Archive | May, 2012

Pokey Goes To Heaven

16 May

A friend called me yesterday sobbing, letting me know that she was going to have to put her dog down in the evening. I had been out of town teaching for three weeks so I was unaware that Pokey’s health had taken a turn. I was touched that she called to let me know how she was doing and also so that I could say my final regards to Pokey.

I have known Deb and Pokey for ten years. We initially met at work but then wound up living in the same neighborhood as well so Deb, Pokey and I have been on many walks.

As I sat on the floor with Deb and Pokey yesterday, another neighbor came by with her dog to pay their respects. I recognized the neighbor and knew that she had lost a dog, Rocky awhile back. “I’ve spoken with a pet psychic and apparently Rocky is going to come down and guide Pokey to heaven,” she started saying to us. “Show him the ropes. Teach him where all the good dog parks and biscuits are.” Then she spoke directly to Pokey, “And the other dogs from our neighborhood who have moved on are all waiting for you, Pokey. They will be your welcoming committee.” A tear rolled down my eye as this woman rattled on. “Did he get ice cream and extra biscuits?” she asked Deb. Deb nodded in agreement. I hadn’t thought of that.

I stared down at Pokey. Despite searing arthritis that made it now impossible to walk she still tried to jump up and greet me when I entered the room. And despite dementia that apparently had been giving her panic attacks at night, she stared up at Deb and I with such love and happiness simply to be in our company. Oh, how loyal dogs can be. “She has taught me so much,” Deb said tearfully.

As Pokey was escorted by Rocky and the angels last night I couldn’t help but marvel at how interconnected we all are. And I again felt blessed to live in a neighborhood where people really are neighbors and care for one another. And yes, I do live in Southern California believe it or not.

Are You My Mother?

13 May

Once when feeling sad about not being a mother, a friend of mine very candidly said, “Look. Anyone can f—. Biological parents need to get over themselves and quit being so self-righteous. The real aspect of being a parent goes way beyond making a baby. And a number of people contribute to the raising of a child. Adopted parents, step-parents, foster parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, teachers, neighbors, social workers.”

So just who is a mother? The question reminds me of that children’s book, “Are You My Mother?” where if memory serves me, a little bird asks just about anything and everything if it is his or her mother, including crane machinery.

When I think about who has most mothered me in my life, my mother’s image does not immediately come to mind. Instead there are a list of women (and even men for that matter) who have truly seen me, nurtured me and provided me with tools for adulthood. And I am eternally gratefully to them for stepping into the shoes of “mother” when my own mother could not be available.

Nonetheless, on Mother’s Day it is my own biological mother who most comes to mind. The woman who carried me for nine months in her womb and who every day, for eighteen years fed me, clothed me and called herself my mother lingers in my heart. If “love is in the cooking and the washing and the milking,” then there is something highly unique embedded in motherhood. Mothers do take the crown. To their children, they are royalty. For this reason, four years after my mother’s suicide her memory is most prominent, although the pain of her death lessens a little with time. Today I will not be going anywhere to celebrate “mom’s special day” other than church, but I thought it fitting to buy flowers anyway.

As I fell asleep last night thinking of my mother, I found it touching that this morning I awoke to Rumi’s little paws on my chest and Hafiz’s body curled in-between my feet, and I realized that on this Mother’s Day, I too am honored. While they can’t bring me breakfast in bed on a tray, their purring is thanks enough.

In the spirit of Mother’s Day, I think it’s vital that we all care for and nurture something – an animal, a child, our friends and family. In a nutshell, it is important that we nurture each other.


6 May

They say animals imprint themselves upon their owners as if we were their parents. This creates a special bond that is similar to the human infant bonding with his or her mother and father. Evidence of this imprinting reveals itself when your cat sitter tells you that the babies are missing their mommy and won’t snuggle up with him even though when I am at home my cats are glued to every part of my anatomy – stomach, lap, breasts, head – you name it. They find a place to cuddle into me. They are imprinted.

Human lovers also imprint upon one another. We learn each other’s scents, nooks and crevices and claim them not only as our own but as home. In an ideal world we would do this only once in our lives and within the context of marriage where spiritual and physical union combine two into one in a covenant as sacred as that between the Lord and his people. However, many of us miss the mark. We may unite prematurely and without the sacramental elements of marriage or we may marry and then divorce. Yet even when these occur, imprinting still transpires as does a spiritual union contained within the physical.

But just what does happens where there is separation? Or divorce? When our human flaws sever relationships and/or we realize we did not enter into things with our eyes wide open and as a result we exit? What happens when the curse of the fall seeps into the Garden of Eden tainting everything with a sense of numbness, anger, fear or sorrow or that somehow a mistake was made along the way?

I’ve always heard people who are divorced share how excruciatingly painful the process is even when separation is still preferred and even when a relationship has become abusive or toxic. They are faced with the terrible task of unraveling a shared history, child rearing, finances and household. They also have to reconcile how a sacrament became unholy and unclean. If two became one how does the flesh divide without tearing? This is a pain I’ve never experienced because I’ve never married but I know the endings of relationships are rough regardless, particularly when they rupture. Whether the love spanned many years or a brief moment in time, we still imprint. And even when we don’t exchange marital vows, bonds still form. The severance leaves one walking around like we have a phantom limb.

Like my cats, I don’t imprint easily. It will be some time before I snuggle up again next to something human. However, I have learned that something else imprints on us that is bigger than any human or animal relationship and that is Christ’s love for us. He is the one who saves and redeems us from our falls. He is the one who restores the kingdom and brings a little bit of Eden back into our hearts. He is also the one who returns our memories of love when we were Adam and Eve – shameless, naked and trusting in our safe haven.

Genesis 3 is complex – a text often misunderstood yet when we eat from the Tree of Knowledge, we do indeed fall, inheriting a resolved sadness. “But at the cross, He beckons me. Leading me, gently to my knees.” He is the one I have married and although I break his heart over and over again, he is always there for me. His is the love that ultimately endures for an eternity. And that is Good News.

On the Road

4 May

There is an odd sense of energy and fatigue that comes with traveling across the country to connect with others around a common cause. In my case, I teach a course called Mental Health First Aid and certify people to teach the course which is another layer of learning process for folks. MHFA is a 12 hour seminar that originated in Australia and piloted in the United States in 2008. Its objectives are to educate community members and various professionals to recognize and respond to signs and symptoms of a developing mental health problem or crisis and to assist an individual until appropriate professional help is available. We cover five content areas: depression, anxiety, psychosis, substance use and eating disorders and introduce an 5 step action plan that individuals can implement. More than that, we work to combat stigma and misperceptions about mental illness.

Having had a mother who took her own life and spent time in jail for felony DUIs and a father who suffered from drug addiction, I have a vested interest in the topic. And as a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked in the field for the last 16 years, I have a professional stake in the course as well. But more than anything, I love the sense of relief and healing I witness as others go through the course and become more empowered to assist those they know and care about in their lives. We have school teachers, counselors, police officers, senators, pastors, HR professionals and concerned citizens come through our course all with a sense of being part of a now international movement to break through the silence and shame that often envelops those suffering.

And then there are the funny little things of being on the road such as the various nuances of hotels, airports, rental cars and restaurants. The joys of friendships made and cities visited. Let’s take this show on the road to a town near you!