Tough but Tender

by | Sep 29, 2021

So much life has happened since my last update – life lived, some good and some sad.

First, we moved! Just down the street but moving with a baby is not for the faint of heart, whew. Townes adjusted marvelously. As the home was under renovation, we took him by, so he was familiar with it, and he was taken aback by the vastness of his room in comparison. The move itself had several glitches but Townes was not one of them.

I competed in my first triathlon (a short sprint distance) post baby and post Covid, let’s be honest, because that’s a thing now. The sweetest part of the whole thing was seeing Townes’ face when I finished knowing that just two years ago, I announced his pending arrival while crossing that very same finish line.

Something about it was sweeter, yes more magical, to have him there. To see him clapping his hands and cheering for every unexpecting racer that past by.  My soul was connected to the reality that in these last two years a lot of life has been lived and a whole lot of miracles witnessed. When I shocked our families in July of 2019, we did not yet know that the little miracle I was carrying would be faced with his own challenge (putting it mildly). Nor did we not yet know, there was a possibility that what I had just done, (300-meter swim, 14 mile bike and a 3.1 mile run) would not be a probability for him, well unless of course…a miracle.

As I reflect on these last few months, I am overcome by what Townes is teaching me. When I can step back and distance myself from the everyday, I am just overwhelmed with the thought “aren’t children just amazing.”

I have really been meditating on when Jesus told his disciples to let the little children come to him and not to hinder them because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them (Matthew 19:13-14). I have so many questions I am asking Jesus – it’s not just that he loves them, but could it be something deeper than that?

If you have followed our story for long then you know that before there was a Samuel Townes there were two loveable labs, Tucker & Luna. These pups have been our companions, our family.

For now, I want to talk about one in particular – Tucker. I got him when I was young (23) and full of a lot more energy than I have now, lol. Tucker was my constant and he loved me unconditionally, always, no matter what. Tucker modeled for me unconditional love and during that time in my life I was beginning a pursuit of a relationship with Jesus and so it was first from my dog I began to understand the concept. I often joked that Tucker was my first born, the first living, breathing thing, apart from myself I was totally responsible for. Frankly, when I think about my adult life after college, Tucker is the first thing that comes to mind. Ever present.

And Tucker loved children, but specifically little boys. He was always his happiest when little boys were around. He would bark his high pitched (somewhat wimpy bark) and run and play. His big ‘ole tongue just hung out of his mouth and a massive smile remained plastered on his face.

When we found out about Townes’ condition, I would pray that I would have the opportunity to watch them together. You see Tucker, then was 13, and yes, I know what you are thinking, old for a lab. I wanted to watch Tucker discover Townes, I wanted to watch Townes with him. I longed to see it. Often, I would lean on the vision, I was given of Townes in pajamas crawling all over Tucker and leaning against him – both all smiles. Townes could even say ‘Tuc’ – “maaaaaaaa” still only comes in moments of desperation but ‘dog’ and ‘Tuc’ were words I would hear often when he first started formulating words.

Oh, how my heart leaps for joy as I remember.

Two months ago, Tucker’s health rapidly declined; we made the decision to say goodbye. He made it to 14 ½ – To say my heart was shattered would be an understatement and honestly, I am still grieving, but to also not recognize the immense joy that rests just beneath the surface of that heartbreak would be just an injustice. The bond I watched formed between Townes is Tucker was special. Tucker was patient and gentle, playful but laidback, tender and happy go lucky. Tucker was the dog everyone hopes their children will have, a loyal companion.

Townes witnessed raw emotion for the first time which I can only imagine was confusing. I was crying because watching Tucker’s deterioration was tearing me a part, so Scott explained to him why ‘mommy’ was crying. Scott asked as Townes looked at me with concern and perplexity if he wanted to hug me. This child walked straight to me and wrapped his arms around me so tight, I only sobbed louder. His spirit, so tender just like Tucker.

In those last weeks, I also watched Townes’ demeanor change as he watched and interacted with Tucker.  In hindsight, I think he knew there was a change in him before we did. I truly believe he understood what was happening.  

When it was time on that designated morning for us to take Tucker, I asked Townes if he wanted to say goodbye – the look of grief but acceptance on his face is seared into my memory. My soul knew that somehow my 17-month son understood that his dog, Tucker, would not be coming home but rather was going home.

And so, I wondered, how? How is this possible? The only explanation available to me is found in Jesus’ response to his disciples, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. I want to explore this more, to understand the connection children have to the spiritual realm that the noise around us clouds.

As I have started to investigate how the bible describes the kingdom of heaven, I found that it’s used over thirty times in the book of Matthew alone and it’s a central theme running throughout the Gospels.

The kingdom of heaven is described in Matthew as a valuable hidden treasure, which is worth more than all that one owns and something that should be sought after like a merchant in search of a pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45–46).  

In Luke 18, Jesus tells us that anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it – the conclusion I am left with is something my husband started doing a couple years ago, “to see through the lens of a child.”  

I am concluding from Jesus’ words that children naturally hold in present tense a knowledge and understanding of the kingdom of heaven. Do children know how to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth as is outlined for us in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)? Do children recognize inherently that pain, disease, grief, and sorrow do not exist in the kingdom of heaven?

Could it be that something that appears insignificant and small like the mention of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven” or even “children” actually hold the greatest value?

So, I watch my son, I watch his curiosity and his zest. What can he teach me about my own walk with the Lord? I watch his ability now after Tucker’s passing to not sit in grief or sadness but rather acknowledge it exists and then moves on.

In the corner of our kitchen, sits a small table and on it, a picture of Tucker. It may be one of the best pictures we have, as it illustrates everything about who he was as our dog.  We have a toddler, who as you can imagine likes to throw things (balls are still his favorite pastime) and just throws down whatever toy he was playing with.  I’ve watched him from afar a couple times, walk up to this table, get on his tiptoes as far as he possibly can to reach with his fingertips and pull Tucker’s picture to him. Then I have watched as he stares at it, then pulls it close to his chest as he gives Tucker a hug before carefully placing it back on the table. And as fast as the moment came, its gone. These have been such precious moments for me to witness, but also moments that leave me in awe.

When we talk about Tucker, we talk to Townes about Jesus. We tell him that Tucker is with Jesus now and he has been restored to his full health. That Jesus is throwing him balls all day long – Townes just nods yes like “of course mom, I have known that. Get with the program (well maybe he’s saving that last comment for age 13)”

Normally I take things that come our way in stride – yes, we have many more doctor’s appointments than most and yes, Townes has many more doctors. Townes has more skin medications for his eczema than I can even count, and we unfortunately have even fought two ear infections since his tubes, but it doesn’t bother me – these things I can battle; however, for the first time a couple weeks ago my heart broke a little when I couldn’t prevent him from having his 5th blood draw in 3 weeks.

I cried. I didn’t want to take him…AGAIN. I didn’t want to see the bruise it leaves on his arm. I didn’t want to hear him scream. So, I cried. As ironic as it sounds because taking him meant I was protecting him, it felt like I couldn’t protect him.

A few weeks before, we ran into the first issue where his Tacrolimus level was extremely high (Tacrolimus is an immunosuppressive drug Townes takes twice a day that prevents rejection in transplantation patients) and we couldn’t get it back down into normal range, so we had to keep going back for blood drawls.

I was dreading it – Scott went to get him his favorite blueberry muffin, so he has a ‘happy’ when he gets home, and yet, I still don’t want to go. BUT, let me tell you about this kid.

We get there and I decide to ask him if he wants me to stay in the room — (I don’t typically stay in the room for various reasons: 1. I almost pass out when it comes to drawing blood and 2. the phlebotomist, Vivian, is amazing and a blessing 3. Maybe its selfish to prevent myself from pain) — Townes’ looks at me and just nods his head in his clear and concise yes.

So now I must put my big girl pants on and deal with it…I gave myself a pep talk – surely, I can do this…be strong.

I held him as instructed and I closed my eyes. I leaned him back and we pretended to “Go on a Bear Hunt” (a favorite book). Townes’ only flinched when the needle went in, no screams, no tears (well there were a few, mine) and when we were done, he smiled and clapped.

Townes smiled and clapped. So Tough. Strong. Brave.

In that moment, I swelled with pride, I couldn’t believe it. Oh, what he is teaching me – in a way I am at a loss for words.

If I had to choose two words to describe him it would be Tough but Tender. He has started patting my back when he hugs me, like I do to him, and I think each time I may melt. This child of God has captivated my heart and I am overwhelmed with gratitude each time I collect a new treasure with him. Along the way I pray my eyes continue to be opened to see through his lens, to approach my faith and journey with Jesus through the eyes of a child.

We go back to see his Transplant team tomorrow and will discuss more in depth what happened with his Tacro level, but I suspect it’s just something that can happen.

As his understanding continues to develop, Scott and I are talking about when and how we start to tell him about his miraculous gift, his heart.  I have started laying my hand on his heart during Storytime and whispering, “your heart is so special.” I would love to invite you into prayer with us, that we would be given the wisdom and revelation of the how and when.

As today is World Heart Day, I will leave you with one final story (from this morning). Townes is in that phase for a love of Band-Aids (wait, are band aides not cool stickers?). He typically brings me one and wants it on his forehead but this morning when I asked, he removed his jacket and pointed to his heart.

I was a little taken aback and shocked as I processed where he was pointing. I said, ‘Townes, are you sure you want mommy to put your band aide on your heart?’ Most assuredly the response was his clear, quick and concise nod along with a “da” (to translate that is yes in Townes’ language). And so, I placed his Paw Patrol band aide across his scar, on his very special heart. Now I am left wondering, maybe Jesus has already told him?

With love,


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