Alone Time

ImageAnyone with kids knows that sometimes they need a little one-on-one time. Growing up with two sisters, it was rare to get time alone with one of our parents. But when we did, we definitely savored it.

Dogs can be the same way, and it seems we’ve always got at least one who is needier than others. Lily’s that one for us right now.

 

Recently we housed a sweet nine-month-old puppy while she was being transported from Alabama to Maryland. Her final foster home couldn’t take her right away, so we got to spend two nights loving on a sweet, neglected girl.

 

But 48-hours of loving on a new dog left Lily with her nose decidedly out of joint. As soon as we bent to pet our visitor or pay her any mind, Lily would run off to hide in another part of the house. There was some serious pouting going on.

 

So as soon as the puppy was on her way to her new foster home, Lily spent some time waiting at the window to make sure she was gone for good. And as soon as Lily was satisfied that the interloper had, indeed, left the premises, she bounded into my lap full force. She licked and kissed and cried with the sheer joy of having regained her title of house baby.

 

So I decided to take Lily for a walk by herself so we could get a little alone time.

 

I love walking all three dogs, but those walks are short and slow to accommodate our old man. So my one-on-one walks with Lily are a treat. We can take a long walk at a steady clip. And, to be honest, my walks with Lily help ground me. I’m not worried about which dog is walking where and who’s stopping to smell a mail box, so I can just walk and be.

 

These walks are also my time with God. Being outside connects me to Him in a way that just doesn’t happen anywhere else. So I savor that time being outside, just communing with my dog and my Father.

 

And during this walk, I realized that, just as Lily needs some one-on-one attention sometimes, so do I need this one-on-one time with my own Father. It’s time for me to reconnect and be reminded that I am loved.

 

And when we got home, Lily settled back into her normal routine, secure in the knowledge that she is loved as well.

Déjà vu.

DéjImageà vu. We’ve all experienced it at one time or another. But can dogs sense it too?

I wondered that this weekend as I leashed up Chico to take him to the vet. He loves going for walks, so he chattered away and walked in circles to tell me to hurry up with the leash when he realized I was taking him out. We scooted out the door before the other two realized what we were doing, and headed for the car.

As we ducked out the opening garage door, Chico turned around to look for his companions. Except they weren’t there. He turned around and started walking back. I tugged on his leash and opened up the back hatch. Chico looked back once more, saw that he was alone, and darted for the house.

It took some effort, but I finally pulled him over to the car and lifted him into the back. But he was not happy. He circled and whined. He panted and drooled. By the time we got to the vet, he had shed what looked like half his coat and had drooled so much there was a wet spot on the bed he sat on.

On the drive home, I was reflecting on what might have caused Chico such anxiety. He doesn’t love the vet, but this reaction was way beyond his usual going-to-the-vet stress response. So what might it be?

It dawned on me that perhaps the last time he had ridden in car by himself, he was leaving behind the home he had known for so many years and coming to ours. He had been uprooted from the home he knew and loved and left at a home he had to grow to love.

Could he have thought that I was not simply taking him to the vet, but instead taking him away from his home to a new family?

Was there something about that morning – the prospect of getting in a car by himself – that was familiar?

I’m not sure if Chico actually experienced déjà vu, but something caused him anxiety at the idea of taking a car ride alone. He wasn’t thinking about the four years of love we’ve shown to him. He wasn’t thinking about the walks we take or He wasn’t thinking about the belly rub and kisses and he got that morning. He was reacting to something instinctual from his past.

Sometimes I find myself responding like Chico. I step into a situation and anxiety overwhelms me. Sometimes I can identify the cause, but other times, there is just the vague sense that something feels familiar – and dangerous.

But like Chico, most of the time I’m wrong. Most of the time, I’m reacting to history instead of living my present reality.

How do we learn to let go of old fears? How do we reset those déjà vu reactions to ground ourselves in the present and let go of the fear of the past?

I can’t say that I’ve got the final answer. But I’m learning that praying helps. So does taking a moment when those feelings kick in to remember that I am never alone. And reminding myself that I have a choice in how I respond in those situations.

As for Chico, he was relieved to get home to his fur-siblings. He ran in the house and was greeted by two excited sisters. They sniffed and snorted and licked one another for about five minutes. Then they all decided a nap was in order.

Life is stressful. Keep calm and take a nap.

Gratitude

ImageIt has been a Long. Cold. Wet. Winter. As a native Midwesterner, I shouldn’t be complaining, I know. But my household is starting to go stir crazy.

 

When I got home from work today, I had a half dozen different things that needed to be done. A good friend was joining us for dinner and I wanted to be sure the meal was special. I rushed home from work and quickly fed the dogs so I could get on with my to-do list and meal preparations.

 

As the dogs finished up, I scooped up the bowls and turned to the sink to start washing. I paused as the room became strangely quiet. I turned around to find three sweet faces staring at me in anticipation.

 

They were waiting for their walk. The sun was out. The air was warm. Surely I would take them for a walk.

 

I paused and started explaining I didn’t have time to take them for a walk. (I’ve mentioned I talk to my dogs, haven’t I?) There was chicken to cook and biscuits to make. A table to set and a kitchen to clean. Surely the understood?

 

Nope.

 

They simply sat and stared at me. With those faces I simply cannot resist.

 

A quick walk around the block. That was it, I told them. They would need to be fast. No dawdling.

 

I grabbed the leashes and mayhem broke out. Entire back ends started wagging. Coco started doing her little back flips in the air. I wrestled harnesses and leads and they dragged me out the door.

 

By the time we reached the end of the driveway I could feel the sun on my arms. A few houses down I felt a warm breeze blow against my face. As my pace slowed, so did the dogs’. The four of us fell into a steady rhythm together and we walked.

 

It was glorious. Birds were singing. Kids were playing. Neighbors were talking. People were jogging. And everyone was smiling.

 

I might have missed it. If it weren’t for my dogs. My wonderful, naughty, adorable, pestering dogs.

 

Life is short.

 

So I am going to purpose to be grateful more. For sunshine. Warm breezes. Good health. Family. Friends. Walks. Dogs. And all the other countless things I am blessed with each day.

 

Thanks be to God.

Joy & Peace

ImageEvery time I walk in my house, I’m greeted by the same scene: three happy, jumping, twirling, joyful dogs. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been gone 10 minutes or 10 days. If I’ve had the best day of my life or the worst. If I’m wearing dirty jeans and a t-shirt or my best suit. They are thrilled to see me.

It’s one of the many reasons I love dogs. And their ability to lose themselves in the moment is something I envy.

Some of our dogs have had difficult lives. They’ve been mistreated and abused. Neglected and harmed. Starved of food and human compassion.

Yet they have the ability to move past that history and live wholly in the present. Full of joy and completely at peace.

I often wonder how they do it. Because peace and joy are elusive for me despite my constant prayers for them.

Sometimes I have trouble letting go of the challenges and difficulties of everyday life. Sometimes old hurts will crop up, or painful reminders of the past. And sometimes the pain and suffering of those around me will cause me to doubt that we have a God who loves us.

We live in a world that can be scary. Where people we love get sick and planes fall out of the sky. Where relationships end and jobs are lost. Where people and animals are abused. Where bad things happen to good people.

And none of it makes sense.

But in those times, I am reminded that I do have a God who loves me. He is the One who has provided the family who loves me. The friends who cheer me. The church that encourages me. The creation that awes me. And the dogs that inspire me.

To some these dogs may simply be pets. Household companions. Wagging tails and cute faces.

But for me, my dogs also serve as a source of inspiration. A reminder that no matter my past, present or future circumstances, I can be full of joy and at peace in this moment.

They are a true blessing, and a reminder of God’s love for me.

 

Auto-matic Behaviors

ImageOne of the challenges of having rescue dogs is that you rarely get anything close to a real history on them. This is the sum total of what we know about Lily:

  • She was dropped with her litter of puppies at a high-kill shelter in Mississippi.
  • She was heartworm positive.
  • She hadn’t received any vaccinations.
  • She has scars on both her face and legs.

That’s it.

So you’re left to put the pieces together based on observed behavior.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • She loves food. All food. Anytime. All the time.
  • She hates the cold.
  • She loves lying in the sun.
  • She can jump a 4’ fence.
  • She loves to sleep.
  • She’s very protective.
  • She loves to cuddle.
  • She has a strong prey drive. Especially for squirrels. And black SUVs.

Yup. Black SUVs. When we first began walking her, Lily chased pretty much every car that drove by. But once she got comfortable on her leash, it shifted to being almost exclusively black SUVs. Which can lead one to imagine all kinds of crazy scenarios about what might have sparked this fixation.

We’ll never know the cause of her behavior. But we have to live with the consequences.

When a black SUV drives by, Lily chases it. She doesn’t think about it. She doesn’t think about what she’ll do if she catches it. She just does it.

And it’s dangerous.

Because Lily will never win in Dog v. Car.

I do my own version of chasing cars. I just do it in my own mind. I chase thoughts around in my head. What-if’s. What then’s. Whatamigoingtodo’s. They spin and churn and roll around my brain and I chase chase chase chase them. Until I’m so wrought up I can’t even think straight.

My automatic behaviors may not be as dangerous as Lily’s, but they’re just as destructive.

God tells us to cast all our anxieties on Him. And I’m working on it. But I have to admit, I haven’t mastered it yet. Just like Lily hasn’t quite gotten past chasing those darn black SUVs.

Lily and I are quite a pair. But I’m hopeful and trusting that God’s going to help us both overcome our automatic behaviors in time.

 

 

Collateral Damage

Lily in the sun

When Lily first joined our family, walking her was positively ghastly. She dove hard after nearly every single car that drove by, and it took every ounce of strength to keep her on the sidewalk and moving forward.

But we have been working hard with on her leash skills, and she’s made amazing progress. So much progress, in fact, I had nearly forgotten about those crazy lunges after moving cars.

I was given a reminder this past weekend.

It was a beautiful day and Lily was walking like a champ. A squirrel darted past us as soon as we walked out the door, but she left it alone after a quick look its way. We walked by the two Chihuahuas next door without so much as a sideways glance. We even passed a small boy on a bike, which still tends to be a challenge for her to resist.

Perhaps resisting all those smaller temptations had used up her willpower, because Lily let loose when the USPS truck quickly pulled up to the mailbox next us. She. Went. Nuts.

And the next thing I knew, Lily dove at the truck, knocked me off balance, and I was down on the sidewalk. The result: torn jeans and a badly skinned knee.

Lily didn’t intend to knock me over. I was simply collateral damage. She lashed out and I was hurt as a result.

Unfortunately, I’ve been creating some collateral damage of my own lately.

Due to some unfortunate circumstances in my life, I have been turning into ANGRY GIRL. You know, the one who’s perpetually scowling and snaps at you for no good reason. I hate that girl.

The fact is, sometimes circumstances stink. Sometimes they’re downright rotten. But I have a choice in how I respond to those circumstances, and it hasn’t been pretty lately.

Jesus tells us we will be known by the LOVE we share. Even in yucky circumstances. Even to people we feel have wronged us. Even when the very last thing we feel is sharing love.

It is required of us to LOVE others. Everyone. Always. No matter what. That is my testimony and that’s the only way that people will know I love Jesus. Not by the cross around my neck. Not by the music I listen to. And not by the Bible verses I can spout. By the LOVE I show to those around me. Every. Single. Day.

I am far from perfect. I am a work in progress. And that’s okay. But I’m praying that I can stop allowing my testimony to be collateral damage and I can start being an example of the love I’ve been shown by my God.

And if any of you see ANGRY GIRL, do me a favor, and tell her she needs to take a hike.

Routine Changes

ImageRoutine changes are rarely routine.

Shortly after we adopted Lily, we realized she could jump our 4’ fence. From a sitting position. So we decided to replace our 4’ fence with one that’s 6’ instead.

No big deal, right? It’s just a fence.

Wrong.

At 14, Chico needs to go out frequently, so we have a dog door that opens to the backyard. So the day of the install I worked from home to ensure we didn’t have accidents in the house.

That was the plan at least.  

All day long the dogs whined and paced at the back door. I’d walk them, but as soon as we got in, they were at the back door again wanting to go out. We went for our third walk of the day around 3pm. I took the dogs into the house, and I went back to get the mail.

Three minutes later I walked into the house – and someone had pooped on the kitchen floor. Seriously? THEY WERE JUST OUTSIDE. What was going on with them?

Like kids, dogs thrive on routine. And what seemed like a small change in routine to us had completely thrown the dogs for a loop.

I can relate.

This week my work world was rocked. Hard. And while the change could certainly be defined as “routine” – in that it happens every day in the world of work – it felt earth-shattering to me. And I’ve been doing my own human version of whining and pacing at the back door.

Fear. Worry. Anxiety. Fretting. Those have been my companions this week.

But unlike my dogs, I don’t have an excuse for fixating on my circumstances. We are told to “be anxious for nothing”, and I need to start living out that command.

Each day I am being confronted with situations, big and small, that require me to trust that God has my back. Each day I am being taught that, while we never know when life will throw us an unwanted change, I can choose how I respond.

Instead of pacing and whining, I can pray and trust.

And that’s a much better option than pooping on someone’s floor…(sorry, I just couldn’t resist)…

A record of God’s work to redeem me day-by-day, taught through the four-legged babies we share our lives with.