Thursday, September 5, 2013

My grandmother

My grandmother did not star in any movies. She never ran for public office, and she didn't invent a medicine or cure any diseases. Some people would say this means she didn't change the world while she was here. I would say there's more than one way to change the world.

Jean Golden raised four children-with varying degrees of success. She raised me, and had a hand in raising all of her grandchildren. She experienced so many joys, and her share of heartbreaks, and a world that was changing so fast it could make you dizzy. Through it all, her missions in life were clear: love and serve. Have a good attitude. Never act ugly.

I learned so much from my grandmother. She showed me how to be a good and true friend, and her friendships were treasures she valued dearly. She ingrained in me not just the importance of family, but the absolute necessity of it. I was well into adulthood before I realized that not everyone hung out with their great aunts and uncles and third cousins twice removed like I did. From her, I learned that we should serve others in whatever capacity we are able. She volunteered at blood drives, worked election polls, and made a point to visit elderly acquaintances. She went door to door in our neighborhood collecting donations for cystic fibrosis research. Hospitality was her gift, and the best way to ruin her day was to not let her take care of you. Nothing delighted her more than a knock at the door from someone who wanted to sit in one of her bar stools and visit. Most importantly, she taught me to love Christ, and that living for Him is the only true way to have joy and peace in this life.

 Another of my grandmother's greatest gifts was her wit, and her ability to laugh at herself. She simply was not capable of driving through Memphis without getting lost, and built extra time into her trips to account for the accidental detours. She had a fair amount of self control, but that went out the window the moment she stepped into a dollar store, or saw anything for purchase with a magnolia on it. Expiration dates on milk were only suggestions to her. She never-- ever once in her life--threw away one of those twist ties that held a bread bag closed. Her answer to everyone's needs was a banana pudding, and most of the time it was the right answer.

My respect for my grandmother grows all the time. Now as a wife and mother, I'm honestly astonished that she baked cakes and mowed the yard, sewed her own clothes and hung up the Christmas lights. She handled everything life required of her with enormous grace. Amazingly, even Alzheimer's disease wasn't able to steal her spirit. Until the very end, my grandmother was kind and joyful at all times.

We can't all change the world. But every time we speak, every time we act, we change the lives of the people around us. My grandmother has challenged me to be a more patient, thoughtful, selfless person. She loved us all so much, and we are all forever changed for the better because of her.  And in small ways, every single day, she showed everyone around her what God's love looks like when it takes on the form of a woman and goes walking around on earth.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I wanted a dog. I was 22 years old and had never had one. I’d never really had a proper pet at all, unless you count the brief tenure of a cranky cockatiel when I was a pre-teen or Crawford, the bizarre and spunky Wal Mart goldfish I bought on a whim in college who lived with me for three years in various dorm rooms.
Anyway, no dogs. Matt and I had just gotten married and I made it the first order of business after getting home from our honeymoon to head to the animal shelter. I walked up and down the aisles until I found a smallish black dog that acted like she’d been waiting all day for me. I asked to play with her. The volunteer from the shelter retrieved her but explained to me that since the dog knew her and I was a stranger, it would likely not come near me and that I shouldn’t push. We sat down on the floor, she let go of the dog, and it made a beeline for me. Well, that was that. Matt came to meet her and thought she was perfect. We took her home a couple of days later and named her Annie.

Annie was like our first child right away. By this, I do not mean we were those people who take their dog to work every day or buy little doggie clothes. The only time Annie ever wore clothes were the 45 unfortunate seconds on Halloween 2001 when we tried to dress her in a little sombrero and poncho. It didn’t end well for anyone involved.  

So we didn’t indulge her terribly or treat her like a human, but we had so much fun with her. She loved to run at top speed in large circles through the house and wrestle with Matt’s hand. She was also content to keep a lap warm for hours. She took to sleeping at the foot of our bed right away, and she somehow slowly altered that arrangement so that she was sleeping at the foot of the bed INSIDE the covers. I thought it was weird and slightly annoying, because when she would decide to get up she moved every inch of covers to do it. Matt loved it, though—she was like his own personal foot warmer.  

When it was time to bring Abby home from the hospital, we were a little worried. We’d read and heard so much about dogs being unhappy about or aggressive towards tiny new family members. We shouldn’t have fretted. Annie sniffed her a few times and moved on. In fact, she endured all three of our children with grace, especially considering the torture regularly inflicted on her that children refer to as “playing with the dog.”

Now let me be clear:  Annie was not a perfect dog. She barked every time someone came to our door. Every. Time. She barked when a car drove too slowly by our house, or someone walked past our house. Or if it sounded like any of those things might be happening. Or if something like that wasn’t happening, but she was remembering a time when it had. She greeted new people by jumping on them with joy, and more than a few guests walked away with scratches from her over-happy paws. She chewed. Oh, did she chew. Over the years, Matt and I replaced 17 sets of wooden blinds because she chewed them up when she couldn’t see out a window. She got up on our dining room table when we weren’t looking. She had a knack for waiting until I had fully settled on the couch for the evening, blanket perfectly draped and pillows fluffed, before whining to go out. When I’d call her to come back in, she would hide until I gave up and closed the door, then she’d come running. She went ballistic any time Matt stood in a chair to change a light bulb or used a fly swatter. She ruined a lot of carpet.

But in all her years, Annie never bit anybody. She never ran away, and she never got sick. She greeted us with the same enthusiasm if we had been gone to work all day or if we’d gone to the mailbox. She didn’t hold a grudge if we were cranky or let her water bowl get empty. Juggling three kids and work and life meant that we sometime didn’t give her the attention she deserved, but she loved us every minute anyway.

Last Thursday night, Matt and I noticed that Annie wasn’t acting like herself. Matt took her to the vet Friday afternoon. He examined Annie and told Matt that she had advanced lymphoma and that it had spread to most of her organs already. Mercifully she was likely not in any pain yet, but our timing was lucky—he said that she probably had around a week left before her condition became extremely painful and would take her life shortly after. He recommended that we put her down by the following Monday to avoid having her suffer.

We were devastated. We knew that she was 14 years old and that’s a long run for a dog like her, and we definitely didn’t want to watch her hurt. But it seemed unthinkable to move forward without Annie. We told the kids, which was at the same time incredibly painful and beautiful, to see them choose to put aside their sadness to be resolute in wanting what was best for her. I’m pretty sure Annie thought aliens had taken over our bodies for the weekend, because we spent it spoiling her—she was carried around everywhere and given a good portion of whatever we ate. (The acquisition and consumption of “people food” was a lifelong source of joy for Annie).
On Monday morning, Matt and I held Annie and told her we loved her while she left the world. I feel sure that for all the sorrow I have left to experience in this life, only a few moments will match that heartache. I don’t know how long it will be before I can think about her leaving us and not cry, but it’s sure not going to be any time soon. If her purpose on this earth was to be in our family and love us well, then she exceeded all expectations. I can only hope that she knew how much she was loved back.