The “Holy Spirit With Fur On”

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Note: Our beloved Beagle, Daisy, died yesterday.  She had been increasingly lethargic on Thursday. Eating and drinking nothing. We began to worry. I took her to the vet yesterday and we soon learned Daisy’s liver was filled with several small cancerous tumors, some of which were spilling blood into her stomach. The kindest (and hardest) thing we could do was to let her go. Tears, hugs, kisses and thank-you’s all took place in the afternoon.. and by 4:30pm, we were saying a final goodbye.  It was terribly, terribly hard.  I wrote the following thoughts this morning — the first morning without our dear, fuzzy friend…

It is 4:45am and I wake up.  

I wake up because it is completely quiet.

I wake up because there is no scratching at the door, no light whimpering and no pawing at my feet to let a little rascal with four feet out the door to pee…. and really, to have the excuse to force me to give her an early morning treat.  Anything for a treat… Daisy at Gooseberry Falls

I used to complain about these early morning wake-up calls.  Two days ago, I complained about this early morning wake-up call. 

I would give anything to complain about it again.  And to have that four-legged friend climb back into bed, her tummy now full, as we settled back in for a few more winks, together… she keeping me warm on a cold winter’s morn.

I must admit, even as one who has spent most of his adult life in a career that involves comforting people through loss, I underestimated the degree of grief one feels in this moment.  Everything so many of you have written is true. These little “people” with fur and four legs actually DO become one of the family.  And to lose her, so suddenly… 

Wow. It hurts.  257440_10150643129565711_7478786_o

Daisy saw us through a lot as a family.  Caitlyn was eight years old when we first got her, and she (Caitlyn) had been traumatized by a neighbor’s large black lab as a toddler. That dog had gotten into our back porch one afternoon where Caitlyn was playing and, actually just being playful, had jumped up on Caitlyn and knocked her down. Little Cait was scared to death and became quite frightened of any canine thereafter for several years. She used to climb up Jana or my legs like a telephone poll and scramble to nearly sitting on top of our heads when she would see any dog… even from a distance in the park. Because of that traumatic experience as a toddler, she was legitimately terrified of dogs.

Daisy was the dog that broke that curse for Cait.

Jana, Christina and Caitlyn were driving by a pet store in Apple Valley, MN in the summer of 2004… we were living in Lakeville at the time…. and they saw a “Last Hope Adoption” sign and decided, on a whim, to go in and check it out.  When they walked in the store, the first dog they saw was a lovable, beautiful little beagle … about 2 yrs old, who had apparently been mistreated by her owners and needed someone to love her well.  Little did we know the degree to which the tables would be turned, and the reverse would be true. She was about to love US so well. SO very well, indeed.

 I believe Christina was drawn to Daisy in that pet store first… but to Jana’s shock and surprise, Caitlyn also walked right up to this little Beagle, and was instantly, completely at peace. (She had a grade school friend who owned a beagle.. and apparently had started to get a bit more comfortable with this breed of dog… and this breed alone!  The future had been set. This was meant to be…) 

Between this shocking, sudden change in our little Caitlyn Grace … and Jana and Christina’s immediate love of this adorable little Beagle… the deal was done. They say they tried to call me at work to get my opinion, but I don’t think they tried very hard.  J When I arrived home that afternoon, all three ladies in my life were standing, waiting for me in the driveway with very curious smiles on their faces which I couldn’t quite interpret. They followed me, silently, as I walked into the house , down the hallway and into the kitchen where I saw the cutest little pup I can remember ever meeting.  I remember saying, “There is a dog in our kitchen. Why is there a dog in our kitchen?”  They laughed, Daisy cuddled up to me, and I was won over in 30 seconds flat.  Never looked back. I fell in love with her instantly, just like my three Blondies had. 

2677_151404790710_3694935_nDon’t get me wrong. Daisy was rascal. She was a Beagle through and through. We never really could get her fully trained to obey us much… and she loved to bolt out the door and run, run, run after anything that moved… anything that looked even remotely close to resembling a squirrel or a rabbit.  She could run for miles… and we spent many a summer night in that part of Lakeville, chasing her down after one of her breakaways out the front door.  She could be moody and loud and stubborn. Just like the rest of our family. So, I guess she fit right in.  And we loved her for it. 886471_10153530912685711_2045323255_o

We have been through some incredible highs in life these past ten years, but also through some very dark valleys. As the Blondies grew from spunky little kids to beautiful young-adult beauties, Daisy was there for all of us, through all of it. Though the good, the bad and the ugly, Daisy was a constant source of unconditional love, companionship, and comfort… SUCH comfort. She brought laughter and joy to all of us, but especially to Jana… as Daisy stayed by her side through not one, but TWO bouts with cancer… including two rounds of chemo and one round of radiation.  Their daily routine, for the past ten years, healthy or sick, was for Jana to get her cup of coffee, grab her Bible and sit down in her big cozy chair with Daisy by her side, as “together” they read the Bible and prayed through the valley of the shadow of death.

301347_10150857131210711_1774825935_nDuring the past 10 years Daisy also saw us through two very difficult battles in congregations we served where the human side of the church got ugly… and our family was, in some ways, hung out to dry. In those two experiences, where it would have been easy to lose our faith and wonder where God was in it all, it was a group of trusted Christian friends and parishioners, along with our family… and yes… very much the constant, and unquestioning love of God as shown through a little Beagle… that helped to pull us through and remain afloat… in the midst of the spiritual and emotional storm.  We used to call her “the Holy Spirit with fur on” and, I for one… do not think it is a coincidence … as silly as it sounds, that “DOG” is the same word as “GOD” spelled backwards.  :)

 So, we miss her.  We really miss her. Already.339120_10151121457525711_477638853_o

 And I will never underestimate, again, the pain of friend or a parishioner who loses a dear, beloved pet. As much of rascal and a character that she was… she represented a present, “incarnational” love from God that, quite simply, was and is irreplaceable. 

 So, it is now 5:30am… and I can’t go back to sleep.

Good-bye little friend who woke me up too early every morning.  We loved you so very much. And you loved US… SO very well, little “last hope” Beagle.

Thank-you, Daisy.  We will remember… YOU gave US hope.  335377_10150926459170711_2089841858_o

And we are forever grateful.

2013 – Bummer Year or Great Year?

2013 – Bummer Year or Great Year?
Van Accident 2013
• I continued to work at about half of the income I used to make as a pastor, which, as you may know, ain’t exactly the lap of luxury to begin with. 
• I continued to be able to develop my dream of a faith-based drama ministry locally, and nationally. I am doing what I love to do and getting paid for it and making a difference in people’s lives, possibly for eternity. The dramas are being well received, the word continues to spread… and more and more offers are coming in. I worked with some amazing fellow performers this Christmas, producing the first local ensemble show. The dream continues to grow. (Also, a good number of days, I get to wear pajamas to work. This is a great added-bonus that cannot be ignored.)

• My wife was diagnosed with a recurrence of Breast Cancer and was in treatments from April through early September.
• My wife kicked cancer’s butt… for the second time.

• My family pinches pennies and gets creative to continue to pay bills and afford college. We work multiple jobs. We pull things together to cover insurance needs. Things break. Needed home and car repairs happen. Hospital bills skyrocket. We are on the road often and don’t always see each other as much as we would like. We sometimes fail to love each other well.
• At the end of the day, our family does love each other. We have jobs. Our girls are amazing. And healthy. And are actually crazy enough to still love and talk with and enjoy their parents. They have awesome schools, the greatest friends, amazing teachers and mentors. They were both honored with positions of “royalty” by their peers this year and are generally happy and blessed in life.

• My Mom died this summer. I/we miss her terribly. Christmas was harder than I would have imagined. Lots of silent tears. I have counseled people in grief for years, but that does not take away the pain when it happens to you.
• My Mom knew Jesus Christ as her Savior. I will see Mom again. This is just a waiting period. We cried hard at her funeral. We also laughed hard. This ain’t the end of the story.

• I was in a nearly fatal car accident that totaled our van.
• God saved me from a nearly fatal car accident that totaled our van.

• For any number of reasons, I was not cast in a show that I have been waiting to be in for nearly 28 years. My “dream” show. Easy to find or make-up excuses why or forget that it was also nearly every other actor’s dream show. Could also be easy to forget the fact that I did not do as well in the audition as I would have liked or am capable of doing.
• I have been blessed throughout my life to get cast, almost always, in the roles I hoped and dreamed for. I am blessed to live in a community with great talent, great fellow-performers for friends, and a nearly endless supply of performing opportunities. And did I mention the fact that I was in a nearly fatal car accident a few weeks ago? Puts not getting cast in a play (for whatever reason) in perspective.

Tonight, my wife, my two daughters and I will go to bed warm. We will not be hungry or sick. We will likely sleep well, in a very nice house that the majority of the world (outside the USA) would call a mansion. By more than two-third’s of the world’s standards (outside the U.S.), we are wealthy beyond imagination. It is only in comparing myself to other materialistically-minded Americans that I can be foolish enough to think life would be happier with “more”.

Bummer Year or Great Year?

Thanks for helping me rethink this thing, Lord. I will probably continue to need you to remind me, though, foolish man that I am.

Looking forward to 2014… and whatever rollercoaster life will continue to bring.

So bring it on, Lord. Let’s do this thing. Thanks for the ride this year, and thanks for keeping me around to ride it.

Happy New Year, friends. May you, also, know that you are blessed and may you always know that you, too, are loved. May God gives us all perspective.

See you in 2014.

+ Jonathan

Love is Patient, Love is Kind

Dad and Mom... Kissin'If I was not the stoic Swede and emotionally distant, unattached all-American male that I am, I would say that “The Notebook” is the most romantic movie I am aware of and that even though I was just going to put it in for a few minutes last night, I ended up watching the whole thing.

And, if I was being especially honest, I might even admit that I got choked up and shed a tear or two near the end,when I was reminded that my Dad is, right now, in real life, his own version of Noah to my Mom’s slowly increasing Allie… and he, my Dad, is every bit as heroic and amazing in his love for his bride in this tender moment of their lives … and she, my Mother, is every bit as lovely and still filled with the spark of life as these two characters are in the movie.

And I would tell you that I will never, NEVER forget watching their love in these moments. It is heart-breaking and amazingly beautiful and one of the greatest gifts they have given to their children and grandchildren to see and observe and experience.

And I would tell you how deeply I love them, and that I am so very proud of who they are and the blessing they have been in my life.

I would tell you… and, perhaps…

I have.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”                           - I Corinthians 13:4-7

Gettin’ Started

I am finally getting started with a Blog.  For far too long I have chronicled my thoughts, reflections, statements (and questions) of faith and other ramblings … profound or silly… on Facebook.   Frequently enough, friends would tell me I need to blog.

Now they might have been telling me this out of encouragement… as in, “Jonathan, I really enjoy and appreciate your thoughts. You need to blog.”  Or… Option B… they may have, instead, been saying, “Jonathan, you are far too long-winded and that is an inappropriate use of Facebook.  You need to blog!”

I won’t ask you which category you fit into, but for better or worse, I am attempting to switch over, and I hope many of you will choose to come along for the ride.

My hope is that this space will become a place of…

* Faith Conversation & Reflection  – Not always with an easy answer, but with an authentic desire to discern how, where and when God is at work.  Humorous moments to celebrate, insight to contemplate and … when the hard moments come — a perspective that hopefully does not give cliche’ answers … but  DOES somehow manage to help us hold on in the midst of pain or doubt. God can handle both praise and question. Laughter AND tears both convey relationship… and authentic relationship is what God desires most.

* Appreciation for the Arts and reflection on that dynamic place where Faith and Art intersect and interact.  I believe the Arts are one of God’s great gifts to us… to help us learn, grow, stretch, inquire, question, doubt, dialogue, laugh, cry, respond, accept, refuse, explore, play, work, challenge, define, forget, escape, come back and renew our connection to God and our connection with each other.  I hope this blog will remind myself and remind those of you who read it that God is ALWAYS communicating with us.. and we will be told, often through the Arts, great and amazing and edifying things,  if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, minds alert to discern and hearts open enough to explore, ask and receive.

* Dialogue on Family and Life in General — Life is hard, but God is good. Uh-oh… I just went cliche’ on you, didn’t I? But it is true in this case… Life IS hard.. but, I believe, God IS good.. and God is in it all… the good, the bad and everything inbetween. So, let’s celebrate it here.. or let’s cry about it… or let’s just be a bit cynical and sarcastic or light-hearted enough to survive… and to keep the joy.  Life is too short to not hold onto God’s great gifts of relationship and joy… and the peace that comes with both.

So… here we go. Welcome to the Paraphrase Blog.  I have no idea how often I will write and whether or not anyone will actually read this.  But this much I DO know….

We’re gettin’ started.

Barabbas Crucifixion