An icon in the ditch

Our team had a good week. We kept a search a “rescue” instead of “recovery.” Our dogs did what humans couldn’t. Thank God for that. Early Friday morning, two of our dogs and two of our handlers pushed law enforcement to extend the search for just one more run, one more time. And they brought an elderly man, suffering from dementia, to his family, to a warm and comfortable house in suburban Fort Wayne. The place he belongs was just a few thousand yards from where he would have probably died, had a handsome rescued German Shepherd named Tick not pushed through the brush, scampered down a ravine and found the man, in the dead, cold middle of the night, and told all the humans in the vicinity “he’s here!”

That’s what I wanted to write about yesterday and this morning. I thought about all the times I hide for Tick, how much fun I have with him, regardless of how tired I am, or how cold or hot it is, so that he believes that humans in random places in rubble piles or forests or buildings are the absolute bees knees.  I wanted to write about how Tick’s handler is one helping to turn my Helo into a fierce, feisty little search-beast.

That’s what I was going to tell you.

But as we had our de-brief this morning, and the handlers talked about how they walked and walked, through deep mud and brambles, and how they felt when they got to him, I realized this is a different story.

SAR is about humanity. It’s about icons. It’s about the image of God, what makes us of infinite value. It’s about our souls. It’s about helping, bringing home, about restoration, and hope.

It’s about taking great care, covering the wounds, warming cold limbs, bundling up, and touching softly. It’s about removing your own coat, taking your own time, expending your own effort. It’s about asking a name, looking in eyes, holding a hand and making one safe.

It’s about Mercy. Grace. Hope. Love. And it might not even matter why a person does this, but in that moment, it is about that connection. It is about human. It is about the Image. It is about Love.

It is about all of us.


(But K9 SAR is also about puppies. Here’s Tick.)





So it’s Christmas.

For most of my life, I hated this time of year. I know I’m not alone either. If you have any “thing” at all, this time of year, this season of “festive family fun” is a tablespoon of lemon juice on whatever open abrasion is on your heart. If you’re like I was, it begins somewhere after Halloween and by the time you get to Christmas Eve, you’re an anxiety-ridden depressive, clinging to your sanity like a cat to a screen door. And who would blame you?

When I was 21, it was a particularly rough Christmas season. One night that year, in my friend’s car, after she peeled me off the emotional ceiling, she handed me a tiny little ring, one made for infants. Inside, in even tinier script, it read “Emmanuel.”

God with us.

That ring. That idea. That notion that Someone from the great Out There was intimately concerned with where I found myself, it was not a new idea to me. I heard it growing up in the fundamentalist church. I heard it at the Evangelical college.

But it meant nothing to me, in that context of grief and despair, until right that minute. It found me. There. In the front seat of her Chevy Lumina, somewhere around two in the morning.

That night began my journey to Orthodoxy, I know that now. That night, that ring, that idea, cast a thin thread of light into a very dark place.

God, my God, the Triune Creator of the Universe, the One who Is and Is to come, that One, is not distant. He is the One who seeks out. He searches until He finds us wherever we may be, in the sharp and jagged rubble piles of our lives, trapped by our own guilt, or the shame others have put on us, frozen by pain and anger and grief. In the Nativity, we have this idea, this promise kept. “I am coming to get you out.”

He uses us to do it. It’s really the most efficient way. We’re here. Now.

Even if you are not a person who believes in the God whom I worship, even if you believe in no God at all, you have to admit: there’s something about this time of year, this promise of something connecting us to each other, to something in the beyond pulling us up and pulling us in. It’s the kind gestures, the love of friends, the warmth of an embrace of one who comes alongside. It’s wine at the table and kind words between family. 

It’s grace.

In Orthodoxy, we recognize that as the energy of God. We cannot know Him in His essence, but we can know Him by what He does, for us and in us. And since we are in His image, we can do that thing too. We can reach out to others, connecting them to that thing beyond themselves. We can love, and hug, and cry with, and slip little gold rings, like life preservers, on fingers that say “you are not in this alone.”

It’s been nearly 20 years since that night. Twenty years makes just about all the difference. I’m not stupid, though.  I know that, as a human being full of frailties and vulnerable to my core, it would take very little to put me in another bad spot. 

But I know that if I am ever lost and trapped again, the God Who Keeps His Word will be Emmanuel.

With me.

With us.

Nothin’ to say…

I really wanted to blog tonight, maybe write about the lecture I got from the sparrow the other day (seriously, it happened), maybe my frustration at not being able to run for the past two weeks and how trapped that made me feel, or about why I believe good Christian folk should not watch FOX or listen to Rush on moral grounds.

But I’ve got nothing…

This morning, I did get a letter from an anonymous somebody (I have some suspicions) that contained $50 in cash with carefully-printed instructions to stash it away for the next person that shows up at my door looking for work. The mail carrier comes early in my neighborhood, so she put it in my hand as I was heading to my job.

I carried it back inside with tears in my eyes. I need to find a good place for it so I don’t forget about it. I will say a prayer, too, that the man will come back soon. Maybe my grass will grow or something so I have some work to offer him. Someone helped me help him. Pretty cool, huh?

So I guess I do have something to say.

Thank you.

Our things

Every morning, I take a small cream-colored pill. And every night, I take a white one. The cream-colored pill helps me get through my day and the white one, my night.

I have PTSD. And I’ve probably had it most of my life.

I got it from my father, but unlike my hair color and blue eyes and weak chin, it’s not genetic. It’s just something I picked up along the way. How it came to me is a story for another time, maybe not even this place. But it is who I am. It is as much a part of me now, of my personality, as those blue eyes and my loud laugh. It makes me warier than I would probably want to be. It makes me restless and edgy on some days, tired and unfocused on others. But mostly it makes me frustrated.

Frustrated because it is here. Frustrated because I had to explain it to my boyfriend when we “got serious.” Frustrated because there are certain places I don’t go, certain things I don’t eat, certain situations into which I try not to place myself because I just don’t feel safe and certain times of the year when I cannot seem to get it together. The situations and places are probably safe, but my brain no longer registers them as such.

I came to this place, which is actually now a pretty good one, after years of struggle and denial and anger. And like an addict, I had to reach the “rock bottom,” which for me was a particularly embarrassing and volatile encounter with a police officer (yes, I know, the irony) that probably could have resulted in my arrest and subsequent loss of my job. But it didn’t because God’s gracious and my friends were there to help me out and I, praise God, took the hint.

I got some help. I found a therapist. I joined the Orthodox Church and found a priest. I have a psychiatrist and a golden Retriever with the softest ears and most peaceful demeanor God ever bestowed upon a creature.

I don’t know why I am sharing this with you, my five or six (I’m optimistic) loyal readers, tonight. Maybe there’s someone that needs it. Maybe I need to say it. I say it, I tell it, because we all have our things: our PTSD, our loneliness, our alcoholism, our cancer, our cheating spouses, our hideous parents or our difficult kids.

But whatever our things, we have this NOW, this place where our things are with us, and God is with us and our lives are lived. And we have this grace, this tremendous thing God does for us in His love –this provision, this care, these relationships that help carry us across the asphalt (like the turtles).

I want for all of you, and for me, to be well, to be safe and to know that we are all still in His hands. We are all forever in the grip of His grace, regardless of our experiences, our choices and our struggle.

Our souls are safe.

No saint

Happy back-to-eating meat, everybody! Oh, you were still eating meat? My bad. Happy Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul to me!! I had fried chicken for supper.

So tomorrow (tonight liturgically) marks the end of the Apostles’ Fast and the celebration of the lives of the best evangelists (especially for my Protestant friends)–Peter and Paul.

St. Peter always gives me hope. Fr. Andrew again reminded me of why — here’s this obnoxious, occasionally whiny, finger-pointing, temper-losing and Christ-denying dude who becomes a saint. Not just a saint, but one of the big first ones, one who planted churches, wrote Scripture and whatnot.

Today, Fr. Stephen wrote about the saints among us, these people who make the world, the workplace, the home, the Church, better because of their presence. These people who speak no ill of others, who love well, laugh often and generally uplift.

Like St. Nicholas of Zicha, (and South Canaan, PA) who wrote “Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.”

That ain’t me.

My best hope for sainthood is probably what Flannery O’Connor said: “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”

Maybe, though, if I keep working out my salvation, keep confessing to Fr. Andrew about how certain people drive me crazy and make me mad and how I let my thoughts become actions and become attitudes, maybe one day after all this. I know I draw my sword too quickly, cutting off ears of those nearby. I know I deny that which I hold dear. I gossip. I malign. I’m just generally a jackass. (or something else, if you like)

Maybe someday, even if not here.

My bad

Another day, another court hearing with horrific autopsy pics. This time, I actually hugged the court reporter after the hearing. I couldn’t help myself and she’s been in just about all the hearings with me lately. So much for emotional distance.

I make mistakes. And when I make mistakes in my job, thousands of people see them. Some of them take to the email or the phone and leave me messages about what an idiot I obviously am, or question whether I have a soul or something. They do not give a thick skin when you graduate from j-school. It’s developed over time, or you quit.

My mom always taught me when you make a mistake, you own it. If you bump into somebody, you say excuse me. You say you’re sorry. In my line of work, though, the wrong apology can confirm all the lawyers need for a lawsuit. So I have to be careful, judicious even.

One of the things I learned about three years into my career at the paper where I work now is that the stories that I write matter to people sometimes. You forget when you cover a city council meeting and you talk to people who talk to people like you as part of their job. But when you have to talk to John or Jane Q. Public –the victim’s parents or the subject of your profile –what you are doing is almost sacred. They are trusting you with something important, a part of them. Maybe they didn’t even ask to give it to you, you just swooped in and said, “oh, that’s interesting/tragic/odd. Tell me more.”  I learned this lesson when I attended a viewing for a county councilman who had just passed away. A profile I had done of him a few months before was matted in a massive and gorgeous frame, sitting on an easel right next to the foot of the casket. I hoped it had been typo-free, accurate and fair.

Just about 30 days ago, I misspelled the name of a dead guy, an actual honest-to-goodness victim. I got the obligatory emails and phone calls and took them like a kind of penance, I guess. Seriously, who is that careless? I am apparently. Yesterday, the young man’s family was in court for an emotional hearing – the sentencing for the man who shot their beloved son, brother, boyfriend.

I met the mother outside the courtroom, notebook closed and metaphorical hat in hand.  “I am sorry,” I told her. “I pride myself in being careful and I was not careful with something very important to you.”

I waited. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d belted me in the face. That’s what I would have done, I know me. She cried. She said thank you. Then she wanted me to quote her for the next day’s story. I came into the newsroom today to a phone message from her husband, also saying thank you. I cried at my desk. (I know, I know, there’s no crying in baseball.)

Grace is an odd thing. I see it a lot in what I do, in weird places and strange situations, from people who would be the least likely to show it.  It’s always weird, too, when you’re on the receiving end of it. There was no reason for that woman to be nice to me, no reason for her to give me the time of day.

In Orthodoxy, we view grace a bit different than how it is viewed in Western Christianity. For us, it is not merely being treated in a way different from how we deserve, but it is actually the presence of God. It is the Divine Energy of God. It is how we/I know Him.

That woman showed God to me and so did her husband. I didn’t deserve that, but God in His great love doesn’t remove Himself from us ever. Even in the cavernous hallways of the courthouse. Even when I make a mistake.


That’s a contented sigh, in case you couldn’t tell. My friends finally received the answer for which they’ve been waiting.  An investigation is under way, there has been a necessary submission by those who have wronged to those who were harmed.

I’m sure I’ll blog more about this later because I learned so much from it. I was reminded again of what true godly character looks like. I saw what it means to patiently bear up under great weights put on by others. I saw what a difference it makes when a few people consistently cry out for justice. (I know, too, it shouldn’t take that much work in a Christian setting)

In some kind of strange way, arguing for my friends helped me argue a bit for myself. I don’t know yet what that means, but I know that I was changed in the telling of this story. I am awed by those little girls, now amazing women, for boldly going into such a terrible battle with no guarantee of victory.

I can’t wait to see how it works out for them. I can’t wait to see the things God does in the life of that family, those other families and in everyone who came into contact with this over the past few weeks. I know DK’s survivors have a difficult journey ahead as new horrors will be uncovered, old hurts will be revisited and ghosts will come back to haunt. But I know that God gives beauty for ashes. I know that He will restore the years the locusts have eaten. I know that in Him we all will arise.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever.