A month ago, I was walking my 150 pound Bernese Mountain Dog, Max. Generally speaking Max is a mild mannered, gentle giant. That is except when he sees other dogs. Max and I have been working on proper edict while walking past other dogs and he was getting much better. Usually when I see another dog coming, I pull Max’s retractable leash in and I get between Max and the on-coming animal and prevent him from crossing in front of me and interacting with the other dog.
Unfortunately, the other day, I had my MP3 player out and was searching for music and did not notice that there was a group of dog walkers coming down the hill. Suddenly Max took off. Since I had not pulled the leash in, he gained some momentum and he pulled me over and I landed on my right side cracking two of my ribs.
For the past month, I have not been able to walk Max without experiencing pain. Yesterday, I decided to push past the pain and walk Max and as I did I tried to figure out what lesson God might want me to learn from this whole experience.
Is the lesson that I should not listen to music while walking Max? I reminded myself that the main reason I walk is to relax and gain perspective and as I listen to Christian artists, they generally help me find that perspective. I have been walking and listening to contemporary Christian music for over 20 years, long before Max came along. The music has always been a central element my walking experience and often turns what some would see as a simple form of exercise into a worship experience.
Another alternative would be to keep Max on a short leash at all times and not allow him to explore his surroundings as we walk. While this would likely solve the problem, I know from experience, it would result in him constantly pulling me which would make the walk unpleasant for both him and me.
Some might suggest that I simply take the leash off Max and let him go where he pleases. While both Max and I might find this option the most pleasurable for us, my neighbors and fellow dog walkers would not be so thrilled with this option. Max has a tendency to jump on people and knock over small children. He would also cause other animals to pull on their masters which would likely result in injury to others.
The option I choose yesterday was to attempt to train Max not to take off after other dogs. We have a training collar that administers sudden shocks when I press a red button but only a warning sound when I press a green button. It only took one touch of the red button to convince Max to stay in line. While this method worked well during our walk yesterday, I was hyper vigilant in watching out for on coming dogs and really did not enjoy the walk. The ache in my ribs combined with the constant fear of being injured, was not conducive to a pleasant experience let alone a worshipful one. I think Max felt the same way. While he was obedient, he was not as spirited and just seemed to go through the motions without the joy. So what is a girl with a monstrous dog to do?
Some would say “Don’t walk the dog.” While this sounds like a reasonable response considering that my walks are more about my own health than about the dogs, I have gotten somewhat attached to his companionship and something would be missing if I headed out without him. His sad puppy dog eyes staring at me as I left him in the back yard would result in an immense level of guilt which would spoil my walking experience.
There is one final option. Have someone else walk with me and Max. If there were two of us, I could relax knowing that if he took off again, there would be someone there to help keep me up right and perhaps the person walking with me could take the leash when I wanted to change my music.
As I prayed and walked yesterday, I realized that God was trying to use my fall to teach me about something far more important than my dog. Embrace Richmond is like my walks, it started as a personal desire to grow in my faith, it grew into a ministry and has become my passion. One element of Embrace is a furniture bank which has become much like Max. It grew way to fast, takes up a ton of my energy trying to keep it moving in the right direction, and it inflicts pain on a regular basis. It does not mean to, it just is too big and I do not have the time to properly train it. It needs someone to gently teach it but all I have time for is the shock collar method.
I have three choices; One, I could close it down; two, I could expend more energy trying to run it on a tighter leash; or three, I can invite someone else to take control so that I can focus on the elements that are more central to Embrace, the elements that like my music during my walks, feed my spirit.
I have chosen option three. I have decided we need to hire a Director for The Community Sharehouse, Virginia’s only furniture bank. It is not that the furniture bank is bad; like Max it has a good soul. It is simply too big for me and as much as I have prayed for the strength to continue on, I feel God saying it’s time to let go. My spiritual ribs have been cracked and the constant pulling and tugging on me is preventing them from healing. I need someone else to take the lead from me.
What does this mean for me? It means that I am going to focus more on developing the spiritual elements of Embrace and will be hiring someone to focus on the business elements of CARITAS Works, the entity that now houses the furniture bank. It means that for a while, both agencies will experience even tighter financial constraints as we take on the additional cost of a director. Long term I am not sure what role I will play at CARITAS Works. All I know is that I have to have time to enjoy the music or I will only feel the pain. I know keeping things the way they are is not healthy for me, Max, Embrace or CARITAS Works.
Some might find it strange to look for a lesson in cracked ribs but generally speaking God always uses pain to teach me. I don’t think that God chooses to inflict pain upon me, I think it is more the result of me not listening and seeking answers until the pain becomes unbearable. I really wish I were not so stubborn but like Max I need a short leash and a shock every now and then to stay on the right path.
What pain are you trying to understand in you life? If you listen closely, you just might find the answers you seek.