Soul Garden

Last Thursday I went to see my Spiritual Director. After a few moments of silence, which I requested but during which I discovered my brain was very very noisy, he asked me, as he always does, “What do you want to talk about today?”

So, as frequently happens when I think I want to blog, I suddenly thought of so many things to “talk about today” that I couldn’t say anything. So I looked out the window instead, and noticed it was raining. I thought about how good it was that it was raining because, in spite of record-breaking snows last winter, it’s been a pretty dry summer and the garden needs the rain. Then I thought about the garden.

Then I said, “So, we have this garden. Paul’s been working on it for months–really hard–and it is going crazy. I mean, it is super-fruitful. There were a couple things that didn’t come out so well–the corn and the pole beans–but everything grew–and there is a ton of it all. The heirloom tomatoes are huge, and the zucchinis are still growing, we had a bunch of cucumbers, and there are a million spaghetti squashes coming in. But,” I went on, “it’s a mess. Everything has been growing so well and so madly that all the plants are all tangled up together. You can’t tell where one plant ends or another begins. Sometimes it looks like the tomatoes are bearing peppers, and the morning glories are growing tomatoes, and  … You can’t even walk around in there without hacking down some vines to get through and pick stuff.

My Spiritual Director sat there waiting for me to come to the point, but he probably already knew what it was, because he’s pretty good at being a spiritual director.

“I guess,” I said, “I feel like the garden is a picture of my life right now. This has been a really rough year, but the whole time Jesus has felt very present, and like He’s doing a lot of work on me–and I think stuff is happening. Like, maybe there’s some ultimately useless stuff going on, like the beans and the corn, but also lots and lots of produce. I’m just not totally sure how to get in there and figure out what’s all in there, because it’s so productive and so crazy, everything’s all tangled up.”

The more we talked about it, the more apt we felt this analogy was–and the more I still do. But since I can’t take pictures of my soul, you can look at the garden (and the produce) of a few weeks ago, instead.

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If You Could Do Anything …

I guess it’s probably not surprising, when someone is in vocational transition, for people to ask them, “If you could do anything for work, what would you do?”

Anyway, within the last five days or so, it seems like a lot of people have been asking me some version of that:

“What would your ideal ministry look like?”

“What do you really love to do?”

“In the next five years, what do you wish you could be doing?”

Yesterday I was driving to visit my nonagenarian grandmother and, as I often do on long car-rides if I don’t nearly fall asleep instead, I had an epiphany. The epiphany was,

“I want to teach a class on Roman Catholic literature!”

That's a Jenn Story

Cue angelic epiphany music here.
(Also, don’t judge my drawing. You’ll note that my epiphany was NOT about wanting to teach art. Or science.)

Maybe just 20th century Roman Catholic literature, although the original trigger for the idea was pondering The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, which I just read as part of my spiritual direction training. The Roman Catholic literature idea is a blogpost in its own right (but may I just say with breathless excitement #FlanneryOConnorWalkerPercyGrahamGreeneJRRTolkein? I mean, awesome, right??).

That’s not normally how I answer people when they ask those questions, though. Normally I say something like, “Well, I really love listening to people’s stories, and coaching them on their spiritual journeys, and teaching–especially teaching stuff that I’m excited about learning.” Today I told someone, “CS Lewis said to write the kind of book you want to read, and I’ve tried but I can’t do that” [mostly because the kind of book I want to read is Roman Catholic literature, and I’m not Roman Catholic; or CS Lewis books, which have already been written by CS Lewis–and when I try to write in the genre of Narnia or the Cosmic Trilogy I fail miserably] “but I think I could probably teach the kind of class I would want to take.” That was a little bit of an epiphany, too.

One time, in answer to those questions, I spent a couple of days writing a proposal for the Gradually-Less-Nebulous-Nonprofit. Maybe at some point (tomorrow?) I will post some of it here. It involves listening to people’s stories, and coaching, and teaching, and some public speaking/seminar-type deals, and retreats. This is what I want to do, but it’s sort of scary, because then I think,

“There are other people who do this already, who are really good at it, and who do I think I am, and do I even begin to think I’ve got something else or more to offer than they’re already offering?”

And, “If it’s a nonprofit, why on earth would anyone donate to it, when there are other, already established, reputable nonprofits?” (Not to mention, the idea of responsibly setting a salary for myself is scary.)

And, “If I decide that really, it should be for-profit, no one could donate even if they wanted to, and then how would I keep costs down for potential clients/students, and either way, what if no one wants to take the courses I hope to teach?”

And, “How does one go about choosing a board of directors? And what are they supposed to do, anyway?”

And, “What the heck–I don’t know how to do this stuff. Maybe I’ll go back to professional nannying.” I mean, it’s an honourable profession–and I am still training to be a chaplain … even though I won’t have certification for at least two more years …

Guys. This is terrifying.

Is this (and, say, lack of funds) why so few of us actually do what we would do if we could do anything?

What would you do if you could do anything? And are you doing it?

Pathological Cling

You’ve met Oscar before. He’s that cute little guy sitting there with me in my current Gravatar.

That's a Jenn Story

Here–just in case I change it again at some point and you read this long after I’ve written it.

He’s a sweet, gentle, quiet boy, and I guess he didn’t have the greatest of beginnings, because when I got him as a rescue six years ago, he had some pretty severe anxiety issues. He hasn’t ever really lost them, but being loved by people and socialised by Shemp helped a lot to make him internally relaxed and a little more “opened up.” Quirky for sure, but he’s my dog, so that’s probably a foregone conclusion, and basically he’s a good dog.

On the other hand, although there are people he likes, and other dogs he’s been friends with, in another sense he’s only ever deeply bonded with me and Shemp. We were pretty worried about how he was going to adjust (or not) to Shemp’s passing, but although he was clearly quite depressed for a while afterwards, with a few minor episodes he really behaved very well. Thing is, he doesn’t do well with changes in routine to begin with, and his canine support who enabled him to navigate them is no longer around.

Normally, Oscar doesn't snuggle, but you can see how much he loves Shemp by how relaxed he is here.

Normally, Oscar doesn’t snuggle, but you can see how much he loves Shemp by how relaxed he is here.

When I stopped bringing him to work at my former church, Shemp was still around and he adjusted just fine. And by the time Shemp was gone, I had transitioned to my internship and he was used to me leaving at roughly the same time every morning and coming home at the same time every evening. Then we all (including Oscar) went on vacation, and then I worked as a short-term nanny to the small son of one of my Starbucks friends, on a similar schedule.

But last weekend, I went away for four days, for my first Spiritual Direction training retreat. Although he was clearly happy to see me when I returned, Oscar seemed his normal self, but the problem is, this week has been a continuation of “different.” My Paul’s workload has ballooned, and I am suddenly fully unemployed, waiting for my next internship to begin, and trying to find part-time work for income at the same time. (Or working on getting ready to launch my Nonprofit–which is legitimately in process.) This means that I’m home at weird hours, and because Paul is working late a lot, our usual evening routine (frequently involving a ride on the boat) hasn’t been happening either.

All of a sudden yesterday it was as if Oscar had mental break, and he has been incapable of letting me out of his sight. He follows me to the bathroom and lies down outside it against the door. He follows me up the stairs, where he isn’t allowed. He leans against my legs when I’m doing my hair or make-up in the morning. (Today I pointed the running hairdryer at him to see what he would do and he just sat there. He hates loud noises.) He gloms onto my hip when I’m sitting on the couch. It’s weird, and annoying, and a little concerning, because although it’s clear a metaphorical (metaphysical?) switch flipped inside him, I’m not sure how to flip it back.

Usually there's not even this much separation

This week, usually there’s not even this much separation between us.

Paul made the valid point that Shemp went away and never came back, and I just went away for a significant stretch, and so Oscar’s probably fearful that all his pack are deserting him. Honestly, I was just crying about Shemp again the other day myself, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Oscar’s still sustaining some significant grief himself. Our dramatic change in household routine has, I suspect, cemented that idea of potential loss of or abandonment by me in his little nervous doggie skull. So I’m giving him lots of hugs while still maintaining the house rules with him, but so far he does not seem convinced that all is well, and I’m not sure how to help him besides, frankly, to pray for him. Do you have any ideas?

Love, Oscar

Help, please. Love, Oscar

The Presence of Greatness

I spent eleven weeks this summer in the hospital.

But I wasn’t a patient. At the end of May, after saying farewell to the church where I’d worked for seven years, and after visiting The BroFam for a week, I embarked on the first of four internships toward hospital chaplaincy certification. (It’s called CPE–Clinical Pastoral Education–and now you can say you just learned something this summer, too!) I started it because it seemed pretty closely related to my interest in spiritual direction (it still seems like it), and because I figured it might help me gauge what’s next, vocation-wise. I think it might have, because I’m now enrolled in the next unit of CPE, to start at the end of this month.

I can’t tell you all about my “summer vacation” (it wasn’t a vacation, by the way), because it was mostly other people’s stories, but here’s what I can tell you about the other people’s stories:

They’re amazing.

It’s easy to get jaded about people. For example, when you work at Starbucks and half the customers act entitled and arrogant and it’s just coffee, people. But if you have a chance to sit with a person who is going through a time of great pain, or even a time of great joy (I got to see a lot of new babies this summer), and really listen to their story–well, it’s hard not to be somewhat in awe.

It is, as someone hypothesized to me this afternoon, pretty humbling when a complete stranger bares their soul to you–or even just shares a little bit about themselves. My main takeaway from my summer has been that I just spent nearly three months sitting in the presence of greatness–a whole lot of people created in the image of God, with all their life experiences, all their pain and glory. I guess giving people the opportunity to tell their stories (“I have a story?” many of them said, and “Everyone has a story. I’d be honoured to hear yours,” I said) is providing a service for others. But I’m not sure whether I didn’t benefit the more. There’s no way I’m remotely like Mother Teresa, but I think I caught a glimpse of what people like her talk about, meeting Jesus in everyone.

I’m still not really sure where, specifically, I’m going vocationally, but I’m looking forward to the next internship.

doctor-trolley-hospital-operation-theatre-555088_1280-6

What’s in It for Me?

The weirdest thing about this whole church shopping phase we’re in is that I have consciously to ask what I can get out of it. I never wanted to be a “what’s in it for me?” person.

Yes, yes, I’m familiar with the idea that some people like to espouse which says that even altruistic acts are never entirely altruistic because you always get something out of it. And I guess if you want to be that guy and say that somehow doing something for love of someone else (or Someone Else) is still “getting something out of it,” you can be that guy. Either way, I know myself well enough to be able to admit that even if a truly altruistic act is possible, and even though I don’t think the question a person asks when they’re looking for a church should be “What’s in it for me?” it’s entirely plausible that my current preference for small mainline orthodox churches indicates that I get something out of that type of worship and community–although I still have to figure out what that is. And I’m also not sure that that type of church is where we’ll end up at the end of all this. We might. We might not. We’re not making our decision based on that preference, is the thing–although it’s still a factor, as will be seen.

The real problem is this very conscious need I have for a church to officially endorse me. I don’t like having to base our decision so largely on something that sounds so self-centered and even mercenary. But that’s what it’s looking like right now.

As you will know, if you’ve been paying attention over the vast swathes of time elapsing between each post here this year, during the summer I did a unit of CPE. It was great. I am hoping to be able to blog about that for a while after this post, but anyway, it seems like a good vocational fit (which might actually, in three or four years (!) lead to a small income, unlike spiritual direction which is an even better fit and even less financially viable). The thing about chaplaincy certification is that it’s pretty “hoop-y.” There are seminary credit hoops, and equivalency hoops (if you don’t have the sufficient amount of seminary credit, which apparently a Master’s in Theological Studies doesn’t provide), and church membership and endorsement hoops.

Right this second? This might be my circus and these might be my monkeys ...

Right this second? This might be my circus and these might be my monkeys … Or I might be.

This is awkward for someone who has always been active in church and highly endorse-able and now, suddenly when she needs it, doesn’t currently belong to a church that can endorse her. This is further complicated by the fact that even though it appears that the accrediting body for chaplains will accept any form endorsement from a recognised church entity, each church itself has different requirements for endorsement.

Most of the small mainline churches that my Paul and I like so much belong to denominations with even hoop-ier requirements for endorsement than chaplaincy accreditation has, including, say, extra (and expensive) higher education through one of their denomination’s own seminaries (as opposed to that unaffiliated one I graduated from). And I mean, I get that if I’m going to join a denomination of which I’ve never been a part, and one of whose churches I just attended one or two times, I should get some solid info about where they came from and where they think they’re going and whether or not we’re a good fit for each other. But some of these processes cost around $10,000–and I just finished seminary. Also, some of the denominations and I are probably not a good fit for each other. Just that one little church and I would be. And so I wish that the one little church itself could get to know me, and I them, and they could endorse me by themselves.

On the other hand, there are independent (or loosely affiliated) churches which might well endorse me without any of that stuff if I spent some time investing in their community (also a reasonable expectation–I certainly don’t expect anyone to endorse someone they have no actual connection with or benefit from), but–well, here’s where our preference comes in after all. These churches are excellent, and faithful, and love God and people, but they are big. (Well, I mean, for New England, where there might be like 3 megachurches in the whole region and those are probably tiny compared to anywhere else.) They have contemporary worship. Which is fine, and I used to like that and I’ve even played the flute on “worship teams” in such settings, and if we went to one of these churches, I’d probably offer to do so again, but if we’re talking about preferences, I’m in the hymn camp. They have lots of ministries and lots of great people but–well, they don’t need us to help them with any of those things because if we don’t, they have a couple hundred other people who might or could or should.

The little churches my Paul and I would like to go to are lucky if they have a hundred people. They are located near halfway houses and they reach out to the people there, and contribute to food banks and homeless communities. And it’s not that these bigger churches don’t, but the littler churches are right in those neighbourhoods, and need the person-power. And both types of churches may be expressing deep and challenging faith in God, but–maybe as a function of my church-planting upbringing–I just get motivated by the small-church, all-band-together, close-knit, down-home kind of faith expression.

In the end, though, we’re open to going to either kind–as long as there’s some hope of endorsement for me eventually, but even more as long as we’re certain we’re where God wants us to be for this time. It’s tough, not to be certain, and it makes the hoops and the mercenariness of the process feel even more stressful and hoopy and mercenary. But we’re both praying and asking God to help us discern where He wants us to invest. We’re in this for Him in the end, after all. And in the end I hope we’ll discover that what was in it for us was actually Him.

Going Shopping

It is a weird thing for this chick to be church shopping.

Kindly return your shopping carts to their assigned location. (photo credit Peter Griffin)

Kindly return your shopping carts to their assigned location.
(photo credit Peter Griffin)

Look, I was practically born in church, okay? My parents “planted” churches when I was little, and then they settled in one for 25 years, and I moved around some on my own, but half the time I was assigned to a church (or churches) to work there. Really, the only two other times I’ve had to get serious about finding a church on my own was when I moved to college (it took a year–I thought I’d found one but then switched sophomore year and stayed with that one for the rest of undergrad) and the first time I went to seminary.

I’ve attended and participated in churches across all kinds of denominations, and with all types of worship “styles” and liturgy and theological distinctives, and the reason I can do this is because I believe the Church is the Bride of Christ, and so if a church is shining the light of Jesus at all–even a little bit–and I feel called to be a part of that community, I will pretty much just dig in and be a part of that community. I think the most important part of what Church is and should be is a community that’s centered around Jesus, and so the type of music that’s played, or the public speaking prowess of the pastor, or the social status of the parishioners, or the dress code, or the relative absence or presence of financial resources are a lot less important than whether or not Jesus is there by His Holy Spirit, and whether that Spirit is creating community there.

I also think worshiping and fellowshipping in a place that’s relatively local to where I live is important. I believe that God can work through giant churches that draw from outside their local communities (and I’ve even been part of a few, though only for a very short time each) but–dare I be so bold? and who am I to say?–I’m not really sure that’s what Church is, or is supposed to be. I think Church (community in Jesus through the Spirit) can happen in those places–I’ve experienced it. But I guess I just don’t think Church is about numbers or rock music or perfectly scripted concerts services (what some euphemise, I hear, as “excellence”) or “what I can get out of it” but more about where I’m called and where I can contribute and be in community with others who are journeying with and toward Christ. So when I have cause to become a part of a new church, it’s usually either because I’ve moved or I’ve been hired (or both), and I work on settling in and trying to worship and commune with the people who have been called to that community, too. That’s not to say I do that perfectly at first or ever, but it’s my attempted approach to such things.

This summer, my Paul and I have been visiting a variety of churches within our basic local radius (last week’s was a stretch, geographically, so if we go again it will likely only ever be as visitors, but we did “get a lot out of it,” truly), trying to discern where God wants us to go next, and it’s just weird to me, because I haven’t ever had to wonder about it this much. It’s also different because this is the first time I’ve been trying to make these decisions with someone. I’m grateful that for the most part my Paul and I have had similar responses to the churches we’ve visited. Incidentally, I think all of our responses have been largely positive.

It seems like, while we’re open to larger Evangelical churches which are more similar to what I grew up with and where Paul’s been worshiping the last few years, at the moment we both prefer smaller mainline churches with fairly traditional services, but where the orthodox Christian gospel (God, the Three-in-One, made humans in His image. Humans messed up the relationship. Jesus, who is God, became human to show us what a human-in-relationship-to-God is supposed to look like, then died to take the penalty for our really really serious mess-up, and then broke the power of death by coming back to life a few days later, so that we can live in His life by His Spirit) is communicated in word and service. (Note to Evangelical skeptics: We have found at least three such congregations this summer, although one was on our Back-of-Beyond vacation a few weeks ago and we won’t be commuting up there.)

It’s kind of interesting, visiting all these places, finding out what our current church preferences are (and that they’re similar) and letting the experience continue to inform my ideas about Church, since I’ve been thinking about it so much this summer.

But it’s still weird, guys. It’s still weird.

What Might Make Jesus Want to Punch Someone in the Face

This one time my Paul said, “I hate when people pick on you. It makes me want to punch them in the face.” This was, of course, an expression, and if you tell me you’ve never heard it–or even used it–before, without actually intending to punch anybody in the face, it will make me want to punch you in the face.

Just kidding. But see? I say it, too. I am happy to report, however, that even though this expression has passed both our lips at least once, I have never known either my husband or me to punch anybody in the face. However, I would be lying if I said I weren’t also happy that he has this sort of sentiment. I guess I’m not enough of a feminist to mind when husbands stand up for their wives. I guess I might as well go all out and admit that sometimes I think I can get a little crazy, and other women can also get a little crazy. I think men have their own version of crazy, but right now I’m talking about woman-crazy, and please. Let’s not pretend both of these things don’t exist.

What I want to say about woman-crazy is … actually not about woman-crazy. What I want to say is that I really appreciate it when the husbands of women who might be acting a little crazy at some point, stand up for them anyway. I mean, I appreciate it when Paul demonstrates that he is devoted to me even if I am acting irrational. I also mean that even if I am in a scenario where I am on the wrong end of some other woman’s crazy, when that woman’s husband stands up for her, I have a ton of respect–for him, and almost, by association, for her. I may still secretly never want to interact with that woman again, but I literally rejoice inside when I see her husband standing up for her. This is because he’s her husband, and frankly, that’s his job.

There’s this verse in the Bible that says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5.25). I have constructed something of a theology of marriage around the idea that marriage is meant to be a human mirror of the relationship of Jesus to His Bride, the Church, but right now I just want to talk about Jesus and His Bride, the Church. I guess the verse doesn’t say, “as Christ loved the church and punched her detractors in the face,” but I still think the concepts are related. There’s a little bit of self-sacrifice that must have to go on every time I act ridiculous and Paul stands up for me anyway. And so I have to think there’s a little bit of anger and personal affront that Jesus must feel when people pick on His Bride.

“One of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempers uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.” (Screwtape) ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

“One of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempers uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.” (Screwtape)
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Over a month ago, I wrote a blogpost about people who still hold to their tenets of faith but are Done with church. I indicated that I fit the average demographic for that group, and that I even understand where they are coming from. Because I did this (and because I originally said, “I’m not planning to leave the traditional church (yet)”–which I thought made obvious that I don’t plan to leave the actual CHURCH because I specified traditional, until it occurred to me that there could be all kinds of interpretations of traditional) there were some people who got a little nervous, supposing that I was obliquely saying I was planning to become a “Done,” too. Well, it turns out that if I hope to become a fully certified hospital chaplain at some point, I have to be an active and endorsed member of a church, but even if that weren’t the case, I wasn’t saying I was planning on becoming a Done. I’m not planning on becoming a Done. I’m interested in the dynamics of change the Church Universal is in right now, and I have opinions about it, and I’m even presumptuous enough to wish to have a say in some restructuring, I guess, but I still am committed to the concept of Church, and to the process of belonging to a local iteration of Church, and the reason–I mean The Reason–is that I believe that even though human beings in general, and maybe American culture in particular–have skewed what the Church was meant to be and what it currently is, the Church is still Jesus Christ’s Bride. And I, whether I like it or not, am still a part of her.

I love Jesus. His Bride is probably the craziest woman I’ve ever met and sometimes I have trouble loving her for His sake. But His sake is why I love her. He loved her enough, not to punch her detractors in the face, but to give Himself up for her–I meandie for her. My individualistic American Christianity says Jesus Christ died for me, and I guess I think that’s true, but I don’t think it’s true exclusive of the fact that He died for Her. I think that, though it is Jesus’ sacrifice and love that saves me apart from anything I can do myself, all the same, my belonging to and participation in His Bride is my contribution to that salvation process. I couldn’t belong to the Church if Jesus hadn’t saved me from myself, but I am not sure to what extent I can be sure I’ve been saved from myself if I’m not willing to be part of the Church, no matter how psychotic she may sometimes be.

So I guess that’s why, even though my Paul and I are currently searching for a church home for the first time in a long time, I’m committed to the process, and also interested in working with people who think they are Done with the Church. Because I think she’s important. And sometimes I imagine that Jesus, who I guess is still waiting for His Bride to be readied for their wedding, thinks, or even says to her, “I hate it when people pick on you. Sometimes it makes me want to punch them in the face.”

It’s an expression.

That's a Jenn Story

Gallarus Oratory, Dingle, Ireland

I Meant to Write

I wrote that last disclaimer post when I did, because I thought I was ready to write the post that I actually wanted to write, but even though I graduated with a Master’s degree in May, it turns out I still have homework assignments, and plus the BroFam showed up, and I’m sorry, my friends, but they take precedence. Also, I turned another year older. Also, sometimes when I mention other people besides myself in a blogpost, I feel the need to run the entire post by them before I post it, just to make sure they’re okay with their representation.

I find myself mildly entertained by the idea of turning this entire blog into a series of disclaimers about why I’m not really blogging, but I think that would get old pretty quickly–not only for you, but for me. But in the meantime, while we’re waiting for the okay on a post I have actually finally written, there’s this.

It's tough to blog with all these minions. (Also, this illustration is an attempt to really get on the nerves of a specific blogging friend I know.)

It’s tough to blog with all these minions.
(Also, this illustration is an attempt to really get on the nerves of a specific blogging friend I know.)

This Happens Every Time

It happens every time life gets really really Interesting, I mean. (I also might mean Interesting-Like-A-Trainwreck-Is-Interesting.)

When life gets Interesting, even if I already had some things I wanted to post about here, I get overwhelmed by trying to express what I mean, and so I just don’t. And then, having already Not, and life getting more and more Interesting, I find more and more things to write about and get overwhelmed about and I keep not writing about them. Then I stop venturing over to WordPress at all because I feel somehow like I’m letting the Internet down, which is probably really self-aggrandizing … Then I realise I’m ready to blog again and I have no idea how to get started back up.

This is obviously not the best way, but I felt the need to disclaim (make excuses?), and I don’t want the disclaimer to take over the posts I actually want to write, so–you get a whole (but fortunately very short) post of disclaimer. Yay!

I’m not even totally sure what I’m disclaiming, really, but here it is anyway. Hope you’re still around. I’d love to hang out here with you again.

That's a Jenn Story

Shemp the Beloved Stooge

They say death comes in threes, and my Paul and I have each lost an elderly family member in recent days, but neither of us would have predicted the third death would be our beloved dog, Shemp. His death managed to be somehow both sudden and prolonged, unexpected and agonizing, and I hope neither of us ever have to live through a week like last week again. We–and Oscar and Rosie–are trying to find a new normal. It’s only been a few days but still, normal is not coming easily. Sleep has been scarce, tears have been plentiful. Rather than dwell on that, however, I’d like to share the post my Paul wrote about the amazing dog who helped welcome Oscar and me into the Cottage when my Paul and I first met, and who barreled into our hearts forever. IMG_3554

Yesterday we said goodbye to our best friend and favorite stooge. Shemp was an exceptional dog, and a friend to all.

On the hiking trail Shemp was SuperDog from planet Krypton, with a red cape and an S on his chest, blasting through trees and brush, jumping stone walls, diving down hills, then wallowing in every mud puddle to cool down. He’d run back every so often to see what was taking us so long, or he’d stop at the forks in the trail and wait for us to catch up. Once he saw our direction he’d bolt off again, with a look over his shoulder that said “HA! I KNEW YOU WERE GOING THIS WAY!!”

Shemp was Eddie Haskell with a healthy dose of Beetlejuice, and no one got away without him sticking his nose in an inappropriate place. He was a rescue, and I traveled to get him. It was a long ride, and when we got home I rushed to the bathroom. I must not have shut the door, because as I was standing at the toilet answering nature’s call, I heard the sound of water pouring in stereo. I turned to see Shemp squatting behind me, because “this must be the place to go, right?” When he’d visit his cousins Zonka the Rottweiler and Frankie the bulldog/spaniel mix, they’d play until they were tired. He’d then gather every one of their bones and chew toys into a pile in the middle of the yard, and lie on them for a nap. Once on the trail I saw him up ahead rolling in something. Rolling was never good. I rushed up there to see him on his back, doing the Limbo inside the rib cage of a dead deer. I yelled at him to get out of there, and he came over with his head down and a sheepish look to tell me that I was looking lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver.

To Shemp everyone new, human, canine, or feline, was an old and dear friend that he just hadn’t met yet. He was the Mayor at the Independence Day parade, shaking hands and kissing babies. His attitude was “You have to love me, I’m ME!” Rosie the cat would let him lick the side of her head, and he was adored by his CockaPoo brother, Oscar. At the dog park he was Joe Cool, and he would gently greet all of the little dogs, then wade into the wrestling game with the big dogs and kick butt.

Shemp was Belushi in the Animal House scene where Bluto tries to cheer up Flounder after they wreck the Lincoln.
He didn’t just lean against you, he burrowed into you. His nicknames were “Hammer”, “Meat”, and Uncle John’s favorite, “Stinky Pete.” He was 80 lbs of muscle, a four legged bad breathed barrel chested beer keg who dreamed he was a lap dog. He single-mindedly pursued his ultimate goal of a never ending belly rub.

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” said Will Rogers, and Samuel Clemens reckoned that “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” Dogs are some of God’s finest creations, full of fun and mischief and unconditional love. It seems impossible to me that our dogs aren’t waiting for us in the next life. When the day comes and I open my eyes in that world, I expect to see Shemp, his tail furiously doing its trademarked helicopter wag, probably to the point where his ass is lifting off the ground. Until then I will sorely and grievously miss him, and I will love him forever.