How my dogs drive me nuts, and save my sanity.

I often think when I walk my dogs in the mornings – or when a tradesman comes to my door – that people must think me insane: “How on earth does that poor woman put up with those dogs?”

I say this because, on initial contact, my dogs are unbelievably loud.  A confusing combination of fierce barking and fiercely wagging tails that continues for several minutes.  They travel in a pack and approach everyone and everything as though  (wherever we happen to be) it all exclusively belongs to them.

Visitors to the house get assaulted by love on entry.  The dogs offer every bone going and, since I am an indulgent mother, climb along the backs of sofa cushions while we’re trying to chat to see if anyone is interested in being kissed.

Fortunately they are somewhat disarming to look at. Bobo is the eldest at almost 7 and looks and behaves like a miniature Labrador.  He is in fact a cross between a Pincher and a Chihuahua. In Bobo’s mind, I am exclusively his and being as close to my face as possible at all times is his life goal.

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The smallest, Lucy Bella, looks more like a character out of Beatrix Potter than a real dog.  She could easily be mistaken for a meerkat.  Being tiny, she is the one who barks the loudest and the longest out of sheer determination (I am sure) not to be mistaken for a snack.  We carry her round the house like a baby.  Which she allows.

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And then there’s Owen. Owen is a cross between a Beagle, a Pointer and a large, plush toy from Hamleys.  Almost 3 years old and four times as large as the other two, he considers himself to be the same size.  This can be challenging when it comes to pillows or lying behind your head along the top of a sofa.

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Sure, the dogs can drive me absolutely batty at times: the mud, the shredded shoes, ham off the counter, stepping on a bone with one’s bare feet, the occasional accident, noise.  However, their noisy, boisterous meet and greets account for less than 10% of their daily life.  For the other 90%, they fulfil the function of extra siblings, playmates, cuddlers, blankets, companions, entertainment, and sanity savers. They are just fantastic company. And since one dog day equals 59 human days they also, understandably, spend much of their time asleep.

They are possibly the most expensive dogs in England after I shipped them Canine First (/Only) Class from Los Angeles after we unexpectedly moved here in 2016.  There was never a question in my mind that they should join us. We had lost so much already, I was not prepared to lose them as well. We had all been apart for almost three months when they stumbled bemusedly through customs at Heathrow after their flight and the kids and I fell on them as if they brought a lifesaving elixir in a barrel on their collars.

Which metaphorically they did.  In the midst of so much stress and strain and grief, the dogs are exclusively ours, and provide an unrelenting constant of upbuilding love and comfort. The dogs are our home and, unequivocally, on our side.

As a single mum navigating a houseful of teenagers, Bobes, Lucy B and Benowen by contrast think I’m a superstar and are unfailingly thrilled to see me.  Even if I’ve only been out for five minutes.  This is hugely supportive even when I’m struggling with seven bags of shopping and trying to squeeze in through the front door.  They are my faithful companions.

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Dogs bring balance.  It can never again just be about the kids or about you.  Taking the dogs for a daily walk for the dogs’ sake mystically brings my own life into balance. I am blessed to be outside in nature with a purpose.  And dogs don’t forget.  They hold no truck with whatever else may be going on, a walk’s a walk for goodness sake!

Dogs train you to colour outside the lines simply because they lead you straight over them.  The best laid plans come unstuck with mud, or wet, or a chewed shoe, or – God forbid – a lost dog.  They teach us to dwell in the messiness of life, not try to cover it or recover from it. My house is far from immaculate because of the dogs and yet, because of the dogs, it is so much more a haven of hugs and home.

In my experience, dogs enlarge the place of your tent.  You’re a bigger party, a broader concern. It’s no longer just you guys facing the world on your own, you have by your side huge fans cheering you on everywhere you go and every step you take.  Dogs, without fail, are loyal.

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And dogs keep you humble.  Have you ever had the worst behaved toddler at a birthday party?  That’s my daily dog walk.  “I AM so sorry!!” I cry throughout various parts of Surrey, shovelling charm on with a spade to allay alarm. “They’re completely harmless! Just loud…”  My three bark and wag and bounce back to me with looks of sheer glee at what they’ve accomplished.  They only do it in a pack — out individually I suspect they’d stick close to my heels and barely make a peep.  Little stinkers.

So yes of course, I have my moments of wondering, “How did I end up with three? What in the world was I thinking??” But then I look in those faces and get down on the floor for a cuddle.

And the world seems bearable again.

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jsg/march 18

The Astonishing Juxtapositions of Easter.

Total darkness and absolute light.

Evil and purity.

Doubt and faith.

Despair and expectation.

Disappointment and hope.

Destruction and establishment.

Separation and union.

Death and life.

Grief and joy.

And before the latter, there must be endured (not escaped) the waiting after the former.

The tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. Both true.

The cross and the empty tomb.

“Easter Saturday” is the waiting on the knife edge between the two.

The waiting. Not the end.

HOLD ON.

 

 

 

jsg/march 18

Thank God it’s Good Friday.

He was not good looking.

He was not successful.

He was not envied.

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He was a man of sorrows.

Acquainted with grief.  

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He knew what He was doing for me, and I did not.

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I betrayed Him.

I rejected Him.

I misunderstood Him.

I misrepresented Him.

I gossiped about Him.

I deserted Him.

I beat Him.

I pierced Him.

I wounded Him.

I killed Him.

That is what makes Good Friday meaningful. Purposeful. Personal.

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And yet He has come for me.

He always-and-forever-will-be for me.

And you too.

It is unfathomable.

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He went to the depths, and rose back up.

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Because of Him, I will too.

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Thank you, God, for Good Friday.

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Thank you, God.

The sky is black.

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Sunday is coming.

 

jsg/march 18

 

Spiritual Golf.

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I don’t play golf, but I can totally see why people love it.

All it would take for me would be one true stroke. The perfect connection of body, mind and spirit to club, with the ball flying high, far, and true. Oh the high!  How I would forever after be chasing that congruence again.

Looking over a golf course yesterday, I thought how much the walk of faith is like a game of golf.

You have an end goal.  A finishing point. A certain destination.  And many along the way.

And ohhh, what it takes you to get there.  Determination. Focus. Joy in the victories, perseverance in the defeats.

The club has a purposed use, but oh it can be used for so many other things.  Hacking up the course, hitting people, thwacking the ground in frustration.

And then there’s that ball.  So small, so exact.  You know what you’re meant to do with it so you try, and try, and try again. Practice helps.

Every stroke is another shot at playing the course.  And there are so many outcomes.

You miss the ball.

You connect to it and it flies in entirely the wrong direction.

You hit it and, although only off by just a fraction at the tee, over distance you’re way off the mark.

Then those bunkers. Man-made.  Not like the course, God-given.

And the wide, wide, margins.  Woods, undergrowth, valleys, and who knows what lies beyond that? It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s simply off the course.  Hit your ball over there and you might never find it again.  Unless you ask.  And then a kind spectator, who’s watching you and walking with you for the whole round, will lop it back to right where you stand.

And what about the lake? That huge distance that at times you have to get your ball over?  What if you fall short?

And, of course, you’re not the first one to play the course.  So many have gone before you that you’re navigating areas that have been completely messed up. You can easily twist your ankle or break your leg if you don’t look where you’re going.  If you don’t notice where other players have been before you.

And the other players. You have to leave everyone else’s ball alone! Their game is theirs, yours is yours.

And… here the analogy ends.

Because, unlike golf, no  matter how many times you mess up – even in a day! – if you ask for your ball back you won’t be disqualified.  That kind spectator who’s been there all along will lob it back to you and say,

“Just keep going! You’re doing great! I know how hard the game is, I made it! But without the bunkers!  By the way, it doesn’t matter how many strokes you need.  Everyone’s allowed to make mistakes, I redesigned the course that way. Don’t give up. I’m right here beside you, cheering you on, pointing out your next shot if you need me.”

So you tamp down the divots you wilfully made with your club in your fury and frustration, and accept the grace (for grace is what it is) of another chance.

You could get down on yourself, and beat yourself up for being so crap at the game.  Or you could face forward and course correct.  You may be in the thicket, but you can still redirect your focus to the end point.

And try again.

If you keep going? Every so often you will hit the ball true.  And as you watch it soar through the air in the right direction, your breath catches in your chest as you notice the glory of the sky, the green of the grass, the majesty of the trees, and the gift of the air.  All around you.

And you’ll be grateful again.

For the gift of the game.

jsg/march 18

Hot Loneliness.

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It was just like this.

Last year, I discovered an old lap writing desk that had belonged to my great grandmother.  Made out of beautiful polished wood, it was edged with brass and had an inbuilt, well-used leather blotting pad embossed into the lid.  And it was heavy, which meant that something was still definitely being kept inside.

I found the writing desk in an outside shed in the bottom of a box of mildewed linens which had not been opened since my parents’ move into their current house 11 years ago.  The problem was, there was no key.

Until one day, exploring treasures, I found it.  One of those old fashioned hollow keys with a curlicue handle that fitted the lock exactly. The desk sprang open and inside were carefully tied bundles of letters and cards and photographs and hair ribbons and memorabilia that had been painstakingly stored by my mother’s mother’s mother.  Irreplaceable family memories locked away for posterity.

And just to think, I had so nearly taken that box of smelly linen to the tip without even checking.

Like Gan’s writing desk, I found a key to myself  this week. I read a book that referred to the “hot loneliness” of the human condition.  I gasped and lay still for a long time.

I’d always assumed loneliness was cold and isolated and lifeless. Hadn’t it felt like that? Recognising that loneliness is hot, pierced the centre of my being and connected me to myself.

My loneliness had only felt cold because I tried so hard to suppress it or obscure it.  To cover it with story, or smother it with food, or wrap it in my duvet, or – later – to extinguish it with alcohol, or vaporise it with anger, or deny it with distraction.

But I see now that my loneliness will have none of that.  My loneliness is searingly hot,  and this week since I’ve stopped all my semiconscious attempts to starve it of oxygen, it has burst through in all its fiery majesty enabling me to see it for what it is.

And I am BOILING.

Suddenly, I can’t wait to take off all the layers upon layers upon layers I have been using to try and cover it up.  This hot loneliness.  The layers have only made me hotter!   I am suffocating in here! I can’t breathe!

I need to take it all off.  Off, off, off.  No more concealing, no more quenching, no more diverting, no more reaching for a sonic boom of anger which will somehow blast it into space.  Away from me.

No, I think I am finally ready to face it for what it is.  Loneliness.  Searing, scary, intimidating, enraging, flaming, crushing, unbearably heavy. And hot.

And by loneliness, I don’t mean being alone.  I am content with my own company much of the time. Loneliness is simply the shield covering the painful, incendiary core of why we feel lonely.

Because I have God, I think I’m at last ready to acknowledge this newly understood hot loneliness for all its worth.  I’m at last in a place safe enough to say, “OK, Loneliness. You wanna show me what’s underneath? However painful it may be, I want to see it.”

The surprising thing is, now I’m ready to face reality and lifelong memory, I can’t wait to get rid of all the layers I’ve been using to hide myself from it.

I’m willing to feel loneliness melt all my carefully applied bandages and break off the hard caked substitutes I’ve plastered over myself to protect me from reality.  To keep me hidden.

Because unwrapped, nakedly me, I will be in the light. And God will be able to show me/I will be able to see who I truly am, what I truly want, where I have truly been and how God can truly use it all now for my good.

Loneliness had always been working for my good, calling me to look so that I could own my own life. Face the real pain.

I need to let loneliness do its work, reveal its core, so I no longer need its heat to remind me of what I have to face.

Because I’ll be facing it.

And it will be really me.

jsg/feb 18

The Two Sides of Freedom.

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‘Freedom’ presupposes that it follows on from something which has gone before it, which was not that.

And the nature of Freedom is two fold.

Initially, there is “Freedom From”:

Freedom from bondage.

Freedom from oppression.

Freedom from addiction.

Freedom from control.

Freedom from darkness in all its forms, if you like.

While these “Freedom From”s are fantastic, they’re not easy.

“Freedom From” entails a stripping away.  There may be relief; but there is also trauma, grief, shock, fear, destabilisation, disintegration, and then – slowly – sobering recognition of what one has really been freed from.

Being freed from, is exhausting.  You feel like you could sleep for a decade – or at least a few months – if only you could rest. But there is so much to do!  So much change.  So much admin.  So much recalibrating of your every breath.  So much reorganising of your daily existence.  (And you can multiply all of it by however many people are dependent upon you in this new-found Freedom From.)

“Freedom From” is knackering and, it seems, never ending.

BUT.

Just as you’re wailingly considering if all the grief, trauma and challenge to being set free is worth it (it is), you crest the hill.

And here, looking out, you discover the second side of freedom: the Freedom To.

For, all that climbing/all that struggling/all that offloading/all that renegotiating/all that clearing/all that healing/all that hoping has brought you here.  And I can tell you this, suddenly you will gasp.

Ahead of you is a new landscape.  Not like the old one (even if it looks the same) because you are different.  And this is your landscape now.  You can be whoever you want to be.  You can go wherever you want to go.  You can make it work however you want to make it work, because it’s up to you.

After so much work to be freed from, now at last the second side of freedom can begin – and it gives you so much energy!

Freedom to be who you suspected you might be all along but didn’t feel free enough to show it.

Freedom to try new things without judgment, scale new heights, astonish yourself with your own – freed – God-given capabilities.

Freedom to push yourself because you want to (and not because you have to).

Freedom to walk in the light of truth.  Which is surely the greatest freedom of all.

If – like me – you’ve finally reached this place,  what are you waiting for?                                                                                                         Stop looking at your future and ride on into it!

Sure there will be other valleys, other hills.  But right now? Get out there, look up at the sky, and give yourself a forest-booming blast of Nina.

For today is a new dawn.

It is a new day.

It is a new life.

And I am, aren’t you?  I’m feeling good.

 

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jsg/jan 18

 

 

 

SAY NOT.

Say not the struggle nought availeth,
     The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

     And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
     It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,

     And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
     Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,

     Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
     When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,

     But westward, look, the land is bright.

Happy New Year – BASH ON!

Josie

jsg/dec 17