Sunday, December 21, 2008

Things I've Learned From Sparrow

My sweet beagle Sparrow is a great teacher. Watching her, I have learned some great lessons in life that I would love to share with you.

1. When you are glad to see someone, show them.

When we come back home after being away, whether it has been for five minutes or five hours, Sparrow lets us know without a doubt that she is thrilled to have us home. She doesn't just wag her tail, she wags her whole body from shoulders to the tip of her white-tipped tail. She puts her body as close down to the ground as possible and makes this indescribable noise to let us know she wants us to pet her and show us we are glad to see her too. This attentive welcome never fails to make us feel loved. We should make a point to let those we care about know just how glad we are to see them and to know just how we feel about them.

2. Everything is better with a cuddle.

If you are sitting down, Sparrow will want to cuddle next to you. Actually, I need another set of words in place of "cuddle next to you". Sparrow will get so close to you that if you eat a cookie, HER blood sugar will go up! In the winter it is very nice, because her body temperature is a few degrees higher than ours, so she is a nice source of heat. Lying on the couch, watching a good movie or sitting in a favorite chair and reading a good book is infinitely better with a warm, dozing beagle beside you.

Our lives were meant to be shared with others and the joys of life shared definitely doubles the joy.

3. Always use your nose first.

Whether Sparrow is planning to lick something, or eat something, she always uses her nose first. She takes a deep, Beagle-smell of investigation and then decides whether proceeding is a wise idea or not. Sometimes she turns away from food (believe it or not) after giving it a thorough olfactory perusal. Before she will lick your hand, she will first smell it (I guess to make sure you haven't covered it with something she finds offensive, such as wintergreen scented sports creme or Vick's vapor rub -- two things she absolutely abhors.) Perhaps we would be better off if we used our nose a little first before we just jumped right in. I know I have regretted making decisions without the proper investigation before hand.

4. If it's worth sounding the alarm for, it's worth being loud.

Sparrow is usually a quiet, placid dog except when she feels the need to let us know she feels alarmed about something. Then she doesn't do it quietly. She is loud. She is persistently loud. She doesn't bark, she bays and howls. (She is after all, a hound.) She will continue until the threat (which can be as simple to us as an unknown dog in our yard) has either gone, or until we convince her that she has done her duty and that we are well aware of the situation. But she has done her duty and has let us know about the threat outside our doors. How many times has there been a situation that I needed to really raise my voice about and perhaps only whispered? Or even worse, keep completely silent?

5. When you need help, you really need to ask for it.

Sparrow from the beginning was one incredibly well house-trained dog. Her breeder said it was the way the mother dog taught the puppies that made the difference, but somehow Sparrow came to us at six weeks old just about knowing what to do. Sometimes in the evenings though, Sparrow will need to go out. Being that she is a Beagle and that Beagles are completely governed by their noses she can never be out off-leash, so one of us will need to take her out. To let us know she needs this assistance, she will come to where you are sitting and pat your arm with her paw. She does this gently and quietly and just once. If this doesn't elicit the desired effect, she will repeat the motion. If this obvious gesture doesn't get the point across, she will then give a short bay with the pat. Usually that wakes us up out of our stupidity and causes us to realize exactly what it is that Sparrow is trying to communicate and we stop what we are doing, put her leash on her and take her outside. She reciprocates by quickly going about what she has been wanting to do for awhile. (I find it terribly ironic that as I was writing this, Sparrow came up to me and did exactly what I was describing -- and yes, we went outside.)

Sparrow knows that she can't go outside by herself and she knows to ask for help. So often, though, so many of us are hesitant to ask for help of others. We for some reason expect them to read our minds and to just "know" when we need help. Or when we do ask for help, we manage to ask in a way that either implies that they should have been helping before hand or that they might not want to help at all. Why can we not just simply ask for help, like Sparrow, gently and quietly, realizing that to ask for help when you really need it is not an admission of weakness, it is a statement of maturity?

6. When you're sleepy, go to sleep.

Sparrow's great talent in life is sleeping. She can sleep just about anywhere and in many different positions. She prefers sleeping next to or on top of someone, but in a pinch she will even sleep on a cold, concrete floor. When she is tired, she just goes to sleep. Now, I know it isn't possible for us to just go to sleep anytime we are tired, in fact the hospital where I work frowns on us actually sleeping on the job. But there are alot of times that I am really sleepy and just force myself to stay awake for things that really don't matter much. Then by the time I do go to bed, I can't seem to get to sleep. Sometimes I seem to think that sleeping is a waste of time, but I would function so much better if I had slept a little more, or gone to bed a little earlier and been more rested. Sometimes sleep lets our bodies heal better. Sometimes it lets us get rid of a build up of stress. Sparrow doesn't feel tired or stressed because she sleeps when she needs to.

7.Sometimes you've got to learn to entertain yourself.

Now don't be mistaken, Sparrow is definitely a pack-animal. In fact, right now she is sitting so close to me that I can barely keep my hand on the key board. I think she thinks a laptop was actually made as a beagle nap-spot. She loves to play, too. She loves fetch and tug-of-war. She has any number of stuffed animals which at any given time can be found scattered along the floor of our house. She prefers the kind that squeaks, and if she finds one that doesn't, she will make a whiny-squeaky sound over it. I'm not sure if she is trying to make the squeak sound herself, or is whining because that toy doesn't squeak.

Her favorite pastime, however, is being scratched. If your hand is anywhere near the vicinity of her back, she will move herself until you hand is in the perfect position to scratch her back, preferably the lower end. She would let you do that all day if you would. But if there is no one available to play with her, she will entertain herself, mainly by scratching herself, the best she can reach. She is also content to sit in "her" window and watch everyone go by, guarding the property and the house, wishing she could catch the squirrels outside the window.

In this day and age, so many of us feel the need to be constantly entertained, either by television or the internet or our particular source of music. We rarely can tolerate quiet moments of solitude, but those are often the very moments in which we will find the Lord speaking to us. In other moments, the crashing sounds of the world too often drown out the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.

8. You should always look to and follow the leader of the pack.

As I said earlier, Sparrow is a pack-animal and she follows the pack mentality. She watches for the "leader of the pack" to see what is happening next and whether she should go or stop. Sparrow knows without a doubt that she is not the leader of the pack. She knows her place in the pack-order and rarely does she try to challenge authority. She follows the directions of the leader and is very sensitive to even very slight body movements and gestures.

How often in my life have I not watched the 'Leader" of my pack? How often have I challenged those the Lord has put in my life as authorities? How many times have I rushed ahead and made decisions, not sure of what the Lord's will was for my life in that area (as one friend of ours joked recently, "I'll do this now, and I'll pray about it later, Lord")? I should be more like Sparrow, keeping my eye on my "Leader", the Captain of my Salvation, watching for the path I should follow.

9. Know your friends as well as you can.

Sparrow doesn't have a lot of dog friends, but she has one dog friend that comes over for church every Sunday. When Lucy comes over, Sparrow and Lucy greet each other dog-to-dog. Now Lucy is a very dainty poodle, reserved and well-behaved and doesn't participate in the dog-greeting as much as Sparrow. Sparrow on the other hand is totally ruled by her nose. She greets Lucy in the way that dogs usually greet each other. She sniffs Lucy from one end to the other. She smells her all over. Lucy is thoroughly investigated each week, or as much as Lucy will allow. There is nothing about Lucy that Sparrow doesn't know by the time Lucy leaves.

We are intended to be involved in the lives of the people around know them. Not to just know them by sight, but to really know them. To be close enough to know when they are in pain, or need help or need to have a burden shared. Our culture has become one of separatism, where we are afraid of being too close, too knowing, too invasive. But what we really need is to become involved, to become supportive and concerned and a part of our neighbor's lives, our family's lives, our friend's lives and to be there when they need us so they won't feel like we are strangers at the door.

10. Be afraid of the right things.

Sparrow is not our first beagle. We previously had male beagles who given the slightest opportunity, would try to escape the confines of the house for the great outdoors. Now I have to say that an athletic beagle flying across the yard is a beautiful sight, unless you are trying to catch him to bring him back inside!

Sparrow however, somehow during her puppyhood encountered something outside that made her realize that the outside world is not a place she wants to be. She feels comfortable enough traipsing to the neighbors to see her dog friend Rachel, but beyond that, life outside the house is a scary thing. Telling her to "get back in that house!" is all it takes to have her running back inside literally with her tail between her legs.

While we are not called to a life of fear, there are things of which we should be genuinely concerned and protected against. There are things that we should stay away from, just as I try to keep Sparrow from going to close to the street. We should make every effort to strengthen ourselves in "the power of His might" so that " ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. "

I think maybe if I watch Sparrow a great deal more, I can learn secrets of the Christian life I never knew before. After all, the Apostle John tells us in the Book of Revelation, "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. (Revelation 5:13)

Perhaps that's what Sparrow is doing when she is howling!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas and Time...

Christmas is such a time of conflicting "time" sensations for me. When the stores first start displaying Christmas merchandise before Halloween, my mind says "No, it's way too early!" But secretly, I'm a little happy to see it there. Then, after Halloween, it seems more dignified to have the decorations start to show up in the stores and it doesn't even seem quite out of place to begin humming Christmas carols. I start making Christmas cards and I am ready, even anxious for the Christmas season to be in full swing.

A few weeks later Thanksgiving comes and goes and the season officially "begins", at least at our house. We put up our tree and decorate the house, packages begin to get wrapped and those Christmas cards get mailed. I have the illusion that I am ahead of schedule for Christmas. Then we get to this point in the holidays, with ten or twelve days to go and I suddenly feel like Christmas has catapulted through the calendar. I seem to be taken unawares and whatever fantasy I had about being ahead of schedule is now dashed on the rocks of reality. Somehow I feel that I haven't spent as much time as I should enjoying our Christmas tree, or watching those Christmas movies that we like or spending time doing "Christmasy" things with my family.

Then Christmas Eve is here and I hope I have everything for dinner the next day, and I hope I have everything for the stockings and that I have remembered where I have hidden all the presents so I can put them under the tree. Christmas morning comes and in a blur it is gone. Before we know it the tree is barren underneath, the stockings are empty and our dinner has been consumed. Christmas celebration is over.

It makes me think about eternity. The Scriptures tell us that in eternity there is no time as we know it today. No hurry, no rush, no waiting, no delay, no alarm clock, no watches, no timers. A celebration in eternity -- the marriage supper of the Lamb, for example -- would be as real to us in a thousand years as it was the moment it happened. Everything would have the perfect perception of eventfulness. And everything wil have the perfect perception of satisfaction because Christ will be the satisfaction of every desire. He is all in all and at that time we will know that clearly, while here, we only see through a glass darkly. We see everything now through a filter...maybe the face of a clock.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Santas, concert tickets and the lady in Savannah...

I am sitting here snuggled up with our dog Sparrow, looking at our 28th Christmas tree. Although we have been married thirty years this year, we got married five days after Christmas, so that first year we didn't have a tree together. The year Marie was born, four days before Christmas, we didn't have a tree, either. So this year makes our 28th tree.

Our tree is very similar to most, I suppose. It has its share of Santas and holly wreaths and candy canes. But our tree is not just a Christmas tree, it is a Life tree. Let me explain what I mean by that.

When I was eighteen, I went to visit Savannah, Georgia right after Christmas. While I was there I attended several Open Houses -- where people open up their homes for celebrations. At one of these festive occasions I saw the most unusual Christmas tree I had ever seen. It was covered with movie tickets, theater tickets, trinkets and memorabilia of all types. The lady who lived in the house was in her eighties and as lively and full of spirit as anyone I had ever met and I asked her about her unusual tree. "it is a celebration of my life", she answered. She went on to tell me that at all occasions in her life she would take some sort of memento to place on her tree, some token of remembrance. Then each year when she would decorate her tree, "i re-live those special times in my life that would have otherwise slipped away."

Needless to say the lady and her tree made a great impression upon a young impressionable teenager. I determined that whenever I had a tree of my own, I wanted it to be something special, too. When Glen and I were engaged, I shared with him the story of the Savannah woman and the story seemed to touch a chord with him as well. So that first year we celebrated Christmas together, in that tiny, cold apartment, we determined that the ornaments on our tree would be ones that we had specifically picked out for our tree, not just to fill the branches, but because of their beauty or meaning or special significance to us. Or they would be ornaments we had made, or someone else had given us, or like the lady in Savannah, they would be mementos of the events of our lives. We wouldn't even have actually had a tree that year if my sister hadn't brought us one -- we thought our apartment was just too small for a tree. It was and it wasn't. Our first Christmas tree only had nine ornaments on it (some of which we still have today). They were given to us by my mother and her friend.

Our tree today has hundreds and hundreds of ornaments. I started to catalog and count them one day and stopped somewhere after 600. Along with the snowflakes (some of which belonged to my mother) and the balls (most of which I put on my trees growing up as a girl) there are "Savannah" ornaments: the doves and butterflies off our wedding cake; the golden bells off my parent's 50th anniversary cake; concert tickets; Metro tickets from Washington, DC; a baby's pacifier; my girls' little black patent leather baby shoes; a hickory nut I picked up at my brother's house one day when we spent the day with him and his family; candles from a 40th birthday cake; and from a 50th birthday cake; High School Band Security Tags; Election buttons - both from elections won and lost; footprint buttons from babies born; favors from weddings; silk flowers from a baby shower; silk flowers from a wedding bouquet; dough ornaments older than my marriage, given to be my a friend in college; I could go on and on. Like the lady in Savannah, when I decorate the tree, I have the joy of reliving memories, of remembering people and events. Our tree is an expression of our lives, a creation that continues to grow each year, because each year there is something new to add to the tree.

Thirty-three years ago, that lady in Savannah gave me a great gift. She shared with me a small moment of her time and herself and that small seed that life can be something that is worth re-living blossomed in me into something that has affected me and my family. We love our tree and the special ornaments and mementos that hang from its branches and we love the remembering what the tree brings to mind.

Today there is someone in each of our lives waiting for us to share with them some great gift that the Lord has given us. Something that will be a seed that will blossom in them to something great and beautiful. Perhaps it is just a kind word, or a thoughtful look or an act of encouragement along the way. The world is full of hearts just waiting for those seeds.

Hear; for I will speak of excellent things;

and the opening of my lips shall be right things. Proverbs 8:6