Category: love


I’ve just watched again, for the umpteen-gazillionth time (that’s a Southern expression for a bunch) the ASPCA’s commercial featuring Sarah McLachlan’s soulful ballad ‘Angel’. It is a tear-jerker to be sure. Sad, lonely, and abused animals fill frame after frame while the singer’s haunting melody drifts woefully along in the background. The ASPCA nailed it with this one. Their two-minute ad has garnered over $30 million in donations since it began its TV and website appearance in 2007 – an unimaginable windfall in the world of nonprofit fund raising from a single campaign.  I’ve also seen an increasing number of advertisements for ‘nutritionally sound’ dog and cat food, more ‘comfortable’ methods of leashing and grooming our pets, psychiatric care for stressed-out pets, and one particularly new brand of food that is bought from the refrigerated section and kept in the refrigerator at home because it’s made from 100% fresh ingredients! Exactly the same food we eat – minus the preservatives, additives, and fillers.

Is it just me or have we gone a little pet-crazy?

Let me be quick to say, I love animals. I’ve had numerous dogs and cats throughout my life, a few fish, and even a lizard for almost two years (and if you know me, it was truly a sacrifice of love for me to allow any kind of reptile inside the house). I draw a hard line on rodents. Absolutely not. No way. Not happening. But I’m getting off point…

I really do love animals and have experienced the ecstasy of puppy kisses, the amazing birth of kittens (three different litters), blue-ribbon worthy photographs, and the abiding loyalty from a pet that only its owner can understand and appreciate. I’ve also suffered through the agony of emergency vet appointments, lost and runaway pets, accidents (two dogs hit by a car), injuries (one dog bitten by a snake), mental instability (a cat who went crazy), and saying good-bye to a four-legged friend who shared life with us for 18 years. I often referred to our flat-coated retriever, Tiger, as my second oldest child.

However, it strikes me as of late that we as a society have elevated our pets to an almost god-like position within the family. People name pets in their wills (think Leona Helmsley), provide air conditioned dog houses (remember Tammy Faye Baker?), and buy puppy treadmills for their dogs to enjoy a pleasant walk inside when the weather outside is frightful. For the super-elite (or insane), pet owners now have the opportunity to provide the Fauna Sauna Heated Spa Bed. At a cool $850, their pet will enjoy lounging on an elevated, heated spa bed to relax muscles and treat anxiety. I’m not making this up, folks – it’s out there. Google it.

While I deeply appreciate the work that animal rescue organizations do to promote spay/neuter campaigns and punish animal cruelty, it flabbergasts me (another Southern expression for shock and amazement) that the loss of even one cat or dog in a shelter is intolerable. Extreme measures are taken – and accompanying exorbitant costs – to provide emergency surgeries, treatments, foster parents, etc. Sadly, many of these pets don’t survive in spite of the monumental efforts on their behalf. And if a female dog or cat is pregnant? The call to action is desperate, if not hysterical. We must not lose a puppy or a kitten!

What does this elevated pet status say about us? Rabbi Shmuley Boteach reflected in a 2009 Huff Post Healthy Living article, “…I met [a woman] recently in a Manhattan office. Seeing that an enormous Great Dane sat next to her desk, I inquired as to why the dog was at work and not at home. Her reply startled me. “My husband and I divorced about six months ago and we share joint custody of the dog. And since she’ll be going back to him this weekend, I want to spend as much time with her as possible.”” (July 20, 2009).

Really? What could possibly be going on in our minds and hearts that would cause adults to fight over who gets to spend the most time with their pet but not their own children? I think I have an idea…

Unconditional love.

We crave it. We bounce through relationships trying to find it. We read books and visit counselors and attend seminars to learn how to give and receive it. But we are human. Imperfect, broken, and flawed. And emotionally intimate relationships are fragile. Our very nature shuns vulnerability. Since the Garden of Eden, we have been trying to hide our nakedness, physically and emotionally. But our pets don’t tell us we are overweight, or financially irresponsible, or negligent housekeepers. Our pets don’t blame us for a divorce, or become disrespectful teenagers, or get strung out on drugs. They don’t cheat on us, or hurt our feelings with an ill-timed remark, or give us the silent treatment after an argument.

They simply love us where we are, for who we are. They are happy to be with us, whether lazily spending the day watching TV or going to the park for a brisk walk and a game of frisbee. They wag their tails from the simple joy of being called by name, tenderly scrubbed around the ears, or given a crunchy little dry treat out of a box off a shelf in the laundry room.

We love them because they do not judge us. They do not compare us. They love each of us individually and uniquely. And we don’t fear losing their love. Hmmmm….sound vaguely familiar?

Check out Psalms 139:13-16:

“For you [God] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

God knew every one of our days before we took our first scared, cold, naked, vulnerable breath. He knew about first days of kindergarten, hurtful nicknames, straight As, first dates, college classes, divorces, lost jobs, car payments, vacations, and cancer. And He knew our nature would be to reject him, to run from that which knows us too well. Still He loves us. Still He pursues us. Still He died for us. Still He answers prayers, performs miracles, provides unexpected blessings, and remains faithful when we are not. Is it possible that we are trying to fill a void intended for God with a pet? Satisfy our craving with the creation instead of the Creator? The Bible tells us that He calls us by name, knows the hairs on our head (which change daily), and has our name carved on the palm of His hand.

Enjoy your pet(s). Love them. Provide your best care. But remember: at the end of the day no pet, no spouse, child, friend, or significant other can fill the void intended for our relationship with God. And the next time you have a cool $850 laying around? Give it to a local children’s shelter. Your pet won’t know the difference and you could very well be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone who needs to know they are special, valuable, and unique.

Someone once said, “Marriage means commitment. Of course, so does insanity.” Ask anyone you know, married or single, about-to-be-married or used-to-be-married, it doesn’t matter: they will all have something to say about marriage. Thousands of books have been written about marriage, hundreds of seminars and workshops are held each year on the subject, contracts are written, movies are made, and therapists and lawyers make their fortunes off of it. Still, we are no closer to figuring it out than Adam and Eve after their disastrous rendezvous at the fruit tree which gave birth to ‘he said, she said’ and the beautiful madness of marriage.

Irving Stone’s The Agony and The Ecstacy, published in 1961, is an amazing, masterfully written ‘biographical novel’ on the life of Michaelangelo. It is also a haunting and insightful portrayal of marriage. We see the contrast in the rich historical Renaissance era between Florence – a cultural mecca for artists, architects, musicians, and writers – and Rome, the political, religious, and educational benchmark for all of Italy.  Both cities brought their own unique value to their country, and to all of Europe as a result.  But not only in the culture where he was raised, we see Michaelangelo’s own personal battles mirror that of marriage. The passion with which he pursued what he loved, the despair of rejection and/or failure, the very struggle necessary to create. And the glory of a life well lived, leaving behind astounding works of art that have touched countless millions of lives.

We’ve all heard ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’. We are also from Florence and Rome. We are salt and pepper, dogs and cats, blue sky and deep green ocean, and velvet and steel. For all the ways we explore understanding and overcoming our differences, our contrasting elements are the stage of struggle on which we create things of beauty, works of art. Where would fried chicken be if seasoned only with pepper? How boring would a dog’s life be if never given the opportunity to chase after a cat? Would the sky be as blue if it did not rest peacefully against a deep green ocean? And could we truly appreciate the strength of steel if we never cradled velvet against our cheek?

My husband and I will be married for 17 years tomorrow. There have been seasons of ecstacy and times of overwhelming agony. We have loved, laughed, cried, yelled, made promises, made threats, and bought and sold cars, houses, and furniture. We have three wonderful children. We’ve shared many more pets. We’re learning to learn from others’ mistakes and celebrate their successes. And we’re learning what works for us. At the end of the day, for all our married ups and downs, he knows me. I know him. We draw strength, stability, and sometime arguments from each other. And at night, resting on the same pillows, there is comfort in knowing that Rome and Florence are learning to peacefully and productively co-exist.

The struggle to create something of beauty. The glory of leaving behind a work of art. The beautiful madness of marriage.

Willie Nelson made these words famous crooning about all the girls who had been in and out of his life for various purposes (some honorable, some not so much) and for varying lengths of time.  Father’s Day is quickly approaching so I’d like to share about the men who have deeply impacted and influenced my life. 

Tomorrow you will be treated to a special guest blogger – a dear friend of mine and former co-worker who, in my humble (but accurate) opinion, ought to be famously famous and hangin’ out on top of the best seller list for months at a time.  But I guess if those things were true about him, I wouldn’t know him as a friend.  He is as “Southern gentleman” as they come, possesses a wonderfully salty personality complimented by a heavy shot of Tabasco, and shares Biblical truths with deeply profound insight.  Not to mention he’s crazy in love with his wife and over the moon for his kids.  I’m confident you will be delighted by tomorrow’s blog featuring Jason Brooks.  But for now, I’d like to give you my perspective on some pretty incredible men…here they are:

My first crush: I was in Kindergarten and his name was Bruce. I really can’t tell you much more about him except to say I have warm memories of my 5-year-old smile, happily swinging my shoulders back and forth, dreamily fantasizing that he was crushing on me, too.  Unfortunately, even among our small Kindergarten class of boys and girls, I’m fairly confident he didn’t know I was alive.

David Cassidy, lead singer for the Partridge Family.  I thought he looked like the older, more grown-up version of my brother, and I absolutely adored my brother (more about him later).  I knew every word to every song, every facial expression, and probably the pattern on every 70s-inspired shirt he wore.  Driving down the interstate one day, my Dad pointed out that their tour bus was beside us.  It was destiny!  I just knew that David Cassidy would look out his window, see the girl (literally – I think I was 10) of his dreams and serenade me into the gorgeous Eastern sunset.  Alas, the old man driving the bus was not influenced by my frantic waving or my Dad’s honking and did not sense the urgency of waking my prince from his slumber somewhere in the back of the bus.  And down the highway he went…

My Grandfathers, PawPaw and PaPa.  PawPaw was my Dad’s dad and PaPa was my mother’s.  PawPaw was very much like a piece of M&Ms candy: crusty and a little hard on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.  He bragged that I was the only one of his grandchildren he ever changed a diaper for.  PawPaw was a WWII vet, a self made man, and an expert gardener.  He graciously allotted a small area of his massive back yard for a swing set where my cousins and I spent many hours sliding, swinging, and teeter-tottering on summer days while he and my grandmother harvested summer vegetables and fruits.  He was a collector of all things Coca-Cola, loved to go antique shopping, and spoiled my grandmother. I was angry with him when he re-married quickly after my Grandmother died and it was PawPaw who first taught me that no one can dictate how another person grieves.  You see, my Grandmother died of Alzheimer’s and he had grieved the loss of the woman he knew and loved for so long that by the time she physically died, he simply moved through the steps of her funeral and burial.  I didn’t like being angry at him. I felt as if I were somehow betraying him, but it was driven by the sense that he had betrayed my Grammie.  It didn’t last long.  The first time I met his new wife and saw that big Andy Taylor smile on his face, all was forgiven.  He was a good man and I loved him. 

I loved both my Grandfathers.  But my PaPa and I shared something special. I don’t know why, I don’t even know how to describe it.  It simply was.  He was a perfect balance of strong and tender.  An unexpected quick wit, he could make us laugh about anything.  I remember one summer when the five granddaughters enjoyed an extended stay with him and my Grandmother.  Every morning started out around the breakfast table on our knees.  We were all too young to appreciate the prayers he prayed over us, but the love that motivated those prayers was undeniable.  PaPa had a way of making each one of us believe that we were his favorite.  He loved ‘his girls’ and told us at every opportunity. He approached the pulpit before every sermon with a sense of deep gratitude that he had been given the privilege and calling to impact other people’s lives with the grace of God.  Losing him to cancer was almost more than any of us could bear.  PaPa lived with dignity and showed us how to die with the same.  He ran his race well and finished strong, telling everyone his greatest regret was being forced to leave his family. He loved us hard and I miss him every day.

My Dad. He was raised ‘Bobby’, a beautiful boy with snow white hair (even then) and crystal blue eyes.  My Mom started calling him ‘Bob’ when they began dating and I’ve heard him called several nicknames over the years, Father Time and Mr. C. among others.  He is the strongest man I’ve ever known.  Period.  I loved crawling up in his lap as a little girl and remember many vacations being launched into what felt like outer space as he threw me across the pool.  I was his shadow, following him around as close as a second skin any time he was home.  He and my Mom bought me a beat up old baby grand piano that he lovingly restored to a work of art.  My Dad is not openly affectionate but one look in those pools of blue and there is no question about his love.  On the flip side, those same eyes could make my blood run cold when I knew I’d disobeyed or disappointed him.  And I returned the flash of lightning only once, when he inadvertently referred to someone else by my nickname, ‘Sweetie’.  No words necessary.  That is one mistake made only once.  My knight in shining armor, my manager, the calm waters in my sometimes turbulent life, my hero.  My Dad. 

My Brother.  I think I must have loved him even before I was born.  When we were young I told him I wanted to marry him.  “We can’t get married,” he flatly replied. “We’ll have messed up babies!”  My solution was simple. “We don’t have to have babies.  I just want to marry you.”  Yes, we had our share of fusses and fights but nobody, and I mean nobody, other than him dared to mess with me. We had daring (and often dangerous) adventures throughout high school that involved fast cars, unchaperoned parties, and the Chattahoochee River (details intentionally omitted).  He moved home to Georgia from South Carolina when I was diagnosed with cancer and dedicated a tattoo on his right arm to my battle.  It is a sunset with the Chinese symbols representing, “Dawn, my bravest sister.”  No matter how long between phone calls, emails, or visits, I know we will always pick up where we left off.  He is a terrific uncle to my kids and one of my greatest sources of encouragement. 

My Husband.  I was a tough cookie when Richard and I began dating.  Divorced and a single mom, I was bound and determined not to get hurt again.  Richard was patient, funny, a great debater, and knew the way to my heart was through my son, Alex.  After four years of dating (some great dates, some ‘Hell nights’ as we refer to them now), we married on a hot and humid August evening.  After a North/South honeymoon to New York City and Charleston, we woke up Saturday morning to Alex climbing up in the bed and asking why Richard was there.  “Remember Mommy and I got married last week?”  Alex propped himself up on his elbows, rested them on Richard’s chest and asked, “Does that mean I can call you Dad now?” Yep.  I got a winner. Two houses, more cars than I can remember, five dogs, one lizard, and two more children later, we have had our share of good and bad times.  Richard married me for “better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”  He has lived up to his commitment.  We have been better and we have been worse, we have been poorer and by contrast there have been seasons of richness.  And he was the rock by my side in sickness.  Every day, sometimes moment by moment, he cared for me.  He handled the house, the children, drove me to endless doctor appointments, and sat beside me for every doctor’s appointment and chemo treatment.  We may never have one of those marriages that everyone looks on and says, “Oh, we want to be like them” but we are in it to win it. 

Happy Father’s Day.

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