Saturday, November 21, 2009

16 Years

It was December, 1993. Owen, our youngest, was one year old. Katie and Holly were seven and five, respectively. A puppy was on everyone’s (at least all of the children’s) Christmas wish list. Being the practical parents that we were, and recognizing that we always visited (out-of-state) family for about a week immediately after Christmas, we decided that the responsible thing to do was to ask Santa for an “Invisible Fence” (since the yard was not fenced) instead of a dog, and a note instructing us to adopt a puppy from the local animal shelter after we returned from our holiday travels.

Whoever wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” was spot-on. About two or three days before Christmas, our church’s choir director (who knew of our plans) found an adorable little black puppy abandoned under her tool shed. She called us and asked us (parents only, of course) to come see him. It was love at first sight. The choir director offered to keep him before and after Christmas for us. We decided that Santa must have accidentally dropped him out of the sleigh on a pre-Christmas “practice-run” through middle Georgia.

On Christmas Eve, after the children were in bed, Jennie went over and picked him up and brought him home. He was quite filthy, so she decided to bathe him, but she was concerned, since the bathtub was between the children’s bedrooms, that any barking, crying, or whimpering would wake them up and spoil the surprise. As if he understood the predicament, he didn’t make a sound.

The next morning he slept in the big cardboard box beside the back door and went unnoticed while the children unwrapped the Invisible Fence. Instead of the originally planned “post-holiday animal shelter adoption” note under the tree, there was one telling the children to look in the big box in the kitchen. After that it was pure puppy pandemonium. Since he was a Christmas dog, we couldn’t think of a better name than “Gabriel.” He chewed and destroyed everything he could find, and it took him nearly six months to grow into the hefty collar that went with the Invisible Fence, but eventually he learned how to stay home and avoid the shocking perimeter of the yard.

Gabriel endured all of our moves—from Fort Valley, Georgia to Fourth AVE, Fayetteville, TN, then to Lovers LN—and adjusted well to the addition of a “sister” (Gloria) in 1998 and a “cousin” (Gracie, the cat) in 2004, always eager to find attention, fur-rubbing, and food, but not necessarily in that order.

Our friends can tell you some wild “Fourth of July” and “New Year’s Eve” stories about Gabriel. We’re out of town on most of these holidays, so others have often been in charge of the pets’ care. Gabriel was deathly afraid of fireworks, and if he were left outside during the neighbors’ celebrations, he would do anything possible to find somewhere to hide. One New Year’s Eve a few years ago, he wedged himself under a small car in the driveway, and couldn’t get out. Our friends had to jack the car up to help him escape.

His once-entirely-jet-black fur gradually turned white around the edges as the years went by, his hearing left completely about a year ago, his back legs eventually led a near-complete mutiny that sometimes rendered him painfully and fearfully immobile, and his digestive system began an increasingly-successful revolt. On November 21, 2009, with advice from our veterinarian and family agreement, Gabriel was relieved of his physical suffering and laid to rest. His grave is marked by four stepping stones, in the far corner of the back yard. Sixteen years is a long time for a dog to live with a family and vice versa.

I’ve heard it said that dogs offer humans a near-perfect example of God’s unconditional love. For sixteen years I’ve also experienced it. Thank you, Gabriel.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, November 16, 2009

Grief Examined

Sometimes I just have to stop and cry. Sunday afternoon I received a message from our LWW Guatemala Team. Rumaldo, pastor of the El Jute congregation where they just finished a water installation, lost his wife. Telma, his 45 year old wife, became ill a few days before, went to paralysis, then stroke, coma, and died Sunday.

Rumaldo spent most of the last days of Telma’s life working with our Fayetteville/Pulaski LWW team, making sure that the water filtration system was installed properly, and that his team of operators and educators were equipped to keep clean water flowing from their church and educate the community on the health, hygiene, and spiritual curriculum that supports the ongoing water distribution plan.

It’s not supposed to happen that way. Evil—or at least pain, suffering, and grief—are not supposed to come from the self-giving generosity and efforts of good people. And yet they do.

The Sunday Tennessean had an article about a Nashville area pastor who was moved to preach an 8-part series on exactly what Heaven is like after his 19 year old son died. The pastor explained, “I noticed that, generally speaking, others at the church and in the general community were not well-taught or well-educated on how to deal with when people go to heaven."

He’s had great demand for copies of the sermons in the series. The author of the article wrote, about the pastor, "He's found a population hungry for specifics."

People deal with answers, whether the answers are right, wrong, or imagined, much better than they do with questions and mystery. Scripture has more questions and mystery than specific answers, but that's never stopped humanity from conducting conciliatory shoe-horning. Faith is what we're left with when the answers run out.

I wish I had specific answers to give Pastor Romaldo—or that he could find them for himself. I wish I had such answers for many of you, and even for myself. I do not.

What I do have are faith, promise, trust, and hope. These are the things that nourish us through the unanswered questions; through the well-meaning but inadequate answers that are often offered. These are the things that give us courage to live with the questions; that give us strength to boldly proclaim that God’s ultimate answer of, “Yes!” is both powerful and loving enough to overcome all our earthly grief.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day

As we approach, observe, and pass by the 91st recurrence of remembrance—the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we remember with profound gratitude the sacrifices made by those who joined arms and forces in defense of our country, during the first War to End All Wars, and in every subsequent war to this very day.

We recall President Wilson’s words on that first anniversary (11/11/1919): "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"

We recall the U.S. Congressional resolution in 1926:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations;

Let us this day and every day, O Lord, remember, give thanks, and turn our faces and hearts toward the goal of peace that has yet to be reached. Let us pray, work, and demand that soldiers be given all honor, protection, respect, and assistance before, during, and after active duty. Let us pray, work, and demand that war’s duration and intensity be lessened; that minds, hearts, and technology be bent toward peace; that nations and leaders—elected, appointed, and self-appointed—set aside vested interest, ego, and posturing in favor of integrity, honesty, and concern for all humanity and all creation; through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins

Monday, November 2, 2009

Saints and Ain'ts

“It falls on a Sunday this year”
explains the pastor,
“so even us Protestants should
find a way to celebrate All Saints Day.”

“But saints are the sole possession
of Catholics, aren’t they?
We’re not sure what
or who they are, much less
whether we want to
conjure them up in worship!”

“Far from it, my friend.
We may not have an organized
structure to classify them,
but they’re all around us.”

“Mama always told me a saint
is nothing more than a dead sinner.
At least that’s what I’m counting on!”

“Now you’re getting warm.
All we need to do is reclaim
this Goodwill word from
our Roman sisters and brothers
and we’ll be on our way.”

“Do you suppose they’ll
readily give it up?
We haven’t always succeeded
In sharing the path with ease.”

“Our past inability to agree or share
is no reason to doubt that
what we aim can be accomplished,
provided we only take what we need.”

“And what is that, pray tell?”

“We only need to claim
a meaning of the word
for ourselves, without disclaiming
others’ use and meaning.”

“How, then, should we lay
this claim in such a way
that all are still able
to feast at the table?”

“Without respect or disrespect
to canonized veneration,
we should lay hold of this day
when all who’ve passed
before us in the faith
are remembered with deep gratitude
for all the ways their living and dying
revealed to us the gift of grace.”

“I ain’t a saint, and that’s for sure.
Those who know me best
would certainly be hard pressed
to conceive of such a cure!”

“Ah, there’s the rub,
for what we’re claiming
in this particular usage,
is that God can do
what we’re not able.
Thus the answer’ll always be:
Not yet, my child, be patient!”

© 2009 Todd Jenkins