I am the Scrooge of Sports

Hello readers. In light of the Superbowl last Sunday, I thought it would be fun to write a post that has been stewing in my mind for years, a post about how much I despise our culture’s obsession with sports, especially football. I really wanted to publish this on Superbowl Sunday, as a symbolic, light-heartedly spiteful gesture, but I couldn’t get my thoughts composed in time. But maybe it’s just as well because on Superbowl Sunday, everyone likely would have been too busy watching the superbowl to read it, so perhaps it will have more impact now.

The first seeds of contempt for sports were planted in elementary school. During the school day, I was required to play games like kickball and baseball for gym class. I had an aide with me at that time, and I would have to hold her arm and run to the next base, serenaded by a cacophony of shouting from other classmates, and occasionally the aide herself, “GO, Go, Go!” I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, not only from the physical exertion of running, but also the adrenaline being produced by all the shouting, especially when the aide pressured me to run faster or I wouldn’t make it to the base in time. Even at that age, I remember thinking “why is everyone getting so worked up over this stupid game? This kind of stress should only be exerted if I ever need to run out of a burning building or something.” Then after school, almost every weekend, and even sometimes on week nights, I had to sit in the bleachers of school gyms where my brother and sister played volleyball and basketball. The obnoxious cacophony of buzzers and whistles just about gave me a headache, and although Mom and Dad tried to be vigilant about watching for balls, I would occasionally get hit by one. And then it was just painfully boring! My parents were so intently watching the game they didn’t think to describe to me what was going on. A couple times when I asked and they did give a play-by-play, I found it wasn’t long before I still lost interest. I tried bringing braille books to pass the time in the bleachers but given the noise I mentioned above, I couldn’t concentrate on a book. I especially dreaded tournaments, which lasted the entire weekend. I hated them so much that before one of my brother’s tournaments–I think I was in first grade–when I figured out that his team would be eliminated Saturday if they lost, but play another game on Sunday if they won, I actually told my brother outright, “I hope you lose,” a comment that was followed by gasps of shock from the whole family. In fifth grade, to my extreme delight, my parents decided I was old enough to stay home alone while they went to my siblings’ games. But then when I was in middle school, my sister started college at UW-Madison, and Dad decided to invest in two Wisconsin Badgers season tickets. To be fair, he isn’t a die-hard football fan and sold most of his tickets to a friend, but he wanted to go to a couple of these football games each year, and wasn’t comfortable leaving me home alone when he was an hour and a half away. Mom worked weekends in a hospital at the time. My older brother was in high school and still lived at home, so I forget why he wasn’t available to look after me. So guess who was dragged to these games to sit on hard bleachers in the beating sun, without even the consolation that I was doing it to support a sibling! In eighth grade, my grandma moved from Indiana to a condominium ten minutes from us, and Dad was comfortable leaving me home alone if she called or stopped by to check in on me. I was free from attending sports games at last! But the psychological damage of such saturation with sports on a girl who much prefers books and music was done.

My parents empathized with my situation, so when I was old enough to pursue my passion, singing in choir, a passion my siblings found just as boring as I found sports to be, Mom and Dad insisted they attend my choir performances. But by that time, my older brother was a freshman in high school, and my sister a junior, so it wasn’t long before they were off to college, and thus off the hook for attending my concerts. But the school choir only performed two concerts a year, and when I joined the Milwaukee Children’s choir in seventh grade, that choir performed three concerts a year. So my sister attended four concerts before heading off to college, and my brother maybe attended a dozen concerts, whereas I conservatively estimate that I attended thirty sports games a year from K-4 through fourth grade for a total of 180 games. My siblings could return home and attend all of my concerts for the rest of my life, and they probably still wouldn’t have attended as many concerts as I attended sports games!

In all seriousness though, I accept that life is not fair, and I don’t harbor resentment toward my siblings. They went to a Catholic school where sports was really the only extra-curricular option available, and the culture of the school was such that if they didn’t participate, they would have been singled out. Moreover, even my parents, while they enjoyed watching these games more than I did, have expressed regret for how much sports took over our lives, with practice schedules that often conflicted with dinner hour, and games almost every weekend, leaving little time for anything else. But I don’t even harbor bitterness toward the school, because now that I am older, it has occurred to me that the school is just one example of a whole culture that I think puts too much emphasis on sports.

Growing up, I didn’t really mind having football blaring on the television every Sunday afternoon because in the comfort of home, I could come and go as I pleased, retreating to my room if there was too much yelling from the family. Again, why the adrenaline surge over a stupid game? Sometimes, I would sit on the couch and pretend to watch the game, not because I was really interested in the game but because it was a socially acceptable excuse to put off facing Math homework. I even got a tiny bit excited when the Packers made it to the Superbowl in 2011. That year in the final playoff game, the Packers beat the Bears, and one of my friends whom I ate lunch with regularly was from Chicago and still a Bears fan, so I couldn’t resist teasing her a little. My only complaint as a child regarding professional football was that games were also broadcast on the radio, and occasionally when a choir concert conflicted with a Packer game, my dad would immediately flip to the Packer game in the car on the way home from the concert. I would have preferred to bask in the afterglow of the beautiful music I just sang for a few more minutes before returning to the obnoxious noise of football.

My senior year of high school, I took a Creative Writing class which included a unit on writing satire. For one of the assignments, the teacher gave us an article to read, and encouraged us to use it as a model for writing our own satire. The article was called Body Rituals of the Nacirema. On the surface, the article reads like an anthropological analysis of a strange ancient tribe. The article included other strange words too like Latipsoh. But when you read the article more closely, you realize that Nacirema is American spelled backwards, and Latipsoh is hospital spelled backwards. The article is an example of satire highlighting our culture’s obsession with the health and appearance of our bodies. I had a lot of fun writing a fake newspaper article called New Religious Trends Among the Nacirema, about how football, or llabtoof is treated as a religion. I included quotes from priests who lamented that church attendance is down at 11am services, especially when the Packers play at noon, and how they try to relate to Llabtoof followers by mentioning it in sermons, and scholars from the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay, who point out that this religion promotes family bonding. The teacher loved it too, and even read it to the class, singling it out as an example of satire well-done! At a time when Math was discouraging, this was a huge self-esteem boost. (Unfortunately, I didn’t think to save an electronic copy of it or I would have shared it here, but it was published in a literary magazine which I think Mom saved somewhere.)

But one Sunday in 2014, an incident occurred which made me so mad that I decided I wanted to live counter-culturally and abstain as much as possible from our culture’s obsession with even televised sports.

In the grand scheme of things, I can see why some readers would call me petty for being upset, but I think this incident was just the final straw of my disgust with sports culture that had been growing since childhood. One Sunday in September 2014, my mom and I had just returned home from church where a new senior pastor had been formally commissioned. For this ceremony, the senior pastor invited a pastor from Nairobi, Kenya whom he worked closely with for a few years doing mission work there. I absolutely love when pastors from Africa. Perhaps because of the adversity they have witnessed, if not personally experienced, they preach with a unique passion, authenticity and conviction that is less common in Western churches. You have to concentrate a little more because English often is not their first language and thus they accent words differently, but the extra effort is always so worth it!

I forget the exact details of the story, and unfortunately, the recording of this message is no longer available, so I forget if he was referring to an orphanage his parents operated, or if he was relaying someone else’s experience. But the story he relayed was of an orphanage in a country plagued by poverty and violence that struggled to meet the basic needs of all the children they received. One morning, there was absolutely no food left, so the missionaries gathered the children around the table to pray, and before they had even finished praying, someone arrived with enough food for everyone! I am not telling it as well as he did of course, but you get the gist. It is the kind of story that gives Christians chills and highlights the blessings that can take place when we pray and trust in God.

“How was church?” either my brother who was living with us at the time, or my dad asked. They were watching the Packer game which had already started when Mom and I walked in, so for my part, I should have known the men really weren’t interested in our church experience, just asking to be polite, so like I do with the coworker who asks “How are you?” I should have just said “It was nice,” and left it at that. But I was so fired up about the excellent message we had just heard that I launched into retelling the orphanage story. And when I was done, the reaction was a few seconds silence, then yelling about a touchdown or something. They weren’t even listening to the story! When I wrote my satire about the Nacirema, I was in a light-hearted mood, but that day when I witnessed this lackluster response to testimony about a real God, all light-heartedness was long gone. Sports really is treated like a religion, and it’s not funny. It’s ridiculous.

I don’t begrudge people who enjoy watching or playing sports. I recognize that God intentionally created us all to be unique and have different interests. A diversity of interests definitely adds richness to life. For children, sports is a fun way to get exercise and learn valuable life skills like teamwork. I don’t even begrudge the existence of professional sports leagues. I just would like to see reform of our culture that puts sports in its proper place, something that is enjoyed but not idolized.

Let’s start with schools. I have come to realize over the years that the school my siblings attended was not unique in scheduling so many sporting events that sports takes over your life. If athletes at the professional level don’t mind playing a game every week, that’s fine. By that time, they are adults living independently from their family, with the maturity to determine for themselves that they enjoy a sport enough to make it their career. But schools ought to be cognizant of the fact that children live in family units where not every child enjoys sports, and where maybe the parents see the value of sports but would also like to have some weekends free to take their children on a hike through a state park, or some other variety of activity. So for school purposes, practice should only be held one night a week, and just like with choir, there should be no more than two or three games a year. I have also heard of schools cutting music and arts programs but keeping sports because it generates revenue for the school. I understand budgets are tight for schools, but in fulfilling their mission of creating well-rounded citizens, they need to think about more than just money. There is educational value to sports, but there is equal educational value, not to mention emotional and spiritual health that comes from music and art programs. So if schools honestly cannot afford to sustain their music and art programs, I understand, but if you are really that financially strapped, you should cut your sports programs as well. I am not a finance expert, but with a little creativity, I think schools should be able to sustain both arts and sports programs by appealing to the community to donate equipment, or see if there is someone like a retiree with music or coaching experience who could volunteer their time at schools. When I hear of schools keeping sports programs but cutting the arts, I cannot help wondering if they have really exhausted all options to keep these programs, or if the people in charge just don’t value the arts.

Especially at the high school and college levels, schools should also hold star athletes to the same academic standards as everyone else. I once saw a Saturday Night Live skit about a college class where most students presented projects that they put a lot of time and effort into, but a star athlete in the class presented a banana glued to a piece of wood, and the professor said, good job! Unfortunately, there is an element of truth to this skit. While scandals as blatant as the “paper classes” at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill may be an extreme, isolated incident, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is all sorts of little stuff that goes on but just doesn’t make the news. After all, was I the only college student who wondered, while buried in reading and projects, barely aware that March Madness had started, how the athletes playing in those tournaments find the time to do so? They have to be getting some kind of break from their professors. At all levels, the law should be applied equally to athletes as well.

I hate the idea of corporate welfare for any large corporation that has plenty of their own money, but I especially hate when it is given to sports teams. A couple years ago, my state’s NBA team, the Milwaukee Bucks were told by the league that they need to build a new, modern arena, despite the fact that the old arena, a gift to the community by a wealthy family, wasn’t that old. Despite the fact that all teams like that are swimming in money, enough to pay coaches and star athletes millions, they lobbied the state for taxpayer money to build the arena, and if I remember correctly, threatened to relocate the team if they did not receive it. They ultimately received $250 million in taxpayer money, supporters arguing the new arena would be good for the local economy. I understand this argument, but still, I’m sure they had the money to build it themselves. So in the unlikely event a professional sports team owner finds this blog, I don’t foresee myself getting involved in state government. It’s not really something that calls me. But you know the saying never say never, and if I am elected to state government, I would not give a professional sports team one dime of taxpayer money. If that means they leave, they leave. I think the money Wisconsin spent on the arena could have gone a long way toward improving schools, repairing roads or providing for the poor. If I were governor and the standard of living for everyone in my state was great and there was money left over, I would rather invest in art and music programs, many of which barely scrape by relying on tiresome fundraisers. And while we are on the subject of money, I think at least at taxpayer funded colleges, athletic programs should be scaled back or eliminated because it is a misconception that they generate revenue for the colleges. Universities with athletic programs, especially Division I programs actually lose money, and all students pay for this with higher tuition and student fees.

I used to resent the fact that it is possible to have a very lucrative career playing football, but not singing in choir. With maturity, I realize choir does not lend itself to a lucrative career the way professional sports do, and that’s actually good. Choral music is a sacred pursuit that for both the audience member and the singer, brings heaven a little closer to earth, so commercializing choir would corrupt its beauty. Interrupting choral performances for commercials, or giving endorsements for say, shoes that support the feet and make standing on risers more comfortable, or a beverage that soothes the throat would just be weird and inappropriate in the choir context. Even if there existed a National Choir League, even I admit choir competitions would not be fun for the average person not trained in the technicalities of choral singing to watch, and even if choir competitions were appealing enough to fill stadiums, it just would not be possible to have a choral competition every week. I competed in two choir competitions when I was in high school, and for each, it took months to really get our pieces polished. So at most, each choir in a choir league could compete twice a year, which would make the kind of revenue that sports can generate by playing once a week impossible. Furthermore, if I wanted to, I could have trained and auditioned to be an opera singer, tried for a record label to become a successful artist like Adelle, or studied theater in college and auditioned for professional theater roles. But I chose not to go these routes for fear that the intensive training and demanding rehearsal schedules would burn me out and I would no longer enjoy it. And the reality is that professional sports is really no different from professional theater in the sense that competition in both arenas is fierce. You hear about the athletes and actresses that made it, but most people who dreamed of being an actress or athlete will ultimately have to find day jobs, and enjoy playing on a community recreational sports team or acting in a civic theater production in the evenings.

Finally, while there is nothing wrong with enjoying professional sports, professional athletes should be recognized as human like the rest of us rather than worshipped, and the sports schedule should not run people’s lives. I hate the commercials that air where I live that show Aaron Rogers visiting a hospital or some place like that, and the people are screaming like fools because they got to meet him. And I know this will be controversial, but as tragic and unexpected as Kobe Bryant’s death was, I don’t think it should have been the lead story on the news for almost a whole week, when wonderful, ordinary people die under tragic circumstances all the time but will never be mentioned in the news.

To be fair, my dad recognizes that professional sports is above all a business. The players on our home teams have no real sense of loyalty. They were recruited from all over the country, and would switch to a different team in an instant if offered a higher contract. In addition, my dad’s favorite part of the movie A Bronx Tale is when nine-year-old Calogero is telling Sonny, the mob boss he befriended how upset he is because someone made his favorite baseball player Mickey Mantle cry. “That’s what you’re upset about?” Sonny says, and then tells him that Mickey Mantle doesn’t care about him, wouldn’t do a thing to help if his father couldn’t pay the rent, so he shouldn’t care so much about Mickey Mantle. I am also happy to say my dad values the arts. He doesn’t like super high-brow stuff like Handel’s Messiah, but he discovered he loves small, intimate theater settings, and for the past two years now, he has gotten season tickets to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater where we have seen some fabulous shows. But even Dad cannot help getting swept up a little by our culture’s sports hysteria. One Sunday back in September when the afternoons are often still sunny and warm, he commented, “I wish Packer games were in the evenings, so we can be outside in the afternoon,” as if watching the game live is a moral obligation or legal requirement. I wanted to ask, are there Packer police that patrol park trails and streets, and arrest anyone they see out for a walk or working in the yard when they should be watching the game? If you want to be outside, tape the game as you would any other show and watch it in the evening. Even if a neighbor spoils things by telling you who won before you get the chance to watch it, I think you could still enjoy watching the plays that led to the win or loss.

I am not Scrooge in the truest sense. I hate sports, but don’t mind if others enjoy it. I just would like to see some cultural reforms that put sports where I think they belong, a recreational activity people enjoy playing and/or watching, but not something that is worshipped above so many other wonderful things like the arts, quiet family time, sometimes even God Himself. Until then though, I do take delight in little things like not clapping when a guest speaker comes to church and assures the congregation that he is a Packer fan. One Packer game when Mom was out of town, I wanted to watch The Sound of Music on my phone, but Julie Andrews’ wonderful singing kept getting interrupted by dings as someone in my family started a group text about the game. I took delight in affirming my anti-sports reputation by asking to be taken off this group text. I take delight in responding with a neutral “Okay,” when Dad will tell me the score of the Packer game “just so you’re informed when you go to work tomorrow.”

So what did I do during the Superbowl last week? I ate dinner in my usual spot at the dining room table, which is basically in the same room as the television. Even I recognize that taking a plate of food up to my room so I would not have to listen to the game would be taking things too far. But I wasn’t paying any attention to the game, and after dinner, I went up to my room, wrote a little bit of this post but spent most of the evening reading with Family Radio playing beautiful hymns in the background. Put another way, I was doing exactly what I would have been doing even if the Packers were playing.

The Song in My Heart: Reflecting back on my Memoir Writing Class

Well readers, as I briefly mentioned two weeks ago, I took a Memoir Writing class online this past Fall through the Creative Nonfiction Foundation. I heard about this organization back in 2016 from the Classifieds section of Poets and Writers Magazine. I don’t actually subscribe to this magazine, but it is available for free to the blind on NFB Newsline, a program run by the National Federation of the Blind that gives the blind access to many newspapers and magazines. At that time, in the thick of my depression and anxiety over my job, I dreamed of quitting my job and writing for a living, and hoped something in this magazine might give me inspiration.

The classified section had an announcement that the Creative Nonfiction Foundation had a quarterly magazine that welcomes new authors, and at that time were looking for essays about teaching. I am not a teacher, but had a brief stint of inspiration and started an essay about how as a blind person, you are a teacher whether you want to be or not, as I had to learn from an early age how to advocate for myself in a visually-oriented world. Unfortunately, given how burnt out my job left me most days, I could not finish this essay by the deadline, and without a specific reason to write it, I still haven’t finished it. If I do finish it, I will post it here.

But while exploring the organization’s website, I also noticed they offered online courses. I was intrigued by one course in particular called Thirty-Minute Memoir, a class that encourages writers to write 30 minutes a day, and at the end of the 10 weeks, they would have 10,000 words of the first draft of their memoir. After college graduation, I thought it would be fun to write a memoir, but didn’t know how to go about writing a book-length memoir because while I took many writing courses over the course of my school years, they all focused on essays and short stories. But I didn’t even look for memoir writing classes in my area out of fear I would be the only student under 70 in the class. So this idea never got off the ground. Family members have even suggested I could start a business ghost-writing memoirs for the elderly. I am not ruling out this business idea for the future, but right now, I don’t think I am ready to start such a business. Before starting such a venture, I would want to publish my own memoir for my self-confidence, and to share with perspective clients to give them confidence I know how to write a memoir, and so they can get a sense of my writing voice.

By 2016, I was desperate and would have been fine with being the only student under 70 in a memoir writing class, but I decided not to take this online course because I didn’t feel I would have the time or energy to take a course of any kind, and I didn’t want to spend $435 on a course until I could give it my all. But this September, I decided I was ready to give it my all, and I am so glad I did.

All of the courses offered by the Creative Nonfiction Foundation are taught by successful, published authors, many of whom are also English professors at traditional colleges where they live. Each week, the professor posted readings focused on a particular aspect of memoir writing such as finding your focus, developing characters and building tension for the reader. Monday through Thursday, the instructor would post an optional prompt related to that week’s lesson. Students could either submit 300 words responding to this prompt, or 300 words from their memoir for feedback from other students and the instructor. On the weekends, students could submit 1,000 words from their memoir for feedback.

It will be awhile yet before I announce the publication of my memoir, and I am not ruling out the idea of not publishing it at all, or at least only publishing select portions of it on this blog. The idea of publishing select portions to this blog appeals to me for two reasons. First, this memoir has a very spiritual focus, and when I have read other books about people’s spiritual experiences, I have wondered if their experiences are genuine, or if they dramatized things to sell books. I haven’t decided yet if it is right to make money off the sharing of such poignant experiences. Second, when I started the class, I was going to write about my weight loss, but quickly realized I couldn’t find the inspiration to write a memoir about this yet. But God gave me tons of inspiration to write about the depression and anxiety I had in the early years of my job, and how studying with my Jehovah’s Witness friends changed my whole outlook on life for the better. But if I published a book going into detail about such experiences, my coworkers would find out about it and want to read it, which could get awkward. So at the very least, I may wait to publish it if or when I am no longer with this employer.

But as the saying goes, it’s not the destination but the journey that counts, and taking this course was an incredibly educational and therapeutic journey. It was educational in that I learned a lot about the memoir writing craft, and received wonderful feedback from the instructor and other students that has made me a more intentional writer. It was therapeutic in that there were times when the comments read more like a support group session than a writing workshop. There were twelve students in the class, all of us women. I don’t know exactly how old anyone was. I get the sense most were retirees, but now I have matured and realize age doesn’t matter. In sharing our diverse experiences, I think we all not only developed as writers, but received empathy and insight that helped us come to terms with past experiences in our lives. I thought about taking a more advanced memoir writing class this semester but decided not to, primarily because I had to make a big purchase, a braille display to connect to my computer at work and didn’t want to spend $435 more. But it’s just as well because this gives me time to catch up on blogging here, and I also like the idea of making some revisions to my memoir so far over the winter, which may result in me getting more out of an advanced class when I do take it.

But I wanted to give you readers a sense of how my memoir might take shape, so what follows is the passage I submitted Friday of the second week in this class. That week, we read about and discussed ideas for how we could structure memoirs. At that time, I had just finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, a fantastic book that I would recommend by the way. Like A Dog’s Purpose, this book is written in the dog’s point of view. The dog Enzo’s owner, Denny, is a racecar driver. Between the life events that take place in this book are little passages explaining a technicality of racecar driving that serves as a metaphor for what happens next. In my memoir class, I learned this structure was called “metaphor as muse.” I decided this would be a compelling structure for my memoir as well. The first week when the lesson discussed finding your focus, I wasn’t sure what structure my memoir would take, but other students noticed a recurring phrase in my writing, “song in my heart”, and when I was struggling to come up with a title, one of them suggested this would make a perfect title for my memoir. So if my memoir is ever published, the title will be “The Song in my Heart,” or a very similar variation of this. That got me reflecting on my love of singing, and the many songs that have inspired me and shaped my life. These reflections almost instantly led to the inspiration to write vignettes about songs I love, which would then serve as metaphor for the chapters that followed, so that my memoir would read like a soundtrack for my life. I am publishing it here exactly as I submitted it for the course. In this passage, I write about John Denver’s song Wild Montana Skies, and the instructor indicated she was unclear about whether the song was about John Denver’s life, or someone else. I told her I didn’t think it was an autobiographical song about John Denver’s life, but I researched and couldn’t find any backstory about this song. One of my classmates whom I was excited to learn also loves this song, said she always suspected the song was about Bob Marshall, a forester, wilderness preservation pioneer and Wilderness Society Cofounder, in whose name the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex was designated in Montana. Classmates also thought I went into too much detail about the song, but all agreed that with a little tightening, it would work well in my memoir or as a stand-alone essay. If I do publish a memoir, you will have to buy it to read the polished version of this, but here is a taste of how my memoir might be structured. Enjoy!

The summer after my first grade year, upon hearing that John Denver was killed in a plane crash, my mom ordered a special collection of his music. When the CDs arrived and Mom put the first one in our big stereo in the living room, I was hooked. From his beautiful ballads like Annie’s Song that are perfect for just closing your eyes and letting the music wash over you like a summer breeze, to Country Boy that inspire you to get up and dance, you really cannot go wrong with any of John Denver’s songs. But my absolute favorite John Denver song that captivated me at age seven, and still captivates me today is Wild Montana Skies.

The song begins with a snappy guitar rif that has a joyful, free-spirited connotation. In the song, a child is born in the spring in Montana, and his mother, sensing that she would die soon, held him to her breast and sang a prayer to Montana, which I think was meant to be a metaphor for God. I have never been to Montana, but I have heard it referred to as Big Sky Country, a place where people feel close to God. At first her prayer is for practical things, a home, the love of a good family, a life partner. But then there is a crescendo as the mother, in what I imagine is a voice of passion, maybe even desperation, prays, “give him a fire in his heart, give him a light in his eyes. Give him the wild wind for a brother, and the wild Montana skies.” I always got the sense from this song that the mother viewed these prayers for a fire in his heart and a light in his eyes, as even more important than her practical prayers. This prayer is the refrain through the entire song.

His mother dies that summer, and he never knows his father. But he is raised by his uncle who teaches him to farm and nurtures in him a love for the land. When he turns 21, he strikes out on his own and tries to live in the city. We don’t know what transpired during his time in the city, but at age 30, he comes back home to make a new start, only saying “there was something in the city that he said he couldn’t breathe. There was something in the country that he said he couldn’t leave.”

The song then skips ahead to his death, leaving the rest of his life shrouded in mystery and open to the imagination of each listener. I like to think that he did at least find the fire in his heart, the light in his eyes, the wild wind for a brother, as the last verse says, “some say he was crazy. Some are glad he’s gone. Some of us will miss him and try to carry on, giving a voice to the forest, giving a voice to the dawn, giving a voice to the wilderness and the land that he lived on.”

Perhaps this song was in my subconsciousness one summer day when I was eight years old. It was one of those long late summer afternoons when “I’m bored,” becomes the universal whining comment of kids everywhere. I had echoed this refrain many times myself. But that day, it wasn’t that I was just bored in the superficial sense. It wasn’t that I wanted to go to the park and no one would take me. It wasn’t that I wanted to play a game and no one else wanted to play. For some reason that day, I found myself thinking beyond my years. There had to be more to life than the endless school years of pointless worksheets, followed by summers of passing the time with silly craft projects, children’s books and trips to the park. I wanted to do something real, something exciting, something meaningful. I didn’t know how to articulate this verbally, so I whined to my sister who was babysitting, “I want to do something I have never done before.”

“Then do something you’ve never done before,” my sister said in a tone that clearly indicated she was tired and annoyed by her little sister. I don’t remember how I ended up passing the time that day, but while I let the subject drop, unable to articulate my feelings, the feeling never quite left me.

I knew I didn’t literally desire to live in the wilderness, especially in summer. Mosquitoes love me, and I have always been very sensitive to heat and humidity. But even at eight years old, I understood that this song was meant as a metaphor. The city represented conformity, discontent, a place where practicality took priority over dreams. In the city lived Mom and Dad, who came home from their full-time jobs exhausted and discouraged each day. In the city lived a few teachers whose constant crankiness implied they wanted to say, “they don’t pay me enough to put up with you.” The country and the wild wind represented a beautiful refusal to conform to the expectations of others, a decision to do what brings you joy, even if others viewed you as impractical, even crazy. In the country lived teachers and other adults I observed who I could tell were living the lives God created them for, and were genuinely happy. I already knew where I wanted to live, and was determined to make it happen.

The feeling manifested itself in varying ways over the years. At first, it manifest itself in phases of fascination with people who led lives that looked completely different from my own. In third grade, I briefly dreamed of a career as an Iditarod sled dog racer because it just seemed so eccentric, fun and unique. In fourth grade, the combined impact of an amazing family vacation to a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin, and reading about pioneers like Laura Ingalls Wilder sparked a fascination with the idea of a simpler life in the country, and I told everyone who would listen about how when I grew up, I wanted to live in the country, off the grid with a bunch of kids and no television, and learn to play the fiddle. In fifth grade, my favorite book was My Side of the Mountain, which I knew was fiction, but still the idea of a city boy running away to live on his own in the woods thrilled me. When I was in middle school, a teacher saw my passion for singing, and encouraged me to join a community choir that offered incredible opportunities. The first time I sang with a full professional orchestra, it occurred to me that I had a fire in my heart, and my mom saw a light in my eyes. I didn’t view concerts as an obligation. Singing onstage felt more like floating on a cloud, a taste of heaven. I was doing what I was created to do. This led to a phase when I tried unsuccessfully to convince my parents that I didn’t need to go to college, that I would find a way to make choir a career.

Aslan Speaks For Himself

Hi! It’s Aslan here. Mom said she thought I should get the opportunity to speak for myself because even though we cannot talk, humans who understand us can tell by our demeanor that if we could talk, we would have a lot to say.

I have overheard the family comparing me to this Snickers cat that used to live in my house. Not in a negative sense. They say I’m just different, although one day, I heard Mom and Grandma agree that I might actually be a little sweeter than Snickers. One day when I was sitting on Mom’s lap and rolled on my back so she could rub my belly like I have seen my brother Gilbert do, she was amazed and said Snickers never ever let anyone rub her belly! Speaking of Gilbert, I love him. I pick on him sometimes by ambushing him and swatting him in the face because that’s what little brothers do, but he doesn’t mind. On good days when his arthritis isn’t bothering him as much, he will even playfully chase me around for a few seconds. Although I love my food, his food smells really good too. When I first joined the family, I boldly walked up to him while he was eating and tried to steal a bite, and he growled at me with displeasure. We came to an agreement that as long as I let him eat in peace, I could steal a few bites while Mom was still preparing it. But I can tell when he isn’t feeling well, or upset after Grandma made him take a bath, and will snuggle up to him sympathetically. I don’t blame him regarding the bath. I don’t like being sprayed with water either. I am sure glad I can groom myself, so hopefully will never be subjected to such treatment.

I am also a lot more cooperative. Mom was absolutely shocked when I needed to go to the vet, and I just walked right into the cat carrier as soon as she set it down, whereas she used to have to sneak up on Snickers when she was asleep, or else chase her down to get her into the carrier. And my greatest joy in life is jumping into Mom or Grandma’s lap in the evening and purring so loud Grandpa cannot hear the TV! I especially love when Mom covers up with a particular blanket, a fleece blanket from the University of Minnesota that a friend gave her. Mom and Grandma have taken to calling it the Mamma blanket because it reminds me of my cat mother, and I love to suckle it.

But make no mistake: I get into plenty of mischief too. In fact, I hadn’t even been in my new home an hour before I found myself in trouble. On June 1 when Mom, Aunt Becky, Grandma and Grandpa brought me home from the Humane Society, they decided to set me up with water, a bed and litter box in the upstairs bathroom, as they had read advice articles that recommend confining kittens like me to one room to gradually adjust to the new environment. After spending a few minutes fawning over me and laughing when I stood on my hind legs next to the toilet so that I looked like a little man in a teddie bear costume, they decided to give me some peace and quiet. Grandma, Grandpa and Aunt Becky wanted to go out for lunch, and Mom, who prefers to eat at home anyway said she would make herself lunch and then come back and check on me. So after double-checking that the toilet lid was down, and all cupboard doors were closed, they left me to my own devices, confident that nothing eventful would transpire.

Well, when Mom came back to check on me, she was horrified to discover that the door to the cupboard below the sink was open. Inside this cupboard was an uncovered laundry chute. After listening for a few minutes to see if she could hear me, and calling for me frantically, she called Grandma and Grandpa who rushed home.

Grandma said she felt terrible for this happening. She said when they moved into the house almost thirty years ago, she nailed a board over the laundry chute since Mom, Aunt Becky, Uncle Brice and Uncle Ben were small children then, but just this past year, she removed it when renovating the laundry room and hadn’t gotten around to replacing the board. But Snickers never showed any interest in that cupboard, so she temporarily placed a laundry basket over the hole, and closed the cupboard door.

Well, the first thing I did when left to my own devices was climb up the cupboard and slip through a gap the family had overlooked between the top of the cupboard door and the sink, push aside the laundry basket and explore the laundry chute! They shined flashlights down the hole but could not see me. They called frantically to me, but since I really didn’t know these people well yet, I was too scared to come out, even when Grandma opened a can of tuna. So they decided maybe I was overwhelmed by all the fuss, and if they were quiet and just waited me out, I would come out on my own, but when Mom dropped a flashlight and saw it fall irretrievably down into the wall, she was horrified. I could be stuck in the wall. It was beginning to look like they would have to saw through the drywall and rescue me. Aunt Becky and Grandpa raced off to the hardware store to get supplies for this rescue, but fortunately, this extreme measure wasn’t needed. Shortly after returning from the hardware store, Aunt Becky crouched inside the cupboard again, spotted me and grabbed me! I was a little overwhelmed by all the hugs, laughter and relieved chatter that followed. At the time I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I was just exploring my new house, and was ready to get back to it. After firmly closing the cupboard door, Aunt Becky set me down, and everyone freaked out again when I proceeded to climb up the cupboard door again. Aunt Becky grabbed me again, whisked me out of that room and Mom immediately nailed a board over that hole! But just to be safe and prevent any more trouble, they moved me into the guest bedroom where Aunt Becky would sleep with me my first night.

The first couple weeks in my new home, I was a little shy, preferring to be alone in the guest room, but Grandma and Mom brought me out of my shell by holding me and talking softly to me every chance they could. Today, I am a little shy when strangers come over, but around the family, I am not shy at all. In fact, sometimes, Mom or Grandma have to put me in time-out because I insist on being on the table at mealtime, or jumping on the counter and investigating the crock-pot when Mom makes soup each week. Mom has taken to nicknaming me Mayhem, as sometimes I remind her of the cat in the Mayhem commercial for Allstate Home Insurance that airs frequently when I sit on her lap to watch television most evenings.

One evening in December, Grandma was really pleased with a new lamp she bought and assembled that day to bring more light to the room. But not ten minutes after sitting down to watch television, I knocked it over and broke it. Boy was Grandma mad at me! But she forgave me quickly because I am too cute to stay mad at for long. Mom too got really mad when I climbed into the pantry one day and knocked over a container of expensive, organic dried beans she bought, some of which spilled on the floor and had to be thrown away, but she too forgave me quickly.

I also love the really clear picture on the television screen, and love to jump onto the TV stand and swat at the little people on the screen. Grandpa doesn’t appreciate the paw prints I leave on the screen, but I know he loves me too.

I also enjoy knocking over glasses of water left on the counter, and do this on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. Usually, these glasses are left by Grandma who likes to sip on water throughout the day. Because of this kind of mayhem, Mom does not allow me into her bedroom where she says she keeps important technology that she cannot afford to have damaged by my antics. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to get in, crouching outside her door and dashing in when she opens it. But with that darn bell collar she makes me wear, I cannot be sneaky enough, and she always catches me quickly. One day, I will figure out how to get that collar off and sneak in. That’s my life’s mission!

My first Christmas was a blast. Given the mayhem I am capable of, Mom was certain I was going to knock the tree over, but to everyone’s surprise, I didn’t find the tree that interesting. I am still a little apprehensive about playing with my Christmas gift. Given how I loved playing in the bags of newspaper before they are recycled, Mom thought I would enjoy a cat tunnel. But the day after ordering it on Chewy, I was investigating a paper gift bag that had boxes of chocolate in it that Grandpa bought. Well the bag was sitting near the edge of the table, and the bag fell off the table with me stuck in it! The handle was wrapped around my front paws and my head was facing into the bag so I couldn’t see anything. So I panicked and try to run from the bag, but I couldn’t get it off me, and because I couldn’t see, I was banging into things which freaked me out even more, so I ran even faster! Grandma witnessed the whole thing, and I could hear her screaming and laughing hysterically. Mom was in the next room and heard the cacophony, but couldn’t see what was happening. When Mom described what had happened, instead of taking pity on me, she laughed hysterically too! My predicament only lasted a few seconds, as my running tore up the bag so that I could escape. Once I was free, Mom and Grandma laughed again when they saw that I decided to put myself in time-out, partly because I knew I had been very naughty, and partly because I was exhausted and a little shook up by the incident and was eager for peace and quiet. After a couple hours of sleep in time-out, I was back to my mischievous self, but I am still a little leary of paper bags or any enclosed space, so haven’t played much with my tunnel. But I enjoyed playing with the ribbon and wrapping paper on Christmas, and knocked a couple ornaments off the tree before it was taken down this past Thursday. And Mom said to make up for the tunnel, she ordered me a battery-operated ball for me to chase. I cannot wait for that to be delivered! Yes, I’m a spoiled little prince!

I am not as untrainable as Snickers was. I have heard she didn’t listen to anybody! I will listen to Grandpa as he speaks with authority. Mom and Grandma are push-overs. They have tried scaring me off the table with coins in a soda can, but I was only fooled by that the first day. They try yelling “get down!” in a loud authoritative voice like Grandpa, but they laugh because they physically cannot be as loud as Grandpa. When Grandpa walks into the room, I usually jump off the counter or table I was exploring before he even has to say a word. When Grandpa isn’t home, the only thing that works during their mealtime is diversion. Grandma bought me these springs that are really fun to chase, but I am always losing them under the stove or behind the television. But she will put her plate of food in a cupboard that I cannot reach and go to the trouble of pulling the stove out to retrieve springs for me! Usually with these newly found toys to occupy me, they can finish their meal in peace. If it is not mealtime and there is nothing of importance on the tables and counters, Mom lets me do what I want.

Well, I am usually asleep at this time, so I think I’m going to curl up either on my cat tree, or in one of the recliners and go back to sleep. But I look forward to writing again in the future, and I look forward to many happy years of love and mischief with this family.

Why Should Men on Earth be Sad?

Hello readers! I know it has been a long time since I have written here, but I have been very busy between choir concerts and an online memoir class I took through the Creative Nonfiction Foundation. I cannot wait to tell you more about that! But first, I feel inspired to share some thoughts that have been on my mind regarding Christmas this year. This year was the second Christmas adhering to a counter-cultural way of eating, prioritizing health over tradition. So once again, I helped Mom bake Christmas cookies, but didn’t eat a single cookie myself, or even lick the chocolate from the bowl or spoons. But although I was successful in keeping this spiritual commitment, in some ways I found it harder than it was last year. Last Christmas, with a lot of weight I still needed to lose, and the humiliating doctor visit still fresh on my mind, Christmas cookies actually didn’t even interest me. But this year, having lost 40 pounds and been commended by my doctor, I had that devil on one shoulder sensation, whispering “you have lost so much weight, you could have one Christmas cookie.” I also had an inexplicable craving for coconut macaroons in particular, and came as close as putting Chocolate Coconut Chew Larabars in my Amazon cart to satisfy this craving. As I mentioned last year, Larabars aren’t terrible in and of themselves as most flavors have no added sugar and are made of dates, nuts and spices. But they are large and high in calories, and eating them every day contributed to my weight problem. I confess that the week of Thanksgiving, I had two Pumpkin Pie Larabars from a left-over box that had been sitting on a shelf in my bedroom all year because I couldn’t resist the craving for pumpkin pie. But I caught myself after two days eating them and put the rest in the break room at work. I don’t know if they were eaten, or thrown away which they might have been if they had expired, but I was relieved to see that the box was gone when I returned for lunch, and didn’t care what became of them. I just needed them out of the house! But at least I successfully stayed away from the real pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, and I am proud to say that I got through Christmas without buying the Chocolate Coconut Chew Larabars. The angel on the other shoulder won! One factor that I think helped the angel win is a song my choir sang for Christmas this year.

Every year, my choir’s Christmas concert is beautiful. The choir director always does an excellent job of selecting sacred music that really highlights the true meaning of Christmas. But this year’s Christmas concert was especially beautiful as the director decided to change things up, and rather than having a traditional concert where we sing a song, the audience claps, repeat, this year’s concert was formatted more like a church service. The concert was called Lessons and Carols, and was modeled after a traditional old English service held on Christmas Eve. The service consisted of nine lessons, which were bible passages read between songs that spanned the whole bible from the passage about Adam and Eve and the Fall which created the need for a savior, to the birth of Jesus, to future prophecy when He will return. I came away from each of the two concert performances even more in the Christmas spirit than usual, and in the car driving home, Mom and I agreed this was a refreshing return to the basics, and the true meaning of Christmas in a culture that has made Christmas too much about commercialism and excess and forgotten about Christ.

I loved all of the songs we sang, but my favorite was called Sussex Carol, not only because of its lively melody, but because of one particular line in the second verse which says, “Why should men on earth be sad, since our Redeemer made us glad?” (The video I linked to is not my choir.) Unfortunately, I did not actually get to sing this line as this verse was just for male voices, but outside choir rehearsal, I found myself singing this verse all the time. And as I was stirring together chocolate, butterscotch and peanuts for the nut clusters I wasn’t allowing myself to eat, it hit me that Christmas was never supposed to be about making or eating cookies, decorating a tree, buying presents, the eager anticipation of Santa’s arrival which I believed in as a child, or even the perfect meal with family gathered around the table. Christmas is about our Redeemer, so no matter how far from idyllic Christmas turns out from a worldly perspective, as long as you believe in our Redeemer whose birth, death and resurrection would pave the way to forgiveness and eternal life, there is no reason to be sad.

There is a saying that the only constant in life is change, and Christmas sure has changed a lot over the course of my life. Like most children, I whole-heartedly believed in Santa, and was so excited for Christmas morning that I couldn’t sleep the night before. The first Christmas after learning the truth, I was kind of sad, as some of the childhood magic of the holiday had been lost. When I became too old for toys and started receiving things like clothes or lotion on Christmas, I was kind of sad. How do you spend Christmas day when you don’t have a new toy to play with?

Eventually, a new tradition of playing board games took shape, but last year, my siblings wanted to play Settlers of Catan most of the day, a game that is inaccessible for me. It wasn’t until after supper that we played a game of Trivial Pursuit that I could really participate, and this made me feel a little out of sorts, especially since it was the first year I wasn’t allowing myself to eat Christmas cookies. What do you do on Christmas when you cannot participate in the family board game, or eat cookies? So I spent most of last Christmas in my room writing, afraid that if I was in the living room but not actually engaged in a game, I would slip up and start mindlessly eating cookies.

This year, my sister who lives in New York and my brother who lives in Oregon could not come home for Christmas, and my brother who lives about an hour and a half away could not come until late in the evening. Dad has no interest in board games and will only play when we guilt him into it. Mom and I often play Scrabble together on winter days even when it is not an official holiday, but on Christmas this year, she spent much of the day doing laundry and preparing for our visit to Indiana relatives Friday, so this year, there were no board games on Christmas. But this Christmas, the weather was unusually warm, feeling more like Easter than Christmas, so Dad and I took a walk, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and we met several neighbors doing the same thing. When I came home from our walk, Mom had put a new set of Christmas CDs in our living room stereo, and the CD that was playing was David Phelps’ One Wintry Night, an album someone gave us but we had never really listened to. It was fantastic! I especially loved one song, a rock-‘n-roll take on the Hallelujah Chorus which was stuck in my head and filled me with joy the rest of the day. For lunch, Grandma came over and my parents cooked fish on the grill, with baked potatoes on the side for them, and riced cauliflower for me. We had a wonderful dinner with my brother when he arrived, and exchanged gifts with him the following day when I got home from work. So Christmas was a little non-traditional this year, but by no means sad.

But I recognize that since the only constant in life is change, Christmas traditions will inevitably continue changing over the course of my life too. I hate to think about it, but there will come a time when my parents will naturally need to downsize to an apartment in an assisted living community or a nursing home decorated with an artificial Christmas tree instead of the beautiful real trees my parents are still able to cut down every year, and where it will be the responsibility of my siblings and me to bring dinner to a community room, or else eat in the cafeteria. And I really hate to think of this, but most likely, there will come a time when my parents will pass on and it will be up to my siblings and me to make new Christmas traditions. My sister is already married and often spends Christmas with her husband’s side of the family, and if my brothers get married, they may do the same with the families of their spouses. No one knows what the future holds, so I may get married someday too, but I kind of doubt it, since I may be medically unable to have children, and I know of people who have never married and the freedom and independence they enjoy sounds appealing to me. So if I don’t get married, I may be alone on Christmas. But I hope if this happens, I won’t turn inward and get depressed, but look up and remember, “Why should men on earth be sad, since our Redeemer made us glad?” Spending time with family is wonderful and important, as Christians show their love for God by loving one another, which includes family. But if my family is ever unable to be with me on Christmas, I hope I will remember that family alone is not what Christmas is about anyway.

On a similar note, ever since experiencing Christmas from an adult perspective, something has always bothered me about how our culture handles this holiday. Of course, the commercialism and absence of Christ from Christmas is a big part of the problem, but this year, it occurred to me that another factor may be at play, as even people with a solid faith in Christ still fall into the trap of high hopes and expectations for Christmas. I know of people who have come to terms with the loss of a loved one every other day of the year, but on Christmas, become depressed over the absence of this person. I know of Christians who know in their hearts Christmas is not about gifts and decorations, yet still fall into the stress trap our culture has created at Christmas, running around in a frenzy the days leading up to Christmas. One year I saw a news story the day after Christmas about Amazon gifts that arrived late, and customers interviewed said Christmas was “ruined” because their packages didn’t arrive on time, and they had to return home and didn’t get to see a loved one open their gift. And full disclosure, when I was in sixth grade, Mom found me in my room crying because I didn’t get an American Girl doll I really wanted on Christmas morning. (It turned out Grandma really wanted to get me that doll, and I received it when she arrived from Indiana later that afternoon.) But it also struck me this year how many Christmas songs express a longing for peace on earth, goodwill to men, love and joy that never ends. Does that sound familiar to anyone familiar with my blog? Can you sense where I am going? Behind all of the excesses of Christmas is a longing for the restoration. At Christmas time, our whole culture does what I did Memorial Day 2018, or in New York City Thanksgiving of 2017. We as a culture are longing for peace on earth, more fulfilling lives, relief from stress and anxiety, reunion with lost loved ones, a reason for hope and joy. People who do not subscribe to a Christian worldview don’t know how to satisfy this deep longing, and even Christians get caught up in worldly traps and forget what we know. We as a culture have placed our ultimate hope in Christmas, seeking to at least temporarily satisfy the ache in our hearts with cookies, beautiful decorations, getting and receiving the perfect gifts, idyllic gatherings with family, and when Christmas doesn’t turn out the way we hoped or expected, we are devastated. But the reality is, for now, we live in a broken world, even on Christmas, and only the restoration will satisfy this ache in our hearts.

I wish I could have composed these thoughts in time to help readers who may have needed this message this past Christmas, but time flies, and before we know it, we will be celebrating Christmas 2020. So my hope is that when Christmas comes around again, we can all, myself included, remember the true reason for celebrating Christmas–why should men on earth be sad, since our redeemer made us glad?–and if circumstances lead to a Christmas that is not what we hoped or expected, that we remember we were never supposed to put our ultimate hope in earthly traditions, take things in stride and focus on the restoration. As Elvis so beautifully sings on his Christmas album, “if every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world it would be.” Well, I believe someday, every day will be just like Christmas, not in the sense that every day we will gather around a tree and exchange gifts, or be able to eat cookies to excess and not gain weight, but in the sense of the true spirit we long for at Christmas of peace, love, fulfillment, joy. That is really what our culture longs for.

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.