Going for Ride with Friends

Going for Ride with Friends

Friday, December 28, 2012

Being Like Jesus in the Barn

Facetiously I told the girls..."I really want you to be as much like Jesus as you can, so tonight you are sleeping in the barn, maybe naked, but you'll get a few rags that we'll call swaddling cloths."  This comment said in jest, turned into one of the highlights of our Christmas season.  After a delightful family visit on December 24th (spending the day on our farm with my family: Laura, Sarah, Caleb, David, Violet, Monty, and Mom) our smaller gang of 6 gathered blankets, candles, coats, the Bible and a hymnal and headed to the hayloft.  For the past 4 weeks we have been having evening family devotions centered around advent meditations.  We continued in that same vein while moving temporarily to the barn.

We arranged a clearing on the floor of the hayloft and lit four candles in glass jars.  After arranging ourselves in various ways on the hay (one of us swinging from the rafters as the high hay piles gave access to new heights) we were able to think about Jesus in new perspectives.  The hay was scratchy, and we knew from experience it probably had some spiders.  The barn was drafty yet cozy, and held the smell of animals along with the foreign sounds of the horses' movements beneath us.  The animals were confused by our presence, and I wonder how the animals responded when Mary and Joseph entered their space.  Maybe there were no animals there as the season for sheep being in the fields was upon them.  I still find it appalling that God would allow His Son, His Heir and co-Creator of all creation, to make His physical appearing to mankind in the context of a used feeding trough.  Really, how deplorable.  I would never, of my own free will, lay my child in a feeding trough or manger.  "Away in the Manger" took on a more substantial meaning as we sang with scratchy-though-sincere voices as we inhaled the dust from the hay into our lungs.

The past two days I have interacted at Children's Hospital and Ronald McDonald House with the Matheny's, our friends whose daughter has leukemia.   As I visited with Kim, the mom, she told me with tears in her eyes, that she would do anything to stop her daughter's suffering, anything.  Kim has spent the past month watching Kierra go through a bone marrow transplant, seemingly coming as close to death as possible, with the hopes that she'll make a recovery.  Kim proceeded to tell me that she sees God's love for us in a whole new way.  He sent His Son into suffering and had the power to stop any struggle, but never did because of His great love for us.  How truly foreign Love is.  Only Love Himself can define Love.  The world offers us many definitions for love, and broken meanings of Christmas to boot, but Love in the form of a suffering servant, born in a dirty stable is not love in the dictionary of our self-gratifying soul.

The Love of our God coming to earth in a stable is contradictory to the world and divinely marvelous!  How thankful we are as a family to celebrate Christmas in our hayloft with the Love of our Saviour burning brighter than the candlelight.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

(written 12/13/2012)

Merry Christmas!

“Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.”  (Luke 1:58)  Tonight as we had our family advent meditation, which was filled with a fight over where to sit, some tears, an over zealous dog wanting to play fetch, and a backdrop of Christmas lights, Dasen read these words from the book of Luke.  We as a family want to share with you how God has shown us great mercy and filled our hearts with joy, in hope that your joy measures fuller in return.

Our family over the past year or so has seen God work in marvelous redemptive ways in our lives and in those around us.  In celebration of Christ’s birth we want to share what we have seen Him do as evidences and encouragement that He is more real than the wind, and still alive with His heart beating in this world even to this day.

One of my favorite God stories is when God kept an appointment with me that I had forgotten.  In Sunday school one day we were discussing a woman at the well who had five husbands and how Jesus interacted with her.  I realized that a woman like her lived just down the street from me.  The Holy Spirit laid her family of 5 children heavy upon my heart and as I prayed for her throughout that morning I wrote on my church bulletin, “Pray for a divine appointment on Wednesday.”  I prayed for that appointment for two days, but by day three, Wednesday, I had totally forgotten the appointment.  Around 5 pm the doorbell rang and immediately I remembered my conversation with God.  I hurried to the door and excitedly greeted two of the children from the household for which I had been praying.  They were selling cookie dough and I exuberantly bought some and introduced them to my family.  Michelle (13) and Ethan (9) were probably not expecting such a response.   Ethan looked a bit bewildered and said, “Is this a church?  Because when we were walking up here I thought this might be a church.”  Joyfully I answered, “Well, no this isn’t a church, but I pray for God’s presence here everyday, so that’s kind of like a church.”  Ethan said, “I’ve always wanted to go to church but never have.”   “Well, we’re going to church in a couple hours, you can come with us.”  And so they did.  They went a couple more times with us, but shortly after meeting them, they moved again.  They were gifts sent to us to remind us of God’s heart.  We pray their seeds of faith are getting watered wherever they are, and we long to see them in heaven one day.

Tragedy hit us hard one week this past summer.  Two dire situations suddenly arose which devastated our family’s heart.  One of these circumstances involved our dear friend, Kierra Matheny (9).  She was happily playing at our farm, but the following week didn’t show up for ballet class.  Thinking she might have a cold, I called her mom to check on her, and found they were in the hospital with a diagnosis of leukemia, a rare undifferentiated type.  Kierra had taken a sudden turn for the worse with a mass growing large in her chest and dire lab reports.  She has spent most of the past 4 months in the hospital receiving chemotherapy, radiation, and now a bone marrow transplant at Cincinnati Children’s.  Our family has shared in the sufferings of this dear little girl and her faith-filled family.  God has appeared time and time again in her treatment plan.   A truly amazing God sighting occurred when Kierra’s labs showed no leukemia cells after just 2 rounds of chemo.  As she completes the recommended course of therapy we continue to yearn and pray for God to be with the Matheny’s in the furnace and for their family to come out of this “not even smelling like fire,” because the God we serve and celebrate has been known to do that.

The other tragedy that struck us the same week we heard of Kierra’s diagnosis, was that of some dear friends struggling in their marriage.  Things turned ugly quickly     and it appeared there was no hope for improvement.  We continued to pray fervently for the situation, yet even my prayers lacked faith at the time.  Much to our surprise God appeared once again.  (I know people say “Why should we be surprised at God?”  But just to let you know, I routinely am.)  Our friends were together at church less than a month later, kneeling at the altar with Dasen and I kneeling behind them giving thanks and begging for ongoing mercy.  I am amazed by God that He can heal even the most broken of situations in our lives and in those of others.  Our marriage has been broken before and we can honestly say that God is the mender of broken hearts.  We celebrate His courage to intervene in this world, once so long ago in Bethlehem, and still daily in our hearts.

Lastly, I just want to share awe at how God continues to provide care for my mother.  Taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s has some odd consequences, like dishes found in weird places, dirty laundry mixed with clean,  missing spandex soccer shorts being found on grandma... yet I am joyfully amazed at how God works to choreograph our busy family of seven into a brilliant dance of life for Him.  He knew when I surrendered my physician assistant job to care for my mother and children, that my identity would be redefined in ways I did not find fulfilling.  Even so, I want to proclaim that He is enough.   We are completely dependent on Him for establishing peace in our household, and we are clearly in need of His daily intervention.  I have loved seeing Him show up.  One of the ways I admire Him is how he brought a caregiver neighbor to assist us in caring for mom.  Mechelle is on a path of redemption and God allowed us to be a part of that.   After a Holy Spirit driven dream, Mechelle moved back to this area to care for her ex-mother-in-law, who eventually died shortly after we moved here.  Mechelle has had a painful past with abuse and neglect in her childhood, and gangs, and prison in her adulthood.  She has been redeemed by our  Savior and is a blessing to share God’s love with my mom.  Mechelle and mom regularly exercise, care for daily needs, and visit shut-ins.  

Our girls continue to thrive.  They are really such a central joy to our lives.  We see God at work in their lives as they are daily molded into disciples.  One of the most amazing things about walking together closer to the Lord and spending so much time together in home school is that we know each other's strengths as well as weaknesses.  This lends itself to a communal sense of admonition and character formation.  As we go about our daily lives of caring for chickens, learning geometry, studying passive verbs and active verb forms, riding horses, cooking tempe and bok choy or pumpkin muffins (both made today) or doing music, theatre or co-op, and greeting Daddy at the door with  eight arms and a kitchen chair so one can making a running leap into his arms... we find God delightfully alive and in our midst, creating peace out of chaos, and being the eye in the midst of storms.  

So Happy Birthday to Jesus, who still is meeting us where we are today and working with His long scarred hands of salvation to show us His creative and powerful love. May you share His joy with us in every way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Eulogy for Jingles

Remembering Our Family Dog

January 11, 2012

“The Best Dog Ever”


Miriam Ritchey

Can you guess the best dog ever?

I bet that you can not.

Because it is MY dog.

MY dog is the best dog ever.

My dog’s name is Jingle Belle Ritchey.

This afternoon our family crowded in a vet’s exam room to say goodbye to one of our family members (albeit she was also of the canine family.) Jingles came to our home Christmas morning 10 years ago, jiggling in a wrapped box whose lid lifted off to our 2 year old, Hadiah’s, delight. Hannah was 6 months old then. I have often looked back on that first year with Jingles as holding one of the worst decisions of my life- getting a puppy who needed a wild place to run, while we were living in the suburbs, Dasen was in surgery residency, my Dad was fighting with us about his dementia, I was working, and caring for my 2 girls full-time and my Dad part-time. What was I thinking?

Yet today, I look back on that time and think... that was one of the best decisions of our lives. Even though she ate all our Christmas presents one year, destroyed my dining room chairs, chewed my cell phone, and once took off attached to our baby stroller with my baby in it...she turned out to be a delight. And I am so delighted that for 10 months before she died, that we were able to all move to a farm and see her really thrive. She had herded for years, sometimes it was the vacuum or lawn mower, and often she herded our girls. Our Australian Cattle Dog needed a job, and the job she took most seriously was taking care of her girls.

Once when our family was on a walk with 3 young children, our girls got too far ahead of us. We let Jingles off the leash and said, “Go get ‘em!” She sprinted, circled them and pushed them toward us while nosing their ankles. She had learned the first few months that although her breed is also called “Blue Heeler”, she was not to actually bite at their heels as her instincts directed her. I knew that if the girls were outside playing, and if any strangers, or men came around, Jingles would not let them near. She would alert me with barking and genuinely scare off anyone who came near without my permission.

Her first few years, many people were afraid of her... some neighbors up the street who were twice herded on their bikes, the mailman and meter reader. Yet I knew she would never bite anyone unless she were defending her family, which happened one night- at least from her perspective. One night, around 2 AM, a stranger came into our house without knocking or greeting me. This “Stranger” was actually someone I had known years before, yet Jingles or the girls had never met them. Why they entered without even knocking, especially when our dog was growling at them, I still don’t know. But they pushed right on, opening the door with Jingles guarding and growling. When they didn’t leave, Jingles nipped their hand off the doorknob. There was no depth to the bite, but it was enough to let us all know, she meant business.

Moving to a farm presented new challenges to Jingles. So much room to run and move, yet she stayed near us. She loved to bark at the horses while we were working with them- it always seemed like a wild attempt to seem useful to me. Once when our little, fat miniature, Prancer Fatso Hotrod Ritchey, got loose, Jingles barked like crazy and usefully herded him into the corral. Once Jingles was stepped on by our big Tennessee Walker as she tried to herd him out in the field. That didn’t happen twice. The other major challenge to Jingles were the chickens. She didn’t pay attention to them much for months, until one day, chaos broke out with a pony cart wreck, and Jingles felt the chaos and multiplied it. That was the day she ate Elle’s beloved pet chicken, Goldilocks. There was much crying that day. She went on to kill one more chicken after that, before we vowed to never let Jingles and the chickens in contact again.

God took care of Jingles when our family went to Africa for 6 months, and to Europe for another 3 weeks. He provided care for her through other caring people, for which we are still deeply grateful. Returning to Jingles validated that we indeed had finally come back to home base. She provided stability to our family, consistency, unfading love, affection, protection, and even bonding. She was the first dog we ever had together as “our family.” Dasen and I never had a pet jointly owned and chosen like Jingles, and the girls have never known any other dog as their own.

Over Thanksgiving and New Year’s Jingles practiced hospitality like the rest of us. Often when friends would visit our farm, they would bring their dog, and we all, including Jingles liked it that way. She seemed fine over New Year’s, but over the following days, she stopped eating and got weaker and weaker. After a visit to the vet this week, we found she had a large mass in her abdomen, probably in her spleen, and her liver wasn’t functioning well either. We were given a recommendation of a surgery. Dasen and I decided to have a family meeting to decide together what to do. With complete unison, we agreed that even though resources were available to give her surgery, that we would choose not to do it. We agreed to donate the money we would have spent on her surgery to the “poor fund” at the hospital in Cameroon, West Africa. There are family members and patients who live there on the lawn and are asked not to leave until their bill is paid. They put their lives on hold and try to work for that hospital, or find other work nearby, which is difficult to do. I was so pleased with our girls for seeing beyond themselves to remember the poor as Jesus said.

So we celebrate the gift God gave us of Jingles. She was a gift of fun and companionship. Thank you God for her life and for knowing our future and how she would fit in it so completely. We like what You’ve done in our lives, from the big things like Eternal Life and Peace, to the more nitty gritty parts, like giving us this exuberant, speckled, herding hunk of love.