Wiley's Wisdom

Joy: From the Ground Up

Never Far Away December 13, 2014

It’s a trip I’ve only made once. And it’s a long one. Don’t get me wrong, I love a long car ride through beautiful landscaping just as much as the next dog. But five hours one-way? I would say that quantifies a long journey. I figured with a journey that long, the destination would have to be something special. And it did not disappoint.Mom and Uncle Frank

Phillips, Wisconsin. From the ground up, it is indeed a pretty special place. I visited there a few years ago when my forever mom and dad brought me along on their anniversary trip to a cabin in the woods. Beyond the colorful surroundings of mature trees shedding their leaves, there is a distinctly homey woody scent in the air my nose captured about a mile outside of town. But all of that was nothing next to the history this place has for my forever mom especially.

It’s where her dear grandpa grew up. Where her mom spent summers as a child. And where she and her family visited throughout her childhood and young adulthood. Though mom’s grandpa went to heaven years ago, family remains steadfast in that neck of the woods all those hours away.

I know family means different things to different people. I also know some people don’t consider what some might think of as distantly related relatives family. That is and never has been the case with the folks mom fondly refers to as her “Phillips family.” They love and embrace each other any time regardless of how long its been since they last spoke or saw each other. That is real family in my eyes. Never Far Away

All of this came to mind for me tonight as we put dear baby Carter to bed. Mom and dad said Carter’s bed time prayer as usual, but afterward mom kept going. “And please bless Dolores Marlenga and the entire Marlenga family up in Phillips tonight, Lord. Please hold them in your arms and remind them that dear uncle Frank is in a better place. Please give them hope in knowing they will see him someday when we are all together again in heaven.” It’s always dark in the room when we pray as a family at night, but I know a shaky voice when I hear one. She was crying as she said those words.

Mom’s great uncle Frank left for heaven a couple of days ago, and though we all know it was his time, that never makes these times any easier. I’ve gathered by the timing involved that we will not be making the journey to the funeral, but I suppose that’s okay. Because that’s the thing that so special about this family. They can be so far away and yet are always close together. Always in each other’s hearts.

That’s the souvenir I took home with me on that long car ride home from that place called Phillips, Wisconsin. That’s the souvenir I carry with me in my heart on a daily basis. The peace. The hope. The joy in knowing family like that is never far away.


To Be Rescued October 15, 2014

There are moments in life when you just don’t want to hear it. Moments when you would much rather stew in your misery or frustration or grief about whatever challenges you face. The dreaded words “everything happens for a reason” are the absolute last thing you want to hear. They offer you no peace in that moment. No rest. And they certainly don’t make the original problem go away. They are a line of garbage.

Except that they’re absolutely and completely 100 percent true. In spite of a few emotional battles, I’ve always known it. And, as I have followed a story of a two-legged friend of mine during the past week, I know it in my bones. Her name is Emily, and she is my hero.

A patriot for rescue dogs, she in the last several days has personally taken on the emotionally tasking job of reeling in two stray dogs near her neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. It hasn’t been easy, for Emily or the dogs, who she has since named Dallas and Cricket.

She has worked diligently to earn their trust, leaving out food and water for them for several days and keeping her distance until they were ready. She unsuccessfully attempted to enlist help from neighbors. Sadly, she learned that the area where she found the dogs was a common dumping ground for strays. She was heartbroken to learn of this, not only for the dogs, but for the people who have become completely desensitized to the problem.

Beyond all of this, she cared. She cared enough to put her life (and the immediate needs of her beloved dog, Lupy) on hold. She cared enough to be patient. She cared enough to make a difference. Why? She had two touching reasons I believe are better shared in her words.

I believe God doesn’t give up on people, no matter how much they push away, or have doubts or are scared and my overwhelming sense of love toward this dog I don’t even know must be miniscule in comparison to the love God feels for his creation. The words ‘whatever you do unto the least of these’ and I don’t care if some people argue that that was only meant about people, I don’t think it was, I think God wants us to care for his creation dearly. So even when I start losing hope when she runs away from me, or when I’m not able to slip the leash over her head, I just keep thinking of those two things and how even if I can do good in my small corner of the world, it’s never futile even if the result isn’t the miraculous one I’m hoping for.

Everything happens for a reason. From the ground up, I’m guessing Dallas and Cricket didn’t want to hear it. For whatever reason, they had both lost all hope in people. For all we know, they had both lost all hope in life itself.

But now, thanks to the passionate persistence of one person, Dallas is set to be adopted. There is more work to be done for Cricket, who really likes cheese and peanut butter but still needs to work on her trust issues. The point is Emily hasn’t given up. And because of that, Dallas and Cricket will have forever homes. They will know what it’s like to be rescued. They will know what it’s like to feel the love of a person. Take it from me, there is no greater thing.

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Everything In Transit October 6, 2014

It’s that time again. Time to talk bucket lists. I don’t mean to be morbid referencing it again, but you may recall a few months ago my penning my personal list of reasons to live another day. I thought of a new one today I couldn’t help but share.

It was in a fleeting moment when something on the television caught my eye. An airport terminal, filled with people all coming from and going to all over. From the ground up, I realized this is a people place I want to visit someday. I’ve never been, but I certainly understand the practicality in logic behind it. To some, it’s just a way to get from point A to point B. Not to me.


Wiley In Transit

The way I see it, an airport terminal is, in a way, a representation of the life we live. Each day everything around us is in transit, from the people we encounter to the weather patterns. I think that is something too easily lost by some. It is in the silver lining of the “A to B” theory that I find my emotional rationale for adding this stop to my journey through life.

Remembering the person behind the people. I think that is something all too easy for people to forget, especially as they focus on their journey without taking into consideration the trips of others. Remembering that each one of the people in that terminal of life with you has his or her own story, complete with characters and drama and happiness and grief. Like the woman who got in a car accident yesterday and is spending the day dealing with the aftermath. Or the mom who was up all night with her teething baby and barely lived to tell the tale. Or the family reuniting after months apart.

These are real things happening to real people all the time. And, to me, there are fewer illustrations of the psychological dichotomy of all of this than in an airport terminal, where quite literally everything is in transit. Now, if only I could figure out how to buy myself a ticket.


The Beauty That Is Heaven September 9, 2014

Filed under: Man's Best Friend — Wiley Schmidt @ 9:14 pm
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It was a disturbing thought, and yet it was one I couldn’t help but share. During a love fest tonight, my dear forever mom shared with me what I can only hope to be one of her most personal and deepest fears. Tonight she asked me a question I pray to never (in this life or any other, if you believe in such things) ever have to answer. It was one of those incredibly thought provoking whilst overpoweringly depressing thoughts you only have if you’re my mom apparently. Heavenly Reflections

Today she asked me how I felt about a simple question with a big meaning. She asked how I thought I would feel if the family would win the lottery and then find out she or dad was going to leave us for heaven. Then she asked if she thought I would prefer that over dad or I leaving for heaven and the survivor winning the lottery shortly thereafter. I will be honest (as I always am).

The thought itself was so utterly disturbing that I couldn’t find it in my heart or mind to answer it regardless of whether she could hear me. It’s something I’ve talked about frequently, this whole concept of making ends meet, but I would never (ever) think of sacrificing one of my beloved people in order to do so. The thought in itself is absolutely heartless and I don’t support it in the slightest.

Nonetheless, the idea has been haunting me. It’s getting to be that time of year around here, when Halloween rears its head and ghosts and goblins appear. So apparently mom’s emotional ghosts and goblins are appearing early and I don’t like it in spite of the reasons.

I know mom would rather make sure dad had all kinds of (albeit potentially meaningless) money if she died suddenly, and I’m sure dad would feel the same. It’s a terrible thought, but I think (maybe) the financial support of it all would bring slightly less strain to an emotional situation. Then I realized something. I (and maybe my beloved forever people) am thinking in a very cynical way. I know I am loved and cared for, and there is no question of that, so why on Earth would I question the emotional intentions of those who love and care for me most? It might sound silly, but ultimately I know that is what matters because I know that if you love and care for someone (or something), you will go out of your way to ensure that person (or animal) is appreciated and loved.

I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s intentions for life. That’s the farthest from what I want to do.

But I do think there is more value than we think in appreciating those around us for everything they are worth. Because we don’t always know how long we have them for, and I would much rather know I loved fully than had any regrets when they leave me for the beauty that is heaven.


Homeless and Hungry April 2, 2014

“Homeless and hungry.” That’s what I read on a cardboard sign being held by a person on the side of the road not far from my beloved dog park the other day. As we drove by, I was instantly overcome with empathy for the man.

He looked not that unlike myself when I was in his paws. He was scraggly. Dirty. Generally unkempt. And skinny. Goodness gracious, was he skinny. During my time on the streets, all of these things could have been said of me too. I’m not proud of it. It’s nothing I prefer to broadcast. But I was kind of a mess.

I’ve said before that home is where the heart is. Well, when you don’t have a home neither does your heart. It’s an awful place to be. I’m not going to lie – it was pretty easy to push it out of my mind as I explored my beloved park. It’s one of my happy places, after all.

But when I got home I was reminded. Not just because I was home and warm and enjoying a feast of delicious doggie kibble. It’s because of what happened next. I was enjoying some beautiful rays of sunshine and warmth in my backyard paradise on one of the first warmer days of the year when it happened.

My cat friend Penny came over. She had news. And it wasn’t good. Her person, the person that is home to her, is gone. Dear Rose took a turn for the worse that day and went to heaven, she told me. It’s not my first time hearing about this place called heaven that I frequently dream about. It’s my opinion (mostly because it’s mom’s opinion) that if it’s called heaven it is heaven to whoever goes there. Meaning there is most definitely a place for pets in this place, since I know I would be in mom’s version of heaven.

That’s when I realized dear Penny didn’t seem nearly as lost as I thought she would at the reality of her news. Because that’s when she said something truly profound.

Life is like an airport terminal on our way back home to heaven, she said. Now I’ve never been to an airport terminal, but it is certainly a concept I can wrap my little doggie mind (and heart) around. In that moment, I was overcome with empathy for Penny and her loss, but also for the homeless man.

It might be hard to remember sometimes. Especially when things get rough. But in those moments it is most important that we remember something I was reminded of by Penny today. We may go through bouts where we are hungry, but we are never truly homeless. We all do have a home to return to someday.


Elf on the Shelf December 6, 2013

The stare ahead. That’s what mom calls one of my most favorite moves I use to initiate play. And I suppose it’s pretty accurate whether my play mate has two legs or four. My head and eyes face straight ahead and I don’t make any eye contact. Don’t tell anyone I told you, but I’ve trained both mom and dad play along with me and act out similar behaviors. It’s my creative way of getting them to play chase with me. And it always works.

A Small SmileToday I got to thinking about this stare ahead and what it means for the power of the eyes. They seem to have just as much impact when they’re not looking at the subject as when they are. It reminds me a bit of this thing I’ve heard about lately called the elf on the shelf.

Apparently there is a large family of elves originally from the North Pole who, once adopted into a home, report back to Santa about the behavior of the children who live there. They leave at night to fulfill their mission, and return in a new spot each morning to resume observation duty. It sounds like a mighty important job if you ask me.

Almost as important as the original elf on the shelf. The Creator of watching without looking. The omnipresent and omnipotent “big guy” upstairs in that place called heaven. He is always watching us. And it’s no game for Him. Because (perhaps most importantly) He isn’t just seeing us. He is with us. He sees our good days and bad. He celebrates with us and cries with us. With no words at all, He crafts blessings s from teardrops. But because we can’t feel Him always looking directly at us, it can be easy to forget He’s there.

It’s very different from the stare ahead. And yet it brings me peace. Not only to know I’m always being looked after in every possible way, but in feeling empowered by that knowledge. I’ve always had my reasons for playing the stare ahead game. And while those won’t be changing any time soon, my perspective of my surroundings certainly will. Because just as I know the big guy in that place called heaven is watching over me, I know He would want me to watch over others in my own way very different from that of the elf on the shelf.
“They might not need me, but they might,” wrote great American poet Emily Dickinson. “I’ll let my head be just in sight; a smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.”


Keeps On Giving August 5, 2013

It all started with a gift. It was Christmas Day 1997 and my mom and her little sister only asked Santa Claus for one thing that year. A puppy. They wrote to Santa, talked to him at the mall (several times), and prayed together every night that their wish for a puppy would come true.

So you can imagine their disappointment when there was no puppy under the tree on Christmas morning. It didn’t matter that there was plenty of other shiny packages with pretty ribbons and bows. There was no puppy. But a surprise lurked under the tree that later proved to be even better than a puppy. It was a package with a promise inside. “This coupon is good for one rescue puppy.”

It wasn’t from Santa either. It was from mom’s parents. They wanted mom and her sister (who were 12- and 8-people-years-old at the time) to be part of the process of picking the perfect puppy. And they wanted the puppy to be a rescue dog from the local animal shelter. It didn’t take long before they found her. Pheobe. It was love at first sight. Pheobe was the one.Gratitude

Phoebe counseled mom and her little sister through their remaining years as little people as only us canines can do. She got dolled up in all sorts of clothes, learned most of the same tricks mom would later teach me (give kiss was a favorite of hers), and made mischief that brought joy to the hearts of the entire family. She was the very definition of the gift that keeps on giving.

Later in her life, she went to live with my mom’s great-grandma to keep her company after great-grandpa went to heaven. She’d grown a bit less spunky then, but had a gift for simply being there. She was an extra set of ears to listen. An extra set of eyes to see. An extra heart to love.

Sometimes it happens suddenly. Other times it happens over time. I’ve seen it happen both ways and I don’t think one is any easier than the other. Loss is loss. When it happens doesn’t fill the gaping hole left in the hearts of those left behind. It was a gradual decline for Phoebe, but that doesn’t negate the truth that the world lost another canine treasure today. Pheobe went to doggie heaven today, after 18 years of bringing all sorts of joy to the hearts of many.

But it all ends with a gift. And, just like Phoebe, it’s not wrapped in pretty paper or tied up with ribbons. It’s nothing fancy. In fact, it’s about as simple as it gets. We never got to meet in person, but we didn’t have to for me to know the gift Pheobe granted me. My gift from Pheobe was the same as that one my mom opened all those years ago. It was a promise. This coupon is good for one rescue puppy. Thanks to the relationship my mom had with Phoebe growing up, it turns out that coupon was good for more than one rescue puppy. So far, it’s been good for two. I will always have Pheobe to thank for that.

Rest in peace, dear Pheobe. You will be missed.


The Shores of Heaven March 12, 2013

Filed under: Man's Best Friend — Wiley Schmidt @ 9:43 pm
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One spring morning a daughter and her dad took flight in a small plane in north-central Wisconsin. At 16-years-old, she was more excited to get her pilot’s license than her driver’s license. She had been practicing with her dad for some time now and couldn’t wait to take off. Little did either of them know it would be the last flight one of them would ever take. Moments after takeoff, the engine failed and the plane tumbled to the ground. Only one of them survived.

I know it as one who has loved wholeheartedly and lost. I know it as one who has seen people experience losses of beloved people and animals alike. I know it as someone with a beating heart. Survival isn’t always for the fittest. If losing a loved one is tough, living with the aftermath is worse.

Referred to by some as a celebration of life, funerals offer those left behind the chance to grieve together amidst the company of those who have their misery in common. Obviously they don’t happen that often in the doggie world (other than perhaps in the privacy of a beloved backyard), but it is for this reason that I can’t help but believe that funerals are usually more for those left behind than for the loved ones lost.

And, in most cases, those in attendance of a funeral occasionally have those moments for days, months, and years afterward. If you’ve lost someone you know what I mean. The moments where you close your eyes and pray and wish with all your heart you could have that person back. Just for a second. So you can ask them their opinion on something, hear them laugh, or touch their hand.

It happens to me with several of the loved ones from my past, most of whom I hope are still alive and well somewhere out there. I wish so badly I could consult with Rusty one last time, make sure Jo is okay, wrestle with my brothers again, or snuggle with my birth momma again. I wish I could erase my loss of them from my life and we could all somehow live happily ever after in my present.

Then it happens. I remember that if I hadn’t lost my mom and brothers, if I hadn’t gotten deserted by the man with the leather belt who lived with Jo, if I hadn’t met Rusty, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Heck, I may not even be happier than ever in my forever home with my adoptive parents if not for all of the heartbreaking losses in my life.

Heavenly Reflections

Don’t get me wrong, I still have “those moments.” They happen all the time. But I find myself picturing an image the pastor brought to life a few days after the tragic plane crash that took the life of my adoptive mom’s 16-year-old cousin Shelly.

Think of her as being on a boat, happily journeying between what was and what will be, the pastor said. The person is paddling toward the shores of heaven where she is being welcomed by those who have already made the same journey. Meanwhile, she fondly waves goodbye to the shore of loved ones left behind as they become smaller and smaller and the people on the shores of heaven get closer and closer.

Shelly left behind her dad (who survived the crash), her mom and hundreds of friends and family who gathered together at her funeral to mourn her loss. But she’s happy now, looking down on us from heaven. And, like all loves lost, she lives on in our memories.


You’ve Gotta Have Faith February 8, 2013

I would say I have a pretty eclectic taste in movies. Among my personal favorites are Homeward Bound, Elizabethtown and All Dogs Go to Heaven (obviously).

A less obvious choice is a 1995 movie about a man, his regrets, and his attempts to make things right. In “Fluke,” it takes dying in a car crash for the workaholic main character to realize what he had been taking for granted. He comes back to life as a lovable (albeit clumsy) dog who finds a way to love the family he left behind, perhaps even more than he did when he was human. As one who has been (and in my opinion always will be) a dog all my life, I can’t say I’m a believer in reincarnation, but I most definitely have faith in second chances.Praying :)

I know God looks different to everyone, but faith looks the same. That’s one of the things I love most about it. Faith in its most basic essence is humility. Trust. Truth. “Faith is to believe what you do not see,” said Saint Augustine, “the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

Belief takes faith to the next level. It is because I have faith enough to see light in the darkness that I want to share the light with others. Regardless of what you believe, take time to share your faith with someone who needs it today. Paw it forward, if you will.

“God enters by a private door into every individual,” said great transcendentalist thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson. In my family, God is an omnipresent, omniscient loving being who sent his Son to die on the cross so people can go to heaven regardless of their sins.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a pretty simple dog. I love my mom and dad and the home we have together. I find joy in unusual things and seek inspiration in the overlooked. I believe in the golden rule. But fundamentally, I am nothing without faith. I know this means a lot of different things to a lot of people, but regardless of its origin faith is no fluke.


Reflections on Christmas: All dogs go to heaven, right? December 25, 2012

2012-12-24 23.04.57I woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed. All that tossing and turning mom did in her sleep last night kept me awake. I woke up feeling tired, crabby, and unmotivated. I could tell mom felt the same way because she was snippy with dad over what they should have for lunch of all things.

Then they left for a while to go to a place called church and they came back completely different people. Happy and jovial even. They turned on songs like “Joy to the World” and “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” and started dancing and singing along. I wanted nothing to do with it.

I overheard their conversation about this place called church and the message they heard about peace on Earth….and this got me to thinking…what peace? Where is it? I’ve heard a good deal of stories on the moving picture window lately of shootings at schools with small children, terrifying storms that force people from their homes, and people in third world countries who probably don’t eat as well as I do. Where in the world is this peace? Perhaps I was blinded by my lack of sleep, but I just don’t see it. How is it that mom and dad do? How is it that they believe?

That’s when the reflective conversation mom and dad were having hit a chord with me. Mom told dad a story of something called confirmation she experienced when she was younger. She said the passage the pastor referenced in church today was her confirmation verse.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” reads John 14:27. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, its so easy to lose sight of peace at the time we need it most, mom said.

That’s when it hit me…this peace they found at church is some pretty powerful stuff. Its a different kind of peace – not of this world, not something bought or borrowed, or something packaged up into an extravagantly wrapped box. Its the peace of hearts that have been reminded that each day is a gift. Its the peace behind this day called Christmas Eve. This place called church sparked Christmas spirit that has caught fire in my heart.

If that’s not a reason to celebrate, I don’t know what is. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!