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 hardy daffodil.

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Daffodil bulbs look like nothing.

And when they start to sprout through the soil, they could be mistaken for any other flower. Indistinctive green shoots.

But they’re faithful to their growth and – in spite of rain and snow and windy weather – they burst forth in March exactly when we need them.

Fierce little flowers, they never give less than their best.  Have you ever seen a half-hearted daffodil?

Brilliant in colour, relentlessly outstretched, reaching for the sun. Especially piercing in beauty against a cornflower blue sky yet still able to brighten up the dreariest of days.

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Undaunted by inhospitable environments, they bloom where they’ve been planted.

Daffodils teach me a lot about patience.  And trust.  And doing what you know to do.  And being who you are.  Just because it looks like nothing is happening doesn’t mean nothing is.  Daffodils grow for a long time beyond the scope of human sight.

Then just when you think Winter will never end, suddenly Spring. It’s not “all over” at all! New life has, actually, only just begun.

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No wonder daffodils are associated with Easter.

Rebirth.

New beginnings.

Resurrection.

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I turn my face to the Son and reach up to stretch out and bloom.

Just like them.

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jsg/march 18

The gift of being in need.

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I love to give. It’s easy for me.

I’m not a saint, it’s just that there’s instant gratification to giving.  Not because of the response but because it feels so great to take from what is mine and contribute it somewhere else. To do something that’s not about me. That is worth doing simply because it’s worth doing and I am able to do it.  Freely!

Not just material things.  It could be time and talent, patience and compassion, grace and mercy, prayer.

I don’t think I give because it makes me feel good. I think I give because there is a transactional gratitude in doing so.  I’m here, I’m alive, and I’m grateful to the One who made it so. So if I become aware of a need, I can choose to (I don’t always) do something about it. The act feels good in itself, so feeling good about doing it is an added bonus.

I also love the fact that giving is exclusively relational. There is no giving without relationship (even if it’s just a bubble bath and the relationship is with myself.)

Giving is something that can only be chosen.  It’s like love. You can only give if you want to.  Giving when you’ve been asked is quite safe, there’s a structure in place.  Giving of your own volition is more risky but your heart may desire to give it anyway. And there is still blessing in the giving no matter how it’s received.

What is far trickier is receiving. UGH! Much much harder.  How much I would rather give. So much more under my control, so much less vulnerable.  But, through my marriage, the Lord showed me something crucial about receiving.

When I was married, we were often desperately in need of money.  This was a new experience for me.  I had been materially comfortable all my life, I had never had to wonder where I would live or what I would eat.  Then all of that changed, and it was made even more intense by the fact I’d become a mother.

Formerly, I had loved being on the prayer chain at our church to provide meals for new moms or a family in need.  I loved being able to help.  But suddenly here I was, in desperate need myself, over a lo-o-ong period of time.

Friends and family were amazing.  Costco boxes of diapers and bags of food appeared on our doorstep.  Envelopes of cash addressed to me were pushed through our door or placed under my plate at lunch.  One Christmas a friend gave us a tree, another friend sent their kids through the doggy door to put presents underneath it and another drove across town on Christmas Eve to hide a toy train table under a tarpaulin on the back porch from Santa.

I taught a bible study to a group of amazing older women and regularly, for several of those years, I would arrive home after class to find grocery gift cards and cash had been secretly slipped into every pocket imaginable in my purse.

I would weep and weep and weep with gratitude. What could I possibly offer in return?
And what would we have done without all that practical love and support?

Even so, the need to receive and not be able to give back all the time was painful. It was not what I would have chosen.

Needing to receive, stripped away my pride, my sense of entitlement, and my self-sufficiency.  It was agony.  All my defences were gone, I was exposed and it was like having my skin stripped off leaving me naked. Really naked.

However, God revealed something truly invaluable to me through that season. That by receiving help, I was not doing nothing. My (enforced!) humility and gratitude were in fact giving to our givers in return, by allowing them to give.  And the relationships that were forged through that vulnerability are extraordinary.

“It’s all about grace in receiving,” the Lord said to me one day.

Grace in receiving requires humility, and so the gratitude is all the sweeter for it.

There is a gift to being in need.  You’re not just a big fat loser.  It may be you who’s in need today – but it might be me tomorrow! The gift of being in need is that you can give someone else the gift of being able to help you. It’s a gift to be needed, to be known.

So let people love you. Your time will come to be on the less vulnerable side of giving.  But in the meantime? Give by how you receive.

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

 

 

 

How do you view your life?

Yesterday, I drove past a crash on a twisty country road.  Twenty minutes later, I arrived at my destination and discovered I had a completely flat rear tire.

I had to call breakdown recovery, and my membership had run out.  They discovered I had driven over a screw (pic).  They plugged the tire, I paid for my membership and the one off call out fee which it didn’t cover: £139.00. I was not expecting that.

Today, I had to buy two new rear tires (so they had equal treads).  £320 unexpected quid out of my budget. I was not expecting that.

This evening, my daughter got a last minute invitation. I dashed out of the house thinking I could drop her on my way to the grocery store to buy food for dinner and pick up my son.

After I dropped her, I couldn’t find my wallet. I looked under the seats, I checked the sidewalk. No shopping for me – had I lost it somewhere?? I was not expecting that.

I was so distracted worrying about the wallet, I rolled into the car in front of me at the traffic lights. In the rain, in the dark.  NO.  I jumped out.  No major damage but he had a little girl in the car and it had given them a hard bump. I had no wallet – so I had no details. I was not expecting that.

I got to my son – late.  I had kept the other mother waiting on her way to work, while I’d pranged someone else’s car.

How should I respond to all this?

Oh woe is me! I’m a single mother, all the pressure is on me, all the responsibility and all the provision!

Who leaves a bloody nail on the road?

Who loses their purse?

Why can’t I get it together?

OR

It “occurred” to me last week (Holy Spirit?) that I needed to renew my breakdown recovery membership. I forgot to do it.

I drove over a nail, and only discovered it when I had arrived in the driveway of a friend.

The breakdown recovery showed up quickly and found a nail in my tire, which he could plug.  I had money in my account to pay for the repair, and I got to renew my membership at the same time.

Today, I replaced my two rear tires.  It was expensive, but they should last for 30,000 miles and both tires were evidently wearing thin. And today (though the expense was unexpected) I have the money.

My daughter was unexpectedly invited by a friend.  A new friendship.  I was able to get her there.

I mislaid my purse and rolled into another car.  Mercifully no one was injured, and it woke me up to how distracted I was. Not only that but the driver – an Australian dad – was so incredibly kind to me. “It happens, don’t worry. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He believed me, he took my phone number.

When I picked up my son, the mother who was waiting was gracious.  “Here’s the £5 I owe you!” she said. I had forgotten.

I had needed my wallet to buy chicken for dinner and a lightbulb for my desk.  The chicken was on sale for £3.00 and when I got to the store for the lightbulb?  They were reduced by 2/3 to £1.00 a box and I could get two.

£5.00 to the penny.

Here’s what I think: I’m trying, but I fail.  On days like today, I feel like a hot mess. I am a hot mess. But you know what? I have a saviour who loves me JUST BECAUSE.

Nails happen.

I forget my purse.

I’m working with a budget.

I’m making mistakes.

I’m trying to be a good role model.

But what I’m really modelling is this.  I’m reliant on a Saviour who knows how many holes I have in my net, and that’s why He came.  I’m trying hard but I’ve only got me to work with.  And sometimes that is not too much. Without Him?  I’m actually doing nothing.

God got me to the driveway.

I had the money NOW to pay for membership.

I had the money NOW to pay for tires.

I make mistakes, I rolled into the car in front of me. I was distracted.  The man was gracious.

I lost my wallet. My mum friend gave me (unknowingly) the exact money I needed to feed my family and light my desk even so.

I’m home. We’re safe. We’re still moving forward.

God is good.

He‘s in the details.

He weaves the patterns of my days.

And my days are – so clearly in spite of myself – infused by grace.

When I got home, I found my wallet on the kitchen table.  Where I’d left it as we ran out the door.

How do you view your life?

I view my life as the very imperfect existence of a human being in the hands of a gracious, forgiving, redemptive God.

How about you?

 

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

Weighted.

“Don’t be daunted.” I hear the whisper in my head. “Focus on This.  This day.  This moment.  This task. This intention.”

I glance at the New Year and look down again quickly.  It’s too much.  Not humanly possible. Not for me.

I stare at the ceiling and consider the weight of my own responsibilities. I feel their heft.  All on me.

Nothing to do but lie down and close my eyes to sleep.

Suddenly my eyes shoot open. I feel the substance of the load, but it is balanced. How come I feel it sit squarely and steadily upon my shoulders? My body bracing it? How come I am not crushed or flailing?

I lie and wait to understand before I get it. The load is balanced because it does not fall solely on me. I am yoked. There is another side.

My side, my weight, keeps me in place.  Close.

“Ohhh,” I sigh. “OK.”

I wait for Your lead.  I cannot fling myself forward or flail around blindly or throw everything at the wall or look back and agitate. My load will chafe.

However, if I move when You move?  Do as You do? See what You see? Think as You think?

Oh OK. That — I can see — is doable.

I am reminded now.  We can do this.

Together.

 

josie/dec 17