Liia

May 22, 2004--November 4, 2013

Liia May 22, 2004–November 4, 2013

We came home from church this morning to a quiet house. Really quiet.  It’s hard.  Nearly two weeks have passed since we said goodbye to our best friend, Liia. For over nine years she greeted us with excitement every time we came home. As a puppy and young dog she would stand on her back legs waving her paws with an “over the top” display of happiness at our return. We would automatically turn to the closet and get her “cookie”, scratch her behind the ears, eliciting moans of pleasure. Now, it’s just quiet.

Back in July, Liia was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a condition that was causing her to loose feeling and control in her back legs. The vet predicted then that she would not see Christmas. At that point, her condition was preventing her from lifting her back feet properly. She scratched her toenails across the ground, wearing them off, but otherwise, she was fine. The condition did progress quickly and by early November she was falling over constantly and was no longer able to negotiate our hardwood floors. We put down old carpet and yoga mats so she could move around our house, hoping to put off the inevitable. While watching her stagger around drunkenly was hard, we still had our friend. When she became incontinent, we knew her quality of life had gone as far as we should allow it to go.

Liia's favourite place

Liia’s favourite place

Owning a pet comes with tremendous responsibility, particularly when it comes to the end of life. I will never forget Liia’s trust in us that last day and will always wonder if, in the end, she would have thought her trust was misplaced. We had the vet come to our home, and Liia, slightly sedated met him at the door, wagging her tail. She sat quietly as we held her front leg to be shaved, tourniqueted, and needled. She became still in our arms. It was a respectful, even sacred moment.

We’ve owned many animals before, pets and livestock, and have made hard decisions for many of them, but none has affected us like this one. Maybe its because, with Liia gone, we are truly empty nested, just the two of us in the quiet of our house. Maybe it’s the fact that Liia was with us so long, and living intimately with us. was really family. Maybe it’s because we are older and recognize our own mortality, the passing of our own lives in the passing of our pet. Whatever it is, we are finding this event more traumatic than expected. It’s just too quiet.

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The Auction

“You’re riiiggggght” shouts the auctioneer, at just past eleven o’clock on an overcast, but dry, Saturday August 31 2013. “We’ll start with this wagon load and at noon we’ll sell the farm”. After explaining to the crowd who my parents are and, surprisingly, his own history with the farm they have owned for the past fifty years, the auction begins. The auctioneer knows my dad quite well as a cattle dealer and a regular auction attendee.  A number of the articles he will sell today dad bought under his hammer at other farm auctions over the years. He reminisces about watching hockey games in this house over fifty years ago when his uncle owned the farm and the only television in the neighbourhood.

And the auction begins!!!

And the auction begins!!!

For the next three hours, the rapid fire chant of the auctioneer will barely stop between articles held up from wagons. When the wagons are empty the crowd will follow him around the yard, from item to item like a swarm of bees or a flock of blackbirds, straining to see, not wanting to miss the final price or the opportunity for a deal.

The highlight of this sale, for some, will be the sale of the farm. There are a number of folks in the crowd interested in buying the real estate. Most have visited at least once, toured the buildings, walked the land. But, when the bidding starts, only two bidders emerge to compete for the right to the deed. The rest are out of their price range in the first moments of bidding.

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These Mennonite men seem overly interested in something on the household wagon

These two bidders represent something of a conflict playing out in rural Ontario. One of them is the neighbour down the road whose family traces its history in the area back to the first settlers. He has been renting the land here for the past five years, or so, and operates what many might see as a large, industrial style, beef farm. He already owns well over 500 acres, feeds hundreds of cattle, but feels he needs to continue to expand to stay ahead of rising costs. This property would fit well with the rest of his operation, but he will have little use for the house and other outbuildings. He is very active in the community, his church, service clubs, well known and well liked.

The other bidder is a Mennonite who would like this property for his son who is soon to be married. In many ways, Old Order Mennonites are resettling many parts of Ontario. They are building farmsteads where the original ones had been bulldozed to make room for cash crops. They are bringing livestock and large gardens; building new churches and schools; looking for opportunities for their large families. Whole concession roads have been transformed, one farm at a time, and they would really like to add this farm to their holdings. The bidder is a leader in his community, a deacon in the church and one of the first to settle in the area.

As the bidding accelerates upward there is a feeling of tension in the crowd, Could this farm really be worth so much money? The final bid sits with the Mennonite family and the auctioneer, as he had promised, stops the bidding to consult with my parents. They return and declare that the farm is now selling without a reserve and bidding is opened again. Tension increases as the battle between stability and change goes on for another $65,000. In the end, the neighbour is outdone by the seemingly endless resources of his Mennonite competitor.  With the declaration of “SOLD” and the bang of the gavel, the crowd’s tension is broken and there is a round of applause for both bidders. The neighbours go home, defeated, and the Mennonite women crowd in to inspect the house, to claim their prize. Change continued its relentless movement.

The rest of the auction was uneventful, almost an anticlimax, the main event was over. The farm would continue on as a single family unit, the buildings would be maintained and improved, livestock again would be pastured in the fields and a large garden would again be planted near the house. For all of the “return to the way it was”, however, there is also a fear for the community as we know it; the Mennonites bring their own community with them and interact only as they need to with the local village and its institutions. I wonder now, if the auctioneer and his relatives, didn’t have many of the same feelings of something slipping between their fingers, as they watched the hockey game fifty years ago in what became my parents house, part of the Dutch migration of the 1960’s.

In the next few weeks, my parents will move to their new home. Much of their stuff is gone, carried, and driven, down the driveway last Saturday. I overheard a neighbour ask my father if this was going to be a sad day. He responded very quickly with “Why should it be sad? We’ve had a good life. We’ve been blessed here.”

And so, surrounded by family and friends, an era ended, change came, and something new is begun.

Getting Old

Our dog, Liia, is getting old. She is a big dog and they seem to get old sooner than the little ones. She was born in 2004 and has spent the last few years being middle aged. We still saw the puppy in her from time to time, particularly when she is invited to go for a “long walk” through the bush, but this summer has seen a rather steep decline.

Liia this morning

Liia this morning

We first noticed her aging when we returned from Ireland. We had been away for a month. Maybe the time away allowed us to see her with new eyes (remind me not to let J go away without me for a month). She seemed slower, more tentative with obstacles, and her toenails were scratching along the ground as she walked. Our dog sitter mentioned the decline after we returned from the canoe trip in Algonquin, noting Liia’s difficulty with her stairs. We decided she needed to go and see the vet, if only to get advice about how to keep her as well as possible, for as long as possible.

The vet’s diagnosis was not very optimistic. It seems Liia has both spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis. Both are a result of aging. the arthritis makes her stiff and slow, but the stenosis is a bigger issue as it has caused the loss of feeling in her feet making her unsteady, wobbly, with a tendency to fall. He prescribed some drugs which won’t cure the problem but should provide a little more quality of life by reducing inflammation.

One of Liia’s favourite things in life is the car ride. She doesn’t know a lot of English, but “want to go for a ride?” will always cause a lot of dancing, wide wet smiles, and rushing toward whichever vehicle we are offering. Open the door and she would bound in, landing on the far side of the back seat in her excitement. She still gets excited about the ride, but she can’t follow through too well any more. Front legs make it onto the seat with the rear ones working away uselessly as she tries to drag herself into the car. The Jeep, which is much higher, is almost impossible.

The hated ramp

The hated ramp

So, I built a ramp. Liia watched suspiciously as I worked away in the shed. She didn’t seem to understand this contrivance was meant to improve her quality of life. I needed the leash to virtually drag her to the base of it, and behold, she did go up once, and down again, but when we tried it the second time, she completely refused, put her bottom on the ground and gave me a good  display of her really sharp teeth in her really mad face. J tried to coax her onto the ramp with cheese with little more success. She did finally use it a second time, after I modified it to go in a side door rather than the higher back one, but she didn’t do it willingly.

I suppose Liia is not so much different than lots of folks who are getting older. We really don’t want to admit we need help, supports, things to make our aging lives more comfortable. We fight change even though change would be a good thing.

Mission MDiv Complete

On July 30 2009 I wrote:

An new era is starting in my life, so I thought I would start a blog

I’ve written a lot of words since then, a total of three hundred posts, most of them about the journey toward something, some of them struggling with what to do when that something was reached, and some about the things that have happened, or I’ve thought about over those years.

Today, I have reached the beginning of another new era. About half an hour ago, I finished writing the last exam required to complete the Master of Divinity degree. The goal which seemed always to be somewhere up ahead is now right here. I’ve got my arms wrapped around it and with some fear and trepidation, I’m looking at all the roads leading away from it. Some of them are of my own making. I did things to pave a path to this place for some of them, and now I need to try to figure out which one to actually put my feet to.

imagesI recognize the thing I’ve got my arms wrapped around, right now, is little more than a mile marker. We saw lots of those in Spain when we walked the Camino. These markers provide a sense of accomplishment, but are not the final destination. I’ve had my eye on this particular marker for so long it seems like it is part of me, part of my identity, a place where I might build, and stay a while, now that I’ve arrived, but, that would be an aborted trip rather than a completed journey.

What I need to do instead is try to see the next marker. There are a number of roads I need to look down and all of them seem to have hills, and trees, which are blocking my vision. I may need to stand on someone’s shoulders for a clearer view, or just start down one of them, to see what is over the next hill.

To be sure, I’ll be consulting with my travelling companion as a road is chosen. We’ve traveled together a good long way already, and I have come to rely on her keen senses to keep us out of trouble. I have no intention of leaving her standing beside the road,  and going on alone.  While I’ve been focused on the marker we’re standing beside now, she’s been keeping a good eye on the road, and everything around the road. She will figure large in the decisions we make as we choose one of these roads to walk.

When I first set up this blog, I put Ephesians 2:10 at the top of it. Some of you know the words of this verse, but for those who don’t, here it is:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

images (1)I may think I’ve done some things to get some of the roads we’re facing right now to come to this place, but in reality, the road we are to walk is already set out in front of us, ready for us to start walking. It would just be nice if it had a great big yellow arrow on it.

I also need to think about the future of this blog. It has become a great friend along the way. Should I change the name of it to The Farmer went to Seminary?

Worldview

Image:truthandscience.net

Image:truthandscience.net

“Worldview”, the first time I heard this phrase was in the office of a campus chaplain at a Canadian university. My fiancee, J, and I were there for premarital counselling. We were young students, in our second and third year, looking forward to sharing our lives together, dreaming of adventure, and an exciting career in the world of agriculture. We weren’t all that interested in understanding anything about our worldview, what it was or should be, and after three sessions, where we also planned our wedding service and wrote our vows to each other, we didn’t come much closer to actually understanding what this very well-meaning pastor was talking about, what “worldview” meant.

This particular pastor was likely a little ahead of his time in the Christian Reformed landscape of 1980, trying out new terminology, and concepts, on his student congregation. The Contemporary Testimony hadn’t been written yet, applying the CRC’s understanding of God’s sovereignty in real terms to real life. We intrinsically understood the concept, since we both grew up in very Kuyperian atmospheres, interacting with, and transforming the world were givens, but we lacked the tools to be able to draw from ourselves a description of our individual worldview. Maybe we were surprised that everyone didn’t see the world as we did, didn’t understand the concepts of career and calling, industry and stewardship, pleasure and piety in the same way we defined them.  We wore our worldview like a skin, it was who we were, not something we had thoughtfully delineated for ourselves.

It’s because we wear our worldview like a skin that it is hard to describe. We have difficulty being self aware at all levels of our lives. I sometimes find myself surprised when I look in the mirror. The person looking out at me, the one seen by others, is not the same as the image of myself I hold in my own mind. The way I would describe my voice is different than  what I hear on a recording of myself. Even the way I would describe my temperament is likely quite different from the way others experience me. My worldview, unlike my appearance or voice or temperament, defines more than the way in which others perceive me. It defines how I react to the situations around me, to the actions and ideas of others, even to others without actions or ideas. My worldview is sort of like my constitution, and as such, I should be able to describe it, shouldn’t I?

In reality, I can now vocalize some of the aspects of this interior description of myself, my worldview. I can do it much more thoroughly than I could have over thirty years ago when hormones and life were propelling me down the road, bounded by ditches which were in fact my world view. We had our heads up high, looking to the future, too busy to be trying to describe what those ditches look like.

The End of Something

Last night marked the end of something. Just around 10 pm I left the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, having finished the last class of my MDiv at the school. I’m not totally done, since there are still a few weeks left on an online course from Calvin seminary, part of the requirement for the degree, but my time as a physical student has come to an end.

I’m conflicted about it. On the one hand, there should be a sense of jubilation, of a task accomplished, of anticipation, as the next steps on this journey present themselves. I do feel some of those, but they are overshadowed by the feelings held in the other hand, feelings of uncertainty, loss of identity (again), loss of relationships I have come to value highly, and loss of the regular affirmation coming from assignments and papers returned and appreciated. There’s lots of loss to temper the joy.

I don’t think I felt this way when I graduated with my BSc. over thirty years ago. Then, I was going to rush out and change the world, make my fortune, throw myself into all of the excitement, and challenge, the world has to offer. Relationships built there were quickly lost, as J and I ran down the road toward an endless future full of possibilities. Somewhere along the line we’ve realized our own immortality, found out we aren’t as “in charge” as we thought we were, and, while possibilities and excitement are still achievable, they are not as important as they once were.

The class last night was “Grief Crises & Pastoral Care” and I recognize I am grieving. The grief process ends with a realization of life going on, moving forward. I know this, but just for a couple of days, I need to hold this feeling of loss, recognizing the important things which are now gone, now over, and find ways to move to the next stops on the journey.

One of those stops, along with all of the other possibilities, is indeed more school. The seminary has accepted me in their MA Theological Studies program. This program will allow me to use the extra credits I’ve earned.

The candidacy process, by the way, is complete as well.

Next Step to Candidacy

There are lots of little (and big) steps in the candidacy process, the road to ordination, in the Christian Reformed Church (CRCNA). One of them is to write a short piece describing the journey, so far, or a statement of faith. I decided the journey piece was more appealing. This piece is published in a booklet, along with those of the other fifty plus candidates, with a picture, some biographical information, and a short statement giving your reason for wanting to be ordained in the CRCNA. The whole thing acts as a catalogue of sorts for churches interested in calling a candidate, so you are supposed to sell yourself a bit.

Here’s what I wrote. It’s not submitted yet, so if you have suggestions to cover any bits I’ve missed, but seem necessary, I’d love to hear them. Grammar and spelling suggestions are great as well. 🙂

Just yesterday, having arrived early to lead worship in a nearby Christian Reformed Church, I had a conversation with a woman I had come to know through my role as a youth leader in our church and classis. We had not seen each other for a number of years. As we talked about the happenings in my life, the returning to school, the letting go of full time work, the preparation for ministry,my doubts and fears, she said, “ You’ve been on this road for a long time; I’ve seen you on it.” She is a perceptive woman. I have been on a this road for a long time and wonder, sometimes, why God didn’t push me a little harder, earlier, maybe draw a clearer picture for me of the ultimate destination of this journey.

The journey has been a long one, full of experiences, full of various types of ministry. I can describe myself as husband, father, and grandfather; as farmer, agricultural consultant, and business manager; as elder, committee member, youth leader; as ecumenical community leader, community youth worker, and soup kitchen volunteer; as perpetual student, voracious reader, vocal musician; as leader, orator, and teacher. Through each career, each gift, each experience, God has continually equipped me for further ministry, further work in the kingdom. The journey led to seminary and to candidacy, preparing me, and calling me, to go further down the road ahead.

I believe completely in the fact that God has a plan for my life, my work in God’s kingdom here on earth, and for the church in the world.  I have, from time to time, felt a gentle, or not so gentle, nudge to move me out of the comfortable places and back on to the road. The move to enroll in seminary and now to approach candidacy, is not the beginning of a new journey, but, the continuation of an old one, admittedly with new skills learned and old gifts strengthened, but it is the same journey of gratitude that began many years ago when a youth elder suggested I lead the annual youth service in our rural Ontario church. The message of hope I brought then, hope in the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of God’s son Jesus Christ, justification, offered to us by grace, accepted through the gift of faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is still the same today.

I trust that God, through the Holy Spirit, will continue to push and prod, to point the way. Through God’s grace, I am on a journey whose destination is totally unclear. I’m thankful for that; thankful that it is not up to me to set the ultimate objective, to visualize the future, to save souls. Those things are in God’s hands and all I can do is listen, and follow.