I've prayed and waited for months until I felt any communication back. I've prayed and received an almost immediate answer, like a whisper written on my heart. I've heard exact words in response to my pleadings heavenward. I've prayed and not really heard or felt anything but just watched life's events unfold and realize that God was aware of me all along.
This afternoon, I sit here feeling utterly exhausted, with a sore back and a headache, having spent all day caring for children, some mine and some belonging to friends, feeling too emotionally drained from an exchange with a struggling child (mine) to make dinner. All of this fatigue, and yet, I sit here at the kitchen table next to the window full of thanks. Spring is here. We're enjoying a day off from incessant rain. The lack of sunshine gets to me but I can't help but be grateful for the emerald valley it creates. Our grove of trees has miraculously leafed out in the last week. Tulips from the yard sit on the table next to me. The piano teacher is finishing up with Roger in the next room. Clara is playing with her dollhouse, Carter is reading. George? Undoubtedly making mischief somewhere. And Blaine. Blaine is training the dog to sit on command.
This afternoon, I realized a new way God has been answering my prayers. He's been working on my heart.
Eleven years ago we moved home to Oregon. We wanted to live near Ashland, where Taylor worked and had grown up. We chose Talent, a small bedroom community of Ashland. We loved coming to Medford to see my family, but I knew we were where we wanted to be. In fact, for whatever biased reason, I can remember myself saying multiple times, "I would never live in Medford." (Insert purple-shirted emoji lady with shoulders shrugging.)
Two and a half years ago we were two years into living in the home we had designed and built, our second home in Talent. It was the exact house we wanted in the neighborhood we loved.
But something had been happening in my mind and heart for about a year. I had started to think about Medford again. If I think hard, I can remember the specific instances and experiences that catalyzed that shift, but they don't really even matter to me now. What resonates now is that feeling. That opening, softening, changing heart. It happened to me first. Taylor was next. I watched his heart change like mine had. It happened over time. And then, all of a sudden, we knew a change was needed immediately. A rental house big enough for our family popped up. We jumped in with both feet and left our home in a matter of three weeks. It seemed surprising and crazy to everyone around us. But our hearts had been prepared.
I can't begin to enumerate the way that move has blessed our lives. It's not a better place, but it's the better place for us at this time, and I am constantly astonished at how various prayers have been answered by taking that leap and relocating.
I realized today that it had happened again.
A NO-DOGS pact had basically been written into our wedding vows. Taylor and I didn't mind dogs, but we knew we weren't dog people. Taylor is allergic to dogs, plus he would sooner do A N Y T H I N G then clean up after a dog. I was always so overwhelmed with little humans that the idea of a puppy was laughable. Then there was the time that a dog pounced on Carter in his toddler years, scaring him (and me) half to death. Then there was the time I was swimming in the lake by our family’s cabin and the neighbor’s huge dog jumped on top of my back while my face was down in the water. I was terrified. Then there were the countless times when Taylor and I were trail running and someone’s unleashed dog came bounding for us while they yelled out, “don’t worry, he’s friendly!” (All the mad faced emojis here.) Am I painting a clear enough picture? WE WERE NOT DOG PEOPLE.
Over the last year or so, Blaine, our oldest, has asked for a dog approximately forty two billion times. My answer has historically been an emphatic “I have a full plate. I constantly feel like I am drowning. I can't take on the work and mess of a dog!!!!"
Over the past couple of months a couple of things happened (a little too tender to share here) that made me realize how much a dog could do for Blaine. I began to ask him follow up questions rather than shoot him down immediately. "Would you be able to clean up after him every day? Would you be willing to use some of your babysitting money to help pay for his needs? Would you take him for walks and give him baths?"
One day Taylor texted me from work and said, "The guy that works next door always has his chiuaua with him. He is so cute and so good!"
A couple days later he sent me a photo of another chiuaua. "Look at this dog at a shelter in Portland! Isn't he so cute?! His name is SPARTACUS!"
A few days later. "I just put in an application for Spartacus!"
Somehow Taylor and I were having the exact same experience. A softening of sorts. We kept looking at each other like "WHAT ARE WE THINKING?!" whenever we talked about dogs.
Spartacus went to a different family.
That was that. I thought.
Last week we watched a friend's poodle overnight due to a family emergency. He was well behaved, a piece of cake to take care of. He slept near the kids. Blaine cleaned up after him immediately.
That was fun, I thought, when we returned him.
That day we drove north for Spring Break. Blaine competed in the state Geography Bee (Holla!) and we did a bit of Portland exploring. On Saturday morning we drove to Multnomah Falls. We got out of the van and walked under the railroad bridge and threw some rocks into the creek. Taylor disappeared, making a phone call that took a while. I figured it was work related. The Bioskin store opens in a couple of weeks and he's been working around the clock to make things happen. When we got off the phone I asked him, "Who was that?" Quietly he replied, "I'll tell you in a minute." As we started up the trail to view the waterfall he hung back for a second, letting the kids pass in front of us. "So," he whispered, "that was Debbie, a dog breeder in Redmond. She has an eight month old poodle for sale." I'm not sure what made me more incredulous. That Taylor hadn't told me he was looking into dogs or that TAYLOR WAS LOOKING INTO DOGS! But, remember, my heart had been turning, and feeling Taylor's heart turn made me even more inclined. "OK," I said. "Let's go check out a dog in Redmond."
It made for a longer drive than just driving down I-5, but not too bad. We pulled into the Walmart parking lot in Redmond and there was Debbie, with the dirtiest, mangiest looking poodle I'd ever seen. And he was bigger than he seemed in the picture. Taylor chatted with her and engaged with the dog for a minute. I said like two words and awkwardly backed away. Taylor asked if we could think a while. She went into Walmart to shop and we walked the kids over to Panda Express. (At this point, they just thought Debbie was some random lady we had met in the parking lot with a nice dog.) Over cheap orange chicken and lo mein noodles, I whispered to Taylor, "I feel nothing for that dog. He is way bigger than I thought. And he is stinky and dirty!"
"I know," he said, "but he just needs a good bath. She didn't have time to do that before driving to meet us. And his face is really, really cute. And did you notice how calm he was? He didn't bark or jump up at all."
I agreed to look at him again. And the next thing I knew, I was inside Walmart collecting cash from the ATM, buying a dog bed in Petco (what was I doing inside Petco?!), and driving home to Medford with a Standard Poodle in the back of my van. He was quiet the whole drive home, during which we unanimously voted to call him August.
We are still in the doggie honeymoon phase, but here's what I can tell you so far. Auggie meets all my dog expectations. He doesn't have accidents in the house, climb on furniture or people, or chew things up. He hardly ever barks. He is mild and calm inside but loves to run around with the kids outside. And the kids are cleaning up after him immediately. I know, I know, this is something that almost always fails after a while. But if you know me and especially if you know Taylor, you know we will sooner drive Auggie all the way home to Debbie than clean up after Auggie.
More importantly, here's what else I can tell you. August is an answer to prayers. He has changed the mood in our home. The comfort is different. The camaraderie is different. The level of joy is different. Everything is different. The fighting has lessened. The words have softened. He is changing the tone in our home. (Something I have stewed about, prayed about, felt completely helpless and hopeless about.)
As I considered that today, I realized it. Just as God changed our hearts and got us here, he changed our hearts and got August here. I can't explain it in any other way. My heart just feels different. It's not like "oh, Blaine's begging finally wore me down and I'll just deal with having a dog even though I don't want one." It's a totally calm feeling when I handed Debbie the cash and loaded up a stinky, large dog. It's the absence of the anxiety and overwhelmedness that I used to feel when I would even think about owning a dog. MY HEART FEELS DIFFERENT.
I know it sounds corny and perhaps even ridiculous. (We are talking about a four legged animal!) But actually we are talking about my children. I think they needed August.
Added to my list of how God answers prayers: He can change my heart over time.
It’s been two weeks since I wrote this. Since then there has been a chewed up bra (among other items), ripped up carpet, and way too many potty accidents. I have screamed and fumed and slammed doors and cried. And asked “what were we thinking?!”
And I keep coming back to this.
I am so grateful I felt compelled to sit down and write this that day. Every time there has been an issue with August, I have come back to this: God knew these kids needed this dog. Also this: Answers to prayer don’t always include ease. You can’t praise God out of one side of your mouth for helping you and condemn the help he sent you out of the other.
And so we are pushing forward. We are finding solutions to problems and learning to speak dog. I’m turning into a weirdo who takes pictures of her dog and posts them on social media and talks baby talk to an animal. Taylor is in love and has pushed far beyond his comfort zone to make this work. Blaine is growing by leaps and bounds as he cares for August and Auggie worships him. It’s working out. I never wanted it to and never imagined it but here we are.