Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Miracle Named George

To understand the story you are about to read, you will first need to understand three important things about me: I have issues with trust, for the first nineteen years of my life I was terrified of dogs, and until that July day I knew very little about unconditional love. It was a Monday, July 20, 1998 to be exact, and it was around one o’clock p.m. I was standing in the doorway to my room at The Seeing Eye in Morristown New Jersey, anxiously waiting to hear my instructor call my name. All sorts of questions were running through my mind, and in the forefront was the fear that I was making an awful mistake. One by one other names were called. Each time a name was called, a few seconds would go by and then I would hear the person and her dog walk quietly past my door. I wanted to bite my nails. I probably cracked my nuckles a time or two. I shifted from one foot to the other and sighed enough for thirty people. Finally, shocking me out of my own thoughts I heard my instructor’s voice. “Shannon?” I don’t remember responding, but in seconds I was seated in a chair in the lounge, my instructor standing beside me. “Shannon,” she said, “ this is George.” At her words, two huge paws touched my knees. “Down, George,” my instructor said, and the dog obeyed immediately. But, all I could think of was, “His name is George?” George, though, didn’t give me time to think on his name. We were taken back to my room where the door was closed, leaving us alone. I petted him, he put his paw up to shake hands, and he sat so pretty, as if to say, “I’m a good boy. I promise.” After several minutes, George got bored, I think, and went to the door, pressing his nose against the tiny space between the portal and the frame. He sniffed it, then licked it and then whined. I could almost hear him crying out for the lady who had trained him. I sat down in the chair in the corner of the room and dropped my hands in to my lap, feeling at a complete loss. “Okay, God, you got me here. Now, what am I supposed to do?” Some time later, my instructor, who, oddly enough was also named Shannon, took George and me on a walk outside. George wore the harness and leash, as well as a second leash that my instructor held in her competent grip. It felt like I stumbled around that path instead of walked, and I kept stepping on poor george’s feet, but he never stopped and neither did I. Still, I was worried. If this stumbling around was what I could expect, maybe this guide dog thing wasn’t for me. From the beginning we were taught to feed, water and care for our dogs without any sighted assistance. We were also taught how to use a plastic baggie in order to pick up after our dogs when they left their droppings at our feet. Cleaning ears, brushing teeth, grooming, feeding, watering, and giving our pups pills were all things we had to know how to do well before we left the school. Sometimes, it was easy, and sometimes it was not, but always there was a positive atmosphere. The day that stands out in my memory took place on Tuesday, July 21. I can’t remember if it was morning or afternoon, but I do remember it was a bright, sunny day. I also remember my confidence was sorely lacking. I was still wondering if maybe God had brought me up here for nothing more than to show me how crazy getting a dog would be. Our instructions were simple. Take up the handle of your dogs’ harness and walk down the sidewalk before us. The instructor would be right behind our right shoulder, watching our every step. No need to worry. Looking back, I can’t remember if we were told anything about the sidewalk or not, but I don’t think so. I stood there at the corner and took a deep breath. Quite literally, my instructor was asking me to put my life in to the hands...ahem, paws of a dog. Could I do it? Was God calling me to do it? I hooked George’s leash around my wrist, lifted the leather handle and took another bracing breath. Here goes nothing, Lord. “George, forward.” Suddenly, where there was calm and quiet, there now was this seventy-eight pound dog pulling me down an unfamiliar sidewalk. Several times I cracked my toes on parts of the sidewalk that jutted up from the ground. “Toes up, Shannon!” came the voice of my instructor. “Oh, Lord,” I whispered, frantically, “what on eartha m I doing?” Swirving around trees and overhangs of leaves and branches, George and I flew down that sidewalk of slate. I had never walked that fast in my whole life. It kind of felt like a roller coaster ride that your friends have talked you in to trying. You are barreling along, and your feelings are ranging between terror and amazement and a thrilling joy. And then... Then, without warning, george stopped, and for a moment I just stood there in awe. I heard the traffic in front of me and my instructor’s words, “You did it!” I had done it! i had walked down an unfamiliar sidewalk at a pace that most sighted folks would later call running, and I was still alive to tell the tale. I had... Wait! I was forgetting something...someone. Right then and there, I knelt down on that hot, slate covered sidewalk and hugged that big, Labrador/Golden Retriever mix. I, who had never hugged a dog in my life, threw every reservation aside and wrapped my arms around him. “We did it, George! You did it! Oh, thank you God!” For the next eight years of my life, I was covered in blondish dog hair. For the next eight years of my life, I did not feel like a blind person. George and I went to school, went to work, walked in ten degree weather, walked in four inches of snow, walked in rain and mud, went to grocery stores, went to concerts, went to restaurants, visited elementary schools, took a plane to visit a friend in Savannah Georgia, slept side by side in the floor to the sounds of an audio book or two, shared pizza after attending a week of church camp, and spent many happy hours just enjoying one another’s company. Many was the time George lead me up a church’s isle to the piano where he lay quietly while I played and sang. Looking back, I know there were things I could have done different. I know all my decisions back then were not always the best ones, but George never stopped loving me, and I never stopped loving him. Some said that having a guide dog wasn’t worth the clean up, but those are the ones who never knew how much we meant to each other. Today, some say I shouldn’t get another dog, but, again, those are the ones who are not yet aware of the bond between a guide dog and a blind person. Sadly, I had to retire George in August of 2006. He past away in February of 2007. I was not there for his last moments on earth, but the George that I remember was happy and healthy, not dead or dying. George, who liked to rub his body against your legs like a cat, lives on in my memory. And, it is because he taught me how to give up my own control and trust, I am ready to move on. Out there somewhere is a new dog just waiting for a blind person who needs him or her. I have applied to a new guide dog school, and once again I find myself feeling a tendency to fear the unknown. Will I be able to trust God again with a new dog? Because, see, it’s not the dog or myself I need to remember to trust - it’s God in whom I am placing my trust. “So, God,” I pray, “get me ready to take that first walk, again and remember I’m scared. Prepare a gentle soul, like George was, but, Lord, help me not to compare this new dog with my first one. Give me confidence, Lord, because no matter how broken up the sidewalk, no matter how many obstacles lay in my way, I can do it, with you and my new furry friend in the lead.”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What I've Learned From Crocheting

I am not perfect. Did you all know that? Well, it’s true. Amazing? Maybe, but most certainly not perfect. If I was, I would not have had to spend an hour and a half correcting a huge mistake in this sweater I am crocheting. Crochet is something I always wanted to do. My mom used to crochet, and I remember feeling her projects and holding them close to my face in order to see all the bright colors. After I got married, Mom tried to teach me. But, she said my fingers kept getting in the way, and she couldn’t see what we were doing. Thankfully, my husband stepped in and helped. Between him and my mom, I learned the basics. When I finally learned how to navigate the world wide web, I found sites with instructions on various stitches and patterns, which is how I learned to follow patterns. I made all sorts of crazy things in the years before I became a mom: adults and baby booties, mittens, ugly hats, decent afghans, pot holders, dish rags, hair scrunchies, and a lot of other stuff that never looked good enough for a name. Then, a couple of months before my oldest daughter was born, I sat down and crocheted my first poncho. It was the Martha Stewart one, and if I do say so myself, it wasn’t too bad. But, lemme tell ya, that summer was a hot one, and I about burned up with my lap full of yards of Lion Brand’s HomeSpun yarn. That fall I made pink booties for my daughter that she wore on her first Christmas. Several months later I made a friend of mine a scarf. When my second daughter was born I made her a pair of pink booties. In the spring of 2009 I found a pattern for a sweater on the internet and decided it was time. I bought the yarn and the proper size hooks and slowly began. It was surprisingly easy, and the sweater fit me when I was finished. But, I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted something more. Then, somewhere on the internet I found directions for creating your own sweater pattern. The lady gave instructions for crocheters and knitters, alike, and I read that article over and over again. Deciding I had nothing to lose, I grabbed up some scrap yarn and a size G hook and made sweaters for my girls to ware for Easter. Everyone loved them, and I will admit I was surprised that they turned out to look pretty good. So, I used the same instructions and made a sweater for myself. Everyone loved it, but I knew that next time I tried one for me, I would have to do more careful measuring. ;) If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might remember my post back last fall about buying new yarns to try. Back then, I bought some pink angora merino. I loved the way that stuff felt, but it was difficult to work with. I set it aside and work with other kinds of yarn for a while. Then, last spring I picked it up again and made a baby sweater for a friend’s new grand baby due to arrive in September. The little garment turned out so sweet, that I crocheted a pair of booties out of the same yarn to match. Angora merino, for those who do not know is yarn made of part merino wool from sheep and part angora which is fur from rabbits. It’s lofty, which simply means it feels thinner than it looks. You have to be real careful with it, because if you have to undo any stitches, the yarn fibers stick together and get knotted up real easy. I guess y’all know what I’m leading up too. Right? Well, I’m crocheting an adult sweater out of angora merino. I practiced my stitches before beginning, made swatches and measured them, carefully figured out how many stitches it took to make an inch and how many rows made an inch. I don’t work on the sweater if I’m already aggravated. Instead, I wait until I feel calm and at peace. I finished the length the other day and stayed up late one night to start the first sleeve. I was truckin’ right along and had 5 inches of sleeve done, when I realized I had made a terrible mistake. My sleeve I had been working on was 3 inches too small. Ha! Nothing I can do about it...except take out 10 rows of double crochets and pray the yarn doesn’t knot up on me. So, stitch by stitch, row by row I began to gently unravel that rabbit/sheep fur/wool. Then, near where the sleeve joined the body of the sweater, the crazy stuff knotted up on me. In the past, I would have laid it down and said, “That’s it!” But, I can’t do that! First of all, my friend is expecting this sweater. I’ve promised it to her. Second, I can’t give up; I’ve put too much time and money in to this project. I have to fix it! Y’all, I have no idea how I managed it, but I cut a little here, and tugged a little there, and crocheted a bit more, and suddenly, it’s fixed. I now have one complete row of stitches on the first sleeve, and it doesn’t look messed up. Fshew! Note to self, “MEASURE NEXT TIME!” lol I never dreamed I’d be saying this, but crocheting...well, yarn crafting of any kind, actually...has taught me some measure of patience over the years. Sometimes, I think it’s like writing in that it’s a type of therapy for me. I mean, if I can create something, and no one can see the mistakes I’ve made and fixed, maybe with perseverance I can do other things. Also, crocheting forces me to sit down and be quiet, something I don’t normally like to do. lol But, if I remember correctly, one of the prophets in the Bible found out that he didn’t hear God’s voice in the wind or fire, but in a still, small voice. Don’t know about y’all, but I can’t hear still, small voices unless it’s quiet. So, for what it’s worth, there you go, an article about crocheting. If there are any morals to this story, I don’t know what they would be, unless it’s stay away from angora merino, unless you have been crocheting or knitting for 10 years or more, and if at first you don’t succeed, tear it out and start again. :) Y’all take care and come back real soon. Oh, and BTW, there's a picture of my first adult sweater on this blog. Look back in 2009 in April. I think the title is "My New Sweater". :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rainy Day

The rain has been coming down since around 2 this morning, if not a little before that. All I know is I opened my back door to catch a cool breeze at 2, and it was pouring. It's slowed down, now, but everything is dripping, dripping, dripping. The birds are singing, too. They tweet away as if they had no care in the world. Maybe, they don't. :) After all, the Bible says they neither sew nor reap, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Mmm, my coffee is a welcome warmth this morning. It's slowly waking me up. But, I can tell that it's going to be a lazy day, especially if it keeps raining like the weather man says. Lazy day or not, feeling a cool breeze through my open back door, listening to the falling rain and the chatter of children are great ways to enjoy this day that the Lord has made. Rainy days always make me think of my Mamaw. I keep wondering why I don't smell cornbread baking in the oven and Pinto beans boiling on the stove. If it wasn't beans, it was homemade beef stew. Either way, we'd have cornbread and a healthy dose of family togetherness. Sometimes, I think that kind of togetherness died with my mamaw. But, then again, maybe it's still here and we've just not found it, quite yet. Mercy me, but the flies thought my open door meant they could come on in and be welcome. That's the risk you take, I reckon. :) I need a screen door out the back way. I probably let in a few ants, as well, but I got something that'll kill 'em dead, so I'm not worried 'bout 'em. I've made a couple of big decisions here lately, besides my diet, and I'll blog about them another time. I'm trying to keep my posts on one topic at a time. ;) But, just to give you a sneak peek, the decisions I've made concern dogs and going places. Save it to say, I've been too lazy too long, and I'm determined to get my rear in gear. lol Until next time, though, thank y'all for reading. It means a lot.