Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Children, Family


It's pretty sad around here without Sam. 

(This is a ginormous understatement, you might even say a Bernese Mountain Dog-sized understatement.)

People have been very, very kind, in blog comments and Facebook and Twitter responses and via email and in person. The choir at church gave LP and me a copy of Cynthia Rylant's "Dog Heaven," inscribed with dear, loving thoughts. 

So in the midst of this grief, I want to name some things for which I'm thankful:

  • Community
  • Hugs
  • Friends in the neighborhood
  • Friends far away
  • Friends from far away who have gotten themselves into the neighborhood
  • Friends' Dogs
  • Dog Friends
  • Photos by people who know how to take them
  • Photos by us, even the ones taken with cell phones
  • Two 15-year-old cats who still need our attention
  • One 15-year-old girl 
  • Two young men whose love was palpable even from afar
  • Memories that make me smile

Yesterday I saw a friend's two dogs wrassling, as we used to call it, and I remembered Molly and Sam lying on the rug, showing each other their great big dog teeth, or spinning each other in a circle, their mouths on opposite ends of a big stick. I remember Sam getting between Molly and various attractive Chows, her favorite breed by far. He had a mission, to keep her out of trouble!

I'm thankful to have lived with these blessed dogs, to be blessed by them. 

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Family, Photos


After trying all the things that veterinary oncology had to offer for a histiocytic sarcoma, we had to admit this week that Sam's tumor was not only resistant but worsening, and yesterday our vet made the hardest kind of house call, freeing him from his increasing discomfort and illness. 

It's hard to write about this today, but I want to share some pictures. Here he is the day we picked him up from his breeder.

Sam and Martha

I also want to say that he lived up to his namesake, Sam Gamgee. The breeder asked us to put an L word in his fancy, pedigreed name, and on the way home from getting him, I mentioned this to the kids. It was #1 Son who said, "Oh, that's easy. Loyal."

And that was our Sam, Rosier's Loyal Samwise Gamgee, who lived March 31, 2003 to October 29, 2010. That sounds short, and it feels short, although we know in the scheme of things for Bernese Mountain Dogs, that's longer than the average life span for the breed. 

Although he was on the shy side, Sam was a Canine Good Citizen. After we lost Molly, he went to work with me in Freeport, and even went to Sunday School there. He had a lot of friends in that congregation, and I thank them for their hospitality to both our dogs.

I also want to thank the kind folk of North Yarmouth Congregational Church for their welcome to him and their patience with me as I have nursed him. We had a Blessing of the Animals two weeks ago, and I'm glad he was still able to participate. 

I'm grateful to our dog walker, Louise, who came to the house to be with Sam, LP and me at the end, and my friend, revhoney, who extended her visit an extra day to be with us, too. The boys had a great visit with Sam a couple of weeks ago, and Pure Luck was able to get here and see him before the end, too.

I'm very thankful for the offer from my choir director, Joanne Lee, who is also a photographer, to take some pictures of Sam and me, which we did last Monday. Here's one of them. 

Sam 2 (Joanne Lee)

Sam spent most of his life keeping Molly out of trouble. So I like to think of them together again now, her mischief balanced against his loyalty, exploring the snow-covered paths of Dog Heaven, where the Greyberries surely fall plump and juicy into a good dog's mouth.

Molly and Sam 2008

Children, Family

I didn’t like my haircut.

On Wednesday, I didn't like my haircut. 

I got it on Tuesday. I love my hairdresser. LP and I go together, and she cuts LP's hair while I "process," so to speak. We discussed length, and how women my age all want to grow their hair out one last time, and how I need layers to avoid looking like a Cocker Spaniel. We discussed various minutiae and finally I said, "Just do whatever you think will be best," and she said, "I always get my way, no matter what we say."

And I didn't like my haircut. 

I spent a whole day, Wednesday, not liking it. Maybe it didn't curl enough that day, or maybe I regretted the last few haircuts, at which we let a few layers grow out further, obviously unsuccessfully, or maybe I wished I still had the longer hair of the haircut before that. 

Seriously, I don't know. Because by Thursday, haircuts seemed like the least important thing in the world. I moved around in shock; I didn't cry much, only with LP, in fact, the one person I would have liked to reassure by *not* crying in her presence.

"Snowman is okay, but…" I said these words over and over again. I'm grateful that The Father of My Children told his side of the family. I never even told my people far away, because what could they do? He's fine. Bruised, but fine. 

Thursday afternoon, the Host Mama, the mother of the friend the boys called after the late night accident, worried that he seemed lethargic, and I had a bad couple of hours until he woke up again and I could talk to him and determine that really it was the medicine he had taken making him dopey, not some hidden injury. 

I found that some people assumed I felt traumatized and others figured I was fine because he wasn't dead or in the hospital.

Do we know these things are coming, somehow? On Wednesday morning, I made sure he had his health insurance card. As we were leaving, Pure Luck said, "Be careful out there among the English," a movie reference the young one did not understand. It's not something he says often. But I gave a normal goodbye at the bus station, affectionate without being overly emotional. We've put him on that bus to Boston, whether to South Station or to Logan, many times over the past three years. There have been weather anomalies and flight delays, even a night spent stranded at O'Hare, but never a real problem. In the afternoon he sent a text–another delay, somewhere. He booked his own ticket this time, so I didn't even have the itinerary. 

He'll be 20 in a few more months.

Thank God, he will be 20.

The day unfolded as expected, and every time I looked in the mirror, I thought, "I don't like my haircut." People could tell you, I said it out loud. In the evening, I waited for the call announcing a safe arrival, figured he was having fun and had forgotten. At 8:50, I left him a voice mail. They were probably having dinner. At 10, I posted a Facebook status saying I missed him. Shortly after that the car went off the road. 

In the hospital, his friends said, "Your hair looks fine." He wears it straight up, on purpose, and although he had to pick dirt out of it until he was able to shower, the hair stood on end, just the way he likes it.

Mine, too, after those late night phone calls and two worrying days. But knowing that he is okay, I don't care anymore about my haircut.

Christmas, Family, Photos

Little Christmas Eve

Little Christmas Eve 008

We're all under one roof tonight. Here they are listening to their grandfather telling the history of our annual extended family extravaganza, an evening of music and readings and delicious food, including dishes with roots in my late mother-in-law's Swedish family. We heard Luke's story of the shepherds overtaken by angels, and The Night Before Christmas, and "Christmas is Coming, the Goose is Getting Fat" and Bach and Good King Wenceslas and, of course, The Grinch.

"It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"

Don't forget that. It's coming whether or not we get it all bought and wrapped.

It will be Christmas, soon.

Faith, Family

Yes, I’m a Spong

It's not hard to find out who I really am, since I link to my newspaper columns and have been none-too-secretive over the past couple of years. I still use a nickname simply because I *enjoy* using a pseudonym. My kids have a different last name, so I'd like to think they are somewhat shielded.

But one thing from which I cannot be shielded despite pseudonymity is the way other bloggers talk about someone I love a lot, my Cousin Jack (Bishop Spong). I don't agree with everything he's written–I'm a solidly Trinitarian Christian, but I find his post-theistic understanding of the Divine not only informative but inspirational. I admire the way he continues his lifelong spiritual practices, such as the reading of scripture and prayer, even though he has long since left behind the childhood faith experiences in which they were based. I have been the recipient of his hospitality, eaten meals he has prepared with his own hands, hands which have held mine and my children's as grace has been spoken around a family table.

Anyway, it's a popular thing to give him crap. I hope you won't mind if I skip those discussions at your blogs. In fact, I'm likely to stay away for a while. I find the hostility people feel toward him mysterious and troubling. I'm reminded of the death threats issued against my dad, Jack's first cousin, when he did not toe the white, conservative line in his political career, when he fought the people who thought closing the public schools in Virginia and opening "private" white schools would be the best way to fight integration and when he voted against a Supreme Court nominee who belonged to an all-white country club.

We need people who push the edges of how we think and what we believe, or we grow stagnant. We may not agree with all of their conclusions, but they stretch us. Without such people, we wouldn't be voting to affirm the new law allowing same sex marriage here in Maine. We wouldn't think twice about the Louisiana Justice of the Peace who recently refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple.

We need prophets.

I believe the world needs Cousin Jack. I believe God works through him, even if my understandings, some of them, differ from his. I hope you can understand. He poured the water of baptism on the head of my oldest child. In my home he is beloved.

Emerging, Family, Living in This World, Preaching

The way we talk about things

In between coffee and oatmeal, I heard something fascinating, an examination of how many times the President and Mrs. Obama used the personal pronoun in their remarks to the Olympic Committee a few days ago. This bothered someone (George Will?), and it seemed to irritate the cast of characters at Morning Joe, even though they on the whole supported the President's trip to promote Chicago bid to host the Olympics.

And it occurred to me, this is another example of the break-points between modern and post-modern culture. My experience of post-modern culture and church is that it's more about narrative and depth and that, by necessity, includes telling our personal stories.

Not that people haven't told their stories. Listen to any young/new pastor trying to make the adjustment to visiting elderly parishioners, shocked that they repeat their stories. (As if younger people don't…) But we haven't typically told them in political speeches or sermons. This is new.

Not too long ago I watched a short video from in which the presenter insisted that sermons ought not include personal stories.


If that's the standard, I may as well hang up the preaching shoes and get a job at Starbucks. I mean, I *can* write a sermon without a personal story, but that is simply not the way the Spirit works in and through me. If you are friends with me on Facebook and noted the conversation I had on this topic, you'll know it really left me questioning what I do and how I do it.

But last week, I got some feedback that helped a lot, in a meeting with the Pastoral Relations Committee, where a lay person told me that when I preach at Y1P there are many people who speak to her and say how much they like the way I do it, particularly the way everyday things are woven together with the word of God to create a whole.

Thank you, Jesus. That was helpful.

And it occurs to me that there is a difference between narcissism or testimony and putting things in context. We don't live in a world anymore where we can assume shared experiences. If a pastor of 40 years talks about the movies or the music that meant something to him, without setting up the context, his sermon may well feel irrelevant to people who don't share his cultural understandings.

I do agree that testimony is tricky if only the pastor employs it. If I've had a spectacular spiritual experience, and you haven't, and I preach about it, I'm not necessarily encouraging you to believe you'll have one or to seek one (as if most of us can). More likely I'm creating a two-tiered system in which I am the "holy" person with the mystical experiences and the people in the pews are the audience.

To go back to the Obamas, I love the way they employ their life stories in their interpretation of where we are today and where we hope to be. We don't live in a world comprised only of intact, white Protestant families. But those of us who grew up in those families need to hear stories other than our own.

My children grew up, are growing up, in what we used to call a broken home. They would be considered at risk, according to various studies, for early sexual acting out and truancy and academic failure and all sorts of things you would never want your kids to face. After the divorce, #1 Son did not want anyone to identify him as a kid whose parents had divorced. (Chime in if you read this and think that's wrong, #1 Son, but I believe that's an accurate telling.) He was able to maintain that sort of Twilight Zone because we kept things calm and reasonable, The Father of My Children and I, and because when Pure Luck came into the family, he took his time with the kids and did not try to be someone he was not in relationship to them.

We've defied statistics. I'm thankful for that.

But a speech that is just about that ends up sounding like a major case of hubris, dangerously so, and I would rather normalize my family's experience for others by referring to it slant-wise, not making a report about it.

I'm in favor of telling our stories, of broadening our collective understanding of how people live, of testifying to our practical reality and our spiritual hopes and our social dreams.