Even though I walk through the darkest valley … you are with me. — Psalm 23
It is Lent and I have found myself walking in one of the darkest valleys one can walk — the valley of death.
My journey started three days before Ash Wednesday, that day on the calendar in which ashes made from last year’s palms, burnt and crushed, are smudged into the shape of a cross on the foreheads of the faithful as the words “from dust we come, to dust we return” are spoken.
As a pastor, I have noticed Ash Wednesday worship attendance tends to be low. Perhaps it’s because of the somber message that life isn’t infinite that keeps people from packing the pews. I mean, really, who wants to hear such news?
I believe, though, that we need to be reminded that there is an expiration date so that we can live our days, hopefully, in a better way. Live our days filled with more grace, more love and more patience. But especially filled with what I call “one mores.”
One more hug. One more kiss. One more “I love you.” One more of all the good things that bring joy into the world.
In the case of my 10-year-old bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, those “one mores” were one more scoop of vanilla ice cream, one more tummy rub on her chubby, jiggly belly, and one more snuggle on the wonky quilt I made years ago that would become her favorite blanket.
One more …
“God give me the strength to get through tonight.”
That was my fervent prayer to God as I tried to remain compose as I smudged blob-like ash crosses and talked about returning to dust to those who came for Ash Wednesday worship at the little country church I serve. But each time my thumb dipped into the ashes, I thought of the insidious lump that appeared suddenly on Sofie’s hind leg. I could hear the vet’s grim diagnosis. Cancer. Aggressive.
“How much time will I have with her?” I asked. The vet couldn’t say.
And so, it began. The walk through the darkest of valleys, with me by Sofie’s side filling her limited days with “one mores.”
Her days were filled with vanilla ice cream. Lots of it. My husband worried it was too much, which sounded foreign to me. Is there such a thing as too much ice cream?
There were plenty of tummy rubs as well, and snuggles on the quilt. There was, however, one more “one more” I wanted for Sofie.
“Please God, one more snowfall.” She was a mountain dog, after all, tracing her lineage back to the Swiss Alps. (And no, I did not do a DNA test on her, even though, there are now ancestry kits for pets.)
Three weeks into her diagnosis, on the first day of spring, I looked into Sofie’s gentle brown eyes. I had to break the news to her that it looked like she wasn’t going to get another snowfall.
“Sof,” as I often called her, “we’ll have to deal with mud season. Sorry, pup.”
She stared back at me. Her gentle brown eyes were sorrowful. I held her tightly and cried. She wasn’t bothered by the lack of snow. She was telling me it was time for her to go.
One more scoop of ice cream. One more rub of the tummy. One more snuggle on the quilt before packing it — and Sofie — into to the car and on to the vet.
“I am not surprised to see Sofie,” the vet said as she came into the exam room. Her eyes welled up with tears. “I had a dream about her last night.”
Any doubt or hesitation that I was doing the right thing for Sofie evaporated and was replaced with a sense of peace. The vet’s dream was to me a God moment, that holy split second when you suddenly become so aware of God’s presence that you crumple on your knees in awe and humble praise. And with that, I crumpled onto the floor by Sofie who was already curled up on her quilt.
One more stretch of road to walk on in this dark valley with my dear friend. Only this time, I would have to part with her. I would have to trust God, let go of her paw and allow her to journey on to her forever home.
One more hug. One more kiss. One last “I love you.”
What would life be like if we lived each day showering those we love with “one mores”? What would happen if we stopped worrying about one more deadline, one project, one more bill to pay? How brighter would our days be if we made “one mores” a priority? One more meal with friends. One more phone call to aging parents.
It’s snowing today — in spring. Not unusual for Vermont. But still. It’s snowing on what is the first day I face without my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog by my side.
I prayed for snow, and here it is. A day late.
Or is it?
It is one more snowfall coming from the heavens. It is Sofie’s “one more” gift to me, letting me know she’s happy. She’s whole. She’s dancing with the angels in the snow I had wanted for her. And each wet flake falling on my face is her lick of love, wiping away my tears.
May these days in Lent — and beyond — be filled with many “one mores” and then some.