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A Preacher’s Wife’s Take on Religion, And Customs. (Or…So Stone Me Already!)

imageMy favorite quote about religion is one I coined myself to put on Facebook to describe myself when it comes to religion. I know, I’m tooting my own horn…scandalous…I know…who am I to think that I am quotable?…but here it is:
” I may believe a certain doctrine, however fervently. But that does not mean that God agrees with me, because God does not take religious instruction from me.”
My parents had no religion. My mother’s German Lutheran family left Germany for Russia, and the German speaking village they settled in had a German Reformed Pastor.

So, in the blink of an eye, they became Reformed, and this travelled with them 70 yrs later when they moved to Nebraska in the United States. My mom was soured on faith because she was worn out from a childhood and youth of being screamed hellfire and brimstone sermons in German every Sunday. Dad’s father’s family were Lutherans in all three places, Germany, Russia, and here. There’s a story that the local Lutheran Church asked his parents not to let my dad go back because he’d had polio and they were afraid he’d fall down the stairs. Dad was bitter about that. He never went to church again except for weddings.
When I was very young, I was invited to go to Sunday school at a small Presbyterian church four blocks away. A right turn instead of a left turn, I could have been Lutheran like my ancestors, instead. I loved Sunday school. My best memories growing up at church are from there. We kids were loved and nurtured. I was also cautioned constantly by the older women to walk like a lady once I hit my teens…If only they’d succeeded! Every Wednesday we had a program at church where we went, did crafts, had a Class in which we sang and were taught lessons on a flannelgraph by a gifted teacher named Evangeline Robles.  We then were turned loose to play if it was daylight savings time. Every session ended with dinner, after which we went home. This cost us all of a quarter! When my 6th grade teacher tried to keep me after school on Wednesdays because I was hopeless in Math, I was shattered. My mother had to intervene. I had very few enjoyable things in my life, and my mom put her foot down because I came home so happy on Wednesdays. I attended this program, called Open Door, till it ended. We also had Vacation Bible School in Summer and when I got older, Church Camp and Youth Group. I have amazing memories of growing up in that little place, and it was where Steve and I got married. When you hear me criticize the Christian faith in other writings, this is not where I am referring to…I am referring to places I attended much later.
I had the same Sunday School teacher from 7th grade until I left home to go away to finish college. He kept me spellbound, and amused. He had an intimidating stare, but he knew I wasn’t afraid of him, and we teased each other. When he was away, he gave me an excuse note from his wife, and when I was away, he got a note from my mother to make him laugh. At Easter we each got an Easter egg. Mine, however, was special. It was always the ugliest shade of grey he could get it…hard to explain, no it didn’t shame me or embarrass me, it made me laugh. Everyone else got whatever color he pulled out of the bag. Mine he made personally. I looked forward to it every year.
We got a good grounding in the Bible that rivals anything taught at a good seminary. Having edited and punctuated my husband all through seminary, I know. That plus I took a Bible as Literature class in college. It was the only class that didn’t require that I study, since I knew the subject.
We were constantly told to challenge our Sunday School teacher and question him. None of us did, but I liked that we had the freedom. He had one habit that I loved. If he had a question about Catholicism, he would call up a priest. If he wanted clarification on Jewish customs when he was teaching Old Testament, he called a Rabbi.
This got me interested in different religions and cultures, and how important they were to those who follow them. We had a very large Pentecostal holiness church in town that had a dress code. Women could not cut their hair, or wear pants. The dresses were well past the knees and sleeves had to be no shorter than 3/4 in above the elbow. Men could not wear shorts. These girls had to wear culottes instead of gym clothes that the rest of us wore. They didn’t dance, go to movies, and some didn’t watch TV. I became curious about their beliefs, because we saw them everywhere…no  belief in the Trinity, wild worship and a belief that the only way to Heaven was the ability to speak in tongues.

The first friend I met in first grade was and is,Catholic. I became such an expert on Catholicism from my own library reading that many, many years later when I joined the church, they brought me in early, since I could have taught it to them.
In high school had the life scared out of me by a Church of Christ girl who stalked me and criticized my dress (modest by most standards), insisted that instruments in church were wrong, and unless I was baptized by Immersion in her specific church building, I was going straight to hell. She stalked me, called me and  wouldn’t leave me alone. I had nightmares. She didn’t succeed in getting me.

I felt uncomfortable by those in the Jesus movement that wanted us to pass out tracts threatening hell and damnation to those who didn’t read the tracts or to those of us who refused to pass them out because. They felt that if we didn’t acknowledge Jesus by sharing our faith this,way, we were certainly going straight to hell. That worried me. I had no trouble admitting to,being a Christian and telling anyone what they wanted to know if they asked. But I saw firsthand how having religion forced down their throats by an aunt impacted my parents.  But it was another movement that I met in college that encouraged you to pretend to be someone’s friend, convert him forcibly by scaring him and successful, drop them as a friend and move on, that made me cringe. What hypocrisy! Where was the idea of being friends with someone just to be a friend, because you shared common interests? They also wanted us to go away to a certain college and we all should become missionaries….that should be our only option. There was a heavy push to go to an expensive conference to sign up and train for the mission field.

Another close friend I grew up with was and is, LDS, commonly known as a Mormon. I read the Book of Mormon out of curiosity, and learned a good,deal of their doctrine. I exasperated a teacher who later when  we became good friends tried to convert me to the LDS church, because I could repeat so much of his own doctrine back at him. As he said:” How can you know ‘The Truth’ and not give in?

I wrote a good friend from high school when he was on his two year mission for the LDS church. While he and I were just friends, I teased him with perfumed letters to amuse his roommates, who thought we were involved. He appreciated the letters from home and enjoyed the joke on his roommates.

In Junior college I reluctantly took a required anthropology class. Much to my shock, I not only got an ‘A’ easily, but it was more of the same thing, I was and am fascinated with! Culture, Belief systems and how people live.
I made friends in high school with Baptists, and discovered that they had the same fervor in their faith that we had been taught to have at ours, except we baptized babies, they dedicated theirs, baptized their adults, while we confirmed ours. My youth group sang concerts in many of those Baptist churches that my friends attended. As I got older I started to realize that while many adherents to Christian groups had different beliefs and customs, they actually had very equivalent rituals, that in fact, pretty much mean the same thing. But they couldn’t see it. When you baptize a baby, you promise to bring her or him up in the faith. When a baby is dedicated instead of baptized, the same promise is made. Adults that are confirmed, confirm that they believe. Adults being baptized do the same thing. I’m not arguing the theology behind the different customs. I can put you to sleep explaining them to you, and why each group ‘knows’ the other is wrong. But, honestly, as I said, it boils down to the same basic idea, culturally speaking. I met many, many people during the time that my husband was in the Army that had very different beliefs from me, yet a very deep faith and relationship with God as they understood God. They had lots of wisdom, and lots of love. Who was I to tell someone this positively affected and in love with their faith that they were wrong, when you could see the evidence in their lives for the positive?
In the Chapel we attended in Germany, while my husband Steve was with the Army, I found what is still my model for people of,different faiths and customs. We usually had three chaplains of different Protestant denominations, and a Catholic priest assigned to the Chapel. What I have never seen since was the amazing cooperation between the chaplains, and how those they served became caught up with this idea of cooperation. If someone had a religious need, and no-one there could do it, Heaven and Earth was moved to fulfill that person’s need. This is still the job of chaplains today. Whether they agree with your faith or not, it is their job to care for you and help you find what you need, should you have one they can not fulfill. Sadly, some chaplains ignore this.
Communion Sundays in the Protestant chapel both amused me, and earned my respect. It was a three ring circus. We had pews reserved for people who could only receive communion kneeling, and a chaplain standing at the front for those who could only take it standing from an ordained minister. Lastly for those of us who were Presbyterians, unable apparently to move….they passed communion down the rows of the pews, the wine segment with both wine and grape juice. ( I was thrilled; I HATE grape juice)
When someone in the Catholic congregation needed someone fluent in sign language to teach a Catholic child his faith. I volunteered. The priest gratefully passed my offer along, but in the meantime, the child’s mother decided to do it herself.
It was hard to leave that place. We became friends with the chaplains and met frequently with them and their wives for dinner. Our favorite chaplain was one who came from such a different background religiously that we were on different pages in that respect. True friendship surpasses these things as inconsequential. We had lots of fun. Our sense of humor meshed with his and that of his wife. Or, true friendship SHOULD, surpass religious differences and customs in my opinion. But he helped us when we needed him, helping Steve to make the decision to become a chaplain himself, and gave him sound advice.
Since then, we have attended many churches….some I’ve adored, some I haven’t, some with good, sensible doctrine, some questionable.
As I have gotten older, I’ve become sure of one thing. I don’t know it all. I don’t have the corner on the truth. I’m secure with this. I believe that God, if God is God, uses the information we have about our knowledge of faith, no faith, and customs, to work with us to,reach us. It’s the same, I think, of speaking Spanish or German or whatever to talk to those who speak that language. I think our Creator is comfortable with us believing different things, even vastly different things.

I am finally after all these years, comfortable discussing things night and day different from what I have been taught. Don’t come to me dissing Native American Religion and customs. It has worked for Native Americans for Centuries. I respect it tremendously. I won’t attack you if you believe in reincarnation.( To those who don’t approve-throw the rocks)If you DO believe in reincarnation, I am interested in hearing about it. I’ve always been curious.

I’ve met Wiccans, and know so little about them that I am embarrassed. Steve, my navy chaplain husband, had a great rapport with them on ship. Why not? It’s his job to care for people. That’s what he does. He’s good at it. There’s more to diversity in the military and the workplace than accommodating Seventh Day Adventists, and Jewish Holidays. I read a book recently by two doctors, brothers who grew up in India, and are Hindu. They discussed the various Hindu deities, who there were, and old Hindu legends, if that is the right word. I was fascinated! I feel,sad that I know little of Buddhism, but I adore the Dalai Lama. I read his autobiography. He is,truly a great man who is not afraid to tell you that he thinks you may need to return to your own religious tradition. That alone caught my interest. If you have no religion, like my parents, I am fine with that, too, and interested if you want to talk about it.

As a chaplain’s wife, (one of few, I’m sure) it is my interest in as many faith groups being represented in the military as possible. I have given the LDS missionaries that have come to my door contact information for their chaplaincy representatives. I felt like I was about to be stoned at a meeting of chaplain’s wives once, when I told this story.
I’ve met Muslims and enjoyed talking to them.
I have, finally satiated….almost, my fascination with the Amish. I have Mennonites in my family. I don’t know them, but I have absolute adoration and respect for the way Mennonites care for people.
As I start to wind this down, there are some things I wish: We as religious and those who have none would do. Scorn not the person different from you that you do not understand. Do not ignore the poor, even if your church believes that only the rich have God’s favor. You might miss out on having a good, wise, friend. Do not shun your family that believes different from you.  Good relationships with family nurture. Separations because of disapproval hurt. Love them, cherish them, and have fun. Celebrate your common interests and celebrate your heritage. Don’t do what my aunt did: send my mom a birthday card wishing her a very happy birthday and many more, accompanied by a tract that says, believe this, or you’re going to hell! Rejoice in the milestone of your niece or nephew’s confirmation in a faith that you might even abhor, or not understand, because it’s important to them, and they should be important to you. Give them an appropriate gift, money, or that religious book they can’t afford, even if it makes you shudder. You are showing love to the young person. Be respectful of those who don’t consume certain substances, but don’t condemn the cultural practices of those who say, drink alcohol when you are horrified by  what you perceive as the mere sinfulness of the fact.  Some people drink their ancestors’ ashes mixed with water. This horrifies me. But it is very important to them. Why should I dismiss this custom to them? They’re not forcing me to do it.  Likewise, If you believe that only YOU are chosen by God to be in Heaven, it wins you little admiration if you treat those you deem are not chosen like trash.

Finally, my last wish :  if you have always shunned them, please respect and love the gay, lesbian, and transgendered, regardless of what you have been taught. The Bible  (should you follow it)  doesn’t say that ‘God made us in his own image,’ “except for those people over there.” Don’t do the condescending ” Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” thing. That’s looking down on people, right there.  There have always been people in these categories. They have feelings, fears, experiences and emotions. They have the same needs as straight people. The only difference is that in many states, it is still legal to treat them shamefully. Nobody is forcing you to be friends with anyone you don’t want to be friends with.
Women finally have rights. People are no longer allowed to put signs up that say “No Irish need apply”. It is no longer legal to turn down a disabled person for a job they are well able to do, like it was for my dad, who had polio. Or refuse to serve me at an office because you claim my speech is too poor for you to try to understand, and talk to the person with me like I’m stupid. Yes, this happened.
Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered people are the only people left that we can deny basic human rights to….I don’t want to hear how horrible you feel gay marriage is. Fine. Your church doesn’t have to marry anyone it doesn’t want to marry, including divorced people if that’s an abomination to you. But marriage in every country is essentially, a civil contract. You get your marriage license from the state. Do you know how painful it is not to be able to give someone spousal benefits, such as insurance? Don’t bring the sex part of it up to me. Do I ask you about your sex life? This is about basic security. This is not about religion. The state above all, should not deny basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by most to a select few, just because some people don’t approve.
Rocks? Do I see any incoming?

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Musings

The last time I posted, there were many things I did not know, not being able to see the future, and to be honest, had anyone told me, I doubt that I would have believed it anyway.

I could not imagine that I would have surgery on my left heel the day after Thanksgiving last year, nor could I have predicted being unable to walk for several weeks. Since I kept falling in our townhouse, I ended up going to North Carolina, where my husband, who is in the Navy is stationed, for all of December, with forays back up north to the foot doctor as needed. I would have never guessed in a million years, that the dog would pack up and leave me, “just like that” as the expression goes. Yes, Molly, our sweet, loyal  dachshund-papillon mix left me. I depended on Molly to hear for me…let me know when someone rang the doorbell or there was something going on outside. But Molly found a better deal. After a month of walking with  her favorite parent along the beach and chasing deer, she balked at staying behind up north while I underwent physical therapy. She saw Daddy packing to go back down south, and she started wailing. I don’t think I’d ever heard a dog cry, but Molly couldn’t bear for her adventures to be over. While we had planned for her to go back anyway, because I couldn’t yet take care of her, I had to face the fact  that SHE was not coming back. How could I compete? I had a tree, squirrels and a townhouse. Her daddy had deer and the beach. It was no contest. She’s been in North Carolina ever since. sleeping all day while Daddy is at work, waking up long enough to boss him around in the evening, then sleeping some more.She comes home some weekends, and is always happy to see me. She makes sure she cuddles up to me. She starts barking when she’s close to the house . She greets me joyfully. But she makes it plain that she’s just visiting.

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PTSD, Depression, and The Problem of Suicide: When Life gets to be too much.

Recently I have read about an awful lot of suicides among everyone from people among our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, public figures, and even young people among our local high school students.

The devastation that suicide leaves behind is tremendous. Loved ones are wracked with guilt, and wondering “Why? Why didn’t I see this coming?” In the case of someone who suicided out of anger, the emotional trauma is even worse to loved ones left behind, because the person wanted to punish them. They’re already going to wonder what they could have done, or think that the event was their fault. Reading an angry note left behind saying “This is all your fault” just makes the situation even more painful, and it’s cruel.

My great-grandfather committed suicide in 1920, I think it was. Upon doing more research, I discovered the reason. He had fallen off a windmill a year earlier. His physical pain must have been tremendous. There was no pain management in those days. He checked out because he could no longer endure the pain. He was found hanging in the barn by a grandchild. This is the problem with the aftermath of suicide. Someone has to find the the deceased. Someone has to suffer the trauma of  being the first person on the scene and seeing the results of the person’s final act.  Physical pain drives many people to end their lives. So does emotional pain.

When someone comes home from battle, and the war is always with them, they see their present world through the glasses of their former world, the war. They have learned behavior to  cope with the danger they were formerly in. Upon hearing a loud noise, some people may dive to the floor. Others many grab for a weapon, any weapon to save themselves. However, upon returning home, the responses that may very well have saved  a person’s life  in war will hinder  their functioning back at home. The self preserving behavior that was formerly so useful has now got to be unlearned. The problem is that by now, the behavior is second nature. It’s unconscious. When the person says “I can’t control it, it just happens, ” he or she is being honest. What few people tell them is that with a lot of work, a lot of the innate behavior can be unlearned and weeded out. It won’t happen overnight. This much I can tell you from personal experience. I have never been to war. I do have PTSD from a painful childhood ruled over by an angry authoritarian father.

It wasn’t unusual  for my sister and I to be awakened at 2 in the morning because Dad had found a speck on a fork or a plate. Dad would burst through our bedroom door screaming at the top of his lungs, and the next thing we knew, my sister and I would be standing sleepily at the sink cleaning every dish and piece of silverware in the house.  To this day I startle at the least bit of noise, and it wears me out when I’m in a situation where I am constantly exposed to unexpected noise.   Dad is long gone, but my body is still waiting for him to come screaming through the door.

This is just one of my PTSD reactions. Let’s continue about PTSD in a military person returned from war. The person suffering will relive the horrors of the things they saw. He or she will constantly find themselves reliving events long past. The current reality fades and they are once again in a convoy, fighting for their lives, seeing, smelling and hearing death. How can you not be tormented by watching your buddy die? Or seeing dead civilians or children?  Or they’ll be fine and suddenly read or hear about someone in the same exact place or situation that they were in, and the war comes back to them. Thoughts and feelings run the gamut to “It could have been me, Why wasn’t it me?” to “Why am I here when my buddy isn’t? ” The person may feel that they don’t deserve to be alive. Not many professionals know how to deal with PTSD. Few people who have not been to war understand what it’s like to still be living in a war you’re no longer fighting, except, yes, you are still fighting it. You’re fighting it in your head, and you need help getting the war out of your head and moving on.

Physical pain from illnesses or accidents, are easier to deal with than they were in 1920, but even now some people come to the point where the pain has taken over their very being and they can get no relief.  Some people may look ahead to where they see that their disease is going to progress to, and not be willing to get to that point in their lives. They want to spare themselves the indignity of helplessness and unbearable pain down the line and spare their families from the stress of care taking.

Depression is an insidious disease that often leads to suicide. The feelings of emotional pain become too much to bear. The toll of day after day of being immobilized by emotional pain and bombarding one’s self with thoughts of things like : “I’ll never get better, I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I hate myself/everyone hates me” become too much in the sufferer’s opinion to bear any longer. Depression is also acerbated by a person not forgiving themselves for mistakes, major or minor and moving on. They may try therapy and not like the therapist and decide after looking for others that therapy isn’t for them. If I could say anything I would say “If you’ve found ten that haven’t worked, keep trying. There’s more than just ten people in the profession.”

The person may feel worthless or in the way, and all the evidence the person sees only backs up the person’s warped view of reality.

In my case I often think that the lives of those around me would be easier if I wasn’t here, because I often feel that all I do is take up space, cost money and distract people who do enjoy life from living their lives. I often feel like I’m in the way and that I do not belong here. I watch people around me live their lives and I feel like I’m looking through a window. I get so frustrated with myself because it seems like I am constantly failing. How hard is it to keep a house clean? It shouldn’t be that hard. Apparently for me it is. And so I let this failure help me define my self worth. I’m told that’s wrong.

I   used to be horrified at the thought of suicide and felt bad for the survivors. I still feel bad for the people that are left behind and are hurting because they lost a loved one. Unfortunately,as of late I have began to understand why the person who took his or her own life did so, and I can no longer criticize them for their choice. Some times I’m almost envious. And this is what bothers me. So far what has kept me has been my fear of pain and dying and not wanting to cause my husband pain. I hope that this will continue to be the thing that holds me back. In the meantime, my prayers are with everyone who suffers from emotional pain, or mental illness of any kind.

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Weddings, family feuds and those that rise above them.

Yesterday was my 27th wedding anniversary. Since that time, I have attended many weddings. I’ve heard horror stories about mothers, fathers, and other relatives demanding that so and so NOT be invited or they will NOT come. What they fail to realize is that the wedding is NOT about them, it is about the bride and groom. The person who objects to other people they personally dislike attending isn’t punishing the bride and groom. What they do succeed in doing though, is making themselves look petty and childish. I’m sure that many brides and grooms do give into these types of demands, which is unfortunate.

   My family, like many had estrangements, divorces and the like. I had three siblings at my wedding, but only had two come. The other one was too far away It’s a shame. It would have been the only time since I was a toddler that my mother would have had all four of her children together.  The next time we four were together was when my oldest sister was dying.

   I was  denied the presence of a niece and nephew because my sister was separated from her husband and they were with him. He refused to let them come. That did cause me pain. I adored them.

 But, let’s move on. At the time, I had not seen my dad’s brother and sister in five years, since my grandmother died. I greatly loved my aunt and uncle. I knew that Dad was NOT speaking to his brother and there had almost been legal action between them. I actually have the letters passed between lawyers in which they threatened each other.

   As far as I was concerned, this did NOT affect me. I heard that later, my dad had glumly said when he found out that his brother had been invited was “It’s HER wedding. She can invite whoever she wants.”

   Graciously, my aunt and uncle and their spouses came. Two cousins came as well. I was thrilled. My dad’s branch of the family was willing to be there because I wanted them there despite the bad blood between my dad and uncle.

To this day, I am touched. It was a big thing to have them there, and they did NOT disappoint me.

 Another person I invited was my sister in law, who was divorced from my brother. I loved my brother, but I also loved my sister in law.

I wanted her there. So I invited her. My parents had wanted her there, too. So, she came, with my niece and nephew in tow. I was thrilled that she had thought enough of me to come despite being divorced from my brother.

  Twenty-seven years later, I have begun to realize the unusualness of people going to a wedding knowing that their ex spouses or estranged family members were also invited.

   This year is a sad year. My husband and I are not together this day.

His father passed away this week, and my husband has gone back home for the memorial service. While I am sad that we didn’t celebrate our anniversary today, I know that he is where he needs to be.

Because of his military career, there haven’t been many anniversaries that we have had together. In recent years, we’ve been fortunate.

Today, I am torn. I miss my husband, but I am sad about my father in law. He had Alzheimer’s. In his last years, we had a special bond, and even when he was out of it most of the time, when he did come to, he would say one thing to my husband when he would fly to California and visit his dad in the nursing home : “Tell Judy that I love her.”

By then, I am sure that he had no idea about the events that had transpired to make us close, but one thing he DID know. He loved me. Because of this, he made sure my husband knew and told me.

 In the end, isn’t that what life is about? Love?

My life has had lots of pain where family is involved. But one thing I do know. I have family members that love me enough that they overlooked resentments, childish behavior and wrong doing to be at my wedding for me. This is what stands out to me the most of all.

  May I live up to their example.

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Frieda, the dog biscuit, and what exactly wakes up?

 For 16 years, we had a wirehaired dachshund, named Frieda.. After retiring from security detail as “The Dog” at the age of 4 when we got our red smooth haired dachshund  Poo, as a puppy, Frieda spent much of her time asleep. Sleep was her favorite activity,.

    Since Frieda spent so much time passed out belly up, Steve and I used to take advantage of this by amusing ourselves at her expense. Since this involved food, she didn’t object. Otherwise we would have been treated to a show of gorgeous, perfectly white, straight and deadly set of teeth. She did NOT like being laughed at. Her teeth were big for her size, and she could have been an understudy for “The Big Bad Wolf” in the book Little Red Riding Hood.

   We’d get a tiny dog biscuit and we’d wave it back and forth over the underside of her nose, which was facing up. Eventually, the nose would start to twitch. Then, like a trap door, the snout would slowly open. We’d drop the dog biscuit in the open trap, and then it would close. Then, barely perceptible, you would see a slight movement of the jaws as she chewed, making me think of gears on a drawbridge. Otherwise, nothing else moved. The only thing on her that appeared to wake up was the nose and the trap door she opened to receive the dog biscuit. Everything else stayed perfectly still. The eyes never once opened.  We were never entirely sure just exactly what on this dog woke up, because otherwise she was perfectly still. It was amazing. We never got tired of doing this because it was so funny to watch, and as long as there was something in it for her, Frieda was always willing to comply. Frieda’s goal was always to get the maximum amount of gain for the least amount of effort.  She succeeded, for the most part, admirably. She took laziness to an art form.

  It’s been years since Frieda passed on. I think of her often, because my computer’s wallpaper is a drawing of her in a major sulk.

    I miss her moodiness. I miss her inflated ego, and extreme sense of entitlement. I miss the power fights in which neither of us would back down, sometimes forcing me to find a muzzle. But I also miss the hysterical lengths she would go to keep from exerting one more muscle than necessary. And then in my mind’s eye, I see a nose twitch, the jaws slowly open, and then close over a dog biscuit. I see the barely perceptible chewing, and somehow she doesn’t seem so absent.  She could make me angry, and often I would be in tears. She also made me laugh.  They were the best of times, as they say, and the worst of times. I’m glad I was there for every minute of it.

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Dachshunds (ours) and their contracts

 

We have a little dog, named Molly. The Moll, as we call her, is a cross between a dachshund and a Papillion. She was found abandoned at the age of six months and given to us.  From the very beginning, her dachshund heritage was unmistakable. Already obvious was a long body, dachshund chest and the crooked front legs. Her ears were dachshund ears, but they were set wrong. They wouldn’t lie down. Her non-dachshund features made us and a Sheltie breeder think of sheltie, but as Molly grew, her Papillion heritage became obvious, both because she developed a bit of the butterfly fringe over her ears that papillions are known for, and the cascade of fur for a tail that curves over the back.

   Molly has both the dachshund and the Papillion personalities, but she doesn’t mix them. Either she is one, or the other. She either wants to please us, or she’ll have a “screw you” attitude that dachshunds get when they do NOT want to cooperate.

   Molly’s food is kept in a galvanized trash can with a lid. We buy her 20 lbs of food at a time and it lasts for quite a while. I’ve come to think of buying her food as “renewing her contract.”

    Why do I think of buying food as renewing her contract? Because if I buy food it means that I keep her and she continues on in her role as dog.  We do however, have a contract. It’s not on paper, or a computer file, but we have it nonetheless.

For agreeing to be housebroken, Molly requires a small dog biscuit for going outside. While I think Molly would be housebroken without the “cookie” as we call it, it was in the contract that we had with our dachshund Poo, and Poo expected the cookie because it had been in Frieda’s contract when Poo, the cute shorthair red puppy joined the big black wirehaired dachshund. So, because 25 years ago, I had to add a cookie clause to a dachshund’s contract or she would use our carpet as her bathroom,(boldly in front of us.) Molly, our dog today benefits from the cookie clause.

   I eliminated the cookie clause from the dachshunds once and was successful for a year. Then one day, while outside, Frieda got to thinking about how she really resented the cookie clause being deleted from the contract when we moved to West Virginia. She apparently talked it over with Poo, and together they went on strike.

  All of a sudden they would stare at me and demand a cookie every time they came in, and they wouldn’t back down. Not that a dachshund is known for backing down anyway, but for once, I gave in on this issue. The cookie clause was written back in, and the dogs were happy, at least until Frieda found another power fight to wage against me with.

     One of Frieda’s loves was cheese. When she was about three years old, she took a big block of cheddar cheese that had hardened out of the trash and ate the whole thing. We found her wild eyed in her cage and an empty cheese wrapper where there should have been a hardened block of cheese. She had the tummy ache from hell. Since we knew that she wouldn’t be miserable for ever, we left her alone, checking on her occasionally.  We’d laugh, and she would glare.

   This did not break her of stealing cheese. Instead, it was the instigator. There was a cheese dip that was popular when we lived in Texas. You took some velveeta cheese and a can of rotel and put them in the microwave and ate it with corn chips. Frieda would lie underneath the coffee table when we served it to our friends and would moan loudly until she got some. Not wanting to hear that obnoxious moan, Frieda  got lots cheese dip, earning her the title of “The Queso Queen”, Queso being the Spanish word for cheese.

       Molly likes cheese every bit as much as Frieda did. While she’s never had opportunity to steal it, I’m sure she would. My life revolves around the tortilla, and with tortillas comes cheese.  As soon as she sees or hears me opening the bag of shredded cheese, Molly alerts and sits in the kitchen between me and her food bow, wagging furiously, and as excited as she can be. She knows what’s coming next: namely; that I will take a pinch of cheese and toss it in her dish.

I’ve come to refer to this as “The Cheese Provision”, because Molly now expects it. It doesn’t matter to her that she gets just a tiny amount. What matters is that we fulfill our part of the contract.

   We got Molly food recently, thus, as we have every time she has needed food, renewed her contract. While Molly’s contract has some leftovers of contracts from years past of dogs long gone, much of her contract is unique to her. She knows that she WILL get some cheese. Frieda had to get obnoxious and demand it because as much as she loved it, we never wrote it into her contract. With Molly, a few stands of cheese gets put into the bowl and she doesn’t bother us for cheese after that. There’s also something else that SHE has put in the contract. Upon entering the front door, no matter how tired you are, or how full your arms are, you MUST drop everything and acknowledge the dog by picking her up, petting her and sweet talking to her. If you do not, she will howl in protest. It’s a cute, funny, feminine howl, but it’s a howl. We aren’t often quick enough for her.

We have a small antique pew in our entryway by our front door. Molly rarely lets me past the pew before she howls at me in wounded protest for not adoring her sooner. Sometimes I’m not even given time to shut the door behind me. Because of this, I start sweet talking her the minute that my key hits the lock.

      Frieda didn’t have this written into her contract because she honestly didn’t care whether we came or went. We would walk through the door and she would be stretched out on her side, reminding me of a side of beef. She would raise her head up an inch and give us a look, making this thought pop into my head :”Oh. It’s just you.” Poo would always want to be greeted unless she had done something. But she didn’t get vocal and complain if we put our things down first. Molly also has a clause for going for fast food runs because she loves drive through. She doesn’t get many of these runs any more, but she loves them when she does. If we come home bearing food, she always gets her own very small hamburger. She constantly nags us when we are eating, because she knows that this isn’t something written in the contract. It’s not a given that anything will be tossed to her. I’m often forced to stop eating and tell her “Stop this. GO somewhere”, which I’ll admit is a big vague, but she knows what it means because she gets sulky and slinks resentfully out of my line of sight.

   If you have an animal, then you’ve got a contract with them, too. Before you stop and protest, think about it. Are there things that you do that your pet EXPECTS will happen? Sure there are. You’ve got yourslf an ironclad contract, and your animal will be resentful if it’s not met. The amount of clauses in the contract depends on negotiation.  If you’ve stood firm, there shouldn’t be a long contract. If your pet has you wrapped around the smallest toenail, then they’ve written the contract themselves and keep you running. The only way to change it is to rewrite the contract and not give in to demands of  “But you’ve always done this before!”

   Frieda tried to renegotiate her contract every day in her favor. We were there to serve her and she got increasingly demanding as her ego grew through the years and the sense of entitlement hardened in her little brain. We’d always refuse to sign, and the next day it would be once again, a power fight trying to get us get with the program and cater to her every whim. We called her “The Queen” because of this.

   Over the years she manipulated people into playing into her hand, by not moving when it was time to go outside so she would be carried, playing dead so she would be the center of attention, and in the case of one person, had him up every 10 minutes by going up and moaning at him. This was Frieda language for “Go get me a cookie”. One day I watched in horrid fascination as that man let our obnoxious dog make him get up from a recliner every 10-15 minutes because she could. By mid afternoon, I was tired of her bullying and put a stop to it.

   Be aware when  renew your next contract with your pet. But choose the specifics carefully, because once it’s in, you’re locked in and duty bound to comply because “It’s in the contract.”

I wish you well in your next negotiation. If you have dachshunds, hang on. It’ll be an arduous and lengthy ride.

And with that, I’ll go back up to my cell and the very, very, top of the Abbey.

Molly in a classic "What do YOU want" pose

An angry Frieda in a classic sulk

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Christians and Common sense

I have a question that burns a hole in my brain.  I get the stuff that we are supposed to trust God to meet all of our needs, and that Jesus has saved us.

But this I don’t get.  Why, WHY do Christians check their brains at the door when they pray the sinner’s prayer? Why do they give up every last shred of self esteem and sense of self worth? Why DO they check their common sense at the door?

  There was an acronym when I was growing up that went like this: JOY Jesus first, Others   second, Yourself last. I have a problem with this. It encourages you to run yourself to the ground, and ignore your own needs, and desires. It encourages you to let others take to take advantage of you and to submit yourself to manipulative churches.

 How do Christians throw their common sense away? The argument for this is “God’s ways are NOT our ways”. Well, that’s true. We’re NOT God.  But I hear things like “Well, we’re waiting on God”.  Or, “I know God has a special purpose for me”, or “I know that God has a person for my life” in reference to a spouse.  So, knowing that God is going to do all of this for them, they sit, waiting. They do nothing.

Or, they need money or employment. They wait on God for that, too. It never occurs to them to go job hunting or ask someone for money. God, you see, will do it all for them.

I don’t think that Jesus calls for us to live a life of passivity and dependency, but activity.

Paul says to “pray without ceasing”. It’s a good idea. But some people mean that to beg God to decide every mundane detail of their lives, going so far as to consulting God on their every move from what to eat, what to wear, to even helping them pick out their underwear.

   They devalue themselves to be so worthless as to be unable to even pick out their own spouse. They’re so stupid, you see, that they’ll mess it up if they do it themselves. Guess what? Christians have the same divorce rate as the rest of the word. If you divorce “the person God has for you” does that mean that God made a mistake? Or are you going to explain it away by saying that you veered away from God’s will? The only way you’ll meet your spouse is to circulate. If you see the same boring people every day, and are interested in none of them and see nobody else, how is this going to happen? Is someone supposed to show up on your doorstep and announce “I’m the person God has for you”?

 I’m not saying that God is uninterested in our lives. But, either He gave us free will or he didn’t.

Either we are puppets unable to think for ourselves, or we’re not. To me, there IS no middle ground.

If any of your utilities go off, you call the utility company in question to get it turned on, unless it’s a bad storm and you know why it’s off.  Even then, a lot of us still call to find out just when it will come on.

You don’t sit there and pray for it to come on if you didn’t pay the bill.  Not normally. If you didn’t pay the bill, you either pay it, or beg, borrow or steal the money. You don’t sit there and hope that it will come on like magic.   God should NOT be reduced to magic. Can God do things instantly? Yes. He can. He does. Those are called miracles. Miracles, despite what the “name it, claim it” people will tell you, do NOT happen every day. That, to quote my husband, is “Why they call them miracles”.

Have I see miracles? Yes. I have had them happen to me. I got healed of a serious, painful illness when a group of people across town, unbeknownst to me, prayed for me . I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t have “faith” that I would be healed. I didn’t even know I was being prayed for. Did I expect it? No. Am I grateful? Oh yes!

  A dear friend of mine was diagnosed a few years ago with a slow acting form of cancer.  We were all horrified. None of us wanted to believe it. People visited him in the hospital and told him what he wanted to hear: that God was going to heal him, and that he wasn’t going to die from it. His pastor told him that, too. Because he was told that God was going to heal him, he made no plans for his wife.  He did nothing to put his affairs in order. He died. His wife was left destitute.  I was heartbroken to the point where I could not go to the funeral because I couldn’t stop crying loud, heaving sobs.  To this day I am SO angry. I was devastated when our friend died, although I was expecting it. I was angry that a man with his amount of common sense heard what he wanted to hear and made no plans “just in case”.

I don’t believe that he died because of a lack of faith. He died because people get diseases, and they die. God doesn’t always heal. I don’t know why I was healed of a serious illness and this man was not. Certainly this man was more holy, and a valuable resource to his community. I’m not going to say that I don’t question God. There are a lot of times when I yell skyward :”What in HELL are you doing?” But God doesn’t have to answer to me. I’m ok with that.

I find the tendency of Christians to use God as an excuse to keep from doing something as troubling. People who will see doctors when they break their leg, or are in some kind of pain, suddenly throw up a wall when it comes to anything having to do with the mind.  They’ll blame depression, sadness and insanity on spiritual problems, or the sins of their fathers. They’ll do elaborate rituals and go through hours of prayer to keep from doing the sensible thing: which namely is: “See a mental health professional and get help”.

I believe in the power of prayer. I find it healing and soothing. I find it troubling, however when I see people using prayer and God to keep from doing things that they can do to make them own selves healthier, physically and mentally, and to keep from taking on responsibility for themselves.

 I’m not likely to sway many people to my way of thinking. When you feel that God has called you to be a doormat to let others take advantage of you and drain you, your energy and resource dry,  you’re not going to listen to me.

  But I am a firm believer in the fact that God gave me a brain, and created this world for me to livei n. If God created me in his own image, why in fact am I truly worthless?  Do I believe that I sin? Oh, yes. I KNOW I sin. But I also know this: God gave me free will to make choices. He did NOT make me a door mat. He gave me the sense to trust Him, and to use my common sense to make decisions. He did not make me to lay in wait for manna to fall from Heaven and to sit there awaiting his grand master plan for me to unfold and put my brain in neutral while I wait for him to do everything for me.

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