Friday, April 15, 2011

One Thousand Gifts in One

I've learned through my sweet dog Annie that sometimes God gives us multiple gifts all rolled into one. And that when God takes away that one gift, you lose so much more than just the one.

Mom had always said that dogs smelled, and so we never had a dog while I was growing up. When I bought my house in 2003, high on the priority list was a house with a fenced-in yard so that I could get a dog. I eased my way in at first, renting my upstairs to a gal who had a dog.

When they moved out in February 2004, I was officially ready to adopt my first-ever dog. I completed the adoption paperwork for Rescue Goldens of DFW and waited. I kept seeing profiles of great dogs online and called to check on their statuses. The behaviorist who matches Goldens with future owners told me, "You don't want the dogs we have right now; they're too hyper." Finally, the week of March 16, 2004, I received notice that I had been matched with five-year-old Annie, who had been dropped off by a family who gave her up because her nails scratched their hardwood floors. The following Saturday on March 21, a friend drove me to Carrollton to meet my forever dog, and it was not only worth the wait but love at first sight! I never imagined getting to have such a pretty dog.

Upon arriving at my house, Annie scoped it out, peed upstairs, and started carrying around the toys I had bought for her, so I figured that was a good sign that she would keep me. That first night, I had no idea what to do. I didn't own a crate. I just brought her in the bedroom, told her goodnight, and said, "I hope you know what you're supposed to do." She did. She curled up in a corner and let me sleep all night, every night thereafter (as long as it wasn't thundering).

It quickly became apparent that her feet didn't do well on my ceramic tile flooring. So my mom searched online and found some dog boots with grippers. We started out with a cheap pair to see if she'd actually keep them on, and after realizing that biting them only meant she bit her foot, she accepted them. She even recognized that she needed them and would bring them to me in the mornings to put them on so that she could walk off the bedroom carpet steadily onto the ceramic tile in the rest of the house. Her red boots were her trademark, and everyone recognized her because of them.

It was obvious from the start that we were two peas in a pod. We both fought drippy noses constantly and battled GI issues. We both loved being at home, just relaxing. And we were both a bit fearful of storms, and when the doorbell would ring unexpectedly, we'd glance at each other as if to say, "Are we brave enough to answer that?"

Early on, we also realized that we didn't know how to communicate with one another. She'd go stand at the door to go potty, but if I wasn't in the kitchen, I had no idea that's what she wanted. So, she would come over right beside me and lick me or look at me and lick the furniture. I'd ask if she wanted to go potty, and she always did. Though sometimes it was merely a ploy to go outside and let the wind blow through her hair.

Our limited communication besides the licking consisted of a few core words that every dog should know: walk, go (her favorite word), ride, boots, babies, sit, vote, and God. She recognized all of those, but I can't speak for her complete understanding of them.

There were so many times that I wished she could speak. She listened to so much from me and just took it in. But there was never a time when I wished for more communication from her than in the past twenty-four hours.

After a week that started with a ride to Glamour Paws for a bath and haircut and after fetching her baby numerous times on Wednesday night, I came home on Thursday evening to find her not acting like herself. She didn't bring her baby to greet me and went straight to her water bowl. She drained it 1.5 times. She wasn't interested in going potty, which she had never turned down. After coaxing her outside, she went potty and then her legs seemed to give out. She eventually walked back inside, laid down for a bit, and then went back outside and stood with the wind blowing through her hair for about 5 minutes. After resting for a while, she tried to get up, but her legs wouldn't work. She eventually collapsed and vomited. After finding a neighbor to put her in the car, I rushed her to the emergency clinic where her symptoms were a bit of a mystery. Blood work showed that her counts were bad (high white cell count, low platelet count, and others I don't remember). It appeared that there was an infection, an immune system disorder, kidney failure, and possibly internal bleeding.

A night on an iv, antibiotics, and steroids didn't improve the counts. When I went to see her this morning, she was completely lethargic and mostly nonresponsive, though she made eye contact with me. But right as I was about to make "the decision," she rallied and raised her head and wagged her tail every time I said "potty." Unfortunately, she couldn't stand and wouldn't potty when carried out, and she wouldn't eat. But due to her rally, I requested that the nightly regimen be continued in hopes of a more definitive answer.

Around 4:30, the blood work showed that she was only getting worse, with the potential of bleeding to death. That was the definitive, though unwanted, answer I needed to hear.

I held her sweet head in my hands and looked into her big brown eyes for over an hour and told her over and over what a sweet dog she was, how blessed I was to have had her in my life, and how much I was going to miss her. She took it in, never losing my gaze, and sighing several times in, what I interpreted as, agreement. I kissed the bridge of her nose and stroked her fur until the time came.

I hope I don't remember that last part, as peaceful as it was. I pray to only remember the incredible seven years that she served as my faithful companion and friend:

--How I tried to take in everything this past Christmas because I sensed that it might be the last one with her;
--How she responded with such intrigue when Mom blew her shofar and how she would hunt for it in the closet after Mom put it away;
--How she always went to sleep in the corner but then moved to the closet after I turned off the lights;

--How she loved to lie in my spot on the bed until it was time for me to go to bed and how thankful I was that she warmed that spot for me during the cold winters;

--How she loved to put her head on pillows and sleep on them;

--How much she loved sitting on the first couch I had and taking it over as hers;
--How much I enjoyed watching her watch TV and responding to the recorded sounds of doorbells and crying babies as if the sounds were real;
--How she bathed just like a cat and how much I loved to watch her wash her face with her paws;
--How she never begged at the table for food as she was content as long as she got to smell it;
--How she often chose to use the table as a tunnel and walk right under it between the chairs;
--How she would stand at attention near the refrigerator when it was open in hopes of receiving yogurt or canned dog food;
--How she always came to the kitchen when she heard the sound of a can being opened with the manual can opener;
--How she was shy as soon as I pulled out a camera;
--How she hated the sound of the batteries being changed in the smoke detectors and how I tried to change them when she was outside;
--How all of my friends always asked how she was doing;
--How much she loved her moose "baby" and how gently she treated all of her toys, which never wore out;
--How I missed her every time I boarded her and looked forward to coming back so I could pick her up;
--How well she rode in the car, making road trips of 4.5 hours and longer seem like a breeze;
--How she had the softest fur on her head and the cutest curly hair on her ears;
--How she ALWAYS came when I called her;
--How she always licked her left paw after eating peanut butter, as if to save some for later;
--How she enjoyed carrying part of the mail in the house;
--How she would come check on me when I was getting ready in the mornings;
--How she expected a walk every time she saw my tennis shoes;
--How she loved to wear bandanas that my mom made for her;
--How she hunted for geckos every time we got back from a walk because they seemed to hang out near the front door;
--How she pointed when she saw a squirrel or a rabbit;

--How she loved to hunt at the back door for squirrels, rabbits, and cats;

--How she only barked in her sleep;
--How she put on a rodeo show every time we went upstairs, showing agility and energy that didn't seem possible for her age;
--How she used her tail as a drum when I would sing;
--How she would let me brush her teeth;
--How tickled she would get when I brushed her;
--How she let me push the snooze button, over and over, sighing only occasionally to show her discontent;
--How we referred to the house as "Annie's house" because it was hers as she was the Alpha dog;
--How she would wear my glasses with pride;

--How she rescued her babies, the remote, and any shoes left out in the den to the bedroom every night;
--How our motto of "Annie hair is everywhere" helped break me of perfectionist tendencies in cleaning my home;
--How there were always kisses for Annie;
--How she danced with Uncle B;
--How she never met a repairman she didn't want to play with her;
--How she never could contain her enthusiasm (a/k/a jumping) when she greeted people at the door;
--How she played with her old boots as toys;
--How she would get out the football toy to play with on Saturdays during college football games;
--How the sound of keys jingling would make her come running with a concerned look on her face of "please don't leave";
--How she danced in place to show that she wanted to go for a ride;
--How she would raise her ears and hold her breath when she recognized a word;
--How she couldn't resist licking lotion on people's legs;
--How she taught me that sighing and stretching are good things;
--How she loved my mom and sister and how they loved her;
--How she always missed me and welcomed me home, even if I was gone just a minute;
--How consistent she was;
--How I could trust her around children and furniture because she wasn't a biter; and
--How she trained me to take care of her.

Pictures of her are proudly displayed on my mantle, my desks, and my phone, but more importantly, they are carved on my heart. She was a one-of-a-kind sweetheart, my brown-eyed girl, whom I dearly miss already. I'm so grateful God placed her in my life and let me love on her for seven years; I only wish that she could have stayed forever. Because Annie was so much more than a single grace gift, her loss is hard to bear. I think this is what Ann Voskamp calls the ugly beautiful.

Born: February 1, 1999
Adopted: March 21, 2004
Went to Heaven: April 15, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011


A few weeks back after enduring a busy season at work, I decided it was time for a little getaway for some R&R. Ideally, the introvert in me would like to hole up in a secluded bed and breakfast in a really small town (like Round Top) and read for about a week. But that didn't fit into my schedule. I opted instead for an overnight trip to Austin.

And decided to try out this new place.

After brunch and much people watching at Austin Java, I headed to Luxe Apothetique to get my "hair did" by the fabulous Martha Lynn Barnes. After a quick change, I had dinner at Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill with these sweet friends, whom I met in Austin fifteen years ago.

As much as I love the view of Austin in the daytime, I also love this:

After such a full day, it was time to take advantage of

and this

and to enjoy this

Beautiful accomodations!

The best part was the free full breakfast at the hotel's restaurant Trace. After that, I made my way around street closures due to a race and headed to worship at The Austin Stone. I grabbed brunch at Santa Rita with another sweet friend (we failed to snap a picture), and then I hit the road back to pick up this sweet gal from her retreat:

After this trip, I've learned that one of my love languages is retreating to a nice hotel. Gary Chapman might need to add that to the five that he came up with.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Door Holding

If someone asks me years from now what I did April 1-3, 2011, I may not remember those dates because time seemed to stand still then. But if someone asks me years from now if I was at Passion 2011, I will respond with "absolutely!"

I've never attended a Passion Conference as an attendee. But after listening online to the Passion 2011 Conference held in Atlanta in January, I knew I wanted to be part of it--as a volunteer since I've "aged out" as an attendee--when it came to Cowtown. The messages preached by Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, and Louie Giglio back in January were so relevant and applicable that I wanted to hear more.

So I signed up online to volunteer, not knowing in what capacity I would serve. I just wanted to be a part of this ministry that is changing college students' lives and empowering them to reach others for Christ on their campuses. I figured that I would be placed on the prayer team or the registration team, but I received an email that I would be serving on the Touch Team.

Until I reported on April 1, I had no idea what that really meant. That morning, Shelley Giglio read Psalm 84:10, "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." She explained that all volunteers at Passion are called "Door Holders" because we have seen God's glory and want to open the door to let others see His glory as well.

As we broke into our specific teams to find out our assignments, I learned that I would be working the arena and would be able to hear all of the music and the messages; this was an amazing gift because they had prayed over us the night before for a humble spirit, knowing that many who served would not get to hear even a minute of what goes on during the conference.

Once in the arena, I requested to work at one of the portal entrances where they needed someone who was "friendly but enforcing" to keep people out of the area due to some sort of restrictions. I asked whether I was allowed to let those with "all access" passes into that area and was told that was okay but that I probably wouldn't have to worry about that unless a production crew member needed in. Several of the volunteers pretended to come into the area to test my ability to be "friendly but enforcing," and I passed with flying colors.

Hours later when the conference actually started, my assignment turned out to be a little different. Apparently, our team lead was not given the memo on exactly who would be sitting in sections 101-02 and 201-02. I ended up opening the door hundreds of times for the three days to let in all of the speakers and all of the artists and all of their guests. My co-volunteer decided that he would take the opportunity to touch Francis Chan on the shoulder as he walked by since we were on the Touch Team after all, but I restrained. I didn't know whether I should act like I knew who they were or how to acknowledge them, so I simply smiled widely and opened the door.

Throughout the time I served, I was able to peek in only a few times. Though I could hear everything clearly, from hours of heartfelt worship led by Chris Tomlin, Christy Nockels, Kristian Stanfill, Charlie Hall, and the David Crowder Band to Chan's tearful message to live a life worthy of the Gospel to John Piper's gripping message on how God makes much of us to Louie Giglio's message on carrying the Name, I couldn't see the stage, even though I was at the closest vantage point, because I was outside the entrance. It served as a great reminder to walk by faith not by sight.

As I sat at my post during those three days, I also noticed that the team leaders, most of whom had flown in from Atlanta and the surrounding areas, knew how to serve in ways that I had never witnessed. Throughout the three days, they warned us how draining but filling this time would be, encouraged us, and prayed over us frequently. Their selfless servant hearts taught me more than they will know.

Though I didn't get to see as much of the students as I had hoped, their energy was felt. At one point on Saturday while all of the doors were locked, the noise from the arena was reverberating and causing the doors to come open. And their contagious generosity was a highlight of the weekend as they gave $100,000 in one hour to reach a goal of having 90 Bible stories translated for a group nicknamed the Koso people.

I pray that the message of Passion 2011 will spread rapidly throughout college campuses and that I will continue to be a Door Holder for the rest of my life.