A few months ago Roux and I spent a few days with Mom in Studley. Roux was hanging out on the back deck.
Hanging out with Roux.
My family used to have a collie named Penny. She was a rescue. A friend Dad’s found her in a ditch and we adopted her. I loved that dog. She was sweet and kind. She was loving and nurturing. Penny, like so many other dogs, always knew when I needed her.
Behind our hour in rural Hanover County, was a path that lead to the creek and would wind around to my grandparents’ property. Penny would accompany me on my treks though the woods. Penny would walk next me, but most of the time she would run ahead of me. Once a few times ahead of me, she would turn around to make sure I was still following the path, as if she is saying, “It’s okay. The path is clear.” Penny truly was “man’s best friend,” for me.
God is like that. It may seem like a cliche to say that life is a journey, but it is. And God walks with us on that journey. In fact, God will walk ahead of us at times, turn to make sure that we are still on the path. The journey is getting from where we stand on the path to where God is beckoning us to be. As if God is telling us that, “it’s okay. The path is clear.”
The journey that God is beckoning us on could be various things. It could be starting a new job, or starting a new ministry. It could be seeing your child for who he or she really is. It could be meeting God again for the first time. It could be anything. Whatever the journey is, Psalm 121:8 offers us hope on that journey:
The Lord will protect you on your journeys—
whether going or coming—
from now until forever from now.
The image of God, like a lovable dog, running ahead of us on our path and looking back to make sure we are following, is a beautiful image of sanctification. God does not leave us where we are on the path, instead God calls us – beckons us – to a closer relationship with God.
Sanctification is grace for the journey. Let’s face it, while life is a journey, life is messy. We are going to get dirty, and that’s okay. The point of the journey is to restore the image of God within us. And at the center of that restoration – at the center of this journey – is grace.
And what an amazing gift that is!
I pray during this season of Lent that you stay on the path you are walking and know that God is with you.
When I was growing up, it was rare that doors were locked. I can remember as a kid roaming around and randomly going into my grandparents’ home next door. No knocking, and certainly no ringing of a doorbell. We would just walk in. But now that I think about, we haven’t asked my grandparents how they felt about any of us randomly walking in their house.
Then, at some point, the world changed. And doors were locked. It was strange. In order to go into someone’s house, we had to use the doorbell.
It was a little creepy at first. You didn’t know what was going to happen. The doorbell was a strange object. “We’re just suppose to push it?” we wondered. “That’s all?” We would push the button and wait to hear if anything happened. In some cases, the “bell” would be so loud it would freak us out a little bit. Others we wouldn’t be able to hear it ourselves, which meant we had to push the button again, right? Because if we couldn’t hear it, how could the people inside hear it?
It also seemed so formal. Like we had to wear our Sunday best to visit someone. We were not formal people. We were country, where everyone knew everyone. Honestly, though, everyone was related to everyone – which is a whole other blog post.
Doors were no longer open. Being invited in was no longer taken for granted. We had to ask to be invited in.
When the doorbell rings, we have been trained to go to the door. We may peek through the window first to see who is out there. Maybe we are expecting guests or a delivery, and we wait with anticipation for the doorbell to ring. The power of who comes in is on us, we who are inside the house. If it is a salesperson, we do not have to let them in. If it is some annoying grandchildren, we do not have to let them in.
When I lived in an apartment in the West End of Richmond, a group of Mormons from Central America were making the rounds in the apartment building. I knew when my doorbell rang that it was this group of people. I knew what they were selling, and decided that I needed to bury my head into my textbooks instead. I figured after they rang the bell and no one came to the door, they would move on to the next door.
However, the bell kept ringing. After awhile I finally got up from the table where I was studying, and answered the door. The elder member began chatting me up in a quick pace of Spanish that I did not understand. I finally realized that they had the wrong apartment. They were looking for my neighbor, who was a relative they were looking for.
About the same time that Dad got sick with prostate cancer, I brought home a black lab. Dad named her Lady. She had been left on the side of the road near the church I worked at at the time. She was malnourished, to the say the least. And as a result, she spent the first few months inside the house.
As we got better, she would spend most of her days outside. At some point Lady learned that if she jumped up and pushed the doorbell, one of us would come and answer the door. And I don’t mean a neat little trick where she uses her nose to push the bell. No, she would jump up and lean on the door. Once “standing,” she would use her paw to ring the bell. It looked a little bit like this:
And because we had been trained to response to the doorbell, we would always check to see who it was. Imagine our surprise the first time we realized it was not a person, but the dog!
Lady was not surprised. And once we started answering when she rang, she would continue this habit. Especially when she sensed a storm coming. Lady was deathly afraid of storms. On these evenings, she would ring the doorbell at the front door, and if no one came soon enough, she would run and ring the bell on the back door. This would continue for awhile until my Mom would wait patiently for her at one of the doors to let her in.
One evening while Dad was in the hospital, I was home with my two younger brothers. Lady had gone outside. Not long afterwards, the doorbell started ringing. I – the older brother – told my brothers, “Don’t answer the door. It’s just Lady, and she needs to learn to stop doing that.”
The doorbell did not stop ringing.
Finally I got up, annoyed with the lab, to let her in. Only, there was no black lab waiting at the back door. Instead, it was one of our neighbors bringing us a casserole. I was only slightly embarrassed.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I thought you were the dog.”
Roux: I have my big purple ball! My ball makes me happy!
Jason: Roux, do you need to go outside?
Roux: I like to run around with my big purple ball…
Jason: Roux, do you need to go potty? Do you need to go potty?
(Jason runs to back door, and opens back door. Roux goes to her bed.)
Jason: Roux!! Ugh.
Roux: I will not obey.
Jason: Megan, she’s your dog!
Megan: She’s a feminist.
When I was in middle school, a friend of my Dad’s brought a collie to our house. He had found her on the side of the road, hit by a car. He took her to the vet. He couldn’t keep her because of the apartment he lived in, so he brought her to us. He had named her Penny. Penny looked just like the famous collie, Lassie, just a lighter shade of brown.
Over the years, Penny would be there to see us get on the school bus each morning and to welcome us home each day.
My senior year, our marching band trip was to Walt Disney World. My Dad was going as one of the chaperones and we were leaving the house to go to the school. It was that part of the day when evening was coming on. The sun was slowly slipping away and the moon was slowly rising to takes its place. Penny was nowhere to be seen. I remember thinking that this was odd. She was always around. She always there to greet us or to see us off. But on this evening, she wasn’t.
Something deep within me knew that something wasn’t right.
I called her name, “Penny! Penny!” Nothing. No bark. No collie feet running through the woods. Nothing. The strange feeling I had that something was wrong wouldn’t leave me.
I called again. Still nothing. My Dad was urging me to get into the truck. We were going to be late. It would be ok, he said, she’ll find her way back. I kept calling. Then, I heard something. I asked my Dad, “Did you hear that?” He said he didn’t. I called Penny’s name again, and the sound of faint bark could be heard. Soft, quiet. Something was indeed wrong.
I took off running, despite the cries of my Dad telling me to wait or to get a flashlight. Back behind our house was a huge creek that would run into the Pamunkey River. There was a trail from our house to the creek and another trail that would lead to my grandparents’ home next door. I ran, stopping every so often to call Penny’s name again, listen for her bark, and then run in that direction.
I ran down the path, jumping over dead logs. I crossed the creek using the old oak that had fallen in just the right place to serve as a bridge. I struggled to get up the steep hill using weeds and branches to pull myself up it.
I reached the top and there was this old abandoned house. No one had lived here for years. Windows were broken. Doors were missing. It looked like something out of a horror film. As I ran around to the front of the house, I stopped to see Penny standing on the roof of the porch.
Without a moment of hesitation, I ran into the dark house, up the stairs, and found the room whose missing window, Penny had walked through. I called her to me, and she came back into the house and together we ran out of the house, down the hill, across the old oak bridge, and up the path back to my house. Somewhere in the midst of this running back, we bumped into my Dad would was coming after me with a flashlight. But, we didn’t stop, we both kept running until we made it home.
I’ve been sitting in my office the past few days working on an adult curriculum for our church’s summer Sunday school. Our Summer Sunday School program is called “One Church, One Book.” We’re using Kate DiCamillo’s book Because of Winn-Dixie, which captures the adventures of young Opal and her dog Winn-Dixie in a small town.
As I’m rereading portions of the book and writing this curriculum, I’m remembering my own pets. Especially my last real pet, Lady.
About 11 years ago, I came back to work after a lunch break and noticed that a black lab was wondering around the building. She was thin, so thin. She showed evidence of having just had puppies, though the puppies were no where to be found. She was shy at first, not sure if she could trust me or not. I went inside, found a bowl and poured water in it. I took the bowl outside and set it out for her. A coworker found dog food somewhere in the building and she put that outside too. After we had gone back in, the lab would finally come get some food and water. And she stayed.
At the end of the day, someone told me I should take her home. I wasn’t too sure about that. While outside, the lab came around, now no longer shy or frightened. I thought, well, if she doesn’t get in the car, then it’s settled. I opened the back door of my car and without a word, the lab jumped in and sat down. So, it was settled. She was going home with me.
This was about the time that Dad was staying home from work because of the prostate cancer he was fighting. I took the dog home, much to the surprise of my parents, and quickly said, “We’re not keeping her. Just for a few days, until I can find a home for her.” And, I was just as quick to add, “Don’t name her. Because once we name her, she’s ours.”
I came home from work a few days later, still unable to find a home for the lab, and she is outside on the deck with Dad. A relationship was forming between this dog and my Dad in those few days. Dad had named her “Lady”. The name stayed, and so did Lady.
Lady became a companion for Dad during those long days of staying home when he really wanted to be at work. In the book Because of Winn-Dixie, young Opal reflects on how she just talked and talked to Winn-Dixie and he listened. Dogs are good listeners. I imagine Dad sitting on the back deck petting Lady and talking things out with her. And Lady resting her black head on Dad’s knee giving him advice in the way only a dog can.
Lady was also my listener during that stormy times of my life. We would go on walks through the woods or play fetch in the yard. After Dad died, Lady still hung around. She would sleep by my bed at night. After one stormy night where she got frightened, she slept on the foot of my bed for awhile. She seemed to fill a gap for me. A gap I didn’t realize I had at the time.
Lady died about a year ago. She was a dog with 9 lives, having survived being hit by a car, a really bad cold one summer, and going blind in one eye. But she lived a good life and was a blessing to me . . .and my Dad.