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Lessons from Lucy: A Dog, a Barn, and Dreams of Oz

“Yes, we saw a dog”, the neighbor child affirmed with wide eyes.

She and her brother were out playing when my husband approached, inquiring if they had seen a dog. He was sweaty and gasping for breath; it was his third trek around our neighborhood.  No, he did not implement a new and strenuous exercise plan…

Lucy escaped the house again.

But let us back up several years before this moment which occurred last week.  My husband and I are nothing if not dog lovers.  We have three dogs, all rescued from shelters who, because we have no children, serve as four-legged progeny in the Hurd house. I love to read dog books (yes, I cried when I read Marley & Me, okay?).  Dog books are one of my favorite genres when reading for pleasure and relaxation.

My fondness for dogs started when I was young.  As a kid, I watched Lassie and begged my parents for a collie.  Every time little Timmy was in a scrape, he would call for Lassie and she would come running from another corner of the Earth to rescue him. Despite Timmy’s penchant for falling into trouble, Lassie was always there.  Collies are absolutely beautiful creatures, but are rather expensive and hard to come by.  After months of pleading, my grandfather found a couple who needed to give away a dog.  It wasn’t exactly a collie, but it was still a magnificent, beautiful canine.  We adopted him and named him Brandon after Punky Brewster’s dog (I’m a child of the 80s!).

After getting married, most people expected us to start having kids.  Neither of us was ready though, so we decided to adopt a pet.  I wanted a cat (because it uses the bathroom in a litterbox and therefore, had the allure of self-maintenance), but when Aaron went to the animal hospital, a small, tan-colored dog was on display in the front office.  She was enthusiastic and friendly, wagging her tail at everyone who stopped by to acknowledge her.  Aaron asked if he could check out the dogs instead of cats.  When she was placed in the room with Aaron, Eppy wagged and licked her way into his heart.  When I called after work that day expecting a cat, I heard barking in the background and knew Aaron had unpredictably made a swap. Later that day, Eppy would steal my heart as well, although it took me a while to warm up to her since she still needed some encouragement to become house-trained.  She turned out to be the best “child” a dog mom could ask for.


After having Eppy for two years, we considered adopting a second dog to keep Eppy company during the day.  We started scouting local shelters.  A student of mine stated that her sister’s dog, a miniature schnauzer mix, had recently had puppies and the family needed to adopt them out quickly.  If not, her family would be forced to take all nine puppies to a shelter.  She brought them to school one day and I was smitten upon our first meeting.

At around four weeks, I took Lucy home (I’m sure you can figure out why her name is Lucy, right?).  She was so tiny that she couldn’t escape from the cardboard box I carried her home in.  Eppy was not happy about sharing the limelight.  She informed us of her discontent with several “accidents” on the carpet.  I assume you can call them accidents, although I’ve never seen a dog glare and urinate simutaneously but she did it with ease.  Nonetheless, Eppy would eventually get used to Lucy.  Lucy, though, had a multitude of tricks (and attitude) which equalled, even surpassed, her sister’s.  She was rambunctious and a little mischievious.  She was well-acquainted with the rules, but to our frustration, Lucy looks at rules more like a buffet: I don’t need ALL of them, I can choose which ones work best for me. 

Five years later, Lucy is still picking and choosing which rules to obey.  She has recently developed a tendency to run off and explore the surrounding landscape at our house. She broke not one, but TWO leashes just last week.  I have joked that we need to rename her “Hercules”.  Lucy heads straight for  the old, picturesque barn near our back yard. It is full of rusty junk; in fact, one whole side is missing.  Last year, a series of rough winds (one a tornado which devastated a local town) weathered the barn significantly.  Planks are missing from nearly all sides, tin shingles from the roof are absent, and when the wind blows, it quietly whistles through the crevices.  The structure frequently creaks, protesting every time a stiff wind trespasses the walls (although the owner put a “No Trespassing” sign on it earlier this year).

Lucy is obsessed with that barn.  She is highly allergic to our carpet, which we are strategically replacing with hardwood as budget permits.  But in the meantime, Lucy is confined to the linoleum fortress which is our kitchen.  The barn is directly behind our home, in close proximity.  Every morning, Lucy watches as the sun rises, filtering its glory through the barn’s fractures.  She observes as the local cats stroll up and down the dirt road beside it.  At night, that barn seems to swallow up the light as the sun disappears inside it.  It is the primary object in her field of vision both day and night.  Certainly, it would arouse some curiosity.  Time has only deepened her suspicions and wonder of the place.

If Lucy could understand English, I would tell her that she is chasing Oz, a figment, an illusion.  She dreams of visiting that barn and seeing for herself what is so mysterious about it, but there’s nothing there for her.  No lifetime supply of squeaky toys, no endless inventory of chew bones, no tasty treats, no never-ending waterfall of dog kibble.  There aren’t theaters showcasing episodes from Animal Planet, and there sure isn’t any human food to steal.  It’s just a storehouse for broken bottles and unused supplies from former construction projects  The rest of the myth is often self-generated, either by imagination or belief coaxed by persuasion.

When Lucy broke free from her leashes, she headed directly for the barn and the weeds around it.  She sniffed the area quickly, covering several feet in the blink of an eye (knowing that her screaming owner was in hot pursuit, no doubt).  When I recovered her, I looked down into her brown eyes and inquired (rather emphatically) why she is running away from safety.  Here, she is fed and given chew bones and toys.  Here she has a warm bed protected from the elements.  Here she is cared for.  Why would she wander anywhere else??

Later, after brooding over the broken leashes, I became suddenly sympathetic.  Lucy, in her ennui, can’t help but be curious.  How many times have I stepped outside of safety to satisfy my own curiosity?  People around me warned that life outside that margin would prove difficult.  I ignored them and did it anyway.  Later, I returned limping but wiser for the experience.  I thought, “But if you go here, the grass will be greener”…but it wasn’t.  That gleaming emerald city was no more than a dilapidated shack.  My mind had constructed an ideal and I found, at the end of the yellow brick road, a vastly different product than I had anticipated.

But at least you also find some wisdom at the end of that road.  You know better.

Lucy has a new leash now.  It is adequate for a 110-pound dog and Lucy is only around 25 pounds (!).  So far it is holding up just fine.  I can still get frustrated with her at times, but she is teaching the teacher some valuable lessons about life.  Sometimes you have to sniff those weeds before you realize they are weeds. You have to walk the yellow brick road and experience it yourself to learn what lies beyond it. And even if you leave (physically, emotionally, spiritually), you can always return to soft beds, nourishment, and open arms.



Glimpses of Divinity: A Review of Kevin Belmonte’s Miraculous

The video above shows a white blood cell following and then eliminating a Staphylococcus aureus. Notice how relentless the white blood cell is until it captures the “prey”. It’s hard to believe that when we feel under the weather with colds and flus, this very action takes place in our bodies. As we sip chicken soup and boost stock for Kleenex, our white blood cells are on the hunt, searching to seek and destroy trespassers found within the human body.

Humans are a marvel, aren’t they?

In Kevin Belmonte’s new release, Miraculous, he shows us a long chronology of God’s power to perform miracles. He starts with Creation (that includes us) and moves swiftly yet comprehensively through the Bible and throughout history. His book ends with Kevin’s own encounter with miracles, citing a storm which should have destroyed his home and the birth of his son Sam. Kevin is a writer of both natural talent and prodigious knowledge. He holds a BA in English Literature and two Master’s degrees: one in Church History and the other in American and New England Studies. Kevin has written biographies on Christian monoliths such as G.K. Chesterton and William Wilberforce. In fact, you may remember a film titled Amazing Grace which chronicled Wilberforce’s effort to abolish slavery in England. Kevin was the lead historical and script consultant for the film.

After Kevin explains the myriad of Biblical miracles, he transitions easily into more contemporary figures. Here he outlines the stories of great servants such as Perpetua, Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, Gilbert Burnet, Jonathan Edwards, David Hume, George Washington, William Wilberforce, D.L. Moody, Joy Lewis, Corrie Ten Boom, and Clyde Kilby. What I especially enjoyed was Kevin’s engagement with apologetics. Some authors would shy away from this, fearing that they would confuse the reader, but Kevin marches boldly into the temples of misunderstanding and cites several admired authors about the importance of God’s intervention in our world. A miracle is, as Hume termed it, “a transgression of a law of nature” by a Deity who created nature. Surely, He who created the world can thwart His own preset laws to illustrate His power. Kevin continues by using William Paley’s famous argument “the watchmaker metaphor”. Here, Paley argues that if “I pitched my foot against a stone”, he would most likely conclude that the stone has always been there. Yet, if he found a watch on the ground, he would immediately assume it had a different origin. In fact, the watch requires “a maker…an artificer…who formed it.” Therefore, not all random cosmic events in the universe are a product of circumstance. Something (a Deity) can certainly create and introduce organisms (or watches or what have you) into existence. God can and does intercede at many moments throughout history, as Kevin outlines in this masterful work. Miracles are occurring all around us, all the time. Most of the time, we neglect or ignore them, opting to side with “reason”. But if we do so, and we understand the patterns at work around us, we will arrive at a moment where we cannot explain what has happened. By all accounts, A should have happened, but B happened instead. Logic dictates that A should have taken place, so what do we make of this? In our world, we have termed it “luck” and most people are comfortable using the term when explaining a supernatural interference. This is illogical. One cannot negate the idea of God and His intervention by simply calling it “luck” and then complain that there is not empirical proof of God’s existence. Can you tell me why A didn’t happen? If you truly cannot, then you also cannot elminate God from the equation.

In addition, Kevin reminds us that miracles are weaved in and out of our personal journeys. In a chapter about the silent film King of Kings (released in 1927), Kevin narrates a story in which a Polish man named William Wallner is enraptured by the scenes of Jesus. During the 1930s, Wallner becomes the leader of a Lutheran parish in Prague. A doctor in Wallner’s parish was later arrested and taken to a Nazi concentration camp. While there, the doctor continued to share his faith, to the disdain of the Nazi officers. He was struck with an iron rod until one of his arms was amputated. When this did not deter the converted physician from sharing the Good News, an officer beat his head against a stone. The officer told him that he “look[ed] like your Jewish Christ” to which the doctor replied, “Lord never in my life have I received such honor – to resemble You” (233).

Those were his last words.

The German officer could not shake these words from his conscience. Later, the officer found Wallner and came to know Christ. The officer returned to the concentration camp and risked his life to collaborate with Wallner and the Czech underground to save many more Jews from death in the camps.

Even through such darkness, God made a miracle occur.

To bring us to the present, Kevin interviews pastor Mark Rivera and scholar/poet Dr. Holly Ordway. Pastor Rivera recalls a prayer which saved his brother from dying after receiving several gunshot wounds. Dr. Ordway was a staunch atheist who came to know Christ through reading poetry and discussing faith with her fencing coach. Dr. Ordway recalls a dream in which she and her coach are in Jerusalem, near the empty tomb of Christ. When she awoke, all of her reluctance melted away and was replaced with joy. In true Old Testament fashion, God used a dream to bring Dr. Ordway to a poignant realization. Dr. Ordway is now employed at Houston Baptist University where she is an instructor in the Cultural Apologetics Master’s program. Her journey to faith is chronicled in Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith. You can also read insights on her blog Heiropraxis –

When I finished Kevin’s book, I felt that I had been on a great journey. This journey makes us examine the enigmas in our world, and more importantly, it makes us marvel at the Author of the universe. Miracles are happening all around us. If you are seeking a miracle, visit the nearest mirror and take a good look. Notice the complex design of the eyes which peer back at you. Slightly turn your head and observe the dense network of muscles employed in your face when you laugh, or cry, or are perplexed. Your body is evidence that a God exists and that He is still in the business of performing miracles to this very day.

Kevin Belmonte, as a faithful guide does, leads us into a richer understanding of our God and a renewed awe at His handiwork. I highly recommend you read and cherish this work.

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Pink Ribbons and a Daughter’s Confession

The month of October is full of milestones for me.  First and foremost, it is my Mom’s birthday.  She will be turning 29 (wink, wink), and I am so incredibly grateful for her.  She sacrificed a career to stay home and raise me.  What more can someone give than his/her life to ensure that another will succeed?  Every time I opened my lunch and found scribbled encouragement with my sandwich or was sick with the various ailments which visit kids, she was there always willing to be what I needed.  I could not ask for a more than this.  Words are inadequate to describe how much I love her.

October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  You have most likely noticed pink ribbons on items at the store, on passing vehicles, or on t-shirts and sweatshirts.  That level of awareness is needed in our culture right now because an astounding amount of women are diagnosed with it every year.  It is fierce and undiscriminating. Thankfully, foundations like Susan G. Komen are funding research to eliminate (or at least unravel the mystery) of breast cancer.  More and more women can count themselves among survivors thanks to the research which has emerged in the last few years.

I have mentioned in past posts that my mother is also a survivor.  In January of 2011, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ.  The doctor was quick to tell her that “in situ” is latin for “in place” which means the cells are not aggressively reproducing.  Because of this, she was diagnosed as Stage Zero and sent for an MRI.  The MRI revealed more cells were present (not moving, but still present) and Mom was recommended for a partial masectomy.  She underwent the procedure in March.  Thankfully, the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes (the “interstate” of your body) so the cells were contained.  Due to Mom’s early diagnosis, she did not have to suffer the terrible experience of radiation or chemotherapy.  She developed some complications after surgery, but today she remains cancer-free.  Thanks be to God for that!

In order to respect my Mom’s privacy, this is all I will tell you about her encounter.  But I can tell you about how a daughter handles it.

Cancer makes you reassess your entire life.  For the first month after she was diagnosed, I was inconsolable.  I couldn’t say the word “cancer” to other people. I often studdered over it and when I did gamble to mention it, spit it out like the word itself was a disease.  I cried at random times, on my planning period at work, in the shower, when I went to bed at night.  No one in my family (close or extended) had ever dealt with cancer.  They all suffered from heart disease. My Dad had quadrulple bypass three years ago. I always assumed at one point, when I’m too old to care, my ticker would tire out.  By then, I would most likely be wrinkly and apathetic, chomping on fig newtons in a retirement home and watching people drive by outside hoping God would pull right up in his chariot to come get me, like Elijah.

On that January day in 2011, I prayed for a miracle.  I remember what I was wearing, the layout of the doctor’s office, the overcast skies visibile from the windows of the hospital.  And then he entered.  The doctor delivered the diagnosis as my Mom sat there stoically.  She was expressionless, the hospital gown draping off her shoulders.  I remember thinking, after he said “carcinoma”, No God no.  Why?  Didn’t you hear me last night…or all those nights before?  I knew I would start getting questions.  I knew I had to be strong for her.  Most importantly, I knew I had to trust God through this.

Mom’s diagnosis threw me for a loop.  I had never, in a million years, considered it an option.  My Mom’s sisters do not have it, her mother does not have it, none of the women in my family had it.  It was never under consideration.  What now?  Her doctors were asking, “Do you have any children?”  “Yes”, Mom replied, “I have a daughter.”  She included me in many of the doctor’s visits so I may understand the procedures if I ever had to experience it.  What a difference a few months can make on your outlook.  Cancer had interrupted my normal life and now, I was scared.  Yes, I was scared.  I was scared for her and I was scared for myself.  I didn’t want to deal with this.  I wanted my “normal” life back where I could complain about what happened at work or obsess over some frivolous detail.  I wanted to remain numb and distracted.

At the time, I was reading The Chronicles of Narnia for a paper I was presenting in February.  As you may recall from a previous post, I empathized with Digory Kirke, who begged Aslan for a Narnian apple to carry back with him to London which would heal his mother.  I told a colleague that if I could just produce that apple, if I could somehow make her cancer go away, I would.  I would conquer who I needed to conquer.  I would wage war against all evil.  But  when I read those pages, all I wanted to do was cry on Aslan’s mane.  I wanted to curl up, his breath softly blowing the tendrils of hair around my face, and have him envelop me in all my sadness and vulnerability.  I knew I would be safe there – away from machines and medications and test results.  When Aslan cried for Digory, I cried too.  I knew God understood my sadness.  Then I knew it would be okay in the end.

Still there was the shred of doubt.  I prayed she would endure it but I worried, in a small corner of my mind, about my own fate.  Every time I strolled through a Victoria’s Secret or purchased a sports bra, the fear would creep in.  It was relentless.  I stared critically in the mirror at my reflection.  At 31, what had I done?   If my life ended today even, what have I accomplished?  I was reminded of lines in T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”:

Between the idea And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the Shadow

                                                                     For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception

And the creation

Between the emotion

And the response

Falls the Shadow

                                                                    Life is very long
Between the desire

And the spasm

Between the potency

And the existence

Between the essence

And the descent

Falls the Shadow

                                                              For Thine is the Kingdom

The Shadow is my fear.  Even when I put it out of my mind, it was unconsciously still there.  I could not sweep it under some figurative rug, I had to eradicate it.

In February, I emerged as if from a coma. God gave me the fortitude to conquer my doubts.  I cannot live in the fear of the Shadow.  That is not living; that is merely surviving.  To live in a “waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop” mentality is constant misery.  God gives you this day – let us rejoice and be glad in it.  The Bible commands us not to worry about our future, but be grateful in the present.  I had to make a conscious effort to do it, but it can be accomplished. I wanted to go to Europe for many years. I was tired of postponing it.  Life is not waiting to happen; life is now.  That same month, we booked a flight to London.  Later that spring, I spent eight glorious days in Europe, watching a play at the Globe Theatre, standing in the shadow of Big Ben, touring the fascinating exhibits at the British Museum.  Also, I did observational research on C.S. Lewis while I was there (in both England and Ireland).  I picked flowers from the yard in Belfast which circled his birthplace, saw the shipyards where he grew up, traipsed around his house The Kilns in Oxford, and listened to birds warble around the pond (which is now part of the Lewis Nature Reserve).  I was reinvigorated. I cast off my hopelessness like a tattered coat.  Enough was enough.  I could no longer carry the burden of anxiety any longer.  On with my life.  Onward and upward…

It is my sincere hope that culture does not belittle the agony of this disease.  I’ve had students who wear “I heart boobies” bracelets and of course, we all know of a national restaurant chain which exploits women and their “assets”.  It is incredibly juvenile to mock someone else’s battle.  Pink ribbons are symbols of hope, not a punch line for immature people.  It is a real disease.  It causes pain and tears.  It makes people examine their own mortality.

When you see pink ribbons out this month, think about all those who we’ve lost, but also those who remain.  I know people, and perhaps you do too, who are in the throes of battle right now. They fight because life is worth living.  They did not, as Dylan Thomas writes, “go gentle into that good night”.  When my mother was diagnosed, my husband kept telling me, “It’s only a speed bump.  She will get through this.”

He’s right.  There is a big difference between a speed bump and a stop sign.

Perhaps “in situ” means “in place”, but my Mom’s victory over cancer was one of the most inspiring and motivating events of my life.  It has prompted me to move forward with improved awareness, to be grateful, to embrace the abundant life.

In honor of my Mom’s victory, I wrote a few verses.  And for all breast cancer survivors and soldiers, please keep going.  You owe it to yourself to live the best life!

“Pink Ribbon”

  Her symmetry distorted

 Cautious lines guide the surgeon’s scalpel

 That will purge the cancer from her.


How it had all come like a flood


Ductal carcinoma in situ

The physician uttered it delicately, as a whisper

Yet it had crashed on our ears


Stacks of literature



 Wig catalogs

Prosthesis Ads


And fear

and mortality

and uncertainty




 she lies asleep

Tangled among wires and IV drips

Her new chest rises and falls

Dozing softly with the euphony of hospital noise,

The steady staccato of heart monitors, the muffled exchange on HGTV,

Beds and machines groaning on wheels, weaving through hushed labyrinthine hallways.

Tomorrow she will see the sunrise with new eyes

For she is more than a conqueror. 

Crystal Featured on the “All About Jack” Podcast!

William O’Flaherty of the “All About Jack” podcast just posted an interview featuring Crystal and her discussion of C.S. Lewis’ essay “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State” as part of the Essay Chat series.

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