Saving: A Relationship Building Tool

There are people who don’t have a soft heart toward animals (I think we call them psychopaths). We are not those people. From their earliest days, my girls and I have been saving one lost animal after another. Our collaboration on this mission has helped our relationships grow stronger. After all, if we will do it for an animal we will probably do it for a person. We trust each other’s soft, compassionate heart for things that live.

This has been on Mom’s refrigerator for years. I think that’s why I must have started picking up strays.

Giving kittens a good home was one of the girl’s first projects. We had (way too many) barn cats that usually could not be caught, unless they were very young. The girls were “kitten tamers” so that they could be given to good homes. They were mostly successful, except for the one that had to go growling and hissing into a box, fastened shut. We prayed it would not be returned to us.

Baby birds, found near dead, were nursed back to life. I was commonly looking for recipes for baby animals and conferring with veterinarians on their care. Wounded squirrels found refuge at our house, in spite of being little terrors and biting us. One even got taken to the family chiropractor in hopes that his weird limp and inability to walk a straight line without falling over could be corrected.

Yes, even ants. Activism’s early beginnings.

Kitten tamers and dog trainers, they excelled in their saving of animals, and the animals got bigger. Julia brought a Wisconsin horse home to Florida, not knowing it was pregnant. Her herd started that way. Years later, she has four horses she cares for, plus two ponies, two donkeys, four sheep, two goats, three dogs and two cats. It is a good thing financially that she is now a large animal vet, but it also means she is always hearing about one more animal that needs to be rescued or put down.

Esther has become a greyhound expert, having given two of them a good home while they were alive. She has a third one now, and has had a couple of other dogs along the way as well. She has a passion for training dogs to have good relationships with people, so they aren’t a burden on others and can have forever homes.

I am going to give credit to our experiences saving animals, building trust relationships with them, to our ability to relate in good ways to people. After all, most of the same principles apply, and should be applied. Love and attention, reliable boundaries, consistency, proper care and feeding – doesn’t that sound like what you and I want? Yes, all that. And, in fact, we often buy pets for children in hopes that they will learn to do these things and be responsible for their animals and their people.

It is true that those skills in being compassionate do bleed over into concern and care for people. Both Julie and Esther value their close relationships and tend to them responsibly. It is a joy to watch, and also a comfort to consider as I get older and closer to needing “saving” myself. We’ll see how that works out.

Rescuing animals can be a good tool in teaching about relationships. It was for us, and has been for many others, maybe you? Sometimes it’s enough to send a check to the Animal Rescue Society, after watching one of those commercials about starving, shivering puppies tied up in the snow and mud. For the most part, we do have something in us that longs to save. I don’t believe it’s an accident that we were created that way. Just sayin’…

Once homeless, Shadow lives with me.

The Risk in Being Neighborly

I was late going out for a walk yesterday and was nervously watching a drift of storms on the weather radar. Sure enough, as soon as I got to the trail head a light rain started.

I thought it might quit so I stayed in the truck and made a phone call to the North Carolina daughter. We were ten minutes into our chat when a man came out of the warming cabin and approached the truck. He could see I was on the phone so he kind of stood there looking nervous and waiting. When I could see that he wasn’t going away I told Julie I had to hang up and why. She said to call her back in five minutes or she was going to send people to rescue me.

I totally get that, and would have said the same to her. But isn’t it a sad thing that we all have heard of so many disappearances, abductions and murders? Isn’t it sad that we have to think about that and make provision for the possibility? Yes, it’s very sad. And that’s why I ask for God’s protection over my day and everything that comes with it. And then I trust him to give me something – instinct, intuition, a gut feeling, an angel. I don’t care, I just trust.

I might have had a few red flags initially, mostly because I had no idea where the man had come from. I had been there for quite a while and all the cars that had been there when I came had left when the rain started. Had he been in the cabin all along? Doing what?

When I considered rolling down the window so he could speak to me I looked at him closer. I began to dismiss any wild ideas when I saw he was fully decked out in his mountain bike gear, and had obviously been riding hard enough to break a sweat. He looked like he had a request. I couldn’t get the window down without starting the truck, which I didn’t want to do. I opened the door instead and stepped out.

He explained that he had been riding on the single track trail and a branch had gotten caught in the derailleur of the bike and it was broken, beyond his ability to repair it. He had walked a mile with the bike hoping to find someone at the trailhead and had entered the cabin on the opposite side from where I was parked. He had gone riding without his cell phone and was asking if I would call his wife to come get him.

We stepped into the pavilion to get out of the rain and I made the call, holding the phone so he could speak to her. But she didn’t pick up – the unfamiliar number that is usually a robo call must have thrown her off. He left a message. He was clearly in a bind so after hanging up, I asked him where he lived. It was only a few miles away and here I was with a truck – I had to offer him a ride home. I wasn’t going to walk in the rain anyway, so why not?

He was polite and genuinely grateful. He asked if I was concerned about taking him with the COVID 19 precautions. He offered to ride in the back seat. I was feeling more and more sure he was a nice guy and in no way a threat. We loaded up his broken bike and got on our way. We talked all the way to his house. He knows that I hike and volunteer for the Birkie ski race. I know that he has skied the Birkie 24 times and has retired in Hayward from Minneapolis. I dropped him off at his log cabin home in the woods, completely forgetting that I was supposed to call my daughter in five minutes, or else…

She promised she would call for help if I hadn’t returned her call in five minutes. I hadn’t. She did.

When I checked my phone on the way home it was full of calls from the daughter. I had scared her and she had been busy alerting my brother. The sherif was next on her list. I had gotten back to her just in time.

Talking about this experience later with Mom, I had to admit that all the reasons I had decided to trust this guy could have been fabricated. It’s true that people bent on evil go to great lengths to appear trustworthy. It’s true that this small town, where it’s hard to find a stranger, is much like other places where unexpected crimes are committed. It’s true that it’s somewhat my nature to take risks.

But it’s also true that the art of being neighborly is an endangered item and needs to be preserved. Mom has a well worn sign on the freezer in her garage “Let all beings be filled with kindness and compassion for one another.” All beings. Filled. I think we’ve got a way to go.

What is one thing I could do, right away, to be a kinder, more compassionate person to a neighbor?

A Vow to Soften

I did not write this. It came to me from a friend and was written by Rachel Macy Stafford.  I found words in it to make my own.  I think there is something here for everyone to take to heart.  Read and see if I’m right.


My Vow to Soften

I’ve had enough of my hard edges.

I’m tired of straining my voice.

I’d like to loosen up and laugh a little more,

Be a positive rather than a negative.


I’d like to feel the upward curve of my lips.

I’d like to surrender control of things in which I have no control.

I’d like to let things unfold in their own time, in their own way.

I’d like to participate joyfully in this fleeting life.


I’d like to be softer

Towards him,

Towards her,

Towards me.


And this is my vow:

I vow to listen to opinions – I don’t always have to be right.

I don’t always have to agree or have the last word.


I vow to hand over the hairbrush, the pile of laundry, the school project,

The task before us. “How would you do it?” I will ask.

I vow to step aside and respect a new approach.

Success might be difficult to see at first; I vow to keep looking.

I vow to be more accepting of quirks and mannerisms.

I vow to be more accepting of tastes and styles unlike my own.


I vow to remember he is in the process of becoming; she is in the process of finding her way.

And they are more apt to do it if I stop telling them how.


I vow to regard “weaknesses” as hidden strengths.

Inner gifts can be nurtured when I stop plotting ways to alter, change, and “improve”.


I vow to greet my family and myself with a loving smile, no matter what happened yesterday.

Grudge holding only hurts us all.

I vow to pause before correcting.

I shall take a moment to consider if the mistake even needs to be mentioned at all.

I vow to stop nitpicking until it bleeds.

I vow to demand less and inquire more.


I vow to listen


And expand my thinking.


I vow to be a voice of encouragement in a demeaning world.

I vow to be a silver lining spotter in my family’s little world.

I vow to be softer today than I was yesterday – a softer voice, a softer posture, a softer touch, a softer thought, a softer timetable.



I vow to be softer towards the imperfect human being inside me and beside me.


By being softer, I can hear more, learn more, feel more, and love more.

At last I will fully see.

I will see his colors.

I will see her colors.

I will see my colors.

Perhaps for the very first time.


The colors might take my breath away,

Bring me to tears

And offer long-awaited peace.


I shall soften in order to illuminate the colors of the soul.

I shall soften so the human being within me and beside me can shine.


©Rachel Macy Stafford 2016





Going Again: The Back Story

In case I have not told it yet this year, for the benefit of new readers let me lay out the back story of this adventure.

Not so long ago the land of Cambodia went through an awful purging during the Khmer Rouge regime. The country was purged of its educated population, its professional in all fields, and most of the generation that would have been considered wise elders. Some survived, at great cost. They were mostly young and strong enough to have escaped or hidden themselves. One of them was Savorn Ou, who became a Christian in a refugee camp, and returned to Cambodia later with the resolve to help his country. He had a heart for children, particularly orphans, whether through war or poverty. He had no difficulty finding them.

I met Savorn and his wife Sony on my first trip in 2012. My friends, the Hunsaders, had met them several years earlier and had gone to see what his fledgling organization was doing. They visited and liked what they saw and decided to sponsor two homes. Trish Hunsader’s letters to home during this time opened the door to my involvement. She said they just needed more arms to hug and show love to little people, starved for love.

These children have lost much – sometimes loss, of one thing or another – is all they have known. For that reason, this organization called Asia’s  Hope, has adopted a unique model of operation. The plan to reduce loss starts with a stable home and family life, with parents and brothers and sisters and God. God has to be undergirding it all because without the model of his sacrificial love, none of this would work. It’s too hard for humans on their own.

The Hunsaders started visiting the children twice a year, coming back with their own children and sometimes with others like myself. They developed rituals of caring and fun that the children began to look forward to.  Because they were among the first regular visitors, a trust relationship with the organization developed. As more homes were sponsored, the vision grew. Instead of renting homes throughout the city, a very inconvenient arrangement, land was purchased for a campus and homes were built.  In Phnom Penh, where the families that I call “my own” live, there are now six nice, two story homes that house staff and children numbering around 26 people. There is a school which is also the meeting place for church and our medical clinics. Asia’s Hope shares these facilities with the community around them as part of their outreach.

It’s true that when we go, most of us, we are only there for two or three weeks, but it is also true that we are not treating it as a short term mission trip. We come to visit people we have become familiar with. We come to add a fresh pair of eyes, words of encouragement, and sometimes a financial boost for an obvious next step. Those steps are being taken by the Asia’s Hope families themselves, by the children.

The children are all ages, but it is noticeable now that many have reached teen and young adult ages and are finishing high school (still a rarity in this country) and going on to university. Many have become fluent enough in English to open new employment opportunities. They have goals to be teachers, doctors, agricultural experts, business people in tourism and other fields. They have goals of lifting others up and being a inspiration. They are Asia’s Hope for the future.

There is love that is bigger than feelings or circumstances.

On our bus trip yesterday I sat with a young man, a university student, who shared with me his difficulties in his studies, in being motivated, in staying healthy and getting used to dorm life, and other practical matters. It sounded so familiar, even in a far away place like this. I know it’s because we share so many of the basic human experiences that we are able to appreciate, understand and come alongside each other in helping ways. I think conversations like this are the reason I return again and again. I am reminded always that the world is, after all, small in some very important ways. I need to keep that in mind.



While it is day…

I’ve heard this phrase used in various settings to show that every minute of life is unique. Every opportunity comes once, and there never is another quite like it. And some things must be done while it is day because the night is coming when you won’t be able to do it anymore.

I think along these lines every time I am together with family, as I am now. My parents are with me at my home in Florida and I am very aware of the limited time for the special project I’m working on with my mom. I am finding out who she is in different ways than I have used before. I am interviewing her. I am writing her memories of being a child, a teen, a young married woman.  I am realizing that just because I have known her all my life, doesn’t mean that I know her. She had a life before me that figured heavily in the formation of who she is now. As I hear of those years, those events, I see a story that is more compelling and inspiring than I knew. I became a part of that story and I feel a strong connection to it.

As mom and I sit and talk there are times when the details of the story aren’t clear any more and we wish for someone else who might have been there.  My mom has a brother who came down to visit us one day. He was closer to her in age than her other siblings and he knew many of her stories, having lived them with her.  His perspective was different and added extra color and depth to the family narrative. Another of her brothers passed away a week ago and I can’t help but wonder what he would have added. Did anyone ask him to tell about his life? Did he leave any of those details for others to know?

Our experiences make us who we are. There are reasons we think the way we do and react to life in certain characteristic ways. Many times I have had friends or acquaintances who I considered to be difficult people, until I heard their story. I’ve known some very remarkable people and wondered where they got their courage or their ambition, until I heard their story. Knowing the story is so helpful in loving and having compassion on others.  The stories need to be told if we are to become peacemakers, helpers of each other.

Do you have a living parent that you think you know? Or a husband/wife? Or even a child? As we look at life’s experiences through our own mental window, it is possible to entirely miss what is happening in someone else’s inner world.  Don’t be too sure you know them.  Don’t think it doesn’t matter. Don’t be slow to ask. Do it while it is day.