Archive | May 2016

Talking with Floey about Peace and Patience

Floey-Marian faces selfie 2Floey came running up to me as I opened the door into our condo from the garage. She was so excited I had to drop my suitcase to give her a big hug. “Oh, Floey. I’m so glad to see you. I missed you so much!”

“I missed you, too, Mom? Where did you go this time? Were you at Christmas Mountain again?” Floey asked.

“Yup. That’s where I was, Floey.”

“Why do you go there so often, Mom. I really miss you when you’re gone.”

“Oh, I wish I could take you with me, but like most timeshares, they don’t allow dogs. But anyway, if you did come with me, who would take care of our residents? They need you at home to do the pre-wash of their dishes before they go into the dishwasher. And the ladies like to have you snuggle up close to them to be petted. You’re needed at home.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom. But why do you go away so often?”

“Well, Floey, whenever I’m home, I’m always working, seven days a week. That’s the nature of our business – round-the-clock caregiving in our home. That’s why Mim and I need to get away, and why we almost always go away separately – so someone will always be home with you and our residents.”

5237856079_7b86c6fc7e

Christmas Mountain Village, Wisconsin Dells

I guess I understand. But what do you do at Christmas Mountain? I know it’s a ski resort in the winter and a golf resort during the rest of the year, and you don’t do either.”

“That’s a good question. You know what things I like to do, Floey. Don’t you?”

“Sure. You like to read and write and play the piano and go for walks.”

“Yup. And that’s exactly what I do at Christmas Mountain. I always get a nice, comfortable condo where I can sprawl out and enjoy my time there. Sometimes I even take my little five octave keyboard along so I can play the ‘piano.’ And, of course, I have my computer, iPad, iPhone, books, a puzzle, and I’ve even started bringing along a coloring book and colored pencils.”

“Wow. That’s why you always pack up so many bags when you leave!”

“That’s right. I want to have everything I might need to relax, in whatever way I feel like relaxing. This time I was away for almost a whole week, so I packed a lot of stuff.”

“Did you use all your stuff?”

“I guess not. I didn’t do the puzzle this time. I did more reading and writing than usual. And I walked quite a bit, too. And I spent some time just thinking.”

“What did you think about?”

images“One of the things I thought about was one of the books I read, THE GIFT OF PEACE by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, former Archbishop of Chicago. It was an incredibly inspiring book.”

“What was it about?”

“Here, let me show you, Floey.” I pulled my briefcase out of the car and pulled out the little book.

“Cardinal Bernardin wrote this book during the final months of his life. Thirteen days before he died, he finished the book, and hand-wrote a letter to serve as a preface to the book. The letter is actually published in the book in hand-written form. Let me read you an excerpt from the letter, Floey. That will give you a good impression of the tone and content of the book itself.”

“Okay, Mom. Read away.”

I have decided to write this very personal letter explaining why I have written this little book, The Gift of Peace. It is not an autobiography but simply a reflection on my life and ministry during the past three years, years that have been as joyful as they have been difficult. My reflections begin with the allegation of sexual misconduct brought against me November 1993 and continue to the present as I prepare for the last stage of my life which began in June 1995 with the diagnosis of an aggressive form of cancer.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, “it has been the best of times, it has been the worst of times.” The worst because of the humiliation, physical pain, anxiety and fear. The best because of the reconciliation, love, pastoral sensitivity and peace that have resulted from God’s grace and the support and prayers of so many people. While not denying the former, this reflection focuses on the latter, showing how, if we let him, God can write straight with crooked lines. To put it another way, this reflection is intended to help others understand how the good and the bad are always present in our human condition and, that if we “let go,” if we place ourselves totally in the hands of the Lord, the good will prevail.

“Wow. Did you say he died less than two weeks after writing the book?”

“That’s right, Floey. Pretty inspiring, isn’t it? I’m so glad I had the time and a quiet place to read his book and to think about it this past week. That’s why going to Christmas Mountain is so good for me. I have the time to be quiet, to read, and to think.”

“What else did you think about?” Floey asked.

“Well, I thought a lot about patience, especially on Tuesday.”

“Patience? That’s not your word for the year. I think that was Mim’s word a couple years ago. Why did you think about patience? And, why on Tuesday?”

“Think, Floey. You know. What do I always do on Tuesday mornings?”

“That’s easy, Mom. Every Tuesday morning you add a post to your blog. Right?”

“That’s right. When I know I’m going to be away from home I usually try to write the post before I leave home so that all I have to do when I’m away is my final editing and posting it on the Internet. Then I send an email to let subscribers know it has been posted, and I post a comment on Facebook to let a lot of my friends know it’s there. The Tuesday morning process usually takes less than an hour. Well, the Internet connection at Christmas Mountain is always slow, but at least Internet service is available. Last Tuesday the Internet connection was the slowest I have ever experienced. I wasn’t even sure I could post my blog. I pounded the table a few times, and I paced all around the condo many times trying to think of where I could find a public Wi-Fi network I could use to post my blog – like maybe at McDonald’s or Culver’s. I finally was able to post my reflection about favorite hymns, “An Odd Favorite,” at Christmas Mountain. However, I’m sure my blood pressure was well above the healthy normal range!”

“You really were frustrated!”

Anderson_Jacobson_AJ_832

These terminals were the workhorses of the Finance Department. A telephone handset plugged into the modem on the right to communicate at 30 cps.

“I sure was, Floey. Once the post was out there, I went for a walk. That helped me calm down. I thought about how dependent upon – and demanding of – technology we have become. I remembered my first job where I worked with computers – Northwest Industries in Chicago. That company was widely considered leading edge in using information technology for making business decisions. In the mid-1970s we used a dial-up connection to transmit data at the rate of 30 cps (characters per second), about six times faster than a good typist can type a letter. Pretty fast, don’t you think? Whenever I wanted to see a report, I sent it to the printer (initially we had no monitors to view) and then went to get a cup of coffee while I waited for the report to print. After a couple years, the top executives were equipped with monitors that could display data at the rate of 120 cps. That’s when we were collaborating with decision support specialists at MIT, in the glory days of using computers to enhance management decision making.

“I can’t even remember how I could be so patient in those days! Patience. Maybe that was a virtue I possessed in the 1970s, but I certainly didn’t have it last Tuesday. I just wanted to add a post to my blog. That’s all. And technology was crawling along, not zipping by.”

B-BI4KWCcAAY3MQ

“I bet you were really, really frustrated, Mom. I can see you getting stressed out just talking about it.”

“You’re right, Floey. But I thought about it for a while. You know, patience is listed as one of the gifts of the spirit, right after peace. The Bible says in Galatians 5:22-23:

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [New Living Translation]

“I don’t know, Floey. Maybe I need to spend more time pondering and praying for the gift of patience.”

“Hey, Mom. Maybe patience should be your special word next year.”

“Maybe… It’s a little early to think about next year’s special word. I still have seven months left to focus on kindness – my word for this year.”

“You’re right, Mom. That can wait. Did you think about anything else while you were at Christmas Mountain last week?”

“Well, yes, there was one more thing. But let’s talk about that later. I still have to empty the car and get settled in again at home.”

“Okay, Mom. But don’t forget we have to continue this conversation.”

 

Patience-is-not-about-how-long-you-can-wait-but-how-well-you-behave-while-youre-waiting.

An Odd Favorite

Doris - Abbey on couch - cropped

Doris giving her best friend Abbey a hug. (Abbey was our canine caregiver prior to Floey.)

I thought about Doris last week. Doris lived with us for almost four years. She came for assisted living in 2005, shortly after her husband Ernie died. Doris, a nurse, had been caring for Ernie for many years, and now it was time for someone to care for Doris. She was in her late eighties.

What brought Doris to mind was one of the hymns we sang in church last Sunday – Holy, Holy, Holy. It was Trinity Sunday, and Holy, Holy, Holy is the classic hymn to sing to celebrate our understanding of our three-in-one God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Doris loved this hymn. During the years that she lived with us, Mim, Doris, and Mary (our other resident at the time) often joined me at the piano in the evening to sing. We sang golden oldies like Let Me Call You Sweetheart and lots of hymns. Almost every night Doris requested Holy, Holy, Holy. 

0014=2

Her request surprised me. I grew up in a Methodist church where we did lots of singing. On Sunday mornings, we sang about half a dozen hymns and responses from THE METHODIST HYMNAL, a thick black book that was kept in the racks on the back of the pews. The hymns in the hymnal were the classical hymns of faith, dating mostly from the 16th through the early 19th centuries. I learned to like many of these stately old hymns, and that is how I would describe them – as stately hymns that we sang to formally and respectfully worship God.

IMG_1007

Willerup United Methodist Church, Cambridge, Wisconsin – my family church for generations

On Sunday evenings we sang out of a different songbook, either SONGS OF THE SANCTUARY (the blue book), or MELODIES OF PRAISE (the white book). These hardcover songbooks were handed out to each person as we entered church. The first 15 minutes of the service were spent singing from these songbooks. The pastor usually announced the first song for us to sing, and then it was up to the congregation to call out their requests. The blue book was filled with gospel songs from the 19th and 20th centuries – songs like Just a Closer Walk with Thee, When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, He Leadeth Me, and Just As I Am. The white book was newer and included songs like How Great Thou Art, Wonderful Words of Life, and Blessed Assurance.

These Sunday evening songbooks were the source of everyone’s favorite gospel songs. THE METHODIST HYMNAL had all the nice stately hymns that were appropriate for the more formal Sunday morning service. The smaller songbooks had the more emotional songs that we would sing to express our feelings. These are the songs that became our favorites.

IMG_1004

When I was in high school I bought my own copy of Melodies of Praise to use at home. I chose a green cover rather than white.

Doris’ favorite hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy, was from the formal HYMNAL, not from the collection of gospel songs in the songbooks. That’s what surprised me. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had requested What a Friend We Have in Jesus or Jesus Loves Me (although she liked those songs, too). I was surprised at Holy, Holy, Holy being her choice almost every time we sang. 

Today I have very fond memories of the four of us singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Whenever we sing that hymn in church, I think about Doris and our evening sing-alongs in our living room at Country Comforts Assisted Living, our home.

When Doris died, her daughter asked me to play the piano in their Presbyterian church and to have a hymn sing for her funeral. I gave her daughter a list of every hymn I could remember that Doris had asked to sing in our sing-alongs, and I think we sang all of them at the funeral. In my mind I could still see Doris singing along, especially on Holy, Holy, Holy.

Abbey - Mary - sitting tall - adj

Mary and Abbey were friends, too.

Mary had a favorite hymn for our evening sing-alongs, too. It was The Family of God. Her choice also surprised me. I’ve known Mary most of my life. She was my fifth and sixth grade teacher, and then my history teacher when I was in junior high. She was 84 when she came to us for assisted living. Like me, she had grown up Methodist, and then turned Lutheran as an adult. What surprised me by her choice of a favorite hymn was that she chose a more contemporary gospel song. I expected her to choose something that had roots in her childhood years, a more traditional gospel song from an earlier era.

IMG_0993

I’ve always been interested in what people choose as their favorite hymns. Over the years, I’ve found it very revealing to learn what someone’s favorite hymns are. When I know your favorite hymns, I feel I’m beginning to really know you.

When I was an organist at the Presbyterian church in Cambridge, we had bulletin inserts for almost every funeral because invariably the favorite hymn of the deceased person was not included in the current edition of the hymnal.

At the request of the pastor, I coordinated the compilation of a songbook of congregational favorites. We asked the congregation to submit a list of their favorite hymns, whether they were in the current hymnal, or not. For all the hymns that were no longer in the hymnal, I found the hymns in my collection of old hymnals from a wide variety of denominations, added some of my own favorites, and arranged them into a songbook.

(I think we adequately addressed copyright issues by obtaining a Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) license and acknowledging that most of the older hymns were currently in the public domain.)

IMG_0999

This “Favorites” songbook has become my go-to book for finding an old gospel song that I want to use in a prelude or as a meditative response, regardless of whether I’m playing in a Presbyterian Church, a Lutheran Church, or even at the women’s worship service of the county jail.

When I played the piano regularly for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail, we usually sang two hymns, selected by the chaplain. The inmates, whose ages ranged from 20s to 60s, seemed to enjoy singing, regardless of the hymns selected. After the service was over, I kept playing whatever hymns and spirituals popped into my mind while we waited for deputies to come to escort the women out of the chapel and back to their cell blocks. Sometimes, the inmates sang along as I played, and often they requested their favorites to sing. As I recall, the most frequent requests were Amazing Grace, Jesus Loves Me, and How Great Thou Art.

City-County Bldg 2

Dane County Jail – on the upper floors of the City-County Building

It seems that favorite hymns are surprisingly universal. Regardless of our ages and circumstances, many of the same songs speak to our hearts.

So what’s my most favorite hymn of all? That’s too hard a question. Some days, I think my answer would be Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Other days, I’d probably say Just a Closer Walk with Thee, or To God Be the Glory, or We Gather Together, or How Great Thou Art, or Near to the Heart of God. Last Sunday, I think I would have claimed Holy, Holy, Holy as my favorite. Really!

Thanks, Doris! You taught me that even a stately old hymn that’s two and a half centuries old can become one of my favorites. And thanks to you, too, Mary. You have proven that even octogenarians can learn to love brand new hymns!

Mary-Doris cropped

Mary and Doris sharing good times.

(Extra picture… Mim asked me why I didn’t use the picture below instead of the picture above to end this post. Picking favorite pictures to illustrate a story is just as hard as choosing favorite hymns! Sometimes, it’s just too hard to choose. So today you get two ending pictures.)

Abbey-Doris-Mary in Sun Room

Doris, Mary, and Abbey talking and laughing while waiting for our sing-along to begin.

Caring for Parents

SKMBT_C28016051413520

My mom in June, 1986, about the time she was diagnosed with liver cancer.

Thirty years ago, in 1986, Mim and I were still living in Chicago. That’s when my mom was diagnosed with liver cancer. She was 78. Mom and Dad were living on the farm in Cambridge, Wisconsin where Mom had lived her whole life. When Mom told Mim and me about the diagnosis, we made weekly trips from Chicago to Cambridge to take her to the clinic in nearby Stoughton for chemotherapy. After a few weeks of chemo, Mom chose to discontinue the treatments because of how sick they made her feel. Her oncologist predicted she would live only two or three months without more treatments, maybe a year or two with treatments.

A couple weeks after Mom stopped receiving chemo, Mim and I went to Door County in northeastern Wisconsin for a week-long vacation. We stopped to see my parents on our way, mostly to see how Mom was doing. Already she was much weaker.

Mim and I had a wonderful week relaxing in Door County. Little did we know that God was providing a week of rest for us before what would become an intense six-week period of caregiving.

SKMBT_C28016051414450

Relaxing in Door County

On our way back to Chicago we stopped to see my parents again. Mom’s health had deteriorated further and she was quite weak. We offered to get Hospice and some local caregivers lined up to help Dad care for her at home. As an alternative, we invited Mom and Dad to come to Chicago to live with us, and we (mostly Mim) would take care of her.

We stayed overnight at the farm with my parents. The next morning, Mom got up and said she’d made up her mind. She wanted to go home with us to Chicago. We spent the next few hours helping Mom and Dad pack up their things – a few clothes, Mom’s crocheting, and their Bibles. We told my brother and sister about the new plan, and they came over to the farm to say goodbye and help pack up for the move.

SKMBT_C28016051414010

Mom and Dad with their grandchildren celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, about a month before Mom and Dad came to live with us.

Dad rode to Chicago with Mim and me in my car. My nephew Dave drove Mom in his parents’ van so that Mom could be lying down for the two-hour ride. Then Dave carried her up the stairs to our second-floor apartment.

We called Hospice the next day to help us get a hospital bed and a local hospice physician to prescribe pain medication. We also enlisted one of the physicians Mim had previous worked with at Circle Christian Health Center on the west side of Chicago. He was willing to become her primary care physician and to make house calls for us.

Mim was teaching nursing at North Park College at the time, and she had a flexible work schedule. She also had very kind and highly skilled colleagues who volunteered to help care for my mom to give Mim and me a little time off from round-the-clock care giving. I had just left my corporate job and was in the process of starting up my own small business consulting practice, which meant that I also had a flexible work schedule.

SKMBT_C28016051414530

Mom and Dad reading the Sunday paper together in the sun room nook of our living room.

We turned our living room into Mom’s room. For the first couple weeks Mom was able to walk around the apartment and eat with Dad, Mim and me in the dining room. As she got weaker, she spent almost all of her time in the living room. I played her favorite hymns on the piano, over and over again. I read to her. She really liked “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson, a good story that made her smile and laugh. She also enjoyed having me read to her from the Psalms. My brother and sister and their families came down to visit Mom and Dad weekly.

While Mom was living with us, Mim periodically asked her, “Do you know where you are?” as a means of monitoring her mental well-being and cognitive decline. One day Mom answered, “I know you want me to say I’m in Chicago, but I’m not. I’m at home.” That said to us we were providing the kind of care she needed.

Mom lived with us for six weeks. She was the first of more than twenty people who have lived with us during their final weeks on earth. There can be many precious moments as the end of a person’s earthly life approaches. We’re thankful for the opportunity to share these special times.

SKMBT_C28016051415150

My sister Nancy visiting with Mom

Caring for Mom throughout the last weeks of her life happened thirty years ago. Why am I thinking about it today? A very close friend of mine is living through a similar experience in her life right now, and she is under an incredible amount of stress. Her parents, both in their 90s, have been in relatively good health and have been living in their own home in northern Illinois. That all started to change a couple weeks ago.

First, her father, who has been the healthier of the two, got quite sick and had to be hospitalized for a few days. My friend took a few days off from work (she’s a teacher) to go to Illinois to care for her mother, and also to be an advocate for her father as he was being shuffled through the impersonal and complex medical system that has replaced family doctors and community hospitals.

Then my friend’s mother became very weak, and she had to be temporarily moved into a caregiving facility, just as my friend’s father was being sent home from the hospital. Her mother’s doctor said she is no longer capable of living at home and must move into an assisted living facility. Her father’s doctor said he can’t drive, although he can live at home if he wants. However, if he can’t drive, going to see his wife – wherever she ends up – may be very difficult.

My friend is trying to help her parents figure out their options and move ahead into the next phase of their lives, which may be moving into an assisted living facility together – although at this point her father is unwilling to consider any option that involves him leaving his home. Meanwhile, my friend is driving back and forth to Illinois (a couple hours each way) almost every day, or every other day, as her already busy life in Cambridge goes on.

So what can I do to help my friend? Good question. I can listen. I can pray. And occasionally maybe I can even do a few practical things like checking in on her home while she’s gone.

About a year ago, a good friend of mine in Chicago went through a similar crisis with her parents. Again, about all I could do was listen and pray.

“Honor your father and your mother” is one of the Ten Commandments that almost everyone remembers. As we get older, honoring them means more than obeying them. In my case, honoring my mother in her last days meant having her live with Mim and me in our home in Chicago – and making her feel so at home there that she really knew that she was at home. In our friend’s case, the best way of honoring her mother and her father is still a mystery. That’s partly why she is feeling so much stress these days. I guess that’s why Jesus told us in his simplified list of only two commandments, that the second most important commandment, after loving God, is to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22: 39) That’s why I’ll be praying every day for my friend while she is caring for her mother and her father in whatever way she can.

Our-prayers-may-be-awkward

Making the World a Softer, Better Place

13173807_10209734758032713_4608634382629667533_n

Gracie helping Katie get ready for prom.

This past weekend I kept checking Facebook on my smartphone, waiting for news and pictures. It was a big weekend for my family. My great niece Mollie was in Fort Worth, Texas, competing at the national championships for gymnastics. Meanwhile, her twin sister Katie was on the prom court of the Cambridge High School Junior Prom. Supporting each twin was a matter of divide and conquer for the family. The father, my nephew Kevin, accompanied Mollie to Fort Worth, and took some great pictures. The mother, Shawn, stayed home, along with the younger sister, Gracie, and they helped Katie get ready for the prom. And they took great pictures, too.

It was an exciting weekend for everyone. But the abundance of blessings was really a mixed blessing. Mollie had to miss going to her junior prom because of it falling on the same date as the national gymnastics competition. Katie had to miss cheering for her twin sister as she competed in Texas because she couldn’t be two places at once. Interesting how blessings and sacrifices can be two sides of the same coin.

Shawn was the first to provide an update on Facebook. It was fun to see Katie all dressed up. It was a beautiful evening for beautiful young couples.

13086652_10209742395743651_8827688296977256090_o

Cambridge High School Prom Court – Katie is 3rd from right.

On Sunday, Kevin entered the following update about Mollie on Facebook.

Mollie is the Senior C National Floor Champion. She finished 2nd in the overall. Took 3rd in vault and 5th on bars.

Mollie was awarded an all expense paid trip back to Texas in October because she made the Junior Olympic National Team. She will meet the Olympic coaches and practice for four days.

Words cannot express how proud we are of her. Congratulations Mollie on an incredible achievement.

A tremendous thank you to Aubrie for the dedication and patience coaching Mollie. Thank you to our parents for helping Mollie get to where she is. Thanks be to God for giving Mollie this incredible talent for gymnastics. It will take her farther than she can ever imagine.

Thank you to Danielle J Lynch [Kevin’s sister who lives in San Antonio] and family for making the weekend trip! Thank you Adrienne Lacy [a family friend] and family for coming as well! Thanks to Chase’s sister Rene’ and her husband Patrick for the hospitality and friendship this weekend. It’s nice to have a fan base everywhere we go! 

13151780_1676222919310011_1737363757642187669_n

Mollie on Bars – one of four events gymnasts compete in.

Kevin posted several photos he had taken showing Mollie in action. Here’s one of the photos I lifted from Facebook.

My mom, Kevin’s grandma, would have been very proud of both Katie and Mollie. (And Gracie, too, for being a supportive kid sister.) But I think Mom would have been proudest of Kevin. Mom always worried about him. She thought he had way too much energy and creativity for his own good. He was always running. Everything he did, he did fast.

I remember one story Mom told about when she baked and decorated a batch of cut-out cookies for him to take to school to share for his birthday. As usual, he ran as fast as he could to get to the car to go to school, even though this time he was carrying a big round tin full of special cookies. He tripped and fell, and all the beautiful cookies broke into pieces. I’m sure it bothered my mom more than him. He still shared the cookies with his classmates. They tasted just as good whether they were broken or not. It seemed that nothing could slow down his speed of movement nor subdue his enthusiasm for whatever he was doing. (I think his girls all inherited those traits.)

SKMBT_C28016050914090

Kevin on stilts – 1984. Note the stepladder and electrical wires.

When Kevin was 13, he decided he’d make a pair of stilts and teach himself to walk around and see everything from a bird’s-eye perspective. After constructing the stilts, he realized that he needed a stepladder to get on the stilts. When he started walking with the stilts, he discovered he was lucky that the stilts were just short enough that he could still walk under the electrical wire that was strung from the pole to the house – without the stilts catching and pulling down the wire. Kevin’s guardian angel was kept very, very busy throughout his childhood.

Mom prayed for all her grandchildren every day. But I think she must have prayed for Kevin at least ten times a day. She knew that praying for him was the best way to keep him safe – just in case his guardian angel was taking a much-needed nap.

So why would my mom have been proud of Kevin today? In his Facebook post he demonstrated that he’s learned one of the most important lessons in life. He’s learned that we are who we are because of all the people who have helped us in our lives. Like the African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It took a village to raise Kevin, and it’s taking a village to raise Katie, Mollie, and Gracie.

I’m thankful that I can be part of this village, that all of us are connected to each other’s lives and well-being. As Joan Chittister said in this month’s “Monastic Way” pamphlet,

There can never be too much kindness in life – either for us or because of us. Every act of kindness makes the world a softer, better place. As Aesop wrote, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Thanks to everyone reading this post who’s making the world a softer, better place for everyone in their lives.

13164409_1676222969310006_7334976675429603533_n

Mollie and her coach

 

To Hug Or Not To Hug

IMG_0045

Floey being hugged by one of her best friends.

“Floey, did you see that story on the news last week? The one that said dogs don’t like to be hugged?”

“Yeah. I saw it, Mom.”

“Well, what did you think about the story? Do dogs like to be hugged, or not?”

“Mom, it’s not exactly a yes or no question. I love to cuddle. You know that.”

“I sure do, Floey. You’re the cuddliest dog I’ve ever known. Often when I’m sitting on the couch, you hop up right next to me and snuggle. I love to put my arms around you and give you a little squeeze, and you nuzzle me or try to squirm even closer to me. I love it that you’re such an affectionate dog.”

“I usually like to be close and snuggly with you and Mim. And when you and Mim are close together, I like to get in the middle to get hugs from both sides. That’s heaven. My whole world seems to be brimming with love during those times.”

“Oh, that’s good to hear. I thought maybe you were jealous.”

“Oh, no, Mom. Just feeling the love. But you know, sometimes I like to be all by myself. At those times, I’d prefer for you not to hug me. And I never want a complete stranger to hug me. I want to be free to move quickly if I feel I need to move. So, like I said, there’s not a yes or no answer to the question of to hug or not to hug.”

Selma-Meg-Mim cropped

Mim and Megabyte walking Mim’s mom about 20 years ago.

“I understand, Floey.”

“I know some of my dog friends don’t like anyone to hug them.”

“You know, Floey, your oldest step-sister, Megabyte, our first dog, was a very sweet,loving dog, but she didn’t like to be hugged at all. She loved to be petted, and she loved to play together, especially to catch tennis balls, but she didn’t like hugging. I guess it made her feel too confined and vulnerable.”

“I think that’s it, Mom. Some dogs just like to feel completely free to move at the tiniest glimpse of a potential threat. It doesn’t mean they’re not loving. It may mean they want to be totally free to protect their family.”

“Well, I’m awfully glad you’re a cuddler, Floey.”

“Hey, Mom, while we’re talking, there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about. It’s about Mim.”

“Okay. What’s up?”

2015 Floey and Mim on couch - cropped

Mim and Floey sitting together on the couch.

“I really love her as my second mom. You know that, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Well, I don’t like to criticize, but I think she’s being awfully nasty to the Finch family that’s trying to move back into our yard. Mr. House Finch perches on the deck railing off and on throughout the day and sings to his heart’s content. Ann just loves watching and listening to him when she’s sitting in her easy chair next to the patio doors. And, Mrs. House Finch flies back and forth to and from the deck with little sticks and grasses to build her nest. Mean old Mim keeps opening and closing the awning to chase the Finches away. Then she goes out on the deck to pull down the nest that’s in progress and she sweeps all the nest building materials off the deck. That’s so mean! Mrs. Finch needs to get her nest built so that she can lay eggs. Doesn’t Mim understand that?”

“Oh, she understands that, Floey. And she really wants the Finches to stay in the neighborhood. It’s just that Mrs. Finch insists on building her nest under the metal cover of the retractable awning that goes out over the deck. Every time we push the button on the remote control to roll out the awning, the nest will be disturbed. If there are eggs in it, they will probably get broken. Or, if Mr. or Mrs. Finch is sitting in the nest, they might get hurt. Although the metal awning cover may seem like a good homesite to Mrs. Finch, it really isn’t. Mim is just trying to discourage her from building her nest there. Maybe she could build it under the deck flooring. Or in one of the trees next to the pond. Or even under the roof of the condo. Just not under the awning cover.”

2011_05_31-10_19_37-1428-baby-house-finch-nest.jpg

“Now I understand. I couldn’t believe how hard-hearted Mim was being. I felt so sorry for Mrs. Finch. What can we do to help Mrs. Finch understand?”

“The only thing Mim and I can think of is to move the awning in and out whenever we see her up there. But she still keeps trying. I hope she gives up soon and finds another homesite.”

“Maybe I could start barking whenever I see her flying up there with a beak full of grass and twigs. That might scare her away.”

“It might, Floey, but it might scare Mr. and Mrs. Finch away entirely. We don’t want that. The Finches are nice neighbors. They sing such a happy song when they’re sitting on the deck railing.”

1xl

“Yeah. You’re right. Sometimes I wish all of God’s creatures spoke the same language. Wouldn’t that be great, Mom? Then we could communicate better with each other, avoid misunderstandings, and get along with each other better.”

“That sounds good, but think about it, Floey. Think of all the people in the world who speak the same language. Like Mr. Trump. Senator Cruz. Governor Kasich. Secretary Clinton. Senator Sanders. Do they really understand each other? Do they really get along with each other? Yet they speak the same language.”

candidates

“I see your point, Mom. But it’s not hopeless, is it? You and I have learned how to communicate with each other. Like earlier today, when we were talking about hugs. You know what I like, and I know what you like. We want to make each other happy. We respect each other’s preferences, and we treat each other with kindness. Hey. Maybe that’s the secret for all of us getting along with each other. Kindness – your special word for this year.”

“You may be right, Floey. So, ‘mean, old Mim’ is really being kind to the Finches by removing their nest every time Mrs. Finch starts to build it in the awning. Mim doesn’t want her to waste her time building a nest where it won’t be safe. Mrs. Finch needs to get busy building her nest in a safe place so that she can start laying eggs. We’re telling her that the only way we know how.”

“Yeah. Maybe we can show even more kindness to the Finches by working with our other neighbors to be sure the bird feeders are kept full. Then the Finches will know they’ve chosen a friendly neighborhood for their family.”

“Good idea, Floey.”

“Hey, this is fun, Mom. How many ways do you think we can come up with to be kind to the Finches?”

“Let’s not stop with the Finches, Floey. Let’s think of all the way ways we can be kind to all our neighbors!”

Finch-House.female-male.1-1024x764

All God’s creatures understand kindness.