Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beholding a Tapestry of Miracles: Izzy Update

If you are on the outside peering in, you may see the frustration amid the joy, the weariness amid the many daily activities plus sibling rivalry in full force... but there is tenderness there, too.   What you cannot see and what I’m here to tell you about is the view from the other side;  while you may behold the knots and loose ends, we’ve been given a glimpse of the magnificent tapestry on the other side. 

The outpouring of concern and care has been and continues to be immense.  My family is continually grateful, if at times, uncertain how to cope with it all.  Izzy is doing well and I know I’m overdue to write an update but in truth, there isn’t much news to report.  She had her full round of radiation and her pain is managed by medication, although Jenny just told me recently that she is needing it less and less.  Praise God!  Izzy has gone back to school and is an active little 4 year old.  She gets around well with her artificial leg, even though she sometimes doesn’t want to wear it (it’s much more fun having mom & dad carry her around ; ‘ ) )   

 A few weeks ago, my family traveled north to Morgantown for the WVU Children’s Hospital Annual Auction & Fund Raising Banquet.  It was WONDERFUL,  ELECTRIC, FUN and INSPIRING!!  Many of the families, whose children have received treatment, or are currently being treated, were present.  It did my heart so good to see these smiling children dressed up, not only enjoying a delicious banquet with scrumptious desserts, but receiving gifts and taking part in the evenings’ activities.   Soon after, they filled the dance floor and their energy was contagious!  I cannot remember the last time I had danced and laughed so much!

One of the Cards of Hope, designed by Izzy, Zoe and Zavery McManaway

Izzy was a little out of sorts and spent most of the evening on her daddy’s lap, but before the night was over, she danced to a Justin Bieber tune and asked her Uncle Will for a slow dance, too.   Another highlight was the live auction and seeing the children’s artwork go to the highest bidder.  They were all so proud, and rightly so, as their work had been selected for greeting cards as part of the Cards of Hope, sponsored by WVU Children’s Hospital.  And what a BLESSING to meet Joe & Tara Quigley, the founders of Timmy’s Fund Folks, if you ever want to witness first-hand the love and mercy of our risen Saviour, just make the acquaintance of these two people.  Tara & Joe lost their son, Timmy, to cancer in December 2004.  Their grief and sorrow was turned outward toward helping other families in similar situations, working to meet their needs financially and spiritually and their non-profit has grown by leaps and bounds through their tireless efforts.  It was an honor to meet their family and by their work, I am humbled and inspired to do more, more, more!

Izzy dancing with her daddy 

Children dancing at the WVU Children's Hospital Auction and Banquet

Izzy dancing with her Uncle Will

Another part of this brilliant tapestry involves the working of God in others’ lives through the inspiration of Izzy.  Her faith, her resilience and attitude touch so many people; we’re at a loss to count them.  I’ve promised, however, to endeavor to share some of these stories with you because it’s important that you know why bad things happen to good people.  Mind you, I’m not seeking to give you a definitive answer on that one, as who can know the full scope of the workings of God, but for our part, for our little place on this earth, I can tell you with certainty that Izzy’s suffering is not in vain.
This comes first and foremost from Izzy’s mother, my beloved sister and friend: Izzy is going through this battle so that others may be brought to Christ.  
Let me say it again:   Izzy battles cancer so that other people, from marginal christians, to atheists, to very bitter hearts, may turn toward God.  Our family bears witness to this over and over again.  One case in point:
About two months ago my sister calls and asks if I would be willing to go with her to a prison to visit an inmate, an old friend.  I was surprised, a bit apprehensive, but when she told me of her deep conviction that God wanted her to go ... how could I not go with her.  And so we went.
You have to understand that this is so out of the ordinary.  We are not ones involved in prison ministry or even find it comfortable to be in that type of atmosphere, indeed, I thought Jenny was going to be physically ill when we arrived in the parking lot of the prison.  But she felt this was something she had to do.  We prayed together and then she went in.  I waited in the car and entertained my writers mind watching the variety of people going to visit incarcerated loved ones.
Over an hour later, she emerged with a smile on her face.  Her countenance was calm and assured, knowing she had done the right thing.   Her purpose in the visit was to tell this old friend that she was praying for him and also to make a strong request:  “Please pray for Izzy;  I know you have a lot of idle time and I would appreciate it if you would pray for her.”
The friend was humbled to see her, incredulous that she had wanted to see him.   He had known about Izzy and was moved by Jenny’s request.. he readily agreed to pray for her.  It gave purpose to his days.   We didn’t realize just how much this unexpected meeting had affected him until a visit by his sister came a few weeks later.  At her brother’s bidding, she came to bring gifts to Jenny’s girls and also a letter and poem, written by her brother. 
His words are too personal to share in this public forum, but suffice it to say, our whole family was moved to tears at the care and love expressed there.  He wrote a poem especially for Izzy that will be treasured always.  A poem in which he prompts her to turn to God in all things and know she was created by God.  And I was told by his sister just recently that he carries a photo of Izzy in his Bible.  It is no small thing that a radiant light would be brought forth from a soul who had been darkened by fell deeds.  

Just to give you an image of that heartfelt, hand-written poem...

Remember, friends, the thief on the cross was to be with Jesus in paradise because of his humility before Christ!
                    To God be the glory for all things †

Friday, November 4, 2011

Remembering Jack, part III

Last Good-bye  
In the end it was colic that claimed him, a very common cause for older horses.  We had hope on that first evening of vet treatment that he would rebound, but the following 12 hours proved us wrong.  

Our last evening together....

Photo by my husband.  On my last evening with Jack, after  the vet
had been out, my family surprised me and came up to the barn that night.  We gathered
around Jack's stall and prayed for him.  

When I arrived back at the barn around 6 am on Wednesday, October 19, it was a pitiful scene awaiting me.  Laura was in the red barn, with Jack laying down before her.  I rushed in and saw that he was suffering.  He kept laying his head down flat and then pulling up, as if he wanted to stand.  This went on for some time and then, amazingly, he stood and so we walked around together.  Ginger, the mare most devoted to him, was near and also a cat that I had not seen before.  A little black and white thing.  She kept coming around, rubbing against Jack's muzzle as if in greeting... or parting.   I believe animals know more than us at times   -they have a pure sense, uncorrupted by sin, from their Creator.   
And something else I want to remember, the sky was spectacular that morning.  It was still dark and the stars were amazing... very clear and Laura was naming the constellations as we slowly walked under those beautiful heavens.   We walked and walked and walked... his abdominal pain was too great to stand still.
Laura told me that before I arrived, at about 5:30 am, Jack wanted to walk, so she put a halter and lead on him and followed him.  He walked to their house and looked out over the fence toward the rest of the horses.   Then he walked to the other end of the farm, toward the front fields, some 80 + yards in the other direction.  He then returned to the barn to lay down.
As Jack & I walked together for hours that morning, I sang hymns to him, rubbed his belly and ears and prayed for him, too.  I was thankful for the pain medication Laura had administered to him at 4 am.  By 8:15 am, the mineral oil the vet had administered the previous evening as a remedy, came trickling- at times pouring- out his nostrils and tears welled in my eyes.  
Some animals in pain and distress will lash out or become despondent..Jack did neither.  He remained his gentle self until the very end;  his eyes looked at me with those brown depths of sincerity, as always.
It's awful to be walking your horse to his gravesite... absolutely awful.  I believe though, that it is important to be there for your pal until the very end, to send them away in an atmosphere of love.  I am thankful to my vet, Dr. Lynn Sparks, for coming to meet us right away.  Her exam revealed that we were doing the right thing by putting him down... a heart rate over 200 bpm, purple gums and tongue, short rapid breaths.. he was slipping away, his body shutting down.    Why did I think he would live forever?
I stayed very close to his face, on the left side, speaking softly, telling him I loved him and thanking him...watching his beautiful eye.  Very soon it was over.  After she administered the drug, he stood on his hind legs and fell over in a sickening thud and breathed his last.
In hindsight, thinking on that exact moment, it was almost as if he was rearing up and heading to heaven.  At least, I like to think so.  Laura thought this, too. 
I could never ask for better support and love than was shown to me by Laura & Gary and Dr. Sparks during those final hours.  I also have my dad and James Green to thank for helping to dig the gravesite right away and treating Jack's body with the utmost respect and care.

Sunrise Service
My family, too, deserves much praise.  We have a way of coming together when it really counts, of being there for one another in times of heartache or distress.  We've always held a funeral when a beloved pet passes away and Jack was no exception.
On Sunday, the 23rd, we rose very early in order to hold a sunrise service at Jack's gravesite.  We live about 40 minutes away from Beauty Mountain Farm and so, it was asking a sacrifice of our children, who love their beds on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  We left a few minutes after 6 a.m. and made it in plenty of time before the rising sun.  

Our daughter, in the early morning chill (32ºF) at sunrise

Along with the rakes we brought to smooth out the gravesite, we had candles, a heavy, resin cross, a bible and incense.   Revelation talks about incense burning in heaven, as well as horses being present in that blessed realm and so, this seemed very fitting.    As the fragrant aroma of incense pleases our senses, so too, do our prayers please our Heavenly Father.

Will, my husband, working on gravesite... incense and cross in foreground.

Our makeshift headstone, with cross and burnung incense,
adorned with goldenrod and red clover

I said a prayer, asking God to have a place for Jack in heaven and that he would enter it with a mighty rush.  A poem also was shared, one that had been mailed to me by another horse-loving friend.   And then I spoke about the importance of animals surrounding Jesus' life on earth.  They were present at His birth in the stable and one little donkey was so blessed as to carry our Saviour upon his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  The animals must be important to God, otherwise he would not have made a place for them in the ark or tell us that He knows when one sparrow falls.  
Will said a few words, too, about the history of the horse as a helper to man in bringing forth food from the earth and for transportation.  He mentioned the war horse as well, always willing to carry his rider into battle and even though war horses are long gone, he was sure Jack would carry me anywhere I wanted to go.

Photo by our in the middle, feeling lost.

It was a beautiful, touching service and I wasn't that surprised to see the other horses looking over the rail at us, some distance away.  Not surprising either that Brio stayed with us the entire time.  He is one of many farm dogs at Beauty Mountain.  All of them loveable, but Brio has unique qualities.  He's a gentle giant of a dog, a Maremma, a watchdog and companion.  He seems to me an old soul... easy to smile with his lolling tongue and wagging tail, but somber, too.  He's a quiet observer and likes to be near people, especially the kids, I've noticed.  Brio must have wanted to say good-bye to Jack, too.

My husband and children working on Jack's gravesite with Brio

Our son with Brio ...a very warm companion.

Jack is gone but many, many wonderful memories remain.  My life was made better by that gentle, benevolent soul.  The world seems a bit colder now that he's gone.  

As I like to imagine he entered God's Kingdom... in a mighty rush!

Jackson, May God grant you a special place in the Kingdom of Light and may God be merciful and allow me to see you again someday.

To God be the glory for all things

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Remembering Jack, part II

Milestones in Life
Jack was there to see many changes in my life.  He met some of my high school friends as we set off early on Saturday rides and was also present the day I first met Will, my future husband.    Jack also went to college with me in Bristol, VA when I attended Virginia Intermont.   He stayed at Maplewood Farm, a picturesque farm on rolling land with a large pond and many trails extending into the valley.   It's very accurate to say that Jack was always a calming and therapeutic aspect in my life.  During high school, because I was very often at the farm each day after classes, he provided a healthy outlet and alternative to activities where peer pressure was in full swing.
In my college years,  time with Jack at Maplewood meant glorious days exploring the outdoors, practicing new techniques I was learning in my horsemanship program and nurturing a warm friendship with Jennie Placak, who cared for him.   That blessed friendship lasted long after I left Virginia Intermont, actually until my friend, Jennie passed away in 1995. 

Jack running at Maplewood Farm in Virginia, 1988
On the day of my wedding in October 1992, it was to the barn to visit Jack where I spent the early hours of that bright happy day.  All in all, over his 28 years with me, Jack lived in six different places and in each new environment, it didn't take long for him to fit in with a new herd.  He even had a calming influence on other horses, too.   One mare that we had for a time was especially flighty and given to moments of craziness.  We blamed this on her time spent on the track in Kentucky.  When she was turned out with Jack, they would run and kick and carry on.  After settling down, I could always find them grazing together... she followed Jack everywhere through the fields.  
Jack was also there to greet each of my babies when they came into the world in 1997 and 2001.  To each he did the same, a sniff of their head, wide-eyed in seeming wonderment at something so small and making sounds he had never heard.
I've had several other horses in my life, beginning at age 6, but I never developed the bond with them that I did with Jack.  I'm not sure exactly why this is, but that something special, that benevolent spirit always apparent in Jack, must have had something to do with it.  He was also curious and kind to other animals.  For example, two stories came to me from Angie, another friend that kept Jack on her farm in Scary Creek, WV during the mid 90s:

Jack at Scary Creek, Scott Depot,WV in 1995

Once while going out to collect Jack and others from a pasture for their evening meal, Angie had a halter and lead on Jack and was making her way back to the barn.  Jack was moving very slow in the tall grass and Angie turned back to encourage him to move on... but he kept going slow, as if searching for each new place to put his feet.  Finally Angie halted, thinking maybe something was wrong with a hoof.  As she turned to look down toward his feet she noticed the white ball of fur, her older dog nearly hidden in the grass, walking just underneath Jack!   Jack had been aware and didn't want to step on him.

Happy days, rolling and scratching his back...Scary Creek, Scott Depot, WV 1995
On another occasion, since Jack was kept in the stall periodically, one barn cat preferred Jack's robust rump to any other place in the barn for taking a nap.  Angie said she had seen the cat snoozing in that warm spot and apparently Jack didn't mind at all.  
Photo taken by my husband at Black Acre Farm in 2005

Even as I brought several dogs with me to the barn, Jack greeted each one with curiosity, stretching out his head and neck to take in a sniff of the new critter.   And, I swear, he liked to watch them.   Even on his last day, it was another horse and a cat that were present to say good-bye.

Jack as he most often preferred life ~  muddy!  Black Acre Farm, 2004

Later Years
It is with some guilt that I write this because as life seems to move on at that incredible pace, with it comes inevitable changes.  By 1999, the show arena days were long past and with the birth of our first child, the trail riding days began to fade.   I still went for rides occasionally and often took my son to the barn, but these were the days of spending time grooming and mostly just watching Jack run in the fields. There is a great joy in that.

Dad, Jack and my son on board, at the beautiful Black Acre Farm in Gatewood, WV  2002

It was time well spent, as I recall our son scrubbing buckets, learning to brush Jack and clean his hooves and also how to ride bareback.  Happy moments for us, but I wondered if Jack missed all the daily activity of the earlier years.  Years that also included mentoring a young girl from an abusive home life by teaching her to ride and care for a horse.  That episode taught me anew that Jack's gentle loving spirit had no boundaries.   He brought joy into her life, too.

Happy times shared with friends - Laura & I  with Jack and Jingle, one of the farm dogs 2009

Photo by Laura Davis, Beauty Mountain Farm.  Jack grazing at lower right

Jack & I with the minis, 2009
Jack's final years were spent on the lush property of Beauty Mountain Farm in Edmond, WV the home of Gary Reynolds and Laura Davis.  I had moved him there in 2007 in order for him to be on a residential property, knowing he was not getting any younger and would need more supervision.   Again, as had been the case multiple times, Jack brought me to cross the path of others who have become very good friends.  I could not ask for more love, companionship or grassy fields to surround Jack in the senior years of his life.  He enjoyed the company of not only Laura's family, but the gladness of other horses and a few llamas, too.  

With miniature horses at Beauty Mountain Farm, 2009
Jack had a history of good health and so, it was hard for me to watch him grow older and lose muscle mass and take on an "old man" frame. We had struggled to keep weight on him and I fretted about the winters, although his dense winter coat seemed to be enough to keep him warm.   

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