Man Transforms from "Heart of Stone" to Compassionate Animal Rescuer
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Man Transforms from "Heart of Stone" to Compassionate Animal Rescuer
by Michael Sowders
as interpreted by Olivia Rue
Submitted by Olivia Rue 18 March 2005
I went from having a heart of stone to a heart of love. From a cold, emotionless state to one of warmth and compassion. Because of the vivid change that God has made in my life, I am compelled to share my story. I hope it may inspire others to open their hearts.
Growing up under a constant barrage of verbal, sexual and emotional abuse left me feeling empty inside. At some point, my despair led me to make a choice to not feel anything -- for anyone. As a young man, I moved to the mountains of north Idaho, hoping to find -- or create -- my true self.
One day at my cabin "in the middle of nowhere," a little tabby cat showed up on my doorstep. Having no interest in animals, I shoved him away. For three months he persisted, visiting frequently, undaunted by my lack of welcome. Finally, I gave in and fed him. A month later, I invited the little cat in the house, named him Jake, and an amazing relationship was born. Within a few days, Jake was curling up on my bed at night, his soft fur and contented purr bringing a comforting presence I hadn't known I needed. Over the next two years, he became my closest friend, a wonderful companion who accepted me as I was and loved me unconditionally. When he died from crushing snow that fell from the rooftop, it was the first time in years that I felt real pain again.
My anguish was too much to take -- I couldn't handle such strong feelings of loss. So I medicated the pain, over-using prescription drugs to dull my senses and avoid having to feel.
A year passed before I had the strength to visit the shelter and adopt two cats: Buffie and Woofers. Buffie died of liver failure 2-years later. Though I knew I did everything I could to help him, still I grieved over his loss for over a year.
But something remarkable was happening to me. As I felt love and sadness for these animals, I sensed another presence in my softened heart: God's love. I realized in amazement that He was using the grief process to help strip me of layers of emotional callousness, indifference and detachment. I had worked so hard over the years to build this tough, protective shell, yet with each beat of my aching heart was another crack, and another layer slipped away, exposing me -- revealing my true self. And healing the pain. God was healing me, and using the giftings of animals to get to my stony heart. Through God and His messengers Jake, Buffie and Woofers, I was learning the values of mutual respect, companionship, acceptance, courtesy, tolerance, validation and true friendship. A level of wholeness was filling my soul and enhancing my life.
Feeling called to help the creatures that God had brought into my life, I sold my mountain home and relocated to land better suited to my plans. With a little research, I learned that over 7.5 million cats and dogs are killed each year in shelters because of overpopulation. Another 10 million die from disease, starvation, accidents, freezing and human cruelty. I knew what to do: I founded Lifetime Friends Animal Sanctuary (LTFAS).
I believe that rescuing stray, abused and abandoned animals and providing them with a safe, loving, nurturing environment through LTFAS is truly a parallel of what God's interactive love has done for me. I was the abused, abandoned stray, but now, in His hands, my life is a miracle in progress.
Genesis tells how God gave man "dominion" or (as I and many others believe) "stewardship" over animals. I define stewardship thus: "to learn how to commune with in order to affect quality care for." God befriends the animals through me -- through us all. And this is what the Sanctuary is all about. I've learned to see animals through my Heavenly Father's eyes. They are not objects to be tossed away; rather, they are living beings with hearts and feelings.
At the Sanctuary, I have finally made the choice to stop burying my feelings. When, despite all of our efforts to save him or her, a rescuee dies, I no longer run from the pain. I feel the hurt, I cry the tears, I mourn the loss. And I pray. I pray that God's angels will gently carry that precious soul home to Him.
And there have been so many other wonderful, life-affirming changes in me! God has freed me from several afflictions which I had developed as a consequence of childhood abuse, including addictions to sex, pornography, TV, videos, alcohol, prescription drugs and emotional turmoil. One of my favorite Bible passages is John 8:36: "Whom the Son sets free is free indeed, from the inside out."
So, just opening my heart, my soul -- my life -- to these hurting creatures of God has enriched my life immeasurably. Founding and continuing LTFAS has unleashed the power of compassion in me, and healing benefits are far-reaching. I've learned that manhood is not about being feeling-less, but being of strong mind and tender heart. I've chosen mercy and compassion and a gentle way of being. I now have the ability to communicate and connect with a being outside of myself. I cherish the sweet bonds that develop with each new animal companion that comes into my life. I, and this organization, have the purpose and passion to responsibly provide a home for stray, abandoned and abused animals.
I believe that being in the right relationship with God allows me to be emotionally capable of enjoying healthy relationships with myself and others. The quote I wrote to place on LTFAS literature sums up this belief: "Love for an animal companion becomes something transforming that gave this man back feelings that were lost or buried, thus unexpectedly, immeasurably enriching his life."
Each year, LTFAS helps to save an average of 300 animals, by becoming a safe, nurturing, cageless haven for those who were stray or abused, and by educating, encouraging and empowering individuals to solve pet behavior problems and take it upon themselves to help animals in need. The Sanctuary also offers a temporary home for pets of women victimized by domestic violence. And a new program allows people to legally direct LTFAS to care for beloved pets left behind when their human dies. At any given time, about 200 animals live at the Sanctuary.
Through the grace of God, LTFAS continues to rescue animals. Many others have joined in this mission -- people who are not only supporters, board members and volunteers, but to me are friends, brothers and sisters under God. We may come from different walks of life and have different spiritual beliefs, but we all strongly believe in the power of compassion and share a special bond that comes from our love of animals. There are too many caring friends to list here, but I would especially like to lift up in blessing Dixie, Valle, Olivia, Eric, Kim, Lorrie, Gretchin, Crystal, Elaine, Bev, Jackie, Viginia, Nancy, Kelleen, Bob and Chris. Through their gifts of time, money and creativity, we have the property and dwellings to house our precious rescuees, and we now have a small thrift shop up and running to help support the Sanctuary (we call it Sanctuary Seconds). We need to build more animal living quarters, come up with a way to purchase a larger space in town for the thrift shop, and we hope to eventually hire a full-time employee for both the shop and the Sanctuary (I love what I do, but wish someone could help me out on a regular basis, especially when I'm ill or just plain exhausted!).
Ah, but God will provide; He blessed my life with Jake, Buffie and so many other four-legged companions, taught my stony heart how to feel again and brought several loving, caring, two-legged people into my life -- and together with Him, we will stand up and be a voice of compassion.
Blessing of the animals,
Michael E. Sowders
Founder and Director, Lifetime Friends Animal Sanctuary
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Lifetime Friends Animal Sanctuary is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent of the law, and are always welcome, as are encouragements! Send to: LTFAS, P.O. Box 54, Careywood, ID 83809. Packages for the thrift shop may include out-of-business store stock, newer clothing, old and new jewelry, antiques, collectibles (how about those boxes of bean-bag animals or old comic books in your closet?), etc. Our volunteer shop manager is an excellent researcher and will fairly price each item for sale. Send to: Sanctuary Seconds Thrift Shop, 1116 Superior, Sandpoint, ID 83864. Thank you for any help you can give! Please visit our website at www.ltfas.org .
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