Fifteen years ago I had a serious health scare and surgery. While I was in the hospital recovering, an older lady from our church came to visit me. I knew who Glenda and Frank were, though I’d never talked to them before; our paths hadn’t crossed. She stayed maybe fifteen minutes, leaving behind a get well card and a small ceramic frog. The card explained his significance:
My initial diagnosis got me mentally writing letters to my young children to pass along the life lessons that it was suddenly looking like I wouldn’t be there to tell them, so the frog’s message was powerful. When I unexpectedly got the all-clear, my perspective was already forever altered, with the frog playing his part in my mental transformation.
In the years since, I’ve purchased in bulk every small frog I’ve seen and passed them out to friends going through a difficult time. I’ve given away stuffed frogs, ceramic frogs, and frogs made of glass. I no longer remember who I’ve given them to or under what circumstances. But just because I may have forgotten, I’ve learned that at least some of the recipients haven’t. A friend I haven’t seen in a decade recently messaged me that hers still sits on her desk, smiling her through her day. Another friend fighting cancer takes hers everywhere she goes, his smiling face poking out of her purse, including to treatments at the Mayo Clinic. A couple of bucks a pop, when given with love, can go a long way.
I think almost everyone needs the frog’s message at some point. We seem wired to try to take control of everything, even when (or maybe, because) so much is out of our control. I recently heard a quote that if we want God to open a door, we need to let go of the doorknob. I’ve spent most of my life clutching the doorknob so tightly that my knuckles are white. That’s why this little guy, worn and dusty, still sits on my bathroom counter where I can see him every day and remember Who has always been in control.
“Trust in God with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do and He will show you which path to take.” –Proverbs 3:5-6
Our newest member of the family, Emmy, is a rescue from a hoarding situation and 100% mutt. Even the vet couldn’t guess what she is (“she’s an Emmy” I declared). The girls call her a build-a-dog, because her back half doesn’t really match her front. As is often the case with rescues, she’s already found her purpose in our family.
Emmy is a full adult, approximately five years old, and set in her ways. She doesn’t have any manners, clearly never having had to live with rules before. But she’s very laid back and a relentless, full body hugger (yours and hers). Her strongest personality characteristic, however, is her unfailingly cheerful disposition. That dog smiles a lot. She runs and plays with abandon with our other, much younger mutt. Her favorite activity is simply sitting in the grass sunning herself. Much of the time, when I go to the door to call her in, she just looks at me with an expression of complete peace, like she can’t believe her good fortune at landing in our doggie spa. I usually just leave her laying there, content and happy, until she’s ready to come inside for another full body hug that she knows you need right now.
Which brings me back to her purpose—Emmy really knows joy. She’s a role model every day that there is much to be thankful for in the small pleasures of life: feeling the grass beneath your feet, spending quality time with your best friend, bringing joy and hugs to others when they need it. Emmy is a bit quirky and set in her ways, but she is also relentlessly cheerful and untroubled by life’s cares. That makes her my teacher and role model. Thank you, Emmy, for showing me how to live.
“Dog is God spelled backwards.” –Duane Chapman
A year ago this month, a friend gave me a gift, a pretty little jar of wonderful-smelling hand cream as a thank you for a small kindness I’d done for her. I nursed that jar for a year, only finally running out of it this month. I nursed it, though I used it nearly every day, because it was a powerful symbol. In what was quickly becoming the most difficult year of my life, it became a daily reminder that someone thought I was special, that I was loved.
Every morning this past year, as I woke up to face whatever crazy was ahead of me, I could dab a little heaven on my hands and think of my friend’s smiling face, reminding me daily of the tremendous good in the world. For a brief moment, all was well. It was like putting on a bit of invisible armor against what was coming that day. It meant more than I’m sure my friend ever imagined it would, as neither of us knew what was coming.
That love armor lasted exactly as long as it needed to–I’m turning the corner this month on a new beginning. I’m well on my way to being stronger than before. The Gift was a powerful reminder of the transformative power of love and kindness, and how each of us has the power every single day to make a difference in someone’s life with the smallest of gestures. I think I will pay The Gift forward next week: a precious friend is going through a hard time right now. I believe she needs some wonderful-smelling hand cream.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” –Aesop
A friend told me that the worst part of having your heart broken is that it’s invisible to everyone else. She was right. But I’ve learned that calling it a broken heart is something of a misnomer. What starts as a jagged rip eventually becomes what any other injury becomes: scarred tissue, stitching itself back together over time.
Injuries take time and attention and rest to heal. A broken heart is no different. I’ve been incredibly blessed as I’ve gone through my healing process from a 38-year relationship. That’s a lifetime. But I have wonderful family and friends who’ve kept me from being alone. I have financial independence. And, most importantly of all, I have a deep faith that God still has a purpose for my life.
My job now is to find that purpose, to find my path from here. I may be scarred, but I will be ok. I am whole.
“Mistakes make you wiser, heartbreak makes you stronger, and wrong turns often take you to the right place. It all serves a purpose.” –Unknown
I recently met someone new who shared a lesson from Judaism that keeps playing in my head, that you should never cancel joy because of despair. Wow, did I need that.
It’s been a tough year, with wave after wave crashing over my head, often without enough time to fill my lungs in between. Joy has been scarce. And yet…it has been there. It’s come in the form of the different flowers of spring, each taking their turn to bring joy to my daily commute or dining room. It’s taken the form of many friends who randomly check in on me and lift my spirits. It’s come in the form of the neighbor boy who, as I write this, is playing in his front yard in his Spider Man jammies. Mostly, it’s come in the form of the laughter I share with my kids, often at the dark humor that is a hallmark of our family.
My new friend is right: every day is a fleeting gift, one that I can’t afford to waste. I will stop waiting for the joy to find me…I will pursue it and wrestle every ounce of happiness I can from it.
“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” –e.e. cummings
We lost our rescue retriever last year…it was hard. She was a senior when she came to us, an orphan after suddenly losing her senior parent. Though we only had the privilege of providing her retirement home for a few years, she quickly wormed her way into our hearts…she was a sweetie.
The day we lost her, the gray March day outside matched our mood inside. We decided to get out of the empty, too quiet house and get lunch out. I swung into Tractor Supply on the way to pick up a quick item. It was a fateful decision. That Saturday morning, the dog rescue people were there with a small pen set up inside the store. By the time I was fully inside the entry, Megan was already cuddling a small creature in her arms. It stayed there the entire time I shopped and internally debated this unexpected dilemma. Megan and the senior dog had been especially close, finding in each other a kindred spirit who understood pain and loss. I think I knew from the moment I saw the pen and realized my unexpected predicament what I would do. The small, odd creature came home with us. We never made it to lunch.
As has now happened enough times in my life that I’ve come to expect it, when you let love win, wonderful things happen. We have no idea what our mutt is (we say she’s a “Ginny”), but she’s special. She’s loving. She’s adorable. She’s funny. She makes us smile. No matter how bad your day is, she makes you feel better. She’s a gift. Love won.
“When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason: they bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude.” –Bruce Cameron
When I was nine years old, I received a signed photo of President Gerald Ford in the mail. I’d written a letter to him when I heard of a problem the country was having on the evening news. I’d learned what inflation was, and that we had a lot of it. The solution I proposed to the President seemed simple enough: just have the government take over all industry so they could control prices. At the tender age of nine, I proposed Communism to the leader of the free world.
The President’s response didn’t mention my childish (and borderline treasonous in the middle of the Cold War) proposal. I found the photo and letter recently when cleaning out some old papers. I’d rather have back the letter I sent to him than his form letter, but I’m glad my parents’ response was to give me an envelope and address it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue instead of telling me that I was wrong…my parents are great that way. My son has a similar photo and letter from President Bill Clinton. I don’t remember why he wrote to the President, though I know he wasn’t proposing a revolution like his mom did.
I’ve always believed each of us has the power to change the world. Though my optimism has been markedly tempered by adult realizations, this last year has reinforced this belief. The voice of The People has been awakened in our country in a way we haven’t seen in too long. New activists are taking action for the first time. Women, in particular, are realizing that they must speak for themselves if they are to be heard. I find it exhilarating; our democracy is scraping off the rust it had been gathering. The world will be different for it; our country will be changed.
“The history of liberty is a history of resistance.” –Woodrow Wilson