There's the kind of grieving you do when someone is taken from you and then there's the kind of grieving that comes from giving someone or something up voluntarily. For the last year and a half, I've been well acquainted with first kind of grief.
But now I'm experiencing the second. And while comparing my decision to give away my dog to losing my father to cancer might seem callous or ridiculous, for me there are a lot of similar feelings.
This is Havana. She's been my dog for five years - the most monumental years of my life. She's seen me through the journey from being a single woman to being married with two kids.
When I was first trying to decide whether to get a dog, I must have changed my mind 25 times. I wanted the companionship, but wasn't sure about the commitment and responsibility. But as soon as I saw her I was a goner.
Seriously ... can you blame me?
How quickly life changes.
Havana was actually pretty monumental in my husband and me first getting together. Our first "outing," way before we were even dating, was to take the dogs (he had two) to the off leash dog park at the top of Palmer Park. He was new in town and knew I had a dog so he asked me where to take them.
May 4, 2008.
Six weeks later we were "official." For the next ten months, many of our dates were planned around the dogs. We took them to Red Rock Open Space, Blodgett Peak, Stanley Canyon, The Crags, Frisco, Waldo Canyon, Mt. Herman Reservoir, Seven Bridges and Stratton Open Space. To name a few.
Then suddenly, life seemed to hit the fast lane. We got engaged. We got married. We got pregnant. We sold a townhouse. We bought a house. We had a baby. Then we had another one. And within two years we went from two single people to a family with two kids and three dogs.
And our house was crazy. And very, very stressful.
We tried to make life work with three dogs. As time went on, more and more of our time and energy went to building our marriage and raising our kids, and the dogs continually took a backseat.
And then one day not long ago, I realized that Havana was no longer getting the love and attention she deserved. Not only was she a lower priority than the kids, but in the canine world, she was the lowest of the three dogs. And as a lab, she was also the most energetic. She was constantly getting yelled at because she has boundless energy and in times of stress, her uncontainable enthusiasm became the easy target of our frustration.
Life had changed and somehow, in the shuffle, Havana had lost her place in our family.
Giving her away is one of the hardest things I've ever done. It makes me so sad, and yet I know that it is the right decision for both our family and for her. She deserves better than we can give her. She deserves to be doted on and adored.
I feel like that guy that grew up and left the tree. Only it was my dog, Havana. She did nothing but love me and I gave her up.
Even though there's not a doubt in my mind that this is the right thing to do, there is this guilt that I feel because I wasn't able to see this dog ownership thing through. And I think the guilt is what makes this the hardest ... I am overwhelmed with this sense that I abandoned her.
If I had a chance to do things over, I wouldn't change my decision to get a dog. I wouldn't change the timing of how things played out. And I certainly wouldn't change my life now. Heck, who knows how different my life would be now if I hadn't gotten her.
I don't have regrets about the way things happened and I have many happy memories of life with Havana. But right now I'm just sad and missing my dog.
I should feel lucky, I guess. Most of the time I forget I even have a disease. After years of trying different treatments, I found a drug that manages my Rheumatoid Arthritis so well that I rarely have any symptoms at all. Add to that the fact that it goes into remission when I'm pregnant. So basically, for more than two years (and almost all my married life), I've been virtually R.A. free. I almost forgot what life with R.A. feels like.
And then suddenly, out of nowhere, I am rudely reminded that I have a chronic disease. It comes back with a vengeance.
Last Friday morning I woke up with a swollen knee. I had gone to a spin class at the gym the day before, so I figured that maybe my knee was reacting that workout. I thought that, as usual, it would be fine the next day so I just needed to wait it out. Only this time, as the day went on it kept swelling.
Saturday it was worse. We were headed up to Denver to stay overnight with some friends so Chris could run a half marathon early Sunday morning. By the time we reached Denver, my knee was bigger than I'd ever seen it. Along with the swelling, it was painful to bear weight on, and I had a very limited range of motion - I could neither straighten it nor bend it even 90 degrees.
Because it was the weekend, my doctor's office was closed, which meant the only thing I could do was take Advil. Lots of it. So I did, but it seemed to make no difference. The swelling and pain continued to get worse.
We don't see these friends too often and I really wanted to enjoy the time with them, but the R.A. overshadowed everything. I couldn't focus on anything else. The pain overwhelmed me. I tried to ignore it, but found that impossible. Walking was painful, standing was painful, sitting was painful, sleeping was painful. Getting in and out of the car was painful.
Sunday morning, Chris left for his race at 4:30 am, and I desperately wanted to be there to cheer him on. At the very least, I wanted to meet him at the finish line, but I couldn't. I could barely walk to the bathroom so there was no way I would make it through the park. I was crushed.
My frustration grew later that morning when he told me what a fantastic race he had and that not only had he met his goal, but he had set a PR. Of all the races to have to miss...
We spent the afternoon in Wash Park, and although it has become one of my favorite spots in Denver, I had a hard time enjoying it. It was a perfect day. I was with my adorable kids and my extremely happy husband. The weather was gorgeous and the park was full with people. Runners, cyclists, moms with strollers, roller bladers, kids on the playground, an outdoor yoga class. There was even a Dixieland jazz band playing live music. As we sat and listened, we found out the rather ironic fact that they were playing for people walking in a walk through the park to raise money for ...
wait for it ...
arthritis research. I am not making this up. It felt like someone's idea of a cruel joke.
While I tried my best to enjoy the weekend, the pain made it difficult. And quite forcefully reminded me what a horrible disease Rheumatoid Arthritis is.
There's something even worse than the pain, though. It's the fear. For five days, I was consumed with unanswerable questions. What brought this on? How long would it last? What if I couldn't get flare up under control? What if I stopped responding to the medicine? What if I wasn't able to get the swelling to go down and it kept getting worse? What if I lost all mobility? How could I take care of my kids?
Through all of this, my husband was my rock. He is truly God's gift to me, and proved to me (once again) that marrying him is the best thing I've ever done. In fact, in trying to figure out why God might be allowing me to have this disease and suddenly go through such awful pain, one thing I know for certain is that He wants me to realize what an amazing man my husband is.
I want to end this post on a positive note, so I'm happy to tell you that (with the help of a steroid injection on Monday afternoon, restarting the R.A. drug and a few days of taking it easy) I feel almost normal again. But after five days of not being able to sleep, walk without limping or pick up my baby easily, I am extremely grateful for how much better I'm feeling now.
I wrote this post because I don't want to take one single day for granted. Every day that I have with little or no pain is a gift. So even though (thankfully) the drugs seem to have started doing their thing again in holding my R.A. at bay, I don't want to fall back into a place of complacency and forget how bad it can get. I don't want to ever take a pain-free life for granted.
That's how long it took Cara to take her first steps. We have been waiting for this day for a long time, so when it finally arrived, it called for immediate celebration. We dropped everything and went out for gelato. (We thought that her first gelato was an appropriate treat for the little Italian.)
When choosing gelato, one must take one's time.
The first taste ...
Big smiles all around.
Cara's been on her own timeline from the beginning. (Hello 28 hours and 45 minutes of labor.) She was the most content baby I've ever seen. If something was out of reach, she'd just play with whatever was available. When crawling didn't happen according to the typical "milestone," my husband wasn't too worried ... he knew she'd get it eventually. She did. At 15 months. Then with lots of encouragement, she started pulling herself up and cruising along the furniture.
I, of course, worried when she didn't "measure up" to the milestones. (What is it about being a mother that makes your imagination go crazy?) I pictured all sorts of ridiculous scenarios like a five-year-old who was still crawling. I worried that something was wrong with her legs. Why didn't she want to walk? My ever patient husband reassured me that she was fine, that she'd walk eventually. When he agreed to my request to contact a physical therapist, I think that was mostly for my own peace of mind, not because he thought she needed it.
After a couple meetings with the therapist, I soon realized he was right, of course. She would get it, but she would do it in her own time. So I did my best to relax and let her get to it. And I tried not to worry.
The other night we were all just hanging out in the living room after dinner when suddenly, out of nowhere, she took a few steps. In disbelief, I grabbed my phone to record the moment. After waiting and praying for so long, it was truly a miraculous moment, watching her walk for the first time.
Here she is walking at the ice cream store:
Looking back on it, I realize how pointless my worrying was. In fact, I see now that God's purpose for having Cara walk later was likely to teach me something ... an important lesson that I'd need to learn as a mother. It is this:
I need to allow my daughter to be who she is. I cannot push her to be what I think she's "supposed" to be. And I cannot compare her to anyone else.
As a female and oldest of four, I've always had a tendency to compare myself to other people, and this trait has been the source of lots of unnecessary anxiety in my life. God knew that I could very easily fall into this habit when it comes to raising kids, and in His wisdom, He gave me a very real lesson in learning to let go.
One that took 19 months and 10 days.
I'm sure I won't get it perfect every time, but I'm grateful that God is helping me to recognize the beautiful gift that He's given me in Cara and to treasure her unique individuality.
I'm pretty sure being a mom is the greatest experience I've ever had.
The other night my husband and I were watching our favorite Food Network show online. Typically when we watch shows on Hulu, we see the same lame-o commercials, over and over and over. It's annoying. (The price we pay for not paying for TV, I guess.)
So we were surprised to, out of the blue, see an ad that we'd never seen before. Not only was it a nice change, it was a brilliant ad.
As the mother of a 16-month-old and another on the way, I've been thinking a lot of the kind of parent I want to be. How much do I shelter my kids from the world? How much do I let them learn things "the hard way?" How much do I protect them? What is my greater responsibility as a Christian mom ... making sure they know and love God at all costs or allowing them to make the choice for themselves, with the risk that they might choose a different path?
My husband and I grew up very differently, basically at opposite ends of the spectrum. I grew up the oldest of four in a Christian home. Dad led us in a devotion ("Family Time") each morning before breakfast, we attended church weekly, all my social activities centered around my church youth group. I wasn't allowed to listen to certain radio stations, watch certain movies or read certain magazines. Although I attended public school, because of my nature as a rule-follower, I never fell in with the "wrong" crowd. My biggest act of rebellion was going to Denny's with my friend Rochelle while I was supposed to be in Sunday School.
I am extremely grateful for the way I was raised. I'm thankful for the solid foundation and example that my parents gave to me. My husband's life journey was different. He began his relationship with God well into adulthood. Our vastly different paths to Christ have caused us to have vastly different views of what it means to be a Christian.
When Chris and I were dating, we'd sometimes talk about the future and the possibility of having kids, but the conversations never lasted long because we usually ended up in a fight. We viewed parenting differently. (I lean more towards sheltering our kids, while he leans more toward letting them learn from their experiences.) We knew that if and when we became parents, we were going to have to work extremely hard to come to a common understanding of the kind of parents we wanted to be.
Well, that time has come. And to my great surprise, the early days of parenting have thus far been ones of open, honest discussion, and mutual compromise.
The biggest surprise, though, has been my personal journey. Over the 2.5 years we've been married, I have found myself on a path of growth and transformation. I have begun to realize that up to the time I got married, my understanding of what it means to be a Christian was a narrow one. In my effort to "be" a Christian (a.k.a. follow the rules) I basically avoided the world. God, in his infinite wisdom, gave me a husband who is much more open to engaging the world, and He is using Chris to gently broaden my view of what following Christ in this world means.
On Chris' recommendation, I am reading a book right now that is literally turning my understanding of what it means to be a Christian upside down. (I'd highly recommend The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons to anyone, especially those with a similar background to mine.) Here are just a few examples of what Lyons says a Christian looks like.
... resists the urge to condemn everything that isn't explicitly Christian. He has a capacity find goodness, truth and beauty in most any creation.
Instead of sheltering my children from secular culture (music, movies, books) that aren't overtly Christian, I should carefully and thoughtfully allow them to experience culture and teach them instead to discern the good from the bad.
If my daughter wants to read a book that all her friends are reading that has content in it that I'm uncomfortable with, instead of telling her all the reasons she shouldn't, I will read it too and then be able to engage in discussion with her about it. If my son wants to listen to a CD with lyrics that I dislike, I will listen to it with him and then have a common ground to seek his thoughts about it.
... models how to effectively engage and contribute to culture instead of training our children to avoid the "wrong."
No matter how much I want to, I'll never be able to fully protect my children from the culture we live in. They'll deal with it at some point, either with my guidance, or without it. I'd rather them learn to engage with the world's culture from a God-focused perspective while still under my guidance, rather than trying to navigate it for the first time entirely on their own.
Instead of teaching our children (either explicitly or by example) to condemn people we see exhibiting certain behavior, we use them as opportunities to talk with our kids about God's desire for us.
... does not expect non-Christians to conform to the same moral code as a Christ follower.
One of the things I never understood growing up was that non-Christians viewed God differently. I thought that everyone was coming from the same perspective I was and so I judged everyone, Christian or not, with the same measure ... the one I learned as a child. This caused me to be extremely judgmental towards non-Christians and all the lifestyle particularities they represent.
It's very important to me that our children are raised to exhibit grace to non-Christians. I want them to accept non-Christians as they are and view them with as much dignity and worth as God created them with.
One last thought that I found eye opening. (And I'm only a third of the way through the book!)
God's purpose for us is not that we live safe and comfortable lives separated from the world. A Christian's main duty is not to protect his children from worldly corruption.
Chris and I strongly believe that we are called to raise our children to engage in culture and think critically about it. This means it's our job to carefully and thoughtfully expose them to the world, not shelter them from it. The risk, of course, is that our children will make a different choice than we want ... that they will get immersed in the world and lose their focus on Christ. As a new mom, the idea that my daughter or son might choose the world over a relationship with God is terrifying to me.
However, I'd rather face that risk and allow our kids to be who God created them to be than raise children who are little automated, non-thinking clones of Chris and me.
This video has been making its rounds on Facebook. I hadn't watched it, just assuming it was another overly-hyped video that had gone viral around my Christian-saturated Facebook world. But so many people commented on it, that I finally sat down to watch it.
I'm so glad I did. I love it. This is TRUTH. And the part that I love the most is that it is spoken word. Poetry. Art.
I'm sure God is pleased with how this guy is using his gift. Preach it, brother.