had become a doctor in Egypt, only to have to go through it all over again to be a doctor in Canada. It was a compelling story of courage, determination and resilience and she told it with a blend of admiration and disappointment which I only understood when she said it made her sad that her mother had to work so hard, put out so much money, only to not be fully appreciated. “People think doctors make a lot of money and are super rich, but they’re not.” She went on to say how General Practitioners only make around $70,000 after years of financial investment and time spent. There was no resentment, just an honest opinion.
Jessica intrigued me. She was helpful, curious, and an engaging communicator and connector, yet somewhat reserved. She shared quite transparently her disengagement from past dreams and the direction she had wanted to take her life and studies, while persisting in her search, even while knowing that her first love would always be art.
“When you find that thing for which you are created, you will be engaged; it will be different,” I said. I applauded her for investing herself and doing well in the opportunities she had, even if they were not her dream, and encouraged her to not give up on her passion and interest. I was about to tell her about setting up an Etsy shop for her art, when she told me she had set up an account recently, but nothing was happening on it yet. And that’s when I decided I would tell a bit of her story and our little encounter…
(If you love to colour, and also enjoying supporting young people, check out her Etsy shop HERE. Jessica has drawn the colouring pages available, and I know it would mean a lot if you took a moment to visit her shop and consider making a purchase. And, no, she has no idea I’m doing this. But I do hope when I drop in to say ‘hi’ next time, that she will excitedly tell me her art has started to sell.)
The real connecting started when we shared our stories. Both of us have encountered disappointment and challenges in our lives. Both of us, though decades apart in age, are learning to push past roadblocks, fighting for our dreams, and overcoming obstacles.
And that is why I no longer struggle with being an abuse victim. Though rarely, the aftermath at times causes me to struggle, that is true, but it is the thing that opens doors to relationships in ways I would never have imagined, allowing me to inspire others, and others to inspire me. And that makes it all worthwhile.
Make friends with your past. Embrace your story. Embrace your scars. And, inevitably, it will connect you with the stories, the scars and the hearts of people around you.
~ T ~