"…for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her." (Proverbs 8:11)

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Creature Comforts

Amazing Gracie the wonder pup

This is Amazing Gracie. She is a Jack Russell Terrorist (not a typo) and the first dog I have ever owned. She is fickle with her affections, pees in the upstairs hall whenever she feels like it, and has breath like a back-alley bar on a Sunday morning. I adore her.

Gracie was originally Craig’s dog, although we picked her out together. I grew up with cats and always considered myself a cat person. But Craig claimed that he wasn’t a dog person, just a Jack Russell person. He fell in love with the breed after seeing Gene Hackman’s fictitious pup in the film “Crimson Tide” and owned several Jacks before we were married. He always named them after famous Rat Pack-era performers, starting with Francis Albert Sinatra (who went by Frankie), and then Louis and Keely, after the legendary lounge vocal duo.

A few months into our nascent marriage, Craig suggested adding a Jack Russell to our home. Knowing the desires of my heart, he had already blessed me with two kittens—Junior and Miss Kitty—and it was only fair that I return the favor. We visited a friend whose momma Jack recently had birthed a litter and there fell in love with a roly poly puppy, whom we affectionately dubbed Fat Elvis. Although tempted to take him home, we recognized during our visit that the responsibilities of a dog would be taxing as we were learning to navigate life as newlyweds. So, we postponed the decision for another day.

That day came several months later, when Craig drove us out to a mobile home in the country. The owners were breeding Jack Russells to earn extra income and had advertised the pups for sale on Craigslist. (I have since repented of buying purebreds and am a strong advocate of always adopting from a shelter.) We sat on the floor of their double-wide as a bevy of wire-haired puppies pranced around in our midst. After a bit of verbal wrangling with a young gentleman picking out a pup for his mother-in-law, we called dibs on Amazing Gracie—Craig came up with the name—and brought home the most lovable little terror I’ve ever known.

I learned much about parenting through raising Grace. Dogs are not the same as kids, of course, but the effort, joy, and heartache of teaching a youngster to behave bear striking similarities. Gracie also helped Craig and me to bond in our marriage. We lived in an apartment back then and would take her for early morning walks around the neighboring golf course as we talked about our plans and dreams as a couple. We let her romp and play (and pee) in the sand traps, and I would carry her home for the last half-mile when she was still little and couldn’t keep up with her humans. When we moved to a house and transitioned career paths, I took over walking duties, enjoying brief windows of solitude while shepherding Gracie around the block. I had become a Jack Russell person, too.

We tried to get Gracie a brother once. That did not go well. His name was Bing—after the “White Christmas” crooner—and we acquired him on a whim from a parking lot pet adoption fair. The shelter staff knew that his momma was a Jack, and at the tender age of ten weeks, he looked every bit the breed. But the father’s heritage was unknown. Turns out, daddy was a big boy—maybe a spaniel, a pointer, or even a pit bull. And whereas Gracie and Bing played gleefully while he was still young, the bigger he grew, the more ornery she became. Ultimately, she lived up to the etymology of the word and was a real bitch, picking fights with Bing to demonstrate her dominance in light of the fact that she was greatly outsized. After nine months and 9000 tears, we found Bing a new home with a family that owned 70 acres out in Tioga. For once, it was true that our dog “went to live on a farm.”

That was more than a decade ago, and Gracie has been the only canine in the house ever since. She is feisty and funny, and sheds enough fur for a dog ten times her size. She has tolerated the comings and goings of other cats in the house—Jackson and Miss Kitty being her current feline siblings—and has somewhat mellowed with age. In the wake of Craig’s passing, she also has provided unbridled emotional support. Although the cats give me comfort, a dog offers a unique kind of companionship that in many ways defies description. And some days, she was my only reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Gracie brings out my codependent side, demanding that I take her for daily walks, loving on me at her leisure, and requiring me to prepare her meals. Lots of meals. Craig used to say, “In every relationship, somebody gets trained.” I am quite confident who runs the show in our house. But, this far into our association, why rock the boat?

Gracie is 15 now, and although still spry, her remaining days are limited. I’ll have her another year or two or three, and then the grief will return. After hundreds of walks and thousands of nights sleeping side-by-side will come the hard goodbye. But for now, I will savor every day we have together. And when the wonder-pup eventually heads to doggie heaven, I will cherish the memories—just like I do of her daddy, the one who gave me Amazing Grace.


© 2020 Leslie J. Thompson. All Rights Reserved.

March 4, 2020   No Comments

Lasting Impressions

I stood in his shoes tonight. 

I was hanging up clothes after getting changed for bed and looked at Craig’s side of the closet. Everything is still as it was the day he died, save for a few things I’d given a former inmate we knew from prison ministry. I scooped my arms around a cluster of shirts and rested my head against the fabric. The hangers underneath felt nothing like Craig’s shoulder, and his scent was long gone, but I clung tightly to the memories. 

Looking down, I noticed his flip flops on the carpet. They were a staple of his summer wardrobe, along with his dark grey sneakers and the leather sandals he had on when he passed. The sneakers are still in the same spot by the bedroom door where he left them the morning of July 6, 2018, after working out. I nudge them here and there during the week, and I relocated them for a day when I had the flooring replaced. But for now, they still live by the door, offering the illusion of normalcy. 

I hadn’t given Craig’s flip flops much thought before this evening, but standing in the closet, I saw them in a new light. How could I have overlooked their value? Because, the last thing to touch the padding of those flip flops were the soles of his feet. 

I slipped my right foot into the oversized shoe, navigating my toes into place, then stepped into its mate. My skin touched where his once was. It was the closest I could get to touching him again. I closed my eyes and let quiet tears fall as my feet nestled into the impressions he’d left behind. 

He stood here. 

Probably not here in the closet, of course. Odds are, I’d picked up his shoes from downstairs and put them away while Craig was busy at the computer or watching TV. But he had stood in these sandals with his bare feet, and they had been shaped by his weight and his walk. So, I stood in them, too, hoping to absorb any remnant of his DNA through my skin as I felt the weight of my grief. 

Moments later, I stepped back onto the carpet and wiped away the tears. Self-pity is always lurking in the wings, along with the temptation to hide in dark places. But those flip flops had not lived in the closet. They’d been on walks through the neighborhood and trips to the pool and vacations in Mexico. They were meant for the sun. 

Craig loved people. He used food and travel and new technologies as entry points for deeper conversations and lasting connections. An extrovert and an encourager, he touched countless lives. Standing in his shoes, I reflected on the journey that we walked together, and how he always challenged me to step out of my comfort zone.

Even now, I hear him cheering me on from the rafters, telling me to keep moving. Where grief wants to stay stuck, he says there is more to come. I am walking through unfamiliar terrain these days, but I am never alone. The Lord continues to guide my steps, and I trust in Him. So in the morning, I will get up and get dressed, slipping on my own shoes to pursue God’s promises. Because each day brings a fresh opportunity to connect with others in hopes that I, too, can leave a lasting impression.

© 2019 Leslie J. Thompson. All rights reserved.

For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

PSALM 56:13 (NIV)

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

PSALM 23:4 (ESV)

October 21, 2019   No Comments