I N D Y | 6 A M
Oh this is hard. It’s numbing; dumbfounding. She’s going- she’s going so fast, and just yesterday everything was fine.
Mimi’s kidneys are failing. They think it was because of an infection in her teeth. She hasn’t eaten in over two days because the medicine she’s taking for her kidneys makes her nauseous. She’s been at the vet on an IV for two or three days now.
I’m on a plane Atlanta bound. From there I’ll fly back home. Gosh that’s frustrating. Every second is precious with her. The vet is only open until 12PM on Saturdays, which means that when my plane lands in Wichita at 10:30, I’ll get there roughly at 11. One hour.
I found out the seriousness of this yesterday at around 6PM. My parents had tried to call multiple times, but I had passed out, trying to compensate for the 4 or so hours of sleep I’d gotten the night before. Half awake, I dialed my dad’s number. It rang three times and he picked up. Semi-perky I said, “Hey daddy-o, sorry I missed your call!”
“Hey dad, is everything okay?”
The seriousness of his voice told me in .2 seconds that it wasn’t. “Alley, honey, it’s not good.”
Trying to remain strong, I made my way past Kaitlyn and Jen to the bathroom. My voice only quivered a little bit as I said, “Okay, tell me what’s going on.”
“Dr. Bayliff called sweetheart. It’s Mimi.”
A sob was catching my throat before I knew what to do with those vague, awful words.
“Is she okay?”
He was crying. “No sweetie. It sounds like she could go soon.”
Sitting on the toilet of my bathroom, I planted my feet on the ground, one hand holding my phone, the other my forehead. Tears streaming down my face, trying desperately to wrap my mind around what he was saying. What was he saying?
I managed to choke out, “Is there any way I can see her?”
“How far is Ft. Wayne from you?” he asks me.
“Uh, 45 minutes. The Indy airport is about an hour and a half or so.”
So he communicates that he and mom would love to buy me a ticket home to see my sweet girl one last time. Somehow I form the words to thank him, tell him I love him, and hang up. And taking two seconds to cry and ask the Lord for the strength to do what needed to be done, I walked out of that bathroom to my two best friends. They envelop me, holding me close. The love they communicate isn’t lost on me in the moment. The shoulder of Kaitlyn’s white Hane’s shirt is streaked with the black of my mascara.
And then in 20 seconds I explain the situation, and before I can even open my laptop to look up the next flight they’re packing my toiletries and clothes, and my books for homework. And I’m just sitting on Kaitlyn’s bed, blankly staring at a screen of different airlines and times, and ridiculously over-priced tickets. My parents call in the midst of this and say that they’ll take care of getting a flight, and that I should just drive to the airport.
We find one that leaves at 8pm. By 6:30 we’re driving toward Indy in Jen’s Explorer. About 20 minutes down the road my parents call and say that that flight left Indy at 6PM and departed from Chicago toward Wichita at 8PM. I communicate this to Jen, and she responds that we’ll go to her house for the night, and catch the earliest flight out of Indy in the morning. This is all communicated to my parents, who respond that they’ve bought a ticket that flies out of Delta at 6AM. A few minutes later they e-mail me the itinerary.
Dinner consists of Noodles & Co at around 7:30 or 8PM. We pretty much inhale the food, and are in and out in less than 20 minutes. After stopping at Super Target to get brownie mix and then the gas station to fill up Jen’s car, we’re at her house. A blur of sherbet and mint chocolate chip ice cream with brownies, some Transformers, and a shower pass agonizingly slow. At 12:30AM I’m lying on an air mattress in Jen’s room, holding my stuffed animal giraffe Cracks to my chest, trying to stifle my tears enough that it won’t bother those two beautiful souls in the bed adjacent. I couldn’t sleep, and I just kept thinking about my sweet girl and praying. Oh man, so much prayer. Aching for God to hold me close to His chest, and feeling His sweet spirit encircle me, just like Jen and Kaitlyn had earlier. And then I just kept asking Him to do the same for my Mimi- to hold her close to Him, reassuring her of just how loved she is, and giving her the comfort that only the “God of all comfort” can.
Eventually I fell asleep. Three hours later I woke up, put on my clothes, washed the sleep from my bloodshot eyes, grabbed my bags and headed to the airport with Jen at 4:20AM. Half an hour later I was staring at a kiosk and clock in Delta’s portion of the airport. After printing my tickets I went straight through to security. Gosh I had to look ratchet. The security guards gave me a strange look, but didn’t ask questions. Everything went as smoothly as it could, and I made my way to my gate. There I sat, praying and reading Love Does, waiting to board my flight to Atlanta.
B25, my seat, was the only one in my row. “Oh thank you Dad,” I breathed when I saw it. I could cry in peace, without disturbing someone three inches away from me. I could pray quietly aloud, without keeping someone from sleeping. I thought through how the next several hours would go- land in Atlanta, find the gate to my Wichita flight, by a charger for my phone, board the plane, land at 10:30, the Haags would pick me up, and then we’d head straight to Dr. Bayliff’s from there. And then the ache in my heart came back. And I realized that I don’t know how to do this. What do I do with my final hour with my best friend? How does life go on? How will I finish this semester? Year? Breaks?
Hold me close Dad. Wrap me in your arms. Hold her; give me the strength to hold her in joy and reassurance as I dwell on the tremendous gift our friendship has been.
My banana-loving, cover-stealing, sunshine-hogging, beautiful best friend.
Hold on sweetie.
Mom is coming.
Thank you for these eleven years.
And then I plugged in my headphones, hit the shuffle button on my Worship playlist, and fell asleep as the plane left the ground to the words of Michael W. Smith,
And all these years you've carried me
You've been my eyes when I could not see
And beauty grows in the driving rain
Your ode of gladness in the times of pain
It's grace, your grace
I'm nothing without you
Grace, your grace
Your grace, your grace
I'm nothing without you
Grace, your grace
Shines on me oh yeah
Shines on me
Shines on me
I'm everything with you
Shines on me
Shines on me
It's your grace
Shines on me
A T L A N T A | 8 A M
I woke up to a sky of vibrant colors about twenty minutes before we were supposed to land in Atlanta. The sky was blue and pink, framed by the clouds instead of earth. And then I looked from my window to the left. Sitting in the window seat in the row behind me was a man who appeared to be in his mid-fifties, with a graying blond mustache; he reminded me of Mr. Monopoly, save the ball cap on his head. He looked lost in thought; preoccupied.
And the Lord clearly said, “Alex, talk to him.”
Without blinking I found myself asking him, “So where are you headed?”
“Hm?” he asked, a small smile in his eyes. I repeated the question, and he said, “Oh, Melbourne.”
To which I responded, “Australia??” and he chuckled, “No, no, just Florida.”
I asked him why, and he proceeded to tell me that he was going to visit his dad that is suffering from Alzheimer’s. “Going to see if he remembers me,” he told me. “He’s 88. Doesn’t remember where he’s from, or who his grandchildren are.”
I felt tears welling my eyes as I somehow articulated that I was sorry, and how hard I could only imagine that had to be. “It’s so gradual, and I’m sure so incredibly hard to watch.” Nothing like the suddenness of hearing your dog went from perfectly fine to, “her kidneys are failing and it’s not looking good” in a matter of literal hours. I wasn’t sure which I would prefer at this point.
Then he asked me where I was going, and I explained my situation. That I was a student at Taylor from Kansas, and that my dog was going, so I was going to say goodbye. And you could feel how heartfelt his response was, stating that losing an animal is like losing a member of the family. After sharing this moment of mutual vulnerability, we talked about his dad, and chuckled about how his name was Robert ‘O Neill, and how he had been often mistaken for being the man credited for killing Osama bin Laden. And we talked about his line of work, how he worked in lumber. He asked me about the car accident on I-69 that killed several Taylor students, and then about how the two girls were switched. Then he told me that I was the spitting image of his niece, whom he was so incredibly proud of. And then we prayed together, and by this point it was time to file off of the plane. Sweet and gentlemanly to the end, he complimented the hounds tooth pattern on my suitcase as he pulled it down from the overhead bin and handed it to me.
Once we were off the plane we parted ways. “Goodbye Robert,” I said with a half-smile after checking my gate number and readying to head toward it. “I’m praying for you and your dad.”
With a smile, “Take care, Alex.”
And as I made my way toward the train that would take me to my terminal, I thanked the Lord for orchestrating that beautiful moment. For preparing me for the difficulties of today with the ever so applicable words that Bob Goff had spoken in chapel just yesterday.
"Whisper to your heart, 'this is hard, but you’re going to be okay.'”
"Be not afraid. Fear’s a punk."
"You want to lead? Go find people. Feed them. Clothe them. And watch yourself become a humbler person."
"How do we help others? Point them home. Do so by telling people who they are, and help them get home. Jesus and the Holy spirit will take care of the rest."
"Have the faith of a child, and the humility of the next version of yourself."
"If you’ve got a good guide you can trust, and you don’t have to worry about the path. "
"God doesn’t tell us how far we have to go, he congratulates us on how far we’ve come."
"When we meet one person, we feel like we’ve met everyone. What if when others meet us they see heaven?"
Live in Grace. Walk in Love.
I don’t want to waste any more time. I want to show God’s love to people and let the Holy Spirit work. What a gift to be able to show love to others in the midst of such heartache. That doesn’t make sense; it’s supernatural. That’s God right there.
A stop at the bathrooms and a Brookstone store to buy a cell phone charger still left me with about 40 minutes to kill before I boarded the plane. I found an outlet, plopped down, and texted my parents. The amount of prayer they are pouring out over me and Mimi is dumfounding. I told them about my conversation with Robert. My dad responded,
“That is a rare moment and I’m so glad you responded to the call.”
And mom, “Oh Alex what a blessing. Stay close to Jesus and let Him comfort you.”
I slept 2 of the 2.5 hours from Atlanta to Wichita. As soon as we had service my phone wouldn’t stop vibrating with texts of encouragement, words of love and the reassurance of prayer. Then I lost it. Standing in the aisle of the plane, I leaned on a seat, with my head in my hand, and I just cried. The words, “I exalt thee, I exalt thee, I exalt thee, O Lord” coming from my headphones and lips. All glory to Him. All power to Him. All control to Him, the God of the Israelites, the great I AM, the faithful YHWH, the God of all comfort.
W I C H I T A | 1 0 : 3 0 A M
Home. Utterly white, covered in a blanket of fresh snow that was still falling from the sky in fat flakes. The Lord got me off that plane in record time. Before exiting the terminal and meeting Jeannie outside of security, I leaned against the side of an ATM machine, emotionally, cognitively, and physically spent. “God, I don’t know how to do this. Give me strength, dad. Please.”
And then I picked up my suitcase, and rolled out of there. Jeannie met me with a hug and tears in her eyes. She held me close, and then carried my purse for me as we headed toward the exit. It was a blur. Jason pulled up the car a minute later. We walked out to him, he took my suitcase and loaded it in the back and hugged me. Then I was sitting in their car, being handed Kleenex and a water bottle. And we drove to see Mimi.
Twenty minutes later we were there. My stomach was tight, my throat tighter, and a steady stream of tears was flowing from my eyes. Somehow I communicated that I was here to see Mimi. I asked Jason to come back and take a photo of Mimi and I together when it was time to go. And then I went back to see my sweet, sweet girl.
They opened her little cage, and there she sat, so small, so weak, with her little paw covered in a pink bandage that was connected to her IV. She could barely wag her tail when she saw me. There were so many tears, I could hardly see her. There she was, my faithful companion for the past decade of my life. I wanted nothing more than to take this pain from her- to carry it for her- to somehow alleviate her from this horrendous circumstance.
I climbed into her cage and sat down next to her. She turned her head to acknowledge the change, but was too weak to move closer. I inched in as close as I could, wrapped my arm around her and held her close as I stroked her back, head, and stomach, and showered her with kisses. I told her how much I loved her, and how proud I was of her. I thanked her for being the best of friends- for her undying love and loyalty. I held her close and whispered that she was strong. I spoke verses over her, praying that the God of all comfort would give her the peace that surpasses all understanding. She could hardly turn her head to look at me. About half an hour in I noticed that she was beginning to shake continuously- perhaps from the cold. So I took off my gray cardigan and I wrapped it around her.
And I cry now to retell it. My sweet Mimi used what little strength she had to resituate herself so that she could lay on me. Saying without words in such a powerful way that she loves me, and that we’re in it together until the end. And we held each other close for the next 20 minutes.
Then Jason came back, and he took a few photos of us together. And then he told me as tenderly as you can that the vet was closing, and that I had to say goodbye. Somehow I did. Somehow I told her that I had to go, and she whimpered, pressing herself closer to me. We prayed, and I cried, and I felt tears on her cheeks as I held her face in my hands and kissed her goodbye.