I'm sure we all have lost someone we love along the road. Some of you have had a terrible time for the past couple of years. If you're three years old, your parents shield you from having to face death. But once you grow up all bets are off. Death is part of life. We all respond differently to having come face to face. Recently we lost our dear dog, Chet. He was 12 years old when we put him to sleep. For Chet it was the most merciful thing we could do for him. He had suffered enough and was ready to be released.
There is no formula for expressing our grief and nobody has a right to think less about us if we don't shake it off right away. I found that Friday was the worst day for me. We brought him to the vet and had him put down in the morning, with my husband, the vet and her assistant and me petting him and telling him that he was a good dog. I'm reminded of another very unpleasant passing of another beloved pet, who was not ready to leave and fought till the end. I remember begging him to let go and to go on that we'd be okay. It was only then that he passed. It was both heart wrenching and terrible. None of that happened with Chet. He passed so peacefully that there was no doubt in anyone's mind that he had been more than ready. It was an act of mercy on our part to facilitate his passing and it was a privilege as dog owners.
The suffering came after but for the first time since we had to put down our dog Billy long, long ago, it didn't come with guilt. I expected to be full of regrets and anger and doubts that I had done the right thing. I wasn't. I knew. What helped a lot, and I didn't realize this until later, was that my amazing husband prayed for our loyal animal, thanking God for the life we had been entrusted with and thanking Him for the time we had. It was just me, Chet, and Tom, sitting in the car, dreading to go inside the vet's office to end a life. As I'm writing this, the tears start to flow again, but not out of guilt but out of remembrance and grief.
That afternoon I left my family, now that's something I feel guilty about, to go to a women's retreat. I just didn't have it in me to carry their sadness and to deal with their mourning. I was so tired – kind of like being in a fog – and so worn out that I didn't want to hear how they couldn't handle his passing. We had been preparing ourselves for this moment for a few weeks so it wasn't anything sudden. But I couldn't be there for anyone. I was struggling with my own sadness, my own feeling of unworthiness, my terrible fear of not measuring up, my knowledge that I wasn't where God wanted me. I had been struggling with these feelings, and more that are just too numerous to name, for a while.
And you might say, but Anne, you talk about conquering these things. Well, they tend to sneak back in when your eyes are turned away and your mind and heart is not connected to the One!
I found myself in that position. The last year had been a difficult one for me, personally. My wonderful husband has been ill and there was nothing I could do to help him with. It left me, since we already know it's all about me! feeling helpless and useless. I couldn't even cook for him! Ya know! And when I did cook for him it would often make him feel worse. Come on! I know my cooking isn't fist class, but still... Toward the end of the year there was a huge rush to get 2 books out in relative quick succession. Talk about mounting up stress onto my own shoulders! And there's always the question in my mind, why am I not on the New York best seller's list yet? If this is God's will, what's up, Doc? But the hardest thoughts and feelings facing me was that I wasn't where God wanted me. I had wandered off the reservation, so to speak, and was lost.
So I went to this retreat expecting to hear from my Lord and be rebuked in a huge, slap on the hand, go stand in the corner kind of way. I was sitting at the McDonalds in Brattleboro, VT, waiting for my friend to arrive so we could meet for dinner (not there, of course, but I needed to use the wifi) when I found out that my sister-in-law wasn't attending this year. Okay. My jaw kind of dropped and I remember thinking, I don't want to go! You see, the retreat is with her church in CT, and I have gone for 5 years but still... It's awkward. I may have friends among the women, but... give me a break. I can fake being outgoing and happy all day long, but knowing that she wouldn't have my back... It was an uncomfortable feeling. Plus I knew I'd need a shoulder to cry on because God was going to let me have it.
And I wasn't really looking forward to it. I needed compassion. A loving word. A pat on the shoulder.
I'm laughing because wouldn't you know... That's exactly what I received. I was restored to the Lord in a gentle, kind, loving, and grace filled manner only He could give. Me, being me, is still waiting for the other shoe to drop but in my heart I know that the Lord and I are square.
And here's the beauty. Not because of what I did! Oh sure, I tucked my tail between my legs and put on my smiley face and pretended to be happy. But all that kind of got stripped away as the weekend sped along. Our speaker was amazing and she was talking about... Refreshing the soul. Duh. I should have known it was something I needed to hear.
Now that the weekend is over, I still have that feeling of God meeting me right where I needed Him to be. One thing that really struck me was the face to face time with the Lord. If I don't have that, how can I not become tired and weary, unable to fight against the forces that pull on my spirit. How can I ever presume to walk this road alone?
Jesus never said it was going to be an easy road. He warned us of the pitfalls and the fight we would face. But the strength to face those things do not come from me. They can't because I'm not strong enough. I'm not good enough. I'm not smart enough, and I'm certainly not righteous enough.
And yet I am. Not on on my own, though. He's the one leading me through the pits and rocky paths. If I wander off the course, He stands behind me and guides me back. Not with a rough yanking of the arm and a severe scolding. Because He knows my nature to cower. If He came at me with that attitude, I'd be long gone. He knows me and He knows how to gently restore my soul and give me rest.
As I drove home I feared the attacks of the enemy to hit me as soon as possible. I expected them to slam right into me and force me back into that cowering position. They haven't come. I have the arms of my Father in heaven around me, protecting me. I expect that there will be some backlash but God will be there to pick me up if I fall and scrape my knees.
The picture that comes to mind is my husband helping our kids to master riding the bike. Our daughter was a very late bloomer with that because it required fine motor skills she hadn't mastered yet. At the age of nine, she finally was able to get on the bike and ride it without help. And when she did, she was unstoppable. One time, we were on vacation at the Cape, she had a huge, massive wipe out! I'm talking blood dripping down her knee, screaming bloody murder. We were about 3 miles from home, all of us on our bikes, with the baby of the family on his seat, and there was nothing we could do. She begged and pleaded for my husband to help her and to push her. He looked so confused and, knowing him, was torn up inside. But he couldn't just drop his bike to help her and to push her. After cleaning the gushing wound as much as he could, he gently prodded her to get back onto the bike and complete the journey to the hotel. Once there, we cleaned and bandaged the wound properly. What's the moral of this story?
Sometimes we may feel like we've been left alone, but God is right there beside us, guiding us home so He could bandage our wound and clean us up.
I like that a lot!
If you came up to me and asked what I do, I'd have to tell you that I'm a wife, mother and teacher. A writer? you ask. Wow. Now that is something I never thought I'd be. But through God, all things are possible.