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He threw the puppy into the oven.  And turned on the gas.

My grandfather had decided against my mom keeping that puppy she had found.   But I just don’t understand why he carried out his decision with such cruelty and barbarity.  I never knew my grandfather.  He was dead before I was born.  From what little my mom told me about him, I didn’t miss much.  She didn’t think too highly of two other powerful entities of her childhood either – a zealously religious mother and the Catholic Church.  Each had a unique way of making a small female child feel worthless and dirty.  And both left their own particular psychic scars on my mom.

The cruelty my mom experienced as a child from priests, nuns, and her parents made her doubt a loving God.  Because the people who were the face of religion were cruel and hypocritical, she turned her heart from God.  And sometimes that fact breaks mine, because my mom had such a fun, generous, warm, kind, and endlessly loving heart.  But because she was introduced to God from a paternalistic and rigid Church and from parents with some decidedly warped conceptions of love, her path led her away from God.

It is ironic perhaps then that the fairly recent return of God in my life wouldn’t have happened without the persistent and unwavering effort and love of my mother.  I had lost Him from my life for dozens of years, buried Him beneath the darkness and spiritual bankruptcy of alcoholism and addiction.  And without my mom pressing me repeatedly to get help, I may still be lost to my friends, my family, and to God.   I wish she could have seen the hand of God in my recovery and in her love for all of her children.  But our introductions to God definitely forever colored our relationships with Him.

Her introduction was forever associated with pain, guilt, fear, and anger.  I always associated my introduction with wonder, awe, beauty, and connectedness.

I remember vividly the day I first felt with certainty a belief in a power greater and more beautiful than myself – the first day I really believed there was a God.  I was about 12 years old and hiking the Glacier National Park Gunsight Pass Trail in Montana.

My dad, my brother and I were on the second day of a two day hike.  The previous day we had endured a tough 7-8 mile hike up to Sperry Chalet with an ascent of about 3300 feet.  It took about 6-7 hours and I was gratefully relieved that my Dad had made reservations in the Chalet and we didn’t have to set up a camp and tent.  That first day’s hike had been beautiful of course, but it had been harder to enjoy the scenery considering the climb was so tiring.  The second day we would be hiking further up the mountain and past the glacially fed Lake Ellen Wilson and then on to Logan Pass.  After crossing the Continental Divide, the trail would become easier as the final 10 miles or so were mostly downhill through the scenic St. Marys River Valley and ending at the Going-to-the Sun Highway.

I loved being out there.  It was peaceful.  I felt so alive.  The air was fresh, clear and crisp like only it can be in the summer in the Rocky Mountains.  The sun was sparklingly bright.  We were nearly on top of the world and the view was amazing.  I tended to walk faster than either my Dad or my brother who was 4 years younger than I and often purposefully walked far ahead out of sight of anyone.  Even at that age, I loved that feeling of solitude walking alone in the immense and wild mountains of Montana.    But I also felt connected to the world in a way that a young boy had no words for.  And while I knew the danger of Grizzly bears in the area and my Dad would have killed me had he found out, I would remove the bear bells from my boots as soon as I got out of sight – I wanted to experience those walks without any artificial sounds.

So I was alone climbing up past Lake Ellen Wilson.  The lake is fed by nearby glaciers and has an unbelievable deep aqua blue color that only glacial lakes have.  I shared the trail with a family of mountain goats and the occasional marmot.  The mountain peaks rose in their grandeur all around the lake.  I got to the pass and the official point on top of the world.   I looked east and saw numerous waterfalls coming down the mountains leading down to the valley below.   Behind me was that glorious glacial aqua lake.  Snowdrifts remained even in August and in some places crossed the trail.  I felt   miniscule and insignificant and grand and unconquered at the same time.  I suddenly felt the presence of God.  That something this amazing and beautiful was not possible by chance.  That the feelings I was having of awe and inspiration were meaningful and important to admit if only to myself.  I walked most of the rest of that day in silence admiring the natural beauty I felt God was presenting just for me. 

While that young boy soon stopped letting God into his heart like he had that day – when it came time to open up again, it was possible because my introduction had been so memorable and wondrous.  The God that said hello to me in Montana was a loving God, the creator of the natural wonders along the Gunsight Pass Trail.  A God who allowed me to see what was possible.

As I remember my mom this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for her love for me – a love that allowed me to be introduced to God again.  I hope she’s somewhere beautiful like Logan Pass surrounded by majestic peaks, glacial lakes, roaring waterfalls, and sunlight.  I hope she has been introduced to my God, not the God of a father that would kill his child’s puppy.