A dog with a bone

While we can learn a lot from dogs, my Assistance Dog Marshall isn’t perfect. He’s a Spaniel, so he will always sniff out anything that he believes to be edible. For example…

Although covid-19 places me in strict isolation, I’m able to take a solitary walk Marshall in a nearby wood. He enjoys his time off-lead, and I’ve always trusted him to return to me when I blow my whistle.dog-whistle-metal-iron-pipe-wallpaper-previewSo last week I gave a blast, with the expectation he would immediately return from the undergrowth he’d disappeared into.
Imperfection number 1: No show. After several more blasts, he emerged with an enormous roasted bone in his mouth, complete with remains for gnawing. He carried his prize possession home, and by our outside bin I commanded him to ‘give’.
Imperfection number 2: He initially refused. He must have sensed the bone was going in the refuse. He didn’t realise that as his guardian, I know best. Delicious as the meaty bone may have seemed to him, I knew it would cause him inner upset.

Marshall’s misdemeanours are a reminder that we can make bad choices, and refuse to give up what we cling to. Truth is, I’ve clung to many things that are less than wholesome.
Like everyone, I have a deep-rooted longing for significance and security. I’ve wanted recognition, or efforts returned, or to be liked, and sometimes I’ve looked in the wrong places for these needs to be met.

I believe that as humans we are more than a body with a mind. We also have a soul, and if we neglect it, all will not be well. Our souls cry out for integration. As St Augustine said:

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.

It is within our souls that we discover God has our best interests at heart.
But just as Marshall needed to give me his bone so that he could then receive a more wholesome alternative, so we need to ‘drop’ what we cling to – all those things that give us false and empty nourishment.

Hearing Dogs Appeal Shoot

Photo credit: 2019 Paul Wilkinson Photography (Hearing Dogs for Deaf People)

Truth is… Listen closely to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the food that satisfies your soul. (Isaiah 55:2)

Pawsome priorities

My Assistance Dog, Marshall, lives in the present rather than fretting about what the future might hold. He doesn’t have a mind full of ‘what ifs’. Instead, he lives in a mindful way in the here and now.

Truth is, I can sometimes be like a ‘dog with a bone’, excessively ruminating over things. But Marshall reminds me of more awesome priorities:

He finds joy in the moment. Before covid-19 necessitated staying in, I didn’t really understand why he gets excited seeing passers-by.

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Now I know! Never underestimate the effect of connecting with others in a cheery way.

He doesn’t hide his need for affection and nudges me to ruffle his fur. It’s heart-warming to show our love for each other. The same applies to human relationships.

He soaks up the warmth of sunny days. If we absorb the warmth of others (kind gestures and encouraging words) the coldness with which we may treat ourselves, will be thawed.

He is attuned to others. When he senses someone is hurting, he comes alongside and offers a comforting gentle nuzzle. We can show empathy for others in quiet intuitive ways too.

He digs up what he’s buried – when he feels the moment has come. Recognising the right time for action, is important.

He never growls for the sake of it. Some battles aren’t worth fighting.

He finds pleasure in the simplest things, like walking in the woods, paddling in the stream, or playing with his pals. We too, need to take time for refreshing recreation.

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He is simply a dog. He doesn’t try to be anything other, nor does he make comparisons. We could save ourselves a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction, if we were simply ourselves.

He always greets me with exuberant enthusiasm, if we’ve ever been apart. We too, need to let others know that they really matter to us.

So let’s live life to the full, by learning any necessary life lessons from Marshall. It’s not for nothing that dogs have been called ‘man’s best friend’!

Truth is… Jesus said, “I have come that I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10)

Photo credits: 2019 Paul Wilkinson Photography (Hearing Dogs for Deaf People)

It’s good to talk…

Having an Assistance Dog is a good conversation starter – Marshall, my Hearing Dog, breaks the silence in medical waiting rooms and cuts through the tedium of queues. He’s always up for making new friends and gets people talking. Sometimes people ask me about him, curious as to what exactly a Hearing Dog does, while other times people share something of their own story. His readiness to ‘connect’ brings out the best in people, and his waggy tail seems to spread cheer.

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I’m fortunate to live in a friendly town where people greet each other in passing, but not everywhere I’ve lived has been like this. It’s a shame that sometimes suspicion, judgement or prejudice have silenced people. Humans are inherently social, and when we block normal interaction, we can end up isolated.

Recently there was a knock at our door, and a stranger began: ‘I’m sorry to trouble you, but…’ – He’d driven past and was really interested to find out more about our timber carport as it was ‘just what I’ve been looking for!’
I suggested he gave me his email address so I could send him relevant links. The following morning, I had a lovely reply:

Thank you for being so helpful and human. It was a pleasure to meet someone kind and friendly who understands what can be achieved if we talk to each other. 

I hadn’t done anything remarkable, I was just being human, but his words rang true – ‘what can be achieved if we talk to one another’.

Talking and listening can bring benefits all round. This truth was highlighted in a British Telecom advertising campaign, and thirty years later, the strapline ‘it’s good to talk’ is vernacular.

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Truth is, I was taught to be very wary of strangers, but the risk of stranger-danger is minimal compared with the benefits of connecting. We benefit too, when we connect openly with God. Being honest allows God to give us wisdom.
It’s good to talk (and listen!) Let’s never doubt the positive impact we can have on others, and God can have on us.

Truth is…‘Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…’
Revelation 3:20

Duty or desire…

My Assistance Dog Marshall has been with me for six months, and we now know one another well! He and I have a strong bond, rooted in mutual trust. I trust him to be my Hearing Dog; he trusts me to care for him and keep him safe.
The key to our strong relationship is that it’s reciprocal. I love Marshall for simply ‘being’ himself, and this love precedes anything he ‘does’ for me. Meanwhile Marshall flourishes in my affection and is eager to please.

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I think all this has parallels with our relationship with God. There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we do that makes God love us less. God simply loves us for who we are. We are after all, called human ‘beings’ rather than human ‘doings’. God must long for us to know ourselves loved, as this frees us to love in response, with any sense of duty being replaced by desire. Genuine love makes life better all round.

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At the beginning of our partnership, Marshall was dutiful. He was simply acting out his training, alerting me to sounds, or waiting beside me for my next command. But now he has got to know me and realises I have his best interests at heart, he’s no longer acting out of duty, he’s responding out of a desire to do his best.

Duty or desire…

Truth is, I’ve known what it is to be dutiful. As a convent schoolgirl, I was taught to be ‘good for God’ otherwise vengeance would follow. Fast forward a few decades, and I now believe in a God who builds us up, not one who beats us down. I only have to look at Marshall to see that it’s no good controlling him through fear. A threat might work in the short-term, but long term our relationship would be damaged. He would mistrust me and be fearful.
So we needn’t be slaves to fear and duty, we are called instead to receive God’s love and desire will follow.

Truth is… ‘So then, you are no longer a slave’ Galatians 4:7

Nudges…

I haven’t been writing recently as I’ve been busy bonding with a new partner.
Just over a month ago I had the news that a possible ‘match’ had been found for me, and the invitation to meet him…

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Yes, ‘him’ is a dog.
I’m deaf, and I’ve been waiting for an Assistance Dog for over two years, so imagine my delight at the prospect of a first meeting to see if there was a spark between us!
There was, and with the basics in place, ‘Marshall’ moved in and a trusting relationship is resulting.
Truth is, I’m learning a lot from him…

A successful partnership has trust at its core. A Hearing Dog trusts a deaf person to notice and respond to what it is communicating through its nudges, and the person trusts the dog to be with them 24/7. Like any meaningful relationship, it’s rooted in trust.
Isn’t this what God longs for us? That we trust God to be with us, and respond knowing that our best interests are at heart.

For Marshall and me, the nudges are all important. Marshall has been trained to nudge my leg with his nose and lead me to what needs my attention.

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His nudges are gentle yet firm, and always for a reason. He urges me to follow him, and in doing so, I find out what I need to know.
Isn’t this the way of God? That if we respond to the nudges we sense, we will discover more of what life is about.
For in doing what we have been gifted to do, and in being who we are blessed to be, we will find connection and fulfilment.

It is true that:

in giving we receive

Giving is about filling the space that has our name on it.
Marshall does this – and without looking for the approval of others. My affirmation of him is sufficient. But he only receives this because he keeps close to me, and senses my affection.
Isn’t this the same for us? If we are to sense deep affirmation and love, we need to keep close to God.

Truth is…. There is more happiness in giving than in receiving. (Acts 20:35)