I've always wanted to start a music blog. My friend Maclean did so this week. He's entitled it "Audio Flag," and you can find it here.
b. I fear my inevitable inconsistency in posting.
And today..I so desire.
Last week I received a gift from two people in particular that meant so much to me.
The first came in the form of a phone call.
It was Jessica Lee! Jessica is one of my favorite friends. We became friends my sophomore year of college. Jessica and I had been dorm room neighbors the previous year. All I knew about her was that she had great taste in music (we shared a fondness for a band called Stars), that she seemed very easy-going, and that she had once received a male visitor who came over just so the two of them could tinker with an easy bake oven.
I had Jessica’s number stored in my phone, and I very randomly called her months later to tell her that I had an itch to visit the state of Kentucky, and I wondered if she’d like to join along. I had never been to Kentucky. And I had never hung out with Jessica.
Jessica came along, and we ended up exploring a very random town. We met a few locals, sat on the edge of a dock at a marina, and enjoyed an afternoon that felt a million miles from anywhere else.
Throughout college, Jessica and I had many other adventures. We camped in a teepee. We had pizza with homeless friends underneath a bridge. We explored along the cobblestone streets by the river in Savannah, Georgia. We played with pups at the humane society, we had strobe light dance parties in Jessica’s room. Jess was there when I met my first college boyfriend, and she was there when I had my heart broken by another.
Jessica and I are now living hours apart. Neither of us are good at picking up the phone, so I haven’t talked to her much since I left Nashville. But I’m not one to measure my relationships by the frequency with which we communicate.
On Saturday of last week, Jessica left me a voicemail telling me she was so sad to hear about Franklin, and that she was also sad for me. She wanted to know what she could do to help out financially. Jessica is only one year older than me - fresh out of college, and she is not rolling in the big money. Yet she was willing to help out her friend 600+ miles away who was struggling to pay the vet bills for her sick pup.
In true Melissa fashion, I have yet to call her back to thank her personally for her message. It was truly one of the most thoughtful and genuine offers I have ever received. Jessica, please consider this my formal thank you.
Exactly a week later, I checked my mail. There was an envelope addressed to Franklin Ralph Carter, with paw prints stamped on the back. I knew the handwriting well -- my sister! Inside was the cutest little “get well” card, along with five $20 bills. Melanie said that when she heard me brainstorming what I could sell in order to pay for Franklin’s vet bills, she too asked what she could give up to help me out.
At this point, Franklin’s vet bills have been taken care of in full. He is still in the hospital, and it has been ten days since his second surgery. He has a very serious infection in his abdomen, but he continues to improve each day.
The last three weeks since Franklin got sick have been filled with plenty of low moments and low days. But the constant encouragement and thoughtfulness of people like Liza, Regan, Ellee, Drew, Haley, Mom, Yaya, Leigh, Whitney, Lindsay, Erica, Robynne . . and Melanie and Jessica . . has been so refreshing. I mention specific names simply because I want to recognize any of those people who may read this!
Mother Theresa knew what’s up when she said, “But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”
I’ve always loved dogs. I remember when I wrote Mom and Dad a persuasive essay...asking that we get a lhasa apso. A persuasive essay had worked when I wanted my first camera. But it didn’t work later, when I wanted a big trampoline. I can’t remember why I wanted a lhasa apso particularly - might be because our neighbors, the Wright family, had one. Her name was Carly. I also remember when the mom, Cathy, told me not to brush my hair when it was wet. She told me it would pull my hair out - or pull the bristles of my brush out. I could never remember which. I also remember when Ashton Wright let me use her sand art kit. She warned me not to shake the bottle when I had it filled, but I did anyway. I regretted it. Christmas of 1994, Melanie and I ran into the living room to see what all Santa had brought us. We looked right past the furball in the middle of the floor and began to explore the games and gadgets on the fireplace. When Mom and Dad (bewildered) pointed out our new puppy, I cried.
A couple years later he and Carly had puppies.
I loved Buddy Leroy Carter for fifteen years. I was crazy about that dog. I was as crazy about him in 2009 as I was in 1994. He died a few months ago - I think it was late November. Sometimes I forget that he’s gone. I expect to visit Lubbock and find him curled up at the foot of Dad’s recliner. I was in San Diego, working for Invisible Children, when I got the call. I knew the call was about Buddy before Mom and Dad even told me. When it comes to these things, you just know. I had seen Buddy when I was home just about a week before. We always celebrated his birthday on Thanksgiving because he was born Thanksgiving of 1994. We never figured out the actual day. I tried though. I knew he wasn’t in good shape, so on his birthday I spent a lot of time on two birthday signs and hung them in the kitchen.
Melanie was in Uganda when Buddy died. We waited until she was back in the states to tell her Buddy died. That was hard.
Sometimes Melanie and I would find Buddy and have a dance party around him to make him feel awkward. I almost laughed as I wrote that.
I missed Buddy a lot during college. I could talk to Mom and Dad while I was away, but not to Buddy. I would have them make Buddy bark over the phone, and I would squeal with delight.
I wanted a dog in Nashville, but Mom and Dad - along with others - warned me about the financial commitment and time commitment that dogs required. I listened to them, even though I didn’t want to. Come to think of it, I really restrained myself from getting a dog just because I knew Mom would be mad if I did. The threat of mom’s disapproval makes me not do lots of things. Often she does know best.
I moved to Austin in January. Just a couple weeks before in Lubbock, Dad and Grandmommy had come home with a precious puppy for me. I named him Henry. What a wonderful puppy! Huge personality, and ridiculous amounts of cute. There were two problems, though. First off, he was a miniature poodle. I really didn’t want a miniature poodle. I tried to want one, I really did. I flipped through Google images and saw some miniature poodles - full grown - that were presh. Maybe he’ll turn out like that!..But what if he doesn’t? Am I shallow? Am I selfish? I’m a horrible person. But maybe someone else would love him better? But I’ll feel so bad for rejecting him, and for rejecting Dad and Grandmommy’s gift.
I cried. I felt so bad for even considering turning Henry away. Oh and the second problem? Within the first 24 hours I became acutely aware of the time commitment dogs (especially puppies) required. I couldn’t really walk into another room without worrying about the little guy. So I gradually made my feelings known. I really did feel so bad. And I wanted to let myself go emotionally. So I could love him as my own. I didn’t enjoy holding back. Dad was great about it. He said he didn’t want me to feel pressure to keep him. He hinted that he and Mom would probably keep him if I didn’t. That was comforting.
So I chose to let him go. Melanie came home for Christmas. She fell in love with Henry. She considered taking him to Nashville. She really wrestled with that decision. But she didn’t take him. She decided she wouldn’t be able to give him enough attention. The Creels fell in love with him too. Especially Haley. I loved watching Haley love Henry. We all casually talked about how Aunt Yaya should adopt the semi-orphan pup. Haley would be moving from Lubbock to D.C. in a matter of weeks, and Ross had recently joined the army. Times were rough for the Creel household. The nest was about to be more audibly empty than ever before. So I moved to Austin, and as Mom and Dad began to feel attached to baby Henry, Bobby and Yaya announced that they were going to take him in. Mom cried.
Yaya quickly became an adorably proud and loving mother. She took Henry to puppy school. There’s hardly anything cuter than puppy school. The very thought of it pains me. Henry is especially special because he has a bond with both the Carters and the Creels. I request pictures of him often. He is growing into the cutest dog ever. I think things worked out just as they should have. I’m glad Yaya has him.
So I got to Austin...and a few weeks in - in late January - puppy fever returned. I blame it all on Town Lake. I went there for a walk, and I saw so many wonderful dogs. Repeatedly I said, “That person can have a dog - why can’t I?” My 23rd birthday was near. I’ve always been an impulsive person. I looked at dogs online for a few days. Decided I wanted a small shih tzu or a goldendoodle. I would have loved to have gotten a lhasa apso like Buddy, but I learned they can be a bit temperamental the day Buddy bit my face and I got ten stitches.
I already knew I had parental blessing for a dog since I had been given a pup, so I was ready to spring for it. Multiple people warned me not to give in to my puppy fever. I knew I was getting myself into something big. I was okay with the warnings, but I was peeved when the words were not warnings, but instead instructions or commands. Geez people, let me grow up, let me make my own mistakes, and let me be me. But that’s another story.
There were also friends that encouraged me, like Ellee Burkholder, and like my cousin Layne. The day before my birthday was Tuesday. Doug texted me. He wasn’t feeling well, and wouldn’t be going into the office. He encouraged me to take the day off, and rest up after the big retreat from the weekend before. By rest up, I thought he meant search online for dogs some more, find the one you want, drive and get it, and wake up tomorrow as a dog owner.
So there are no actual pet stores in Austin. It seems they’re illegal or something - encouraging people to adopt. How very “Austin” of Austin. People aren’t even allowed to sell dogs or puppies. They can only ask for an “adoption fee.” That being said, I had a hard time finding any cute pups around the city. I realize I’m a heathen for not taking in a lovable mutt, but I really want(ed) a cute dog. That’s all I can say. I found a shih tzu in the Dallas area, about three and a half hours away. I had made many inquiries, and had decided to drive up and get this little boy. I had e-mailed the owners of a few goldendoodles. They were all far, far out of my price range, and I told the sellers that if they felt like they could at any point offer a pup for much (much. much. ...much.) less, then...here’s my number. I didn’t exactly hold out much hope. I headed up toward Dallas. Only a few minutes after I had embarked, I get a call from Veytia Hays. Really nice lady. She’d like to offer me a goldendoodle for only four hundred dollars. It’s a stretch, but I can do it. I want to do it. I call the seller in DFW and turn down yet another dog - the little shih tzu who was getting all geared up to go to his forever home. Gosh, I’m cold-hearted. I turn my car around and head for College Station. I stop on my way to buy toys, a collar, dog food...so exciting, and so foreign to me. I brainstorm names. I look at business names and street signs for inspiration.
I meet Veytia in a McDonald’s parking lot. I knew my boy’s name before I even laid eyes on him - Franklin. Franklin Ralph. Four percent of me wanted to name him Henry, because I love that name. But that wouldn’t be right. When I see Franklin, I know the name is right. I can’t believe how big he is at only four months! What have I gotten myself into? I love him. Am I sure about this? ..He is precious. So I hop in the car after grabbing a chicken snack wrap, and Franklin and I are off.
Not far down the road, a policewoman stops us because my headlight is out. I get off with a warning, but I sure hadn’t made a good first impression on Franklin. Not ten minutes later, we’re pulled over again. As the policeman stands outside my window, I fumble around long enough for it to get awkward, and finally locate my recent warning. We were off off the hook again. We pull over so that Franklin can have a potty break, and he is terrible on a leash. Ugh, he hated me. Or he hated the leash..one of the two. We looked like a scene from a movie as I worked hard to make him cooperate. It was cold, and he was stubborn. He didn’t go potty, but I was just relieved when he was back in the car and we were back on the road.
Franklin and I fell in love quickly. Others fell for him too - especially Leigh Congdon. It made me happy. I took him lots of places. To the park. To work. To Spiderhouse. He would always stick near me - such a mama’s boy. Such a sweet and faithful little companion. I took pictures of Franklin playing, sitting, scratching, and breathing, and shared them any person willing to tolerate my infatuation. Yes, he (like Henry) proved quickly to be quite a responsibility, but it was worth it. I loved loving him. I loved caring for him. I loved playing ball with him, and I loved the splat he made every time he plunked down on the floor.
It was just four days ago: I came home, fed him dinner, and he cut his bowl time shorter than usual. He went into the living room and threw up three times. Man, it was like fluorescent. I hated it - for him, for me, for my carpet...but I knew this kind of stuff happened sometimes. Dogs get sick. They have tummy aches.
But then he threw up two more times. I called the first 24-hour animal hospital that Google offered. In a moment of vulnerability, I called this guy to see if he would come with. I needed a male figure with me. This guy and I had gone out before. But I mean...twice. I knew asking him to accompany me to the vet might sound like code for We’re in a relationship, right? Or at the very least, Can we be in a relationship? Well, I meant neither of the two. I was just banking on him interpreting the invite as neither. I toyed with the idea of telling him what my invitation wasn’t, but I decided not to jump the gun with false assumptions. He turned down my invitation. I don’t blame him. But I did really want a guy with me. Coulda been him, coulda been a brother, coulda been my dad. I was just upset and worried. I had the textual support of a number of friends and family, and that helped. I sent Melanie a text and/or picture every two and a half seconds, so it was kinda like she was with me.
The vet wanted to do nearly five hundred dollars worth of tests. I couldn’t do that. They treated his symptoms, gave him fluids, and sent us home.
I went by the boy’s house. It was only a few blocks away, and I received a much needed hug. I’m not really one to need a hug. But there it was. The need, I mean.
Franklin and I had a sad night. He groaned, whined, and heaved all throughout his (our) restless night. I was sad for him. The next morning we went outside. He bounded around a little bit, much to my delight. We got back inside and he threw up three times. Ugh. I took him to Hill Country Animal Hospital, right by church. Liza Martin had suggested it. A very pretty place - nice people, and it smelled really good. I love a place that smells good.
They checked out my little guy, and decided he should stay there for 24 hours to be monitored, to receive fluids, etc. There was another $250 on top of the $130 I’d spent the night before. The next day, I received word that he was better! He had been playing with the other dogs and had obviously improved. No vomiting. The news made me dance around. He came home, I was ecstatic, and we picked up chicken and rice to cook for his dinner. Only he didn’t want it. And he didn’t want his meds. And he didn’t want to move. Or follow me from room to room. He whined during the night, and never got comfortable.
Weren’t we supposed to be happy back at home together? This isn’t what I had imagined.
That brings us to this morning. Today is March 5, 2010. Franklin could hardly move this morning. I tried to take him outside. Not only did he not get excited, but he wouldn’t even get up when I opened the door. My stomach dropped. I didn’t even take time to get ready. I grabbed my keys, and I had to carry Franklin - all 38 pounds of him - down three flights of stairs and out to the car. I cried on the way.
That was a quiet car ride.
The vet planned on teaching me tricks to get food and meds down his throat so he would regain energy. Call it intuition, perhaps..I just knew something was very wrong. It wasn’t just gastritis. I decided to pay another $180 for x-rays. If nothing else, I needed peace of mind. While Franklin was off getting his “glamour shots” as one nurse called them, I started brainstorming all the possessions I could sell to help pay for these costs. I began to sympathize with mothers living in poverty who resort to desperate means to care for their children. The doctor returned. Franklin did have an obstruction of some kind in his intestines. If surgery was not performed, he probably wouldn’t make it.
I tried to be strong, composed. I tried to keep it together. The doctor decided to give me a few minutes to process everything. I called Dad while he was in class, and couldn’t even get the first few words out. Dad was so sad for me. He offered to help me a bit, and I decided to do the surgery. I suppose all along there was really no question. Of course I would do the surgery. I would find a way to pay for it.
When the doctor returned, my eyes were no longer a visible part of my face.
I was gone within half an hour. I had said bye to my boy, smoothed a couple of stray hairs, and kissed the top of his head. I went home to clean up, and I put on my favorite dress and headed to Tacodeli for the sixth day in a row. At the register, I realized I’d left my money at home. Embarrassed, I got a free taco. And I didn’t have enough gas to get home. After discarding my trash, I headed to Whitney Bell’s house. She put gas in my tank and five dollars in my pocket, and I came to Spiderhouse. I suppose I’ve been here for about five hours now.
Around 1:30, before heading to Tacodeli, I really began to wonder if I’d made the right decision. The surgery was to begin in thirty minutes. I texted Melanie:
Melanie, I’m really struggling with this. How can I spend that money when there are people dying all over the world.
I’m wondering if I need to cancel the surgery. It begins in thirty minutes.
Nope, you can’t cancel it.
Have you talked to Mom and Dad?
Even if they’re helping me pay for it, it’s still a thousand dollars going toward an animal.
What happens if he doesn’t have the surgery?
He won’t survive.
You can’t let him die, sister. I don’t want to speak for Him, but I think God would be supportive of that.
I didn’t wrestle for too long, but for a good ten minutes, I was ready to call and cancel the surgery. Ready to simply hope for a miracle. But this miracle wouldn’t entail someone offering to pay, because that wasn’t the issue. The issue was about one thousand dollars going to keep my dog alive, knowing that in places like Uganda and Haiti people were (are) fighting for their lives as well. It felt as if, essentially, I was choosing an animal’s life over the lives of human beings. How could I do that in good conscience?
Images of people suffering in Haiti filled my brain. I could hear echoes of myself encouraging people to find something to give up so that other people could receive the resources they need to survive. Shane Claiborne’s face was sitting in front of me, reminding me of all I had learned from “The Irresistible Revolution” - a book that had rocked my world after a cute Starbucks barista had recommended it.
Out of nowhere, or maybe somewhere very particular, came these lyrics:
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou my inheritance now and always
First and thou only first in my heart
Thou in me dwelling, my treasure thou art
I sang it. Like fives times, probably more.
I chose not to stop the surgery. I don’t know if I made the right decision or not. Was God asking me to put Isaac on the altar? I like to think I was ready to do so. Maybe I made the wrong decision. But what I know is this.
I have a full time job for the first time - and a salary. I have the ability to buy clothes, makeup, and to get hair cuts from nice places. I am surrounded by beautiful people who have much. I’ve begun to see that I need much. Better makeup, cuter clothes, an iPhone. The conviction to live simply and stray far from materialism has quietly faded. I’ve even begun to rationalize things this way:
If I feel cuter, and if I feel more comfortable, I feel more confident. If I feel more confident, I’m able to better love people.
Geez, where is my love coming from? From a self-confidence?
How foolish. How foolish. How foolish.
I found a way, all of a sudden, to give one thousand dollars to my dog. I sure was blind to that money before. It sure wasn’t available to buy a tent for Haitians after the quake.
May it not take the near death of someone or something I love to remind me of essential truths.
Who am I to live lavishly, or to constantly work to beautify my outsides, when there are people suffering?
On Monday night at Signulls, I sat before all the students and talked about trials. I told them something my dear sister once shared. She told me that sometimes she almost wishes for times of heartache and trial, because it is in those times that she is drawn into a deeper level of faithfulness. It is in those times that she draws near to the heart of God. And it’s when things are going well that she becomes complacent, and she forgets things that matter.
That’s the thing. These things really matter.
These essential truths are truly...essential.
It seems so cheap to rededicate my life to simplicity...to rededicate myself to loving the poor and the suffering. Did that before, and then I found myself where I am now.
I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution this year. I have seen myself not go through with plenty of resolutions before, so why set myself up for failure?
Cheap as it has proven to be, that’s where I am now. Not a resolution of any kind, but a rededication to live daily in remembrance that nothing I have is my own. In remembrance of the fact that I am called to care for widows and orphans. To consider every day if I am using my money, my resources, my time...with just myself in mind?
I’ll continually pray against foolishness.
Oh, and they found a rock in Franklin’s intestines. It’s out now though. I’m gonna make him wear it around his neck to remind him not to eat rocks. Credit to Melanie for helping me come up with that.