Treat Yourself Like A Dog

I’m working on a project and I’d like to share a just bit of it with you. Since we’re saying goodbye to a worn out year and welcoming a new one, I think it’s appropriate that we shed old habits that no longer serve us. For me, change begins in my brain. I’d really appreciate hearing what you think, so please make comments.

The picture is of Puppy and this is her story:

They were driving through a Florida downpour when my daughter Taylor screamed, “Stop the car! Pull over!”

Their Jeep came to a screeching halt. My son-in-law Mark jumped out and came back moments later, his arms laden with the saddest, sickest, skinniest dog you can imagine.

Taylor was in tears, trying to keep their German shepherd, Marshall, calm. My granddaughter was reaching for the strange new dog folded and quaking in her father’s arms. “Puppy,” little Adelaide called. “Puppy.”

And that’s how Puppy became part of the family.

You should know that Puppy is a blonde Boxer. Boxers, at their peak, are big, strong dogs, bred for their athleticism. They come from the bull family of canines, but aren’t instinctively as aggressive as some of their relatives. They’re meant to weigh around 100 pounds.

Taylor knew none of this. All she knew was that her heart was shredded by the sight of a bony, suffering dog in desperate need of love and care.

Puppy had no tags, no collar, and no homing chip. The vet was skeptical at best. “She’s very old. Her teeth are rotten and her bones brittle. She’s flea ridden. And incontinent.”

“We’re keeping her,” Taylor said.

The veterinarian leaned forward. “I don’t think you comprehend what you’re getting yourselves into.”

“We’re keeping her,” Taylor repeated.

Mark petted Puppy’s head. “She seems like such a sweet dog. What’s she been through—and why?”

The doctor shook his head. “Hard to say. Probably abandoned. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s been on her own for months—maybe years. The crook in her back leg tells me a car hit her. Her scars say she’s been in plenty of dogfights. Her cracked ribs indicate that she’s been kicked hard and repeatedly.”

“Can she heal?” Mark asked.

The veterinarian shrugged. “She’s going to need a lot of care. The medical attention she’ll require will be very pricey, not to mention ongoing.”

Mark swallowed. He was in school, working nights to support his wife and daughter and Marshall, the rescue dog Taylor had before they met.

“Whatever my wife wants,” he said.

“I want to give her a home,” Taylor said. “Puppy deserves a chance.”

And that was that. When there was no response to the “found dog” ad they ran, Puppy stayed put.

Let’s pause here because I’m going to ask you to think of yourself as Puppy—or any animal that’s been abused, neglected, and damaged. I want you to take a deep breath and hold it. When you release it I want you to feel the pain go out of you. The shame leave. Feel despair dissipate.

It’s time, my friends, to change the most damaging thoughts of all…the harmful thoughts that have defined you and held you back and held you down, especially the thought that tells you have no worth. You are worth saving; you’re worth any pricey rescue.

That said, no one else is going to rescue you. No one else can change your weak and harmful thinking. It’s all on you. That doesn’t mean you’re alone or without resources, because that is simply not true. So here’s what I want you to do—I want you to start treating yourself like a dog.

Would you kick a broken dog? Would you call that dog ugly because it’s scarred and battered? Would you heap shame and disgrace on an already fragile and wounded animal?

No. You. Would. Not.

And so it’s time to stop treating yourself that way. Stop programming your brain to believe the worst about you. Stop using hurtful words and tones to describe and define you. Stop harming yourself physically with food, alcohol or drugs. Stop neglecting your self-care. No more injury inflicted by you on you. Cease to think thoughts that limit you, and start thinking of thoughts that empower you.

(This is where I’ll end for now, but I do have one particular “power thought” in mind. We’ll get to that later, but for now, I’d very much appreciate hearing what thoughts you’d like to clean out of your brain. And which thoughts you’d like to start believing about yourself.)

Loads of Love and Gratitude,

Toni

My Face Made My Granddaughter Cry

When did I get old? The calendar says I’m entering the final third of my sojourn on Earth. If I’m lucky. Reality says I could go at any time. I’m good with that. I’ve lived twenty-five years longer than Jesus. I’ve outlived both of my parents. I’ve had someone I loved die in my arms. My kids are essentially grown and independent. Except for Elijah. He looks like a man, but he’s still my little boy.

That said, let’s wind back to Christmas night when I was cuddling my five-year-old g-baby Tennyson. She reaches up and pats my cheek. She sees my wrinkles and asks about my “scrapes.” I tell her that my face caved in because I’m old. She gets this comical look of concern in her eyes. “You’re old?” I am, I tell her. “Are you going to die?” she wonders. I am, sweetheart. Everyone dies.

At this point Tennyson breaks into a full-throttle wail and everyone from every room comes racing to see what I’ve done now to torment the poor kid.

“G-Mom is dying. Her face caved in!”

It takes a good three minutes for people to stop laughing and for Tennyson to calm down. Two days later, and I’m still upset. I hate my wrinkles, my achy bones, the wear and tear on my physical and mental self—but I love growing old. Every day that I wake up I feel like God has given me one more chance to get it right, to create something that helps someone, or to learn whatever I’m here to learn. Life is precious. Life is priceless.

George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

I don’t know about you, but when I’m done working today, I’m going to build a snow fort, pack an arsenal of snowballs, and lay in wait for little Tennyson to show up.

P.S. the picture is of Tenna and me…sans wrinkles. Thanks Photoshop.

The Best Christmas Ever

It’s Christmas Eve and I want to share one of my most cherished Christmas photos with you. It’s a portrait I took of my son, Dallas, when he was two. I am infamous for dressing little ones up to create a meaningful memory. For a long time this was just my precious “Little Drummer Boy.”

Not anymore. Dallas is all grown up. I think of him as my son, a wondrous young man, and a superhero all in one. He loves Jesus and teaches me what that means.

Because of Dallas, now when I look at this portrait I ask myself, “What can I lay before the King?” My finest gifts aren’t all that fine. Especially this year. 2016 been brutal and seems to be ending as wickedly as it began. I’ve never worked so hard to have so little to show for it, so little to lay on the altar…or to put beneath the tree.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to do what I’ve seen Dallas do…and his brothers and sisters do. I’m going to share what I’ve been given. I’m going to be grateful that I’m still alive to celebrate the birth of Christ. I’m going to stop thinking how hard life is, and focus on how glorious it is.

Christ came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.

That does not mean a heap of presents beneath the tree.

It means a heart full of love. It means gratitude for the wonderful people who step in to fill in where I fall short. It means marveling in the light of the season. It means helping those less fortunate than I am. And believe me, I know how very blessed I am.

So today and tomorrow, I pray that it’s all about Christ and nothing else.

“I played by best for Him,” says the song.

That’s what I’m going to do—my best. If all I can do is beat a drum, then I’m going to beat it the best I can. That’s all that’s required of us. God knows our hearts. He knows our circumstances. When we have “no gift to bring that’s fit to give a King,” He knows better. He knows it’s not the price tag on the outside of the package that matters—it’s the cost our hearts pay.

That means we not only show Him how much we love Him, but we allow His love to fill our hearts and our lives.

So today and tomorrow, friends, may you accept and feel the love of the God of Love. May all the beautiful things about Christmas bring you closer to Christ.

The other night the manager of a bookstore told me that she was only allowed to wish me “Merry Christmas” if I wished her a “Merry Christmas” first. Otherwise, all she could say was, “Happy holidays.” Or risk losing her job.

I get it. Let the tinsel, the trimming and trappings belong to the holidays. Let the “Ho, ho, ho,” and “ca-Ching” echo through the holidays.

But let Christmas belong to Christ, and only to Him. After all, it’s His birth that we celebrate.

So I wished the bookstore manager, “Merry Christmas!”

And with all my heart, I wish you “Merry Christmas!”

May it be your best ever.

Pa rum pum pum pum

Why Our Christian Family Celebrates Hanukkah

My son has a tiny rescue dog named Zeus. Whenever there is a lightning storm, Zeus races through the house barking to keep us safe. It’s both funny and fitting. Zeus, after all, is the Greek god of lightning.

Because we celebrate Hanukkah at our house, we know something else about Zeus. We know that when Syrian-Greek soldiers seized the holy temple in Jerusalem, they dedicated the sacred edifice to the worship of Zeus. If that wasn’t enough, emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods.

Many of them wanted to fight back, but they were too afraid.

Except for a High Priest named Mattathias. He refused to bow before an idol. He refused to eat the flesh of a pig, something his faith forbade him to do. In short, he resorted to the sword to defend his beliefs, and he began a rebellion by followers known as the Macabees. Eventually, they were able to retake their land and reclaim their holy temple.

But it had been desecrated, used to the worship of Zeus and other idols, and it had been turned into a slaughterhouse for swine.

Jews were determined to purify their temple by burning ritual oil in the menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple. In faith, they lit the menorah anyway.

The miracle of Hanukkah is that the flame continued to burn because that small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.

To my Jewish friends, I hope the story is accurate.

We tell it every year, as family and friends gather to help me celebrate a holiday that does not belong to me. I am Christian, but I celebrate the faith and traditions of other religions, especially those beloved traditions and holy days of Judaism.

Not long ago when I was in Miami I sought out a rabbi and asked him if it was okay to do what I’d been doing for so many years. “Not only is it okay, but it is delightful and wise of you,” the rabbi said. “After all, your Jesus celebrated Hanukah. In fact, if it were not for Hanukah, there may not have been a Christmas.”

I thought about that. Antiochus was obsessed with the demise of Jewish faith and its people. He halted the services, the sacrifices, the Sabbath observances, and the teachings that were part of Jewish temple worship. He murdered the High Priest Onias III and slaughtered 40,000 Jews.

If it hadn’t been for Mattathias and his family and followers…how would history be changed? The Maccabean revolt was a turning point that saved the Jewish people and their religion from the very threat of extinction. If not, would there have been a Jewish woman named Mary? A temple setting where Luke begins the nativity with an angel announcing to a priest named Zechariah, that he will soon be the father of a son named John?

I whole-heartedly believe that God is in charge and will always find a way. But I also believe that our actions make a difference. My simple little act has been to prepare a traditional Jewish feast and to celebrate the story of Hanukah with friends and family. Many of you reading this have probably lit a candle on our menorah. If not, you’re welcome to join us.

Last year, in a strange mix of faiths, Santa made a Hanukah appearance that surprised even me. This year the eight days of light begin on Christmas Eve and end on January 1st. So there’s time to make room for a truly meaningful tradition if you choose.

2016 has seen a lot of darkness and divisiveness in the world. There’s too much fear and anger in the air. To counter that, I’m going to gather my loved ones from all walks of life, to unify our spirits and figure out what we have in common, to remind us that we’re all children of God, and to light a candle in honor of His miracles in our lives.

A Quarter Christmas…a story I never wanted to tell

Don’t ask me why Santa looks like he got his outfit from Cruella Deville. But do ask me about the little girl in the photo. It’s me when I was seven or eight.

The only thing I wanted that Christmas was my photo taken with Santa. He was making a regular appearance at the local grocery store. I’d go in there and stand back in the bakery, watching parents and kids making memories. That’s all I wanted.

But it cost a quarter and we didn’t have a quarter to spare.

So I got inventive. I went to the local pet shop and told the owner I’d clean cages every day after school, and all day Saturdays, if he’d pay me a quarter before December 24th.

Mr. Aoki struck a quick deal.

Back then pets weren’t regulated like they are today. There were lizards, snakes, ferrets, weasels, hamsters, rats, a couple of cougar kittens, a litter of raccoon kits, all kinds of dogs and cats, fish and birds, and a cage jumping with monkeys.

I fell in love with all of the animals, but never lost sight of my goal.

December 24th came and I put on red pants and the closest thing I had to a red jacket and went to work. I cleaned until 1:30 p.m., knowing Santa’s run at the grocery store ended at 2 p.m.

I pestered the pet shop owner, a kind Japanese man, for my quarter. I followed him to the register and about died when he didn’t give me a quarter, but handed me an entire dollar bill. I grabbed it and ran, praying Santa would still be there.

He wasn’t.

The line was gone. Even the sign was gone. And it was still ten minutes until 2 p.m.

I almost collapsed with disappointment. Then I caught sight of his Dalmatian hat and red suit and zipped down the dairy aisle, begging Santa to stop. The elf with him, lugging the Polaroid camera, urged Santa to keep heading toward the back exit, but he stopped, sat on a couple of wooden orange crates, and I got the Polaroid picture I’d so desperately wanted. But then he caught me off guard with a question: “What do you want for Christmas, little girl?”

Just the photo, I thought—and a pet monkey. But that’s not what I said. I leaned into his scratchy beard with a reply that shocked us both, “I want my mom to stop drinking.”

Santa let out a long, exhausted sigh.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, embarrassed and suddenly all teary. I would have darted away, if I didn’t have to stay and wait the 90 seconds for my Polaroid to develop.

I don’t remember what else Santa said—something about not being able to deliver every gift kids asked for. All I know is that I buried the memory of that day for a very, very long time, and I’m not sure why. Then this year I came across that Polaroid, and snap…I was that little girl again. I could smell the pungent scent of Aoki’s Pet Store, and feel the sodden newspapers at the bottom of so many animal cages. I could hear the screeches and the meows of so many animals. I could sense the scratch of Santa’s beard. My heart ached  to comfort and congratulate that freckle-faced little girl who dressed herself, did her own hair, and forged a way to make her dream come true.

I was getting all-nostalgic, all heal-your-inner-child, when my brain stopped all the sappy stuff, and conjured up the real question: Whatever happened to my seventy-five cents in change?

3 Christmas Memories Everyone Should Make

You know that I’m convinced relationships are simply memories strung together. The strongest bonds are the ones with the strongest memories. And if you know me, you also know Christmas season is the hardest part of my year. Maybe because on Christmas night when I was ten, I ran away from home…and never went back. Anyway, I’m so exhausted by the painful memories that for decades now, I’ve tried my best to overlay new memories on top of old ones. It’s how the brain works…you recreate and recall new memories over old ones. The more you think about and talk about the good times, the deeper rutted your good times become neurologically.

So here are three memories I believe everyone can and should have stored in their brains and in their hearts:

1) Make some magic. The dictionary says magic is “wonderful” and “exciting.” Sure, it can require elements of supernatural, but what’s faith if it’s not supernatural?

I think it’s magic when a chef can take sugar, butter, eggs, flour and food coloring and turns those things  into cookies and candies and holiday delights.

I think it’s magic when you can toss a blanket over a card table and turn it into a fort.

I think it’s magic when you contort your fingers in front of a light and make puppets on the wall.

The photo is of my g-baby Adelaide. She wanted snow for Christmas. Problem is Adelaide lives in Florida, so I did a little magic in Photoshop and gave her snow. No. It’s not a convincing job because I’m not so gifted in Photoshop, but it’s a labor of love, and it might just confuse her as well as delight her. That’s magic.

2) Give until it hurts. By that I’m asking that you give of yourself. Your time is your most valuable asset. When you stop to listen to someone, you give of yourself. When you put your phone down and don’t divide your attention, that’s rare and precious. Go somewhere together. Sit besides a fire. Walk. Hike. Shop. Sing. Dance. Do whatever you like to do, but do it together. Don’t think of it as spending your time, think of it as investing your time.

And if you’re in the mood to give something material away, give something away that you cherish. A clothing item. A piece of jewelry. Art. A dish. In order to be a true sacrifice, it has to hurt at least a little to part with it. Give something you love to someone you love.

3) Get to know Christ a little better. This means you’re going to have to invest in a relationship with the Reason for the season. I have a friend who is not Christian, but she loves Jesus because the things He taught, the way He lived, make her a better person when she tries to walk in His footsteps. She quotes Jesus. She tells stories about Him. She spends time in December reading His words and listening to His teachings.

I love that idea, and I love my friend for loving my Savior.

Whoever or whatever your god is, I hope that you’ll draw closer this season.

Just imagine if a week from now you say, “I’ve made some magic, renewed a friendship, and feel closer to my Creator.”

Three memories worth making to make Christmas truly meaningful. And I think the Grinch was right, “Christmas, perhaps, doesn’t come from a store. Christmas perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Meet My Friend Margaret

This is Margaret. She is one of my great blessings and cherished friends. If I could, I’d give all of you a friend as dear as Margaret. If I searched every dictionary out there, I still couldn’t find the words to express how much she means to me. I suppose that’s because friendship isn’t measured in words…it’s measured in memories.

Margaret and I go way back through a lifetime of memories. I was still a teenager when she was my university professor. Then she became my mentor. Then a mother to an orphaned me. And now a friend who doesn’t spare my feelings to let me know what I’m doing wrong and how I can improve.

Margaret believes in me. She prays for me. She calls me to ask, “How are you doing?” (WHO does that?)

A true friend never shades you, never stands in that little ray of light that life’s directed right at you…they step back so you can grow, but stay close so you know you’re not alone. Margaret has not only done that, she’s brought the light when my world was nothing but darkness.

She and I could not be more different. She comes from a different family background, a different economic standing, a different faith, and our politics collide. Her life’s experiences in no way mirror mine. Yet we’ve forged an inexplicable friendship, and I just want to share her wonderfulness with you. With the whole wide world.

When I think of my friends I think of each as a unique flower that makes for a beautiful garden…a sanctuary of sorts where I go to for safety, love, peace and inspiration. Oh, and truckloads of laughter and fun. Friendship is my refuge and my rescue.

Yesterday after lunch at PF Changs, Margaret cracked open her fortune cookie and laughed. It read: The best years of your life are ahead of you.

I cried. You see, even though she doesn’t look like it, and most assuredly doesn’t act like it, Margaret is well past 90. So I’m just hoping beyond hope that fortune cookies don’t lie. And I’m hoping that you’ll take the time and make the effort today, to connect with a flower in your friendship garden…bring it water, bring it light, bring it love. That’s how gardens grow, my friend. And you all make mine beautiful.