I used to be so against pets and animals of any kind. Hamsters? They escape and you either find them as an ice cube or smell them a while later. Cats? They have an agenda all their own, and as cute as their pictures are, their attitudes make them too aloof and self-centered to be useful. Birds? I get enough squawking and cawing and ruffled feathers in the real world to want to avoid it in miniature form at home. Snakes? I was a bad enough cook I could get salmonella on my own. Dogs? I have a hard enough time keeping up with my kids to accept one more creature tracking in mud, requiring food and cleaning, and making a general din loud enough to wake the dead from the first century BC.
So, in the early part of 2011, my siblings and mother, against my better judgment, decided my kids and I (and my current husband who was then my fiance) needed a dog. Not just any dog… This dog is energy on steroids. She’s a Belgian Malinois, and if I told you her training and family tree, I’d have to make you disappear (just joking FBI, NSA, CIA, etc.). 😉
And so began an interesting journey of many life lessons. These weren’t the easy ones:
- If you take care of something, it knows you love it.
- Rules and boundaries are good.
- A family working together makes wiser decisions than any one member working alone.
No, these were the lessons I believe God had been trying to teach me my whole life. Somehow, though, I never quite learned the lessons from life. So, in His own inimitable way with just a dose of the perverse humor I believe He has to have to deal with us frail, feeble, fickle humans, He provided me with an exact picture of what I do spiritually through the dog’s physical behaviors.
Here and now is the only truth
I have one of those minds that just keeps going and going. I try to filter every situation through how I feel and think and see the world, and most of the time, in the absence of pain, I have a kind, gentle view. (Yeah, I need to lose the rose-colored glasses.)
For a dog, they only have instinct. Instinct lives in the present. Instinct doesn’t say, “If I keep licking this fruit juice off the floor, I will get diarrhea so I better pay attention to the two-legged helping me.” Instinct says, “Juice good. Two-legged pulling me away bad. Snap at two-legged.”
People who are most likely to live by instinct are those who have been badly hurt in life by people and situations out of their control. They too snap at the hand that helps them through isolation or harsh comments.
Additionally, we cannot live in the past; we cannot change the past by trying to live there; all we do is recreate the hurts and wounds; that’s unhealthy. We cannot live in the future; life is short and fragile; none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. All we can do is be present in this moment and be open to the joy and wonder that it gives.
(Lesson learned to the tune of several hundred dollars at the doctors, stacks of paper to DOH for dog bite, and days of sheer exhaustion trying to keep kids stable at thought of losing pet.)
The Master knows what you do even when you can’t see Him
When we are home and awake, our dog is very content to be within the special room that is all hers. It’s the kids’ old playroom–a sun room that we’ve stripped of everything that we think could hurt the dog. We’ve added a doggie door with sensor. If I were a dog, I’d think it was the bomb.
When the dog thinks we’re not watching, she goes exploring. Then she goes back to her room and acts like nothing has happened. But as humans, we know. It’s the special gifts in our bedrooms–the shiny tin foil for the energetic child, the chocolate wrapper for the master bedroom, the food wrapper in the oldest child’s room, the tiny piece of cellophane for the child most likely to have issues with something out of place. Or it’s the mess in the bathroom with paw prints in the shower, dirty clothes sprayed all over, and the trash scattered like flower petals on the floor. And one time, it was the blue gums from a shredded ink cartridge (she thought she was special and didn’t have to leave her room that day and we thought we were in trouble as the cartridge was on a shelf at eye-level for adults).
But we knew by the mess she left behind. And the Master knows too when I’ve broken one of His boundaries. Oh, I think I’m smart and I’ve not done anything wrong and no one knows. But He knows the messes I leave behind, and He lets me know. It’s the careless word to the child. It’s the lower than usual tip to the waitress. It’s the purchase on the credit card out of spite for an argument with my hubby (motive, motive, motive).
Although the Master created us, we need to take care of us
When the dog is out of balance, nothing works right. If she is so focused on the ball or Frisbee that she forgets everything else, she ends up biting her own tongue or tearing out her own toe nail or gashing her head. If she misuses her energy, she either collapses from spending it too quickly and furiously or she has intestinal issues from bottling it up and not using it. If she eats the wrong thing, she again has intestinal issues.
In one of the books of the New Testament, Paul tells us our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. If we are properly disposed, God lives inside of us. Because He is perfect, we need to take care of our bodies. We need a balance between what we do–chores, work, time with friends–and what we are–quiet meditation, prayer, worship. If those are out of balance, we will not be spiritually or emotionally healthy. We might also be running on physical empty in way that is unhealthy for ourselves and others. If I don’t feed my body good food, I cannot expect to work efficiently and effectively or think clearly.
Stay close to the Master on walks
Our dog’s breed requires constant stimulation to stay emotionally healthy and well-balanced. Because my body doesn’t always cooperate with the more active forms of exercise, I chose to do a variation on the typical dog walk.
When I am walking her on our property, I don’t use a leash. I simply use her electronic collar. I rotate in the different commands. I’ve also been working on teaching her “Go play” (remember, she is the embodiment of energy on steroids).
It was fun to watch her try to adapt. She couldn’t figure out the rules; I could rotate the commands and direction at will. The times that were the best were when she was beside or very closely behind me. If she got too far, I couldn’t keep her from eating cat poo or vermin. If she was too close, I often tripped over her. If she was at the boundary and I changed the direction or command, she couldn’t catch up fast enough.
I wonder if God didn’t feel about me in my walk with Him the way I do about her. I struggle with stepping out when I don’t see the end from the beginning; I tend to be tentative when I don’t understand the rules and boundaries. I too tend to get so excited I run, not so much out of His reach, but somewhat further than the bounds of His Will and end up having to do double-time to catch up or getting into a huge mess. If I’m too far away from His side, I have a hard time following the next instruction.
So, all the hard lessons in life I couldn’t seem to get, God taught me through my dog. (My apologies to all the insomniac agnostics with dyslexia reading this at 2 am 😉 )