On Being an Introverted Christian

I’m an introvert.

I’m a fairly classic introvert, who is not outgoing or comfortable in large groups of people I don’t know, who requires lots of alone time to function, who could easily become a actual hermit if I lived alone and didn’t need to work for a living. Parties where I only know one person are very stressful. Fictional people are so much easier to deal with than real people.

Small talk is so hard. What do I say? What questions do I ask? Oh no, did I just come off as a crazy person?

Walking up and starting a conversation with someone I don’t know is enough to give me heart palpitations. I did that at church recently, with people I don’t know personally but who know who my family is, and my hands were shaking through the whole conversation, my heart was pounding, and I was praying I could get the words out without tripping over them and stuttering and saying strange things. Corners are the best place to be at events, because then people come to you if they want to talk to you.

If you see me at an event and I don’t talk to you, please know that I probably think you’re really cool but have no idea what to say to someone that awesome. If I speak to you I’ll end up saying strange things or just laughing a lot. It’s not you, it’s me. Seriously.

Phone calls are the bane of my existence. I’m extremely blessed to be in a job where I rarely have to talk on the phone. If I call you, I have probably given myself a script to start off the call, because there are only a few people on this earth I don’t get anxious about being on the phone with, and most of them live in the same house as me.

Making friends is like climbing a hill with no guarantee of ever reaching the top, complete with awkward conversations and heart palpitating moments along the way. This chart, found on tumblr, sums up most of my friendships:

Sometimes I feel like you have to be an extrovert to be a good Christian. (A horrifying notion.) Jesus loves people. He came to earth and spent so much time loving on people and meeting new people and being surrounded by crowds. He tells us to feed His sheep and go into the world and make disciples. So many people!

Being real here–people stress me out. A lot. 

So it seems like I’m not qualified for this being like Christ business. Especially when you need to show His love to people you don’t know. Believe me, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to do this and for someone who gets anxious about asking a worker at a store a question, it takes a lot of fear and trembling before God to do that.

Oh God, do I have to? Maybe someone else could do it? I’ll just show your love to the middle school girls I already know, and maybe another leader can talk to the new ones. I know, I know. I’ll go over and introduce myself in 3, 2, 1…

It has gotten easier, in some situations. Middle school kids don’t seem to care how awkward I feel when I talk to them. I actually hold short conversations with the moms who have babies in the church nursery where I volunteer.

But I am so much more comfortable in the background, with the people I already know. Church event coming up? Great! How can I help in the kitchen or with the kids? I’ll tell people what to do if there’s no one else to do it, but it makes me nervous. And please don’t make me a greeter…

So there are the two sides of the situation. On the one side, God made me who I am. I can’t force myself to be a people person, and I will never be someone who meets someone and bam! Instant friend. I have my strengths as an introvert–great with small groups, great listener, absolutely ready to pray or talk one-on-one, overwhelming love for my middle school girls–and I have learned (am learning) how to balance those with my weaknesses.

On the other side, God has called me to love people. Maybe not as a greeter at church events, or as the one who goes out into the lobby to find the moms new to the church and encourage them to bring their babies to the nursery. It’s so easy sometimes to avoid talking to people and tell myself it’s because I’m an introvert and it’s exhausting and anxiety inducing.

But when that middle school girl walks in to the student center and looks lost and uncertain, I can get over myself and my insecurities and go welcome her. When standing in a Jamaican nursing home with instructions to go into the residents’ rooms to pray with them, I can pray, Oh God, I don’t know how to do this and I’m really freaked out, and then do it anyway.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to be people we are not. He does ask us to trust Him to change us and grow us into Christians–little Christs. And to do that, we need to lift our eyes off our own insecurities and fears, turn to God, and say, Ok, God. What do I do next?

I will always be an introvert, and Jesus will use me just as I am. I don’t have to worry about being different. All I have to do is turn to Jesus.

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Jesus and Minimalism

bluepaintRecently I watched Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things on Netflix. I’ve been a minimalist for a few years now, ever since discovering minimalism shortly after graduating college. Depending on the picture that comes to mind when you hear the word minimalism, you might not agree with my self-label if you saw all my belongings. (So many books. And notebooks. And–I confess–horse toys.)

Minimalism, however, is not about having as few things as possible and having a cold, bare home. Minimalism is about editing your life to contain only what brings you joy and adds value to your life. This is often most visible in your physical possessions, but it also plays out in how you spend your time, how you spend your money, the relationships you cultivate, the job you choose, and the activities you fill your schedule with.

As an introvert, I naturally tend toward minimalism in my schedule, but it was a revelation to me that I did not in fact need to own all the books to have my own little library. I only need the books that bring me joy, which are usually the books I read over and over, or the books I read dozens of times as a child and want to keep for nostalgia and any future children of my own.

The anti-thesis of minimalism is consumerism, which is more than just shopping a lot. Consumerism is a worldview, a mindset, that affects your finances, your career, your schedule, your hobbies, and your relationships, just as minimalism does.

This is essentially the thesis of the documentary, which I found to be a refreshing, calm film that inspired me to be more intentional about life: how I spend my time, my money, and my thoughts. I highly recommend it.

One aspect of the documentary that caught my attention was the interviews. Most of the major minimalism bloggers that I am familiar with were interviewed for the documentary, and as each described their journey to minimalism, I heard the same phrases over and over.

“I felt so empty.”

“There was a hole that I was trying to fill with buying things and doing things.”

“I climbed the ladder and did not find fulfillment at the top.”

These are general sentiments, not exact quotes, but nearly every single person experienced a variation of this. They then discovered minimalism and shed loads of excess baggage, weight, mental turmoil, and schedule craziness, and did a complete 180 in life.

Now they all described a slower pace of life with fewer possessions and commitments, with time to focus on what was truly important to them. Fulfillment and contentment, found in minimalism.

I am quite certain these bloggers have found fulfillment and contentment and joy having edited their lives and possessions. I am equally certain their original problem was emptiness, not consumerism.

As a Christian, I know there is emptiness without Jesus. Every Christian can tell their own story of life without Jesus, and life with Jesus with that emptiness filled. Emptiness is the condition of a life without Jesus, and consumerism is a treatment of the emptiness that soon becomes a symptom of that same emptiness.

Minimalism is another treatment of the original problem, and most people who give minimalism the side-eye do so because of minimalists who count their possessions and exult when they have only 100 things, or minimalists who are always skating through life by borrowing everyone else’s belongings and generosity in order to have as few things as possible. At that point the treatment has once again become a symptom.

But although minimalism is not Jesus, I think it comes much closer to filling that void than consumerism, and that’s why minimalists do feel so much happier and content with life.

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV) says “19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I will not label Jesus a minimalist. Trying to pin modern labels on the Son of God is a silly exercise, in my opinion. But I do think minimalists are on to something that Jesus was telling people about 2,000 years ago.

Jesus valued people, not possessions. He spent His time building relationships and focusing His energy on God’s purpose for Him. Those of us who have been in church for a long time are familiar with the idea that Jesus did not come to be the warrior king the Jewish people expected, but instead a savior of souls. But if we look at this from a slightly different angle, what do we find?

Jesus did not come to earth to accumulate material possessions or see how much activity He could fit in one day, no matter how worthwhile that activity might be. Luke 12:15 (ESV) says, “15 And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”

The young man who wanted to know how to have eternal life was not interested in giving up his possessions and wealth in order to have that eternal life. Jesus’ response speaks volumes about what happens when we value the wrong things.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24 ESV)

The point is not the wealth or possessions, but what matters to us. In minimalist terms, what we spend our time, money, and physical space on.

Do we prioritize buying the newest gadget over giving to an organization that feeds the hungry and brings the gospel to the far corners of the world? Do we spend time organizing our lives and our belongings or spending hours on our devices and put off spending time with our families? Are we too busy running from one activity to the next to notice the gorgeous sky God created or the joy of splashing in puddles? I’m certainly guilty of all this.

If Christians are on this earth to be a reflection of Christ, then living with a consumeristic mindset simply will not work. Our lives ought to be lived intentionally, with our priorities on people and God’s purpose for each of us. This includes doing things that feed our souls instead of sucking us dry and making the days flash by in a haze. This might be as simple as spending less time scrolling the internet and more time reading a book by C.S. Lewis, or as big as putting an stop to endless planning or dreaming and taking the first practical step toward your dreams and calling.

Courtney Carver, of bemorewithless, often says minimalism is love.

Jesus is love, and minimalism only works when it reflects Jesus’ values, whether the minimalist in question realizes it or not.

Emptiness, a life without God, is the problem. Consumerism is a treatment turned symptom. Minimalism is a treatment that mimics the cure.

Jesus is the cure.

The Horse

Something incredible happened at the beginning of November.

See, I’ve had this dream since I was a little girl. A lot of little girls have this dream. Some grow out of it, some don’t. For some it comes true, for some it never does.

It came true for me.

If you ask any girl between the ages of five and twelve if they love horses, my guess is that at least half of them will say yes. Probably at least half of those that say yes have asked for a horse for Christmas or their birthday.

I was a fairly practical child, so I never asked for a horse. Oh, but I wanted one. Desperately.

Instead, my parents started me in riding lessons when I was eleven. I don’t know if they thought about how far this path would take me. Fifteen years old, and I screwed up my courage to ask my trainer if I could lease the horse I had been taking lessons on for the past month.

He talked to her owners and they said yes. I was thrilled.

Thus began many years with this horse. When I first started leasing her, she’d greet me with pinned ears and an angry stare as I tried to put her halter on. I didn’t like her that much, but hey, sometimes horse crazy girls can’t be picky. Then after a year or so of much frustration and lots of time spent together, we became friends.

Slowly, I learned how to ride her well. Slowly, she learned how to behave under saddle.

Of course, every time I took her to 4-H shows, she became a crazy horse again. It took four years for us to win first place at a show, but from where we started, there had been nowhere to go but up. (It happened to be the last show, because I was aging out of 4-H. Otherwise we’d have kept winning.)

Now I’m almost three years out of college. I never imagined that I would spend almost a decade leasing this horse, but I’m so glad I have.

But all things come to an end, even leases. I’d always worried about this. What if her owners sell her and I don’t have enough money to buy her? I’m not kidding, I’ve had a few nightmares about this possibility.

Now, though, the timing (and the finances) was right. My trainer came up to me one day while I was putting away some new barn supplies and said, “Can I talk to you?” As soon as he told me her owners were selling her, I said, “I’ll take her.”

So. Meet Vannie. You may have met her before, but everything is different now.

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Now, she’s my horse. Not the horse I lease, not the horse I love but don’t own.

She’s my horse.

She’s nothing less and nothing more than a dream come true, because at heart, I’m still that horse crazy girl who had horse wallpaper on her bedroom walls for most of her teenage years.

I am so blessed to own a horse. I can’t thank God enough for this incredible gift.

The day I signed the bill of sale, I went into Vannie’s stall to bring her out to ride. She promptly pinned her ears and bit me. My mom said later, “Well, I guess she knows you can’t get rid of her now. You’re stuck with her.”

Never change, Vannie.

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How to Bathe A Horse in 36 Steps

1. Ready supplies: shampoo, conditioner, sponge, scrub brush, bucket, squeegee, lead rope.

2. Change mind and swap lead rope for one with a chain–horse may try to escape.

3. Unwind hose from rack. Once it lies fallen before you, untangle it. Attach spray nozzle to end of hose.

4. Drag hose many feet through barn to grass outside, where supplies are waiting.

5. Attempt to fill bucket with water. Realize water is not turned on.

6. Go back in barn and turn on water.

7. Fill bucket with water. Add shampoo. Is it enough? Add more shampoo.

8. Grab lead rope with chain and go back in barn to fetch horse.

100_01029. Horse wanders around arena looking at you sideways.

10. Try to catch horse.

11. Avoid horse’s bared teeth and threatening hoofs. Ears are pinned back.

12. Move carefully in a wide circle around horse to horse’s head. Slide chain through halter and attach.

13. Lead horse out of arena to grass where hose lies waiting. Horse rushes over to grass. It might leave before she gets there.

14. Pick up hose. Horse becomes statue.

15. Attempt to spray horse’s feet. Hose becomes venomous snake. Horse tries to flee.

16. Prevent horse from fleeing. Continue spraying feet.

17. Enlist a horse-holder.

18. Chase horse in a circle, spraying her ever higher while horse-holder tries to hold her still. Pause tountangle hose from you, horse’s legs, horse-holder, and itself.

19. Repeat process on horse’s other side.

20. Put hose down by barn. Horse pretends it no longer exists and resumes grazing.

21. Bring bucket of soapy water to horse. Use sponge to cover horse in soap. She now remembers that cool water feels good on a hot day.

22. Scrub horse with scrub brush. Do not miss an inch. This might be your last chance for a long time. Make that white sock actually white.

23. Put horse’s tail in bucket of soapy water and scrub. Horse attempts to swat flies. You and horse-holder are now covered in soap.

24. Move bucket of soapy water far from horse. Bring hose back.

25. Chase horse in a circle while spraying her. Remove all the soap.

26. Spray her other side. Notice there isstill soap on the previously rinsed side. Spray both sides again.

27. Put hose down and grab conditioner. Slather mane and tail. Horse ignores you.

28. Thank horse-holder fervently as she gives horse back to you.

29. Collect all supplies and dump and rinse bucket and sponge while holding horse. Horse does not appreciate the bucket rinsing.

30. Scrape water from horse with squeegee. Repeat as necessary.

31. Kill horsefly.

32. Wipe horse’s face with damp sponge. Horse is offended and tries to flee.

33. Escape flies and go into barn. Comb horse’s mane and tail, put away supplies.

34. Wait for horse to dry. Wait some more.

35. Put horse back in stall. Offer many treats and ask for forgiveness.IMG_0376

36. Drive home. Realize hose is still lying on grass. Groan and vow to thank stablehand profusely for having to deal with it.

*The above events may or may not be hyperbole…But I err on the side of reality.

Anything Else Should We Know?

This whole college application thing had been hard enough—the high school transcripts easy, but the letters of recommendation? Well, there were very few teachers willing to endorse her future in higher education. The essay had been tortuous. What could she say about her unremarkable life? Besides the fact that people were always dragging her to one shrink or another. Then they threw this last question at her, and she was about ready to give up on the whole college endeavor. Anything else we should know?

pixieThe cursor blinked on the computer screen. Down the hall, tiny, shrill screams mixed with the roar of the vacuum cleaner. She winced. Her mother was gong after the dust bunnies again. The pixie trapped in her mirror sparked wildly for a minute, then collapsed into a fit of giggles when she turned to glare.

She was going to college, if only to leave her mirror and bookshelf behind. As if it had read her mind, the bookshelf creaked. It wasn’t her fault it hated her. After she’d realized that, with the spectacular collapse of all the shelves at once, she’d tried to sell it at their annual yard sale, but her mother made her keep it. Then the thing hated her even more for trying to get rid of it in such an undignified manner. The bookshelf was a snob.

The cursor blinked a little faster. She sighed. What else should they know?

How about the elaborate furniture rearrangement she’d carried out a few years ago so that the dining room chairs and kitchen chairs would stop screaming at each other and she could eat in peace?

Or the time she’d spent coaxing and threatening an infestation of tiny purple goblins out of her mother’s mattress?

Or the fact that her teakettle sang to her every morning (it liked Taylor Swift) and the weird yellow-eyed thing that lived under her bathroom sink had a crush on the fuzzy green thing that lived under her mother’s sink?

Or maybe that she knew the spiders in the attic loved fruit flies and hated ants. Too bitter, apparently.

Or—well, that time she’d accidentally screamed and broken a microscope in biology class because an eye looked back at her from the other end?

Or the salty vocabulary she’d acquired from her mother’s car, whose former owner had been a Marine? Killed in action, the car had informed her mournfully.

She put her fingers back on the keyboard.

Anything else we should know?

I can’t wait to go to college.

One Eyed Dog

Lots of people have dogs. Some people treat them like their children, some people use them as working animals, and some people treat them as pets.

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Meet my dog.

I have a dog. My dog is one of my best friends.

As a kid, I wanted a dog desperately. My dad had a dog when I was very little, but she died when I was six, so I don’t remember much about her. Beside, she was my dad’s dog, not mine. I asked for a dog fairly often after that. But my mom is not a dog person; she prefers cats. She was far from enthusiastic about having another hairy, smelly dog in the house.

In December of 2003, I was at a family Christmas party. At eleven years old, I was too young to hang out with the adults, but I was starting to feel too grownup for the kids’ group. I saw my aunt pull my mom aside, a picture in hand, but I had no idea that picture would change my life.

After the Christmas party, my parents loaded my siblings and me back in the car, but I realized pretty quickly that we weren’t going home.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

Mom said, “Your aunt and uncle have puppies at home. We’re going to see them.”

Puppies! I hadn’t seen very many puppies, but that sounded great to me. I wondered wistfully how much the puppies cost, but I didn’t have high hopes. My aunt and uncle bred English Springer Spaniels, and the puppies probably cost a lot of money.

We pulled up the long drive to my aunt and uncle’s house in the country. It was late, so we were all pretty tired, but puppies were waiting. We tumbled out of the van, and as soon as we stepped in the house, we could hear puppy noises. Mama dog and her babies were closed off in the mud room with a gate, and we crowded around to see.

My aunt scooped up a puppy and dropped it in my arms.

First meeting.

First meeting.

“This one’s yours,” she said.

This one was mine to hold, cool.

“No, this one is yours,” she said.

I looked at my siblings. Then we all looked at our parents. They smiled and nodded.

I looked at the puppy. She was tiny, with silky dark brown fur and a white spot on her head. White paws, a white neck and chest, and she was ours. As it sank in, my siblings started clamoring to hold her.

As we passed her around, the first thing on our minds was her name. I don’t remember who suggested it, but it didn’t take us long to agree on Dusty. My mom later vetoed that name, saying she had spent years with a female dog named Tank and this female dog needed a name that sounded like a girl’s name. We eventually settled on Jessie.

My parents weren’t expecting to come home with a dog that night, so Jessie spent her first few months sleeping in a cat carrier. It was a scramble to put gates up that confined her to the kitchen, so that any accidents before she was potty trained happened on a tile floor.

Tiny puppy.

 

I don’t know how I slept that night. I went into the kitchen the next morning expecting it to have been a dream, but there she was. My aunt and uncle had sent some dog food and a couple toys home with us, so she had familiar scents with her in her new home.

My poor mom bore the burden of nightly puppy howls while Jessie was homesick and before she was potty trained. It didn’t take too long for her to settle in, though, and she learned to go outside quickly. We tried to get her to ring a bell when she wanted to go out, but she never caught on. To this day she still sits by the door waiting for someone to notice her, and if she thinks she’s been waiting to long, she barks.

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First Christmas.

Within the first few months, though, my dad noticed that she didn’t have very good vision. I didn’t want to hear that my puppy was less than perfect, but I soon had to admit that he was right. She could see a little bit, but we were never sure how much, and before she was a year old, she was completely blind. We later found out that at least one other puppy from the litter also had vision problems.

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Let’s play find the dog…

It didn’t matter to me or my siblings, though. We figured out ways to work around her blindness. Instead of just calling her when food falls on the floor, we tap the floor next to the food so she can find it. “Jessie, careful!” is used more often than “Sit”, because when she hears it, she knows there’s something in front of her or coming at her. Furniture rearrangements confuse her, and it takes time for her to relearn how to get around the house. When we moved, it took several months for her to learn the layout of our new house.

Enjoying the summer day.

Enjoying the summer day.

The first summer we had Jessie, she accidentally ran away several times. She just didn’t know where our yard ended and then didn’t know how to get back to it. Sometimes neighbors brought her back, sometimes we went running after her. If we were riding bikes or scooters up and down the sidewalk, she would get worried and chase us, not understanding that we were coming back.

We play fetch with her just like anyone else does with their dog. We throw the toy extra hard so that it makes an audible noise when it lands, and we say, “Jessie, go get it!” so she knows we’ve thrown it. She runs around searching for it, and there’s a certain noise we make when she’s right on top of the toy, so she knows she’s close.

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Which direction is the shore?

Jessie doesn’t care about being blind. She’s always been that way, so she lives her life as fully as any other dog. Swimming is her favorite activity ever. She’s taken herself swimming without someone with her while we were camping, because she decided she had gone too long in between swims. My best friend loves to tell the story of Jessie taking herself swimming one time, and my friend found her running around on the beach, soaking wet, her fur filled with sand. She looks pretty skinny and ragged when she’s wet, and as my friend grabbed her collar to take her back to the campsite, a man passing by said, “Look at that gorgeous dog! She’s beautiful!” We still laugh about that.

But because Jessie is blind, she doesn’t like meeting new people. She’s comfortable with people she’s known all her life, but new people make her nervous. There are only a couple dogs she’s ever liked, and she is easily intimidated by new dogs. She’ll bark at them, but hide behind my legs as she does.

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Must destroy bow.

She loves shredding wrapping paper, loves chasing and fetching rocks (sticks are okay too), and was patient with all the shenanigans a bunch of kids pulled while growing up with her. We’ve given her all kinds of crazy nicknames, like Snuffleufagus, Jayness, Munifel, Skunk, Lorrible, and Walrus Breath (that’s from my dad). Her registered name is Lady Jessica Brooke, but no one calls her that, although she does answer to Jessie Brooke.

Jessie likes to dig, but usually when she thinks she’s chasing something. She can get pretty crazy when she’s playing hard. Although she’s not a biter now, when she was young, she bit us almost as much as she bit the toys sometimes. I’ve never been sure if she just got caught up in the game or since she couldn’t see the toy, just started biting anything in reach. Always in play, never in aggression, though.

Don't I look nice all dressed up?

Don’t I look nice all dressed up?

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Digging is hard work.

So many shenanigans...

So many shenanigans…

The only time she ever seriously bit someone and drew blood was when she was about three years old. For a while, Jessie hadn’t been herself. She lay around a lot more, didn’t play much, seemed less cheerful. Her right eye seemed bigger, weirdly colored. She’s always had cloudy eyes, but this one was getting worse. My little sister, born after we got Jessie, was about a year old.

Yes, Jessie is in the baby's seat.

Yes, Jessie is in the baby’s seat.

She was petting Jessie and accidentally jabbed her right eye. Jessie yelped and snapped at her. After my poor sister was bandaged up (don’t worry, it wasn’t a serious bite!), we knew Jessie needed to see the vet.

The vet tested the pressure in her eye, studied it carefully, and announced that she had a tumor in her eye, and it was growing. She was in a lot of pain, and her eye needed to be removed.

This was horrifying news to me and my siblings, but since she didn’t see out of the eye anyway, my parents decided to go ahead with the surgery. I was on a canoe trip the weekend she was at the vet clinic, and I came home to find her eye socket stitched closed, a drainage tube sticking out of it, and a milk jug on her head. Instead of a fancy E-collar, my dad cut out

Poor Jessie.

Poor Jessie.

the top and bottom of a milk jug and slid in over her head, so that she couldn’t rub her incision. It took about a month and lots of antibiotics and pain medication, but Jessie was soon back to her normal self.Because her downhill slide with her bad eye had been so gradual, we hadn’t realized just how abnormal she had been acting. It was a relief to get our happy, crazy dog back. She wore the milk jug until the incision was completely healed, but happily chased rocks and toys and basketballs around the yard without a care.

When my sister got a rabbit, Jessie obsessed over smelling and licking the bunny, who was more annoyed by the attention than afraid. Jessie got along very well with my brother’s parakeet, though. Jessie would lay on the floor and Kirby the parakeet would stand by her head and whistle and chirp at her. She never tried to eat or chase him.

Jessie and Kirby.

Jessie and Kirby.

Jessie loves being around her family, whether playing or just snoozing in the same room. She hangs out under the table while we eat dinner, and it’s not uncommon for four or five different pairs of feet to be resting on or next to her. She will gladly snuggle in bed with us, but only on her schedule. When she’s ready to leave, you can’t stop her. Bare legs are just asking to be licked, and she’ll scrub you clean if you don’t stop her. If legs aren’t available, she licks her own paws obsessively.

Am I allowed on this bed?

Am I allowed on this bed?

When Jessie outgrew the cat carrier, a new kennel was a necessary purchase. We tried to leave her uncaged while no one was at home, or during the night, but she’s too sneaky. She’s emptied trashcans, devoured Christmas cookies and Hershey kisses, licked the butter, and has a history of snatching food off unattended plates on the table. When she was a puppy, she destroyed more than one of my dad’s shoes and ate my sister’s orthodontic retainers on several occasions.

With candles, of course.

With candles, of course.

She’s a healthy dog, and we are convinced it’s partly because of all the fruits and vegetables she’s eaten over the years. If anyone is eating a banana, orange, or baby carrot, she will come from anywhere in the house to sit at their feet and beg, nose pointing straight up, a whine in her throat. Jessie hates celery and lettuce leaves but loves lettuce stalks. We’ve celebrated her birthday more than once with a “cake” made out of peanut butter, dog food, carrots, and apples, which she inhales.

Jessie was seven when my mom’s wish came true and we got a cat. She was almost as thrilled about the cat as she had been about the rabbit, but the cat was more willing to snuggle with her. That didn’t last long as the cat grew up, but they have a congenial relationship now, broken by the occasional scuffle and chase. More than once, the cat has sat on the back of a recliner, looking down on Jessie as she searches frantically for the vanished feline.

Snuggle time!

Snuggle time!

Keeping an eye on things.

Keeping an eye on things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although Jessie loves to swim, she thinks baths are terrible, terrible

They gave me a bath.

They gave me a bath.

things. If we try to brush her teeth, she growls and chews on the toothbrush, so we gave up on that years ago. She will come to my room and scratch politely at the door when she wants something, but if I ignore her, the scratching becomes more impatient. We take her on almost all our vacations, and she is so excited when she realizes we’re packing. She’ll hang out in the van until it is time to leave, and then she sprawls out on the seats with us. Going to the vet makes her very nervous, and although she normally loves car rides, she knows something is up when she gets in the car to go to the vet. She hates going to the groomer to get shaved just as much, but when she comes home, she’s ecstatic that all her fur is gone and rolls in the grass for minutes on end.

Shaved.

Shaved.

Shaggy.

Shaggy.

Height of fashion.

Height of fashion.

 

 

 

 

 

If she’s laying down and you pet her, she instantly rolls over for belly rubs. We only allow her on one couch, but that is her couch. It’s next to the window, where the sun streams in, so she’ll sleep the day away basking in the sunshine.

Belly rubs, please.

Belly rubs, please.

Two summers ago, she ate rat poison, and my mom happened to find her right afterward. I had just gotten home from work, and my sister came running to tell me.

I worked at a vet office then, so I knew what to do. Hydrogen peroxide, to make her vomit. I sat in the grass with her for at least an hour, putting peroxide down her throat with a syringe, and after she vomited three or four times, finally let her go sleep in her kennel. That was a very scary night.

But she made it through and continues to steal cookies and eat cakes put in the garage to cool. More than one birthday has had half a cake because the dog ate the other half. I know dogs are allergic to chocolate, but this one seems to be immune. She’s eaten a dozen Hershey kisses and we didn’t even know until we found the wrappers under a bed days later.

Sleepy.

Sleepy.

Jessie is eleven now, white hairs decorating her muzzle where there were none before. Her hearing is going, her sense of direction almost vanished, and she sleeps more than ever before. But come summer, she’ll be in the middle of things, barking at rocks and playing in the hose.

She still tries to convince us she hasn’t been fed breakfast or dinner that day, and we still fall for it, later discovering that she’s had at least two dinners and maybe three. Although an elderly dog, she still has lots of energy and love left to share.

Jessie has been around for half my life, and I can’t imagine life without her. I wanted a dog so badly, but I didn’t know how much I would love Jessie. People find it fascinating or creepy that she only has one eye and isIMG_0248 blind, but to me she’s perfect just the way she is. Those moments when we’re sprawled together on the floor or playing tug of war with a toy are some of the best moments in my life.

Lots of people have dogs. I have a dog.

But my dog also has me.

Winter

winterweather1Soft flakes fall from the sky, blanketing the sleeping earth in white. Icicles stand in jagged relief against the sides of houses, and the world is quiet. Waiting for spring to come again, resting after the mad dash of the holiday season, giving nature a chance to rejuvenate.

It’s the time of year for hot cocoa, for snowball fights and sledding, for snow forts and cheeks bright red with the cold. Now is when we pause and hibernate, watching the snow falling outside the window while a fire crackles in the fireplace. Sipping hot tea, a rabbit bounding across the fresh white expanse leaving clear tracks to mark its passing.

Dark nights meant for contemplation, long walks in the crisp air, looking up at the stars. Night comes early in the winter. Everything slows down and becomes still and quiet.

I wish.

Winter is my least favorite season. Maybe it’s partly because I live in the city, but winter for me means gray slush everywhere, drivers clogging the roads when so much as a single flake falls from the sky, and sliding around turns in my neighborhood, hoping the slide stops before the neighbor’s car stops it for me.

People don’t slow down; winter is when school and loads of other activities occur. Sitting beside a quiet fire watching the snow fall is all well and good, but when there’s homework to be done or an activity to rush to, quiet moments are shoved aside in the mad dash to accomplish.

Most of the icicles I see live on the bottom of my car, and they definitely are not crystal clear – more of a muddy color. After a few temperature swings, the snow blanketing the ground looks quite soggy, patches of brown earth peeking through. Salt makes its insidious creep into the fibers of my car, laying the groundwork for dark rust spots.

The sun goes away so much earlier in the winter, and it’s so easy to feel down in the dumps with no sun. During the day, the sun often hides behind a gray sky, shading the world in gray. Far from a pristine white blanket, the backyard is covered in uneven lumps of show, sprinkled with other gifts, courtesy of the dog.

I find myself grumbling about winter almost daily. I will never understand why some people proclaim it their favorite season.

But this winter, I am choosing to make it a season of reflection, planning, and dreaming.

Rather than sulking in my bedroom every night after work because the sun has already gone down, I am choosing to take the dog for walks in the cold darkness or make goals complete with action plans for 2015. (Okay, I do still sulk in my bedroom some nights. I can only handle so much cold and darkness at once.)

Rather than allowing myself to be caught up in hustle and bustle, my calendar full of activities, I am choosing to be quiet and still in the events and with the people I value most.

Rather than complaining endlessly while with my horse in the unheated barn that my toes are numb and my nose is dripping, I am choosing to be thankful for the indoor arena and riding my horse bareback (she’s like my own personal heater).

Rather than lamenting that I have no idea what I am doing with my life and feel directionless, I am choosing to remember that right now, it is winter. After four crazy years in college, I am in a season of reflection and reassessment. Maybe big things aren’t happening in my life right now, but that’s okay.

Spring will come.

(Fellow recent graduates, I hold scheduled lamentation sessions every Friday from 6 to 8 pm. Please bring tissues to share. Lamentation may occur only within scheduled hours.)

5 Things I Learned As A Sandwich Maker

Potbelly sandwichFor most of my senior year in college, I worked at a sandwich shop. It was in a downtown area with lots of office buildings around, which guaranteed a lunchtime rush. The sandwiches were very good, so many people were regular customers.

It wasn’t my ideal job. I made shakes and sandwiches and scooped cups of soup and worked the register. There were a lot of days when I came home and wanted to cry because I disliked it so much. But I did learn a lot from it.

So, in no particular order, here are five things I learned as a sandwich maker (and shake expert).

1. There is a ton of behind the scenes work that goes into that sandwich.

I’d never worked in the food industry before. Obviously the sandwiches didn’t appear out of thin air, and the food had to be ordered and kept stocked, but I had no idea how much time everyone spends in prepping everything.

Each day had a checklist of things that had to be done, like scooping salad dressing into individual cups or slicing enough meat and cheese for the day. I spent a lot of hours filling containers with mayonaise and sliding little cookies onto straws for the shakes. There were goals to be met everyday with number of sandwiches sold, number of the latest menu item to be sold, and always watching the total sales.

My general manager spent hours tracking all the food that was used and wasted, all the money that came in and went out, and all the employees’ schedules and availability. I commented to him one day that I had no idea that much work went on behind the counter before I worked there, and he looked at me and laughed. It was a tired laugh, because he had just spent ten minutes assigning tasks to my coworkers and me to get ready for the dinner rush.

 

2. Some people really do spend their entire working lives as restaurant employees.

Not all of them climb the management ladder either. One of my coworkers had worked there for over ten years, in the exact same position with low hourly pay. Others, like my general manager, had started at the bottom and worked their way up.

All my coworkers thought the general manager was weird because, from all appearances, he was passionate about making great sandwiches, just like the company’s mission statement said.

Some of my coworkers were perfectly content in their jobs; others, like me, were in school and had other aspirations, and some had bigger dreams but couldn’t figure out how to get there on the money they made at the sandwich shop.

3. Customers have no concept of the process.

The person at the end of the counter would call out, “Three large chocolate shakes!”

Since a large shake equals two regular size shakes, and the shake machine only had three spindles on it, I’d have to hop to it so those shakes were close to ready when the customers paid. But often, they’d give me weird looks and impatient sighs when I told them it would be just a minute longer. I don’t think they meant to be rude, they just had no idea that they ordered a time consuming item.

Or when people were irritated that someone else’s order took a few minutes, because it consisted of five sandwiches and a salad. No matter how fast we worked, someone was never happy.

One time, a customer ordered a PB&J sandwich. We had to be very careful with the peanut butter because peanuts are an allergen, so my coworker toook the ingredients off to the side to make the sandwich. I was on register, so I could not jump in to help with the sandwiches coming out of the oven. The customers in line started making rude faces and exaggerated gestures, because they thought my coworker was ignoring them and slacking on the job. It only took a minute or two to finish the sandwich and take care of them, but they were so irritated they got the manager to give them the sandwiches for free.

Maybe I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t think they actually understood what was happening on our end with the special sandwich. Rather than asking, though, they threw a fit at the register and demanded special treatment.

4. The weather matters, a lot.

I worked at this restaurant during one of Michigan’s coldest, snowiest winters. Over and over, the managers checked the daily sales figures and shook their heads. I was sent home early from a shift more than once because not a single customer had shown up in over an hour.

The lunch rush was only mildly affected, but after two o’clock, especially when it was very cold, very few people came out for dinner. I had no idea that an indoor business would be so strongly affected by the cold and snow, but I should have known better.

5. Hard work makes a difference.

I didn’t like making shakes and sandwiches, or counting change out, or getting ice cream all over my shirt as a shake flew off the shake machine again.

But I always do my best, no matter what the work is, and my coworkers noticed. The managers noticed. Different people told me, more than once, that they were glad they had a shift with me, because I pulled my weight and helped others. My money drawer was almost never off the recorded amount, and I always had a good attitude.

On my last day, the general manager told me that he would gladly be a reference for me, and that he would miss me working there. I didn’t even ask for a reference; he just volunteered it.

I hope never to work there again, but now that I look back, I’m glad I did. I made some friends, to my own surprise, and learned more than I thought I would.

The biggest lesson I took into the future? Never underestimate what you can learn from a job, no matter how irrelevant it seems.

Reflections on “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”

Lone Ranger:Tonto:AlexiePerhaps more than any other minority group, Native Americans face a continual struggle to find a place in modern society and culture. They have been relegated to reservations and must overcome huge challenges to find their way anywhere else. Their entire culture and history has been romanticized and reparations for their tragedies and suffering have never been fully paid. Sherman Alexie’s short story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, chronicles the barriers and despair that his people grapple with every day.

Alexie’s characters live with the past hanging over their heads, unable to move on or forget their ancestors. The white people remind them when they idealize the past and see modern Native Americans as their ancestors; they are unwilling to see them as they are now, because that would mean recognizing the poverty and racism that traps the young and talented on the reservations. The Indians themselves simultaneously long to be like their ancestors and are ashamed that they do not live up to the picture of those ancestors. When Victor and his two friends take a new drug, it sends them into an ideal world. In this world, Victor is an Indian warrior stealing a black pony, Thomas is a dancer so powerful that he sends the white men back to where they came from, restoring the Indians’ lands, and Junior is a famous guitar player in a world where the Indians won and the president is an Indian. Each boy represents a futile dream that means nothing in the real world, because it is not possible.

Thomas Builds-the-Fire is ostracized, even as a boy, because he tells stories and cannot stop telling stories. He is just as trapped on the reservation as the rest of his peers, but they hate him because he does not stop dreaming. His stories take the present and join it with the past. As a boy, when he jumps off the roof of the school, “for a second, he hovered, suspended above all the other Indian boys who were too smart or too scared to jump” (70). He also speaks truth and faces reality for what it is. Most Indians try to drown reality in alcohol, which works only temporarily, but Thomas knows before anyone else that Victor’s dad will leave. He is also the only one willing to help Victor claim his father’s ashes and belongings. Reality and dreams are both possible for Thomas, and he knows the truth of surviving is to take care of each other.

Alexie also explores the perpetual cycle that traps his people. Basketball could be a ticket off the reservation for some of the boys, but they all fall prey to alcohol, the savior and bane of the Indians. As Victor and his friend sit and drink, they reminisce about reservation basketball stars of the past, including Victor himself. But not one of them has made it. Their heroes are young kids who happen to be good at basketball, and to some extent, Victor and his friend recognize how sad that is, that their heroes crash and burn before they are even legal drinking age. When one of those heroes falls, the reservation’s hopes fall with him.

Alcohol holds a place in every story in the collection. Sometimes it is a small role, sometimes a big role, but it is ever present, just as it permeates every home on the reservation. It allows the Indians to escape their miserable reality, but it also traps them within that reality. It destroys hopes and relationships, but it is one thing from the past they can hold onto, even if it destroyed their ancestors just as it destroys them.

Sherman Alexie does not hesitate to portray life as it truly is for his people, but he never forgets the hopes and possibilities that each new generation searches for, and one day, someone just might break free.