Turning the Light Off

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Marlee has gone home this morning, far sooner than we planned.  She was only twenty two, born only two months after our daughter’s birth, much too young an age for a Haflinger to die.

But something dire was happening to her over the last two weeks — not eating much,  an expanding girth, then shortness of breath, and last week it was confirmed she had untreatable lymphoma.

Her bright eyes were shining to the end so it was very hard to ask the vet to turn the light off.  But the time had come.

Marlee M&B came to us as a six month old “runty orphan” baby by the lovely stallion Sterling Silver,  but she was suddenly weaned at three days when her mama Melissa died of sepsis.  She never really weaned from her bottle/bucket feeding humans Stefan and Andrea Bundshuh at M&B Farm in Canada. From them she knew people’s behavior, learned their nonverbal language, and understood human subtleties that most horses never learn. This made her quite a challenge as a youngster as it also meant there was no natural reserve nor natural respect for people. She had no boundaries taught by a mother, so we tried to teach her the proper social cues.

When turned out with the herd as a youngster, she was completely clueless–she’d approach the dominant alpha mare incorrectly, without proper submission, get herself bitten and kicked and was the bottom of the social heap for years, a lonesome little filly with few friends and very few social skills. She had never learned submission with people either, and had to have many remedial lessons on her training path. Once she was a mature working mare, her relationship with people markedly improved as there was structure to her work and predictability for her, and after having her own foals, she picked up cues and signals that helped her keep her foal safe, though she had always been one of our most relaxed “do whatever you need to do” mothers when we handled her foals as she simply never learned that she needed to be concerned.

Over the years, as the herd has changed, Marlee became the alpha mare, largely by default and seniority, so I don’t believe she really trusted her position as “real”. She tended to bully, and react too quickly out of her own insecurity about her inherited position. She was very skilled with her ears but she was also a master at the tail “whip” and the tensed upper lip–no teeth, just a slight wrinkling of the lip.  The herd scattered when they saw her face change.  The irony of it all is that when she was  “on top” of the herd hierarchy, she was more lonely than when she was at the bottom and I think a whole lot less happy as she had few grooming partners any more.

She accompanied us to the fair for a week of display of our Haflingers year after year after year — she could be always counted on to greet the public and enjoy days of braiding and petting and kids sitting on her back.

The day she started formal under saddle training under Val Bash was when the light bulb went off in her head–this was a job she could do! This was constant communication and interaction with a human being, which she craved! This was what she was meant for! And she thrived under saddle, advancing quickly in her skills, almost too fast, as she wanted so much to please her trainer.

She has had a still unequaled record among North American Haflingers. She was not only regional champion in her beginner novice division of eventing as a pregnant 5 year old, but also received USDF Horse of the Year awards in First and Second Level dressage that year as the highest scoring Haflinger.

With Jessica Heidemann she did a “bridleless” ride display in front of hundreds of people at the annual Haflinger event, and with Garyn Heidemann as instructor,  she became an eventing pony for a young rider whose blonde hair matched Marlee’s.  She galloped with abandon in the field on bareback rides with Emily Vander Haak and became our daughter Lea’s special riding horse over the last few years.

She had a career of mothering along with intermittent riding work, with 5 foals –Winterstraum, Marquisse, Myst, Wintermond, and Nordstrom—each from different stallions, and each very different from one another.

This mare had such a remarkable work ethic, was “fine-tuned” so perfectly with a sensitivity to cues–that our daughter said:   “Mom, it’s going to make me such a better rider because I know she pays attention to everything I do with my body–whether my heels are down, whether I’m sitting up straight or not.”  Marlee was, to put it simply,  trained to train her riders.

We will miss her high pitched whinny from the barn whenever she heard the back door to the house open. We will miss her pushy head butt on the stall door when it was time to close it up for the night.  We will miss that beautiful unforgettable face and those large deep brown eyes where the light was on.

What a ride she had for twenty two years, that dear little orphan.  What a ride she gave to many who trained her and who she trained over the years.   Though I never climbed on her back, what joy she gave me,  the surrogate mom who loved and fed her, unable to resist those bright eyes, which are now closed in peace.

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Photo Montage by Emily Dieleman

Waiting in Hope: Brought to our Senses

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By these three days all the world is called to attention.
Everything that is and ever was and ever will be,
the macro and the micro,
the galaxies beyond number and the microbes beyond notice –
everything is mysteriously entangled with what happened,
with what happens, in these days.…
Every human life,
conceived from eternity and destined to eternity,
here finds its story truly told.
In this killing that some call senseless
we are brought to our senses.
Here we find out who we most truly are because
here is the One who is what we are called to be.
The derelict cries, “Come, follow me.”
Follow him there?
We recoil.
We close our ears.
We hurry on to Easter.
But we will not know what to do with Easter’s light
if we shun the friendship of the darkness that is wisdom’s way to light.
~Richard Neuhaus from Death on a Friday Afternoon

 

 

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So many killings in the last two weeks — needless, heartbreaking death at the hands of others — people abruptly wrenched from their routine lives, their families left with empty arms and filling eyes spilling endlessly with tears.

Such senseless tragedies, we say, recoiling and withdrawing as if we can close our ears to more bad news.  How to make sense of deaths that arise from the darkness found in every soul?

This is the day in between when nothing makes sense;  we are lost, hopeless, grieving.

Yet we are brought to our senses by this one Death, this premeditated killing, this senseless act that darkened the skies, shook the earth and tore down the curtained barriers to the Living Eternal God.
The worst has already happened, no matter how horrific are the events that fill the headlines.

Today we are in between, stumbling in the darkness but aware of hints of light, of buds, of life, of promised fruit to come.

The best has already happened.  Happening now even when we are oblivious.

We move through this day, doing what is possible even when it feels senseless.  Tomorrow it will all make sense: our hope brings us face to face with our God who only does the impossible.

 

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The Holy Saturday of our life must be the preparation for Easter,
the persistent hope for the final glory of God.

The virtue of our daily life is the hope which does what is possible
and expects God to do the impossible.

To express it somewhat paradoxically, but nevertheless seriously:
the worst has actually already happened;
we exist,
and even death cannot deprive us of this.

Now is the Holy Saturday of our ordinary life,
but there will also be Easter, our true and eternal life.
~Karl Rahner “Holy Saturday” in The Great Church Year

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In the Midst of Sorrow: A Terrible Question

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And now brothers,
I will ask you a terrible question,
and God knows I ask it also of myself.
Is the truth beyond all truths,
beyond the stars, just this:
that to live without him is the real death,
that to die with him the only life?
~Frederich Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat

 

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I live each day to kill death;
I die each day to beget life,
and in this dying unto death,
I die a thousand times and
am reborn another thousand
through that love.
~Julia Esquivel, Guatemalan poet and theologian

 

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…{His is} the love for the enemy–
love for the one who does not love you
but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain.
The tortured’s love for the torturer.
This is God’s love. It conquers the world.
~Frederich Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat

 

This is God with a man’s beating heart,
who bleeds from open wounds of a man’s skin,
while nailed to a tree,
considering His torturers below
and forgives them.

This is God with a man’s dry tongue
thirsting for relief
who ensures His love for us
will never run dry.

This is God with a man’s compassion
who grants grace to another who
confesses his guilt and shame.

This is God with a son’s love for His mother
who entrusts her future
to the care of His beloved friend.

This is God with a man’s debt to carry
who pays it all,
finished and done.

This is God with a man’s frailty and fear,
feeling forsaken,
conquering death and hatred
by dying for us.

This is God with a man’s last breath
giving His spirit into the hands of His father
and in so doing, ensures we live forever.

 

~dedicated to the brutal murders of over one hundred Christian college students in Kenya this week in yet another persecution of our faith~

 

Prepare for Sorrow: Pounding on the Door of the Soul

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This morning when I awoke,  I first read the essay below by Morton Kelsey from the Lenten devotional book Bread and Wine.

Only afterward did I read the news about the possible intentional crashing of a German airliner by an apparently rogue co-pilot, killing all 150 individuals on board while the captain was locked outside the cockpit, pounding on the door trying in vain to open it to prevent the destruction.   Imagining the fear and panic of all on board in their final minutes sits heavily on us all;  here is yet another reason to contemplate the darkness of the human condition as we move toward the reality of Good Friday next week.

May the souls of the tragic and innocent victims find rest in God; may we who are yet living answer the pounding on the door of the cellar of our darkened souls:

 

Scratch the surface of a human being and the demons of hate and revenge … and sheer destructiveness break forth.

    The cross stands before us to remind us of this depth of ourselves so that we can never forget. These forces continue to break forth in many parts of the world now, and many of us would like to forget how in some places in the United States we treat a person whose skin is black.

    Again and again we read the stories of violence in our daily papers, of the mass murders and ethnic wars still occurring in numerous parts of our world. But how often do we say to ourselves: “What seizes people like that, even young people, to make them forget family and friends, and suddenly kill other human beings?” We don’t always ask the question in that manner. Sometimes we are likely to think, almost smugly: “How different those horrible creatures are from the rest of us. How fortunate I am that I could never kill or hurt other people like they did.”

    I do not like to stop and, in the silence, look within, but when I do I hear a pounding on the floor of my soul. When I open the trap door into the deep darkness I see the monsters emerge for me to deal with. How painful it is to bear all this, but it is there to bear in all of us. Freud called it the death wish, Jung the demonic darkness. If I do not deal with it, it deals with me. The cross reminds me of all this.

    This inhumanity of human to human is tamed most of the time by law and order in most of our communities, but there are not laws strong enough to make men and women simply cease their cruelty and bitterness. This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves. This confrontation often leads us into the pit. The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory still is possible…
~Morton Kelsey from “The Cross and the Cellar”

 

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Prepare for Joy: A Reflection of God’s Face

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“Save me from all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared.”
~The Book of Common Prayer

It used to be that people feared a sudden, unprepared death,
because they feared meeting God sudden and unprepared.
Now, we only fear death —

because we don’t fear God.
Turn on any street corner, walk through any airport, sit on the edge of any hospital bed, and you can see the glorious wonder of it:
All the faces of humanity carry the image of God.
What if deciding to end a human life is somehow the desecration of God’s image?
What if a human life is not only a gift of grace right till the end – but is a reflection of God’s face right till the end?
~Ann Voskamp from “A Holy Experience” in a blog post about the death of her friend Kara Tippetts from breast cancer

Such hard news this week:
A plane goes down in the French Alps, killing unsuspecting travelers, some so young, who had no thought of meeting their God that day.
A wife and mother, who has known for months she was dying, prepared herself and her family and left this world on God’s terms, not of her own volition.

What is man that we are His reflection, His face mirrored in ours,
whether we are old and dried up and wrinkled beyond recognition,
or we are a floating conceptus, yet to implant and thrive?

It is not up to us; we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, to Him.

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Prepare for Joy: A God Who Weeps

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33 When Jesus saw her weeping,
and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping,
he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
John 11:33-36

 

Beauty, to the Japanese of old, held together the ephemeral with the sacred. Cherry blossoms are most beautiful as they fall, and that experience of appreciation lead the Japanese to consider their mortality. Hakanai bi (ephemeral beauty) denotes sadness, and yet in the awareness of the pathos of life, the Japanese found profound beauty.

For the Japanese, the sense of beauty is deeply tragic, tied to the inevitability of death.

Jesus’ tears were also ephemeral and beautiful. His tears remain with us as an enduring reminder of the Savior who weeps. Rather than to despair, though, Jesus’ tears lead the way to the greatest hope of the resurrection. Rather than suicide, Jesus’ tears lead to abundant life.
~Makoto Fujimura

 

Daily I see patients in my clinic who are struggling with depression, who are contemplating whether living another day is worth the pain and effort.  Most describe their feelings completely dry-eyed, unwilling to let their emotions flow from inside and flood their outsides.  Others sit soaking in tears of tragedy and despair.

Their weeping moves and reassures me — it is a raw and honest spilling over when the internal dam is breaking.  It is so human.

When I read that Jesus weeps as He witnesses the tears of grief of His dear friends, I am comforted.  He understands and feels what we feel, His tears just as plentiful and salty, His overwhelming feelings of love brimming so full they must be let go and cannot be held back.

Our Jesus who wept with us became a promise of ultimate joy.

There is beauty in this, His rain of tears.

photo by Nate Gibson from Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo

photo by Nate Gibson from Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo

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the “pink rain” of sakura blossoms in Higashi-Kurume, photo by Nate Gibson

 

Prepare for Joy: Sit Beside Me

bench…we all suffer.
For we all prize and love;
and in this present existence of ours,
prizing and loving yield suffering.
Love in our world is suffering love.
Some do not suffer much, though,
for they do not love much.
Suffering is for the loving.
This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.

Over there, you are of no help.
What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is.
I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation.
To comfort me, you have to come close.
Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.
~Nicholas Wolterstorff from Lament for a Son

I wondered if 7:30 AM was too early to call Margy. As a sleep-deprived fourth year medical student, I selfishly needed to hear her voice.   I wanted to know how she was doing; she was not sleeping well either these days. She was wearing a new halo brace—a metal contraption that wrapped around her head like a scaffolding to secure her degenerating cervical spine from collapsing from tumor growths. When she was fitted into the brace, she named the two large screw-like fasteners anchored into her frontal skull her “Frankenstein bolts”.   I had reassured her that with a proper white veil draped around the metal halo, she would be more suited to be Frankenstein’s bride.

Each patient I had seen the previous 24 hours while working in the Emergency Room benefited from the interviewing skills Margy had taught each medical student in our class. She reminded us that each patient had an important story to tell, and no matter how pressured our time, we needed to ask questions that gave permission for that story to be told. As a former nun now married with two teenage children, Margy had become our de facto counselor, and insisted physicians-in-training remember the soul thriving inside the broken body.

“Just let the patient know with certainty, through your eyes, your body language, your words, that you want to hear what they have to say. You can heal so much hurt simply by sitting beside them and caring enough to listen…”

Now with a recent diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, Margy herself had become the broken vessel who needed the glue of a good listener.   She continued to teach, often from her bed at home. I felt compelled to visit her that day, maybe help out by cleaning her house, or take her for a drive as a diversion.

Her phone rang only once after I dialed her number. There was a long pause; I could hear a clearing of her throat. A deep dam of tears welled behind a muffled “Hello?”

“Margy?”

“Yes? Emily? ”

“Margy? What is it? What’s wrong?”

Her voice shattered like glass into fragments, strangling on words that struggled to form.

“It’s Gordy, Emily. He’s gone. He’s lost forever…”

“What? What are you saying?”

“A policeman just left. He told us our boy is dead.”

I sat in stunned silence, listening to her sobs, completely unequipped to know how to respond. None of this made sense. I knew her son was on college spring break, heading to Mexico for a missions trip.

“I’m here, Margy, I’m listening.”

“The doorbell rang about an hour ago. Larry got up to answer it. I heard him talking to someone downstairs, so I decided to try to get up and go see what was going on. There was a policeman sitting with Larry on the couch. I knew it had to be about Gordy.”

She paused and took in a shuddering breath.

“Gordy died last night as they were driving to Mexico. They think he was sleepwalking and walked right out of the back of the moving camper and was hit by another car. “

Silence.  Strangling choking silence.

“They’ll bring him home to me, won’t they?   I need to know I can see him again. I need to tell him how much I love him.”

“They’ll bring him home to you, Margy. He’ll come home.  And we will go see him together. ”

 

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