Category Archives: Family

Letting Go of a Beloved Dog

Something is missing from my writing today. The barrage of daily news still motivates me to open up my laptop. The flames in the fireplace still match the heat of my anger at the headlines in the newspaper. The snow outside my window still reminds me that it’s a good day to stay indoors and write. The cup on the coffee table still fuels me with the caffeine that sharpens my thoughts.

But when I reach for the cup, the difference is clear. No more will I feel the nudge of a cool nose against my fingers insisting I remember to live in the present and not just in the future promise of words at my fingertips.

Our dog Beckley and I had a writing ritual. I’d pick up my laptop and coffee cup and walk from the kitchen to the living room. The moment I moved, he knew where we were going, more attuned to my habits than I was to his. When I placed the coffee cup on the table, he stood patiently, waiting for me to sit, and as soon as I settled, feet stretched out toward the fireplace, he found his place on the rug at my side.

Though he had completed obedience training as the star pupil, he had subtly trained me, too. I knew I couldn’t start writing until I’d scratched his ears and petted that soft sheltie fur on his head and back. Never was he the one to end this ritual. Even now I’m not sure how long I would have had to pet him if he’d been the one to say, “That’s all for right now.”

Reluctantly, he’d lie down, sometimes with a bit of a sigh. But each time I stopped touching the keys and reached for coffee, he raised his head hopefully and nudged my forearm. Most of the time he was adept at getting my attention before my fingers closed around the handle of the cup, but on more than one occasion he caused the coffee to slosh over the lip of the cup, eliciting an annoyed rebuke, “Beckley!”

He would look up at me with a sometimes contrite, sometimes insistent face, depending on my tone. He somehow read my mood and knew whether I’d ignore him and go on typing or put the cup down and pet him again.

When I ignored him, he’d get up, stretch, and then move farther away, underneath the coffee table that my husband and I called “Beckley’s cave.” He had one in each room—under a chair at the dining room table, under the end table in the sunroom, under the edge of the bed in our bedroom, in the master closet when we were in the shower.

And so today I can’t write rationally about how Congress should compromise. I can’t write angrily about how our leaders have failed to protect our children by passing gun laws. I can’t write righteously about how Christians can rationalize supporting a president so completely lacking in judgment and morality.

A few weeks before Christmas we discovered that Beckley had a cancerous tumor in his mouth. Blessed to have the financial means and the access to a specialist that he needed, we had the tumor removed, well aware that we did for our dog what some parents struggle to afford for their children who have cancer.

Even in sickness, Beckley was a stoic and happy companion. For nearly three months he still enjoyed eating—perhaps even more because , once we knew we didn’t have much time left with him, we gave him human foods that we’d rarely shared with him before. He still enjoyed going for walks as I tried to log steps on my fitness tracker. He still enjoyed the peanut butter treats he got each time he managed not to bark back at a dog that barked at him or at a child on a bicycle or a skateboard.

He still enjoyed our writing ritual, especially once I understood that scratching his ears was, for now, more important than anything I had to say about current events.

Two weeks ago we let him go, weeping at our helplessness to make him stay. I will miss so many things about him, but nothing so much as that he was the one little being in our house who was oblivious to the chaos in the world around us.

He reminded me to enjoy good food, long walks, and peace in the midst of chaos. He reminded me to stop and savor the nuzzle of a cool nose and the feel of soft fur.

Beckley wasn’t perfect. He didn’t care for other dogs much, and left to his own devices, he would have barked at everything that moved. But he cared about pleasing us enough to restrain himself at the promise of a treat. It occurs to me now that perhaps he barked to train me to give him treats, and that makes me smile.

It’s time to stop writing now—to close the laptop, put on my sneakers, and go for a long walk. I’ve found in the past few days that while I still love breathing in the fresh air and hearing the sounds of spring, I don’t quite know what to do with my hands when I go for a walk without him.

But his spirit barks at me from across the rainbow bridge, and I know he’ll help me figure it out.


A Tribute to President Obama

An official photo of the First Family by Pete Souza at

Of all the things President Obama has done in service to our country, I am most grateful for the model he has been as a husband and a father. Whatever part of his legacy is dismantled by the incoming administration, they cannot take that away from us. He has been a stellar example of what it means to be a good man.

Of all the things he said last night in his farewell address, his tribute to his family will linger in my mind for years to come: Continue reading A Tribute to President Obama

When Our Bustling Democracy Fails Us


The bustle just didn’t work the way it was supposed to. Eleven days after the most disheartening election of my lifetime, all I wanted to do was to forget for a few hours that democracy hadn’t worked the way I thought it was supposed to either. I wanted to focus fully on the joy of my daughter and her fiancé as they exchanged marriage vows. I wanted the celebration to be perfect.

But the bustle didn’t work. Continue reading When Our Bustling Democracy Fails Us

Love in the Time of Politics

new-familyA funny thing happened on the way to my daughter’s wedding. Well…we haven’t actually gotten there yet. The wedding isn’t until next weekend. But in the four years since she met her fiancé, they have changed the way I view the world.

Born to a Republican father who essentially got to vote twice because he told my mother how to vote, I revolted. I registered as a Democrat as soon as I turned eighteen, though I didn’t tell my father, a man who laughingly informed me that before he would give my husband his blessing, the man would have to sign a paper promising to vote Republican. When Nixon resigned in disgrace a few months after I registered to vote, I became convinced that Republicans represented all that was wrong with the world. Continue reading Love in the Time of Politics

Courageous Conversations about Race and Poverty?

I Voted

“Why do you keep trying to reason with those people?” It is a question I’m asked repeatedly by my liberal friends on social media when I attempt to engage in a discussion with relatives and childhood friends who support Donald Trump.

Why? Because I believe that well-meaning liberals who dismiss the concerns of poor whites and call them ignorant might as well be the warm-up act for the next Trump rally. Our refusal to acknowledge their concerns has helped set the tone for Trump’s stage appearances.

Continue reading Courageous Conversations about Race and Poverty?

Would Christ Turn Marriage Upside-Down?

RingsGeorgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, and now Oklahoma. Christianity is under assault. But not in the way that the conservatives in these states who’ve introduced discriminatory laws would say it is. Like the Pharisees Jesus condemned, these Christians stand in the marketplace and loudly proclaim their objections to the actions of those whose behavior is far more Christ-like. Their hypocrisy in the name of religion should be obvious to anyone who seeks to follow Christ’s example.

If Christianity means being Christ-like, then it is under assault. And it is up to those of us who desire to live as Christ lived to show the courage of Christ and call out such hypocrisy just as he did. Continue reading Would Christ Turn Marriage Upside-Down?

Who’s to Blame When Children Fail?

Siblings 1If we ever decide as a nation that none of us have all the answers, my siblings and I could be the poster children for the complexities of educating America’s youth. Born to a father who quit school in fifth grade and a mother who quit school in ninth grade, my sister and I were the first of our paternal grandparents’ 52 grandchildren to graduate from college. Like many parents today, my parents fervently wanted us to have the education they didn’t have, but they had no idea how to make that happen. Continue reading Who’s to Blame When Children Fail?

Want the Best Teachers?

Ash & Mrs. Hacker

For a moment I was brimming with hope. In a rare occurrence, an article about education made the top headline in the online version of the Washington Post homepage today. This was a particularly striking event in light of other significant news this week—the Benghazi hearings, Hurricane Patricia, the death of an American serviceman in a fight against ISIS.

Continue reading Want the Best Teachers?

He is Heavy. But He’s My Brother.

Sibs--not used yetThree strikes and he’s out. Jailed three times on charges related to his heroin addiction, he has struggled to stay clean and get back into the game for ten months now. He has done a handyman’s work for a landlord in exchange for a room in one of the properties and a few dollars to buy necessities.

He has sought work as an electrician’s helper, a trade learned in his high school vocational classes. But with a prison record and few skills in literacy, he has been unable to find a job. After his release, he often sacrificed food to be able to afford a cell phone, a necessity before any potential employer could call him back. He walked four miles to stand in line in hopes of getting jobs as a day worker. He lost his driver’s license and can’t afford to pay the fines to regain even a provisional driver’s license. Continue reading He is Heavy. But He’s My Brother.

Is Gay Marriage Compatible with Christianity?


In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage this week, my husband and I have found it interesting that the justices on both sides used the Constitution to explain their votes. Much has been said about Anthony Kennedy’s eloquent opinion for the majority and about John Roberts’ first opinion read from the bench, both of which cite the Constitution to justify their stances.

That, of course, is their job as justices on the nation’s highest court—to interpret the laws in light of the Constitution.

Using the same text to come to different conclusions also holds true for religious leaders who have commented on the Supreme Court’s decision. Continue reading Is Gay Marriage Compatible with Christianity?