From the Heart He Gave Me: Hard Lessons, Help, and Hope

Written the day our beloved furry best friend Maya passed away:

Forgive me as I am a complete sappy mess writing this. But if you know me you know I can’t be any other way. I love deeply, and so when my heart breaks it breaks in large messy pieces.  But the LORD made me with this heart so here is my attempt to use every last messy piece for Him.

I would absolutely love to report that this time here thus far has been peachy and that I have been riding unicorns and that there are rainbows everywhere arched over thousand year old architecture, but in all honesty, month two has been a considerably difficult one. I shouldn’t complain – it is not deployment. But I can say it has been much more difficult than I expected.

Days after we partially moved into our new flat (which is actually awesome! Thank you Jesus!), Bryan packed his gear and baby wipes to head to his month-long field training during which he would lose hours days of sleep, bathe with said baby wipes, have no running water, a stove to heat their tent during the freezing nights that would later actually set their shelter ablaze (another story for another time) and be launched into working with his new unit under less than desirable conditions than one might want for dipping their toes into his new work environment.

While enjoying the new town and new place, I soon realized that I was very ALONE in an empty, at the moment kitchen-less house with just myself, microwavable food, the pets, and a town full of another culture. And though I am counting my blessings to be here, going solo…without TV…a data plan or even Wi-Fi to fill the empty place with some noise, it was lonely. Like I watched two online photo courses multiple times, read a whole giant book and a half, watched the Indiana Jones trilogy + special features 3 times and I still have time lonely. I had one German friend at this point, but she worked and I am not the type to demand any more of her time than she might offer. She invited me to Easter – which was weird, crazy and wonderful – but other than that it was pretty lonely. I couldn’t help but get frustrated from time to time trying to catch a signal to phone home no matter the unpleasant weather happenings or how my dog was leaning and begging incessantly at the lunch-goers next to me while I tried. And yes…the verge of tears was almost reached when trying to call (on my prepaid phone) customer service umpteen times trying to find just one rep who spoke English to ask them about my still-missing Wifi kit. And for some reason, one simple phrase began placing itself in the forefront of my thoughts. “God with us. GOD with us.” I feel alone, but I am not alone.

And then, out of nowhere, my beloved dog and best friend Maya got sick. After the most horrific morning rushing her to the vet, telling her she was a good girl and that she’d be ok, I discovered I had arrived too late. I had just lost the best dog I could have ever asked for, I didn’t get to hug her goodbye and tell her all I thought of her, and I was in shock and denial surrounded only by compassionate German Veterinary staff. But Bryan was in the field for a while yet, family in America were sleeping…and, BOY, did I feel alone….broken and alone. And worse, I was flooded with all the ways I could have been a better caretaker of my dog. Guilt. Regret. Tears. Cries… and sick to my stomach. And I slowly realized a few things:

  1. I love animals -particularly this dog- so much simply because I cannot deny the beautiful, unique, loyal loving qualities of my Creator in the creature. He made her (and dogs and other animals) to be a creation simply marvelous and worthy of admiring…at least that is how I see it.
  2. We are accountable to God for the care we give to people or creatures He places in our lives or allows us to take responsibility for. For instance, if I don’t feel like therefore slack off in doing wifey things that Bryan and I mutually agreed that I would be responsible in our relationship for, I am failing to care for my husband the way God desires me to.  Likewise, our children, and even our pets are God’s creation and blessing in our lives, and we are accountable to do the best we possibly can in caring for and loving them not just on the day we feel up to it – but every day we are blessed to have them. If you don’t want that much responsibility, plant a tree to decorate rather than stick a dog in your yard my German friend would say.
  3. If my love for Maya is only a fraction of the love God has for His creation, how great His love must be for His creation of all types and how much greater His grief must be when one is lost or lives their whole life without knowing and coming to Him!
  4. Only God’s love is perfect. Though sometimes I may fail to love consistently, He never does. He is Love. It is not just what He does; it is who He is. We are just people. Imperfect. Wavering. Inconsistent in the pursuit to be perfect. And yes I probably didn’t do everything perfect for my dog throughout the past 7+ years. It is just one reason why I am in need of a God who can forgive me when I fail or feel I’ve have failed, and one who can re-direct thoughts to accurate ones, honorable ones, and even true and lovely ones of when I run to the light of His mercy and grace. When my mind raced with my presumed failures (I should have taken her to the vet at the first sign of anything… I could have done this or that better…I should not have fussed at her for drooling everywhere the other day, I should not have hated sweeping all her fur all the time) I opened my iBook to the study I am reading  (A Heart Like His) and, low and behold the chapter the flippin took me to had essentially a 6 step process I happened to need desperately in this time of life. Granite, David of the Bible was hiding for his life in a cave…but hey the heart needed what his heart perfectly exemplified a heart in this state needed to do:
    1. Pray. Check
    2. Cry Aloud. Double Check.
    3. Pour out your heart to God. The study even says, “Even if your feelings are not accurate assessments of the truth, they are worthy to pour out before God. Feelings are sometimes like laundry.  Sometimes we can’t sort them until we dump them out.” I am only able to sort out my feelings of guilt or regret in a healthy way when pouring them all in a messy pile before God – who so tenderly continues to point out the things He has already given me grace and mercy for and blame that I perhaps have misplaced.   Also – ironically – as I was (and still am) feeling so alone, David happened to voice the same aching cry. (Psalm 142:4) But again as this study mentioned, “Without a doubt, the most precious and painful times I have had in this Christian experience were times when I realized I was all alone with God. Such times forge an unforgettable, inseparable bond. Don’t miss the opportunity. I am convinced that God sometimes stays the encouragement of others purposely so we will learn to find it in Him.” Have you ever been there? I am here. Don’t get me wrong. I have an outpouring of kind words and prayers being spoken for my family during this time and I am forever grateful for it! But I am physically all alone…and though I am not asking to be in the presence of people much right now, I would really really prefer the comfort of having Bryan here to get through the toughest part of losing a beloved little member of our family. And I honestly hate reading that there is a good reason and opportunity in being alone just because it is not at all easy, but I know this is a necessary lesson in my life and that my God is faithful to be everything I need.
    4. Remind yourself of your trust in God. I couldn’t believe it, but everything I have been reading (in ALL my spare time) turned into weapons of truth to combat my out-of-sort emotional thoughts. I feel alone…but GOD IS WITH ME. This is why that phrase has been on my mind so much. Life is not about the absence of pain, but the presence and power of a healer, comforter, redeemer and savior to work in and through any hurt to grow and shape hearts through all ups and downs of life to point to the fact that He is the One and Only able to work in life’s bad and bring good, to bring growth and peace when we don’t immediately understand, to bring tenderness and strength in equal proportions to the needs we have.
    5. Long for His presence. If I hadn’t already begun longing for it when my heart broke and I realized life had just changed way before I was ready, He certainly had the center of my attention when I couldn’t have the luxury of some one here in person to cry with.
    6. Confess the desperate need. This kind of just happened when I was pouring out my heart (part c.). With me – when it rains it pours. Like I said its how I am made, and thank God there is a healthy way to channel it.

I don’t even know how to put into words the way I am so deeply sad and heartbroken about Maya. It makes me scoff at myself for almost wasting tears on Wi-Fi. Dog people – I know you’ll understand. Those of you who have lost a loved one – I am beginning to have just a teeny tiny glimpse of the sadness and aching of such a deep loss. I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through. I confess plain outright that I am actually now even more terrified to lose a close friend or immediate family member because I simply cannot gather myself about my furry best friend. I am too weak!! I cried out in one of my prayers! How will I ever deal with anything harder!? But it reminds me of a beautiful thought from a high school friend (Amanda Rice Stanton) on how to view my broken heart from her realization when she was frightened to become a foster parent because of the inevitable toll it would take on her heart when the time came to give them up. What a young woman full of insight – she literally said something in her blog like “I know that when it hurts and it hurts deeply…it is because I loved them well.”

NOTE TO SELF: LOVE DEEPLY in spite of the risk of pain, because the benefits and rewards of deep love will far outweigh the hurt. I would not trade one single minute of my life with Maya in it to escape the inevitable hurt of losing her. I just wouldn’t! The joy and companionship and affection she added to my life (and Bryan’s) these past years is precious, and of far greater worth and impact than the sting of her death. How much more is this between one person and another?

And NOTE TO SELF #2 – When the sting of loss happens – follow the 6 steps. God is with us. His compassions never fail. He sent Christ to bind up the brokenhearted and comfort all who mourn, to give them the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a faint spirit (Isaiah 61:1-3), He is faithful. He cares about the details of our lives and does not grow weary of tenderly caring for our hurts – small or severe.

“Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, doesn’t faint. He isn’t weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak. He increases the strength of him who has no might. (Isaiah 40:28-29)”

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