Monday, January 25, 2010

Matt Smith

2010 January 25  Thoughts

Today marks the fifth year anniversary of the death of Matt Smith.  Matt was, for those who never met him, in the words carved into his headstone, "a minister of the gospel".  He was a loving husband and father.  He was a mentor to many.  He was also a neighbor.  But most importantly, to me, he was the 'Minister of Community Outreach' at the church I used to attend.   In his position as such, he and I worked together twice yearly on a project called The Children's Clothing Closet, which offered gently used donated clothing at an affordable price (a buck for a bag) to the many families in our community.  We spent time getting to know one another during drives to picked donations at suburban churches in the early days of his arrival in the neighborhood.

I had come to faith in Christ just months before Matt came to our church.  As such a baby believer, I had questions, struggles and baggage.  Matt  was always available to answer questions, offer scripture to soothe struggles and baggage, to pray for and with me and to generally be a cheerleader.  I wonder at his ability to juggle all the roles in his life without ever seeming to forget that first and foremost he was a child of the living God!   I counted Matt among my friends, although something his brother, Chris said after Matt's death made me wonder how many people made that assumption about their relationship with Matt.  Chris said that if Matt was in a room with ten people, seven would say he was their best friend, and the other three would wish he was.  That seems a tribute to Matt's ability to make friends across all barriers and to his uncanny capacity to make everyone feel accepted and comfortable.

Though I was never in one of Matt's bible study groups, he was one of the leaders when all the groups met together usually once or twice during our study, depending on the length of the study.  It was during one of these times that Matt asked everyone the question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years with relation to your faith?  It was the first time I had the courage to tell anyone that I saw myself on the mission field at some point in the future.  The following Sunday in between our Sunday school class and service, Matt took me aside.  He shared with me a brochure from our sister church, North Park, detailing three mission trips available to participate in that summer.  As I read the pamphlet my eyes were drawn to "The Dublin Prayer Conference", but I read about the other two trips, one to Appalachia and one to Russia and said, "I find myself wanting to go to Ireland, but the Russia trip would probably be more of a sacrifice."  Matt asked me why on both counts and after hearing what I had to say, told me his ideas.  He explained to me that his first thought for me, had been the Dublin Prayer Conference.  There's more to be told about that, but it is for another time.  Matt was an encourager, and I had rarely encountered that before in my life.

Matt made time to befriend my husband, even though my Raymond is not yet a believer, nor a member of the church.  Raymond is a sports fan, a former football, baseball and softball player, and has a wide knowledge and appreciation of music.    Matt used these common interests to lay the foundation of his relationship with Raymond.  That and the fact that they were both incredible carnivores!   Both Raymond and Matt were the kind of guys who when given a casserole containing, veggies, meat, and carbs would ask, " Where's the meat?"  simply because they liked and wanted a piece of meat on their plate.  Matt made an impact on my husband.

When Matt got sick, it was hard.  When Matt died, it was a devastating blow to our church and our community.  But, it was also an example to all of how to finish the race while keeping the faith.  Matt was one of those special souls who come into our lives every now and then.  He taught all of us something.  Most of all, he left a Matt shaped hole in most of our hearts.

Cowboy & Wills - A Love Story

Cowboy & Wills: A Love Story Cowboy & Wills: A Love Story by Monica Holloway

My rating: 5 of 5 stars Wonderful memoir. Impressed upon me our responsibility to listen to our children because sometimes they intuitively know what they need and it's our job to interpret whether the need is fundamental or peripheral. View all my reviews >>

Late Night Thoughts

2010 January 24

An immense feeling of sadness has slowly been encompassing me for the last several hours, to the point that I feel the need to cry.  Where this comes from is a mystery to me.  Well, maybe not a total mystery.  I finished reading A Big Little Life  tonight.  It was another joy-filled book that made me laugh out loud at times, just as Cowboy And Wills did.  And, although Cowboy & Wills  made me cry throughout the reading, there were no tears with Trixie until the end chapters of her Big Little Life.  Still the lingering effect of C&W was amazement and a glimpse into possibilities.  And though the message of A Big Little Life was to live in innocence and in each moment, the feeling that stays with me at the moment is regret.

I regret that I have not been a better mom to Greyla.  Granted, she is nowhere near  as intelligent or intuitive as either of the dogs in these memoirs, I wonder how different she might have been had I been more present for her.

She came into our lives a mere two weeks after Jake, our 13 year old Lab passed away.  Jake was my heart dog.  He & I were connected deeply and my grief was overwhelming.  My heart was never really open to Greyla, for many years, because my loss of Jake was an unhealed wound.  I am only beginning to see how I allowed my pain to isolate me from this dog.  My excuse was always that Greyla was meant to be Raymond's dog, since he requested that our next dog be a female, black lab and since she arrived for his 50th birthday.

Greyla is nearly 11 now.  Is it too late for me to be a 'good mom'?  I hope not.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts on the Love Dare, Day 7

This is a paragraph from  the Day 7 " Love Dare" that hit me right where I live:

Love chooses to believe the best about people.  It gives them the benefit of the doubt.  It refuses to fill in the unknowns with negative assumptions.  And when our worst hopes are proven to be true, love makes every effort to deal with them and move forward.  As much as possible, love focuses on the positive.

In my defense, I do try to focus on the positive with my husband and with the children I care for and maybe even some of the people I know.  But, with regard to the general population, I have lately come to realize that my thoughts lean to the negative.  I rarely choose to believe the best about people I don't know.  I rarely give a stranger the benefit of the doubt.  My initial response is to fill in unknowns with negative assumptions.  It seems like day 7 is giving me a little trouble.

As to how I respond to situations where the worst has actually happened, I'd have to say that on a scale of one to ten, I may be in negative numbers.  Seriously, no pun intended.

Is the answer as simple as the Love Dare would have me believe?  Well, The scripture at the end of day 7 is:  "If there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8 NKJV)"  Not always an easy thing to do, but certainly a worthwhile thing to do.  Kind of reminds me of the plaque that hangs in my living room that says: "Faith makes things possible, NOT easy".  So, while I accept the challenge of day 7, I know that it will take me more than a day to work through this dare, especially as it relates to the world around me. I will use my experience in learning to focus on R's goodness to teach me to look at the people around me differently.  I will use the hope in God's Word to guide me when it seems impossible to change.  And I will study the example of Jesus.  When I look around my neighborhood, I'll try to see the best in those whom I've previously judged harshly.

Negativity, harshness, snap judgments come very easily for me.  Changing may not be easy, but it is possible.  What I ask of you who read this and interact with me, is that you hold me accountable.  If I begin sounding like "mean jean", bring it to my attention.  Reference this blog, if you must, but help me to stay on track.  We're truly all in this together, and I will probably need your help to affect a real change. And, if you are a praying person, pray for me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thoughts on...


Since last week, I have been semi-following a challenge issued by the morning DJ s on KLOVE.  It involves a 40 day study called "The Love Dare".  Each day there is a reading and a dare which is meant to help make improvements in important relationships in your life.  For the purpose of the book, it is supposed to help with your relationship with your spouse.  The application could be made to other relationships, as well.  As I have been attempting to follow the principles put forth each day, I have been frustrated.  The strain comes from how difficult some of the challenges are for me, while my husband seems to have a lock on things.  And he's not even doing the "Love Dare"!  

Maybe a little background is necessary.  I didn't even suggest that R, my dear husband, participate.  The "Love Dare" grew out of the movie "Fireproof" and has gained momentum via Christian outlets.  R has never even heard of the movie, or the book.  I decided that I am not the best wife I can be to him, so I sought to improve the way I relate to him by participation in this 40 day challenge. 

Day one asked that you say nothing negative to your spouse.  That's harder than you think!  Day one was a little tough for me.  I had to be vigilant and keep my normal negativity reigned in.  R, who, again knows nothing of this challenge, is the kind of person who says nothing if he can't say something positive,  so for him there's no big deal.  Day two held onto the previous day's dare and added the performance of at least one unexpected act of kindness.  Before I was even aware of that days challenge, R had gotten up, gone out into the bitter cold and cleared the car for me, since I had to work and it was his day off.  Day three asked that you call your spouse with no agenda other than to say you're thinking of them.  R called me at work, something he rarely does. 

Keep in mind that my husband knows nothing of this "Love Dare". So why is he better at each dare then I am?  We know the answer.  He's already kind, thoughtful, compassionate, positive and loving.  I am a work in progress.  He's not the one who NEEDS the "Love Dare".  I need it to become the kind of wife R deserves.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Today I am supposed to be taking down all the Christmas decorations. Well, actually, they should've come down on the 7th, after the Epiphany, but I said I would do it over the weekend. Yesterday, I said that I was taking the day off & would do it today. So far today, I thought about it, but haven't done anything. This is the exact route of procrastination I seem to follow each year after Christmas & New Year. Generally speaking, I have a 'peak' energy day sometime around the second or third, when my internal voice says, "let's take down all the decorations!" But, since as a child (many l-o-n-g years ago), we always left the tree and all decorations up until after Father Matthew Kebe had come by on the feast of the Epiphany to bless our home, it feels wrong to take everything down before the 6th of January. Forget the fact the saintly Fr Kebe has been gone from this world since I was in high school. Forget the fact that since Fr Kebe, no one has blessed our home(s). There is a deep, inexplicable tradition within me that will not be denied.

Why? And where does this come from?

Why does it seem somehow disloyal to my past, my upbringing, my Slovenian Grandparents and what my dad would expect, to take down the tree and all the trappings before January 6? It's not like my dysfunctional family, either immediate, or extended, is immersed in tradition. I can barely get them to drive the 15 minutes to my house for any holiday. Maybe it's part of my rebellious spirit; I'm clinging to what we always did, in resistance to what seems to be the norm these days - put the tree up right after Thanksgiving and take it down on New Years. Maybe.

I don't really have an answer to the "why" or the origin of the feeling. Right now, I'm simply thinking that maybe another cup of coffee will be the magic motivator. We'll see.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Adventures in Urban Living, Part 3

As we left Part 2 of our adventure with Ratzo, the huge rodent
who had taken up residence in our home, we were waiting for
him to get hungry enough to sample some of the yummy dried
fruits, nut butters and whole nuts we had diligently glued to
the rat traps. I had forgotten to mention that Kevin, the
exterminator, was fairly sure Ratzo had gained entry via our
doggie door. I have been petitioning for removal of the doggie
door for several years, but the hubby is sufficiently opposed
to the idea, as to make it a huge issue. Those of you in a
relationship know that you must choose carefully the things
about which to make an issue, so I have thus far, caved on
doggie door removal. However Kevin did give me fresh
ammunition should the subject arise again,which seems
inevitable. Kevin has removed raccoons, rats, stray cats,
squirrels and chipmunks, all of whom have considered a
doggie door an open invitation to join the family.
But I digress. Back to the waiting.
The wait went on for some time and we actually began to
think that Ratzo had eaten the poison and left our abode
in search of water. Why we would think that shows just how
self deceptive we can be! The dog has a huge self-waterer,
plus there are two bathrooms in our house, both with open
(most of the time) toilets, plus there is a small pond in the
yard, not more than fifty feet from the doggie door. But
that was what we chose to believe. It was easier than facing
humiliation at the paws of Ratzo. Daily checks of the rat
traps continued to fruitless. (Well, actually the fruits
remained in the traps, but you get my drift)
In the midst of this self deception, came a Friday afternoon.
Raymond had been home all day and was being domestic by
cooking dinner. I walked into the house around 6 PM. Even
before my 'hi, honey' kiss, I asked, "What is that smell?"
Raymond explained he was making dinner, which included
cabbage. OK. It was a very cold day, leading into a very cold
weekend. Our boiler was working at capacity to keep our
radiators dispensing heat in our drafty old house. Ratzo was
not even a blip on our radar.
We had dinner, played Scrabble and vegged out in front of the
TV watching Seinfeld reruns till bedtime.
In the morning, Raymond was up, as is his habit, at 4:30 AM.
I stumbled downstairs about two hours later. As I hit the
bottom of the stairs, my senses were assaulted by a horrific
stench! Raymond, who is smeling impaired and thinks I
have super human olfactory capabilities, said, when
questioned, "That's just the cabbage from last night". I
didn't think so. I mean, would the smell have gotten
stronger overnight? As I walked around sniffing like some
sort of demented human-bloodhound combo, I noted
the smell was, indeed, stronger in the kitchen. How could
he have been reading and watching Sports Center with this
overwhelming stink in the air? As my quest for the source
of the offensive odor evolved, I noted that while it was strong
in the kitchen, it definitely increased in intensity in the area
near our old fashioned wall-mounted kitchen sink. There is
a short radiator under the sink and when I bent down to sniff
in that vicinity, I almost threw up. Further investigation with
a flashlight showed that the originating source of the odor was
indeed, a large, dead, bloating rat! He had died under the
kitchen radiator, was swelling in the heat and was wedged
under the back, near the wall. He was still intact, but might
not be for much longer, if we didn't get him out soon. I reached
behind the radiator, my hand triple ensconced in green plastic
newspaper bags, but I couldn't get a good grip. Raymond went
to find a length of scrap wood to push Ratzo from under the
radiator, back toward the back wall and a space where I might
be able to pick him up. I was a little concerned that if I yanked
too hard, his head might detach from his body and that was to
be avoided at all costs! Raymond poked under the radiator
and moved Ratzo from under the radiator into the smallish space
between the radiator and the wall. Allow me to point out that
Raymond had first acted as the reach and bag person, but the
smell had made him retch, so I took over the reach and bag
operation. I managed to grab him, flip the plastic bag inside
out, and tie it, a movement well known to city dwellers who
practice the move when picking up after their critters when
walking them. We then triple bagged the sucker and boxed
his remains before placing them in the outside trash bin. I
actually did a dance of joy that Ratzo was dead. I mean,
I was in a celebratory mood! As I proceeded to clean and
disinfect the kitchen, I was singing a happy little 'Ratzo's
dead' ditty. Raymond was very quiet. Later, as we had coffee
Raymond showed his true colors. He said, "I'm really sorry
we had to kill him."
At first, I questioned his sanity.
I asked what his alternative would've been.
Then, finally, I let it go.
This is one of the reasons I love Raymond. He has more
compassion, even for the Ratzos of this world, than most
other people I know. Sometimes, urban living can be a trial,
but as long as Raymond and I are together, it's a trial I can
deal with. And although Raymond is compassionate,
I am practical.
There in lies the balance ...
... and the danger for all those Ratzos out there!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Adventures in Urban Living, Part 2

Adventures in Urban Living, Part 2

The continuing saga of Ratzo

When last we left our story, Ratzo was making himself quite comfy in our home; for full background, please read "Adventures in Urban Living". Feeling the full inadequacy of our attempts to catch and kill this huge rodent, a call was placed to an extermination company we've used in the past. (super aggressive bees that were living in our pathetic excuse for a garage, but that's another story) The woman from the company first asked if I was certain it was a rat. I was. She then explained that they don't do any rodents larger than mice, but could give me a referral number, a gentleman named Kevin.

Kevin answered my call, but was not very supportive of the actions we had already taken. In fact, after I told him the saga of Ratzo, he told me that, "You did everything wrong!" He explained to me that it was a mistake to remove the nesting areas when we found them. He also told me we erred in placing "too many traps". Kevin actually said that because rats are extremely intelligent all we had done was to alert Ratzo of our knowledge of his presence and begin a battle of wits with him. I swear! Kevin also explained that in our fervor to be rid of the rat, we had inadvertently inserted ourselves into a kind of "game". While I found this unsettling, I could actually see some logic in Kevin's assumptions. All of our attempts thus far had been futile. I wanted Kevin's help, not critique. "So, Kevin, do you think you can help us?" "Well, what you need to do is be very patient. Set one trap on each floor of the house and check them regularly. Don't remove anymore nesting areas that you find. But mostly, you just have to wait. If you've removed easy access to food sources, then eventually the rat will eat what's in the trap."

This sounded too simplistic to me, but what the heck. I mean the rat had been living in our home so long that we'd named him, for goodness sake! So I ask Kevin the bottom line question: "How much will it cost for you to come rid us of Ratzo?" Kevin's answer was not very encouraging. It would cost $75 for each trap he placed. Then it would cost $50 each time he came to check the traps. And all of this cash outlay would come without a guarantee that we would be rodent free. I thanked Kevin for his time and decided to continue on, alone, with this new information

One trap was set on each floor of our home, from attic to basement. Dog food, chinchilla food and people food were all secured. I was a little concerned about the none food items that Ratzo seemed to enjoy, ie: electric cords, dry wall, but decided to put that out of my head. I left the little trays of poison mixed with dog kibble under the sofa, the bookcase and behind the stove. These were areas Ratzo had shown a preference for, so it seemed wise to leave them, especially since they were inaccessible to the dogs. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.