Remembering Liza

17361708_10209667244772812_5054715515953374219_nI met her first at a humane society in Brookings, South Dakota. It had been several weeks since the death of Mollie (“the best cat ever”), and it was time. I had been looking through the listings on Petfinder and saw a cat that I thought would be a good match for resident cat Russell. When I got there, the cat I originally had in mind just wasn’t demanding to go home with me. So I started browsing around; and I noticed a petite dilute calico in a cage in the corner of the room.

Liza (I don’t recall the name they had given her at the shelter) had been brought to the Humane Society when she was young and pregnant. She lived in a foster home until her kittens were old enough to be adopted. The whole family was brought back to the shelter, where the kittens all found homes very quickly. Liza remained in her cage in the corner, watching her family and her cage neighbors be adopted one after the other. She was very shy; she didn’t know the flirting tricks that so many shelter cats have learned. So she watched from her corner as others left the shelter,  and she remained.

I have always love17352402_10210444869852847_7922528092644567055_nd the coloring of dilute calico cats; my first two cats were dilute calicos. Dilute calicos are gray, tan, and white; regular calicos are black, orange, and white. If dilute calico is a new term for you, think of a calico cat painted with watercolors instead of being drawn with crayon. Once I saw her in her cage in the shelter, I kept coming back to her. Finally, I asked to have her brought to one of the visiting rooms. The room that was available was a large room with lots of cat toys and a couple of other resident cats. Liza wandered the room, gradually getting closer to me, the stranger. As she got close enough, I would reach down to pet her. Finally she was staying close to my chair, so I picked her up and brought her into my lap.

We continue17308969_10209667245052819_4432556102763174414_nd to get acquainted, at least for about five minutes. That’s when Liza had made up her mind, and she curled up in my lap and went to sleep. I didn’t want to tie up the room forever, so I eventually had to wake her in order to do the paperwork and bring her home with me.

For the past seven years, Liza has been charming me and anyone who visits my home. She continued to be very shy around strangers; but once the house was again quiet, I could expect to see Lisa peeking around the column on the stairway. During her stay, Liza acquired a hose of nicknames: Elle-Belle, Liza Bellissima, PrettyGirlKittyGirl, and occasionally when she wad being difficult, Liza Beanhead. Despite being the smallest of the three critter2014-01-27 09.30.08s in the house, she successfully trained Russell and Sadie to treat her as the queen of the house. If she wanted to sleep in the dog’s bed, Sadie found another place to sleep. If she wanted the top perch on the cat tree, Russell took another spot. And mostly, when she wanted to take an afternoon nap right in the middle of my bed, Russell would soon join her, and Sadie would take a nap on the floor at the foot of the bed.

She did know how to scare me, though. Sometimes she got carried away with hiding. She would find a corner of a closet or a spot in the basement and stay there for long enough that I would get worried (five days was her record). And one evening while I was watching late-night television, she came into the living room carrying one of her felt-and-catnip mice (or so I thought), dropped it on the floor, and it ran for a hiding place!

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A few months ago, we found a small lump in her abdomen. It was removed, and the lab results showed that it was malignant. She had more extensive surgery at the end of January, and for a few weeks she was recovering energy every day. Then, apparently, the aggressive cancer had taken root in her abdomen and continued to grow. Her last two weeks were spent napping in the sun or curled up on the soft cushion of Sadie’s bed. Late last Friday night, she just slipped away from the body that could no longer sustain her.

I will miss her. Russell and Sadie both miss her. We will probably be bringing another cat into our home in a few weeks, but Liza will always be part of my favorite memories.

Friday Five – March 3, 2017

Here are the Friday Five questions for the first week of Lent, along with my reactions:

1.) Are you giving up, or taking on? Some combination thereof?

I moved from a 4-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom townhouse two weeks ago, and I had shoulder replacement surgery the week after my move. As a result, I’m still living in a forest of cardboard boxes. I’m trying to go through a few boxes each day, with the goal of giving/selling/tossing things as I unpack them. So my Lenten discipline is focused mainly on giving up the excess “stuff” I accumulated in the five years I spent in that very large house.

2.) Fasting? What does that look like for you?

It’s very easy for me to fall into a cycle of using food or “stuff” to try to take away spiritual and emotional pain. Fasting in this season means dealing directly with what has been hurtful rather than trying to bury it under layers of other things.

3.) In what way is study helpful to you this season? Are you reading, studying, journaling…?

There are two books that I plan to read during this Lenten season: The Gift of Imperfection by Brene Brown, and Healing Spiritual Wounds by Carol Howard Merritt.

4.) Purple. Do you find that your wardrobe is drawn to participate in the season?

The main colors in my wardrobe – besides black, of course – are shades of purple and blue. So even without consciously trying, I will probably be liturgically correct most of the time.

5.) How are you finding ways to take “time apart” in order to avoid getting worn thin?

My activity is somewhat limited by my recovery from surgery. And I have recently moved into what I’m calling semi-retirement. So my challenge may be finding ways to avoid isolation rather than finding time apart. It’s a very odd sensation to experience this season from the pew rather than from the chancel. I believe that there will be new insights for me to gain; I’m curious to see what those will be.

 

Reformation Sunday -499 Years

 

Today is Reformation Sunday. It was 499 years ago that Martin Luther wanted to start a discussion about some practices of the church. He had no visions of starting a new denomination – his followers later adopted the Lutheran name for their movement.

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There are some traditions that run deep and touch some very emotional nerves. For me, one of those traditions is Reformation Sunday. The paraments on the altar are bright red, the scriptures are always the same, and it just wouldn’t seem like a “legal” Reformation Sunday without singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Gospel – John 8:31-36

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

Sermon

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Every now and then, if I have trouble sleeping, I give in to the temptation of turning on the television. Infomercial heaven! Channel after channel with stories about products designed to fill a need I never knew I had.  Just the other day I saw an ad for a set of four dust-mop slippers that you put on your dog, so that as the dog walks around your house, shedding like crazy, it dusts the floor as it goes. Who knew we needed that?!

The people who heard Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel text might have had the same question about the freedom Jesus talked about in today’s lesson.  “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” was Jesus’ offer to them.  But why would they need that?

Jesus says, “I tell you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” It’s hard for us not to roll our eyes when we hear the crowd claim, “We are the descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.” Never been slaves? Seriously? What happened to the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Romans? You’re kidding, right?

It turns out that they are not kidding. They are in denial about their own sin. But are we any different? Do we take sin seriously? Freedom isn’t a gift unless you know you are not free.  So what about us?  Are we free?  Would this gift be any more appealing to us than it was to Jesus’ first believers?

In our confession, we say that we are in bondage to sin.  We are bound; our hands and feet are tied; we cannot do anything except sin. That’s what our words say; but do we actually believe that?

What do we really mean when we say we are in bondage to sin?

We might be talking about our own sinful actions and attitudes. The kind of sin that makes it really hard for me to trust others the way I should, worrying that they may take advantage of me. The kind of sin that makes it hard for me to share with others the way I should, afraid that there won’t be enough to go around and I’d better get mine first. We’ve talked before about the story “Stone Soup” that starts with a whole town full of this kind of mistrust and suspicion. Not one of those neighbors could have imagined a future that included a tasty, filling soup made from the contributions of every household. And we are often like those neighbors, trying to do the best we can for ourselves, and only thinking of others if there’s anything left over, which there usually isn’t.

And it’s not just individual sins, either. Our congregation is also in bondage to sin. Collectively, we make decisions based on what’s in it for us, not what God has called us to give to benefit our neighbors. And beyond the congregation or the community, we know that we live in a broken world. Every decision we make — from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive to the food we buy – takes a toll on the environment or on the living conditions of the people who make those things for our pleasure. As Paul says in the second reading, “All have sinned and fallen short.”

Luther knew that the real bondage happens when we imagine ourselves to be free, to be able to control our own destiny.

We read in the book of Genesis that sin came into the world in a garden a very long time ago.  When the serpent told those first humans that the tree that was off limits would give them knowledge like God’s, they couldn’t resist the power, they imagined that they would be free.  But instead, by taking that fruit, they sentenced themselves and all humankind to lives of bondage to sin.

Into our bondage comes a word of good news – God loves you too much to let you live in denial.  God loves you enough to force you to look your sin directly in the eyes. God loves you enough to call you to own your own sin.  Only when you know, not just in your heads but in your heart, that you are in bondage to sin, only then will the gift of God’s forgiveness have value for you.

Despite our stubbornness, despite our self-centered attitudes, despite our thinking that we can work things out on our own, God is waiting eagerly to forgive you. And even more amazing, God actually forgets about your sin. Out of his extravagant and unreasonable love for you, God regards you as if you were perfect, as if you were free of all sin, as if you were Christ.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

My Left Knee – Episode Six

Oh, my goodness! I’ve ignored this story for a long time. I can’t believe it’s been two months since I last posted an update. So this will be a short post covering a long period of time.

I continued to get really positive feedback from my surgeon and my physical therapists. They all said that my recovery was more and faster than they would have expected. The last two areas of challenge were balance and stair-climbing. I have exercises that I can do at home to work on balance; that will be a long-term project, I think. And stair-climbing: it seems like all of a sudden, I am able to walk stairs in the “normal” way (one foot after the other) rather than one step at a time. I don’t always remember, though; I’ve been taking steps the other way for so long that I have to stop and remind myself that I can just walk up or down without a lot of drama.

I have officially “graduated” from physical therapy. I got a T-shirt and everything. At my last appointment, the therapist said something that was wonderful news. I was doing one exercise, and she commented “If I couldn’t see the incision, I wouldn’t know which knee had the surgery.” That was amazing! And besides that, I’m almost completely pain-free. I only have pain if it’s been a really long day or if I’ve been doing more than I am used to.

So the story of my knee replacement is, I think, at an end. There will be even more healing over the next several months, of course; but the biggest part of the healing is done. I am grateful to my surgeon and his team, the physical therapists who coached me back to increased activity, and the dozens of friends and neighbors who brought food, gave me rides, or cheered me on.Now I have no good reason not to get out for a walk with Miss Sadie.

 

My Left Knee – Episode Five

This has been a strange week. Some things have gone very well, much better than I could have expected. But there have also been times of real discouragement that the recovery wasn’t coming along as well as I wanted.

The good news: I continue to have very good range of motion in my knee. The two key measurements are how much I can straighten my leg and how much I can bend it. When I’m lying on the table (or on the bed at home) I’m supposed to tighten the muscles in my thigh and push my knee down as far as it can go. The goal is 0° (a perfectly straight leg), and I’ve been there for a couple of weeks now. Then, still lying on the table, I’m supposed to slide my heel up closer to my hip to see how much I can bend the knee. The last measurement I got was 116° (90° is a right angle, so this is more than that).

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A similar, but harder, version has me sitting on the edge of the table and extending my leg or bending my knee. Since I don’t have the table to push against, all the strength has to come from my leg muscles. My statistics are not as good in that version; but apparently I’m still doing better than they had expected.

The other things we’re working on have to do mainly with strength and balance. Those are harder to quantify, but just as important for learning to use my left leg instead of protecting it (as I have been doing for a year or more).  The goals are that I am able to walk without any limp and that I am able to walk up or down stairs in the “normal” way (one foot after the other) instead of taking one step at a time.

In spite of all this progress, I’ve felt somewhat discouraged this week. I think it’s because I didn’t have a realistic understanding just how long the recovery path is. Even with the strong progress I’ve made, the time line is still six months or more. And if I ease up on any of the exercises, it could be even longer. So the challenge now is how to keep my enthusiasm up over a longer time than I had expected.

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So I’ll be focusing on a longer time horizon than I originally expected. And I’ll probably try to find some fun short-term rewards to keep me focused in the meantime. More details when I figure it all out.

My Left Knee – Episode Four

Knee pain

For the first two weeks after surgery, everything hurt. It hurt to stand up, it hurt to sit down, it hurt to walk, it hurt to bend my knees, it hurt to straighten them out again. During that time, the doctor and the therapists were very encouraging – they frequently said that I was doing better than they expected at this point in time. I had to make a conscious decision to believe their assessment; because my own experience seemed to say otherwise.

This week, though, it seems like I turned a corner. I’m certainly not pain-free – I have been warned that it may take 6 months or more for that – but I’m starting to see that the exercises I’ve been doing have had some results. I’ve stopped taking the strongest of my pain meds. I can feel a greater range of motion, and my overall energy level is getting better.

I returned to see my surgeon for my two-week checkup. After asking a few questions and checking out my range of motion, the doctor said “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” And in Physical Therapy, we’re practicing walking with a cane instead of the walker. All in all, things seem to be going very well.

collect_3182cWith all that positive energy floating around, it’s no surprise that I let it go to my head. Since I’ve been off the strongest pain med for a week, I can now begin driving; so I’ve been looking for an occasion to take my car out for an adventure. Yesterday seemed to be just made for adventure. I needed a few things from the grocery store, so I decided to drive on my own rather than call someone and give them my grocery list. Then – and here’s where I went overboard – instead of going to the smaller store in the next town over, I decided to drive a little farther and go to one of the big stores.

“I just need a few things,” I said to myself. So I drove just over half an hour to a town with some variety of large grocery stores. “Just a few things.” I was sure it would be manageable. But there were two things I didn’t think about. One is that the “few things” I needed were not all clustered in Aisle 3 – oh, no! Milk was in one corner of the store, bread was in the far opposite corner, produce in a different location, and a box of macaroni was right in the middle of the store. So a lot of walking (with the grocery cart serving as my walker) for just those few things.

But the other thing I failed to think about is that whenever I go to that store, I get seduced by all the fresh produce, the exotic cheeses, the fresh fish and seafood, and… well, you get the idea. So by the time I finally got to the checkout, I had a cart that was nearly full, and I had done even more walking than I had planned. And then, of course, once home, I had to get all those bags into the kitchen and put away. It was a long day, with a sense of accomplishment to know that I had actually done it, but a clear lesson that I’m not yet back to my pre-surgery “normal.”

I continue to be grateful for all the good wishes and prayers from friends and members of my congregation. Progress continues, though perhaps not quite as rapidly as I would like to imagine.

My Left Knee – Episode Three

Back – way back, actually – in the late 1950’s, there was a television game show called “Who Do You Trust?” The contestants, a married couple, were given the category of the next question. The husband then decided whether he trusted himself or his spouse to answer the question correctly. (Given that the show aired almost 60 years ago, the condescending sexism of the premise didn’t appear to bother anyone associated with the program.)

angle_13469cIt feels like I have been playing my own version of “Who do you trust?” in the past week. Most of the time, I’ve felt like I’ve been making little or no progress in physical therapy. The exercises have been strenuous and painful; and my stamina doesn’t seem to have improved. Still, every time I’m at a PT session, the therapists have told me that I’m making excellent progress. They have said that I’m doing better than expected with both straightening and bending my knee (two of the key skills that PT works on). So… who do I trust? My perception, based on my degree of pain; or the therapists’ feedback, based on angles measured with some sort of protractor-type gizmo. Maybe because I liked their answer better, I decided to believe the therapists instead of my own experience. And probably not so surprisingly, once I decided to believe them, I could start to see evidence of progress.

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My first days at home were a full-time job just getting from morning to night. By the time I got dressed, fixed meals, did my PT exercises, and put  ice on my knee, the day was full. It was time to get some sleep and start all over again. By now, though, those things take less time, and I’m trying to decide what else I can do to fill my day. I mean, there are only so many hours of the Olympics I can watch during the day. I’m working on a knitting project or two, and looking at some of the “some day” projects that I can do around the house without a lot of standing or walking. It actually feels good, like the borders of my world are expanding a little bit. I know, or at least I keep reminding myself, that progress will come slowly and unevenly, and there will be many days when I will be impatient. But for now, I’m choosing to believe the experts and trust that I’m getting better.