Thoughts on Pet Parenting Part 1: Preparing for the Baby (Kitten)

Eleven years ago as I eagerly anticipated being a guide dog handler, it occurred to me that anticipating this dog felt a lot like what I imagine expecting mothers experience as they anticipate their baby. In the same way that the mom-to-be visits baby supply stores to select the crib, stroller, diapers, clothing and bottles, in July of 2008, I was visiting pet stores gathering dog supplies. The crate and leash were provided by Occupaws, the program that trained Gilbert, but I was asked to buy food and water bowls, dog food, grooming supplies and poop bags. I didn’t get to choose Gilbert’s name, but I loved this name and was glowing with joy as I told friends and teachers that my guide dog would be a boy named Gilbert!

I admit I was a little surprised when I went to the Jog For Guide Dogs fundraiser in May 2008 the event where I met Gilbert for the first time, and Gilbert’s puppy raisers introduced themselves as his foster parents. For a brief moment, this language seemed crazy and over-the-top, reminding me of the time Dad answered the phone when the humane society called to follow up on how things were going with Snickers, and how he was very polite on the phone, but I could tell he was rolling his eyes as he hung up the phone, remarking that “it was as if we had adopted a damn child.” My dad absolutely adored our German Shepherd Indy, who was fiercely loyal in return, and came to love Snickers, but he still has old-school attitudes toward pet ownership which influenced me. I hope I didn’t roll my eyes at the puppy raisers, as my parents say I am terrible at masking my emotions. If I did, and Gilbert’s puppy raisers ever read this, I apologize because it wasn’t long before I had fully embraced the modern language, and ideas about pet ownership. Now, I don’t even bat an eye when I read magazine articles about pets that refer to pet owners as pet parents, and in fact, I think such a term is very appropriate. Sure, being the parent of a human child is much different than being a pet parent, but there are quite a few similarities, and as I have written about before, pets are more than property. They may not be created in God’s image as humans are, but they are living creatures capable of love and emotion, and therefore should not be referred to as “it”, abused, bred irresponsibly for profit, or callously sold to the highest bidder. So I think using the term pet parent instead of pet owner is an excellent way to subtly remind readers that pets are more than property.

And because there are a striking number of similarities between being a pet parent, and the parent of a human child, with the adoption of our kitten Aslan in June, it has occurred to me that for people like me whose medical conditions, personality and life choices make the prospect of mothering a human child unlikely, pet parenting can mostly fill the void. Most of the time, I am perfectly content and accepting of the reality that it is unlikely I will mother a human child, at least in this life. But every now and then, something will trigger a maternal longing, and I will find myself seeking out articles about how medical intervention could possibly allow me to have a child, even with my condition, or articles about single mothers by choice, or articles discussing the advantages and legal challenges of using a surrogate mother. I have read a few articles about adoption too, although realistically, would any reputable adoption agency trust a single, totally blind woman with a child? I have heard that adoption agencies are reluctant to even place children with couples if one of the parents has a disability. Sometimes the triggering event will be hearing of a relative or close friend who just had a baby, or hearing stories from friends or coworkers about funny or beautiful moments with their children. Most recently, the event was turning 29 in March, which is almost 30! It caused me to reflect on life and wonder, am I making the most of it? Should I be trying a little harder to meet someone? When I am elderly, will I be lonely as was the case with our next-door neighbor when I was growing up? She and her husband never had kids and had a wonderful life together. By not having kids, they had time to be very involved in the church and community, and enjoy all kinds of fun social events. When he passed away, my parents, and some other church people would help her out with things like driving her to doctor appointments, and she had nieces and nephews that would pick her up on major holidays. But she was essentially alone in the world, and spent most of her remaining few years just sitting alone in her house. I have talked about this with my mom too, and she said I could make a point of finding community and making new friends, something this poor neighbor could have found by moving to an assisted living community, but she could not bare to leave the house, which her husband built. But I still wonder if a group of friends in an assisted living community, or nieces and nephews could really be an adequate substitute for the special bond with your own children. I don’t have any nieces or nephews yet, but my parents don’t see their nieces and nephews (my cousins) very often, and so while my parents seem close to their siblings because they grew up together, they don’t seem to have that close relationship with their nieces and nephews, and I really don’t have a close relationship with my aunts, uncles or cousins. Granted, all of our relatives live out of state, so maybe the dynamic would be different if they lived locally, but I imagine that even living locally, my aunts, uncles and cousins would still go about their own lives, prioritizing time with their own immediate families, and I still wouldn’t have that special, hard-to-put/into-words bond I have with my parents and siblings whom I grew up with and saw on a day-in, day-out basis. So if I outlive my siblings, which theoretically could happen since I am the youngest, I am sure one of my theoretical nieces or nephews I might have by then would come through in an emergency, and make sure I had a ride to major holiday gatherings, but I would basically be alone in the world with no one I was really close to. But I digress. Pets cannot fully fill the void of loneliness in old age of course, because you cannot engage them in real conversation, although another elderly neighbor who was alone in the world seemed much happier when she had a dog, perhaps because this dog was energetic and motivated her to go outside for walks every day where she could chat with neighbors. Neither can pets fill the void of human longing to pass on your values to the next generation. Sure, pet parents also get the reward of teaching their babies right from wrong, but only on a basic level. Pets can be trained to obey commands, and relieve themselves in a designated place. They can be trained to suppress some of their animal instincts like biting or digging. But you cannot have intellectual debates around the dinner table with them about religion and ethics, council them on how to handle a difficult situation at school that day, or discuss with them the pastor’s sermon on the drive home from church each week, activities I would love to experience in the parent role with children of my own. But perhaps because there are so many similarities between pet parenting and real parenting, I noticed that when I started preparing to bring home a kitten, I no longer felt the urge to read articles on fertility or parenting. For now at least, my maternal longing has been satisfied with Aslan.

Although Mom was fully in favor of adopting a kitten, and she would assist me with his care, one day around the dinner table, she said she was going to consider him my cat. As someone who enjoys dark humor, my first thought was to tell my parents this made sense. After all, if this cat lives as long as Snickers did, my parents will be in the nursing home, so I could eventually be the sole caregiver for this cat. To that they responded just for that they were going to make a point of living healthy and proving me wrong! What my parents meant by designating him my cat was that I would get to name him and pick out most of the cat supplies. (i didn’t have to buy a litter box because my sister told us we could keep the litter box she gave us when we cared for Kary last December.) Although preparing for Gilbert eleven years ago was also extremely exciting, and of course more significant a life event than preparing for a pet cat, in some ways preparing for the cat was even more fun.

To start with, Gilbert was already named. Fortunately I loved his name and wouldn’t have changed it even if I could have, but it was fun to be given the exclusive honor of naming this pet, which also gave me an idea of the excitement real parents feel as they have the exclusive honor of naming their children. In another fun conversation when I hadn’t fully decided on a name yet, my mom asked half-jokingly, “what about naming him Snickers II?” to which I made her laugh when I responded that I never did like that name. It was true. I compromised and went along with it because the rest of the family liked it. It wasn’t the pretty name like Shadow my sister and I wanted, but not as terrible as Miz Bojangles, the name my brother suggested. (I wonder where he came up with that name. I did a Google search to see if that was a movie character or something since I am not in tune with popular culture, but all that came up was some hair salon in Canada.) I also didn’t really know what cats were like. My family had a cat that died when I was around a year old, but of course I had no memory of this cat. So Snickers was really my first cat, and the more I got to know her, Snickers seemed just too cutesy and dumb for her sweet, but sassy personality. Fortunately, I didn’t have to utter it much because she did what she wanted, when she wanted and didn’t really respond to her name anyway. But I promised myself if I ever got to name a cat, I was going to choose a name befitting a cat, something with a majestic ring to it, or a name that conveyed attitude! Ultimately, I decided to go with Aslan, a name with a majestic ring to it. Aslan is the lion in the Chronicles Of Narnia series who represents God.

As a child, I only read the second book of the series, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I think because it was the only one available in Braille when I was the right age for this series, and I had no interest in listening to books on tape. In 2015, shortly after starting my job and getting my first credit card, I found and ordered the first book of the series from the Braille Superstore in Canada out of a desire for some nostalgia and outdoor reading material. (I don’t take my braille notetaker outdoors to read as that technology is so expensive it gives me anxiety). But now with Bookshare, I could download and read them all, so I don’t know why I haven’t because I loved the first two books. Maybe I will make that my goal this winter! Anyway, Aslan is portrayed as gentle and kind, but also mighty, someone to be respected. I thought that was a perfect name for my cat. In second place, only if the cat was a black female cat like Snickers of course, was Aretha, named after Aretha Franklin because if she was anything like Snickers, she would have a lot of soul and demand r-e-s-p-e-c-t!

The only problem that came up with this name was no one, including myself, was sure how to pronounce it. Was it As-Lan, or Oz-lahn, or maybe As-lahn? I had read the books in braille, but had not seen the movies, so I had never heard the name spoken, and the rest of my family wasn’t familiar with the books or the movie. My sister found some YouTube clips of the movie, but the name would go by so fast it was hard to catch how they pronounced it! It wasn’t until the Tuesday after his adoption that we came to a consensus that the pronunciation was As-lan. His nickname is The Lan Man!

Similar to a real parent, I also got a sense of the great fun, and great responsibility of selecting cat supplies, which I got to do with Gilbert to some extent, but with Aslan I had even more liberty. Occupaws told me what brand of food they wanted him to eat, and since I didn’t have my own credit card in 2008, and online shopping wasn’t even as ubiquitous then as it is today, I didn’t have the degree of independence that I had when selecting Aslan’s supplies. I had a lot of fun going to pet stores and deliberating over what to buy with Mom, and she gave me a lot of latitude to make my own decisions. But my decisions were limited to the inventory the brick-and-mortar pet stores had in stock, and while I can see where some blind people might prefer shopping with a sighted family member at brick-and-mortar stores, which have the advantage of allowing you to feel the item for yourself before you buy it, I personally have found that I feel better informed by reading the product description and customer reviews, as in most situations, a brief feel of a product doesn’t really tell you a whole lot compared to reviews from customers who have been using the product for awhile. For Aslan, the whole world of pet products was opened up to me between Amazon.com where I bought his carrier, and Chewy.com where I found everything else. (I would have bought the carrier on chewy.com too, but at the time I picked that out, which was the middle of April in case my sister and I found a kitten to adopt May 2, for some reason I had the impression that Chewy.com only carried pet food. It wasn’t until mid May when I created an account on Chewy.com to start researching the best kitten food for my baby that I discovered they carry everything!)

Snickers ate Purina Fancy Feast cat food, but when we adopted her, we were ignorant as to the ingredients used in many pet food brands. It wasn’t until around the time I was preparing for Gilbert that I started to hear about how many brands use animal bi-products, which have very little nutrition compared to real meat, as well as artificial colors and fillers like corn and soy. But just days after receiving Gilbert, Mom commented that Gilbert produced a lot less poop than Indy and Mojo used to, and she suspected the higher quality food was the reason for this. So Mom and I resolved to feed all of our dogs higher quality food, even if they are just pets. I was about to put Purina Fancy Feast in my Chewy.com cart for Aslan too, but noticed that this brand also used animal bi-products. I decided I wanted better for my kitten too. I found a great article from a cat rescue organization which recommended feeding cats a grain-free diet, and suggested several brands that used quality ingredients and no bi-products or fillers. I didn’t actually order Aslan’s food until June 2, the day after we brought him home. I didn’t want cat food sitting in the pantry for months where it could get stale, or chewed open by Gilbert if we didn’t find a kitten, and I knew the humane society would give us a bag of the food he had been eating because cats need to transition to new food gradually anyway. But by Memorial Day, I had decided my kitten deserved Wellness Complete Health kitten food. In addition to being free of bi-products and fillers, it was also highly recommended as one of the few brands that does not use carrageenan, an emulsifier with no nutritional value that can cause stomach upset. It was a little more expensive than Fancy Feast, but actually not by much, and in my journey to better personal health, I have come to a deeper appreciation of how nutritious food is essential for optimum health, and this informed my decision regarding Aslan’s food as well. Some may say it is silly how much money I spend on kitten food, but by spending a little more on high-quality food, I may have fewer vet bills in the future!

Mom decided to get rid of all Snickers’ old dishes because she said they looked worn. When she made this decision, we weren’t sure whether we would be cat parents again, but even if we did get another cat, she decided he/she deserved a fresh start with new dishes. So I got to pick out dishes as well. I was going to order the same type of standard little metal bowls Snickers used, but as I was scrolling through the different types of cat bowls on Chewy–i had no idea how many different options are out there–I discovered a brand called Petrageous Designs, which made ceramic dog and cat bowls that were touted as microwave safe and stylish. I didn’t need microwave safe bowls for Aslan, but it occurred to me that microwave safe dishes would be a time saver when feeding Gilbert. Gilbert has constipation issues now in his old age, and the vet recommended giving him a tablespoon of pureed pumpkin with each meal. To keep the pumpkin fresh, she recommended scooping dollops of pumpkin onto a tray with wax paper and freezing it to thaw as needed. Rather than having to remember to put out a pumpkin cube a few hours in advance to thaw in the fridge, I prefer to just thaw each cube a few seconds in the microwave, but the metal dishes Occupaws recommended are not microwave safe, so I had been microwaving the pumpkin on a separate plate and then scraping it into his dish, which wasn’t a big deal, but kind of an annoying extra step on hurried work mornings. So I bought two dog bowls for Gilbert, and then decided to look at this brand’s line of cat bowls just for the heck of it. All of their cat bowls were described as oval shaped, which I learned was a more comfortable shape for cats because it allowed them to eat without their whiskers getting into their food. And although I am blind and don’t know or care about style, with design names like Silly Kitty and Frisky Kitty, I imagined these would be cute bowls that the sighted folks would enjoy. So I bought four cat bowls from this brand as well, two with a 1-cup capacity, which has been a perfect size for his half can of moist food in the morning and evening, and two bowls with a 2-cup capacity which we usually use for water and dry food for him to snack as needed, until Gilbert steals it that is. (I’ll be talking more about that in the next post).

Even though as a blind person, my hearing is very in-tune, Snickers fooled me many times over her life, stealthily sneaking past me to sleep on my pillow which I was trying to keep her away from due to allergies, or darting outside when I didn’t realize she was standing by the door. But by the time it occurred to us that a collar with a bell would be nice, Snickers was full-grown and made it clear she would not put up with such an indignity. But I knew if I introduced Aslan to this collar right away as a kitten, he wouldn’t mind wearing it at all. After doing some research and finding that all pet experts recommend break-away collars that unbuckle if they get entangled in something while the cat is playing, I picked out a little red break-away collar, as well as a customized personal cat-shaped identification tag with his name and our phone number. I knew he would be microchipped as well, but figured an old-fashioned identification tag might lead to a more efficient return home should he escape.

Last but not least, after consulting with Mom to make sure we had space for it in our house, I splurged on a 5-foot tall cat tree with multiple perches, a cat condo he could crawl into for solitude, scratching posts and some mice that dangled from it on strings for him to bat at! (Actually, it wasn’t too bad a splurge, as I only paid $54 for it on Chewy.com, and my parents said the pet stores had smaller ones that weren’t near as nice and were charging more!) I saw cat trees like this on display in the pet store when I was ten years old and we were picking out supplies for Snickers, and it looked awesome! As a girl in my bible study group that meets at my house said out loud when she saw this tree in our living room, so at age ten I too was thinking, “If I were a cat, I would love something like that!” But my parents wouldn’t splurge on one then, and actually with five people living in the house back then, as well as some extra furniture we helped Grandma store for awhile, we really wouldn’t have had room for a cat tree. Snickers lived a full happy life without a cat tree, but I vowed that someday when I was grown up and had my own money, I was going to get one for my kitty! Mom and I put it together on the afternoon of Memorial Day, and then Mom took a picture of me sitting next to it, a picture which I posted on Facebook with the caption “Aslan is going to be one spoiled prince/princess!” With the presence of this cat tree in our living room, I felt an even deeper sense of anticipation, which is perhaps comparable to how human parents feel after putting together the crib. The investment of money and space for this piece of furniture made it even more official that we were about to welcome a furry bundle of joy! I could barely wait for the following weekend when my sister would come home for the occasion.

A Day In My Life After the Restoration: Part 2

On rainy nights, I see myself staying in the cabin with my parents, falling asleep to the peaceful sound of rain through the window. But most nights, I might strike out for the woods and sleep under the stars, where Gilbert, Snickers and Aslan, or if their souls aren’t eternal like those of humans, than other dogs or cats who have gotten to know me, will join me. They will no longer be bored sleeping around the house all day, will no longer need toys like artificial mice to chase around because they will run free in the vast wilderness, playing with a pack of other dogs and cats, or playfully chasing, but not tormenting or killing real mice. At the end of these days basking in the freedom God intended for them, they will enjoy human companionship even more fully. I could see myself falling asleep with a cat on my chest, and a dog lying right next to me. Sometimes, I might climb up into a tree where I can be up close to the joyful singing of the birds when I awake in the morning, or I might find a spot to camp near a pond where I can fall asleep to the rhythmic croaking of frogs. Mosquitoes may buzz past me, but they will no longer bite, so I can be at peace. In the early days after the restoration, I could see my parents asking me to stay close to home since even if there is cell phone service, I would refuse to be encumbered by carrying one and having the peaceful settings I find interrupted by the ding of texts and news alerts. But after the restoration, it wouldn’t be long before my parents would realize there is no longer anything to worry about. Since sin–which includes the potential for crime that women especially have to be mindful of if they decided to camp alone in the woods now—and death eradicated, they know I will always return safely. Without the allergies and migraines that often used to make me feel sluggish in the morning, I will spring from my bed at sunrise each morning with a spring in my step and joy in my heart. I will enjoy the feel of dewy grass on bare feet each morning as I walk to a tree to pluck some luscious fruit for breakfast. Then Gilbert, or a dog like him will follow me to the lake for a morning frolick, something that was only a rare treat in the old world where there were so many hazards pets had to live artificial lives indoors, and washing the stinky lake water off dogs to make them acceptable for indoor living was such an undertaking we rarely allowed our dogs the pleasure of frolicking in the lake. After a few minutes of me standing on shore throwing a rock into the water for him to fetch, I jump into the water myself, enjoying the feel of wet, slimy sand on my feet without fretting about potential fishing hooks or needles that made us scared to go barefoot in the old world. With no industrial or agricultural pollutants, or invasive species either, the water is beautifully, perfectly clear, so the lake serves as both an invigorating morning swim, and my bath for the day. There are several other people there with the same purpose, and lots of children, but unlike the artificial water experience of swimming pools in the old world where space was limited, there is no need for separate swim times designated as adults only, as there is plenty of room for children to play and for adults to find peace and tranquility if they desire. Sometimes, I may even join the children, perhaps assisting them in building a spectacular sand castle because I will feel as young and energetic as these screaming children that gave me a headache in the old world. After swimming for awhile, I will lay in the sun to dry, usually striking up a conversation with another person about our plans for the day, then head for home. I don’t know how far my parents and I would live from a lake, but even if it is a five mile walk, as I said, with renewed bodies and the eradication of extreme weather and frailty, no walk is too far. On the walk, I imagine I will meditate often on how glorious it is to walk free and independent, basking in the beautiful sounds, smells and sights of nature as God intended, no longer needing artificial means like a treadmill for exercise. Gilbert might escort me home, but when I reach home, I will pat him on the head, and he will answer the call of the wild.

When I get home, my parents, who will also be free of things like allergies and back pain that plagued them in this world, might have just returned from their own morning walks. Perhaps Mom took a walk through the woods to enjoy the beauty of sunrise and assess what she might do to manage the forest that day. Perhaps Dad took a walk through the city and was intrigued by a food cart where someone was sharing bread or muffins, and brought some home for breakfast. Or perhaps after returning from her walk, Mom will sometimes feel inspired to make pancakes, or french toast with bread that is getting old, topped with fresh jam or syrup Dad found. They might both be sitting at the picnic table in happy conversation over tea and breakfast. I would sit and join them, and partake in breakfast as well. Then we would all take our dishes down to the community well to wash them while chatting with the neighbors, and then take ten minutes to work together and tidy up the cabin by sweeping the floor and wiping down the stove and counter top.

After that, maybe Mom would head out to tend the forest land God entrusted to her. Dad and I would tend our own garden plot, and then harvest whatever herbs and fresh vegetables were ready that day. Then Dad and I would bring our harvest into the cabin where I would prepare a wonderful soup and/or salad that we would all have for lunch when Mom returned around noon, and Dad might prepare something like salsa or pudding, some of which we would also enjoy at lunch, and some of which he would share with the community in the afternoon. While we worked, we would enjoy the glorious breeze flowing through multiple large open windows year-round, and talk together. Perhaps Dad would tell me about a fun class someone in the community was offering, or sing out of tune but with contagious passion, a new song he heard from a street performer that morning. When Mom returned around noon, the picnic table would be set for lunch. We would all sit down to lunch together. After lunch, we would all return to the community well to wash our dishes. Then Dad would leave to set up his food stand somewhere in the community, and Mom might return to the forest if there was more she felt inspired to do, or she might accompany me as I walked deeper into the city for choir rehearsal. Our cabin may be miles from the rehearsal site, but without the encumbrances of extreme weather or medical conditions, Mom and I would both love taking this walk and may in fact find it more relaxing than our weekly half-hour drive to choir rehearsal we enjoyed in the old world. These walks would be our time together. She could tell me about beautiful sights she saw in the forest that day, and I could tell her about what the choir is working on for an upcoming worship event. After dropping me off at choir, Mom might head to the lake where I was in the morning and cool off in the water, and then she might meet up with Dad.

If Mom couldn’t go with me, I could easily walk to choir rehearsal myself, but to have a little fun, I might stand outside the door of a fellow choir member’s house on the way, singing loudly beckoning them to come out, and then we might stop at another singer’s house, and another and another so that by the time we reached the rehearsal site, we would have a singing caravan!

Instead of rehearsal one day a week, we might rehearse six days a week, but without the stressful day jobs of the old world that left people feeling tired by rehearsal time, or in my case, frequent sinus congestion and headaches, we will all have plenty of energy for these rehearsals. The choir will not have to beg for funding either, because God will facilitate the provision of everything we need. Skilled carpenters would build a rehearsal space with beautiful, natural acoustics, and lots of windows that would be open during rehearsal to make the space cheery with a wonderful breeze, sunshine and the songs of birds. A piano maker would provide us with a beautiful, well-tuned piano. Somehow, I am sure God will make it plain whom he has created for the role of choir director, and they will carry out this role with passion. This choir will also be amazing because I imagine it will be huge and diverse, both in terms of cultures and time periods. With the man-made borders of the old world, and racism abolished, all cultures will be embraced, and since God will resurrect all who lived righteously and believed in him in whatever capacity they could given the knowledge available to them, our choir may even have singers from native American tribes of the old world who did not have access to the bible, never heard of Jesus, but loved one another and respected the earth. In addition, I imagine there will be many singers who lived in poverty in the old world and always dreamed of singing in a formal choir but had to devote all of their time and energy to survival and so could never realize this dream, or those with a spirit that longed to sing but were unable due to severe disability, or people who always wanted to sing, but whose dream was discouraged by family or an unkind teacher, or people whose lives were cut short tragically before they could be in a choir, or even just people who lived comfortable, affluent lives in the old world but could never find time for choir in their busy schedules. When you combine the potentially huge membership of a choir in the new world, with the boundless energy that will come from the abolishment of frailty and man-made stressors God never intended, with the contagious passion of singers who never got to realize their dream of singing in the old world, I imagine our sound will be absolutely stunning!

I imagine even in the new world, God will want communities to gather regularly for formal worship to remember and celebrate what He has done for us, so maybe we will still gather for worship on the Sabbath day, Sunday morning. But we will gather in one central location rather than separate churches and denominations. Our choir might lead worship once every month or two. Sometimes we might sing a cappella or with a simple piano accompaniment, but we might also collaborate regularly with an orchestra, which could also be huge given the same absence of adversity I mentioned earlier. I imagine we will still enjoy singing choral pieces from Handel and Mozart, and we may even be able to invite the composers themselves to do a workshop with our choir to coach us on their songs and correct errors that may have been made in the modern publication of their music. Last year our choir sang a requiem written mostly by Mozart, but finished by a young assistant of his because Mozart died before he could finish the piece. A member of the choir sent us an interesting article about how some critics of the piece said the assistant was too young and inexperienced to take on the undertaking of finishing this work, evidenced by the fact that the portion written by the assistant was very different in tone and style from the portion written by Mozart. One of these critics, a modern composer, actually re-arranged what was written by the assistant to better reflect the style he believed Mozart had intended. I think this re-arranged version is the one our choir performed. But wouldn’t it be cool if in the new world, we could ask Mozart himself to resolve this question once and for all? But in addition to singing pieces from these famous composers, I imagine in the new world we will be introduced to an amazing array of new pieces from people who had songs composed in their hearts, but again due to the adversity of the old world, never had the opportunity to share them. Since God inspired all kinds of music, I imagine on the weeks the choir is not leading worship, worship could be led by a bluegrass group, a rock band, dance troop or even a rap artist.

After choir, I might meet up with my parents and we could get something for dinner from a street vendor, and then maybe head for a class in something that is not our calling, but something we have always been curious about but never had the time, ability or money to dabble in back in the old world like basket weaving, painting, or playing the bagpipe! Or we might attend a community theater performance of a play or musical written perhaps by someone who never had the chance to share this talent in the old world. Or we might hear of a salsa band playing on the lakefront and head there to dance until sundown on the beach or in the water. One thing no one will be doing in the new world is just going home and watching television. In this fallen world, if you think about it, we primarily only watch television for one reason. We are too tired after a stressful day’s work to get out in the community, so we watch stupid shows as an escape. But since we won’t be stuck in careers that we weren’t created for, and will have boundless energy, no one will want to sit at home and stare at a box. I also wonder if our transformed hearts will shudder thinking about how we used to be entertained by violence, reality shows with questionable morals, or even crime dramas.

Then if the night looks as though it will be rainy, I will head home with my parents to sit and talk in the cabin listening to the rain through window until we fall asleep. If the night is beautiful and clear, I might walk home with them, say a cheerful goodnight and strike out for the woods once again.

On Saturday each week, we would prepare a little extra food so that on Sunday we could observe the sabbath. Each week on the sabbath, all of my siblings might come home, perhaps transported supernaturally, to visit. After worship, we might go to a community library and rent a board game to bring home and play, or check out a book and pack a picnic to spend the afternoon on the beach. Just like with television, we might shudder at how we used to enjoy reading erotica, or murder mysteries, but maybe people would still love reading memoirs from people who never had the opportunity to write one in the old world, or books of beautiful poetry about nature or God. Or we could sometimes go and watch a community sporting event, something which I would despise if suggested in this world because I get bored quickly not being able to see what is going on, and I find all the noise of buzzers and whistles and obnoxious screaming fans headache inducing. But in the new world, I might find sporting events more tolerable as I will be able to see what is going on, and fans might not be as obnoxious because the games are just for fun, with no careers or money at stake. The sabbath might also be a time for frequent reunions with extended family. We could wake up bright and early and be supernaturally transported to a relative’s community, where we could attend this community’s worship, and then gather for a picnic and afternoon of fun. I look forward to sitting around a table and meeting relatives who died before I was born, as well as reconnecting with my grandfathers. But since we will all possess youthful energy, no one will want to stay parked around a table all day, so when we start feeling fidgety, I could see someone on my mom’s side starting a multigenerational game of Tag or Kick the Can, or on my dad’s side, gathering a polka band to dance. When the sun sets on these sabbath days with extended family, our parting will be cheerful because no one will dread going back to work, and with disease and death vanquished, we know we will see each other again very soon.

I want to close with two disclaimers, partly to ease the concerns of family who might find this someday. First, I am happy and mentally stable. In fact, I almost feel as though I have no right to fantasize about a future paradise, because I recognize that compared to how most humans lived throughout history, and how most people in the world still live today, I already live in paradise. I recognize that for many in the world, paradise would just be getting enough to eat, or being able to live in peace without the constant fear of guns or bombs. Second, I am not one of those nuts you hear about who seek to bring on the apocalypse. Only God knows when the end of this world will come, and in the meantime, we are supposed to live righteously in this world. But while God offers tastes of heaven in this world, He never intended for any of us to be completely content here. So although I am in general happy and well aware of how blessed I am, I like anyone have moments of discontent where I ask questions like: what would life be like without sin, illness and death? What would life be like if everyone could do what they were created for, could fulfill the deepest longings of their hearts that may not be valued in this world? What if I no longer felt as though I live on a leash with my disability and could just run free and go anywhere by myself? These two posts have been my attempt to articulate my meditation on these questions. Again, as I said before I am not God, and since the bible says paradise is beyond anything we can imagine, what I have written is only speculation, and when the new world order comes, my days may look nothing like these meditations. But I trust that God knows what we all need even better than we do, so whatever a day in paradise ends up looking like, I know I will be content. But having these meditations in my heart has helped me to live a more contented life now. Of course I am still human and get discouraged in the heat of a frustrating moment at times. But more and more I am finding that if I keep these meditations in mind, I can stay positive when I hear a tragic story on the news, when a politician says another hateful thing, when I long to run outside for a walk and sing along with the birds and frogs, but my parents are tired from a hard day’s work and just want to watch television, when a board member of our small choir expresses anxiety about our finances because I can turn to my child-like faith and take comfort in knowing it won’t always be this way. Maybe this will inspire your own meditations that could bring the same hope to you.

A Day in My Life After the Restoration: Part 1

Last year when I wrote my first post about the restoration, I did not actually intend to publish it on Easter. It just so happened that Easter was the day all my thoughts came together and I felt the post was ready to publish. But in hindsight, I got to thinking maybe God was involved in having this post ready to publish on Easter, because what better time is there than Easter, the day we commemorate Christ’s resurrection, to write about the Restoration of this broken world! I wanted to publish the following post on Easter again, but I didn’t have enough uninterrupted time during Holy Week to organize my thoughts and write, and Easter Sunday itself actually felt like a taste of paradise. The weather was so spectacular, and the family Easter dinner so perfect that I had no interest in going up to my room and sitting at a computer to write. But although April 21 was the day the Church set aside to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and what it means, I don’t think there is ever a “wrong” time to celebrate it, which is why I decided to wait until I felt like I had done this topic justice, rather than just throw something together to publish on Easter once the sun had set and the festivities had ended.

I was thinking about the Restoration again over Holy week, and this year, I found myself meditating along an interesting line of thought that I thought might be of interest to readers. These thoughts center on the question of what daily life might look like on a paradise earth. The goal of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the John Eldredge book I talked about was simply to get people excited about the Restoration, and this is wonderful and important. The idea of a Restoration is just so hard to even imagine in this broken world that you almost have to start small, focusing on the initial celebratory period for people like me whose disabilities are healed, or people who have lost loved ones being reunited with them, especially if those loved ones were taken too young by one of the many senseless causes of death in this fallen world. But this year, I got to wondering, after we have all adjusted to and celebrated our new joyful realities, what will daily life be like. This paradise earth will last forever after all, and after celebrating my newfound freedom and independence, and literally seeing the world for the first time, I know I will eventually be ready to settle down. So what would that life look like? What follows are some speculations I have imagined about what daily life could look like for me. It will be different for everyone of course, because God created us all with different gifts and personalities for unique purposes, and the whole point of the Restoration is that God will finally have us doing what He created us to do, unencumbered by the many things that thwart our dreams in this world. And of course, my speculations could be totally wrong because I am not God, and not even as well-versed in the Bible as I would like to be. As I have seen even in this world through my experiences applying for jobs, God knows what’s best for me with far better accuracy than I do. Understandably, new readers may be asking why I am bothering to write such a speculative post about some future paradise we won’t fully understand until it happens rather than just living the best life I can in the here and now. Furthermore, some would say that the whole idea of a future paradise is just one interpretation of the Bible. But as I said in my first post about the Restoration, this idea, introduced to me by my Jehovah’s Witness friends, and affirmed to my joy by John Eldredge’s book, spoke to my heart in a way that all the vague, churchy stuff about a home in the sky and just being one with God never did. John Eldredge points out that the reason so many people, even Christians, struggle with feelings of hopelessness, and dread death is because the idea of some vague eternity sitting on clouds or playing harps isn’t appealing. God created us with hearts that yearn for a full, rich life, and Jesus said we are supposed to have a child-like faith, which I take to mean not overthinking things, and just trusting in the many bible references to a literal, eternal life on a paradise earth with the same sense of joy and wonder with which young children believe in Santa. Yes we were all lied to about Santa, but unlike with Santa, there is reliable historic documentation that Jesus was crucified and died, and he appeared to many witnesses to show that he literally rose from the dead. So why couldn’t someone who was literally resurrected from the dead in fulfillment of prophecy also fulfill prophecy from Revelation and Isaiah by offering us a real life on a paradise earth?

Although it would be kind of fun to have computer classes showing resurrected people from ancient times the marvels of the Internet, I highly doubt that the Internet will be available after the Restoration. Although the Internet has certainly perpetuated plenty of evil, it has also been an incredible force for good, so I don’t hold this view because the Internet, in and of itself is a bad thing. I hold this view simply because the Internet was invented out of a desire to try and counteract the limitations of life in this world by making it easier to connect and share information and ideas with people anywhere in the world. But after the Restoration, when we will literally have all the time in the world, and possibly even supernatural abilities to easily travel anywhere in the world, I don’t think anyone will need, or even want to limit themselves to screens of any kind, or even listen to the radio. So as much as I enjoy blogging now, I don’t foresee myself blogging after the Restoration, but I look forward to meeting you in-person to compare these speculations with how life actually unfolds. Whatever daily life ends up looking like, I have no doubt that I will be content.

I wonder if at the Restoration, I will fall in love with someone and have children of my own, something that is unlikely in this life, both for medical reasons, and because I have just never met anyone with whom I would want to share my life. I have also noticed that when I am around children, especially toddlers, a small amount of time with them goes a long way for me. They are just so curious and rambunctious and their screeching so painful that it isn’t long before I have a headache and am thanking God that they are not my responsibility. But at the same time, sometimes in quiet moments, I think about how rewarding it might be to be a mother, and get to watch and play a daily role in the transformation of rambunctious toddlers into mature adults. I don’t know if my low patience for children is due to my blindness which I think makes me more hypersensitive to noise and chaos, or the fact that I am the youngest child in the family and am just not used to being around children, or if God just created me with a personality better suited for other endeavors and I was not created for motherhood. I thought about imagining myself as a mother with children when I envisioned my day in the life. I have thought about how in one sense, at the Restoration, child-rearing might be easier for people with personalities like mine who need peace and quiet because I could send them outside to play and screech to their hearts’ content, knowing no harm would come to them because a Paradise earth will not have the hazards that this world is full of. After all, Isaiah 11:8 says, “The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.” But since I have no idea what it would really be like to be married and have children, I decided it would make more sense for now to focus my imagination on a day that is more practical and realistic, using the backdrop of how I live now. I was going to write one post about this, but then it occurred to me that the post was getting really long, so in this first post, I will set the stage by sharing some thoughts on what the climate and our lifestyle in this new world might look like. Then in part 2 which I am almost finished writing and hope to publish tomorrow, I will share what a typical day in this new world might look like for me.

The bible says that each person will be rewarded based on how they lived life in our current world, and while I know my parents and I will be welcomed into the Restoration because we have accepted Christ and do our best to live according to His commandments, we were blessed with a life of luxury and comfort that billions of people around the world cannot even imagine. I often hear affluent Americans become defensive when this issue is mentioned. They feel as though they are being shamed, and argue that this affluence was earned through hard work, and I can understand where they are coming from. But still, since very few of us actually have the courage and trust in God to store up heavenly treasure and give radically to the poor—I certainly have not found this courage myself—I wonder if our lifestyles will be scaled down at the Restoration. We will still have everything we need and be comfortable, but God might rightfully assign us much smaller plots of land, giving much larger plots to those who have given radically to the poor, or to the many poor people who kept the faith through a life of suffering and poverty. The Western lifestyle has also been incredibly harmful to the environment, so after the Restoration, I imagine God will want us to live a lifestyle that is more in harmony with nature. So instead of living in a spacious house on two acres of land, my parents and I might live in a modest cabin with just enough room for sleeping and preparing meals on a stone countertop and a solar-powered stove, and own just enough land for a picnic table and a small garden of vegetables and herbs. My parents and I love the suburban lifestyle we have now in the sense that it is an easy drive to the city for all the restaurants, theater and festivals you could possibly want, and yet when we come home, we can sit outside and hear and see nature, rather than being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of people all the time. So maybe God, knowing this desire of our hearts, will assign us land on the outskirts of town where we can hear nature, and also walk into town any time to enjoy city life. But I should make it clear, as John Eldredge mentions as well that in the new world, even cities will be beautiful. There will be no trash-strewn streets, no stinky industrial pollution, no dilapidated buildings, no scary neighborhoods. God will put carpenters in each city with a passion for keeping any buildings beautiful, and since all hearts will be transformed, no one will litter the streets, commit crimes or create factories that emit toxic pollutants.

Instead of owning a dish set that serves sixteen, we might each own one plate, cup, fork, spoon and knife that we wash after each meal. Above the countertop, we might have hooks to hang one iron skillet, one soup kettle, a small sauce pan and two knives, one for slicing bread and one for chopping vegetables. These dishes won’t be dollar store dishes that chip easily, but beautiful dishes given to us by people in the community whom God gifted with craftsmanship.

Our cabin might even resemble the cabin I stayed in at Earth Keeper’s Camp, a rite of passage for all fifth graders that the principle at my elementary school instituted. Given that we were mollycoddled, affluent suburban kids, the principle wanted us to experience a back-to-nature overnight camp. The afternoon we had to hike through the woods was awful as the terrain was very rough, but overall it was a really neat experience that I think of fondly. We left for camp Monday morning and returned to school on a Wednesday morning in October that year. Those two days were full of activities intended to foster respect and appreciation for nature. But I digress. The cabins at this camp did not actually contain their own bathrooms. If we needed the bathroom, we left our cabins and walked a ways to a community bathroom, which was inconvenient, and caused my mom who came along to chaperone some anxiety since I had a medical condition that sometimes required me to need the bathroom frequently if the medicine wore off or didn’t take for some reason. But all went well with the medicine, and looking back, it has occurred to me that a community bathroom like that would create a much smaller environmental footprint, and after the restoration when no one will be frail or have medical conditions that require the bathroom to be nearby, a community bathroom wouldn’t be a burden at all. There may also be a community well for washing our faces, and dishes after each meal, while enjoying happy conversation with neighbors. We may not even need a refrigerator, since refrigerators were only invented out of the necessity to preserve food and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. But on a paradise earth, I imagine that God will either rid the world of harmful bacteria, or allow the harvesting of fresh fruits and vegetables to be so consistent and regular that we won’t need to store food. We will just go out and pick what we are going to eat for the next day or two. I mention eating only fruits and vegetables because I imagine that after the Restoration, we will all be vegan, or at the very least, the type of vegetarian who eats eggs and cheese, but nothing that requires animals to be killed. After all, in the Garden of Eden when all was perfect, the book of Genesis implies that only the fruit of the trees was meant for food. Genesis 2:16 says, “and the Lord God commanded the man, You are free to eat from any tree in the garden,” except of course the tree of the knowledge of good and evil mentioned in the next verse. It is only after Noah and his family survive the flood and leave the ark that the Bible mentions enmity between man and animals, and God gives man permission to eat meat. “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” (Genesis 9:3) Passages from Isaiah I have mentioned before indicate that after the Restoration, harmony between man and animals will be restored, and in a world where all animals are as gentle as my dog Gilbert, I don’t think anyone will even want to kill and eat them.

One day in the apologetics class I take through my church, the teacher cited scholars who believe that the Garden of Eden was a super-oxygenated, terrarium environment and this is why gardens flourished and the people in those days lived such long lives. Given that the Bible begins and ends in a garden, I imagine God might restore Earth’s climate to that of the garden of Eden which was warm and humid year-round. Now in this world, I feel miserable without air conditioning once the summer heat and humidity hits, but I actually enjoy the climate-controlled humidity of indoor swimming pools or museum butterfly exhibits. So perhaps, it is not the humidity itself, but the ozone pollution of the modern age that causes me to feel so miserable. Ozone pollution won’t be an issue after the Restoration, and I won’t even have the underlying medical issues that make me more sensitive to heat in this world. Therefore, there will be no need for an air conditioner after the Restoration. I imagine it will rain sometimes to keep the gardens watered, but I imagine it will be a pleasant rainfall, the kind that lulls you to sleep at night, and awakens wonderful, woodsy aromas when you step outside afterward. there will no longer be the kind of rain that leads to destructive flooding. There may even be thunderstorms on occasion as natural fire is actually healthy for ecosystems. But I imagine they will be those gentle rolling thunderstorms, again the kind that make for amazing sleeping weather, and God will no doubt protect His people from injury by these storms.

If there are any vehicles for transportation at all, I imagine people will only use bicycles. After the Restoration, God will no longer allow motorized vehicles which have done so much harm to the environment. But people will also be able to walk further when we are released from the grip of extreme weather, underlying disabilities and medical issues, and most importantly, man-made time constraints. Since we will literally have all the time in the world, there will no longer be the need to live life at a frenetic pace. In his book, John Eldredge points out Peter’s brief experience walking on water just like Jesus to speculate that our restored bodies may come with supernatural abilities. So if people want to explore a destination that is across a body of water, we may be able to simply walk on the water, or if we want to unite with loved ones far away, we may be able to ask God to transport us to them supernaturally. The Bible says that God has work for everyone to do in his kingdom, but it won’t be soul-draining work like so many of the jobs in this world. God, who knows us each individually, will assign us what we were created to do, so that at the end of each day, we may be ready to rest, but will be at peace, and eager to return to this work the next day. Because God will provide for all of our needs, and give us the jobs we were created for and thus will enjoy immensely, and because hearts will be transformed such that everyone just lives in harmony, no longer desiring the wealth and material possessions that tempt us in this world, no one will be paid for their work in the traditional sense. If we use our garden plot to grow zucchini and tomatoes, we might casually trade with our neighbor who is growing eggplant and onions, but there would be no need for formal contracts, and no formal expectation of payment. People will just do what God has given them a passion for, and will naturally want to share it with others.

Even before I started meditating about a day in life on a paradise earth, it has fascinated me for awhile to consider that many lines of work that employ people in this world will no longer be necessary after the Restoration. We won’t need doctors or nurses because God will have healed all diseases. Police officers and security forces will no longer be necessary as those who choose to follow Christ and partake in the reward of the Restoration will have no desire to hurt one another or vandalize property. Even military forces will no longer be necessary, as people will have repented for the silly disputes over land, resources and religious ideologies that plague this world, recognizing that all along, there was only one God, and that all land and resources are ultimately owned by God, and he will assign land and resources fairly. Since money as we know it will no longer be necessary, there will be no need for any work having to do with banking, insurance, financial advising or tax collecting. I don’t think there will even be the need for careers having to do with inspecting, auditing or accountability because after the Restoration, hearts will be transformed and everyone will conduct themselves with integrity. If something dishonest does occur, God, who will be living among us, will expose culprits of corruption more efficiently than any man-made institution for accountability ever could. In my original post about the restoration, I mentioned that I had dreamed of a career in Journalism. But if journalism exists at all after the Restoration, I imagine it will be fundamentally different from Journalism in this world. There will be no crime, wars, or cases of political corruption to report on. So journalism could be exclusively human interest stories of how people’s lives have changed since the Restoration, or how people from cultures that were once mortal enemies now live in harmony. There could also be an events section in each community newspaper announcing musical performances, or classes being offered by people from all eras of human history. But to be honest, I don’t think being a reporter is God’s plan for me after the Restoration for the simple fact that Journalism was my “second love.” I enjoyed classes in writing, and discussions of current events and politics way more than I enjoyed Math and Science, so I decided that Journalism is a field I would enjoy enough to continue studying in college, and devote 40 hours a week to in order to pay the bills. But my first love that filled me with joy and passion before I could even talk was singing. For this reason, I get the sense that God will assign me work as a musician after the Restoration. Singing in a huge choir won’t just be a one-time occasion to celebrate the Restoration. It will be my whole life, the life I was always meant for, but suppressed to a certain degree to survive in this world where singing in choir can only be a hobby.

As I have mentioned before, my parents do not seem receptive to engaging with me in my crazy talk about what they dream of after the Restoration, which I respect. Although thinking about the Restoration brings me joy, and although I think if Christians talked more about the Restoration, there wouldn’t be the sense of hopelessness so many in this world experience, I can understand why most people prefer to stay focused on this life. After all, the Bible says that eternal life will be beyond what we can even imagine, so even I admit that all these thoughts on what life might be like are only speculation, something many view as unproductive. Nevertheless, I see nothing wrong with spending some time speculating about eternity simply to keep it in the forefront of the mind so that when I have a bad day at work or some other difficult situation, I can turn to this train of thought, rather than falling down a rabbit hole of negativity and hopelessness which I used to do sometimes.

When my dad isn’t worried about his job or a family situation, he loves meandering around town to different grocery stores, or driving different routes through neighborhoods he has never explored before, and discovering new restaurants. He has become an expert over the years on which grocery stores have the best selection of certain items, or the freshest produce, and he relishes slowly walking down aisles meticulously reading labels, and trying new products that look interesting. He also enjoys coming home and cooking spaghetti in the winter, and preparing salsa, and vegetable medleys in the summer. So maybe after the Restoration, God will give Dad the opportunity to be a chef, scouting the gardens for the most beautiful produce, even traveling to other countries to experience new foods and bringing the recipes home with him and then adding his own flare to them. Maybe he would have a portable food tent where he could prepare his recipes in different locations each day so that every day would bring new experiences. My mom’s favorite season is summer, and although we are blessed to live where we do, she wishes winters weren’t so long and cold because she loves getting outside to work in the garden, driving around admiring the beauty of the blooms on the flowering crab trees, and picking flowers to put in a vase on our kitchen table. She also has a dream of visiting all of the national parks. So maybe after the restoration, God will give Mom a role that involves forest management. Although God will assign his people plots of land on which they can build homes and grow their favorite things, I imagine He is heartbroken by the way we have over-developed the land which has destroyed the habitats of many creatures, and will threaten more in the future. I like to think God smiled upon figures like Teddie Roosevelt and John Muir who fought to preserve some land from the relentless march of development that characterized the 20th century, but now even the legacy of these figures is being threatened. It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention given all the other horrible things President Trump has been doing, but I heard awhile back that President Trump wants to open up national parklands to oil drilling and development. But I imagine that another wonderful result of the Restoration of this fallen world will be that God will return vast swaths of land to their natural beauty, areas so vast they will make the acrage allocated as national parks seem pathetic, areas where magnificent creatures that need freedom to roam, can thrive again. I could see Mom enjoying an occupation that involved managing this land. Of course, despite the fact that I live with my parents and think I know them pretty well, it is possible I could be reading them wrong. Maybe what I read as activities they love are simply activities they use to escape the troubles of this world. Maybe God has completely different occupations in store for them because they too have masked their deepest longings of the heart to stay practical in this world. I don’t even want to speculate on what occupations might call my siblings after the restoration because to be honest, in this world I don’t see any of them often enough to really get a sense of what their deepest passions are, and just like me, they may even have masked their true passions from others because they couldn’t find an outlet for them in this current world. But I have confidence God will lead them to the occupation they were created for after the restoration, and that it will be much easier to visit with them and reflect on how much more authentic all of our lives are then. But for now, I don’t want to inadvertently misrepresent them, lest they ever read this post and tease me for getting their passions all wrong.

I realize readers, especially those critical of the concept of eternal life, could ask me all kinds of questions about practical details I haven’t thought of, to which I humbly admit again that I do not have all the answers. Only God knows fully what our eternal lives will look like, so I am only speculating. But I invite you to humor me and allow yourself a break from this world where cynicism and hopelessness seem to be the trend right now, and give yourself permission to have child-like faith. When I publish part 2 of this reflection tomorrow, you are free to disagree with my speculations, and I even welcome comments. But don’t dismiss the idea of eternal life on a paradise earth altogether. Give yourself permission in this broken world to think about the deepest longings of your heart which you have likely masked to be practical in this world, and imagine what a paradise earth might look like for you. We don’t want to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, yet if we all reflected more on the idea that this broken world isn’t all there is, as I will be doing tomorrow, it could inspire us to live better now, take our faith more seriously and be a light of hope that could beckon others to believe as well. So with the stage set to the best of my finite ability, tomorrow I will launch right into speculations of what a day in life on a paradise earth might look like for me.

President Trump’s Immigration Policy Is at Odds with Christian Principles

Well readers, I have two happier posts in the works, one of which is about how much I love my kitten Aslan whom I introduced in my last post. But given that my kitten and dog enjoy a higher standard of living than our government is providing children seeking asylum at our borders right now, I feel compelled to write about how much our country still falls short of the ideas expressed in our Declaration of Independence which we recently celebrated. I should say here it is not my intention to completely trash-talk our country because despite all the problems we are facing right now, we are still far better off than many countries around the world. On July 3, I was watching Morning Joe on MSNBC as I ate breakfast before work, and in light of the horrible conditions at the border detention centers, and Donald Trump’s politicizing of what has always been a nonpartisan holiday with his military display and planned speech, one of the commentators suggested that Americans should go ahead and enjoy the holiday and say a toast to the things we do well, but on the 5th of July, we should reflect on what we could do to make this country better, and align it more closely with our ideals by next year.

I liked this sentiment, and I still believe there are many things we do well. For example, we all have the freedom to practice our religion or have no religion at all. Sure, there has been a disturbing increase in antisemitism, and misinformed fears of people who practice Islam, the majority of whom are peaceful. But when a gunman attacked a synagogue this past year, the community, including the mayor rallied around the synagogue and denounced the perpetrator of such senseless violence toward a house of worship, which completely violate the values of our free society. I have confidence that the same would hold true if a mosque were attacked. Sadly, this is not true in many other countries. Every year at HarvestFest, an annual event my church holds in October where field workers come home and share stories of how they are spreading the gospel around the world, I hear heartbreaking stories of churches being bombed or burned down, and worshippers being arrested or killed. Sometimes this persecution is inflicted directly by the government, other times by non-state actors who are not prosecuted because the government implicitly supports what they are doing. Either way, you come away from this event each year with a renewed appreciation for how lucky we are to live in this country where religious freedom is still upheld. Another value we still uphold well is freedom of speech. Sure, there are those who try to silence speech they don’t like, often using incredibly hateful rhetoric on social media, and people have lost jobs over speech a company or sponsor doesn’t like. But the bottom line is, I can confidently publish this blog post in which I will be saying bad things about the president, knowing it won’t lead to police storming into my house and hauling me off to a jail or prison camp where I could be tortured or killed. The same cannot be said in many other countries.

On the morning of July 4, while Mom made final preparations for a holiday feast that afternoon, we listened to Stay Tuned with Preet, a podcast my mom and I both like and which I also talk about in this post. Before the show, Preet asked his social media followers the question “What does patriotism mean to you?” At the end of the show, he shared a sample of responses. I was a little troubled by how some listeners seemed to believe patriotism is about blind loyalty to country, right or wrong. But several people indicated that patriotism means loving your country enough to criticize what we get wrong, so that we can be better. Related to that, I especially liked the sentiment of one woman who compared patriotism to the unconditional love a parent has for his/her child. I think this is a brilliant analogy that I also agree with. I think I was expressing this kind of love in this post when I indicated that at least as circumstances currently stand, I don’t feel compelled to flee to Canada. In the same way a loving parent wouldn’t abandon his/her child when he makes a big mistake or doesn’t live up to expectations, I cannot imagine abandoning this country. At the same time, the parent who almost worships his/her child, insisting the child can do no wrong, and trying to shield him from any consequences or hardships related to poor choices is actually making said child’s life more difficult in the long-term.

Given the 24-hour news cycle which can have the effect of desensitizing people to all the trouble in the world, and my job where I talk to people every day living with painful medical conditions, many of whom cannot afford the medical care they need, I admit there are days when I can relate to a psychological phenomenon experienced by people in emotionally draining occupations like paramedics and nurses known as compassion fatigue. But last summer when I heard footage of children crying for their mothers when they were separated by border patrol officers, I almost cried too. And what was almost equally horrifying to me was the callous attitude of commentators like Laura Ingram who downplayed the cruelty of this policy by likening the child detention centers to summer camp.

I went to a week-long summer camp for three summers as a child, and there is no comparison between my experience, and what separated children are still enduring. Sure, I was separated from my parents, but it was a separation my parents and I both consented to, with plenty of time for my parents to soothe my fears about homesickness by reminding me of all the fun, unique experiences I would have. By contrast, mothers interviewed about their situation last summer indicated they didn’t know they would be separated from their children when they arrived, which means they wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to soothe their children or explain the situation to them before being separated. When I got to camp, it was a week full of fun, unique experiences like swimming in a lake, boating, playing silly games in the dining hall and singing songs around a campfire. By contrast, children separated from their parents were taken to detention centers where their entire summer was spent essentially locked in cages. Last summer, these centers at least provided basic education, but this summer, children aren’t even getting that. Finally, I knew exactly when my parents were coming to take me home, so when there were a couple moments when I was starting to feel homesick, I could console myself with the assurance that I would be home soon. By contrast, neither the children nor the parents knew if, or when they would be reunited. Many parents wait months to be reunited with their children, and according to a CNN report I read, 471 parents have been deported without their children.

I didn’t take any action to speak out against our country’s cruelty toward immigrants seeking asylum last summer, or even write about it on this blog because I think I was just so shocked by this atrocity I didn’t know what I could do or how to approach the issue. But this summer, with many children who still have not been reunited with their families, and with children and families being denied toiletries and basic medical care, I cannot stay silent any longer. I still feel fortunate to live in this country and am optimistic that we can get onto a better path. I am not the only American appalled at how our government is treating asylum-seekers, so if the thousands of protestors featured in the news shouting “close the camps!” stay engaged in this cause and vote in leaders at all levels of government with integrity and good character, this, and many other situations we are facing could change for the better. But as immigration policy currently stands, this country is like a child that needs to sit in time-out or lose some privileges. Actually, the natural consequence of President Trump’s behavior, and withdrawal from international agreements like the Paris Climate Accord, our allies are already putting us in time-out so to speak by making decisions without our input, and thus we are losing the privilege of leadership in the world. I hate to see our country lose respect and influence on the world stage, but until we wake up and elect leaders with good character, and until some who call themselves Christians actually return to upholding Christian values, this natural consequence is well-deserved.

I have thoughts on several issues, but given that these issues are complex, I will save them for posts of their own. For this post, I want to focus on President Trump’s immigration policy because it has disturbed my conscience, and is a leading story in the news right now.

Of course, President Trump is not the first president to have to address immigration and border security. But recent past presidents sought to address this issue with thoughtfulness, striving to recognize the need for border security and law enforcement while not forsaking our values. We are after all, a nation built by immigrants, and most of us are descendants of immigrants. On my dad’s side, I know that my grandma’s parents both emigrated from Poland in the early 1900s. Grandma’s mother fled from an abusive father, and Grandma’s father fled to avoid being drafted into the army during World War I. My mom’s side has been in this country longer, but they came to this country in the 1600s, seeking asylum from an oppressive Scottish government.

President Obama actually built the first detention centers and deported more people than President Trump has thus far. But children were never separated from their parents, and all immigrants were treated with basic human dignity while inside our borders, even if they were ultimately deported. President Obama also issued an executive order protecting undocumented children brought to this country illegally by their parents, recognizing that as children, they had no say in this decision, and they were good people who had now become part of the fabric of their communities and our society. In fact, many of these children were so young when brought to this country that they had no memory of their native countries, so America was the only country they had ever known. I remember both President George W Bush and President Obama giving speeches advocating a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, although neither were successful in convincing Congress to pass such legislation. By contrast, President Trump’s position on immigration is centered on racism and hate, from his cruel zero-tolerance policy that separated children from their families, to his past racist rhetoric about shithole countries, to his tweets just last week attacking “the squad,” the four Democratic congresswomen of color who spoke out against him, and his sitting back and smiling as supporters chanted “send her back!” in reference to Ilhan Omar one of the women in the squad who was not born in this country but is a legal U.S. citizen, at a rally in North Carolina.

Even if you do not identify as a Christian, there are so many reasons why President Trump’s policies and rhetoric are wrong and detrimental to our country’s interests. There is the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission specifically cites remarks like “go back to where you came from” as an example of unlawful workplace harassment. Where I work, if management got wind of someone making such a remark, they would be fired on the spot, but the President of the United States has not, and most likely will not face any consequences for this remark. There is the fact that President Trump’s treatment of asylum-seekers is a violation of national law, and international treaties. There is the staggering waste of tax dollars being paid to for-profit detention contractors to house immigrants when I heard an immigration advocate interviewed on a podcast last year argue that when immigrants were released into this country to live with other family members, 99 percent of them still showed up for their court hearings. And while another blog post could be written on the immorality of exploiting immigrants, the reality of this fallen world is that immigrants are willing to do crucial work that American citizens won’t do because this work is hard, pay is low and there are no benefits, jobs such as meat packing, harvesting crops, even providing nursing care for the increasing senior population. Deporting hard-working, undocumented immigrants whose only crime was entering this country illegally or advocating policies that only welcome highly educated immigrants could lead to labor shortages in crucial sectors of our economy down the road. And can you imagine how blah life would be without the wonderful variety of ethnic foods, music and traditions that immigrants brought to this country? This diversity is really what made America great, and the only way we can continue to be great. But those of us who identify as Christians should be especially horrified by President Trump’s immigration policies for a higher set of reasons.

As I have mentioned in the past, I studied for a time with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I didn’t end up converting because I don’t agree with their theology surrounding Jesus. But I still consider these witnesses good friends, and I wish more of my fellow evangelical Christians would have an open mind and study with them because although I believe their theology is incorrect, there is so much that they get right as far as what it means to take faith seriously. And there are two things that both of our bibles agree on: one cannot serve two masters, and we are called to be citizens of a higher governing authority.

Jehovah’s Witnesses take these principles so seriously that they do not run for political office, serve in the military or even vote. The way one of my friends explained it, all earthly governments are influenced by Satan, but Jehovah’s Witnesses need to be a unified front as God’s government is higher than any of the earthly governments in place right now, and so by abstaining from voting or any civic activities, there is no animosity if a Jehovah’s Witness living in the United States meets a Witness from Iran, even though there is tension between the earthly governments of these countries. I am not arguing that my fellow Evangelicals abstain from voting. On the contrary, I believe that Christians should vote and contact their representatives to speak up for the issues God puts on their hearts because while it is true that this world will always have problems until Christ returns, He wants us to work with this system in our spheres of influence (which include the governments of the countries in which we live) to try and bring a taste of His Kingdom to this world now rather than just throwing up our hands and hoping He will return soon. But it is sad and honestly frightening to me how many of my fellow Evangelicals have fallen victim to pandering and propaganda, and have chosen to blindly follow and almost worship President Trump and his enablers in Congress. I hope any Evangelicals who stumble on this blog don’t take what I am about to say as judgmental. This is not my intention, as only God knows what is in each person’s heart, and I know I have plenty of my own sins to work out that I will be judged on. As a quick relevant example, although this post has been about the need for more compassionate immigration policies, my heart isn’t always pure regarding my attitude toward immigrants. I have never made blatant racist remarks against them, have never and would never dream of telling someone to go back to the country they came from, but sometimes in real-world situations, I react with impatience and annoyance rather than patience and compassion. As I have mentioned in the past, I groan to myself when I go to a restaurant and end up with a waiter or waitress who is not fluent in English, especially if I am on a family vacation, when sometimes I haven’t had enough sleep and am beyond hungry by the time we get to a restaurant. Although I have never actually vocalized this, in my mind I am fuming, “oh for heaven’s sake, give me someone who speaks English!” Normally at the sound of a foreign accent, I would smile in celebration of the diversity and opportunity our country offers, appreciate how brave this waiter or waitress is for starting over in a new country and learning our language better than I would ever learn theirs if I had to start over in their country, but sometimes in the heat of the moment, I am just tired and hungry and don’t have the patience to even try and communicate with them, so I put my head down hoping the waiter will just assume I have a headache or something, and let my parents do the talking and explain to them about my Celiac Disease. But even if my anxiety over the need to make sure it is understood that my meal needs to be gluten free is legitimate, I should make a better effort about not fixating on my food, trust God because everything always ultimately works out, and engage in conversation with said waiter or waitress, showing them the same mercy and compassion I would want to be shown if I had to start over in a new country. But even though I fall short in my interaction with immigrants, I feel compelled to speak the truth in love, which is that it is just not possible to honestly call yourself a Christian, while simultaneously supporting President Trump’s policies, especially his immigration policies. And even before I read this excellent article linked to above, I have felt for a long time that if Christ were to return today, He would judge purported Christians who support President Trump with the same anger He expressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees. To support President Trump while calling yourself Christian is to be a hypocrite.

This is not about politics. I am not saying you should necessarily vote for President Trump’s democratic opponent, although right now I think that is what I personally am going to do. I am well aware that Democrats have had their fair share of crooked behavior, immoral conduct and hyperpartisanship, but President Trump’s policies, especially his immigration policy, not to mention his complete lack of morals or integrity are so egregious that getting him voted out of office in 2020 needs to be the top priority. But if Evangelicals cannot in good conscience vote for President Trump’s opponent, I feel as though they would honor God better by following the example of Jehovah’s Witnesses and at least for this election, not voting at all. I just ask my fellow evangelicals to consider this question. Since we are all sinners, we will never find perfect leaders in this current world, but who do you think Jesus would judge more favorably if He returned today: the political figures who may not talk about their faith publicly but who in general advocate Christ-like policies that lift up the poor and marginalized, or the political figures who loudly profess their faith and pander to you by promising to appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme court, but who in general have implemented policies that make life worse for the poor and marginalized, and who will even twist scripture out of context to justify cruel policies as Jeff Sessions did last summer?

Some of my fellow evangelicals will say there is spiritual warfare today, and the Enemy Satan is doing everything he can to turn people away from God, but sadly some of these same people are completely oblivious to the fact that the Enemy has already turned them away from God using Fox News propaganda, and conservative talk radio. So I would like to conclude with a few bible verses that I hope will tickle the conscience of even one person who stumbles on this blog, and bring them back to God.

Hebrews 13:1-2 says: “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” It just so happens that our church was studying the book of Hebrews this summer, and in God’s perfect timing, the pastor preached on these verses three weeks ago, right as the conditions in the detention centers were coming to light. I think my fellow evangelicals don’t realize that a large portion of the immigrants from the central American countries are themselves Christians, so by turning our backs on them, we are actually turning our backs on our own brothers and sisters. Furthermore, we were all at one time aliens whom God pursued, and therefore we are called to embrace and show hospitality to strangers, whether they are Christian or not. It is the best way the church can articulate the gospel to the broader culture, and this message is if anything more relevant today given our culture’s stranger danger philosophy, than it was when the book of Hebrews was written.

Matthew 25:34-35 says: “Then the king will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Jesus goes on to tell those on his left who did not do these things they will not inherit the kingdom. Jesus, who was Himself a refugee, includes our treatment of the stranger, the immigrant in this world as criteria for whether we inherit eternal life. This should be sobering. I confess I was tempted not to include this verse for fear of being a hypocrite as I fall far short of these standards. I am not as generous with my money as I could be, and very stingy with my time. This is an area of my faith life where I would like to progress. But even if you are like me and rarely volunteer or donate to charity, we could all start by at least speaking out against elected representatives who pander to Christians but implement cruel policies that are completely at odds with Jesus’ teaching.

Matthew 24:14 says: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Jesus didn’t say He only came for the people of the roman empire who was his audience, nor did He say He came only for white people, or only people living in the United States of America. He wanted the gospel to be preached to all nations. I get the impression from this bible verse, and bible verses about Jesus abolishing all earthly governments, that He will have an open borders policy, if borders as we know them even exist at all. At that time, we will all realize how stupid and petty our thousands of years of racism were as we were all created in God’s image, with the same hopes and dreams. But why must we wait until then? Why not strive to bring a taste of God’s kingdom to this country now with policies that secure the border against real criminals, which is necessary in this fallen world, but policies which are grounded in common sense and compassion, not hate and racism.

Healing the Cat-Shaped Hole in My Heart

Well readers, I apologize that it has been so long since I last posted here, and that my last post was so negative. I haven’t totally abandoned writing during this time. In fact, I have been working on a unique meditation about the Restoration which I hope to finish soon. But first, I have to gush about my new kitten baby who became a member of our family on June 1!

On May 24 of last year, I wrote this post about the passing of Snickers. Even when Snickers was healthy, Mom, Dad and I each commented that Snickers was special and we may not want another cat when she passed away because no other cat would have the personality of Snickers. But as I held Snickers in my lap for the last time on Tuesday May 22, I realized I couldn’t go the rest of my life without a sweet bundle of fur purring in my lap. As long as I was living with my parents, I would try to act like an adult by respecting their wishes if they did not want another cat. But someday, I would hold a cat in my lap again.

Mom wanted to wait a few months before adopting another cat to see if her allergies improved. I realized this would be a good idea for me too as I had been plagued with sinus headaches for years. If our allergies did improve, sadly we would have to accept the reality that we were allergic to cats, although I confess I did look at breeders of Siberian cats which are supposedly hypoallergenic and can be tolerated by many with cat allergies. If our allergies improved without Snickers, my first plan of action was to contact one of these breeders. But around Christmas time, Mom decided her allergies hadn’t improved, and with that revelation, I knew it was safe to reveal my allergies hadn’t improved either. A kitten was in our near future, maybe as a Christmas gift. (I would participate in selecting the kitten of course. I agree with the Humane Society stance that a pet should never be a surprise gift.)

The kitten didn’t end up being a Christmas gift because unbeknownst to us, there really aren’t kittens available at humane societies in the winter months. There is such a thing as “kitten season” which is generally May through August. I remember adopting Snickers in August of 2000, and there were a lot of kittens at that time, but August just happened to be when we were ready to add a kitten to the family back then. But this was just as well, as it occurred to me it probably would be healthy to wait a full year from Snickers’ passing to give the heart time to heal. With some time separating Snickers and the new kitten, hopefully I wouldn’t be comparing the new cat to Snickers. As much as I longed to hear the purring of a cat again, I also wanted to make sure I behaved like an adult and didn’t act impulsively by adopting a kitten too soon. I was heartbroken when my parents decided we had to surrender Kelso in 2003, but seeing this experience from an adult perspective, I realized I played a role in adopting this puppy whose severe behavioral problems we couldn’t handle. It had only been six months since our beloved german shepherd Indy passed away, and I missed her so much that this rambunctious puppy stole my heart. I begged my parents to adopt him, and they relented. But when we brought him home and his severe behavior issues—which we learned were the consequence of being taken from the mother too soon–soon became evident, I was even afraid to interact with him. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t heartbroken about relinquishing Kelso because I loved Kelso. Sadly, he never seemed to bond with us, and I hadn’t really bonded with him either. If I were in my parents’ shoes, I would have made the same dicision. Our family, and this dog would all be better off if we relinquished this dog back to the no-kill shelter where we adopted him, where hopefully he would find a home that could handle his special needs. I was heart-broken simply because I missed the love and loyalty of a dog in the house. When Indy passed away, my dad didn’t want another dog in the house until I was old enough to receive a guide dog. At the time we had to relinquish Kelso, that seemed like an eternity away. I couldn’t imagine waiting that long. Had I been more mature, I would have realized that time flies, and that I wouldn’t have to spend the entirety of those years without puppy love because it would turn out my brother would need us to dogsit his dog Mojo fairly regularly, and my last year of high school, my brother moved back home and Mojo lived with us full-time. All this is to say, I learned the hard way that patience is bitter, but had I practiced it and respected my parents’ desire to wait for sweet Gilbert to come along, I could have avoided a lot of heartbreak. I promised myself I wouldn’t act impulsively when choosing a kitten, and making myself wait a full year before adopting a kitten seemed wise for this reason.

My sister who lives in New York City wanted to be involved in the selection of our next kitten, and I was delighted about this, as that special summer when my sister first got her driver’s license and we snuck off to every humane society in the area while my parents were at work was a special memory we both cherish, and I loved the idea of sort of re-living that experience, even if we were no longer minors and had the full approval of Mom and Dad this time around. My sister would be coming home at the very beginning of kitten season, May 1, to celebrate my Grandma’s 90th birthday. I was a little apprehensive about adopting a kitten that weekend since we were hosting Grandma’s party at our house. I feared that adding a kitten to the family amidst all the last minute busyness that goes into cleaning, decorating and food preparation would fray nerves and start our lives with this new kitten off on the wrong foot, or that a guest would be loud and frighten a kitten who wasn’t used to us yet, or that someone would leave a door open or something and she would run away. My mom and sister assured me we would take precautions so that these things didn’t happen. That weekend, my sister and I agreed we wouldn’t adopt a cat impulsively, but would adopt if we felt in our hearts as though we found the perfect kitten for us.

The humane society where we adopted Snickers didn’t have any kittens on May 2, the day my sister and I set aside to look for kittens. I checked online the night before, and my sister even called to verify. She used to volunteer at a humane society when she lived in North Carolina and said there are sometimes kittens available that a humane society does not post online. Another humane society had one kitten, but said she was shy, and we agreed a shy kitten would not be right for our family. The Wisconsin Humane Society had three kittens that day, so we decided to start there. The way this shelter operates is you are supposed to fill out an online profile before you arrive, and then when you get there, you go on a waiting list. While waiting, you can walk around and view animals in their cages, but cannot interact with them until you are sent a text announcing it is your turn and an adoption counselor meets with you. The shelter opened at noon that day, but my sister and I didn’t get there until around 3:00 that afternoon, partly because we didn’t know this shelter’s procedures which incentivize getting there early, and partly because Gilbert was at the groomer that day in preparation for Grandma’s party, and as we were driving to the shelter, Mom called my sister’s cell phone to report that the groomer was finished with Gilbert and it was time to pick him up. I didn’t expect him to be ready so soon. My dad still has a company car, but he needs to keep it clean and thus doesn’t allow Gilbert to ride in it. My sister and I were driving our only other car, so we would have to turn around and either go home to meet up with Mom and Dad who would pick up Gilbert, or go directly to the groomer and pick him up ourselves. I thought it would be quicker for us to pick up Gilbert, forgetting about the fact that my sister has never set up Gilbert’s ramp he uses to get in and out of the car now that he has arthritis, and Gilbert only trusts Mom or Dad to coax him up the ramp. So to make a long story short, Gilbert absolutely would not go up the ramp to get into the car, so we had to call my parents. So my sister, Gilbert and I waited outside the car for the fifteen minutes it took my dad to get there to coax silly Gilbert into the car! I guess my impatience got me in trouble again! It would have been quicker to go home first and meet up with Mom and Dad, but actually this wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome of that day, which was that we didn’t bring home a kitten.

When my sister and I finally got to the Wisconsin Humane Society, we filled out a paper version of the online profile and were put on the waiting list, but since counselors only met with one person at a time, we had to wait almost two hours, during which time we only found one potential kitten named Fruit Loops who didn’t seem shy. My sister saw some sweet older cats, but I really wanted to hold out for a kitten. As I wrote when Snickers was a senior, I loved her even more deeply when she entered her senior years and seemed to get sweeter with age, and I still love Gilbert. But I love pets when they are young and full of energy too, and I didn’t want to miss out on the antics of a kitten by adopting a senior cat, a sentiment my mom echoed. At the humane society where we adopted Snickers and Kelso, the adoption counselor would take us to a comfortable interview room with a few chairs to sit, and then bring animals to us, and leave us alone to get to know them. My sister said the room was surrounded by glass so staff could theoretically look in on us if they wanted to, but I really felt like we had the space to observe and interact with the animals. But at this humane society, the adoption counselor stays with you at all times when interacting with the animals, and instead of going into separate interview rooms, the standard procedure is that counselors just unlock a door for people to go right into their living quarters. Fruit Loops may have been a sweet kitten, and I hope she found a loving home, but with the adoption counselor, my sister and me all packed into the kitty’s room, there was absolutely no space to hold her or see how she reacted to toys. The counselor put her on a perch in the room where I could stand and pet her, but she didn’t purr and it wasn’t long before she jumped off the perch, probably and understandably overwhelmed by all these strangers in her room. Adopting her when I really didn’t have the space to interact with her would have been impulsive, and it actually hadn’t been a full year since Snickers passed away. She passed away May 23, 2018, and that day was only May 2, 2019. So we went home, hoping for better luck further into kitten season. My sister’s husband had a business conference in Chicago that weekend, but she said she could take the train up to Milwaukee the morning of June 1. But May 2 wasn’t entirely a wasted day as the counselor gave us a valuable insider tip: Kittens are adopted fast, and the people who are most successful in finding a kitten are waiting outside before the shelter opens.

The next month felt like what high-stakes gambling must feel like. At least twice a week, my sister and I would check the three local humane societies and send reports of how many kittens we saw. I even set an alert on Petfinder that would e-mail me about new kittens posted within a 25 mile radius of my zip code. The first couple weeks of May, there were very few kittens, and my sister actually thought about postponing our kitten search until August. I really hated the idea of waiting so long, and it also occurred to me that my parents and I were thinking of going to Sight and Sound theatre in Pennsylvania around Labor Day. I have been to the company’s sister theatre in Branson, and it is one of the few destinations that is actually worth putting up with the annoyances of travel. But if we adopted a kitten in August, Labor Day would be too soon to leave her home alone. I had to remind myself of my own rule not to be impulsive. If we didn’t find the right kitten until August, I should wait until August and forego the trip to Pennsylvania. But somehow I had a good feeling that we would find a kitten June 1, so I convinced my sister not to postpone the trip.

Even on May 30, the numbers looked uncertain. None of the three local humane societies had many kittens, and I was beginning to feel guilty for begging my sister to come when we may not find a kitten. But to my astonishment, my sister texted me Friday May 31 while I was at work to announce twenty kittens were listed at the Wisconsin Humane Society! For this reason, despite having a negative experience the first time around, we decided to give them another chance. My sister and I make a good team because I feel awkward asking for favors that deviate from standard procedure, but my sister called ahead to explain my situation and asked if we could meet the kittens in a larger interview room. To my delight, my sister reported that this was an accommodation that could be arranged. So we made a game plan! Dad would drop Mom and me off at the Wisconsin Humane Society, and then head to the train station to pick up my sister and bring her straight over. The humane society opened at 10am, and my sister’s train was supposed to arrive at 9:30, so timing would work out perfectly! To my annoyance, my doctor wanted to re-check a blood test that was slightly abnormal, and asked that I get my blood drawn over the weekend. But we ate a quick breakfast and were the first ones there when the clinic opened at 8am. We arrived at the humane society about 8:30, and there was already one other lady there in line! She was also looking to adopt a kitten, but she was really friendly and I enjoyed talking about our pets with her as we waited for the doors to open. I joked with her that I didn’t mind that she was first in line but “just don’t adopt all the kittens!” She laughed and promised she wouldn’t as her landlord wouldn’t appreciate that!

To my sister’s annoyance, her train was delayed, and she couldn’t get there until 10:30, by which time Mom and I were already meeting with the adoption counselor. Our adoption counselor was fabulous by the way! The adoption counselor my sister and I met with in May was a full-time humane society staff member. The counselor we met with June 1 was a volunteer, but my sister and I suspected she had a background in education or working with people who had special needs, because she did a fantastic job describing each kitten’s body language and what they were doing. Before my sister could get there, I had already met one kitten named Laxie. His siblings were O’Hare and Midway. He stole my heart because he was very vocal in his cage, poking his little head through the peephole and begging for attention. But in the interview room, he was a little shy and more interested in tearing around the room and exploring than being petted. The adoption counselor wisely quipped that he needed a home with a six-year-old boy who could wear him out! But then the adoption counselor, looking at my online profile in which I indicated that I wanted the kitten to be playful, but also enjoy sitting in my lap, and recommended I meet Ronin. He was just over eight weeks old, born March 28, and while he was a little shy around strangers, the counselor saw a note left by the family that fostered him which indicated he loves lying against your chest and feeling your heart beat. My sister arrived just in time to meet Ronin. When the counselor brought him into the room, he explored the perimeter of the room just like Laxie did, but at a much calmer pace. And then he let the counselor pick him up. The counselor put him against my chest and showed me how to put my arms around him, and in no time, he relaxed and started purring! It was over. My heart was thoroughly melted. Ronin, now known as Aslan came home with me.

The humane society where we adopted Snickers and Kelso required an overnight waiting period before taking the new pet home, but this humane society sends pets home the same day. My sister, parents and I walked around while the counselor filled out some paperwork, in which time my sister took pictures of Ronin playing with his siblings one last time. His sister was already adopted, I think by the lady first in line. His brother Hulk, we were told had not been adopted yet, but would be by the end of the day. We checked online the next day out of curiosity, and indeed, he was no longer listed. I wonder if he misses his siblings. He probably had no idea that his whole world would change that day and he would never play with them again. But I know by how loudly he purrs that he loves his new home with us. My sister adored him too. The first day home, my sister was a little concerned because all he seemed to want to do was hide under a bed or in the coat closet, but when we coaxed him out to sit on our laps, he gladly obliged, purring so loud you could hear him from across the room. In fact, she adored him so much that despite having her own kitty to come home to, I could tell my sister didn’t want to leave him, delaying the Sunday afternoon ride to the airport as long as possible.

As we walked out of the humane society that day, with Aslan in his cat carrier which I wore over my shoulder, I could feel the cat-shaped hole in my heart heal in an instant. Of course, Snickers will always hold a special place in my heart, but enough time had passed that I felt ready to make new memories with this little guy. The next morning, my mom reported that the lilac bush we planted to mark Snickers’ grave, which up to that point wasn’t doing well and hadn’t bloomed, suddenly produced two blooms! My mom cut them and brought them in to place in a vase. Mom and I like to think Snickers looked down from heaven and sent those blooms to welcome Aslan, and indicate she approved of this cat to watch over her house and family.

Failed to Find Sunshine Square (Part 1)

Well readers, I didn’t want to reveal exactly when I was going to New York with my family, just as a precaution in case someone was merely reading my blog to figure out when they could come to our house and rob us. But the day after I published my previous post began the three days in a row of work, and the trip began that Thursday. Overall, the trip was a success. Hamilton was absolutely fabulous, and so was the weather! We brought jackets along because we couldn’t imagine warm weather when it was below freezing when we left Wisconsin. But we really only needed them after dark as during the day on Thursday and Friday, the temperature was in the sixties! Our flight home went without a hitch, and we even arrived about ten minutes early. And most thrilling of all for me, I lost three pounds on the trip! My dad half-joked that for my sake, we should travel more often! But from a spiritual perspective, I behaved terribly on this trip. I really loved the notion of finding Sunshine Square, but when I was actually faced with annoyances on the trip, and even at work the three days before the trip, I just couldn’t. I suppose I would have regretted missing the opportunity to see Hamilton live in New York City, or the chance to be in the audience for a taping of The Late Show with Steven Colbert Thursday afternoon, I slept better Sunday night when we had arrived home than I had all that week and as I returned to work Monday March 18, I couldn’t remember when I had last felt more relieved to have a weekend behind me.

Monday March 11 at work was uneventful, and reasonably productive with four of my six clients for that day answering the phone for their appeals. But Tuesday morning, my first two clients cancelled their appointments with me. The third and fourth clients kept their appointments, but toward the end of the fourth appointment, the internet went down. Every now and then, the Social Security web site will go down briefly, but usually works again if you just press the refresh button and re-enter the re-entry number of the client you were working with. But when I hit refresh, it still wasn’t working, and when I quickly tried a different web site, it didn’t load either, so that’s how I figured out it wasn’t just a glitch with Social Security’s web site. The whole internet was down. I told the client I would call her back in ten minutes, thinking this was just a temporary glitch. I am not an expert in computers, but even at home, sometimes the internet will just go down for no apparent reason, but if you just unplug the modem for a minute and allow things to reset, it is back up and running again relatively quickly. To make a long story short, the managers reset the modem but when that didn’t work, they called the cable company, and that’s how we found out that the internet wasn’t just down for us. The whole city lost internet access when a contractor doing utility work severed an underground cable that transmits the internet to the whole city!The cable company said it would be awhile before this was repaired, and in the meantime, connected our firm to some kind of back-up network, but the connection was so spotty it wasn’t worth using. I called the client back and explained the situation. I was able to finish the appeal with her without the internet. All we had left were a few yes/no questions, and because I have been doing appeals so long, I know the questions without having them in front of me. I typed her responses on my braille notetaker, and told her that I would officially enter them and submit her appeal tomorrow when hopefully the internet would be back up and running. All the case managers who handle clients at the hearing level went home early because everything they do requires internet access, and the boss gave me permission to go home early too. I thought about calling my last two appointments and writing their responses on my braille notetaker to copy the next day as well, but I often need to Google an address or phone number for a medical provider or agency during these appeals, which of course requires the internet, and I felt like writing down the name of the doctor or agency I needed to Google the next day, and then calling the client back to confirm the address on top of the regular appointments I would still have the next day would just make life too complicated. So before going home, I had to call the other clients and explain the situation, but let them know I couldn’t even reschedule them at that time because the Google spreadsheet I use for scheduling required the internet! Usually I would be delighted to get out of work early due to a situation out of my control like a power outage, or in this case, an internet disruption. It is the adulthood equivalent of a snowday. But for some reason, I wasn’t seeing the silver lining at all in this case. In fact, I was furious and it was all I could do to maintain my professional demeanor and not scream. After finishing the appeal with the fourth client, I decided to eat my lunch, hoping that maybe by some miracle, the internet would be back up and running in time for my 2:00 appointment. I couldn’t clock out of course because our timeclock system is also web-based, so I made a note of the time I left for lunch to e-mail the payroll person later. In the breakroom, I asked one of the partners, who had more to lose with this disruption than I did, “are there consequences for contractors that cause a disruption like this? Can they be slapped with a huge fine or something?” It was partially a legitimate question, but also an angry thirst for vengeance. “It was probably just an accident. What are you going to do?” the partner said, clearly taking everything in stride better than I was that day. I think I was furious because I enjoy the usual routine of having Tuesdays off to go to bible study with my mom and our neighbor, come home to a hot bowl of soup for lunch and then enjoy a quiet restful afternoon before choir. I had accepted that every now and then, it is necessary to break with this routine for a special event, which the opportunity to see Hamilton was, but it infuriated me that I had to miss my usual routine for a work day that wasn’t even productive. Even though this unproductive day was due to a situation out of my control, I also had a little anxiety that I would be judged for this lack of productivity that I wouldn’t be able to make up for by coming in Thursday or Friday because of the trip. Had the internet been working, I would have been able to complete appeals with four clients, but because of this contractor, only one appeal could be fully submitted that day. In the old days, this was the kind of day I would have comforted myself with something delicious like maybe a warm chocolate chip cookie, but I stayed strong because I could tell I wasn’t really hungry for a cookie. I was just hungry for this week to be behind me already, so I reminded myself that time flies, and this time next week, the previous annoying week would be a distant memory. Mom was glad I was able to get off early because it allowed us extra time to figure out what to wear on the trip. That evening I went to choir rehearsal but since we were solely focusing on a Mozart requiem that we would perform as a free community concert April 7, and since I wasn’t used to going to work on Tuesdays anymore, I could barely stay awake during rehearsal, and to top it all off, toward the end of rehearsal, I felt a migraine coming on. Fortunately due to the mentally exhausting nature of the Mozart requiem we were rehearsing, the choir director has been ending rehearsal at 9:00 instead of 9:30 this semester, and that week especially, I really appreciated getting home a little earlier to eat some applesauce, take Ibuprofen and go straight to bed.

The next morning started out well. When I woke up, my headache was gone and I was able to get to work a few minutes early and officially finish and submit the second appeal from the day before. The internet was back up and running! I also had Gilbert with me so that I could hand him over to my friend and coworker who was going to dogsit while I was away, and just having him next to me to reach down and pet between appeals lifts my spirits. All three of my morning appeals answered, so that when I was ready to head for lunch, I was pleased that maybe I was going to be able to redeeme myself from yesterday with a productive day today. But when I stood up to head for lunch, I did the stupidest, most clumsy move ever. I had my right hand resting on the arm of my desk chair as I stood up, but I guess I didn’t scoot the chair far enough away from the desk, and I pinched the middle and ring fingers of my right hand between the desktop and the chair! It kind of hurt, but I didn’t think anything of it until I arrived at the breakroom and noticed I was bleeding! So I had to put lunch on hold and go wash my hand with soap and water, and then my friend found bandaids for each finger. Thank goodness it wasn’t my index finger, my braille reading finger that was injured, so this injury didn’t hinder my productivity in the afternoon, but it still put me in a bad mood, and made me wonder if it was a bad omen for how the trip was going to go. All three of my afternoon appeals answered too, which lifted my spirits again knowing that my last day of work before vacation was productive. The only drawback to having everyone scheduled for that day answer was that I was hoping I could have squeezed in the two afternoon appointments that I wasn’t able to do the day before, and then I would have felt totally redeemed before the trip. But that didn’t end up working out. In fact, I ended up staying half an hour late just finishing the last appeal because it was a more complicated case with a record number of medications I had to enter. But as long as I was already leaving half an hour late, I stayed a few more minutes and left voicemails with those two clients letting them know the internet was back up and running and I hadn’t forgotten about them. I would call them back Monday if they didn’t hear from their case managers before then. Then I handed Gilbert over to my friend. She usually stays later than I do, but because I had to stay late, we left at the same time. I was sad to part with Gilbert as I always am before a trip, but also excited to have this friend care for him, as she has a special affinity for senior dogs, so I knew she would pamper him and give him a lot more attention than he gets at the kennel where I usually send him. But after this long day, my brain was fried, and I could feel another headache coming on. Of all the Wednesday nights I would have loved to just come home, relax over dinner and look forward to sleeping in Thursday morning, that night would have been it. But I couldn’t relax, as we still had last minute things to pack, and Dad said we needed to leave by 5:00 the next morning at the latest. It was already almost 8:00 by the time I got home from work that night, so if I were smart, I knew I should get to bed in just an hour if I wanted to feel well the next day, but given the sedentary nature of the work I do, I have to exercise, and I still had things to pack. Mom made a wonderful pot of turkey vegetable soup, but to be honest, I enjoyed it more when we got home from the trip and pulled it out of the freezer. After I had exercised and it was time to pack my carry-on bag, I was overcome with this strange anxiety that the way the week was going, my bag would get lost or damaged somehow on the trip. Therefore, I decided not to bring my braille notetaker and take paper braille magazines instead. It made sense to use the backpack I use for work as my carry-on as I am familiar with its layout, and it fits my stuff well. But if this favorite backpack got lost or damaged, it sure would be a pain to figure out an alternative Monday when we got home. I wanted to just leave it at home, unscathed and ready for Monday morning when life would return to normal. I tried putting everything in the big purse I used for job interviews, but by the time I packed my oatmeal, roasted seaweed for a healthy snack or emergency meal, my phone and keyboard so I could text my friend and ask how Gilbert was doing, there wasn’t really room for the magazines. Mom looked in the basement for another backpack, but said she couldn’t find anything suitable and said I was being ridiculous, which I now admit was true. So grudgingly, I packed up the backpack I use at work, and then went to bed, but couldn’t sleep at all. So as much as I hate to admit it, the truth is, the combination of petty annoyances, and my anxiety about travel that I let get the better of me meant that I was just in such a bad mood I couldn’t even think about God or Sunshine Square, and the trip hadn’t even begun.

Trying to Leave My House on Grumble Street and Move to Sunshine Square

Well readers, remember that nice Christian post I wrote about my travel anxiety, brought on by an upcoming trip to New York City to visit my sister, and how I was going to trust that God would take care of me? Well, as the trip drew ever closer, I realized I have done a terrible job of practicing what I have preached. And in addition to my anxiety has come another emotion I am embarrassed to admit: anger so strong I can feel my face heating up if I think too long about the trip. The anxiety comes from the fact that my commitment to eating a strict, healthy diet for both health, and spiritual reasons has been so successful, and I fear that this trip, which will involve many meals in restaurants, will screw it all up.

I thought I had the perfect plan to mitigate this anxiety. As I have written about before, I drew much of my inspiration for my new lifestyle from Dr. Fuhrman, a cardiologist who coined the “nutritarian diet”, a diet that has reversed diabetes and heart disease in obese people. In November when I committed to this lifestyle change, I decided to purchase a membership to Dr. Fuhrman’s website, which would give me discounts on his line of nutritarian convenience products, which include cartons of soup, fruit and nut bars, sauces to spice up vegetables, and salad dressings. Even with the membership discount, his products are overpriced, and I can see where my family is coming from when they tease me and compare Dr. Fuhrman to a cult leader. I would have to go back to work full-time if I wanted to order his products regularly, but I don’t want or need to do that. I actually enjoy preparing bean soups and smelling them simmer in the crock-pot all day, and for salad dressing, I use a 100-calorie individual cup of Wholly Guacamole, or a 150-calorie cup of Hummus from Costco. These products definitely have more sodium than Dr. Fuhrman’s dressings, but guacamole and hummus contain healthy fats, so I view these products as a nice compromise between oil-based dressings which have no nutritional value, and Dr. Fuhrman’s overpriced dressings. I also like the fact that they are pre-measured, so I don’t have to worry about accidentally pouring on way more than one serving of dressings. Even with Dr. Fuhrman’s dressings, I would need to be mindful of the portion I pour on because although they are made with ground up nuts and seeds, which unlike oil, have nutritional benefits, they are still high in calories. In December I ordered three jars of Dr. Fuhrman’s sauces simply because I was curious and wanted to try them. He has a salsa which really spices up scrambled eggs, a Thai Curry sauce which is delicious over riced cauliflower and a Mushroom Alfredo sauce which is delicious over spiralized zucchini. I might re-order these sauces once a year for a nutritarian treat, but because I am blessed with incredibly supportive parents, and our community is blessed with an amazing spice store that carries a large variety of salt-free spices that are amazing on vegetables, Dr. Fuhrman’s sauces aren’t necessary for amazing vegetable dishes. But I viewed the membership as an insurance policy for situations like a vacation when finding and preparing healthy food can be more challenging. In the event that I needed convenience food, his soups were superior nutritionally to any other brands of canned soup I have looked at, especially in terms of sodium content. As I have written about before, I tend to have low sodium levels because of underlying medical conditions, so I don’t have to watch my sodium as closely as other people. Therefore, I will eat Amy’s chunky vegetable soup which is high in sodium, but otherwise extremely healthy. However I still try to be mindful of sodium, and two cans of soup in one day on vacation would put me over the recommended daily amount.

Toward the end of January, in what I viewed as a stroke of divine luck, I received an e-mail that Dr. Fuhrman was having a sale on his bean soups! How perfect! I would order 3 cartons of nutritarian chili and have it shipped ahead to my sister’s apartment so that I wouldn’t have to even worry about it leaking all over my suitcase during the flight, or getting confiscated by security for some reason. If we were going to be at my sister’s apartment for lunch, heating up this soup would be no problem, but even if we were going to be on the go come lunch time, I would be able to just grab a carton of soup, a disposable bowl and plastic spoon to stick in my purse, and no matter what restaurant the rest of the family wanted to go to, I could just pull out this soup and eat it cold. Of course, it would probably taste better heated, but food is for sustenance, not for pleasure, and away from home, you do what you have to do. My goal was not to compromise on my health at all, while at the same time not causing any difficulty or inconvenience to the rest of the family. For breakfast on the trip, I would pack Bob’s Red Mill classic oatmeal cups, a sugar-free instant oatmeal that also has flax and chia seeds, in my carry-on bag. Then when we got to New York, it would be easy to just buy some fruit to supplement the soup and oatmeal, and for dinner, I was confident that no matter what restaurant the family chose, I would be able to get a plain salad, steamed vegetables or a piece of grilled chicken or fish. This trip would be a breeze! But on the evening of February 1, I received a text from FedEx saying that the product could not be delivered and would be held for five days at a FedEx site in Manhattan, where I would need to present a photo Id with a name that matched the package recipient name to pick it up. My sister had just moved to a new apartment that didn’t have a doorman, and I didn’t realize this would make delivery difficult. I called FedEx and explained that I had put my name as the recipient on the package but wouldn’t be there for another month and a half, and thought I had authorized my sister to pick it up. My sister was having a difficult week that week and couldn’t get to the site until the fifth day, but when she got there, the clerk couldn’t find it and wouldn’t listen when my sister tried to explain the situation. To make a long story short, I ended up just contacting Dr. Fuhrman and asking them to redirect the package to Wisconsin, and the soup has come in handy here when I was feeling lazy and didn’t get my crock-pot soup made. But my parents promised they would go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients to make bean salad. Perhaps God allowed this FedEx annoyance to test whether I really trusted the words of Matthew Chapter 6 verses 25-27. I have been especially convicted by Jesus’s rhetorical question of “Is not life more important than food?” When the soup couldn’t be delivered, throwing a curveball into my perfect food plan for the trip, and then again a few weeks later when my sister made reservations for a restaurant with a fixed five-course dinner as opposed to the traditional a la carte menu, I flipped out on my parents, pleading with them to no avail to just let me stay home! I would pay them the flight cancellation fee! I was perfectly fine with missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Hamilton in New York City, not to mention rare time with the entire family, to not have to deal with my anxiety about food. But over the past month, and especially this past week, I sense God has been trying to tell me that my response to this anxiety, and the anger I am going to talk about next has been ridiculous. I am sorry lord that I have wasted so much precious time on these self-centered, petty views on life leading up to this trip, but also on past similar situations in my life. But from this point forward, I am going to strive to behave better.

My anger has come from just thinking about the degree to which I will be on-leash that whole week. Since I will be missing work that Friday and only work three days a week as it is, I felt a moral obligation to work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I know I used to work full-time, but now that I have gotten used to having every other day off, the prospect of working three days in a row is exhausting. Then, my mom is the type that likes to squeeze every last minute possible out of trips, arguing that it costs so much to get there, we should make the most of it. If she had her way, we would have taken the last possible flight home Sunday night, dragging the bare essentials into the house and crashing into bed at midnight. Getting up for work the next day would be a struggle, but sometimes, in her opinion, it’s worth it to get the most out of a vacation. If I could have my way, we would fly home Saturday afternoon, and have a pleasant Sunday at home where we could go to church, relax and unpack before going back to work the next morning. My dad the peacemaker got Mom and I to compromise, although to me it is still a compromise that favors Mom more than me. We are taking the second-to-last flight home Sunday, and if this flight is not delayed, we should get home at 7:15, so I will have a little bit of time to unwind before going to bed, but not much. Even as I recognize the need to repent from this self-centered thinking, it still infuriates me to know that my brother who is a lot like me when it comes to travel, will be flying home Saturday because he lives on his own and doesn’t have a disability that makes navigating airports and getting home from the airport independently impossible. Sure, I could make arrangements with the airline to help me, and I have friends that even said they would be happy to pick me up from the airport when I vented to them, but even I recognized that imposing on my friends like that, and working out the logistics of requesting assistance from the airline just to get home a day earlier was a bit ridiculous. That’s not even mentioning that airline fare to New York is more expensive than I realized. If I was going to rebel against my parents and fly myself home early, I would have to pay for it, and did I really want to spend $420, which is more than I earn in a week, to get home one day sooner when I was blessed to have parents that were paying for everything on this trip? But even though I knew intellectually that I was being ridiculous, I couldn’t help being angry.

One day in my young adult bible study, we were talking about how to think about life from an eternal perspective, and one person mentioned how she hated doing dishes, but would motivate herself to do them by reminding herself, “if Jesus could suffer on the cross for me, I can do the dishes. I loved this insight. For a couple weeks, I was able to dissolve my bitterness by reminding myself that since Christ sacrificed his life for me, I can sacrifice one weekend for my family. But before long, my irrational anger overrode this beautiful insight. But then on Saturday March 2, when my mom and I attended an annual women’s conference at our church, I was really convicted when one of the speakers talked about how many Christians profess to love Jesus, enjoy praying the prayers and singing the songs, but their lives aren’t really transformed. This was exactly my problem! I love singing worship songs, and when I watch the news, or even if I am just having a difficult day at work, it is extremely comforting to know that God is ultimately in control, and someday, everything will be made right by the restoration. But the bible makes it clear that if we want to enjoy the reward of the restoration, we must live like Christ, and living like Christ requires loving one another. The book of 1 John 4:20 says, “if anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” And as Jesus demonstrated to the extreme, part of loving others is making sacrifices, putting others first as opposed to living according to the worldly me first mind-set. And sacrificing for others has never been something I did with a happy heart. Not when I was a child, dragged to all my older siblings’ volleyball and basketball tournaments, not when several times over the last few years, Mom has asked me to give up an occasional weekend to come to Indiana with her so she wouldn’t have to drive the six hours each way all by herself, not even when my grandma’s 100-year-old sister came to visit Grandma last summer and wanted me to stop by and visit. Why didn’t my other siblings have to give up their Saturday afternoon to visit? I fumed. The fact that they lived far away wasn’t an acceptable excuse. I felt a little guilty for this attitude when Mom pointed out that this aunt sent me presents when I was going through my brain tumor as a baby, and I would feel a little bit of guilt when my mom would leave for the drive to Indiana all by herself. But this guilt was no match for my bitterness at still being roped into things I didn’t want to do just like when I was a child, while my siblings lived merrily on their own. But it so happened that the topic in last week’s bible study was Matthew Chapter 18, where Jesus says that we must become like a child to enter the kingdom of God, and in our small group discussion, we talked about how this does not mean acting like a child, which I have been doing with the tantrums in my mind. Becoming like a child means having the open-minded faith of a child, and living a life of humility and surrender. I never quite understood what the abstract-sounding phrase of surrender to God meant in practical terms, but that day it occurred to me that maybe it means just as we must show our love to God whom we do not see by loving our brother whom we can see, surrendering to God simply means surrendering to others, sacrificing your preferences every once in a while for the benefit of others.

After hearing the speaker at the women’s conference, God brought to mind a chapter from The Purpose-Driven Life which I read in high school, but clearly need to read again. In this book, Rick Warren points out that life is a test. God continually tests us to determine our commitment to him. And just like those computerized exams that re-phrase questions answered incorrectly, God gives me this test of my willingness to sacrifice a weekend here and there, again and again. I really want to start doing better on this test because while weekends spent just chilling around the house with no demands being made of me are wonderful, I cannot think of a scenario more devastating than losing out on the eternal rewards of the restoration because I wouldn’t sacrifice just a few short weekends for others in the here and now. On that note, my goal for this upcoming trip is no pouting when the family wants to do an activity or eat at a restaurant I don’t like, and no pouting or mental pity parties when my brother says goodbye and heads back home Saturday. To help with that, I will try and remember to say a prayer when I feel myself starting to get upset. I will also try to keep in mind an awesome talk I heard from Alastair Begg that I heard on Family Radio while writing about the position with the organization for the blind. It so happens this talk was also titled Becoming Children of God. In this talk, Alistair Begg refers to Philippians 2:14 which says, “do everything without complaining or arguing.” To illustrate this, Alistair talked about how he used to get so ticked off as a kid when he would grumble about being asked to do something like take the garbage out, and his father would sing a Scottish song that went, “come leave your house on Grumble Street and move to Sunshine Square.” Like me, in his anger he wanted to tell his father what to do with Sunshine Square, but with maturity, he appreciated the message of this song. Nothing good comes from arguing and complaining, and even in the most menial chores, there are blessings that can be appreciated if you look for them. While taking the garbage out, he could appreciate that his legs work, or even that the garbage can has wheels on it. So that is what I am going to try to do on this trip and on future trips, look for the blessings. If I feel myself about to grumble, I can appreciate that I have a family who loves me unconditionally when there are so many orphans, and people living in hostile or abusive families. I can appreciate the fact that I am healthy enough to travel when there are many people who long for a vacation like this but are too frail or disabled to travel. I can be grateful that we have the money to take vacations now and then when for many people in poverty, getting the chance to travel to New York City is only a dream. I can even be grateful that I work part-time, so if the flight home is delayed and I am exhausted Monday morning, I only have to get through one day of work and then I can rest on Tuesday.

My parents want me to view the trip as a fun experience, and look forward to it like a normal person, and I honestly am the closer it gets. The nature of anxiety is that the anticipation of something is way worse than the event actually turns out to be. But if all else fails and things just aren’t going well and I cannot find my way to Sunshine Square, I will do my best to pray and “fake it ’til I make it” and consider it a sacrifice that will pay off come the restoration.

I Don’t Want to Play the Game

On Monday January 28, our community woke up to a snowstorm. It seemed every school and business decided to close except the office where I work. I felt bad that my mom had to get outside early and shovel the snow off of our driveway because the neighbor we contract with to plow our driveway hadn’t been able to get there yet, and I felt bad that Mom had to drive in such nasty weather. But I actually didn’t mind going to work because my job no longer causes me anxiety, and with my part-time schedule, I would be off the next day when the weather was actually predicted to be worse. The weather was miserable, but life was good. The prospect of applying for another job was the furthest thing from my mind that morning. But that afternoon in the car on the way home from work, I noticed that I had a voicemail on my cell phone. I decided not to listen to it right away because I had a headache that day, and I didn’t even recognize the number so I figured it was a telemarketer. My bible study group was cancelled that night due to the weather, so after a wonderful bowl of vegetable soup and a salad, I took some Ibuprofen and went upstairs to my bedroom for a nap. About an hour later when I woke up feeling a lot better, I decided I should probably check that voicemail just to make sure it wasn’t a telemarketer. Ultimately, I guess I’m glad I listened to that message, but as I struggled through the intense anxiety this message forced me to confront the rest of that week, I sure wished it had been a telemarketer.

The voicemail was from a social worker that worked at a local nonprofit organization for the blind. This social worker had actually known me since I was practically a baby, where she worked at the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children, a preschool program for the blind I attended at that time. In 2011, the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children merged with a larger organization that serves people of all ages living with vision loss, so she now worked for this larger organization. She wanted to speak with me about a position opening up at this organization. I went to this organization’s web site where I have found job postings in the past, but that night there were no jobs listed. It was too late to call that night, but at first I was excited and intrigued. As I have mentioned, my current job is not my life’s calling, but I had found such peace with my new position exclusively filing appeals, and in my schedule, that I decided I wasn’t going to look for a new job anymore. The state government rarely had any positions I felt qualified for, and besides I was tired of asking Mom to drive me to Madison for fruitless interviews. And as for the public job boards like indeed.com, I might as well have just dropped job applications into a blackhole. I was so tired of pouring my heart and soul into customizing a cover letter and tailoring my resume for employers that rarely contacted me one way or the other about the application. So I decided that I would never deal with job boards unless I had to, such as if the lawfirm decided to go a different direction and I was laid off. Unless or until that happened, I would just go about this peaceful life, and if God wanted me in another job, He would bring the job offer to me. Maybe this call was that job offer from God I had been waiting for.

I used to balk at the idea of working for an organization that serves the blind because it just seemed cliché. It certainly would make the learning curve for the job a lot easier, as the organization would already have technology in place to make the job accessible. But in a strange way, perhaps because I received a mainstream education from kindergarten on, I identified with sighted people more than blind people. In fact, I remember feeling so strange a couple times when I went to events for the blind because I was so used to being the only blind person in the room that I actually had to figure out how to communicate with blind people. For example, at one meeting of blind students I attended in high school, the leader wanted to take a vote on something, so she passed around a bag and told us to put a penny in the bag to vote one way, and a nickel to vote another. The bag started with me, and after I put my coin in, I held the bag out to the next person assuming they would take it seamlessly just like when passing things around at school, but they weren’t taking it. Hello! Are you awake? Why aren’t you taking the bag I’m trying to pass you? I remember thinking to myself. Oh that’s right! They aren’t taking the bag because they don’t know I’m trying to pass it because they cannot see it! I’m not the only blind person in the room anymore! So I reached over and tapped the person on the shoulder, told them I was passing the bag to them, and shook it so they could follow the sound and take it. I don’t think I actually shared this funny internal dialog with other blind friends, but I still laugh about it to myself all these years later. I always understood the value of gathering with peers who are blind every now and then. It is fun to be able to just talk with someone about the braille code, guide dog issues, or computer software for the blind without having to preface it with any explanations of terminology which is necessary when talking to sighted people, and as the experience passing the bag indicates, it is healthy to have exposure to your own kind every now and then, just as it is healthy for birds raised by humans to spend time with other birds to learn how to relate to birds. When I did my temporary work experience with Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement in 2013, I enjoyed commiserating with other blind people on several occasions about things we wished were more accessible. But as much as I enjoyed that position, even at that age there was still a part of me that felt like after growing up with mainstream education and adapting so well to the sighted world, I shouldn’t settle for a job at an organization for the blind, which I feared would be akin to living in isolation on a blind colony. But with maturity, I realized this trepidation was silly. In fact, there is no way to fully isolate yourself on a blind colony even if you wanted to. The reality is that most people in the world can see, so even if everyone in my office is blind, living in the world requires interaction with sighted people to walk down the street, shop at the grocery store, enjoy a meal in a restaurant, participate in activities like choir and bible study, or even conduct business with other agencies. Even if everyone in my office were blind, there is no way I would lose touch with the sighted world, and my mainstream education would not go to waste.

In my younger days, I also hesitated to consider a job with an organization that serves the blind because I feared this would send a message to the world that my blindness defined me. In fact, when I would hear about a cancer survivor working at a cancer research organization, or a black person getting a job with the NAACP, I used to think, wouldn’t you want to steer clear of those organizations to show the world there is more to you than your cancer survival, or the racial injustices you may have experienced? I had these judgmental thoughts because I myself feared that if I did the same thing by working at an organization for the blind, the world would think that my blindness defined me. I was not upset or uncomfortable with my blindness at all. I just felt like I should work for a cause completely unrelated to blindness. In my interaction with coworkers in this unrelated cause, I would be happy to answer questions about how I became blind and how I adapted, but the very act of working for an unrelated cause would show them that I viewed blindness as a small part of who I am, but not the focus of my life. But with maturity, I have come to better appreciate that God inspires so many cancer survivors to work at cancer research organizations, and blind people to work in organizations for the blind because we are the most qualified to serve in these areas because we have firsthand experience living with the struggles these organizations address. God didn’t intend for there to be such adversity when He created the world, but since the Fall brought it about, he wants to use this adversity for good. For example, organizations for the blind play a critical role in helping people new to blindness accept and adapt to it, and if I were standing in the shoes of someone new to such a lifechanging condition, I would find the testimony that a happy fulfilling life is possible a lot more believable if it came from another blind person, than from a sighted person who may have wonderful intentions and be extremely knowledgeable about the adaptations available for the blind, but has never experienced the challenges of being blind firsthand. In fact, in 2012 when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease requiring me to eat a strict gluten-free diet for life, some members of my family were surprised at the difficulty I had accepting and adjusting to this lifechanging condition, and I see their point. For a sighted person, losing the ability to eat gluten would be small potatoes compared to losing your sight. But I was used to being blind because I had been blind since I was about seven months old. So with this new diagnosis, I experienced a similar sense of grief that I imagine is experienced by adults who lose their vision. What would holidays and social situations be like now in our food-centered culture, and my food-centered family culture? Would I ever really be able to enjoy a meal in a restaurant again? My parents were incredibly supportive, but it wasn’t until I heard about and joined a local group of other people with Celiac Disease that went out to dinner once a month that I truly believed a happy gathering in a restaurant was possible, and I would still be able to enjoy food. I don’t believe God caused my Celiac Disease, but perhaps thinking back on it, it was a wonderful moment to teach me what it is like to face a lifechanging diagnosis as an adult, and to show me the incredible comfort that can be found by reaching out to people who have successfully adjusted to the condition, so that I wouldn’t underestimate the ray of hope I could bring to the life of someone grieving the loss of his/her sight someday.

All of these thoughts came to my mind as I picked up the phone to return this friend’s call the next morning. Maybe God was ready to use me for a higher purpose. I was going to talk to this friend about this position with an open mind. She told me the office was seeking someone that would be a receptionist, as well as an assistant to the leadership team. That was all she knew about the job, but she gave me the name of someone else to contact who had all of the details regarding the position. She said if it wasn’t something I was interested in, that was fine. She just thought of me and wanted to make me aware of the position. So I contacted this person, who forwarded my e-mail to HR who sent me the official job announcement, and also asked me to send her my phone number because she would like to speak with me to give me more details about the position. But as soon as I read the job announcement, all excitement and intrigue disappeared. It reminded me too much of the hopelessness and anxiety I felt as a case manager, especially when one of the job requirements outlined was the “ability to complete work independently with broadly defined work objectives and limited oversight.” On top of that, it would require me to work full-time again, 10am to 5pm Monday through Friday plus some evening and weekend commitments, thereby giving up the work-life balance I have come to cherish so much. I was willing to take this risk if something amazing came my way, like a job in the journalism field, or an opportunity to write articles for an organization that served the blind. But to trade this beautiful life for a receptionist job and a return to the anxiety I was so grateful to break free from just over two years ago wasn’t a trade I was interested in. “I don’t like it,” I told my mom as I walked into the kitchen after reading the announcement. “I’m going to reply and say thank you but I’m not interested.” Mom, who usually supports the decisions I make was not in favor of this decision. She argued that if I blew off this opportunity, I would be making a huge career mistake that I may one day regret. This was an opportunity to get my foot into the door of an organization for the blind, and one that may never come around again because when you blow someone off, they are not as inclined to think of you when future opportunities arise. She reminded me that most CEO’s started as office assistants, as this is the best way to really learn all aspects of the organization so that one day I could be a leader in this organization and the blind community. She also argued that working full-time for this nonprofit agency would be different than working full-time at the lawfirm. For one thing, she pointed out that the hours I would work most days, 10am to 5pm amounted to work days that were an hour and a half shorter than the days at the lawfirm where I worked 8am to 4:30pm. That, combined with the fact that it was an organization that served the blind where all aspects of the job would be accessible, meant that at the end of each work day, I wouldn’t feel totally burnt out and thus could still enjoy choir, bible study, writing, all the things I enjoyed now. Usually, Mom’s reassuring words are enough to comfort me, but in this case, I just couldn’t get myself to think positive thoughts about this job. Dad also agreed that I should try for the job, just to gain practice with job interviews if nothing else, and that I may not even get the job, in which case I would have nothing to worry about. If I did get the job, it was my choice whether to actually accept the position. But I had a paralyzing fear that I would get the position. I was blind after all, and sometimes blind people have an edge when it comes to jobs with organizations for the blind. And due to my education, and the fact that numerous people in this organization knew me meant that I might really have an edge over other candidates. If I did get offered the position, I would feel an enormous sense of guilt if I didn’t accept it. Later if I did get laid off by the lawfirm, would I regret turning down a job offer with this wonderful organization for the blind that recruited me? But on the other hand, if my anxiety came to fruition and the job wasn’t going well, what would I fall back on? Mom imagined this job would be similar in many ways to the job I had at Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement that I enjoyed so much. Sure it would be full-time and more challenging, but the environment would be accessible and friendly. If it turned out that I wasn’t happy with the job, I would at least have developed more skills and experience that I could transfer to another job such as a state government position.

Mom wanted me to send the HR person my phone number that afternoon, but I could not muster up the courage to write the e-mail until Wednesday morning. If she had acted on the e-mail and called me right away Tuesday, I think I would have had a panic attack and made a fool of myself on the phone. When I did write the e-mail, Mom was agrevated when I told her that I had written that I wasn’t ready to commit one way or the other to the position, but was open to speaking with her. She said this sounded negative and presumptuous, and I could see where she was coming from, but I didn’t know what to say. How was I supposed to sound positive when I wasn’t feeling positive at all. I promised Mom from this point forward I would show a positive attitude. We agreed that I could be honest about my past work experience in which things weren’t fully accessible which caused me anxiety, but Mom was confident I could master this job if I got it since all aspects of it would be accessible. So I talked to the HR person for an hour on the phone Thursday morning. On Friday while I was at work, she called because the outreach director wanted me to come in for an interview. I wasn’t feeling well Friday night, but first thing Saturday morning, I called the HR person back and an interview was scheduled for Tuesday February 5. But when she told me the outreach director wanted a copy of my resume, my anxiety flared up again. The thought of having to sit down and update my resume literally brought me to tears. I had absolutely no gumption to update my resume because what the heck would I say on it? My brother and his girlfriend came home that weekend, and I tried to be pleasant and sociable, even going through the motions of playing Trivial Pursuit with them, but my heart wasn’t in anything that weekend, and every conversation with Mom that weekend ended with me sobbing and her getting exasperated. Some of you readers might be thinking I could have just stood up for myself and refused to apply for the position, telling Mom I was an adult who wished to make my own decisions. But even in the thick of my anxiety, I recognized on some level that I was not thinking rationally. Maybe Mom was right and I was simply suffering from a severe lack of self-confidence. I didn’t want to do something I might regret sometime down the road

So on Saturday evening after my brother and his girlfriend had gone home, my parents watched a movie, and I went up to my room, took some deep breaths, focused my mind on the positive aspects of the job and spent all evening updating and proofreading my resume. I was going to submit it at 12:30 that night when I felt satisfied with it, but decided to wait until morning and let Mom look it over to make sure there weren’t any mistakes I had missed. I still wasn’t thrilled about the job, and found my mind slipping into negativity as I crawled into bed with thoughts of the work-life balance I would lose. I even felt compelled to read a blog post I had written about the euphoria I felt that first Sunday in church after going part-time when the pastor preached from the book of Joshua about taking new ground with the intention of reminding myself of the life I would be giving up if I returned to full-time work in a position with “broadly defined objectives.” But to my surprise, while I was reminded of that euphoria, it occurred to me that while two years ago, trusting God and taking new ground meant going part-time, maybe two years later, God was asking me to trust Him and take new ground again with this position. With that, I decided that I would give this resume, and my interview Tuesday my best effort, and trust that everything would work out as it was meant to. The only compromise my mom and I made was that I was going to approach the resume and interview with an attitude of full disclosure. Conventional wisdom would say that you should not indicate on your resume that you couldn’t handle your previous position and thus took on a position with fewer responsibilities. I think I spun it positively when I mentioned that the only reason I couldn’t handle being a case manager was because aspects of the position were not accessible. But I made sure it was plainly stated on my resume that I was moved to a position with less responsibility because if I did get offered this position, I didn’t want it to be under false pretenses. If I were offered the job despite my honesty regarding past negative experience with a similar position, then I felt like I could have confidence that God really intended for me to have this position. I think Mom understood where I was coming from, even if she didn’t fully agree.

On Tuesday morning, Mom and I went to the large group worship and lecture portion of our women’s bible study, but skipped the small group discussion to give me more time to eat lunch and get dressed up for the interview. On the way home, Mom even stopped at the carwash so that I wouldn’t get salt and dirt on my suit if I brushed against the car. After lunch, I printed extra copies of my resume just in case a paper copy was requested, and found the fancy folder, bag and suit that I wore to my interviews for state government positions three years earlier. I usually brush my own hair, but I let Mom help me with it to make sure it looked extra neat, and in the car, I could even feel Mom picking a couple pieces of lint off my pants. Just as a college professor advised, I acted professional from the moment I left the house, and formally introduced myself to the receptionist when I arrived, even though I had known him for years. After showing me to a chair in the waiting room, Mom went to a nearby Mcdonalds until I called rather than staying in the waiting room so that I would be fully independent. At 1:00, the outreach director came and escorted me via sighted guide to her office where the interview would be conducted. On the way, we made small talk and she indicated she remembered me from events I attended as a child. But after that, the dialog was strictly professional. Just as in the interviews for state government positions, I couldn’t pick up any feedback from the outreach director or the marketing director. After I answered one question, they moved right onto the next question. In the interview, I continued my positive but transparent approach. In my conversation with the HR person, I had asked if there was a career trajectory beyond this position because I was happy to start as an office assistant, but ultimately dreamed of a career in writing or politics. The interviewers were aware of this sentiment and asked how I would approach the current position. I clarified that what I had meant was that I didn’t see myself as an office assistant long-term, but recognized it as an excellent starting point with this wonderful organization, and that as long as I held the position, I would approach it with a positive attitude and give it my best.

At the end of the interview, I was told the HR person would contact me either way regarding the position, and they anticipated making a decision in a week or so. But to my astonishment, when I got off work the following day, Mom told me the HR person had called, and left me a voicemail saying they had chosen another candidate for the position, but the credentials on my resume were outstanding, and she would keep me in mind if a future opportunity arose. I know it’s not healthy to have a cynical attitude about life, but all of the rejection letters and phone calls I have received when I was looking for work after college said something to that effect. Maybe they did keep my resume and an opportunity legitimately never arose, but everytime I got one of these rejections, I couldn’t help suspecting that these words of encouragement were just generic words, and my resume was already in the trash can before the ink even dried on the letter. It is possible this organization could be the exception as there are people there that know me, and this organization values fair employment opportunities, especially for the blind whom it serves. If they do contact me again, I will try to assess that job with an open mind as well. But that night with that rejection message, a sense of relief washed over me. I could sleep at night knowing I did not blow off what might have been an opportunity sent by God, but since the job wasn’t meant for me, the work-life balance and lack of anxiety I had come to cherish would not be upended. At the same time though, the fact that I didn’t get this job has intensified my anxiety about losing my current job. Since I already had a job I was happy with, I could afford to be authentic at this interview. I indicated a willingness to learn new skills and a positive attitude about doing something more challenging, but I was upfront regarding my anxiety about the position. But the reality is, authentic is all I know how to be. Even in the interviews for state government positions which at the time I desperately wanted because I was miserable as a case manager and for some reason was too prideful to speak up, I realize in hindsight that I wasn’t gushing with confidence, didn’t really sell myself as much as experts would say I should have. When I was invited for the interview for my current job, the job developer I was working with at that time accompanied me, and although we had practiced how to approach job interviews, I didn’t say much. He gushed with positivity for me, touting how smart and self-motivated and awesome I was, and sweetened the pot with some benefits the state could offer, including paying my wages for a three month trial period, and I was pretty much hired on the spot. My point is, I have never been offered a job after attending the job interview all by myself. Sometimes I even wonder if I would have been offered my current job if I had attended the interview all by myself. It is possible I still would have gotten the position because the law firm where I work is a more casual atmosphere, and casual atmospheres are a better fit for my personality, so I might have felt at ease and interviewed well by myself. I still wore a fancy suit to the interview, but soon found out that at this office, everyone dresses business casual since most client contact is on the phone anyway. The managers were also casual in the way they conducted the interview, showing personality, and asking some scripted questions but also engaging in natural conversation. I was so taken aback after my first stiff, scripted interview for a state government position, but was told this is more typical. Sure enough, every interview since then has been stiff and scripted. Whether or not I would have gotten my current job if I had gone to the interview by myself really isn’t worth wasting time thinking about I know. What matters is I got the job, and everyone in the office seems to like me. Even when I struggled to handle the tasks asked of me as a case manager, they must have still liked me. They could have fired me, but they recognized that most if not all of the mistakes I was making were simply due to the fact that the position turned out not to be as accessible as we had thought at the time of the interview, so they gave me another chance with a more appropriate position, a position in which I have thrived.

But if I lost my job, I don’t know if I would qualify for state assistance finding another job. I think someone told me during the process that by working with a job developer to find this first job, I would acquire the skills necessary to find my own employment in the future. For this interview at the organization for the blind, I obviously did not have to downplay the fact that I am blind, but the unfortunate reality is that in a world where many people, even in professional settings, are unaware of the capabilities of people who are blind, self-confidence, and the ability to sell yourself are even more critical, but even if I weren’t blind, the job interview game is just not a game I was cut out to play. Just wearing a fancy suit that you don’t even want to brush against a dirty car makes me nervous. While intellectually I know I am intelligent and capable, I feel disengenuous if I gush with self-confidence about how I am perfect for the position, especially since there is always at least one duty or skill in the job description that the ideal candidate would have experience with, but which I don’t. I kind of understand why interviewers show no personality or emotion. They have more candidates than available positions, and so they need to examine each candidate as objectively as humanly possible. But at each of the interviews I have been to, the interviewer says some version of “you are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing you.” But in reality, I feel as though neither of us are getting an accurate sense of who we really are. If I had to judge a job by the interview alone, I wouldn’t want to work anywhere. I am sure in reality, the people aren’t scripted and devoid of emotion, but I really would have no way of knowing for sure unless I was offered the position and accepted it. Likewise, in a more natural setting, I am not the nervous person who rambles too long when asked a question and lacks self-confidence. But that is the only part of me the interviewer has the opportunity to see. Just as I have heard there are many students who are extremely intelligent, but have test anxiety and thus do terribly on standardized tests, I wonder how many potentially awesome employees companies are overlooking because like me, they don’t interview well, or aren’t comfortable being disingenuous and “playing the game” by selling themselves.

I know companies are averse to taking risks, but I would love to see more companies replace the job interview with a job shadow program. A company could post on a job board that they are looking for an employee, but keep the job posting short. Maybe they could include some general information about the company and the services they provide, but avoid the often ridiculously long list of job duties and “skills the ideal candidate would possess” lists that always frighten people like me. The companies could include basic requirements like character references. They could even call the applicant’s previous employer to ask about misconduct. Just as with people with felony convictions on their record, companies should make an effort to give people fired for misconduct a second chance, especially if there is evidence that they have repented, or they can be placed in a position unrelated to the previous position where misconduct was committed. But they should not list any requirements as far as years of experience. I know training someone with no experience takes time, costs money and may result in some clients complaining when mistakes will inevitably be made. Even I groan when I go to a restaurant and get the waitress still in training who does occasionally mess up the order. But it is a price we must all be more willing to accept because speaking from experience, I can tell you that nothing shreds the self-confidence of a college graduate looking for her first job like seeing a requirement of three or five years experience on almost every single job announcement! How are recent college graduates supposed to gain work experience if very few companies post announcements that are welcoming and will give them those first years of experience? Or what if someone like me decides they want to explore a different, completely unrelated career? I saw a PBS News segment several months ago about how career change is difficult because even if someone went back to a technical college and took some classes for this career, companies are often reluctant to give them a chance. How many potentially awesome employees are companies overlooking because they are afraid to take a risk and invest in people? Then, of the candidates who meet basic requirements, companies could call them in the order their application was received and conduct an informal interview in which the employer could assess basic courteousness, and the candidates could ask questions about the company and the open positions. Then, the employer could invite them for a week of unpaid job shadowing. This way, the candidates could get a real sense of what the job is like. On breaks, the candidates and the employee he/she is shadowing could exchange feedback, and also have a little bit of natural conversation. If the employee sees dog hair on the candidate’s clothes for example, they could talk about their dogs. Obviously there would need to be some common sense boundaries especially if the candidate does not end up being hired. But by allowing the candidate to actually observe the job they would be doing, allowing the company to see the perspective employee in the actual day-to-day work setting, and allowing for some natural conversation unrelated to work, the candidate would have a better idea as to whether they are a good fit for the company and vice versa. At the end of that week, the candidate and the employer could meet to discuss how the week went, and at that point, either party could choose whether or not to go further. I have not done any research on the practicality of implementing something like this, and thus I am sure more business savvy people will call me too idealistic. I indicated it should be a week of job shadowing because the first day doing anything new is always overwhelming, at least for me. By the end of the first day of school, a new job, anything, I always came home with a headache. A week offers a little more time to adjust and get an accurate picture of the new routine in your mind. But even if only one day of shadowing is practical, I think it would be a more accurate method for candidates and companies to “interview” each other than the current hiring game, a game I hope I don’t have to participate in for a long time. Or maybe, if I lost my job, I could look into starting my own business and avoid the hiring game all together by being my own boss. Every year when I write letters of appreciation to Mom for Mother’s Day and Dad for Father’s Day, I wonder if I could start a business helping busy people who struggle to find the right words write letters of appreciation to family or friends. And if this business became successful enough that I needed to hire employees, I, by being my own boss, would have the liberty to put this idealistic hiring method to the test.

My Dog Has a Spirit, Has a Name

SPOILER ALERT: This post is about the book, A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. If you would like to read this book and don’t want the ending spoiled, do not read any further.

About a year ago, I noticed that iTunes had a list of movies that were audio described for the blind. I don’t watch a lot of movies because there are very few movies I hear about that seem worth giving up two hours of life. But out of curiosity, I decided to check out the list. A lot of popular movies were on it, most of which I didn’t want to waste two hours of my life on, but one title sounded intriguing: A Dog’s Purpose. Just going by the title, I could tell it would be a sweet, uplifting movie, but I couldn’t download it because unless I paid for a Showtime subscription, the movie was not available for rent. I would have to buy it. I read in the movie synopsis that it was based on a book with the same title, but for some reason, I wasn’t compelled to download the book right away. I don’t know if I thought it would read more like a children’s book, or if the concept of a re-incarnated dog just seemed corny at the time.

But several months later in June, this book came back to my mind. Some people at work had discovered my book on Amazon. I mentioned it casually to a co-worker who became a good friend shortly after I was hired three years earlier, but had otherwise kept it pretty quiet, not wanting to come off sounding like a pretentious braggart. But the subject of Gilbert came up in the applications department where this friend now works, and the manager of that department ordered several copies of my book to pass around the office. I will admit it was exciting to talk about my book again, and in the course of conversation, someone asked me if there would be a sequel. I told them I would like to write another book someday, and I had already been thinking about taking some essays I had written from Gilbert’s point of view, developing them more and compiling them into a book. The day after this conversation, a Saturday, it occurred to me that I should read A Dog’s Purpose, as it was written entirely from a dog’s point of view, and had made it to the bestsellers list. Reading a commercially successful book written from a dog’s point of view would give me inspiration for how I could write my book. It turned out this book didn’t give me inspiration for my book: on the contrary, it put my writing to shame, so much so that I still haven’t revisited the idea of writing this kind of book. But what I did get was a beautiful read that I could not put down. I had a couple interesting thoughts after reading this book, but didn’t know how to put these thoughts into words. Then two weeks ago, my parents wanted to watch a show that was only available through Showtime, so they signed up for a seven day free trial through Amazon Prime. As long as they had the free trial, I asked them if they would like to watch A Dog’s Purpose with me, and they agreed. I didn’t know how to access the audio described version through Amazon Prime, but that was alright. I watch most movies without audio description anyway, and since I had read the book first, I got the gist of it. Mom loved the movie, but I think Dad thought the concept of a re-incarnated dog was too weird. I think the alien movies he likes are a lot weirder than that, but to each his own. I enjoyed the movie but thought the book was much better. But even though the movie changed a few details and couldn’t go as deep as the book, seeing this movie brought my thoughts about the book back to mind again, and this time I feel ready to try and write about them.

The night before we watched the movie, I found a podcast in which W. Bruce Cameron was interviewed about this book. When the host asked what inspired him to write this book, he said he was driving up the coast with his girlfriend who would eventually become his wife, and she was saying she would never have another dog because she had recently lost her dog and didn’t think she could bare that kind of heartbreak again. He responded that he wanted to tell her a story, and just like that, he saw the whole story come together in his head, about a dog that is re-incarnated and remembers its past lives. He spent the next hour and a half telling her this story, ending with the moral that dogs need us, and we need them. The girlfriend was so moved by the story that she asked hin to record it again, and then encouraged him to turn it into a book. I could definitely see this theme woven throughout the book.

In the dog’s first life when he was born in the wild, he survives, although we would learn that if he had stayed in the wild, he would not have fared well because dogs were bred to depend on us for long-term survival. When he was taken in by Senora and lived with a whole pack of other dogs in The Yard, he thought he was happy, but his life really had no purpose, and he would later realize that the love Senora displayed was just a general love for all the dogs. In his next life when he escaped the puppy mill and was rescued from the drunk man’s hot car to live with Ethan, he thrives because now his life has a purpose. He forges a special bond with this little boy. He delights in being at Ethan’s side as he grows up. His instinct and love for this boy prompts him to “rescue” the boy when he dives underwater to untangle the fishing line, and he never leaves the boy’s side when they are lost in the woods for several days, growing ever more hungry, cold and dehydrated. He would even apprehend the sociopath in Ethan’s class that tried to kill Ethan and his family by setting their house on fire, a fire that left Ethan with a permanent leg injury that ended his prospects for a full scholarship to play football in college. He is devastated when Ethan must leave for a different college. In his third life, he misses Ethan, especially because his (the dog is actually female in this life) new owner is cold and distant, but recognizes that this life has a higher purpose. His life with Ethan prepared him to be a search and rescue dog, and he/she saves many lives. In his final life, he is born in a well-kept kennel but is the last puppy to find a home as he is low-energy and prefers to be left alone. He is finally purchased by a boyfriend who shows no interest In him. The dog is a present for his girlfriend. The girlfriend loves him, but we learn she is immature and does not train him or supervise him properly, and she wasn’t even allowed to have a dog in her apartment. When the landlord evicts her because of the dog, she takes him to her mom’s house. But her mom has a mean, alcoholic boyfriend named Victor who does not want a dog, so the dog lives in squalor, spending his days chained to a post in the backyard barking until Victor gets home, and cowering in fear and doing his best to avoid him when he does. When a neighbor who cannot stand watching the neglect of this dog any longer calls the police, and the police fine the couple $50 and order them to clean up the yard and provide a longer chain, Victor is furious, and asks why they don’t just shoot the dog. The following day, Victor forces the dog to get into his trunk. With a sick feeling in our stomachs, we think Victor is going to drive to a remote location and shoot the dog, especially when the dog smells that there is a gun in the trunk, something he remembered from his previous life. But Victor changes his mind and decides to just abandon the dog. He remembers the survival instincts he learned from the feral mother in his first life and fends for himself, but soon realizes Victor dropped him off near the very river where he and Ethan spent many summers, which was near Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. So much has changed about the town that he couldn’t remember exactly where the farm was, but he first meets the daughter of Ethan’s high school sweetheart Hannah, whom he broke up with out of sadness and anger when he came home from college and saw her playing track and interested in another guy. The dog eventually stumbles across the veterinary clinic, where he recognizes the unmistakable scent of Jasper, a donkey Grandpa had acquired. He follows Jasper’s scent and finds the farm, and his boy Ethan! Ethan is old now, and of course does not recognize that this dog is a re-incarnation of his beloved dog Bailey. He even calls the police who take the dog to the humane society where he is almost adopted by another family. But at the last minute, Ethan changes his mind and takes the dog home and names him Buddy. Buddy could tell that his boy was sad and lonely, so he facilitates the re-acquaintance of Hannah and Ethan by running to Hannah’s house. Hannah and Ethan get married, and thus Ethan’s final years of life are filled with family, laughter and contentment. When Ethan passes away, Buddy recognizes that his purpose is now to be with Hannah through her grief. Yes, it is one of those heart-warming, life coming full-circle stories you cannot read without crying, and a unique way of thinking about the special bond between people and dogs.

This book is completely a work of fiction of course, but the idea of re-incarnation is compelling. In 2014, I heard about a book on a television show written by a mother who believed her children have lived before. Intrigued and in need of a diversion from the painfully boring Paralegal textbooks I was supposed to be reading at the time, I couldn’t resist downloading the book. The mother first started having these suspicions when her son, who was four years old at the time, was inconsolable over the noise of Fourth of July fireworks. I forget the details of how everything transpired, but ultimately, the parents took the child to a hypnotist who caused the boy to recall a past life in which he was a soldier shot and killed in battle. As he recalled and came to terms with this past life, his fear of fireworks instantly resolved. His sister had a similar situation. She had an inexplicable fear of perishing in a fire, and the hypnotist revealed that in a past life, she had in fact perished in a fire. Her fear too immediately resolved once she recalled this past life. These experiences with her children compelled this mother to delve deeper into the possibility of re-incarnation. I never thought about going to a hypnotist, as that seems creepy, but I will admit I was so intrigued by this idea that I would lie in bed straining my brain to see if I could get it to recall past lives, to no avail. I should have known better, but I guess I was a little spiritually immature and wondered if recalling a past life would answer some questions I had about my life at the time. For the record, I have completely abandoned the idea of human re-incarnation. For one thing, I have since researched the biblical stance on re-incarnation, and Hebrews 9:27 clearly says that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” There are also numerous instances in the Bible from Levitacus all the way through the New testament warning us not to seek out mediums or spiritists as they are a product of the Devil, so I am so glad I never considered consulting a hypnotist, but I am sorry I even dabbled in such nonsense. I don’t believe in animal re-incarnation either, as the pets I have had never gave any indications of remembering commands or people from past lives. But this idea of re-incarnation is a creative way to tell a story, and I think it symbolizes the incredible instincts of dogs, the many ways these instincts have impacted the lives of humans, and the idea that both humans and dogs find more purpose and fulfillment in life when they live life together.

But the most interesting thought that came to mind while reading this book was the words of a favorite song, Colors of the Wind, from Pocahontus. “You think you own whatever land you land on. The earth is just a dead thing you can claim. But I know every rock and tree and creature, has a life, has a spirit, has a name.” I found myself humming this song as I read the book. I think I will be writing more about this song in the future as it is another song that reminds me of the Restoration. But I think this song came to mind as I was reading A Dog’s Purpose because the whole message of the song is how we miss out on so much beauty and wonder in this world when we exploit trees or creatures, think of them as property, or view them more in terms of what they are worth, losing sight of the fact that while they may not be capable of the complex thinking and reasoning that God gave humans, trees should be appreciated simply for their beauty and splendor, and creatures should be regarded with reverence as living beings with thoughts and emotions. Even though the author was probably not humming this song and may not have been thinking about its message, I saw the message woven beautifully through this book as well. In the dog’s first life, an overwhelmed shelter worker took one look at Toby’s injured leg, deemed him unadoptable and subsequently euthanized him. I couldn’t help thinking about how this is the fate of so many real dogs in shelters all over the country. I will give the indifferent shelter worker in the book the benefit of the doubt, as I know even from personal experience with my own job that compassion fatigue is a real thing. When I started my job, I would get emotional about all the medical and financial hardships clients would talk about, but after awhile, it is hard not to become numb to these stories. Perhaps the shelter worker suffered from compassion fatigue too, overwhelmed by the sight of so many suffering animals every day. Although this dog would have thrived in a loving home because he was so sweet, the sad reality is people are apprehensive about taking on dogs with special needs, and when shelter space is limited, difficult and heartbreaking decisions have to be made. The euthanization of this sweet dog, and so many real dogs is the fault of puppy mills and irresponsible backyard breeders that breed dogs just to make a profit, seeing them as material goods, not as beings that each have a life, a spirit and a name. In the dog’s second life and his fourth life when he is regarded as property, things work out beautifully, as he finds his boy Ethan in his second life, and is ultimately reunited with him in his fourth life, but for some reason, I couldn’t help thinking about all the special love and affection these unscrupulous people missed out on because they were so wrapped up in their greed or had irresponsible attitudes about dog ownership.

One day in a lecture about wills and Probate law back in 2014 when I was pursuing my Paralegal certificate, the professor was talking about how you can outline in your will whom you would like to become the legal gardians for your children if God forbid, you are survived by minor children. Knowing this professor is pretty laid back and wouldn’t mind putting up with my silly sidefor a minute—she is the same professor I had for Family Law and wrote about in this post by the way—I raised my hand and asked if this was the section where I could specify a gardian for Gilbert as well. Her response was interesting. She also loves dogs, but said that legally speaking, Gilbert is considered property. I could specify whom I wanted to have Gilbert, just as I could specify whom I wanted to bequeath my house or money to, but theoretically, if I died with a lot of debt that required the sale of property to settle, Gilbert might have to be sold! A collective chuckle and expressions like “Aw!” came from the whole class. Of course, if that had happened, Gilbert is so beloved by everyone he meets that I am sure a friend or relative would have come through to buy Gilbert and give him a loving home, but boy, learning that has been a great motivator for me to live within my means! In another class, a Technical Writing class I took in my last semester at Carroll University, we were asked to write a user manual. I decided to write my manual on how to care for and train a guide dog. But one piece of feedback I didn’t expect was when the professor said that the dog needed to be referred to using the pronoun “it” rather than him/her. I followed this instruction and changed all of the pronouns, but it bothered me. This assignment came back to mind a couple years later when I was researching our city’s laws on backyard chickens—more on that in a future post—and noticed that sure enough, ordinances regarding animals used the pronoun “it” as well. I think it would be interesting to conduct an experiment where at least for a specified period of time, a municipality changed all the pronouns of its animal ordinances to him/her. Nothing would be changed regarding the laws themselves, just the pronouns. It would be interesting to track if humane societies saw less traffic from people surrendering animals, or if cops receive fewer reports of animal abandonment or cruelty. While I believe most people are good, and everyone I come into contact with seems to love animals, I wonder if for at least a few people, this simple change in pronouns would awaken the realization in them that animals are living beings, not property on the same level as their cars.

I am not saying dogs or other pets should be treated as if they are humans. There is a reason Planet of the Apes is just a movie. God blessed us with more complex minds, and the capacity for a higher sense of morality and reasoning than any other animal. In fact, in Genesis 1:26 and 1:28, it is explicitly stated that God created humans to rule over animals. I don’t even agree with PETA’s position that we should not eat meat because in Genesis 9:3 after the flood, God tells Noah and his sons, “Everything that moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” Furthermore, even Jesus ate meat. But Proverbs 12:10 states, “a righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” This verse is a clear indication that while God created us to rule over animals, this does not give us license to be cruel to them or exploit them. I am not a bible expert, but to me these passages indicate that it is fine to eat a small serving of meat each day for vitamin B12, which is not found in plants, but it is wrong to kill animals just for sport, or gorge yourself with more meat than you need at an eating competition or holiday feast. There is nothing wrong with training an animal using positive re-enforcement techniques that awaken their natural desire, implanted by God, to please us. But it must make God angry to see people use fear-based training techniques. Sure, a dog or other animal may still obey out of loyalty, but I recently read an article written by a dog trainer who switched from using a choke collar, to using positive re-enforcement, and it didn’t surprise me when she said that with positive re-enforcement, both the dogs and owners were happier and more relaxed, making me wonder if what some call a new training concept is the kind of training God had always intended.

I have never regarded Gilbert, or any of the pets I grew up with as merely property, but reading an entire book written from a dog’s point of view brought the reality that dogs are beings with real emotions into sharper focus. It was an opportunity for meditation when I couldn’t help asking myself if I am the best owner I can be. As I think I have mentioned in the past, I cannot sleep with Gilbert because he snores, not as obnoxiously as a certain family member in a hotel room, but nevertheless, loud enough that I prefer not to sleep with him. Gilbert and said snoring family member actually sleep together, which works out perfectly! Anyway, Gilbert and the snoring family member usually wake up before I do each morning, and Gilbert is always waiting to greet me when I open my bedroom door. This is such an adorable display of love and loyalty, and yet some mornings when I wake up with a headache or just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I have been guilty of pushing past him, or snipping at him for being in the way. But reading about similar displays of love Bailey showed Ethan made me feel guilty for all the times I snipped at Gilbert, so now every morning, even if I am not feeling great, I make sure to speak a happy greeting to Gilbert and give him a few pets on the head because it is not his fault I am not feeling well. In fact, he may know I am not feeling well and he is not intentionally blocking my path to the kitchen for headache medicine to feel better. He is just trying to say he is there for me. One day last week while I was in my bedroom writing, Mom knocked on my door saying Gilbert was sitting outside my door wanting to come in and be with me. I don’t let him in my room often during the daytime either just in case dog hair is a contributor to allergies that cause me to wake up with severe headaches sometimes. Gilbert doesn’t mind. Once he has greeted me in the morning, he usually prefers to sleep the day away on a soft dog bed in the living room where he can look out the window. So this unusual desire to be in my room with me at that time of day tugged at my heart, and I relented and let him in. He laid right beside my desk chair where I could reach down and pet him while writing, making me smile. Maybe he is trying to tell me my blogs would be better if he could “help” me write them.

Gilbert is at that point in his life where he is getting arthritic and slowing down, and this causes us both sadness in our own ways. Mom says Gilbert seems sad sometimes when we decide his arthritis or his stomach are acting up and I shouldn’t take him to work, and I feel sad about leaving him behind too. I also feel guilty in the summer when I want to go for a long walk that I know he cannot handle anymore, and so I leave him home and take him for a shorter walk later. But he still greets me with a wagging tail every morning, and when I pet him, he will often still flip onto his back for a belly rub. He loves going to work when he can, and every Monday when the young adult bible study group comes to my house, he takes his job as door greeter seriously. Every now and then, he will even prove he still has that naughty puppy spirit by chewing open a bag of dog food, or unraveling a role of toilet paper. I haven’t always been the owner a dog as sweet as Gilbert deserved, but the wonderful thing about dogs is they understand the concept of unconditional love even better than humans sometimes, and every day is a new day in which he forgets the past and gives me another chance to appreciate his life, his spirit and his name. Just because the minds of dogs and other animals are not as complex as the human mind doesn’t mean God didn’t give them to us to teach us simple truths to enrich our own lives. When we regard them as merely property, we miss out on opportunities to experience these truths. Gilbert will always hold a special place in my heart as my first guide dog, and the perfect companion for college and the trials of my first job. I hope that if there is re-incarnation for dogs, Gilbert will remember his life with me as his best, and that maybe he will come back to me someday in a dog by a different name. If he does, I hope I will recognize him.

A Vacation Full of Worry

Every week, I attend a women’s bible study at our church with my mom, and the family friend who gave us the bird clock. Right now, we are studying the book of Matthew, and in the last bible study before Thanksgiving, we studied Chapter 6 which includes countless truths about life, but the speaker for our large group lecture that day focused most on verses 25 through 27. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” The speaker that day talked about when she was doing mission work in Africa, and there was one day that involved a long hike through remote areas, and she was not able to bring food along, which really required her to completely trust God. But a few hours into the hike when everyone was getting hungry and it looked to her as if there was no food, their guide said, “Hey look! Nettles!” They all proceeded to pick some nettles, and their guide showed them how to boil them and they were all satisfied. Later, just when it was time to eat again, their guide spotted another kind of edible plant that they harvested and again were satisfied. I sensed God speaking to me when I heard this story, as when I am away from home and have to depend on others for everything, including food, I cannot help but worry. It was as if God was telling me, “See, if I can provide for people hiking through remote parts of Africa, why do you worry so much about vacations with your family in the United States?” That day, I told myself I was going to trust God on vacations and not worry anymore, but to be honest, I was hoping I wouldn’t be put to the test, and was looking forward to the fact that once we made our Christmas visit to Indiana to visit relatives, there were no more vacations on the horizon.

Then, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my sister announced that her husband was able to get tickets for the whole family to come to New York and see Hamilton in early spring. My parents were giddy with excitement, but my heart sank. I was now in a quandary. I really wanted to see Hamilton, especially after seeing In the Heights at a local theatre in October, which was also written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I wasn’t sure I would like this hip-hop style for a musical, but I loved it! The problem was, seeing Hamilton meant a trip was now on the horizon, and as long as we were in New York, my parents would want to do a lot of other things besides seeing Hamilton. The months and months of mental peace I was looking forward to—I was hoping to put off overnight travel until at least Labor Day—were now shattered.

For the next month whenever I had idle time, my mind vacillated between going or telling my parents I really didn’t want to go. If all three of my other siblings were going, I should go, as it is so incredibly rare that we are all able to be together, and there is something special about seeing musicals in New York City, where the theatres are smaller, and the best of the best actors perform. But one brother hadn’t committed to going, and eventually, Hamilton would come to Milwaukee. It wouldn’t be the same as seeing it in New York City, but it would be good enough, and worth the avoided worry, and frustration of being on-leash for a whole weekend. My parents probably wouldn’t want to take me if they had already seen it in New York, but I knew a couple of my co-workers, and several friends in choir who enjoy theater too, so I could probably get someone to go with me when the time came. On the morning of December 23, when the one brother still hadn’t booked his flight, I decided that I would wait and see Hamilton in Milwaukee, but my parents would have nothing of it, saying I was being ridiculous, which maybe I was, but I felt like they didn’t understand how much I hate travel since they love it! So to make a long story short, my dad booked our flight that morning, and to his credit, he tried to assuage my worries by saying he had already done pretty much everything he wanted to do in New York City on past trips, and just enjoyed the vibe of being in Manhattan, so he would take care of me, making sure I had everything I needed, and he was convinced I would have a good time. Mom tried to make me feel better by reminding me of past trips where I had a great time, especially the trip to Carnegie Hall with the Milwaukee Children’s Choir in high school. I did have a wonderful time on that trip, but at that time, I had little regard for my health, had not yet been diagnosed with Celiac Disease which now makes every meal out a gamble, and just didn’t have the desire for independence that I have as an adult. If I did experience any travel anxiety, it was superceded by the joy of getting excused from three days of Math class. Before I could open my mouth to make these arguments, she said to quit thinking about it. The trip was months away, but that day, we were about to celebrate Christmas, so she tried to re-direct my thoughts to Christmas. I know she meant well, but telling me not to think about something only makes me think about it more, and get more frustrated.

I worry about being out of my routine. I have been told I am too set in my ways, but you know what? I have figured out what makes me feel good, and when I am not set in them, I often don’t feel well. I feel best when I get a good night’s sleep uninterrupted by snoring or rowdy hotel guests, and eat breakfast as soon as I wake up, which is around 7:00, not an hour or more later as we shower, get dressed and walk down to the hotel breakfast area or meet someone at his/her house or another restaurant. Lunch should be eaten between noon and 12:30, 1:00 at the latest, not 3:00 or later because people are slow to get going in the morning and we are just arriving at a museum or park when it is lunch time. Dinner should be eaten around 5:30 or 6:00, not 9:00 or later because we had such a late lunch. When this schedule is followed, I feel great. When it is not, I feel myself getting cranky and sometimes will even feel a headache coming on, especially now that I have committed to a healthier lifestyle and eat a smaller breakfast than I used to. It is even more crucial that this routine is followed on trips, as you have to allow for the possibility of the waiter who is not knowledgable about Celiac Disease or the restaurant’s gluten free options, or the waiter that requires a little more patience because English is not his first language. If I did not get a good night’s sleep, or we are eating lunch at 3:00, I have absolutely no patience for these curveballs, and that’s when meltdowns happen.

By meltdown, I mean bursting into tears in public over the smallest things. For example, in 2014, my parents and I flew to New York to visit my sister and see Book of Mormon. We flew out on a Thursday and returned on a Sunday, the same schedule as this upcoming trip. I hadn’t slept well at all that weekend due to snoring, and the fact that our hotel was in a noisy part of the city. I was especially tired Saturday night after doing a full day of museums, and on top of that I pulled a muscle in my right leg when I panicked and stepped onto a subway train wrong. But that night, the snoring was especially loud and I could not sleep at all. But on Sunday, another long day of museums lay ahead before our evening flight home and Paralegal classes early Monday morning. So sore and exhausted as if I never went to bed, I got up, dragged myself to the hotel shower where I knocked the bottle of soap off the stupid, tiny slippery shower ledge right onto my toe. Maybe my mood could have been salvaged if breakfast at the restaurant where we agreed to meet my sister was fabulous. English was not the waiter’s first language, but we figured out the omlet would be a safe gluten free option. But the omlet was gross to me, and when I asked about potatoes which are always delicious, the waiter wasn’t sure if they were gluten free. That’s when I lost it. My sister, in an effort to put things into perspective told me, “you got to have a baked potato at Potato-topia yesterday.” I know she didn’t mean to upset me, but it was seriously all I could do not to lunge across the table and smack her silly. Instead, I burst into tears. That meal at Potato-Topia was delicious, but that was yesterday, and this is now. I was exhausted, sore, dreading what would be my fourth day on-leash, and even though I was acting like a three-year-old, didn’t appreciate being consoled as if I were one. I ended up choking a couple more bites of that omlet down, and was sulky the whole time we were in Top of the Rock, a really boring place for blind people, and not what I needed after getting no sleep and a gross breakfast. My mood lifted slightly when we went back to my sister’s house for the afternoon and I had a tasty gluten-free pizza from Amy’s Kitchen for lunch, but at that point, I was so done with that trip that my mood wasn’t fully restored until we were home, and even then I cried in bed that night hating the person I become when on-leash so long and out of my routine. To be fair, we get better with every trip. As I said in the last post, my parents now make sure that I always have a hotel room free of snoring people, and we have gotten better about bringing some of our own food and researching gluten free restaurants. When we are traveling with other people, Dad will even try to get after them so that we are not eating meals at ridiculous times. These reforms have made being on-leash a little more tolerable, and I haven’t had a meltdown in awhile. Even so, the potential for this to happen worries me to the point that I still don’t look forward to traveling. I am especially worried about an involuntary meltdown this trip because of my renewed commitment to my health. In terms of exercise, I have nothing to worry about. If I go to the museums, even if I am bored to tears, I can at least console myself knowing that I am burning more calories walking around New York City than I would have burned had I stayed home and just walked half an hour on the treadmill. But all these calories burned will mean nothing if we don’t eat lunch until 4:00, and I am just so hungry that I over-indulge, which is so easy to do at restaurants. And food is like alcohol. If you over-indulge once, you will start craving junk food again, and thus in one weekend, all that I have achieved in what will be four months of commitment will be shot, which is a good segue into my most weird and maybe even irrational worry.

Right now, except for this travel anxiety, my life is literally perfect. My family and I are all healthy. I work three days a week at a job where my co-workers are also my friends, and the rest of the time, I spend on pleasures like writing, cooking soup in the Crock-pot, singing in choir and playing Scrabble. On Sunday, I go to a dynamic church that inspires me every week, and then on Monday, another perfect week begins. I know that I am blessed, and it is almost shameful that I am so fixated on travel anxiety when people in my own community have to worry about how they will put food on the table, or whether a loved one struggling with addiction will live to see another day. But everyone’s life journey is unique, and as Pastor Rick Warren teaches in the Purpose-Driven Life, which I read in high school, we are not meant to be completely content in this life. I am blessed not to have “real problems” but I suppose my travel anxiety is my inevitable struggle that keeps me from total contentment with this life. So I try not to beat myself up about having this anxiety. But the truth is, for some reason when I travel, I have anxiety that this trip will ruin the perfect life I have. This ruin could come from something as simple as over-indulging at restaurants all weekend so that I am addicted to junk food when I get home and have to start all over on my health journey, which means going through withdrawal headaches again, and sitting at my desk at work barely able to concentrate because I am so hungry. This ruin could come from a delayed flight, so that I am exhausted at work the next day and make a big mistake, or we could be stranded at the airport on Monday morning so that I have to call work and apologize. My co-workers would have to re-schedule my appeals or add the appeals to their workload, so I would lose some of the goodwill I have earned which could expedite my being fired if I need time off for something really important someday. And if I got fired, would I ever find another job that allowed me to work such a peaceful schedule and live such a contented life? Or what if, God forbid, I was maimed in a mass shooting, terrorist attack or accident on the trip. I never thought about this until the Boston Marathon bombing, but after hearing that some of these victims were on vacation, it occurred to me that this could happen to anyone. Of course, I could be maimed in a terrible accident or shooting tomorrow right here in Milwaukee. Granny was going to an event in her own community when she was in her terrible accident. But for some reason, I only think about it when anticipating being on vacation.

But I sense God’s presence in trying to help me work through this anxiety. How so? You ask. Well, of course I was in a tizzy on December 23 once the flight was booked and I was committed to going on the trip, and I had forgotten all about the bible study’s lesson on trusting God. On Christmas Eve, I started writing my blog about the inability to serve two masters when it comes to my health to try and take my mind off the trip, when for some reason, after quoting the verse I wanted for that post, something compelled me to read a little further. And guess what comes after the verses on serving two masters? The verses discussed in that bible study! I was still in a little bit of a tizzy when I came downstairs to hang out with my family, but seeing that verse again planted the first seeds of recognizing that not only would Dad take care of me. So would God. Then a little over two weeks later on January 10, I had forgotten these verses again, and found myself lying awake in bed at 5:00 in the morning, my mind racing about the trip. I recently started listening to Family Radio in my bedroom which is a Christian station that has programs that feature bible teaching, and beautiful choir music that relaxes me. That morning after breakfast, my mind was still racing a little bit about the trip when I went to my room to do some writing, and shortly after turning the radio on, guess what verses they decided to do a devotion on that morning. Matthew Chapter 6, verses 25 through 27!

I think I got the message God! I am really trying to overcome this. Like I said, I am not to the point where I can say I look forward to traveling, but now when I find my mind wandering toward travel anxiety, I recite these verses to myself on my own and my anxiety lessens a little. Of course, God’s idea of taking care of me could be different than what I would want. I could have a meltdown, although I will pray that I can stay calm and keep things in proper perspective. Ironically, in the sermon last Sunday, the pastor talked about how God gives us challenging situations to test how real our faith in Him really is, so instead of fleeing from these challenges as David wanted to do when he wrote Psalm 11, and as I wanted to do in a way by staying home, we should embrace them and let God shape and grow us through them. I could be stranded at the airport Monday morning when I am supposed to be back at work. My boss is fair and kind to me, and Mom pointed out that if we are stranded at the airport, it shouldn’t put my job in jeopardy because of the excellent reputation I have earned. But even if I am fired because of this trip, that could be God’s way of opening the door to something even better. If I am maimed in a terrorist attack or accident of some kind, I would be devastated for a time of course. But just like with Celiac Disease and blindness, or even my past school and job challenges, I would eventually realize that God allowed it to happen for a reason, and that my life would eventually be richer for it.