Funny Farm: Crazy Critters Keep Me Sane

Most of you know that I live and work on a small farm in rural Alabama.

And if you’ve read just a handful of posts, you’ve probably seen some photos of the silly critters that make up my menagerie.

I’ve written before about how vital animal therapy has been and continues to be to my own grief journey but today I just wanted to share some of the fun, funny and ridiculous sights that greet me nearly every day.

chickens morning light

They keep me smiling (sometimes in spite of myself) and they keep me going (because I know they depend on me for food, shelter and safety).

Truly, I am grateful to God for the love He instilled in my heart towards every living thing.  I’m grateful for a husband who indulges my crazy impulse to save, house and feed anything that wanders up our lane or is thrust upon us by others who just can’t care for a pet anymore.  I’m grateful for children who have built fences, tossed hay bales and put up with their mama’s eccentricities.

So here you go, I hope these make you smile too.

These two are Paco and Bob.  Paco came to us via a friend of a friend who thought that having a donkey was a great idea-until he got bigger.  We brought him home in a makeshift trailer and he’s been a ray of sunshine ever since.  He greets every visitor with a loud “Hee Haw” and loves, loves, loves to be petted.  I’ve had the opportunity to point out the cross on his back many times to the children that have come out to our farm for science classes or tours.

I never get tired of seeing his happy face.

bob and paco hayI’m rarely alone, usually lead or followed by someone or something.  Chores are better when you’ve got company.  

reepi and preciousHere’s Sugar.  She’s one of the first goats born on our place and an old friend.  Just last winter I would have sworn she wouldn’t live to see another summer but she did.  It took a lot of hard work, loving ministration and tender care, but here she is.  Spoiled rotten.  But I absolutely love watching her run out each morning to graze.

Shes a daily reminder of  how our Shepherd, Jesus, binds up our wounds and cares for us.

goat and mel on porch (2)

Natural and effective lawn mowers-most days I let my horses and goats out to browse and get whatever goodness they can find.  I love walking out among them.

I often think, “What a privilege to have this freedom and space!”

This is Barnabas-named after the Barnabas (son of encouragement) in the Bible because one year we had a number of goat kids rejected by their mamas and he was willing to lay next to them to keep them warm on cold nights.

He’s a good companion, always comes when I call and walks with me in high grass when I’m afraid of what might be lurking in the shadows.

barnabus on front port

Some days I encounter a non-resident who takes advantage of the goodies in the feed shed! 

possum

And then there are my inside pals.  Always cozying up to me (and getting in the way!)

fat cats on my bed

I tell everyone that these crazy critters keep me sane. 

They make me smile.  Most days, they make me laugh out loud!  

For that I am very, very thankful.

she who laughs lasts

 

Grateful

There’s all kinds of grateful.

There’s the receiving line, “I’m so glad you came” grateful.

There’s the ordinary, everyday “I’m thankful I have food, clothes a roof over my head” grateful.

And then there is the “I am about to burst because there is no way to contain my overwhelming thankfulness” grateful.

I’ll admit, this side of sending a child ahead of me to Heaven, there are days when even though I know I SHOULD still be grateful, I’m really not.

Then there are days when I realize how very many blessings are still coming my way.  

They don’t balance any cosmic scales.  They don’t undo my sorrow at Dominic’s absence.  But they do help my heart hold on.  They do help me find light in the darkness.  They do help me know that God is still working and hasn’t abandoned me.

My earthbound children are chief among these blessings.  

I am utterly amazed that as often forgotten grievers, each one is finding his or her own way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  My daughter and sons remain engaged, focused, loving and committed to one another and to me and their dad.

They have continued to pursue personal dreams and goals while also giving practical support to each other.

They aren’t perfect by any means.  We fuss, we get frustrated, we have times when we’d rather not be together.  But in the end, we have each other’s back.

And that is makes us all stronger.   It makes us all bolder. 

Life this side of loss is a battle.  

No one wants to go into battle alone.  

I’m thankful I don’t have to.  

beach-and-family-better

 

 

 

Just. Say. It.

I’m not sure when I began practicing this but I make a habit of telling people I love them even if it makes them uncomfortable.promise me something tell them you love themI remember saying it to my granddaddy who never told anyone-as far as I know-that he loved them.

I spoke it over each child as soon as she or he was laid in my arms.

Growing up, I closed every telephone conversation with, “I love you” and taught my husband to do the same.

tell the people you love that hou love them

I also try hard to tell people other important things right when I think of them, instead of “later”-whenever THAT may be.

when you see something beautiful speak it

I’m so, so glad I do and I did.

I have many regrets about Dominic’s too-soon departure from this life.

But I don’t have this one:  Unspoken words of love and affirmation.

The last time he was home, it was nearing final exams and I felt like I needed him to know how very proud I was of him and how very much I admired the man he had become.  So I stopped him as he was leaving, turned his strong shoulders to face me square, and looked him in the eye to give him words of blessing.

I didn’t get to hold his hand as he left this life. 

But I’m confident as he breathed his last, he knew he was loved.

 

 

heart hands and sunset

Don’t wait to tell the people that are important to you that they ARE important to you.

Don’t save words for “next time”, “later” or “when we get together again”.

Just say it.

Now.

Right now.

greatest weakness of humans optimus prime

When It’s Been YEARS-How to Bless a Grieving Parent

Please hear me. 

I do NOT blame you that my son and my sorrow have drifted down your list of “things that need attention”.  Your life is as busy as mine once was and your calendar full of commitments and celebrations that require your attendance.

There is no way you would know it’s 69 days until the fourth anniversary of Dominic’s sudden absence. 

There is no reason for you to be aware that as the southern landscape turns to spring, my heart and mind turn to death.  

But it’s the truth. 

As the rest of the world looks forward to Easter (and I do too-for the promise and hope it brings) I am dreading Holy Week.  Dominic was killed the Saturday before Palm Sunday and laid to rest the Monday after Easter.  So every year I relive it twice-once during Holy Week and once again (when the dates are different) according to the calendar.

And each year it feels lonelier and lonelier.  

Because each year fewer and fewer people remember or if they do, they don’t know how to offer that up as a blessing because it feels awkward or stiff.

So may I suggest a few things that most bereaved parents would absolutely LOVE for friends and family to say or do-especially as the months roll into years or even decades?

  • Send a card, message or text indicating that you DO remember.  And not just for the date of passing, but also for his or her birthday or other important milestone dates.
  • Send an electronic or physical copy of a photo.  It feels so empty to peruse the same photos over and over.  It is an invaluable gift to get one I haven’t ever seen before.  Every time it feels like I get a tiny new piece of Dominic to hold close to my heart.
  • If you have saved voice mails or videos-send those.  Not every parent can or wants to listen/watch these, but they are a gift nonetheless.  Just having them brings some comfort.
  • Post a memory on Facebook.  If the child’s timeline is still up, write something TO the child-did you share an experience, a class, a hobby-then speak to that.  Tell me how Dominic is still part of your life.  Because as long as his influence still lives, part of him lives also.
  • Speak his or her name in conversation.  I know it can be awkward.  But don’t shy away from mentioning my child in conversation just as you would if he were living.  If you are talking about an event in which he took part, please, please, please do NOT talk around him.  I remember.  You aren’t shielding me. It is so good for my heart to share these memories with other people.
  • If I post a photo or memory on Facebook, please don’t scroll past with the attitude “there she goes again!”.  I post because I will talk about Dominic just as I will talk about my living children as long as I live.  Yes, it’s the same photo-but I don’t have new ones because I CAN’T TAKE THEM, not because I don’t want them.  If you think it’s  “too much” I challenge you to cut off all (I mean ALL) communication with one of your living children for a week.  That’s just the tiniest taste of what it’s like.
  • If I plan some kind of memorial activity, participate if you can.  Personally I haven’t done this but many parents plan balloon releases or ask people to do a Random Act of Kindness in the name of their child.  If you are able, join in.

There is a common theme here:  if you think about my child, let me know.  

I will not forget Dominic.  

I couldn’t. 

But it is oh, so helpful to know that others aren’t forgetting either.  

missing child from arms

Ripples

Toss that rock in the water and see what happens.

It’s impossible to keep the ripples from moving farther and farther from the point of impact.

And even though I can’t see it, my casual toss has changed the environment of the pond in ways it would not have been changed without my action.

Our lives are like that- we touch other people every day and rarely know how our brief brush may ripple through their lives for years or even eternity.

I have been lifted up by a smile offered by a stranger-that buoyant mood lasting long enough to save an otherwise dreary day.

I have also had a beautiful morning made overcast by the sour attitude of someone that should be helpful.

I want to bring sunshine not rain wherever I go.

I want to speak courage to trembling hearts.

No telling how far the ripples may go. ❤️

img_4417

What’s Your Legacy?

I can’t tell you how many people try to tell me what Dominic’s “legacy” is.  They extol his positive virtues and comment on how many lives he touched in his short 23 years.

They want me to be consoled with the intangible, relational, immeasurable impact of his life on the lives of others.

Yet they continue to live as if their OWN legacy will be determined by the amount of stuff they acquire or the size of their retirement accounts or the money they leave behind for others to spend.

It can’t be both.

If my son’s life is worth remembering just because of who he was, the people he loved and how he lived, then EVERYONE’S life is worth remembering for the very same things.

Christmas is the one time a year when far-flung family members are often gathered around the same table.  It’s an opportunity to make connections and build relationships.

So I ask myself, “Am I going to spend it talking about the weather and the news and other sundry things that won’t matter in a day, much less a year?”

family-reunion

OR, maybe I can choose to reach out, to ask deep questions, to make space for honest conversation and real sharing.

Maybe I can mend a broken relationship by offering a long-hoped-for apology, speaking aloud the offense and taking responsibility for the pain I’ve caused in the past.  

Perhaps I can proclaim a REAL blessing-not just the one we memorized from grade school-over the food and over the heads of the people gathering to eat it.

Why am I glad they are there?  TELL THEM!

Most of the presents under the tree will be consumed, broken, outgrown and tossed away one day.  But meaningful words spoken in love and kindness will live forever in a person’s heart.

We all leave something behind.  

We are all building a legacy.  

This Christmas I’m asking myself, “What’s mine?”

greatest gift is your time

 

 

Be Present

I remember the first year cell phones became common among my children’s friends.

We hosted an event at our home and I watched, amused, as the guests realized, one by one, that there was NO cell service out here in the country.

get smart hear me now

Cut off from their electronic connection to everyone not in attendance, they were forced to be fully present with those that were.

Some of them embraced the opportunity while others bemoaned the fact they had to carry on face-to-face conversations.

And when they found out we didn’t have cable TV, well, THAT was a whole other disappointment!

What seemed natural to me and my family was unusual and uncomfortable for most of them.

Being present takes effort.

It’s so much easier to listen with one ear while pointing the other toward Facebook, YouTube, music or some other distraction.

It’s a lot harder to sit quietly through the same story you’ve heard every Christmas.  It requires self-discipline to lean in and love on that difficult aunt or uncle who can be so critical but is really so desperate for compassionate companionship. It is unnatural to lay aside our own desire to be the center of attention and make room for someone else instead.

But being present is the present only YOU can give.

wherever you are be all there

And it is the present that others will remember long after the trinket you bought them has been lost or broken.

So put down the phone. Turn off the TV.  Hide the remote and close the apps.

BE with your people.  They, and you, are a gift.

Today is a treasure that will never be repeated.  

Treat it that way.