Sunday, September 30, 2012


We moved from Connecticut to Virginia in August 2004 and adopted Lady not too long afterward.

My wife Cheryl decided to write about our special pet one day, from the perspective of our (then) 10-year-old son. The first three parts came to her at one time, and the final part came later on.


It was all because
my parents felt sorry for us
that we got to pick a pet.
We had just moved from Connecticut
and we were all squeezed into
this tiny apartment.
We had given away 
a lot of toys
so that we would fit.

We had loved Connecticut
and our friends there
and our school.
My teacher had given me a parting gift
a book
called Love That Dog
and my dad said that
he wouldn’t mind reading it
because he likes books and reading.
And he loved the book.
And then my mom read it too.

So anyway
we were sitting at the dinner table
one night
in this strange, new city
the walls still bare around us
when my mom said
“Reading that book makes me feel like we should get a pet.”
And my dad said, “Me too.”
So the very next weekend
we went to the pet store
and got a


Lady was the name on the crate
a name we’d keep
not because we loved it
but because we couldn’t agree on anything else.
That’s the way it goes with my sister and me.
She wanted to name her Sabre (pronounced “say-bree”)
and I wanted anything but Sabre.
So Lady it was.

We adopted her from the pet store

and put her carrier in the back seat between us.
After we had traveled a ways
I opened the top of the carrier to pet her.
When I did, she stretched her body so long
and peaked out the top.
I couldn’t believe how tall she was.
She was not really a kitten.
The kittens were cute, but you had to get two of them.
So we had gotten Lady
and the people at the pet store said
she was between 6 and 9 months old. 


During those first days
Lady didn’t know what to think of us.
We showed her the litter box
in the small bathroom downstairs.
She would peer out of the bathroom door
and raise one paw
in a little fearful motion.
She was a cute thing
white fur
with black spots
one above her left eye
a few scattered on her back
and little heart-shaped marks
on the backs of her legs.
Soft to pet
but not as soft as you might imagine.
She would tousle with string a little bit
but she wasn’t too feisty.
She was mostly sweet.
Scared and sweet.


One spring afternoon
a good while later
I came home and found Lady in the window sill
with pink cherry blossoms blooming behind her.
She was doing one of those perfect cat poses.
And I realized that if we’d never come here
never left our old home
never read that book about loving a dog
then I wouldn’t have Lady
and Lady wouldn’t have me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cards and letters

I have only ever known one of my grandparents. Grandma. My mother's mom.

Grandma was already 73 by the time I was born. I never knew her as a “young” grandparent, but fortunately for me—and for many others—Grandma lived to be 97.

And from time to time, I still think of this Christian woman from Rose Hill, Kansas.

I was telling a friend recently that all I had from my grandmother was a pocket version of The Acts of the Apostles. The trembling cursive inside reads:


Michael Allen


   All my love


It has always been a treasured keepsake.


So … at the beginning of the summer, my wife gave me the simple task of cleaning out a couple of boxes and a grocery bag that we’d been carting around for about 20 years. Really? I had many more important things to do. Like watching America’s Got Talent and stuff like that.

So for three whole months, I successfully showed my wife that she wasn’t the boss of me. Then, I decided that maybe she was the boss of me, and I began cleaning out the Piggly Wiggly bag.

I should have done this years ago.

Inside, I found a bunch of cards and letters I'd received as a kid, including a good-sized stack from my grandma. Who would have thunk it?


A few highlights from my find:

I had forgotten how much Grandma liked cats (and kittens). She mentioned them in just about every note, and pictures of cats were often on the cards she sent. Grandma wasn’t so crazy about her dog ...

Grandma: My white cats are beautiful … The dog barks as much as ever.

But also some practical advice about pets ...

Grandma: It is expensive to feed so many cats.

A few encouraging words for young Michael, an aspiring artist and writer ...
Grandma: You sure do color nice. That lion was very good.

Grandma: Dear Michael … you do write the nicest letters.

A note to my mom about a couple of my cousins (children of Uncle Leslie and Aunt Marciele) who had grown up and moved away ...

Grandma: It is not the same at Marciele’s without Roe and Marcia. I miss them so much.

A widow, Grandma reminded me that she still thought of Grandpa ...

Grandma: I was married 60 years ago today.

My favorite story from the farm ...

Grandma: Yesterday two beautiful peacocks came here. They flew up on the barn and sat side by side. The dog barked at them – They were so pretty. Uncle Leslie came after me to take me to their house for dinner. He said peacocks are worth quite a bit of money. He got to see them – But when Aunt Marciele brought me home – they were gone.


Cards and letters that still warm my heart … after all of these years. 

Grandma at my sister Cindy's wedding

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Catholic vibe

At the end of our Sunday worship service, our church offers communion and a few other things around the auditorium. There’s even a diagram, a sort of map that’s flashed onto the overhead screen that shows the different locations to go, so we don’t get lost on the way to the bread and grape juice. (I assume it’s grape juice.) We leave our padded blue seats and do these things during the singing of the final songs. Or, we don’t do these things and just remain at our seats. The choice is ours.

When we first started this routine at the end of service, I thought it all seemed a bit too Catholic. Standing in line for communion. Lighting candles. Cross statues. Who’s idea was this anyway?

But over time, I began to warm up to the idea.

These are rituals that help us focus on God. And while we do it, we are rubbing elbows with other believers, coming into contact with each other and with the Creator … all in 5 minutes on a Sunday morning.

And here are the ways we respond:

  • We take communion by dipping a bread wafer into a cup. (There’s even a gluten-free table.)
When we first started attending Fairfax Community Church, about 7 years ago, we took communion about once a month. Within the last year or two, we’ve gone to a weekly communion.

  • We can go to one of the crosses at the front of the auditorium and place a prayer request on it. We write the request on a sticky note.
Sometimes the notes fall, drifting like yellow leaves to the foot of the cross.

It’s okay. Someone gathers up these notes after the services, and later church members pray for every single request. (Our small group has done this prayer time on a couple of occasions. It’s quite moving.)

  • We can light a candle as a promise to pray for someone.
I’ll tell you, there’s something pretty emotional about doing this. I’m not sure why.

  • We can go to a prayer station and someone prays with us.
Every week, people are available right and then and there to pray for church members or visitors. These are corners of light.

  • We can place contributions into an offering box.
I didn’t get a picture of the offering box. Imagine a tall wooden box with a slit cut into the top … and a sign that says, “Place offerings here.”

I do consider it a “leap of faith” that our church leadership gave up “passing the baskets.” When the announcement was made about going in this direction, just trusting people to walk to the back and drop in contributions, I thought, “Hmm. That sounds a little crazy to me.”

But it seems to be working out just fine.

And one final note …

I saw a similar communion-dynamic while visiting a morning worship service at the Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, Ark. They offered people a chance to come forward, partake of the Lord’s Supper, and exchange hugs and greetings. A wonderful time.