Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lessons from Autumn

Autumn shortly after we brought her home
My family has always loved animals and we have had at least one pet for as long as I can remember, usually more than one. For several years we have had two miniature dachshunds. Ginger is about 11 years old and Jacob is about 4 years old. In January this year, Trey and Kaitlyn came home with the newest member of our family. She was a beautiful, terrified, nameless six month-old puppy with the saddest eyes you have ever seen. For hours she sat in the same spot and shook while the four of us tried to make her feel safe and at home as we debated on the perfect name for her. We finally settled on the name Autumn based on her brindle coloring. I will say, the term "puppy" is a little deceptive though. Autumn is half lab and half Great Dane and at six months, her paw filled my palm! She was the biggest puppy we had ever had and made our little dogs seem even smaller!

We immediately fell in love with this gentle giant. It wasn't long that we realized that she had many fears and neuroses. It took us a couple of weeks to teach her to respond to her name and to assure her that she need not cower when we would reach to pet her. She is now a little over a year old, and probably around 70 pounds, maybe more. She is such a great addition to our family and best friends with our little dachshund, Jacob. For the most part, we have worked through her fears, although some surface occasionally. She is afraid of loud sounds like the lawn mower, the vacuum or when you shake out a trash bag. She also takes a little longer to warm up to men or loud children than women. Usually with her fears, she tries to get into one of our laps or hide behind us. Just this week, a street sweeper drove down our road and she blind-sided me trying to get into a "safe" place away from the frightening sound.
 Best friends: Autumn and Jacob curled up together for a nap

There is one fear we have been working on since we first brought Autumn home: her fear of going out through the front door and walking on a leash. Now I know you are thinking that we should be glad she won't go out the front door, but this is much more than simply not going out the door. For the first five months, she would not even go near the front door if it was open and would have a complete panic attack if we carried her out to the front yard! She loves going out in the backyard and playing with our other dogs, doing normal dog things. (they play tag with the squirrels quite a bit.), but the front yard made her breathe harder, cower, whine and even get sick! Finally, Kaitlyn coaxed her out to the steps one day and then we worked our way out to the yard. We continue to work on this and she has even become more comfortable in the front yard, but she will not stay for long and has a meltdown if we shut the door preventing her from running back inside.

The frustrating thing for us about this particular fear is that we want to take her on walks with us. She wears a collar just fine. We even got her a harness that she seems to like. Now that we have convinced her to go outside, we thought maybe we could get her to walk two houses down to our friend's house and then back. (We are trying little successes at a time; baby steps.) It did not take long to realize the walk was not going to happen. She would drag the leash around without any problem, but the instant she felt resistance because Trey or I was holding the leash, she became the most out-of-control panicked animal with a wild, terrorized look in her eyes. Now I want you to picture this: a 70 pound dog doing the crocodile death roll in our front yard to try to get away from the dreaded leash that is attached to her collar at the nape of her neck! She rolled so fast and so forcefully that Trey literally had to tackle her and hold her down to keep her from choking herself! Luckily he had dropped his end of the leash fairly quickly or it might have even severed his hand! The leash was so tightly wound around her body and neck that it took both of us working to get it off of her while holding her still without hurting her. The minute she felt free and saw the door opened, she made a dash for the safety of the living room. It almost brought me to tears to see how terrified she was of that leash.

I was thinking about her irrational fear the other night and was struck by the most amazing question: I wonder how often God feels the same frustration with me?

Let that sink in just a moment and think about it with this perspective:

 All we want to do is to enjoy a walk with Autumn; to spend some quality time with her in the world. We love our dog. We want her to be protected from injury or from being lost to us so in our love for our dog, we need her to be on a leash to enjoy walking together. We also want to be sure she doesn't go to places where she could get into trouble. The leash is a method of discipline, a guide to help her know the boundaries that are best for her. Even if she did walk on the leash, it would never be used as punishment. If she wanted to pull it out of our hands, she is definitely strong enough to do so. Of course so far, she has yet to understand these concepts and doesn't connect and trust our love for her enough yet to overcome her fears of the leash with obedience.If she ever does, I think she will really enjoy the walk with us.

What an amazing parallel to our Savior! How many times is He trying to help us out by giving us the proper harness or leash to connect us to His hand and we begin the proverbial crocodile death roll? Even more personally, how many times has God had to "tackle" me to the ground to get my attention and then carefully try to help me untangle the mess I've made? We must be connected to God in order to walk with Him. We need His protection to walk out in this world, and with that protection we can enjoy the walk and see things we have never seen before, and yet we continue to roll; we continue to panic. At least I know I have done my own version of the death roll. Succumbing to the tight grip of fear about what in the world God is trying to do to me when in actuality He is trying to do something through me instead.  It's as though I do not trust Him at all! My mind races, questioning : "What kind of protection is this 'leash' He is placing on me?" I even fall victim to the whining and irrational behavior, and I have known God's love for a lot longer than Autumn has known ours. Not to mention, how much more does God love me than I love my dog? I wonder does His heart break when He sees how terrified I am to truly walk with Him in obedience?

Exodus 33:13 (NIV)
If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

As I thought this all over, it made me shake my head in astonishment that God never gives up on me. That what I view as a punishment so often is more of a hand of protection or simply loving guidance. The biggest realization is that I am falling short of doing my part to make the walk what it was meant to be. I know I do not read His word enough. I know I do not talk to Him enough. I know I do not praise Him enough. I know I do not share Him enough. I have to do my part if I want the walk. I also have to get out the front door at some point and yes, even off of the steps! I have to trust that God's ways are best even if I do not understand them and then I must act on that trust; running back to my safe zone just won't cut it. I want an obedient walk with my Master.
 Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.

So I am working to memorize more of the Word. I am definitely stepping out of my comfort zone by writing this blog. (I don't know if you know this, but I teach Algebra, not English, so writing is just something I enjoy doing.) I am also trying to view circumstances in my life in a different, less fearful way. I have added the three verses from this post to my memorization list for the week. I pray that I have found favor in my Savior's eyes and that He will teach me His ways so that I may walk with Him and by all means that my paths will be straight!

In our neighborhood, lots of people walk their dogs successfully. I do not know all their names or the names of their dogs, but if a dog ever wandered into my yard, I would probably know to whom it belonged. The little white poodle belongs to the grandmother across the street. The friendly galloping Wiemaraner belongs to the young couple down the street with three little boys. The old, calm blue heeler belongs to little elderly man who walks with a cane. The German shepherd belongs to the young mother with the red stroller and little boy. You see, I recognize characteristics of the owners or masters and I recognize the dogs. Again, what a wonderful parallel! I can only hope that as I walk through this life, the hand of my Master guiding me is so evident that even those who do not know Him and do not know me would know to whom I belong.

Psalm 25:4 (NIV)
4 Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths. 

Thank you Lord for never giving up on me! Thank you for loving me enough to discipline me in a way to protect me and to allow me to become closer to you! Your consistent love and faithfulness never ceases to amaze me! Thank you for granting me insight to you through the animal you have entrusted to my care. Help me to remember to look for you in everyday moments as much as in the miracles. Thank you again for loving your children more than we could ever comprehend.   Amen

We are still working with our beloved Autumn to overcome her fear of the leash, or of walking on the leash, or whatever her fear actually is. We hope that by continuing to show her our love and a safe and consistent environment, she will learn to trust us even in a situation that causes her such terror. We have not been successful yet, but we are never going to give up. Hopefully someday soon I can post a photo of Autumn walking with us!

Blessed more than I deserve,