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

A Rescue Mission

Appearances can be deceiving. The photo that popped up today in my Facebook Memories looks like a man on vacation. Happy. Relaxed. Content.

But, we were not on vacation. We were on a rescue mission. The poolside hammock in Campeche, Mexico was a trauma ward gurney. Craig was sick, and we were desperate to get him well.

In the preceding weeks, we had gone to great lengths to extricate ourselves and our business from a lucrative client relationship. We’d hired expensive attorneys to ensure that we weren’t in breach of contract. We willingly turned over our crew and our operations, desperate to pull Craig out of the field as quickly as possible. The work didn’t matter. The money didn’t matter. We needed to save him. Craig wanted to live.

He hadn’t slept more than three hours a night for months, continually ripped from his slumber by horrifying nightmares or debilitating muscle cramps. He likely was malnourished as a result of a limited diet while working six days a week in the north Texas plains, combined with rewired plumbing from a gastric bypass years prior. Only after his death would I learn about the connection between vitamin deficiency and brain function. Take your B12, my friends.

We fled to our favorite city in Mexico with dreams of buying a house and starting fresh. We imagined a slower pace and a home for ministry and fellowship. But Campeche was hot in June, and we hadn’t anticipated the afternoon storms. Our previous visits had been in January and April, when you could spend leisurely days strolling through cobblestone streets in the historic city center. On this trip, we limited our walks to early morning and sought refuge indoors to wait out the stifling humidity and mid-day rains. The excursion was not without its high points, of course. We ate well and visited with friends and created cherished memories. But the elements seemed to conspire against us, and our efforts at relaxation felt forced. We continued to fight an unseen foe as we returned home to Texas.

Still, we kept fighting. We railed against the darkness side-by-side. And we experienced noteworthy victories. I learned to be more patient, to demonstrate grace, and to humbly ask forgiveness the many times that I failed. Craig’s friends rallied around him with encouragement and prayers, often spending hours with him on the phone. Craig even slept through the night once or twice.

We also discovered that his physical and mental exhaustion had deep roots. Memories of childhood trauma emerged from the recesses of his mind. The lucrative-yet-taxing client project had filled our coffers, but also pried open a Pandora’s Box of pain that needed to be addressed. Craig’s counselor was compassionate, our pastor supportive, his doctor pragmatic. The consensus was for him to start on antidepressants, at least for a short season. I hated the idea but wanted to honor Craig’s decision. He hated the idea but was desperate for relief.

Four days after starting the prescription, he was gone.

Craig had been on the same medication before, years earlier. But he was 40 pounds heavier then, and his body chemistry was different. He wasn’t malnourished, sleep deprived, or starved for serotonin. And, although we were aware of the potential side effects, reading the prescribing information from the FDA months after his passing was a kick in the gut:

“Suicide is a known risk of depression and certain other psychiatric disorders, and these disorders themselves are the strongest predictors of suicide. There has been a long-standing concern, however, that antidepressants may have a role in inducing worsening of depression and the emergence of suicidality in certain patients during the early phases of treatment.”

The next page states in bold letters:

“All patients being treated with antidepressants for any indication should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, and unusual changes in behavior, especially during the initial few months of a course of drug therapy, or at times of dose changes, either increases or decreases.”

Monitoring. Close observance. I can so easily question whether I did enough. Whether I should have canceled my lunch plans the day he passed. Whether I missed any warning signs.

But, it was a good day. Craig took an hour-long power walk in the morning, because he knew exercise could increase serotonin in the brain. (You don’t exercise when you’re planning to die.) He finished writing an essay about sonship and emailed it to a new mentor in the faith. He journaled that morning about feeling encouraged after a phone call with a friend who had a potential job lead. And the day before, Craig had scheduled three more appointments with his counselor.

The man in the hammock wanted to live. He loved life. He loved people. Seeing the photo in my social media feed left me momentarily crippled, sobbing at the kitchen table. But, then, I decided to write. Love demands action. People need hope.

Sometimes, the chemotherapy doesn’t cure the cancer. Sometimes it does. Everyone struggles with depression at one time or another, or knows someone who has battled those demons. The ultimate cure is love. If you are struggling today, know that you are worth fighting for. Know that we are in this fight together. Craig was a valiant warrior and mighty man of God. He never gave up the fight, and neither will I. Neither should you. Take to heart today his words of exhortation:

“Rise up. Do not quit before the miracle happens.”

© 2020 Leslie J. Thompson. All Rights Reserved.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

PSALM 27:13-14 (ESV)

June 13, 2020   1 Comment

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   Comments Off on Creature Comforts