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.

The Crossroad

Every day, multiple times a day, I come to a crossroad.

Tomorrow is the three year anniversary of one of those chance crossroad experiences. About 1 p.m. on May 24, 2010, I was a few blocks from my house and headed to the downtown post office. Something happened.

I’ve written about the experience before, so I won’t waste anybody’s time rehashing the details. Suffice it to say that I was in a major car accident. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. My take-away was a small air-bag burn on my hand and a concussion that wiped away all memories of the incident and the hours that followed.

The intersection in question is a dangerous one. For some time following the accident, I had trouble forcing myself to drive down that street. No physical signs were left behind except for a scratch in the concrete curb where my car slid to a stop. I wasn’t really afraid of the spot. But I did panic sometimes because I was passing by a place where something momentous happened . . .

And I couldn’t remember.

give wayI’m wondering now about how many crossroads I’ve come to in my life, made a decision to turn or stay my course, and now have no recollection of what happened . . . or why . . . or how my decision immediately impacted my life.

God often gives us a marker of some kind for those life-changing moments. In days of old, he told his people to stack rocks by the path. Or he put a rainbow in the sky. Or imprinted a story of heroic dimensions so deep that it has been told over and over through the generations. God encourages us to leave markers that remind us to tell the stories.

Many of the crossroads I’ve come to have no visible markers. Some have markers I’m not proud of.

In the intersections ahead of me, I hope that I can leave signs that tell a story of how blessed I have been — even when I’ve made a wrong turn or when the actions of others have thrown me off course.

I hope I can remember that, regardless of the circumstance, God is always there, handing me another marker to tell my story. His story in my life.

 

Photo Credit: Creative Commons/fabbio 

Unfinished Projects and Foster Dog

Saturday mornings often hold quiet moments when I head to the office to sort through my to-do list, rethink my projects, and drag out one that has been neglected for a while.

Lately, I’ve been making an effort to be more intentional about some of those writing projects. So, if all goes well, three days a week I toil away at rewriting a legal reference guide (an actual paying job!), two days a week I see what I can share on this blog, one day a week I research or write for PeaceBytes.org, leaving one day each week for one very special endeavor.

For three years, Nancy and I were the foster parents for Zoe, also known as “Foster Dog.” During that time span, I tweeted various adventures or nuggets of wisdom from that big white-furred, blue-eyed girl. Because of her popularity, I even began re-running those tweets on this blog.

When Zoe passed on in June, I lost my muse. I discovered she wasn’t merely my excuse for writing or an alter ego character. Foster Dog was a lifestyle. We spent time together. She was a focus of not only our lives, but even the lives of our neighbors. Friends and strangers for blocks around knew Zoe. Kids would run to the street to pet her and talk to her. And, especially if the little one had recently had a snack, she would often respond with a good lick to the face. And we would stop and ask about them.

Those enriching experiences of time with a dog were about her, of course. But they were also about a greater connection with others. A connection I hate to lose.

So, I have initiated a new project — one that had been on my list for six months. Many people — okay, three or four — had suggested that I do a little more writing about Foster Dog. The first several hundred words made their way to that new project file in my writing session yesterday.

The working title is “Foster Dog, Annotated.” My plan is to take the collection of tweets about Zoe and to add a little background about her and about the context of those little micro-adventures — and, if I can work out the details on how to format and produce the little book, a collection of pictures.

My belief is that the finished work will be of more value to me and my family than anyone else. But that’s okay. A stronger belief is that there is no shame in not completely finishing.

That’s the nature of life. Our existence is comprised of unfinished projects. We all have dreams, bucket lists, and even regrets we want to address. We work through our days and we review our inventory. We check a few things off and we move on.

For years, I’ve made the mistake of gaining satisfaction only when I’ve marked a project completely off my list. That’s our culture. We ask about accomplishments. We fixate on what’s finished. We glory in final products. Yet, there’s more to life.

Only recently have I discovered the joy that comes from nibbling at dreams — doing only what I can today and feeling fulfilled by what I was able to do. That perspective makes each new day one of hope and excitement. And, when my head hits my pillow at night, releases me to dream of new hopes for tomorrow.

I hope you can find great joy in nibbling at life. Set high goals. Dream beautiful dreams. But don’t forget to embrace the connections and God-given pleasure along the way.

Unlikely Beauty

In the early morning hours, the dirt trail from the cabin to where I had parked the car was various shades of grey. On my subsequent trips to load our gear, the sun began its slow progress to reach the top of the nearby hill.

My stumbling over stones previously unseen became more infrequent. The wilderness of the trail became featured discovery. “Wild grass,” I thought, “and weeds. That’s all that grow out here.”

I finished loading the car and turned once more to the cabin. It wasn’t until then that I fully realized the unlikely beauty that was poised perfectly in the center of the path.

One of the grey objects I held in disdain just minutes before had, with a little more light, emerged as a true show piece of creation. 

Too often I ignore the unlikely beauty of those things nearby — until I trip across them and find myself astonished. It’s not until I begin to expect beauty and wisdom and grace and wonder that I begin to see it routinely. And it’s not until that moment that I begin to experience joy.

The key to joy in life is not perfection in all of our experiences. The key to joy is knowing and expecting unlikely beauty to be right in our path.