Monday, January 31, 2011

Loving the Hard to Love

Here's Foster rolling in the sand at Sunset Beach.

When we go to the dog beach, Foster either sniffs around or considers bullying another dog. Other dogs pretty much don't know what to do about him except leave him alone.

Last week, I was in two places that involved groups of more than ten other people. In each place, a person acted a bit peculiar. The one person simply wouldn't stop talking and it was driving me crazy. I noticed how I stared at the ground, not making eye contact, and looking at the time, etc. Basically, I was giving this person the social cues that they were not fitting in. I glanced up and others were doing the same thing. Nonverbally, we were sending her the "we don't like this" message.

Later however, it became clear that this person is involved in some pretty painful stuff and she needs the group. She needs to be accepted. She needs love. And there I was, not allowing for any of it. I felt terrible.

Lately, Tilly sticks closer to Foster, trying to draw him out to play and have fun. With his diminishing eyesight, she has her work cut out. Foster needs her, even if he's reluctant and his behavior isn't accepted by other dogs.

Sometimes reaching out to the socially awkward requires "manual overdrive." Yet, the attempts to do so is a gift we can give to another. Giving doesn't cost us anything except convenience.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Breaking the Rules

That's right, Tilly, you should look guilty.

At home, the dogs aren't allowed on the furniture or the bed. The owners of this rental are kind enough to use washable covers for the inevitable dog hair. Tilly loves sleeping on the loveseat.

However, this isn't a habit I encourage. Dogs generalize and when we return home, Tilly will believe that couch is fair game for naps now too. This means I have to retrain her, which makes neither of us happy.

While we can have a different routine while on vacation, there are some habits that we shouldn't change too much. For instance, the first week I was here, I ate ice cream every day. With my slowing metabolism, this is NOT a good idea!

The immediate comfort versus the long term goal. There is quite a discrepency between the two. It takes a lot of determination to pass what is quick and easy to achieve the ends we want. It's a day to day, sometimes hour to hour battle.

"Comfort, comfort, my people, Israel." This was the verse I studied recently. Comfort means "to give strength." Immediately, I thought of "comfort food." However the physical strength we get at the moment might not be much to sustain us in the long run. We need to find real, enduring comfort.

Where do you go for comfort? What habits creep into your daily life that don't help you reach your long term goals?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wait...Keep waiting....Wait!

"Wait" is a command used in dog training that is different from "stay." Wait means to stop temporarily, eventually moving forward. Stay lasts longer, sometimes going back in a different direction.

I was going to take a picture of Foster and Tilly "waiting" to get in the car, but it usually involves a lot of drooling. That was too much to take on for a Monday.

Our culture does not encourage patience. For anything. We don't like waiting in the drive-thru at the fast food restaurant. We don't like waiting the thirty seconds for a webpage to change. Enduring anything difficult is not seen as building character and a time of learning, but something to be fled in pursuit of an easier path.

Recently, I heard a teaching that "waiting is an act of worship." Hmmmm...that made me think. Looking at these times of "waiting" as a sacrifice of letting go of control, trusting for the next step as an act of worship and faith, makes it a little less difficult. Eventually, that next thing will be in place and I can move to it.

Waiting is difficult, particularly when it seems within sight. Timing is everything and trusting for the perfect timing, not my best guess, builds trust and faith.

What are you waiting for?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fiction - Custer Discovers Home

Custer's kittenhood was spent in the Bixby home. He regularly entertained the old retired couple with pouncing on catnip mice and batting around a plastic ball with a little bell in it. The Bixby's always knew where Custer was because they heard the bell inside the ball. It was Custer's favorite toy.

There was one antic of Custer's that was not as charming to the Bixby's. One time too many, Custer ambushed Mrs. Bixby and pounced on her slippers. Mr. Bixby heard the shriek. Though in good health, neither of them wanted to have a heart attack or fall and break a hip. They decided that maybe Custer should spend most of his time out in the back yard until he matured.

While a cat outdoors is not always advisable, it was a safe situation for Custer. He enjoyed the adventure. There were blue herons to watch, lizards to stalk, and acorns to tackle as they fell from the live oak. The Bixby's had the good fortune of a Banyan tree in their yard. This was pure cat heaven with an extensive system of roots and branches to explore.

The Old Bixby couple spent much time outdoors, so Custer raced to them for a reassuring pat. He couldn't neglect them, nor could they neglect him. They loved their little cat. By merely opening the door, both enjoyed the benefits of a larger world, full of wonder, through the eyes of an orphaned cat with a permanent home.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Is Your Dog an Accessory?

You've seen Tilly before and that's me, making my debut on my blog (thanks again Jean).

Tilly loves to be held. However, as you can tell, she's not exactly the size of a dog you carry with one hand or stick in your purse when you head to the nightclub.

No, she's the kind of dog who sticks her paws in your shirt and gives you a suddenly plunging neckline then drools on your hair. Yet she does take on the look of being part of my outfit, not unlike a scarf.

An accessory is defined as "a subordinate or supplementary part used mainly for convenience, attractiveness, or safety." Tilly is hardly convenient, unless you count her being constantly underfoot. She is not always attractive, after she's rolled in or eaten something offensive. Perhaps she would make an effective air bag, but generally Tilly is more of a hazard than safety piece.

It's also defined as being guilty of being part of a felony. She definitely fits that description.

Dogs can be extremely trying, and they don't usually fit conveniently into our lives. We make many accomodations for them. We get up early to let them out, clean up after them, and suffer their dog hair on our clothing.

My friends may describe me as being extremely trying, and inconvenient. I'm not the neatest person, and my home and yard have been the site of many an "Amish Cleaning Day." Friendships can be difficult and complicated.

Yet could we really live without our friends or dogs? They don't always enhance our outward appearance, but they certainly lift our spirits inside. That often bubbles over into our own personal happiness, reflected in happy faces.

Maybe they do make us look good.

I think God looks at us the same way - making messes, being inconvenient and letting the fur fly. Yet He could live without us - but He chose to bring us into the world and loves us greatly, more than we can even imagine. I can't make God look good, but anything good about me has come from the work God has done in my life.

When I look at that picture of Tilly clinging to me for comfort, it's exactly how I feel about God - comfort and strength. Without drooling on His head, I hope!

Where do you find comfort that lasts? How thankful are you for your friends? Can you pick up your dog?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Itching for a Fight

Look! It's Foster and Tilly on the beach!

And the picture isn't blurry because I didn't take it with my camera phone (thanks Jean!).

Last week, we went to the doggie area of Sunset Beach with our human and dog friends. As usual, the other dogs are running and playing and generally having a great time. Then, as usual, Foster gets bent out of shape and starts barking and bristling, spoiling for a fight. Part of this is because he can't see, but part of it is because he's a playground bully.

Do you know anyone who goes through their life just waiting for something to trip their trigger so they can become angry, spoiling others' fun? Are you that person?

Being angry can become a very bad habit. Once our focus goes to the negative, it takes a lot of practice to overcome it. It's easy to see the negative, it's so often obvious! And there's a lot of energy that comes from hashing and rehashing the shortcomings of others or even a political party.

Think of that woman at work, who begins to complain about her husband. She has plenty of women jump on the bandwagon with their own complaints. Other women begin to focus on their husband's bad behavior, so they can have something to contribute to the water cooler conversation. Would there be the same enthusiasm for "My husband was so patient with me the other night"? That can be a conversation killer!

The above scenario destroys relationships. Foster can destroy the playtime of others. While I can't change Foster's attitude, I can keep him on a short leash so he doesn't actually get in a brawl. The same is true for me - I need to keep my negativity on a short leash. I need to focus on the positive. It's not something I've found I can do on my own. I have to pray for that All-mighty power to make that change within. Becoming more Christ-like is a prayer God wants to answer. Now, to remember to do so!

What trips your trigger? What are some positive things on which you can focus so being in your company will be a pleasure and not a pain? Do you like going to the beach?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Staying Near the Fire

Is that a moose in the backyard of some Maine resident? No! It's Sandy, the Ohio St. Bernard, hanging out at home. In the frigid temperatures.

Weighing in around 165 pounds, and being a St. Bernard, Sandy can tolerate the cold very well. Yet even she likes to stand by the fire and get some relief. Sandy's other option for keeping warm is cozying up with her buddy Brandy (not pictured).

Each of us goes through times in our lives that are difficult and our hearts often grow cold. It is not easy to warm them back up after tough times. To change this, it is often up to us to make a choice. It's easy to stay cold, and not as easy to look for relief.

At home, I use a woodburner often in the winter. It warms the entire house and the heat is such that as soon as I walk in, I'm warmed to the core. It is a true and comforting fire!

Our other option is to find another person or a group of people. Being together brings warmth and relief to our cold hearts. One ember of charcoal can not produce any heat - it needs to kindle with another. The more pieces of charcoal together, the better the fire.

Has your heart grown cold? What steps will you take to change it? Do you use propane or charcoal with your grill? Isn't Sandy cute?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Shunning the Blind

Many of you know Foster, my Australian Cattle Dog.

The other day, the dogs and I were walking around the neighborhood of our temporary home in Florida. We see a lot more people than cows here. A young boy, about nine or ten years old, asked if he could pet the dogs. His mother was nearby and nodded so I told him he could.

Tilly got the attention first. When the boy reached for Foster, he hesitated and asked, "What's wrong with his eyes?" I told him that Foster was losing his sight and that's why his eyes were cloudy. The boy chose not to pet Foster.

I walked away heartbroken. Foster's charisma and happy nature still exists in him, and this boy missed out on it because he was repulsed by his milky eyes.

This is something I also observed as my husband's illness progressed. People who knew him "before" didn't change their interactions with him. Yet I saw other people hesitate or look the other way as he struggled to walk or reach for something. But his personality and optimism still existed. These people missed out on his essential goodness.

It's probably normal for people to withdraw and hesitate from what deviates from what is "normal." I understand that and certainly have been guilty of it in the past. It takes manual overdrive to look beyond the surface to the personality and goodness within.

Many of the dogs that come to the kennel are in less than perfect condition. Some are in declining health and aging. Yet if I look closely, I can still see the puppy within.

Who will you pass by today? What can you do to practice manual overdrive and reach out to that person?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On Bended Knee

Meet Cubbie (hi Cubbie!). Sorry he's so blurry. He's an active dog.

Cubbie and his pal Copper visit the kennel several times a year and have been long-time clients. Cubbie has a wild streak, and he occassionally does not want to cooperate with the kennel routine. When it's time to go back in his kennel run, he balks while Copper goes right in.

Cubbie and I stare at each other. One of us is going to win. I think Cubbie knows it's going to be me, but he can control how long the battle lasts. If I stand at the door of the kennel run and motion for him to go in, he stands as far from me as possible. He looks at me like he doesn't think I mean it.

I kneel down. Suddenly, I am at his level and I have his attention. He trots over to me. I pet his head and tell him he's a good dog. Then, like it was his choice, he joins Copper in the kennel run. The disagreement is resolved.

While praying on bended knee isn't a daily habit of mine, I think maybe it should be. Cubbie reminded me that when I go to the effort of changing my posture, it seems like maybe I mean business a little bit more. I believe prayers are heard no matter how we sit or stand, etc. However, it's an act of humility and stillness for me to make some effort. It's more for my own benefit to remind myself to be in deliberate in how I communicate with the Lord.

What about you? Is there a certain posture or place where you like to pray?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tilly's High Sea Adventure

There is no photo documentation of the following event.

Consider that a good thing.

Foster and Tilly successfully completed over a thousand miles of travel last week to arrive in Florida. With me. We've been settling into our new digs nicely and enjoying some time off. Now, I'm back to writing work.

Where we're staying has a back "yard" or "patio" that backs up to the intercoastal waterway. Dolphins have been spotted along with herons, jumping fish, cormorants, and even a fishing boat. These are all very interesting to Tilly.

Since she isn't trustworty, I keep her tethered to a lawn chair on a long tie out. This prevents her from visiting the neighbors and sniffing around on the gnarly sand at the base of the four foot drop from the property.

Until Saturday.

Saturday morning, a flock of ducks swam into this harbor (there's a technical name I'm sure). Groups of two's and three's inspected the docks in search of people ready to share breakfast. It was sort of like girls on Spring break looking for the best two-for-one drink specials at the bars (not that I would know anything about that).

Tilly spotted the ducks and ran to the edge of the sea wall. The ducks saw Tilly and swam toward her, mistaking her for a person with thumbs. Tilly jumped. The lawn chair began to move toward the water. Fortunately, I intercepted the furniture before it could join Tilly, who by now was up to her chest in the water.

How many times have you chased after something that looked really interesting, only to find out that the pursuit would drag you down, possibly even drowning you? A person, a job, even a piece of chocolate cake has its appeal. For Tilly, it was a group of ducks. Sometimes a pursuit proves to be disappointing, even if the object is successfully attained. There's a reason for the phrase "wild goose (or duck) chase." Elusive, disappointing or just a complete disaster with horrible consequences.

Be careful what draws you from safety.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Nathan Alan Willoughby Has a Cousin in Florida-Fiction

Editor's Note: As Edie busily packs up her apartment and her faithful cat, Nathan Alan Willoughby, explores each cardboard box, let's visit his cat cousin.

Custer had it made. Of course Custer was unaware of this, being a cat and all. When Custer was adopted by the Old Bixby Couple, he didn't know they moved to Florida from Canada. Their first order of business once settling in their much warmer home was to make it complete by adding a cat.

Custer grew up with his litter mates in the garage of a young man with a motorcycle, who was kind to them and wanted them to find new homes. Quickly. One Sunday morning, he packed up the kittens and stood in the parking lot of a local church. The Old Bixby Couple was on their way into Mass when they saw the motorcycle. Old Man Bixby used to have an Indian, so the two men talked shop while The Wife noticed the kittens.

Being an American History buff, The Wife chose the kitten and the name. Her husband wanted to call him Indian or Harley. This would not do. A cat needed a stately name that meant something of substance. She was also concerned that Indian might offend the neighbors and Harley seemed too non descript.

They were a descript couple.

Custer grew up in comfort, never knowing that if he'd been in Canada, he'd be freezing to death, just like the Old Bixby Couple did for years and years. Custer had no notion he was growing up in paradise. He only enjoyed it every day.

Friday, January 7, 2011

No Substitutions!

When I was a kid, my family and I went to church right by a McDonald's where we'd often go for lunch. This was the 70's and the kids burgers had those little minced onions, ketchup, and a dime sized pickle on them. Being a picky eater, I could not abide them, particularly the weird onion things. Anyway, my family would starve as we all waited for my made-to-order plain hamburger. Every now and then, my parents tried to scrape off the offending ingredients without me knowing and pretend it was my special burger. However, I always detected the remnants. Frankly, it's a surprise any of us survived my early years, particularly since now I'm pretty much an omnivore.

Most restaurants bend over backwards to make their demanding customers happy. Every now and then, even at fine restaurants, the menu states emphatically "No Substitutions." My guess is the chef is one of those clog-wearing temperamental types who you don't want to make angry or they'll bang the pots and pans around the kitchen, frightening the waitresses.

(Don't worry. I am getting to my point and it does have something to do with pets.)

Meet Dooley, the feline equivalent of the temperamental chef:

My friend's daughter (hi Hannah!) is house sitting for me while I'm away. She was raised in the country in a farm house with lots of cats, not unlike mine, so she is well equipped for the job.

Dooley has slept on the bed right next to me since day one. While he and I are fond of each other, he is not a fan of strangers. Generally, he stays in the basement and meows loudly in an attempt to interrupt conversations and drive them from his domain.

The first day Hannah was at my house, Dooley peaked at her from around corners and once came within a yard to stare at her menacingly. Hannah is staying in my room, so the first night she retired for the evening, Dooley jumped on the bed and laid down.

Then, he realized he was next to Substitute Lynne. He jumped off the bed and meowed at her. A lot. Hannah had to shut the door. If he had thumbs, no doubt he'd be bashing pots and pans together, frightening the other cats.

Most people don't like change. Most people are wary of strangers. Everyone hates an unknown being in their comfy, secure bed (or should).

Yet our bodies are always changing, so shouldn't we mentally make some changes too? It's the single digits of a new year. What nasty old mental habit can you toss out? Is it anger? Judgment? Being hard on yourself? (check, check, check) What one thing can you do today to welcome a stranger?

While I love Dooley and all his peculiarities, I'm not sure I'd want to hang out with him if he were a person. He just can't abide changes of any type and missed out on meeting some pretty great people. In time, he will likely trust Hannah (I hope), he probably won't get to know and enjoy her the way us people do.

What is the lesson here? Don't be a Dooley.