a place of abundance

"we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance" Psalm 66:12b

Ashes and Memories August 7, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — vivmabuni @ 5:40 am

It was a week ago yesterday. Three sticky notes left on our front door from the UPS man. Three attempts to deliver Max’s ashes to us while we were gone. Julia and I drove to the UPS delivery center and the nice gentleman took our post its and returned with a box. Julia asked if she could carry it to the car. “Mom, I can finally pick Max up.” Max and Julia weighed the same just two weeks before.

We returned home and Darrin led our family in a little memorial service for Max in the backyard. Max loved our big backyard. He knew every inch of it. But his favorite place was anywhere we were.

The box included a paw print of Max and a bag of flower seeds. We haven’t decided where we will plant the flowers, but we will use that compost we’ve cultivated when it comes time.

We brought out Max’s black collar and passed it around. I remember the day we had his tag made. It was the day we decided to keep Max after our trial week.  That day he became Max Mabuni. We bought him a new collar and a matching leash. Julia and I spent a long time at the pet store trying to figure out which tag we wanted and which collar looked most Max-like. Clipping it around his neck marked the moment he belonged to us. Two weeks later we signed the official papers from the rescue center, but in our heart he was already ours.

Darrin opened up his black Bible and read from a Psalm and read from Ecclesiastes. We took turns sharing memories of Max. The funny ones, the meaningful ones. Then we opened the bag of Max’s ashes and took turns scattering them in places where we remember Max especially liking. We ended the time enjoying some ham–Max’s favorite treat. Darrin prayed and thanked God for the gift Max was to our family. He thanked God for all of our memories with Max.

And that night heaven joined us in our tears again and it rained. It rained hard. The rain came from no where and it hasn’t rained since.

Over and over I play in my head what happened. The  wonderful family that watched him had given him multiple walks, lots of love and attention. He was alone in the house for only 50 minutes. When the garage door opened, he bolted out of the door that led into the garage and ran as fast as his legs could take him. Somehow he figured out how to get home almost two miles away. He was smart. He was loyal. He wanted home. He wanted us. It was rush hour. Eight lanes of fast cars. We are not sure where he was hit. The vet told us that none of his bones broke. How does an impact that caused such severe bruising in his lungs and heart not also crush bones? When the boys saw him, aside from his bloody lip, he looked fine. So many “what if’s”, so many “if only’s.” We are left with our questions and no answers. We are left with an ache so deep. Jonathan told me that night, “I have never walked through the emotions like these that have come up from losing Max.”

I spent the next four days sick in bed with massive head cold/sinus infection. Being back in that bed staring at the ceiling still takes me back to the long days of cancer treatment. The kids were at church participating in our weeklong Kids Fun Club. Darrin was away debriefing the international summer missions teams. I slept for hours on end, but when I was awake I had plenty of time and space to miss Max and grieve.

All of this reminds me again of how God created us to live in community. Thank you for crying with us, for praying for us, for emails, texts, Facebook and Twitter messages, cards and gifts and hugs. Our loss has become your loss, too. My heart is grateful that we don’t bear our grief alone. So many of you walked with us through battling cancer and understand the significance Max was to our family in light of our journey.

Julia and I prayed today. We realize that we probably would not have picked Max if we saw him in a shelter because he was initially so jumpy, timid and frightened. We know that his previous owner had prayed for Max to find a home. We weren’t even looking and our paths crossed. Max was clearly an out-of-the-blue gift to our family from God. Perfect for our family. We asked God today that when it’s time, He would bring us another dog that needs a home like ours. Someone in a situation where they are praying for a family to adopt their dog. We asked God to bring another dog as a double answer to prayer. We want to open our hearts again to love a pet deeply. Would you join us in praying the same?

 

The Long Road Home July 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — vivmabuni @ 9:44 am

The grief comes in waves. Reminders of Max come from unexpected places:

  • dog hair in the dryer lint
  • what seems like every other commercial on tv
  •  I was looking up the address to a place we were going to stay–“walk Max” popped up in my calendar. I pressed “delete” and then “delete all future events” as tears formed behind my sunglasses.

Our beloved Max didn’t make it.

Last Saturday Darrin and I drove the back roads into Boulder to pick up Julia from my sister’s house. We wanted her to hear about the accident Max was in from us in person. We told her in the airport while waiting for the boys to arrive. She cried. I cried as I held her. The boys walked toward us towering in the terminal. Only apart from them four days, but they looked older. What they walked through matured them somehow. More hugs and misty eyes. In the car we swapped stories. They shared what happened and what they knew and I filled them in on the most recent updates from the vet. Hope filled out hearts as I shared the latest updates about Max. He was still on oxygen but he was stabilizing. He made it through the night. Everyone we knew was praying for Max and for our family.

We drove into Fort Collins and went to grab a bite to eat. The phone rang so I took the call outside. It was another update from the animal urgent care office about needing to extract more air out of the chest cavity again. The hole in his lung had caused air to form outside in his chest which made it difficult to breathe. The hope was that by relieving the pressure it could help him stabilize again.

Then as the conversation was nearing the end, the vet tending Max came on the phone. While attempting to extract the air, they found a huge pool of blood. Max had bled internally. The bruises on his heart were much worse than previously thought. His heart gave out.

And just like that, he was gone.

Time stood still as I hung up the phone. I was in the parking lot and inside sitting around the booth was the family finally together– sober but still hope-filled. At that moment, I alone knew the truth. Death feels so final. I wanted to keep them from knowing. My legs operated separate from my heart as I walked back into the restaurant. The words came  out. Shocked and stunned we just sat around the booth and wept.

When we left the restaurant, a light rain began to fall. It was as if heaven joined us in our grief.

We spent the rest of the night getting the boys settled into the hotel room. We had cried until our tears emptied out and the kids played games and there was even some laughter here and there. But when the lights finally turned off for the night, I heard crying come from every corner of the room.

Max came to us at a very tender time in our healing journey. We had come out of the battle with cancer so emotionally weary. Darrin noticed that we were all drifting off doing our own thing, trying to cope. God brought Max into our family and he was an agent of healing. A reason for us to reconnect and bond. He was a gift from the Lord and not a day didn’t go by where I didn’t tell him, “Max, I am so thankful for you everyday.” We lavished love and attention on him and in return he brought healing and reminders of God’s perfect provision just by his presence.

When news got out about Max via twitter and Facebook, hundreds of others joined us with tears and different prayers.

My birthday, our 20th wedding anniversary came and went. Life felt grey and less colorful without Max. We drove the long road home with a stop in Grand Junction and a stop at my parents house. We dreaded going home.

As I reflect back, there are signs of God’s grace:

  • Simone gave me the book, “Heaven is For Real” as an early birthday gift and both Michael and I read it. The book helped to prepare my heart for thinking about life after death. Hope that we may see Max one day in heaven
  • The boys had just returned from their friend’s house and returned home right when the neighbor rang the doorbell. Max would’ve died on our front porch waiting if they missed him. They were able to help Max and get him care.
  • we were able to give him every chance possible to live. No regrets with the medical care.
  • our friend and supporter texted me in a meeting wanting to help with the vet bills. We are tapping into our retirement funds to cover the costs. This gesture of  love brought about tears of gratitude, violent shaking shoulders with silent tears streaming down my face during the meeting
  • our family was together in the same place when we got the news.
  • Brent and Leila were in town. Leila’s back had caused a lot of pain earlier in the year and started acting up again right before staff training. They came home from project and missed staff training. They were available to be with the boys, check on Max, pick up his collar after he died, help with decisions on this end. I asked Leila over the phone how her back was doing, she said it was fine now and that she realized that God knew we would need them here at home
  • we heard from so many of you, near and far, and know that you love us and loved Max

So we returned home yesterday. Mostly unpacked now. Darrin washed the blood stains away off the fence where Max tried to get in the backyard. Today will be filled with phone calls, trying to settle accounts, thanking the vets, picking up his stuff from our friends, and coming and going with a house muted by the absence of Max.

 

Urgent Request::Prayer for Max July 23, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — vivmabuni @ 8:19 am

I used to roll my eyes on the inside. “C’mon, seriously, it’s just a dog. Why would anyone spend that much on a dog?”

That is, until last night.

Darrin had been sick all day and I came back to the hotel to check on him, pick up some dinner and keep him company as we watched on my iPad the live stream our staff conference with Cru.

Jonathan called on the phone (rare occurrence), “Mom, Max has been hit by a car. I’m here with some neighbors that saw him bleeding on the street. They want to know if we have a vet.”

And so the rest of the night we pieced together from three states away what happened.

Most of you know how we unexpectedly became dog owners right before this past Thanksgiving. Since he was a rescue of a rescue we were careful to not leave him during these months as he settled into being a member of our family. The change has been a joy to witness. Max came to us fearful, jumpy, resistant. No longer. We thought we were being a blessing by saving his life. But the truth is, he was the one being the blessing. Max had a distinct and marvelous way of connecting unique to each of us.

We have a biannual staff conference of 5000 staff out in Fort Collins, Colorado. Up until last week I wasn’t sure if I would attend because of Michael’s broken wrist. After receiving clearance from the doctor, I flew in last Tuesday night to meet up with Darrin and Julia. Michael was finishing up football camp, Jonathan was tying up loose ends after summer school and they were taking care of details before they left on Saturday to join us.

Weeks before I had asked our dear friends if Max could stay with them while we attended our staff training. Hand selected because they didn’t have a dog but were dog lovers, and there were six in the family so Max would have lots of human contact. I couldn’t picture leaving Max alone in our house and just having someone come to check on him. Julia and I took Max over for a visit before we left. Max loved being there, felt right at ease and left his mark on the palm tree outside their house on our way home.

When the boys dropped Max off at their home Michael said he went inside without hesitation and recognized the home. The boys stayed a long while to help him settle in. I received a text from my friend reporting that Max was doing great. Then the family had to leave for their church Vacation Bible School and when the husband came home from work and opened the front door, Max darted out the door and started running. He ran after him and couldn’t keep up and lost sight of him.

We realize now that Max was trying to come home. And on his way he got hit by a car. He was bleeding heavily and at least four different people tried to help him. One of those helpers was a neighbor we haven’t met yet. She shared with me over the phone that Max was lying in the grass near the bus stop and a man approached him to try to help. Max, frightened and in shock, got up and ran all the way up the steep hill on the way to our house. She followed him and found him bleeding and lying on our front porch. She started ringing our doorbell and thankfully the boys were home at that time packing their stuff before leaving for youth group. This wonderful neighbor stayed with the boys and took them to her vet.

They got Max in right before the office closed. Through blurry tear vision I grabbed whatever paper I could find to take notes. The x-rays showed severe bruising in the lungs and a partial lung collapse from a tear. Major laceration on his mouth, paws were bleeding, he was in shock, heart rate too high. The office was closing and he needed oxygen so the vet went with the boys to take Max to Animal Urgent care. More tears, more decisions.

The intensive unit vet called and gave us updates. I felt so helpless being so far away. My sons handled the crisis with maturity and strength, but the mom in me just wanted to hug them and comfort them in their grief.

The call came for what the bill would be. The range they quoted might as well have been a million dollars. Darrin held me as I cried. “It’s going to be all right. We will pray and trust the Lord for Max and for providing.”

I woke up after four hours of sleep with puffy swollen eyes. Max made it through the night. These next 24-36 hours are critical. We haven’t told our daughter, Julia, yet. She thankfully was with her aunt last night.

No more, “it’s just a dog.”

So I am asking you to join us in praying for Max, for his complete healing. Please pray for the boys as they fly out to us today. Please pray for God’s provision. We will keep you posted.

Thankfully our dear friends, Brent and Leila, are in town. They rushed over to animal urgent care and comforted the boys, brought them home to finish packing and will be ready to help in any and every way. Thank you for those of you who have called, texted, Facebook messaged, twittered. Your love and support of us and of Max means the world to us. Grateful tears now for each of you.

 

Lessons on Learning Contentment July 16, 2011

Filed under: encouragement,spiritual life — vivmabuni @ 4:43 pm

This happens to me more often than not.

Whenever invited to lead a Bible study, teach a Sunday school class or speak at a retreat or conference, the person who most needs the lesson is me.

This time it was Helina, asking if I could teach our Discoveryland Sunday school class the first two Sundays this month. Thirty plus kids ranging from first to fifth grade. Different levels of reading comprehension, attention span and interest.

The theme: contentment.

The verses: Philippians 4:11-12a

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” (New International Version)

So twirling around my little mind lately are thoughts about contentment.

The first week we watched my all time favorite Veggie Tale DVD “Madame Blueberry.” The lesson/song that summed things up (sing with me): “…because a thankful heart is a happy heart, I’m glad for what I have, it’s an easy way to start.”

Gratitude. A key ingredient in learning contentment. This fit perfectly with a book I read this spring, “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voskamp. We brainstormed and listed out things we were thankful for. Filled out an acrostic CONTENTMENT, each letter representing something we were grateful for. One girl wrote O-ostriches. I think that one girl was my daughter. A promise for candy for the return of a filled out list and more candy if the verse was committed to memory.

While preparing for week two, I read and reread the lesson plan and something seemed to go missing. The definition for contentment according to the curriculum read, “deciding to be happy with what you’ve got.” Surely there was more to contentment than a choice or decision to be happy. “Happy” evoked in me my disdain for Orange County, Southern California entitlement living. It reminded me of Pollyanna and her “glass half full” optimism. What made us different from a YMCA kids club or a summer camp teaching positive thinking? How did the Bible relate to their lives? With so many wrongs in this world, how did this truth fit without settling or going limp and passive. “Bummer those villages don’t have water, but they can be thankful for the sun.”

So I had each kid open the Bible, the very Word of God, thumb through the pages and find the book of Philippians. I wanted them to see and read for themselves these verses and find the big four and the little eleven. I wanted them to read from the source, not off a worksheet or a white board.

I had them do a mini Bible study: Observation, interpretation, application. They enthusiastically called out repeated words. I wanted them to read deeper than just skimming over the familiar, “Yeah, yeah, I read that before.” Such a danger for kids who grow up going to church.

I shared some definitions of the repeated words content and learned:

content: satisfied, satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed, literally contained. Resources are within the person so that he does not have to depend on substitutes without

learned: learn by experience, not just hearing, but have learned is an entrance into a new condition, involves a spiritual sense of surrender.

Then I shared from our lives:

Last week the power went out during the heat wave. Too many people trying to cool themselves and what resulted was several electrical grids across southern California frying out. We had to use candles and flashlights. I kept forgetting and repeatedly flipped the switches when I walked into the dark rooms.

Several months ago our air conditioner stopped working. We had a few weeks of hot weather (including when the power went out) without air conditioning. My amazing husband fixed the air conditioner and we are grateful.

Sometimes we learn contentment through having something we take for granted no longer available. Our family appreciates electricity and air conditioning in an experiential way, not just in theory.

I shared about how my daughter, Julia, has taught me about God through her challenges with having food allergies. I admire the character that formed in her life through this ongoing trial. She struggles at times, but I see that the hardship has helped her be stronger and more compassionate toward others.

I looked around the room and into their eyes and said,

“Each of you will go through different challenges, trials, circumstances in your life. You will have both times of being in need and having plenty. Some of you will struggle with your health, or you might walk through the death of someone close to you. Some of you will go through divorce or unemployment. We don’t know what those trials will be. The hard things you go through God can use as bridges into other people’s lives. Content does not mean settling. God has gifted you, prepared good works beforehand for you to walk in, be part of righting the wrongs.”

Good Bible study involves reading verses in context. And verse right after their memory verse held the key:

I can do all this through Him who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:13)

This is what separated us from the YMCA and kids camps. It centers on Jesus. Our circumstances will fluctuate throughout our lifetime. He remains unchanging, steadfast and true. Leaning into Him, relying on Him, trusting Him, walking with Him requires KNOWING Him.

So, day by day, through the ups and downs, I can learn contentment through a heart surrendered to the One who loves me most. Connection, gratitude, perspective, His presence, His Word, mold and shape my heart to rest in Him. To rest in contentment.

 

Dog Days of Summer July 13, 2011

Filed under: encouragement,spiritual life — vivmabuni @ 12:25 am

Hi again, Max here. Viv is slowly drinking the kool-aid. The Apple kool-aid. Now she’s all about figuring out the iPhone. I overheard her talking about how the Chinese in her decided to jump in and get one since unlimited data with Verizon would no longer be available after this month–and you know how those Chinese are when it comes to good deals. She still uses this computer for her writing. I guess it’s hard to type a lot with thumbs on a tiny screen. Well it certainly is no picnic trying to type with my long claws. Gotta get them clipped but I shudder at the thought.

So, here I am enjoying my first summer with the family. It’s pretty awesome having all five of them around. There’s lots of coming and going. Two big news items: first, Viv has started working on her official book proposal for the cancer book. Apparently it’s a big deal because the day she started I would see her get up from the computer now and then and dance in little circles around the kitchen. She would type something, mutter to herself, scratch me behind the ears and exclaim, “Max, it’s actually happening!” The other thing is that Michael has this enormous hard cocoon casing around his arm and only his fingers stick out. Something about football camp, broken wrist, surgery, three screws, elevate, take white happy pills. He’s sleeping in the TV room and I enjoy keeping him company.

The rhythm of daily life is kind of off with the days getting hot and all of this and that happening around me, so I never know when I’m going to get out for a walk. Walks are still one of my favorite things. Walks and ham. I get so excited when the shoes go on and the leash gets taken off the hook. I spin in circles and opera sing my howl bark. It takes everything in me to follow their command to sit so they can clip on my leash.

I usually spend the first chunk of our walk pulling on my leash. I want to get in every whiff of every bush and pole. Sometimes I get fearful and jumpy with the smells and sounds. So over and over Viv (usually Viv, but sometimes the boys, but really mostly Viv) has to pull me back next to her side. She has this leash that has two handles so she can keep the leash short during that first part of our walk. Sometimes I can hear her singing songs with those white ear buds stuck in her head or she gets in some conversation with a friend on the phone. Sometimes I can tell she is deep in thought, or maybe praying. I never know exactly where we are going or how long we will be out. But after a while, I fall into step with her, and I feel the leash loosen. And the looser the leash, the wider her smile. It’s at those times when I will briefly place my head in her hand as we walk. It’s my way of saying, “Hey, thanks. I love being with you.” And I look up to her and our eyes will meet and the smile I see shows her teeth.

Reminds me of those verses in Psalm 123

To You I lift my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us. (v. 1-2)

How often I stress and strain, trying not to miss anything. I become fearful and I struggle with trusting in the pace being set and the course that is laid out for me. And much like our walk with God, I miss out on enjoying walking in step, looking to His eyes, experiencing His presence, His smile, His pleasure in me. I see older dogs on my walks who lumber along enjoying their walks. The mellowing that comes with time. Confident from the consistent care provided. A faithful track record. A knowing that comes through experience. I enjoy being around them. They are not in a hurry, they are not afraid and they are secure in who they are and their relationship with their master. Perhaps in time I will be like them.

 

From Where I Sat July 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — vivmabuni @ 12:32 am

We are usually bustling, running ten minutes late. And even though we live walking distance to our church, we manage to enter the doors after the music begins. Hugs. Programs. And then around to the right a table stands with a rack of plastic covered nametags. And that’s where I most remember being greeted by her smile. Consistent, steadfast, kind. Martha first welcomed us when our littlest one had a mouth full of baby teeth and didn’t know her left shoe from her right. She watched and marvelled with me as the boys’ voices grew deep, as their stature grew high.

I loved to see her eyes, especially when she laughed. They had fire and they were bright. Her daughter, Jami, has her same eyes. Those she loved most surrounded her in her Christmas card photo–husband, children, their spouses, grandchildren. And in her eyes is a look of satisfaction.

And today we said good-bye to Martha.

From where I sat, I watched row after row of men, women and children walk by her casket. No dry eyes. An entire sanctuary full of people who came out today to honor Martha, to cry with her  family. An entire sanctuary full of people whose lives she touched. People like me who will miss her deeply. People like me who will miss her hugs by the name tag table.

A rare and aggressive leukemia came out of nowhere and took over her petite body. We heard news of her diagnosis in May. She was given only a handful of months to live; weeks really. Hospice care. Shock and disbelief. I felt deeply humbled and honored that she was willing to see me briefly for a visit. Her nails painted a pale pink. Her body frail but her eyes were warm, kind. Her Bible was close by. Her room filled with beautiful flowers. But she was most beautiful in the room. I told her that day that she is one of my heroes because:

It’s not often we are able to see marriages that have stood the test of time. Art and Martha celebrated 50 years together.

It’s not often we are able to see someone walk closely with God throughout their lifetime. Martha trusted Christ at 13 and remained true to her King.

It’s not often we are able to see someone model faithfulness to making huge contributions in the quiet. Martha served selflessly and blessed our entire church and everyone who entered the doors.

But today I could see through the tears from where I sat.

 

Beautiful Things July 2, 2011

Filed under: encouragement,perspective,spiritual life — vivmabuni @ 9:48 am

Here’s the song I mentioned at the end of my last post, Compost Redemption.

My friend, Lisa, introduced the song to me a few months ago. It has brought encouragement and hope.

Only God can:

  • create something out of nothing….fiat
  • bring dead things back to life….resurrection
  • take bad things and turn it to blessing….redemption

Enjoy!

Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend!

 

 
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