Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Gracie

It's not often in life that we get to experience unconditional love. I think that's what leads to a special bond between a dog and her owner. And, when you find a dog who really knows what it is to love and be a loyal companion, you are doubly blessed. So has been the last 10 years of my life. When I was in college, on a night that was no different from any other, I went to a friend's house and came home with someone new to love. I didn't go there with the intention of bringing Gracie home, but when I saw her, I fell in love with her. She chose me that night. I knew it was irresponsible to bring her home when I lived in an apartment, but she just sat right in front of me and looked up at me with this face that just said, "Take me home and love me...I think you're my mom". And, so I did. I took her home and, as much as I loved her, I think I was more the blessed for having done it.

For 10 years, she brought me joy, companionship, comfort and loyalty. She was one of those dogs who loved no matter what. And, although she was a big dog, she was more gentle than most. She had a beautiful temperament that made her an easy companion for children or other animals. She seemed almost human in her personality. And, since she came home with me before she probably should have left her mother, she seemed to genuinely believe she was my child. And, I was ok with that. Because, she had a sixth sense when it came to what I needed from her. Through joy and fun times, stress and craziness, heart breaks and tears, she was there - Always by my side, like a shadow. I'm not sure any person has ever been loved more by their dog. I am blessed.

Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. As we were unable to get in to see the vet before I left town on Sunday, my Mom and Dad took Gracie in to see Dr. Mike on Monday. We thought she had a tumor in her stomach and had hoped that it wasn't a huge problem. At worst, I thought any decision could wait until I returned in a week. But, when Dr. Mike examined her, he discovered that her spleen had ruptured and she was bleeding internally. There was nothing that could be done and she probably wouldn't make it through the week. So, the Tuesday morning, I boarded a flight from Fort Lauderdale and headed home for the last moments of the dog I loved so dearly.

For more than 20 years, Dr. Mike Younkers has been our family vet. He's walked us through a number of these days. When it comes to the final decision for the life of our canine family members, we trust no one but him. So, when Dr. Mike told me that nothing could be done, I believed him and steeled myself for what was next. My parents had made all of the arrangements. My brother, Eddie, picked me up from the airport and took me to Dr. Mike's office. My Nana and Papa were waiting there for me since my parents had to fly out that morning and couldn't be there. I was taken to an exam room and they brought Gracie to me. I am so thankful that I was able to spend those last moments with her. We played on the floor and I just took time to say goodbye to my friend. My family graciously allowed me a few minutes alone with her to say my goodbyes in private. Then, the time came to call Dr. Mike back to the room.

I had struggled over whether I should stay in the room with her as he put her to sleep. Friends and family had made their arguments for which way they thought would be best. But, I knew I couldn't walk out on her in those last final moments. You see, Gracie gets really anxious at the vet. When I arrived that morning, she thought it was time to go home. I didn't want my last memory of her to be her expressive, questioning face watching me walk away and not knowing why she didn't get to go too. Eddie stayed with me to help me through those last moments. So, as we got her up on the table, I wrapped her up in my arms, spoke sweetly to her, and stroked her head as Dr. Mike gave her the injection. After a few seconds, she relaxed in my arms and went to sleep. I'm so thankful that I chose to stay there in that moment and let her leave this earth knowing how much she was loved.

I stayed a few more moments with her as Dr. Mike again explained how bad things would have gotten in the next few days if we hadn't made this choice. And, although I wouldn't want to ever be faced with this choice for a human family member, I'm so thankful that the end of Gracie's life could come quickly and with dignity in the arms of the one who loved her most on this earth.

As I left the room, I saw my friend, Katie Gridley, and ran to her and again burst into tears. I feel like a piece of my heart is permanently broken. But, once it was all over, I found peace in knowing that I had made the right decision, the last moments couldn't have been any sweeter, and Gracie wouldn't die in pain.

Those who have never known the love of a pet like Gracie may find my reaction ridiculous and over the top. Some may ask if it is wise or worth it to become so attached to an animal with such a brief life span (Gracie was approximately 86 in human years, yet she lived only nearly 11). And, my answer would be a thousand times yes. My life was enriched because of Gracie's presence. When my heart was broken, she quietly came up beside me and assured me of her presence and her love. When it was time to play, she threw herself into it 100%. And, maybe that's why she chose me. We both do things and love people with all that we have or nothing at all. She gave me all that she was and she loved me unconditionally. And, although it hurts to let her go, I know that my life is better because she was part of it.

Gracie, my friend, my baby, thank you for loving me. I thank God that He brought you into my life and I will never forget you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Racism - it's not just black and white anymore

I've heard alot of talk lately about race. Many of the pundits are saying that this election wasn't about race, but I don't believe that to be true. In the weeks leading up to the election, my support for John McCain was sometimes sneered at as if it was a vote for racism. I heard black people say how it was time for a black president, listened to the Howard Stern interview of black people in Harlem who swore allegiance to Obama without knowing what he stood for, and even had some of my white friends say that it was time to "stick it to" the white people by electing a black man. Now, people are pointing to this election and saying that we've come so far in race relations in this country. I hope it's true, but I don't see it. I feel like we're more polarized than ever.

Let me make it clear from the beginning - racism is WRONG. Hating or discriminating against someone for the color of their skin is ignorant and has no place in our country. Unfortunately, it is alive and well and maybe especially here in the South. And, it is so sad. I've been wrestling with my response to all I see and hear around me. I stand in a complex place as a white girl raised here in the South. By my writing this blog, I in no way mean to condone racism because it is a very ugly part of our culture here and across the country.

I grew up in a home where racism was NOT ok. But, I must say that my parents are the first generation (that I can see) in their families who think this way. Some older members of my family have expressed racist views, although often in sugar-coated "Southern-Speak". Others have not been so cautious but have spoken horrible things that spring from deep-seated hatred. I am also a 7th generation descendant of Robert E. Lee and the conflict of conscious he wrestled with has worked it's way through to my generation.

In some cases, the anger on the part of my family members is understandable. My Grandmother worked hard for many years and had worked her way to a coveted position. But, as she sat poised to take the next step in her career path, her job was given to a black woman in order to fill a quota. So, the reward of her hard work was taken from her, not by someone with more experience or who was better qualified, but by someone who's skin color was different. I understand that something had to be done to help equalize our society. But, I wonder if things like Affirmative Action haven't divided us even farther.

In the South, the issue of race runs deep. It's been a part of our culture for so long. There is a certain Southern Pride that is misunderstood by the rest of the country. We are labeled as racists, rednecks, Bible-beaters, and hillbillies because we take pride in being from the South. Racism is alive and well, but it's not only felt by those of African American descent.

Just because white Americans are currently the majority, doesn't mean they don't experience discrimination. Many would argue that it doesn't compare to what is faced by other races, but that is becoming a less valid argument with each passing year. No one would argue that anyone of color (Hispanic, Asian, Black, etc) faces certain discrimination. But, what about women? I find the treatment of Sarah Palin to be appalling. For the life of me, I can not understand how it was ok for someone to hang an effigy of her from a tree in California and not face censure. But, that is our first amendment right, isn't it? But, what if it had been an effigy of Barack Obama swinging from that tree? Would the reaction have been the same? Of course not. The nation would have been up in arms over it and someone would have likely paid with their liberty. Is that ok? Of course not. And, what of the white male? He has become a hunted species. The next time you sit down to watch TV, take notice of how the white male is portrayed. Often in commercials, he is ignorant and unaware. Often in sitcoms, he is weak, stupid, and made a fool. And, we laugh at it. We have slowly let it creep into our consciousness.

The problem of racism comes from all directions. Perhaps we shouldn't say "racism" - but, call a spade a spade and just talk about hate. Because, all across the country people are hated, now more than ever it seems, for a variety of things. There's hate among the races. There's hate between political parties. There's hate between denominations. It's become an oxymoron in many circles to say you are Pro-Woman and Pro-Life. There's more than enough hate to go around.

So, what do we do about it? What is the church's role in all of this? It should be different in the church. Sadly, it's not. And, that's where "The Change We Need" needs to the hearts of God's people. As we see things going on around us that don't reflect the love of Christ, it's our job to gently correct - not judge - our neighbor. When we see someone lash out, we need to ask for grace to see the reason. That hate comes from somewhere. For some, it is what they were taught and they just need to be re-education. For others, it comes from wounds that have been inflicted, sometimes over and over, by representatives of another race. And for others, they are tired of not having a voice for fear that they will be seen as racist when all they really want is true equality and they see the balance of power shifting. (And, by balance of power, I mean the "pass" that is given to black, etc, organizations. Could we ever have the White Music Awards, White Miss America, or any number of equivalent groups without being called racist or even possibly have our rights or liberty taken from us?).

I would encourage you to sift through the comments, many of which are truly ignorant and offensive, and look to the heart of the person and address the root. This is how we are to love, challenge, and sharpen each other as the Body of Christ. We need to set an example for those around us. Because, in Christ, there is no seperation of race or gender, only unity as children of God. Let's come together and get up and start making a difference in our communities by loving one another no matter our differences. The change we need is within our grasp if we only put others first and love like Jesus loved us.

Post-Election Action Plan

I've had a lot of things swirling around in my head and in my heart for the last few weeks. It's been an intense time for me, and as writing is therapeutic, I want to share some of what I'm thinking. So, it's time to start blogging again!

A week ago, today, we elected a new President. The opinions could not be more divided on what this means for the future of our country. There is no doubt that it is an historic moment in America that we would elect a black man as President of the United States. For the millions of African-Americans in this country, it means a new door of opportunity and a brighter hope for their children's future. Now, when they tell their sons that they can be anything - even President of the United States - they can say so with confidence and point to a role model. (Perhaps the daughters will one day have such a role model as well).

I wish that I could believe that this election means what so many think it means - that we've come so far in race relations in our country. But, I feel like we are more polarized than ever. It seems like so many looked past President-Elect Obama's far left agenda and looked only at his skin color on election day. It seems like many in this country believed it was time for a black president and didn't care how his values and policies would steer this country. I even had white friends tell me that they thought it was time to "stick it to white people" and put a black man in office. I've seen a number of my friends labeled as "racists" because they chose to vote for Senator McCain. Maybe it's because I live in the South. But, things like Howard Stern's Interviews in Harlem seem to say it's not a regional issue.

Yesterday, a friend said to me, "I don't see why everyone thinks it will be so bad having Obama as President". And, my answer was, "maybe it won't". Maybe he'll get into office, get more information and realize that there are limited options in some cases. In a White House Press Briefing on November 6th, Press Secretary Dana Perino said in a response to the value of daily intelligence briefings:

"So the value of an intelligence briefing is immeasurable, and it's nothing that any of us who are not President of the United States, or aren't going to be President of the United States, can understand. I think that that is something that a very small group of people in our country, those who have been President, and the current President and the one to be, understand the gravity and the seriousness of the threats that we face. And so those briefings will hopefully prove very helpful to him. Not only will he get the intelligence briefing, but he will also, as Director Hayden said, be able to understand the full range of capabilities that we have in order to help continue to protect the country."

The office and responsibility of The President is one that none of us who do not bear it can understand. The decisions made by a President are made with information that none of us has at our disposal. It's frustrating to hear so much disrespect and arm chair quarterbacking of the President when none of us has all the information. It can be assumed that President-Elect Obama will have to adjust some of his plans once he has all of the information. It is also worth pointing out that, in the same press briefing it was noted that President Bush's plan was ALREADY to start bringing the troops home and out of Iraq in 2009.

For me, there are areas I will be watching as President-Elect Obama takes office.

The Freedom of Choice Act - On the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President-Elect Obama released a statement saying that he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act as President. In fact, before his supporters in Planned Parenthood, he said it would be the first thing he did. Since 1973 more than 50 million U.S. Citizens have been aborted under the protection of Roe v. Wade. On November 5, 2003, President Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban of 2003. This law banned a procedure in which a baby is partially delivered and then killed before the delivery is completed. The Freedom of Choice Act would, according to Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America, "would effectively repeal the Bush-backed Federal Abortion Ban and other federal restrictions." (Please note that she refers to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban as only the Federal Abortion Ban. She refers to a safe abortion procedure, but does not call it partial birth abortion.) Nearly 50 million babies have been aborted since 1973. 50 million American Citizens were denied their right to life. The Freedom of Choice Act will reverse any headway states have made in limiting abortions. I will be paying attention to this issue and respectfully use my voice in dissent.

The Socializing of America - In a much publicized conversation with private citizen, Joe Wurzelbacher, President-Elect Obama said, "I think when you spread the wealth around it's good for everybody". Yesterday, I heard that congress is in talks to turn private retirement accounts into Guaranteed Retirement Accounts managed by the government. The ideas for these type of accounts has been presented by Professor Teresa Ghilarducci of the New School of Social Research in New York. "In a radio interview with Kirby Wilbur in Seattle on Oct. 27, 2008, Ghilarducci explained that her proposal doesn’t eliminate the tax breaks, rather, “I’m just rearranging the tax breaks that are available now for 401(k)s and spreading — spreading the wealth.” In addition to his comments on economic redistribution, President-Elect Obama would also like to see universal nationalized health care. While universal health care seems like a panacea for what ails us, it also carries many burdens. Check out this article in the LA Times about how there is a big difference between health coverage and actual access to health care.

First Amendment Rights - Although Barack Obama currently does not support a return of the Fairness Doctrine, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi,does. This legislation would require radio and television statements to give equal time to opposing views. First of all, this goes against our free market system. Air America (liberal talk radio), tried and failed to gain an audience. The Fairness Doctrine, if reinstated, would require time given to programs that may, in fact, lose money for station owners. Secondly, it could also mean that Christian radio stations would have to give equal time to opposing world views. Taking all of this in context with President-Elect Obama's decision to remove unsympathetic reporters from his plane and Joe Biden's run-in and subsequent snubbing of an Orlando News station because he didn't like her questions, it is not unreasonable for Americans to be concerned about the Freedom of the Press becoming a thing of the past.

Second Amendment Rights - The day following the election, there was a run on guns in the United States with a strong response by the NRA-ILA to President-Elect Obama's stated agenda on gun control. There are many nuances to this argument, but I do not want to see us get to a point where we are no longer allowed the right to bear arms of any kind.

War and National Security - It remains to be seen what President-Elect Obama will do in regards to the war and national security. As I stated earlier, things may change as he begins to get his daily intelligence briefing, and President Bush already has a plan to start bringing troops home from Iraq in 2009. But, some interesting things are cropping up in the discussion of "what ifs" concerning President Obama - like a possible National Security Force that reports to him. I hope that the men and women of our military do not suffer under an Obama presidency. I remember, under President Clinton, the weakening of our military and the closing of several bases. I can't help but wonder if this reducing of funds for our military and national security isn't, in part, responsible for the terrorists attacks on U.S. soil. I pray that we will not reverse the strides we've made in making our country safer and our military stronger.

Global Society - Britian's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is urging world leaders to take the opportunity of this global financial crisis to build a truly global society. What will that mean for America?

Reversing of Executive Orders - It appears that some of his first acts once in office will be the reversal of some of President Bush's executive orders including restrictions on stem cell research, ban on foreign aid of abortions, and a reversal of offshore drilling. Before even taking office, President-Elect Obama has made his liberal agenda clear.

However, even taking all of these factors into account, I will be careful not to disrespect President-Elect Obama. I have been appalled and angered over the last 8 years at how President Bush has been treated by so many in this country. I will not do the same to President-Elect Obama. For the next four years, he will be my President, and that office deserves respect. That does not, however, mean that I will remain silent. I will use my voice to respectfully disagree and stand in opposition of legislation that I fear takes us too far to the left. Politicians move to the center during political campaigns in order to appeal to the largest number of Americans. Perhaps they should also govern from the center and find a way for the right and left to come together for what is best for America. President-Elect Obama said that he would work to earn the support of those whose votes he did not earn. I hope that will be true. I will be praying for President-Elect Obama as he takes office and begins to lead our country. That is the job of the church - to use our voice and to pray.

I pray that this election will truly be a step towards reconciliation between the races in the United States. But, I hope the dialog is about more than just black and white. I'm tired of hearing about how white people hate black people. If we look at the situation with open eyes, we see that there's more than enough hate to go around. Do some white people still hate black people because of their race? Sadly, yes. But, the reverse is also true. And, there's discrimination against Hispanics, women, men, Christians, non-Christians, Democrats, Republicans, and on and on. We have a lot of work to do in America and "The Change We Need" actually must start in the hearts of God's people. It's our job as the church to learn to love each other as Christ loved us and show that through our lives. One way we can do that is by showing respect to President-Elect Obama even if we didn't vote for him.

So, here's my plan for the next four years:

1. Pray for the country and the President
2. Pay attention to the political process
3. Use my voice in respectful opposition
4. Keep learning how to love like Jesus and show that in my actions

I pray that this is a wake up call for the church and that we get up, stretch our legs, and get out into our communities and truly make a difference for the Kingdom.