Overjoyed to be Right Here, Right Now

I’ve spent a good number of hours with my husky-wolf, Togo. Never have I ever had him communicate anything to me other than “I am overjoyed to be right here, right now . . . with you!”

As we begin a morning walk and get to the end of the driveway, he knows a decision must be made. Do we head north or do we head south? Looking back, he checks for my hand signal and then, without a complaint or ever looking back, he gladly bolts down the street.

Or, after a game of tug-of-war or a little bit of rough-housing, Togo never whines when I tell him, “That’s it, buddy! Time for me to go in.” He just wags his tail and lets me know that he’ll be here if my schedule changes.

Or, when I begin the feeding routine by emptying and refilling his water bowl, he is never impatient but instead walks in close beside me and leans against my leg as the water pours.

Or, whenever I ask him to sit, whether it’s for his prayers or just for a little talk, Togo gives me the look that tells me “This is good. This time between you and me — it’s good!”

Or, even when storm clouds threaten and thunder booms and Togo peers around the corner of his house anxiously, his glances tell me, “There’s no place I’d rather be than here with you.”

2014-02-23 13.48.09Togo’s pure joy is why I break often when I’m at home, just to walk out in the back yard and spend some time with him. And, even though I can see the holes in the yard he’s dug, the shrubs he has destroyed, the patio furniture he has decimated, and the mud — oh, the mud — everywhere, my spirit can’t help but be lifted by his joy and his willingness to share it with me.

 

As I finished our walk this morning and as I watched Togo play with his squeaky raccoon toy in the back of the pickup, I wondered if my joy for life has ever touched another person. Perhaps if I were a little more willing to walk down any path just to be with someone or stand close by when necessary things are being done or sat just for the sake of sitting or expressed joy and gratitude in the midst of a personal tempest. Perhaps then.

Good Things Can Be Scary

Sometimes I forget that really good things can be scary to those who have even a slightly different perspective.

I had been wakened repeatedly through the night by mostly distant rumblings of thunder and meager flashes of lightning. In the middle of a drought, these sights and sounds have a way of  settling me and bringing that special feeling of hope. As I turned over, I was eased back into sleep by the reassuring sound of raindrops gently hitting the roof and the windows. Although the sensation was imperceptible, I could imagine hearing the much needed water soaking into parched ground. Without looking, I could see the runoff coursing down street gutters to the local creeks and, eventually, into the lakes that hold this precious resource for life.

Togo, our husky-wolf mix dog, has a contrasting viewpoint.

Last night, as the storms began to build thirty miles to our west, he became fidgety. By 5:00 p.m., his customary dinner time, he was tucked into his doggy igloo. Anxiously peering out, he refused to emerge. So, I went through the feeding ritual alone, retrieving his bone marrow retreat, scooping kibble into his dish, squeezing a capsule of fish oil into the mix.

Walking around to the front of his house, I tried to hand him the treat. Looking past me to the skies, he ignored it. I placed it just inside his door and then showed him his dog dish, supper prepared just like he likes it. Still no response. The dish went in its customary spot next to the igloo and protected from the elements by Togo’s over-sized travel crate. Togo stood inside, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

As I turned to go inside, I saw him look right at me and immediately sit down. Of course! I’d almost forgotten. This was the moment for prayer.

I knelt next to the igloo, reached in and put my hands on Togo’s shoulders. We went down the list of things that Togo is thankful for. Noting his anxious expression, I added a blessing of comfort and peace for his stormy night ahead.

As I shut the back door, his face was framed in his doorway. Even though there was no storm and no rain yet, he looked expectantly toward the heavens.

This morning at breakfast it was raining. When I stepped outside, he stayed in his house. Like last night, he remained in the igloo. There wasn’t much to do for breakfast — apparently he had never left his house and his dinner was untouched. I went to the cabinet, retrieved another treat, and left it between his paws. The expression on his face was priceless and I went inside for my camera.

I grabbed a couple of special treats as I went back outside. That seemed to energize him. As I was trying to get a picture of him hunkered down in his safe place, he emerged. Halfway. And he stood looking around his backyard, bewildered by all the water. Remembering the lightning and thunder. He shivered just a bit.

I don’t profess to know what goes in Togo’s head. But I supposed that no matter how hard I try to explain to him how welcome this rain is and how grateful we all need to be, he will continue to have a fear that can only be removed through experience. I am saddened just a bit knowing that he may not ever have enough good times with rain in West Texas to ever come to this place of celebrating this very good thing.

We’re all a little like Togo. New things happen — good things. Yet, they are so far out of our normal experience that they provoke anxiety and fear. At times like those, it’s nice to have someone come and sit beside us — and perhaps offer up a little prayer of thanks and comfort.

Praying with the Dog

I’m just a risk-taking sort of guy. At least, that’s my thought as I begin this post. I’m writing from Seat 11-A of Flight 232. Outside my window, what appears to be ants are making their way back and forth. Really, they are ants, because word from the cockpit is that we may be stuck on the runway for another hour as a storm system stalls just east of the airport.

The risk has nothing to do with flying. I’m about to write a post about my spiritual journey with my dog. Years ago in a post, I idly referred to my son’s dog as “my grand-dog.” Within hours I received an indignant reply about how shockingly ungodly I was to refer to a beast as a member of the family. I simply wrote back, apologized for the offense and offered my view that my words largely reflect how many people have a familial bond with a pet. “A pet is a pet,” he responded. “Your lack of clarity on that guarantees your eternal condemnation!”

I suppose he could be right. But I’m going to risk it.

After seeing a post on FaceBook from some friends who are dog lovers about their bulldog, Paisley, and her habit of praying with her owners before her meals, Nancy suggested that providing Togo with a little religion might be a turning point in his life.

And so it was that I found myself outside crouching in front of our 80 pound, Husky-Wolf mix — juxtaposed between him and the highlight of his morning, the two scoops of kibble in his well-used food dish. Those first few moments were filled with confusion for both of us. Togo was wondering why he was being delayed on his breakfast. And I was wondering why I was wasting my time in so frivolous a pursuit.

I struggled to hold him in place. I mumbled a few words of thanks for him, his food, his nice warm igloo. With a pronounced “Amen!” I  released him and he piled against me in his direct rush to his bowl. Nancy watched from the door, obviously enjoying the chaos that accompanied our new ritual.

Togo and I have been praying for several months now. In the event my angry reader is still out there, I do understand that Togo is not talking to God in these moments. But I am.

The prayer has become a part of our routine. Food goes in bowl. Togo runs to his designated spot and sits. I follow, set the bowl down, and crouch. Togo looks at me, not the bowl, now. He sits quietly. Occasionally, like a three year old in church, he sneaks a glance from side to side. He seems to listen as I word our prayer. It’s mostly still about him. Thanks for food, a good night’s rest, a safe walk later in the day. An expression of hope that he will be a good boy today.

I’ve noticed in recent weeks that a few more thoughts flow during these quiet, still minutes. I’m caught up in my personal thanks to God for allowing me to share just a few serene moments with one of his innocent creatures. The last of such occasions, this morning, I glanced up at the “Amen” and expected to see him stand and move forward. But instead, Togo sat and watched me for a few moments. Then, he leaned forward, delivered one of his liquid kisses and stood. Tail wagging just a bit, he waited for a final ear rub, and then he was off.

Oh, and about what I said earlier about Togo not talking to God during the prayer — let me clarify. Togo talks no differently to God during the prayer than he does at any other time. His whole life is his prayer. His cycles of need and satisfaction express it all. God’s simplest creatures, as all of nature, praise God with all their being, all the time.

And so I pray with Togo. Joining him in those short minutes before meals, I find peace. Togo is happy to be doing what God called him to do. And I add a personal petition that God will grant me that same happiness.

Our plane is rolling forward now. God, grant me a spirit of happiness.

For The Love Of . . .

I was in a hurry, but I stole a glance in the mirror.

Mud was spattered all down the sleeve of my parka. The dirt on my slacks was more troublesome. I’d have to make a decision . . . clean or change. I didn’t need this. I didn’t have time for this. Dozens of details before I could leave for work.

To my surprise, spot-cleaning did seem to take care of my pants. Although I really couldn’t be certain until they dried. The parka didn’t matter. I only wore it for special duty.

As I hustled around the house, pulling things together, I saw a shape through the blinds on the door to the back porch. Despite my frustration, I couldn’t help myself. I slowly lifted a slat and there he was. Sitting patiently upright. Poised in anticipation. Hopeful.

Togo had finished his breakfast. He had made quick work of it shortly after my first trip outside early this morning. Now he was content to wait quietly, hoping that Nancy would emerge with a treat or that either of us would challenge him to a game of tug-of-war. His knotted and muddy rope lay close by. The life of a husky-wolf mix is relatively simple and his needs are straightforward.

I knew better, but I unlatched the deadbolt and eased outside. Togo seemed to know. Instead of his usual wild-man welcome, he slipped next to me and pushed his head against my leg. From his view, we had found another one of those great moments between dog and man. As I rubbed his ears, I felt my own tension fade.

After one last pat, I left him there. I glanced back from the door. There he was, tail wagging, standing amidst the muddy footprints. Behind him, I hardly noticed the holes in the flowerbeds, the beaten paths in the turf, the remnants of the porch swing, and the bits and pieces of chew toys he had enjoyed in times past.

High maintenance. Expensive. Rambunctious at times.

For the love of a dog, we endure it all. Somehow God knew that if he gave us a dog to love, we would be better people. And Togo seems to understand that his place in creation is to run and play and love us. Such an understanding of our own places to bring joy would be good for all of us.