Friday, December 28, 2012

The Rest of the Story

Oreo as a 6-month old kitten in 2006

Last week I talked about the return of one of the feral cats after him having been gone for over a year. The reunion turned out to be bittersweet. Oreo had always been skittish and kept his distance. He Was born in the spring of 2006 to one of the feral females and was the very last one we trapped to have neutered and receive a rabies shot.

Since he had "disappeared" in fall of 2011, we assumed he had died. Feral cats don't have a very long life-span. When he showed up, it felt like a hug from God. Not only was he home, but he allowed me to pet him . . . something he had never tolerated before.

However, as I continued to check on him throughout the day, I noticed little puddles of blood on the patio. He didn't appear to have any injuries, but he was walking gingerly on his hind legs. Once I saw him move from a position and saw another puddle of blood. I knew something was terribly wrong. Then as he walked away, he lifted his tail and I saw a HUGE tumor on his right back hindquarter. Poor baby.

I knew I couldn't allow him to suffer any longer. Without much difficulty, I managed to get him into a pet carrier lined with clean towels and carried him to the screened in deck. Then I contacted our vet and explained the situation. We didn't have funds to provide for any extensive testing, but I feared his condition was so bad he would need to be humanely put to sleep.

We had quite a time getting him out of the carrier. He kept straddling the doorway, so she tipped it with the door straight down. Finally he had to let go. She picked him up to weigh him and even though he had a lot of fur and was a pretty big cat, he weighed in at just a little over eight pounds. Malnourished. No wonder I could feel his backbone. My heart was wrenched just thinking what this poor innocent cat might have been going through.

She carried him to the back room to examine him and returned just a couple of minutes later. The tumor was huge and inoperable. Also his bladder was completely firm and he was urinating straight blood. There was nothing they could do for him, so we signed the papers to have him put to sleep. I couldn't bear to stay with him while they did what needed to be done. The memory of holding our beloved cat, Sarah, while she was injected remains forever one of the saddest moments I've ever experienced.

Our vet didn't charge us for an exam, but instead only charged for the euthanasia. We asked that they take care of the remains for us. I came home crying and cried for the past week every time I think of him. I don't know if he actually found a home for a year or if he had been so injured that he couldn't get back home. The vet said the tumor could have been caused from anything. It wasn't completely round. She thought he might have been hit by a car and had scar tissue and calcium buildup, but it was impossible to know for sure.

I had just about gotten over crying for him when I received a sweet card from the vet's office. They had all signed it and written a very nice note and had Oreo's footprint at the bottom. I still cry when I think of him. In fact, tears are rolling down my cheeks now. I know we did the right thing, and he is at peace now.

Sometimes I question why God gave me a heart to care for the helpless animals, but He did it for a reason. Perhaps Oreo knew that and somehow he made his way "home" where he knew someone would take care of him. I find comfort in knowing God trusts me with providing comfort for those less fortunate . . . even those who cannot speak their need.

"In all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God . . . as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." 2 Corinthians 6:4, 10

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Hug from God

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Those who know me, know that I care for a colony of feral cats. The story of how that came to be is on the bio page of my website.

Yesterday, one of the sweetest cats, Buffy, wasn't around. He always greets me at the front door in the morning and cares more about getting loved than eating. I called, but he never showed up. All day I worried. All day he was absent.

I keep a journal of these feral cats. The date we had them neutered/spayed, whether they are male or female, colors and markings, and dates when they disappear. Feral cats wander off and never return when they are sick. They prefer to die in a hidden place. I wait for weeks before I mark them as "disappeared."

This morning, before I went out to feed the cats, I was at my computer desk and I saw a little face peeking through the window. Buffy! I was so happy to see him. I hurried outdoors to give him his love and then to the back to feed everyone. That's where the real miracle appeared.

I heard a loud cry. That didn't sound like any of the cats who were in the normal colony. To my amazement I saw Oreo a beautiful black and white long-haired cat who "disappeared" over a year ago! I knew it was him because his ear was clipped and I sure remembered that loud meow. Oreo had never let me pet him...until this morning! When I reached out, he didn't run away, he allowed me to pet him...even relished having the love. His backbone was very prominent beneath all that fur, but I knew someone had taken him in and cared for him over the past year.

Yes, I'm a little crazy I guess, because I was crying and repeating "It's a miracle. Thank you, Jesus." My heart goes out to all these poor little guys who have been abandoned and I want to make life a little better for them. Someone else did, too. They took this precious boy into their home and cared for him. I'm not sure why he's back. Maybe he'll "disappear" again, but I know his return this morning was a hug from God.

John 14:21 "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him."

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Christmas Card

A few days ago, I received a beautiful hand-made Christmas Card. The return address on the envelope wasn't one I recognized, nor was the name of the sender.

Inside was a personal inscription wishing me and my family a wonderful Christmas and New Year with a p.s. saying "See ya in January."

I puzzled over who sent this, concentrating on the location and last name of the sender. No luck. So I set it aside.

Later, I lifted it again and looked at the beautiful crochet work. Such a sweet and personal Christmas gift. Suddenly knew who had made it. My daughter's friend, Amanda!

Amanda has been coming to a prayer shawl group once a month at my house. I knew her first name, but I didn't know where she lived or even her last name. I only knew her as a beautiful, funny, sweet, and caring person. The other things didn't matter. I knew her heart.

Until the card arrived, I didn't realize how little I knew about her other than that. This brought to mind, how God knows each of us so well. He knows the number of hairs on our head and He knew us before we were conceived. Where we live, what surnames we have...those aren't really important. What is important is how we live our lives with a loving Amanda.

Proverbs 27:19 As in water face reflects face, so a man's heart reveals the man.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Facing the Fire of Breast Cancer

During this year, many of my friends have gone through treatment for breast cancer and survived. One of those friends is a male. This disease is not gender-specific, and it kills men and women. Early detection is the key.

Yesterday I received a note from the Women's Health Center to remind me to schedule my annual mammogram. Last year at this time, my mammogram came back suspicious and as a result I went through a stereotactic core biopsy. The hardest part was thinking I might have breast cancer. The easy part was turning it over to God. I knew whatever happened would be according to His will and that I was in His hands.

The original screening happened on December 6. At that time I was told another mammogram would need to be done--one that would give a clearer look at something suspicious. I was lucky and the second one was scheduled for the 8th. The radiologist would look at it afterward and talk to me. During this time, I did a lot of praying, and God lifted the concern from my shoulders. I walked with him closely during the next couple of days. When the radiologist showed me the spots in my breast she explained how the only way to determine if these were malignant was to do the biopsy.

Another time of waiting, but again God sent Jesus to hold me close and let me know He was with me. An opening appeared on the schedule and I was scheduled for a biopsy on the 13th. Do you see how He orchestrated the waiting time to be so minimal?

The morning of the biopsy, I waited prayerfully, not knowing exactly what to expect, although the procedure had been explained. The nurses were so kind and caring and believe me, Jesus was right there in the room with me, too.

The biopsy came back benign. I now have a little metal fleck in my left breast to mark the biopsied spot. Talk about a gift that cannot be bought!

I realize this is not my normal type of devotion, but I wanted to share it with all of you. Breast cancer touches so many people in so many ways. I doubt there is anyone reading this who hasn't had a friend, loved one or even themselves go through something similar. Maybe even taken further into the fire with a diagnosis of malignancy.

May the God of love and mercy grant you the peace of knowing you never walk alone through any fire. Whenever we are faced with a fiery trial there are three different scenarios:

  1. We can be delivered from the fire as I was.
  2. We can be delivered through the fire as are those who go through treatments and become survivors.
  3. We can be delivered by the fire. Then we'll join our Father in heaven in our forever home.
If we are true believers in Jesus Christ, no fiery trial can have a bad ending. Amen!

Daniel 3: 26--27 "Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, 'Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!' So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Layers of Existence

            Movies are fascinating. They have a way of conveying messages without us realizing we are getting the message. I first gained this understanding in college. I took a cinema class because I thought it would be fun and easy. But God had other plans.
            There were 800 students in cinema class. Apparently a lot of other students had the same idea I did.  The only one in the room who didn’t know this was supposed to be an easy class was the teacher. She had this strange idea that we were actually there to learn about movies. Go figure!
            Where we started, I no longer remember, but through the course of the semester we learned every technique directors use to pull us into their work. We went through the meanings of various camera angles, how props are used, how sets are designed, how costumes are chosen, colors, music, layout, dialogue, blocking, movement, and on and on and on.
            We were given the chance (read: assigned) to deconstruct various techniques in the movies we watched.  For example, say you chose to analyze the music, you then took notes on how music was used throughout the movie to evoke the emotion you had decided the director was trying to bring out. Then you wrote what you thought about that in a 500-word paper.
            It was fun.  Slowly but surely the lessons came together so that I could see how a movie director constructs a world in which what you see and hear transfers into making you feel a certain way and understand the characters on a deeper level than maybe even you realize.  Does he want you to feel fear?  Low, menacing music will pull fear right out of you.  Does she want you to sense that a character is out of control?  Cluttering the character’s living space with a myriad of props will (even if you’re not aware of it) add to that perception.  In fact, one thing the teacher said has stayed with me all these years:  “Nothing that appears in a movie—from the angle of the camera, to exactly how a set looks, to the motions a character makes—is random.  They are all thought out, planned, and executed to evoke the emotion the director wants you to feel at a given moment.”
            Many years after that cinema class, I began to use these lessons in constructing my books.  I intuitively understood that you didn’t have to tell the audience a character was a control freak if his suit was impeccable, his desk perfect, his apartment sparse but in fastidious order, his commands to others followed to the letter or else.  All of these add up to a character bent on controlling his existence—even if I never said that outright.
            I could do that without even really trying. It wasn’t until a writing friend pinned me down to explain it to her that I came to the realization of the layers of existence.
            Simply put:  What happens in the physical realm gives us cues and clues as to what is happening on the emotional and mental levels, which then have an underlying lesson in the spiritual realm.  Now, stay with me here. This isn’t hard, and it will make a tremendous difference in how you write once you get it.
            What does this look like in practice?  Here's an example:

“Nice night,” the waitress at the counter said.
Ashton brushed the cold as ice raindrops off his shirt and shivered. “I’d hate to see a bad one.” He stomped his feet on the ground, sending mud and water scattering in little fans on the mat and across the hard tile floor.
She grabbed a menu. “One?”
It took a moment to process the question as he brushed at his cap and neck. “Oh, uh, yeah,” he said, glancing up. “One.”
“Right this way.”
Without question he followed her across the diner to a corner booth. He reached up and repositioned the cap on his head, cupping the bill of it in one hand.
She stopped at the back booth cornered by a wall and a window. “This okay?”
“Fine.” He slid into the seat.
With a smile he barely saw, she laid the menu on the table. “I’ll bring you some water.”
“All right.” When she stepped away, he squeezed his eyes closed to shut out the fatigue flooding over him and shivered again. “Tell you what...”
She stopped short and turned back.
He forced his eyes open as he ran his hands down his now-wet jeans. “Just bring me some coffee.”

Now go through this carefully.  What physical cues do you see?

* brushing cold ice water, shiver, stomping (Ashton's spirit is dead-cold, and he's angry)
* "One?" (he's all alone)
* took a moment to process the question (he's not mentally sharp at the moment)
* corner booth (away from the "action of life" again off by himself)
* repositioned the cap (nervous gesture)
* cornered by a wall and a window--dark night outside though (caught between darkness and something solid)
* a smile he barely saw (he's not interacting with others, very little eye contact)
* squeezed his eyes closed (anguish)
* fatigue flooding over him (spiritually tired)
* shivered (spirit is dead cold)
* forced his eyes open (fighting not to completely give up)
* ran hands down now-wet jeans (life is "tight" "constricting" around him)
* "Just bring me some coffee."  (life has become very simple, doesn't ask for or want lots just one cup of coffee)

Does your writing play on this?  Do your character's actions layer so that you don't have to say they are tired, they are lonely, they are sad because their actions say everything the reader needs to know?

Learn to do this, and your stories will have a depth you might not have realized was even possible.
Copyright Staci Stallings, 2012

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