Essay: Faith

Essay: Faith

MICHELLE MANTOR & “SAKE” Published in December 2013, Houston PetTalk Magazine  – Photo by Evin Thayer I’m sitting down to write this essay on November 17, a very bittersweet day for me. Thirty years ago today, my father was murdered in a very senseless, cold-hearted crime. He was a gentle, kind man that I loved immensely and was so undeserving of this act that it caused me to call into question everything I believed about God. I was devastated and angry and I wondered if there really was a divine creator or if we just exist in a random, meaningless state of evolution. In short, my FAITH was being severely tested and for a time, lost altogether. Fast forward 15 years later on November 17, I gave birth to my first child, a healthy baby boy. Interestingly, he was not due until mid December but prematurely made his entrance into the world 5 weeks early. I had worked through many of my issues surrounding my father’s death and my FAITH was in much better shape but the birth of my child on this day, turning the saddest day of my life into one of great joy was surely, to me, an act of divinity. It put into perspective that through our pain, through times of adversity and through our seemingly uphill battles, we gain strength, wisdom, resiliency and empathy. We grow in mind and spirit. Having FAITH might be one of the most challenging facets of humanity. FAITH means believing without proof, giving your self over to something not in your control. This is a vulnerable place to be. I find it a juxtaposition between fear and hope – a fear that my hope and expectancy may be naïveté. But in the end, my FAITH prevails because of my trust and belief in a divine source. It’s not uncommon to hear of clergy speak about times of doubt in their own FAITH. When they witness a disaster of epic proportions like the recent hurricane in the Philippines or the pain of just one person, perhaps a mother that has lost a child to cancer, it is challenging to find the good, to see light, to understand “why”, to trust that there is a purpose. These are natural emotions but without sorrow there is no joy, without loss there is no appreciation. FAITH, being that it’s steeped in trust, is not just an intellectual element. It also goes to matters of the heart; meaning that FAITH consumes our entire being and life experience and the whole of one’s self is caught up in believing. Here’s what I know about FAITH: whenever I am in doubt, which as a human I will undoubtedly sometimes experience doubt, I look around me and I’m reminded of the inexplicable nature of our world. There are miracles taking place as people overcome disease, there is awe-inspiring beauty in the perfect markings on an Orca whale or the cute little dots on a ladybug and there are mesmerizing acts of transformation such as a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Even my little Yorkie mix “Sake” shows me everyday the unique nature of canine companionship. It’s easy to take some of these things for granted because they are common in our surroundings. But if you really think about their awe-inspiring, perfect design, it’s not hard to have FAITH that they are not accidents but rather designed with purpose, love and greatness. So today as I write on my son’s 15th birthday, I am filled with FAITH, hope and joy as well as thankfulness that my life experiences have been diverse and challenging at times thus providing the platform for an imperfect life – the best tool for teaching FAITH… being sure of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see. This article was originally published in the December 2013 Issue of Houston PetTalk Magazine. To read the article in PDF form, click here. To read the December 2013 Issue of Houston PetTalk Magazine click...

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Essay: Wisdom

Essay: Wisdom

Michelle Mantor and “Remy” – Published in Houston PetTalk, December Issue, 2009 Photo by Evin Thayer WISDOM I’ve had many pets throughout my lifetime.  Although I loved them all, a few were uniquely special. When we get a pet, we don’t know what our relationship will be but when we are fortunate enough to have one that transcends many others, it’s an extraordinary journey. I’m lucky enough to have one of those unique relationships with my Briard, Remy. From the time she was a puppy, I found myself thinking of her as an old soul. She always seems to know what to do in various situations. Her ability to discern between when to protect, when to accept, when to have fun or simply when to stay out of the way are always on target. What I’ve come to realize is that she has something many of my other pets didn’t have: wisdom. Having good intuition, judgment and perception are all part of being wise and Remy has shown time and again that she knows what to do, often before I do. When my children were small, she was gentle and although she is a big dog, she had an amazing gracefulness and agility when it came to not stepping on crawling babies. As the children grew and moved from the nursery downstairs to a bedroom upstairs, she would position herself at the foot of the stairs each night , standing ready to protect her “herd” if needed. Being the animal lover that I am, other pets were inevitably brought into the house. Some she likes (our Yorkie mix, Sake), some she doesn’t (our Maltese mix, Friday) and others she simply ignored (our guinea pig, Petunia). But no matter what her personal feelings are, she still protects them and accepts them as part of the family. She equally knows when to be nice to a stranger and when to say “back off”. We once had her in our Suburban and by taking a wrong turn, ended up somewhere we didn’t want to be. Several young men, looking like they were up to no-good, started to approach our car. After her award-winning performance as Kujo the Killer Dog, they wisely went the other direction. One her greatest displays of wisdom is knowing when to be humorous. She has several very funny antics, one of which is charging our little dogs and just at the last second, jumping over them. The little dogs don’t find this nearly as humorous as Remy and I. She always turns to look at me and I would swear she is laughing with me. Of course, whenever I’m feeling blue, she pulls out her funniest tricks as if to say, “I want to make you feel better and laughter is the best medicine.” Very wise indeed. Now, in the sunset of her life, she has slowed down considerably and in just the last few months has become somewhat of an invalid. I’ve carried her hind legs in a sling to help her get outside, I’ve cleaned many “accidents”, given her daily medications, spoiled her with home cooked food and made her a special bed in the kitchen. I’ve had the most spectacular 14 years with her…more than I could have ever hoped for. I love her immensely. But I know the time is near that she will no longer lie at my feet as I work on the computer. I used to fear having to make a decision to let her go but I’ve come to realize that she will tell me when she is ready. She knows my heart will be torn and she will relieve me of the decision. Her wisdom will guide us to the very end, just as it has for her...

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Essay: Forgiveness

Essay: Forgiveness

Michelle Mantor and “Remy” – Published in Houston PetTalk, December Issue, 2008 Photo by Evin Thayer FORGIVENESS It is my deep-seated belief that our souls mature and age over time (like a good wine or cheese) and one of the signs that we are progressing toward maturity is the ability to embrace forGIVEness. Living life in this world challenges us with obstacles and envelopes us with our own construed expectations. So, as we live amongst other souls, undoubtedly we will be hurt, transgressed against and disappointed by others. Our real test of personal growth is to give up the negative feelings, let go of the ill will and seek the positive forces in the situation. The yen and yang of life assures us there is an opposite side of bad and that, of course, is good. The exciting thing about forgiveness is that it is good for us! Releasing negative energy frees us and opens our hearts to more goodness. We make room to love, give and through our giving, receive. The best way to observe and learn forgiveness is to look at our pets. They don’t hold grudges; they love unconditionally and their hearts are open to giving and receiving every single day. Time and time again, we witness an animal that has been mistreated by humans but still runs to a new person, ready to love and be loved. They are not burdened with thoughts of revenge, jealousy or disappointment in the actions of others. This Holiday season, take one more step in the journey of life and give the gift of true forgiveness. Your gift will come back to you many-fold as you lift up someone else’s spirit and nourish your...

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Essay: JOY

Essay: JOY

Michelle Mantor and “Sake” & “Remy” – Published in Houston PetTalk, December Issue, 2007. Photo by Gittings PhotographyJOY JOY, along with peace, love and hope, are essential themes in my faith that encompass Advent and the Christmas season. When I sat down to write about JOY, I realized that I could not just write about JOY alone because it is a mysterious and complex term. Is it a state of mind? Is it a momentary feeling? Some may wonder if it’s attainable while others wonder if it’s sustainable. And then I began to wonder why I assigned JOY to myself for this feature story! In my quest to eloquently define and pen beautiful prose about JOY, I started thinking about the things in life that have brought me JOY…the gift of my two children, saving a litter of kittens abandoned by their mother, my first encounter with Caribbean blue waters and the wonderous sight of beautiful sea life just below, the weeks following after I brought my Briard puppy home…she was so cool!!, And I could go on and on with other things that have brought JOY to my life but ultimately, I believe I am confusing happiness and pleasure with JOY. Onward with my quest. Next, I thought about JOY as it relates to the Holidays. As we rush through the Christmas season, we pay homage to the term JOY along with love and peace and happiness. “JOY to the world, Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men” we proclaim in our greeting cards. We attempt to spread JOY and happiness by rushing about buying gifts guaranteed to make our friends and family joyous and happy (or so the sales clerk tells us!). We pack the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Years with one holiday activity after another breathlessly advertising how happy we are and how much we love the holidays! We shop (and shop and shop), we excuse our over-consumption of food and beverage, we scamper about trying to visit with as many friends as possible, we make at least three trips to Wal Mart for more Christmas lights, we stand in long lines at the Post Office, we force the whole family (including the dogs and cats) to wear sweaters in October as we all sweat through our Christmas card photo session, we are nearly strip searched at the airport as we rush to see our far flung families and basically have a wonderful Christmas experience (huh?). At times I feel like asking someone the first week of January “Um….excuse me…but, did I just experience Christmas or was that a dream in fast forward?” After reading, researching and “noodling” (my favorite word!) about JOY, I’ve come to a personal conclusion: Because we can’t predict or even effectively define JOY, much of our lives are spent orchestrating that quintessential life where unbeknownst to us, we are working very hard to alleviate the one thing that truly brings us JOY…and that is pain. We reign in our love to avoid heartache; we hold back on our dreams to avoid disappointment, we abandon our sense of child lest we look foolish, we are allowed a socially acceptable time to feel sorrow, and we hold on to our negative thoughts and cynical attitudes to protect ourselves from pain. When we suffer sorrow or pain and someone comes to offer us their helping hand, that is JOY. When an abandoned animal that is starving and roaming the streets is rescued and given love, a warm bed and daily meals, he feels JOY. When a culture that has known nothing but oppression, torture and hopelessness experiences freedom, that is JOY. For Christians, JOY was experienced at the miraculous birth of Jesus…but the ultimate JOY had to come through a painful, torturous death. So in this season of celebration…a season of giving, laughter, love, hope, courage and compassion…take an opportunity to assess how each of us can know and experience JOY. No matter what your faith is..Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or even if you are secular and not contemplative about spirituality, we all have a sense of what is right, what is good, what is helpful. Living by these daily principles, along with knowing that we will be offered defining moments of pain or sorrow to overcome, is a path to understanding true JOY. For me, it is only through faith that I can and will feel peace and JOY in my soul. I have much work to do in this journey of faith but I rejoice in knowing that I’m on the road. In my quest to define JOY, I asked my nine-year-old son what...

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