This past week has been challenging…good, but challenging. My dog got sick. Now this is not really an earth-shattering proposition. I mean, we are not the kind of people who treat our animals as if they were human babies. My dog is sort of special, though, because aside from the fact that she is the first dog I have ever actually paid money to purchase, she is also incredibly needy of attention. We could not complete a school day without Mischief making the rounds around our table requiring all of us to love her. She wants different loving from each of us. I am the top-of-the-nose-scratching specialist with a major in long-ear rubbing. Dee is the one Mischief loves to kiss, climbing on top of the bench in order to accomplish that task. Star Child is the one that scratches under her jaw and kisses her forehead, and Gladys Mae rubs her back. The boys take turns sitting on her and trying to ride her, and Little Princess gives her lots of hugs. It takes a lot of time for all that loving to happen, and it is a good thing we have a good bit of table time in the mornings. So last week when Mischief didn’t feel well, her absence from the table was obvious.
She ended up vomiting for over 24 hours, and by the second morning I knew that I was going to have to take her to the vet. It was a chilly 42 degrees or so outside, and she had gone to hide herself under the house. Normally, she is a creature of comfort, so the fact that she was not snuggled deep in her kennel next to the wood stove was another huge red flag. We decided to take her to the vet. The vet minced no words. We had a very sick dog on our hands. She was dehydrated–her eyes were sunk deep into her head, and she was losing body heat. Her blood was so concentrated (from dehydration) that the vet couldn’t even run the blood work to see if she had been poisoned. The vet said that Mischief would die if we did not get fluids into her immediately.
This was a tough call because money is an issue. Going on 16 months of unemployment means that the savings is gone. And we had no idea how much it would ultimately cost to diagnose and treat our dog. Big dogs like Mischief (she’s a great Dane) can have wonky things go wrong with their intestines and stomachs, and we had no idea if that was the case or if she had been poisoned or if she had simply eaten something she shouldn’t have. I left her at the vet that morning with an IV hook-up and went out to the car and called the Handy Man.
“How far do we go to treat her?” I asked. “We’re at about $400 right now.”
He replied, “I don’t know. I don’t think the kids could take it if we lost her right now.” I heard a catch in his voice.
“I don’t think I could take it,” I replied.
“Me, either,” he said, with an even greater catch in his voice.
We said good bye and I sat there and cried.
Now, maybe this is something normal people do. I don’t know. What I do know is this: I am learning how to feel in a given moment. At that moment I felt sorrow and helplessness and fear….and silly for feeling those things because she was, after-all, just a dog. And yet, instead of shutting down those feelings with that rationalization, I allowed myself a good cry. And I asked God to spare my dog.
The good news is that Mischief recovered. We paid for the $600 with plastic….for which we will have to pay the piper at tax time. It seems ridiculous to have spent that much money on a dog, and yet, I cannot say I regret it.
The even better news is how this relates to what I am going through in my emotional and spiritual recovery. The Wounded Heart group I am in is a challenge. My leaders make me face feelings every single session. Sometimes I find myself just weeping silently as someone else talks because I am feeling emotions I didn’t even know existed. Sometimes those emotions are connected with memories that I didn’t know were in my head. I find that I am emptying a well of emotion so deep that the very emptying is shaking everything in my life.
I realize that sounds bad, this shaking. It doesn’t always feel good. But what is happening is that I am no longer shutting down my heart. I have become a master at wearing a protective armor over my heart. This protective armor is a shutting down of my feelings. I have dreaded being exposed–because being exposed means being weak, out of control, feeling shame. At least that is the lie I have allowed myself to believe. And so I have locked away emotions like hurt, anger, fear…instead of taking those things to the Lord . I felt protected, but I was really poisoned. The one who suffered the most from all that poison was me. I have missed out on a full relationship with Jesus because I have been afraid to be vulnerable with Him. I have shut-down my feelings and have missed relationships with people I love because I have been too afraid to be weak. People always tell me I am so strong. Yes, I am. But it is not a good thing. It is a front–a way to hide. I don’t want to keep hiding.
A few weeks ago in my group I made an admission that was so anguishing that it physically hurt to say. I felt as if it were being torn from me. Today, as I talked about that very same issue, I realized that I was not feeling the shame and the (false) guilt and the emotionally raw sensations I had a few weeks ago. In fact, when we talked about it, I was completely fine. The well had been emptied of that one thing, and it no longer causes me the anguish it did just a few weeks ago. The lie was that the particular thing I had felt was so bad, so shameful, so indecent, so wrong, that anyone who heard it would despise me. I despised me for even having that feeling. And yet, when that horrible secret was ripped out of my heart and thrown into the midst of that room, one lady turned to me and said she had had the same feelings in regards to her situation. And then the leader looked at me and told me it was normal. Here I was in deep shame and hiding this horrible truth…only to be accepted and loved. And normal. The damage from sexual abuse goes deep.
My heart doesn’t always believe what my head knows to be true. Sometimes, especially in my group, I find myself facing my disbelief honestly. Today our leader read to us from Psalm 105: 1-4 :
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
2 Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
3 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4 Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
Our leader was encouraging us that this journey is one of the works that the Lord is doing, and one day, we will be able to share what He has done in our lives through this healing. It was a promise that we will in the future–and can NOW–rejoice. As she read this, I found myself weeping. She looked at me and asked the question I am trying to learn not to dread: “Andrea, what are you feeling?” I told her that I wanted to believe that those words are for me. I know that they are in my head, but my heart is still learning that they are really truly for me. Part of this process for me is learning how to feel an emotion in the moment that I am feeling it. Instead of feeling like a failure as a Christian because I know I should feel a certain way, I am learning how to be authentic with the Lord with whatever I am feeling. He doesn’t want my self-protection. He doesn’t want the brave and happy face I give to the world. He doesn’t want me to live as if I am an orphan having to care for myself. He wants me to come to Him, to trust Him, to believe Him. Like the father of the sick child in Mark, I have to say daily, “I believe, help thou my unbelief!”
So that is what led me to consider this crying over my dog and spending the money to get her well as sort of a catharsis for me this past week. It was me realizing that it is okay to love the gifts the Lord gives to me–not to hold them too tightly, but to be free to love them and enjoy them, even if that gift is a dog. And it was okay for me to cry over the thought of losing my dog. And it was okay to ask God to heal her. And it was okay for me to rejoice that she is better. And it was okay to be real in that moment and to be weak and scared and not know what to do.
I have a Father who actually knows my heart. Even when I am unaware of what is hiding in there, He knows. He is not only not surprised by what I am feeling, but He loves me so much that He wants me to be real with Him in those moments–to be free to feel. It’s time I stopped living as if I were an orphan.