Toto

 

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Toto’s Puppy Picture

One of my goals of the year was to write more, and I had hoped to showcase some of that writing on my blogs. Here we are, one week in to 2017 and this is my first blog. I’ve been a bit quiet here because I’ve also been trying to process the passing of my sweet dog, Toto. I got Toto when he was just a puppy, and although he only lived for 8 years, we went through a lot together.

People (especially those who are not “dog people”) may say “He was just a dog.” or they may question “Why are you so emotional about this?” What these people don’t understand is that dogs teach us so much more about waking up at an early hour to be let out or how to how to be patient when it’s time for a bath that neither of you are looking forward to.

 

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So nosy!

Writing is my therapy, and I’ve been thinking about how I was going to write about Toto for a week now. I guess I’ll start simply by saying that I’m really going to miss him but I will never forget him. Coming home the first time knowing that he wouldn’t be there was incredibly hard. There was a time when I would need only to approach my front door and I would hear his bark followed by his little feet running towards the door and scratching as I inserted my key into the lock. Now it is much quieter. There was a time when he would stick his little face in the blinds by my sliding door to say hello to the people passing by. His little face won’t greet them anymore. When I cook, he won’t come running into the kitchen when he hears the knife hit the cutting board in hopes of getting lucky. I’ll miss my sous chef.

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Best sous chef ever!

 

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He loved Calling the Dawgs with me on game day!

In a roundabout way, Toto taught me about how to treat people and how I deserve to be treated.

  1. Toto always listened. Whenever I had a bad day at work or wanted to complain about something that was frustrating me, he listened. I doubt he understood everything (but I also doubt that he was completely ignorant) but he always listened.
  2. Toto didn’t hold grudges. There were many times I would get angry at him for snatching my shoes out of the closet, tearing up an important paper or not obeying commands. I’d yell at him and then regret it soon after. But that never kept him from cuddling up next to me when I sat on the couch. It was as if he was saying “I’m sorry, Mom…I know you yelled at me. I know I was wrong. But I’m not mad. I still love you.” If only people could do this. If only I could do this.

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    He was always on me about my word counts.

  3. Toto taught me the value of a routine. It helps to have certain habits that will get you through the day. He paid such close attention to my routine and tailored his to fit mine. Every night when I closed my laptop cover he knew it was time for bed and would run to the bedroom. If I deviated from this routine, he let out a whimper as if to tell me “Get back on track.” He also knew when it was mealtime. I would bring my food to the table and he would wait patiently for me to fill his food bowl. He knew the value of a routine.
  4. It’s hard for me to articulate everything he taught me in 8 years, but most importantly, Toto taught me about love. There’s a quote from the movie Marley and Me (which by the way is NOT a comedy) that I love when it comes to dogs:

    A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if your rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?

It reminds me that love isn’t about me. It’s about who receives that love. Toto did it right. It was never about him. Even when I would leave him with a sitter when I went on a trip or when I went to work, he was always there ready to greet me with a wagging tail. Even when I was working on something late at night, he was always there at my feet waiting on me even if he was ready to go to the room and call it a night.

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He was just starting to love walks by the river.

After he died, I was of course heartbroken. I was so ready to shut down and scream that the world was turning against me. I promised I’d never get another dog, that I’d never invest myself into anyone again, animal or person. I started to think of everyone who I’ve loved and lost, people who have passed, people who have moved away or silently walked out of my life. And I just wondered, “Why? Why do we even try loving when it’s so prone to heartbreak?” And I came across this quote from C.S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

The more I read those words, the more powerful I realize they are. I’ve held the position before that God can use anything to get closer to us. In this case, he used Toto to remind me that love is vulnerable. And it’s better to be vulnerable than to be locked up and impenetrable. Of course it doesn’t seem like it at the time, but there is hope that in the grand scheme of things, that it is better to be broken than to be irredeemable.

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Photo from The Barking Lot Groomers who always did a great job with Toto. No wonder he loved going there so much!

And so I take these lessons as I slowly adjust to life without my little guy. Over the next few days I’ll bring myself to discard what was left o his dog food, put away his collar and food dishes and find a place to donate his toys that we never opened. All the while, I’ll remember how he made me feel extraordinary and try to make someone feel that way, too.

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From Extraordinary to Beautiful

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Some of my regular readers may remember last year when I set goals for the new year. I was going over them with a friend a few weeks ago, and I laughed at them because out of the 12 I had set, I had only completely accomplished a couple of them. I could have easily been discouraged, but I wasn’t. Instead, I found myself in a position to re-evaluate them and see which ones were most important to me. As we approach a new year, I am excited about these new goals I’m setting for myself. Most are extensions of last year’s goals and others are completely new.

H20 Challenge-A friend of mine invited me to participate in a “H20 Challenge” as part of a new fitness program she’s gotten into. The challenge lasted for ten days and asked participants to take their weight in pounds, divide it in half and drink that many ounces of water. For example, if you weigh 100 pounds, you would drink 50 ounces of water each day. That said, I know that several health experts recommend eight 8 ounce glasses of water. That sounds great until you realize you barely pause to drink water during your daily routine. So, I accepted my friends challenge and toted a big water bottle with me to work every day. At first, I was struck at how little water I actually drink. But between bathroom trips, I started to realize how much better I felt after drinking more water. I figure it can’t hurt to continue this habit.

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Photo from Modern Day Mrs. Darcy blog.

Modern Day Mrs. Darcy Choose Your Own Reading Adventure-Last year I challenged myself to read only the books I already had. Not only that, but I also said I wouldn’t buy any new books until I finished all the books I already owned. I seriously failed at this. My problem is that so many interesting recommendations come up, and I have to read them! While I don’t always purchase them, I do spent a lot of time hunting them down in the library. I’m an avid reader, so I’m putting reading on my list of goals once again. I’m trying Ann Bogel’s Reading for Growth Challenge as outlined on her Modern Day Mrs. Darcy blog. I love the concept of finding a book with “an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending,” and as for a book that’s over 600 pages, I’m hoping to FINALLY tackle Haruki Murakami’s IQ84, which I bought on my Nook a while back. If you have any other suggestions that will help me complete this list, please shoot them my way!

Build an App-As someone who works with kids, I like to know what they’re up to, what interests them, what books they like, what movies they’re watching, what music they’re listening to. I even like to know what they’re learning in school, all for the sake of relating to them better. I recently found out that many middle school youth (and even younger kids) are learning computer programming! I was pretty impressed to see that kids even as young as 8 are learning how to code. That spurred me to log in to code.org and learn a little coding myself. From there, I made an account on Khan Academy and Flatiron School to teach myself how to code. From there, I want to build an app…I don’t know what it will be yet, but I know I want to do it!

Get my Website Up! This past year, it must have been sometime in the spring, I toyed around with getting a professional website up. While I’ve enjoyed blogging here on WordPress, my hope is to combine my two blogs and a few other sections into one website. I don’t have many ideas or details yet, but I’d love to direct people who enjoy my writing to just one virtual address!

Less Facebook, More Wattpad-One of the few20160618_214645-1 goals I actually met last year was finishing
writing a book. Spending more time with pen and paper made me realize how much I love writing. I have a few more projects underway, but there’s one that I really feel good about. Sunday Kind of Love has been coming together nicely. You may remember reading about one of my main characters Vivian, and it’s my hope that I will have a full draft by the end of the year. I’ve learned that something that hinders me in writing is wasting time on social media, so I’m striving to spend less time on Facebook and more time on Wattpad. If you want to follow my progress on Sunday Kind of Love, take a peek at my Wattpad! I’ll be posting excerpts there.

Declutter-This one is pretty self explanatory. I have a bag full of clothes to give away. I’m sure I can fill a few more bags of stuff I no longer need but that can be of use to someone else. It’s just a matter of doing it.

Accept Positive Relationships-People who know me well know that I’m an introvert, and people who know me really well know that sometimes I use that personality trait to back away from both good and bad relationships and interactions. I call it my defense mechanism, something I use to protect myself from getting hurt, but in the process I also miss out on opportunities for growth. My hope is that in 2017 that I’ll be able to make better assessments of people in my life and accept the ones that can build me up. It’s not so bad to admit that you need help from others, and it’s also not so bad to build trust with people who have proven themselves worthy.

Pray More-For Real-It’s not that I don’t make time for prayer. I do. But I feel like my prayer life is lacking in depth. I lose focus easily. I say that I go into Bible studies to “get fed,” but somehow I always tend to do the feeding. I hate the phrase “be intentional,” but I think that’s what I need to do when it comes to my prayer life now. I want to go deeper. I want to have more profound experiences. The phrase I keep getting is that “I want to drown in this.” I want to be completely enveloped in the love of God and know first and foremost that I am loved because I am His child.

Last year, the phrase that stuck with me throughout the year was “Be extraordinary.”  But for 2017, I have something else in mind: Make Something Beautiful. Extraordinary had its time. I learned a lot from aiming big. I wanted to be great. But now I’m seeing that there are things more important than me being great. I’d rather make things beautiful. Beautiful things don’t have to be small. In fact, I think beauty can be found in little things. I spent last year thinking that everything had to be extraordinary, but I didn’t always know how to make things extraordinary. But when it comes to beauty, it’s different. When it comes to making things beautiful, I don’t have to search for how to do it. I already know how.

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What Really Matters

too-many-people-spend-money-they-didnt-earn-on-things-they-dont-want-to-impress-people-they-dont-likeThis quote was in my mind earlier today, and it really got me thinking about how incredibly blessed I am.

The holiday season is upon us, and it’s so easy to get swept up in all the madness. I admit that I’m just as guilty as the next person. But this year I’ve noticed that while I’ve gotten some of my Christmas shopping done, the gifts aren’t what I’m most excited about. What I’m really looking forward to is a surprise to me. I’m looking forward to Christmas parties and being with family and friends.

That’s never been the case before. In fact, it’s been more of the opposite. Holiday gatherings, big and small have brought me so much anxiety. I’m no fan of white elephant parties, and ugly sweater parties make me self conscious. I don’t enjoy small talk with co-workers spouses, and I’m usually the girl checking her watch to see if I’ve spent an appropriate amount of time at a function so I can discreetly duck out.

Last night I went to bed feeling so fulfilled. I reviewed the past few days which were packed with generous friends who shared Thanksgiving meals with me, a meaningful walk through places I’ve never explored before, giggles and gasps at the movie theater, and prayer time that left me with a fulfilled heart and full stomach.

A friend of mine recently observed that I express love through giving gifts, and while I never thought of it as my love language, I realized he was right. I do like giving people tokens and watching their reactions as they open them. But as I look over the past few days, I realize that I have loved giving people the gift of my time.

On the contrary, I’ve seen people working day in and day out, bringing in lots of money, yes. But I wonder if their sacrifice of time with loved ones so they can burrow in their offices is really worth it. I’d take a modest job with modest pay any day if it means I can spend more time with people I care about.

I think it’s something I want to keep in mind over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas. Why am I in the office? Would I rather spend money or time? And most importantly, who is this season really about?

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Cold

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It held my heart in its two hands. I was careful. I was cautious. I moved slowly and stepped back when it got too close. I knew when to stay and when to walk away. I was careful with what I said and kept my mouth shut when I was supposed to.

I still remember how it attacked me like a thief in the night, when it wrapped its cold fingers around my throat and squeezed. It was supposed to silence me. It was supposed to kill me.

It thought it had me. But it didn’t.

It thought it could control me. It can’t.

It tried to stop my heart from beating. But it failed.

I survived.

This heart of mine beats stronger, more forcefully, more passionately. It may have been broken, but once I wrestled it from those icy, careless hands, it was built back up. It got stronger. Now it beats in my chest like never before; new and prepared to fuel me whenever my feet may lead me.

Lies are a tricky thing. They sneak up on you. They disguise themselves in the truth. Why else would we fall for them? That’s how they kill you.

The biggest lie I hear (and sometimes believe) nowadays is this notion that I’m not good enough…

-because I don’t fall into the tall, blond, thin I’m not beautiful

-because I’m not outgoing,  or exciting, that I’m not good at my job

-because I’m 34 and single, that I’m not “marriage material;” They’re all lies

-because I’m not a doctor or lawyer with a 6 figure salary, I’m not smart.

They’re all lies, but they’re all things I’ve believed at one point in my life. And it kills me slowly and in a most painful way. I’ve spent hours, days, and even weeks trying to fix them…finding the right shade of lipstick, perfecting that winged eyeliner, looking for ways to make more money or “faking it ’til I make it” so that my personality fits my peers better. Instead of getting better, it just gets worse because the web of lies becomes more and more complicated.

What I should have been doing instead was pursue the truth. They say the truth hurts. This may be true, but it doesn’t torture you. It doesn’t prolong the pain. It doesn’t kill you. The past few months have taught me something important:

It’s better to take action based on the truth than it is to wrap yourself in a comfortable blanket of lies. It may feel good at the time, but eventually it will get worse and worse until you can barely breathe. And so, I resolve myself to pursue the truth, knowing that in the long run, I will be free of the cold, strangling hands of lies.

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The Three Only Things

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What a long week it has been! On top of a busy work week packed with hosting retreats, meetings, kickoffs and classes, I also had the opportunity to help organize and attend the Rivers of Ink Writers Conference at my local library. I began attending meetings for the planning committee back in May and was happy to see the final product today.

During the open keynote this morning, Terry Persun referenced Robert Moss’ concept of The Three Only Things as it relates to writers. Terry Persun said that as writers, we must do the following:

  • Read. Don’t just read what you’re most passionate about. Read eclectically. Read fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose. When you’re reading, don’t just get the idea of the story. Check your pace. Where do you read quickly? Where do you slow down? Why?
  • Learn. Learn from everything you read, everything you see and everything you experience. Research. Take notes. No matter what, learn.
  • Love what you do. Realize that your life is important. Create the life that you want to live, according to your values.

These three “only things” certainly inspired me as a writer, but they also made me consider what my only things are in life as general. Later on when I was in another workshop from Liz Fountain who cited Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle I jotted down my “why.” And it came out in three things:

  • Love. First and foremost, for me this means loving God. Then it means loving others. And finally, it means loving myself. Simple as that. My first goal, my first purpose is to LOVE.
  • Create. Whether it’s with my writing, my projects at work, or relationships, I feel at home when I’m making something. There’s something about setting out to make something useful and/or meaningful.
  • Move. I may be an introvert who enjoys quiet and solitude. But I also believe that I’m not made to stay still. I have to move. I have to explore. And I don’t think that either of my first two “things” would happen if I didn’t move.

I went to this conference to learn about how to become a better writer, but I got so much more out of it. I got a new perspective on how to set goals that pertain to my beliefs and vocation. So it’s a goal of mine…when I’m going to do something, I want to ask, does this fall into one of my three things? Does it lead me to love, create or move?

I was surprised by how much I learned in this conference. Maybe it’s because I’ve never thought there was much to my writing that I didn’t already know. But this weekend showed me that there are ways to perfect my craft. Far from being overwhelming, it was fulfilling. I loved it. I’m ready to create. And I can’t wait to move.

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What if it were me?

13627155_10206200493401418_6822412705193164642_nImagine it’s Easter morning.

Imagine you and your family are getting ready to go to Sunday service for the biggest celebration of the year. You’re dressed in your best, and you are in solidarity with all other Christians throughout the world who are celebrating the Resurrection of Christ.

You sit down and turn on the TV to kill time as your family gets ready. You flip channels, and they’re all talking about the same thing. You hear about an attack on the Vatican. Imagine the shock, the confusion, the hurt. Imagine someone then saying it was done in the name of Christianity.

Now you may have an inkling of what it felt like to be a Muslim when their holy city of Medina was attacked during their holy month of Ramadan.

Now imagine you’re stopped by the police and you have to explain everything you do or are about to do. A child is in the car with you. She sees a gun aimed at your boyfriend. She sees blood. You feel obliged to tape everything so there’s proof of what happened. Can you understand what Philando Castile’s last moments were like?

Imagine you’re called into work to take care of an emergency. You get up and you do it. It’s your job after all. Imagine crowds of people giving you dirty looks because of the badge you wear. Imagine protecting them anyway. Imagine hearing shots. Imagine one of them hitting someone you’ve worked with for years. This was real life in Dallas yesterday.

Our problem isn’t just too many guns,too much racism and too much ignorance, although I do believe that those factors contributed to the crises of the past few days. It seems like the first question we ask when one of these disasters happens – whether it’s a terrorist attack or a shooting or an attack on the police – is “Whose fault is it?”

What if instead of looking for blame, the first question we asked was “What if it were me?”

What if it were my faith that was attacked?

What if it were my daughter who witnessed a man die?

What if it were my brother, husband, sister, wife, who was killed in the line of duty?

What if it were me who heard doors lock every time I walked by?

What if I had to work twice as hard to get half of the respect?

What if I were afraid that I’d be spit on for holding the hand of a loved one?

What if I didn’t know if I’d make it home when I put on my badge?

IMG_20160708_153553We come from a long history of fighters who did it the right way.

John Lewis risked his life for the sake of the civil rights movement.

Fr. Gregory Boyle works with gangs in LA to bring everyone into the circle of kinship.

Mohandas K Gandhi fought for the truth and saw dignity in every human being.

Nelson Mandela earned the respect of his jailers to the pint where they would only address him as “Sir.”

I look at these leaders and look at us now and wonder if they would ask themselves, “What did I do that for?”

If people are still killing each other, why risk my life? Why  fight so hard? Why is our society moving backwards when we worked so hard to move it forward?

To be honest, I’m in a situation where I feel terrified yet again.

I’m terrified that my black friends can’t walk down the street without worrying that they will be hurt.

I’m terrified that my friends in law enforcement won’t come home.

I’m terrified that if it doesn’t stop, one day it’s going to be me who’s afraid to go out and walk down the street.

I would hope that we’d do something now to prove that the sacrifices of Lewis and Mandela and Gandhi and Boyle are not in vain. They knew something that we have yet to understand:

It’s not an uprising we need. We’ve already had plenty those. What we need is to acknowledge is that we belong to each other. We need compassion. We need to be willing to place ourselves in the shoes of those who threaten us. We need to ask the tough questions: Why are they angry? Would I be angry in their situation? What can we do to move forward? Because if we just continue to point fingers and refuse to be compassionate, there will be another attack. There will be another shooting. Another family will be broken as they bury a loved one.

Within a few weeks, perhaps the hashtags will stop. Police barricades will disappear. People will start posting about their dogs and what they ate for dinner again. We’ll continue with our daily lives until someone else dies. The cycle will continue. And it’s not even a question of what if one day it’s me? It’s a question of when will it be me?

Or we can choose another way. We can choose to see each other for who we are and choose to support one another not just when blood is spilled in the streets. We can choose to see that that blood is our blood. We can choose to love every day.

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Be a Hotdog

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Original photo from Buzzfeed

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic.” There were many things that I agreed with and many things that don’t necessarily apply to me, but when I closed the back cover, I came away with one thing: I’m not alone in this special thing called the creative life.

I’ve loved being a writer since I was a little kid. I would write short stories, poetry and journal entries. My teachers would praise my essays and writing assignments. I even won a some awards. Regrettably, I never turned this passion into a way of generating income. I never thought my material was good enough or that it could turn into a lucrative career. So instead I pursued a career in medicine. Then I changed my mind and thought I’d be a lawyer. I’m now working in youth ministry, itching once again to get a pen into my hand as the blank page calls my name. It just goes to show that our true vocation always calls us back no matter where we may venture.

The point is that what I loved as a kid has returned to me as an adult, and I have no other option than to respond. What it has led to are paper cuts, frustration, ripped pages, blank pages, writers block and late nights wanting to write but feeling uninspired. But I have never been hopeless. Instead, I search for inspiration. Sometimes it shows up in unexpected places, but one thing remains consistent: I can always find inspiration in other people’s art.

A good friend of mine, Alex Lasota, once said to me,

“Talent from one artsy area – totally inspires talent in the other!”

Her words proved to be true as I was scanning videos on YouTube and came across Amy Vachal’s version of La Vie en Rose.

I absolutely love the song. But I was even more struck by the background of this video…a piece that she made. And a classic song that she made her own. I then started to watch different versions of the song, and all of a sudden I was motivated to write and fill blank pages with words that were inspired by a beautiful song but turned into a story that is all my own.

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What happens when the heart tells pen and paper that they really do belong to one another.

What Alex said is true…When you feel uninspired, you can look for inspiration in another piece of art.When you do, you realize not only that you’re not alone but that being a creative is special. You may feel like you’re alone in this endeavor. You may feel like a weirdo in a world of people with “normal jobs.” You may feel like you’re moving against the tide. But you also get distinction. You get to exercise being unique and courageous. You get excitement and adventure. I look at what the first six months of this year have brought me: I get to call myself a dancer. I get to call myself a writer. I get to call myself an artist. I get to call myself a creative. And that means the world to me.

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