Losing Kiera, and God’s Mercies

Written around 1 pm today:

It is a beautiful, unusually warm, late October day.  I sit in a chair outside, feeling both sorrowful that tomorrow we say goodbye to a beloved family member, and grateful to God that He has provided blessings within this time.   Kiera, our black Labrador retriever, age 13, lays in the grass beside me.   Her sister, Jasmine, is near.  Kiera’s health noticeably declined over the past 10 days.  We had discovered in January that she has a tumor in her liver.  We had not known whether it was cancerous; it seems now that it was, and it spread to her lungs. In the last few days, the cancer got very aggressive.  Tomorrow we will have our final hours with her before we take her back to the vet so she can cross over the Rainbow Bridge to a place without suffering.

Why am I grateful?  I see God’s goodness in a heartbreaking situation.  These are the blessings from God within this heartbreaking situation, from the current time backward:

*Blessing #1:  The weather, the outdoors, and a lift in her spirit. After spending time indoors, laying on her side, looking so sick and miserable, Kiera wanted to come outside.  She is laying upright, looking around.  She has sniffed the grass.  She begged food.  Her ears are perked for the first time since Wednesday.  She is interested in the activity of a neighbor.  She has always loved the outdoors.  She lacks the strength to take our stairs or to move around much, but she is able to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the feel of a gentle breeze.

**Blessing #2:   General timing and the short duration of suffering.

Kiera’s symptoms began only the middle of the week before last.  A little cough, or catch, when she was panting.  Weight loss that recently became apparent even after months ago we had increased her food.  She became uninterested in her regular food but would eventually eat it. She still seemed herself but did not want to walk beyond our yard.  We  attributed this to the arthritis in her knees.  A week ago when we took her to the vet, a good vet but not her regular one in the practice, her lungs and heart sounded fine.  Her gums had paled slightly.  She’s had allergies before, so the cough was attributed to allergy.  Home we went with an antihistamine and cough suppressant. We were to go back in 2 weeks.

We gave her higher calorie dog food but had to put broth on it or she refused it.  We thought the dry food might be irritating her throat.  This past Wednesday she began having diarrhea, so chicken and rice were on her menu.

On Wednesday I made an appointment for Friday evening for a “Golden Paws” checkup that includes bloodwork and an X-ray.  Thursday she became so lethargic and weak we had to carry her outside to go to the bathroom.  I slept downstairs with her and decided to take off work Friday, call the vet and see if we could move her appointment to earlier in the day.  We were able to get in at 2:40 with her longtime vet, Dr. Hall.  It was the only appointment available.  Thank you, God!

While we certainly don’t want to worry about the convenience of a health crisis or death, decisions related to our work schedule can increase the stress of the situation.  Having most of the weekend with Kiera without concern of having to take off the days in between to be home with her, prevents further concern (although my husband Mitch did have to work today).

***This leads to Blessing #3:    Our son, Ross, had been informed a week or so ago about the potential for Kiera’s health.  He said he would come home from Los Angeles to see her one last time when it became necessary.   In his busy schedule, with meetings and presentations for his startup company, the weekend allowed him an opportunity to come home.   The timing of the appointment allowed us to find a flight for him to be home at midnight on Friday, and then with the weekend, to not have meetings to cancel.

****Blessing #4:  A wonderful vacation, a memory, just six weeks ago.  God’s timing again allowed us to celebrate the 13th birthdays of Kiera and sister Jasmine while we were in Minnesota.   The girls both have arthritis and some backside movement issues.  I had been praying they would make it to our Minnesota trip.

The week starting with Labor Day, we took them tent-camping near Ely, MN.  We stayed at Bearhead Lake State Park.  We took short hikes. They got their paws a bit wet around the shore of a serene lake.  They survived a thunderstorm, hunkered down in the tent. We took some great pictures.  On our way there and back, we stayed at my parents’ house, so Mom and Dad were able to see Kiera a short time ago.

Blessing #5:  13 years of Kiera’s funny personality and ability to make us laugh and smile.   Here is some classic Kiera, who we often call Kiki or K:

 – Drama.  We often say she is a drama queen.  If she was not engaged in activity, she would look sad or extremely bored, sitting on the couch looking back over the top with her head arched over it, like, “oh, woe is me”.

– Playfulness.  Kiera would ask Jasmine to play by waving a paw at her and barking, as she did just two weeks ago.  With us, she would sit in front of us and bark until we played with her.  Before her knees got bad, she would jump and put her paws on our chest as we sat on the couch.

She liked swimming in our pool.  When we had a floating chair, she would crawl up in it and just float.  To fetch, she never liked balls and preferred instead to chase a squeaky toy that she liked to toss in the air.

– Sassiness and the cutest expressions.  When she perks her ears, they are floppy but fold in the cutest way.  Add to this the expression in her bright, eager eyes, I would call this her “cute look”.

– Schedule-conscious.  She always reminded us when it was dinnertime and MilkBone time.  And time to walk.  She would stare at us until we responded.  Jasmine always relied on her for these reminders.

We know that our furry family members will not live forever, but we are never truly prepared.   When the inevitable is happening, God is blessing my family with His mercy and grace. And for this I am grateful.

We will miss you, dear Kiera.  Until we meet again in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Stronger Heart

I was excited to see that recently someone found a January 2014 post about my congestive heart failure, from dilated cardiomyopathy – and commented on it.   I have not been posting for a long time, and it reminded me that I need to update about my health.

I was diagnosed with my heart disease two days after Christmas 2013. I was on medical leave from work for 8 weeks. I improved and felt stronger: I owe this to God, the right medications, a low sodium diet, and commitment to fitness. My improvement was evident when, in early April 2014, my echocardiogram showed that my ejection fraction (pumping strength) had increased from 15% to 32%. 55-60% is the normal range, and 45% or below is considered congestive heart failure. Still, I was referred to an electrophysiologist to address a delay in my circuitry. I have a “left bundle branch block”. In May 2014, an ICD (implanted cardioverter device) was implanted. This device is a defibrillator with a 3-lead biventricular pacemaker. It protects me and helps my ventricles beat in sync.

I will make a long story short; my echocardiogram in June (2015) revealed that my pumping strength/ejection fraction is at 53% (low normal)!   I am amazed that it has come so far. God, exercise, watching my salt, my “bivent” pacemaker, and of course my medications, are responsible for my greatly improved heart health.

I understand that the ejection fraction can change, that I must continue taking the meds, that some shortness of breath that I still experience sometimes, mean that I continue to have congestive heart failure. I still have limitations.

Shortly after the good news, I bicycled 25 miles in Bike MS after training for several months. I also joined Toastmasters, and I plan to do a speech on heart health in early February.

I wish I had more time to write in this blog. I will try to write more often.

Thank you for visiting Julie’s Life Joy.bike MS

Appreciating Religious Freedom

Happy Birthday, USA!  On this day of July 4th, we celebrate our nation’s freedom by firing up the grill, getting together with family or friends or just relaxing, and perhaps enjoying fireworks.  Hopefully we pause and say a silent thanks to the brave men and women who have fought for our freedom.  If you’re like me, I enjoy it because it’s a day off work.  While I do feel patriotic and thank God that I live in this country, I haven’t thought about Independence Day as a special day to spend time with God, to exercise religious freedom.  Until now.

What is the essence of America?  Finding and maintaining that perfect, delicate balance between freedom “to” and freedom “from.”  ~Marilyn vos Savant, in Parade

It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you.  ~Author unknown, sometimes attributed to M. Grundler

79.5% of our population call themselves Christians.  Freedom in the US enables those in this percentile to practice our faith in God.  We can usually pray aloud, even in a public place.  Multiple versions of the Bible are available in local stores or online, and a household may have several versions of the Bible.  We have plenty of churches in which to worship.  Sharing Christ does not lead to imprisonment and/or death.

A powerful service at church recently reminds me how precious our freedom really is.  It challenged us to embrace Jesus’ plan for us to live for him.

As part of the message, we watched a video clip of Dr. Wess Stafford, CEO of Compassion International, talking about an experience he had in Ethiopia.  I could not find the video online.  I did find that a leader from the The Avenue Church Delray had attended a leadership conference at which the video had possibly been taken.  It is summarized on their website.  I copied and modified slightly,below (*).

Dr. Stafford knew a pastor there who would not keep quiet about the relationship we are able to have with Christ.  Christians in Ethiopia are subject to extreme persecution.  *The church had had to move underground because of persecution from the government that outlawed the very existence of that church.   Several followers of Jesus in Ethiopia that would meet in the dead of night recited passages they had memorized because it was illegal to own a copy of the Scriptures.  

 This pastor friend of Dr. Stafford was arrested and beaten several times. He continued sharing the Gospel message.  Finally, the communist government tried to publicly execute him by wrapping wires around him and electrocuting him.  After two attempts at execution, the government released him. 

After his release, Dr. Stafford was there to greet this Ethiopian pastor. Dr. Stafford told this amazing Christian that we in the states were with him and would be praying for the church in Ethiopia.  And this is how the pastor responded…”and we pray for you too.”  Dr. Stafford was taken back by the comment and asked what exactly the pastor and his church would be praying for when it came to the church in the US.  The pastor then told him…

“I have heard it was true in the US that people can go a whole day, even a week, without praying.  I have heard it was true in the US that people have multiple copies of the Bible and do not even read it regularly.   I have heard it was true in the US that there are several churches on several corners, but people on a nice day will have a “picnic” instead of gathering for worship.”

The Ethiopians cannot get through one day without prayer, the pastor had said.  The Bible is a precious, uncommon treasure to be hidden from persecutors.  They thirst for it.  Gathering in fellowship is so important and powerful it is a true effort potentially worth the sacrifice of one’s life.  The message he conveyed is that the Ethiopian Christians are rich, rich in their suffering, rich in their need for God.  Many in the USA are poor because they have too much, they’re too busy, and they don’t realize their need for God.

Here’s a challenge.  Let’s celebrate our independence, our freedom, every day.  Pretend that we don’t have freedom, that we don’t have religious freedom, that we must fight for it.

Make every day be one of prayer and getting to know God better through His Word.  Create 15-30 minutes of prayer and Bible time each day.  On most weekends  include worship and fellowship at a healthy, well-balanced church.  Christians, today, on our nation’s birthday, is a great day to begin celebrating daily our freedom of faith.

1 Timothy 6:6-8 (NLT)

6 Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

Galatians 5:13 (NLT)

13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

 

Rethinking Mother’s Day

Mothers’ Day.  Often this is not a day that those of us being honored might expect it to be.  Many of us visualize relaxing, doing what we want to do, enjoying a clean house that was cleaned by others.  Someone else cooks a nice dinner.  The kids lavish love, hugs, and appreciation on us and tell us how wonderful we are. 

Then reality sets in.

Instead of wishing a “Happy Mother’s Day”, it might be more appropriate and realistic to say something like “I hope you take this day and focus on the joy of being a mother while finding time for just you, on a normal busy Sunday”. 

 Kids, whether kids or adults, this is a time for you to not think about yourself for once.  Make the effort to know how much you love and appreciate Mom.  Really.  Every day is kids day.  A special gift doesn’t hurt, but mostly what moms want is to not be responsible for so much for one day, regardless of whether or not our kids are still small. 

This is not to say that being a mom is too much work or stress.  Children are a wonderful blessing and so worth our time and effort and love.  Moms just need to focus on themselves and feel rejuvenated as often as possible to help them be a good mother.

Moms, here’s a reminder, you’re not in this alone.  God is a great comfort and source of strength.  It might feel like you’re the only one you can depend on to keep things in control.  But you’re not.  And we all worry about our kids.  Here’s a verse that tells us the power of prayer:  Philippians 4: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Mothers of an adult daughter or daughter-in-law who has children, please honor her by having her, the kids and husband, over to your house.  You have more time than she does.  She can express her appreciation of you in a different way.  Tell her to put her feet up and relax while you (and the kids and husband/s, hopefully) do the work or at least take most of the work from her.  I say this because I hear so many women talk about how they made dinner for their parents and made the day all about their mother, and in so doing their own special day was actually extra work.

 

Now, let’s think about people for whom this can be truly a difficult day –

 There are some mothers that are not there for their children.  I wonder how their children feel on such a day as this.  A friend of mine has two young family members that have been in foster care for several years and there are mental health concerns; their mother is a drug addict and their father is absent (neither one of these parents being the friend I refer to). 

 Finally, let’s remember that this is a difficult day for those who have lost a born or unborn child, or who desperately want children but experience infertility, and those who have lost their mother.  All I can say to you is you’ll be in my prayers today. 

 May you find joy, laughter, love, and some peace on this Mother’s Day!

Raising Children to be Wise and Pure

The newest viewers of pornography are boys aged 12 through 17.  Something I learned at church today, a statistic used in a message about raising wise children.  Being wise is about following God’s principles.

Two website links I want to share.  If you quit reading after these links, at least you’ll have some significant resources.  The first link goes to the part of a website that enables a child in your life (or you) to hold themselves accountable for viewing porn.  It sends an email to 3 people of their choosing, not necessarily a parent, when they go to a website that contains porn.   http://www.x3watch.com/

The second website is called HomeWord, a valuable resource for parents and youth.  http://www.homeword.com/

I went to church this morning, and as I listened to the service and took notes, I knew I was going home and sharing valuable information instead of finishing my housework or starting on my taxes.  That’s how God has me wired.

In addition to our pastor, today we had a guest speaker, Jim Burns, who is an award-winning author and speaker on Christian parenting and marriages. The focus today was on parenting.  I took some notes to share.  Some of this is not anything new, but it serves as a reminder.  I’ll start with the sex-related portion.

THE MORE POSITIVE THE SEX EDUCATION THEY RECEIVE FROM THEIR PARENTS, THE LESS LIKELY CHILDREN ARE TO BE PROMISCUOUS LATER.

Start teaching sexuality between ages 3 and 5.  This means talking about the difference between boys and girls, girls are able to have babies when they grow up, information that skims the surface.

At age 6 through 9, kids start hearing about sex, they might accidentally see something on the TV .  At this age you want to explain some things before they hear about it from someone else.

Ages 10-14 are significant for talking about relationships and purity, etc.

Pornography, and kids connecting with others inappropriately online, are available if they have access to technology in private.  Do not allow them to keep their cell phone, computer, or anything else with internet access in their bedroom. 

Premarital sex and pornography are just a couple of the challenges we have in this sinful world.  This song by the Casting Crowns is called “Slow Fade”.  I think it addresses sin in general but may sound like it is focused on sexual sin.

General Parenting Notes

– Be consistent with discipline and lifestyle.

– Take the approach that you are raising responsible, God-honoring adults. Think beyond their childhood.

– At age 10, the role of the parents shifts from a control perspective to that of a coach.  At age 15, it shifts again to becoming a consultant.

– Discuss expectations and boundaries before they break the rules.

You can ask your child to come up with the consequences as you discuss these expectations, while they are in a normal state.  (If you break curfew, what do you think your consequence should be?)   Use some sense, of course, if the discipline they determine is not reasonable.

–  Here’s a phrase to remember:

“Rules without a relationship leads to rebellion.”

In other words, if all you do is discipline, and you don’t spend time with your kids doing fun things, talking about what’s going on in their lives, working on your relationship, that’s not good.

Training children to honor God

You are the spiritual leaders.  They are going to spend much less time in church than they are with you.  Model Christ-like behavior.

At the same time, make it a priority to attend church services, and have them participate in groups for children and teens.  Do not allow extracurricular activities to supercede family involvement in church.

There’s a saying, “If the devil can’t make you really bad, he’ll make you really busy”.

Think about this:  When your child is making decisions or going through difficult times, what (who) is going to make the difference? 

 There was more to say.  Check out my church’s website and go to Resources.  For awhile, you can find the audio, video, and message notes under Current Series.  It will then be found under Previous Series, Be Wise.   http://www.metrocommunitychurch.com

 Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (NIV)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Proverbs 22:6 

 Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Funny how the Giants tickle my brain to write

Where do you suppose the New York Giants got their name?  I’m not researching it, just thinking that it’s not just a name or in honor of Jack’s enormous adversary at the top of the beanstalk.  A giant is symbolic of something that presents such an obstacle that someone might consider it as impossible to defeat or overcome.

I watched the movie “Facing the Giants” yesterday.  It’s about a football coach and a failing team at a Christian high school.  His players are inspired by the coach’s faith in God.  I recommend the .movie, by the way.

The word “giants” in the movie is two-fold.  The team ends up playing against the Giants.  Even more so, I believe it  refers to the difficulties in the life of the coach and the challenges the team faces after a losing streak.  Seemingly impossible odds for all.

The familiar account of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 is an effective example of someone being used by God to accomplish His work, to overcome a seemingly impossible situation.  Like the experiences of many other ordinary people through whom God accomplishes His great purposes, young David’s defeat of the big Philistine is an example for us.  He had faith that God would enable him to overcome, so he pulled back the slingshot, aimed, and let that rock go.  And the giant went down.  Here’s the passage copied from BibleGateway.com:

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

 48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

We each have a giant in our lives.  For many, their giant is unemployment and finances.  Others may have chronic pain or illness, relationship issues, addictions, to name a few.  Whatever your giant is, remember David.  Trust in God.  Know that God is a giant-killer.

Philippians 4:13  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

For the Super Bowl situation, I hope the Giants win.  In life, I hope any giant you and I face will be defeated as we trust God to overcome.

Side note:  I had recorded “Facing the Giants” last weekend on the GMC channel (Gospel Music Channel but it’s really just good, family, Christian entertainment).  They ran “Fireproof” and “To Save a Life” on the same day.

Enjoy a clip of the movie and a song “Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns.

Good versus Evil

 The Autobots versus the Decepticons.  Harry Potter versus Voldemort.  This past summer, these are just a couple of the movies that I watched that involve the theme of Good vs Evil.  As I enjoyed the movies, I kept running the whole theme through my head and how it plays out in the real world.  I could not be relieved of thinking about the parallels with the supreme goodness and holiness of  God versus the pride and selfishness of Satan.

Many see the battle of Good vs Evil as Everyone Else vs Criminals and Anyone We See as Mean or Evil.  We, of course, see ourselves as good.  Good – hooray – we deserve to go to heaven when we die.  On the other hand, God’s version of these opposite sides is quite different when it comes to our eternal destination.

Good in God’s dictionary– as in good enough to live in God’s presence for eternity – as in heaven – is defined as blameless, perfect, pure, completely pleasing to God.  And this is not confined to the Ten Commandments. What it all boils down to is to love God and love people.

Evil = Sin.  Sin is anything that is not pleasing to God.  Acts, thoughts, behaviors that are not loving toward God or toward other people.  Selfishness, doing what we want instead of following God’s principles.  Thinking that the driver who just cut you off might learn something if they got into an accident .  Ignoring people in need.  Gossiping.  Sex not within the marriage of a man and a woman. Calling someone an idiot.  Dishonoring parents. These are just a few. Notice that criminal acts and trying to take over the world are not even on this list though they are certainly under the heading of evil.

The truth is that “We all fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).  All of us are on the side of Evil.

What God does is offer us the chance to be forgiven, washed clean of our sin, our Evil.  In God’s dictionary, Forgiven vs. Unforgiven is the battle that ends with an eternal outcome of Heaven vs. Hell.

We either choose Him by choosing Jesus, or we choose Satan by being indifferent, by not choosing God.  We either choose an eternity with Him in heaven OR we choose to be eternally separated from Him.   No neutral position.

Matthew 12:30 says:  “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me”.

By the world’s standards, yes, many of us are on the side of Good.  By God’s standards, we are on the other side.   The only way to be on God’s side is to surrender.  Surrender your life to Jesus.  Ask for forgiveness.  You cannot be forgiven unless you admit you need to be forgiven.  If you have not done so, admit your sin to God. Tell him you believe that Jesus is His Son and that he died and rose again.  Ask Jesus into your heart to wash you clean of evil and to initiate change.  Trust him to become Lord (master) of your life.  Join the side of Good.

Hebrews 2:14 – Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.

…to be continued  – overcoming Evil is not just a battle for our eternity, it’s a daily struggle of the heart.