A Parable from Bear: Life Lessons from a Blind Rescue Dog
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A Parable From Bear
Bringing you a little laughter and encouragement. Sometimes God uses our furry friends to teach us monumental lessons…used by permission from Pastor Mark Scott’s (Journey Church, Yorba Linda) CaringBridge post.
DISCLAIMER ONE: At some point in this story, a dog is going to show up.
DISCLAIMER TWO: I have negotiated an agreement with certain unnamed individuals that after this journal entry, I will write nothing more about my dogs, until, with as much affection and tenderness, I write about the human members of my family.
One of my favorite Old Testament stories is a rather obscure one. It takes place in the 18th chapter of the book of Jeremiah. One day, God instructs the prophet to go down to the Potters House to watch the master at work. That is all the instruction that Jeremiah receives. To his credit, he asks no questions and soon finds himself completing his assignment. He shows up and watches the potter doing his thing at the wheel, undoubtedly, the same thing that he did every day.
Watching someone make pottery – someone who actually knows what he or she is doing – is a fascinating process. I have this distant memory as a child, somewhere up around Colorado Springs, Colorado, of my parents taking us on a tour of a pottery factory. I can still remember watching a person at the potter’s wheel making wet clay into something very beautiful and useful.
However, on this particular day in 7th century, BC, in ancient Judah, something went wrong as the potter was working. Perhaps, his hand was bumped – perhaps, the wheel hung up and paused for just a moment – there is no indication at what exactly happened – but the process of spinning the mud was interrupted and, consequently, the clay became marred. However, rather than throwing it away, the potter reshaped it and made it into a completely different object than the one he had originally intended it to be.
God later explains to Jeremiah the reason he sent him to the Potter’s house. The lesson that he wanted him to grasp is that if a potter can take a marred piece of clay and turn it into something entirely different and useful than what he had originally intended it to be, God certainly can do the same thing with people’s lives, and even, nations lives. He can take the worst kinds of mistakes and create something entirely new, different, and, even, beautiful, out of surrendered failures and mistakes.
As I said, it’s a great story and it remains one of my favorites. The reason that I mention it to you is that I recently had my own potter’s house experience, which took place a few weeks ago. Only, for me, my destination wasn’t a pottery factory, but a pet store. To be more specific, it was the Petco store in Anaheim Hills, CA, where we have been purchasing Maggie’s food for the last year.
My plan that Saturday evening was to quickly run into the store, grab the bag of dog food, and get right back in my car. However, something completely unexpected took place. As I walked into the store, I noticed the pens set up at the front of the store with dogs placed for adoption. This is a regular practice at this particular store every Saturday and Sunday.
The pens that afternoon were filled with the usual suspects – yappy, nervous Chihuahuas, bouncing straight up in the air – again and again -Terriers, and a scattered number of Heinz 57’s mixed, breed dogs with dubious genetic origins. However, at the moment I looked down into one of the pens, I spotted a dog that looked nothing like the others. This dog had a spun sugar white coat, and at first glance appeared to be miniature version of, our Goldendoodle. Maggie.
I was astonished to find a dog like that among this motley looking crew of misfit mutts that Saturday afternoon. I called over one of the rescue workers and asked her about this dog. She smiled and told me, “That is one of the sweetest dogs I have ever seen but there is one problem with him”. After pausing, she looked at me with a sad smile and said, “That dog is blind.” I asked her if the dog had a name and she said, “His name is Bear”.
My heart immediately felt broken for this little guy as I considered the possibility that there might be no one coming along to adopt a blind dog. I began contemplating what it would look like if we were to give him a home. It wasn’t hard to imagine that at the very least, we might be able to save him from a compromised life – or worse – from spiraling to a countdown in some shelter that would end with his being euthanaized.
I made two photos of him with my phone, went home and told Kathy what had happened. I shared with her that while I knew it sounded crazy, I didn’t think that my ending up at the Petco store that afternoon was a mistake. Dare I say, what had just occurred was a providential intersection between Man and Beast? (I have to say that I was surprised at the lack of an eye roll from her at that particular moment.) As it turned out, Kathy was as touched by the circumstances of Bear’s sad existence as I was.
The next morning, as we were getting ready to leave for church, she made the following remark to me. She said, ”I prayed about this matter last night before falling asleep and again this morning before getting up. If that dog is still there after church, we are bringing him home”. Wow, I remember thinking. That was not an interrogative hypothesis – that was a declaration of intent.
After church, we drove over to the Petco store but discovered that the rescue group with the dogs had not yet arrived. We decided to have lunch with our niece, Leslie, and two other friends from our church who are dog lovers. We sat at a nearby restaurant within walking distance and discussed if what we were considering doing was the result of a moment of impetuousness or an act of true compassion. The consensus was, of course, that I am nuts but that was a separate matter than the possible dog adoption.
After completing our lunch, we headed back over to the pet store, walking in the rain, to see if Bear was still a part of the team of dogs up for adoption. A part of me was scared that we would find Bear no longer there, while, another part of my brain was coming around to the idea that there were other good families out there who might have decided to adopted him.
I was at least ten steps in front of Kathy and our friends as we walked back up to the side of the store. As I turned the corner and came around to the front of the Petco, I can see that the rescue group was now present inside the store. And, there in the corner of a pen, all by himself, was Bear. Thirty minutes later, and after writing what seemed to me to be a generous check amount whose number was appropriated by the animal rescue organization, Kathy and I became the owners of two dogs – with one of them being blind.
The weeks which have followed have been a time of transition for all of us but one in which we have zero regrets about our decision that Sunday afternoon. This happen to be our first-ever, pet adoption, but it feels like one of the best, and most correct, decisions we have ever made. Even better, Maggie may the happiest of all at the addition of the newest member of the household.
Now, to the point of my original intention of this journal entry – the making a connection between my walking into the Petco store where I found Bear – with Jeremiah’s visit to the Potter’s House.
Over the last few days, I have come to realize that, like Jeremiah, there are some things God needed me to learn from my encounter with Bear. And, perhaps, as I share them with you, they will be truths that will resonate with you about something you are going through in your own life and relationship with God. Here are three lessons I am learning from Bear.
1. A Fear Of The Unknown Can Cause You To Hide From The One Who Has Come To Rescue You
When we returned home with Bear on Sunday, it soon became clear that he had an affinity for Kathy, and for our niece, Leslie, who is currently living with us while she works at LA Children’s Hospital. In fact, the only person Bear DIDN’T trust was me. I chocked this up to the fact that all of his rescue workers were females with soft, tender voices.
I didn’t realize the extent of his fear of me until that first Monday unfolded. I had made the decision to stay home with Bear that day since Kathy and Leslie were both leaving for work. What took place once they left can be summarized in one sentence. Bear spent the entire morning hiding from me under our kitchen table.
I thought about my options and decided to respect his understandable distress. For at least an hour, I just left him alone and allowed him to rest. But, sometime around mid-morning, I decided to join Bear under the kitchen table. I cleared out a spot and sat down in front of him.
I talked to him in a soft, low voice, and eventually, was able to get him to eat by feeding him his food out of my hand. The incongruity of that moment was that Bear – who began the morning terrified of me – had in fact encountered, perhaps, the only male version of the human species that he did not need to be afraid of. Let me explain what I mean by that comment.
No one is certain what caused Bear’s blindness. It may be a congenital blindness, a birth defect, as it is often called. However, there is at some suspicion that someone struck him so hard in the face as a puppy that the blow blinded him. Whatever happened to Bear, we know that he suffers from detached retinas.
It became clear to me on that first Monday morning that this was a dog living in a constant fear of the unknown. Whatever the truth may be of Bear’s past, it was clearly going to require some time for him to become accustomed to the sound of my voice. I could only hope that in time, Bear would recognize that he never again has to be afraid when he hears me speak.
For some of us, that is an accurate description of our relationship with God. While fear is never the correct response when the Lord draws near to us, it is an understandable and a far too common reaction by some people. That fact, alone, explains why the most repeated command in the Bible is a simple one, “Fear Not”,or, “Do Not Be Afraid”. Someone has suggested that there are 365 different times when the scriptures make that command – one for every day of the year.
You may find yourself relating to God the same way Bear related to me that Monday morning, but, you don’t have to remain there. In fact, a static state of fright about your future will cause you to make the same mistake that Bear made. He assumed that trusting me might be the most dangerous thing he could do. No doubt, he feared great harm might come his way by doing so.
What he is discovering is that I have not come into his life to harm him – instead, I have come into his life to save him. It is ironic that it is Jeremiah who drives home this truth in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future“.
I intend to remain patient with Bear until he instinctively connects my voice with something that connects to that promise. As that happens, this verse from Jesus makes more sense to me. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”. (John 10:27-28)
2. Running In Fear From The Unknown Risks Making Things Much Worse.
A second interesting thing happened on my first morning with Bear. After he finished eating his food, I carried him downstairs to our garage where I opened the door. He was about to experience the outdoors around our house for the first time. We have a greenbelt just a few steps on the other side of the paved alleyway so we started walking slowly across it. When we got to the curb, he felt of it with his front paw and carefully stepped up on to the grass.
For the first five minutes, everything was going exceedingly well. He seemed to love being on the grass, he took care of business quickly, and he was following my lead on his leash. Then, it started to rain.
Since it seemed to me that we had successfully completed our mission, I began to urge with him to come along to the house with a bit of a stronger pull on his leash. And, for the first time, he resisted my wishes for him. In fact, he put his front paws in the stop position in the grass, preventing me from moving him forward, then, ducked his head down low. And in an instant, he slipped himself completely out of his harness. It only took a moment for him to realize that he was free of any constraints and he took off running, BLINDLY.
Now, it this point in the story, its important to remember two salient points. First of all, because it had begun to rain, all surrounding surfaces were very slick. Secondly, due to the hormone medications I am required to take because of my prostate cancer diagnosis, my weight has grown significantly greater over the last few months. I share those two points to paint an accurate picture for the reader of what next took place.
On one hand, we have a dog running, literally, blindly, on a greenbelt he has never circumvented before. Secondly, this dog is being chased by a large, overweight man, whose feet slip out from under him more than once as he pursues the suspect in the rain. A combination of words are expressed by this man in the hunt- words that should not be repeated in a family newspaper, or really, anywhere else.
Then, a bad decision by the dog almost becomes a life-threatening one. He bolts off of the greenbelt onto the pavement of the alleyway in a circular manner and as his paws hit the pavement, for just a moment, Bear pauses. Straight in front of him is our open garage door.
That is where I am praying he will choose to go next. Then, he cocks his head to the right. If he chooses to run that direction, he will run directly into a very busy street. That path could lead to him either being struck by a car or by gaining access to hundreds of homes where he could quickly become lost and separated from me. By the grace of God, he chooses a third option and circles back onto the greenbelt.
So, we start over again, The Michelin Man chasing a scared, blind dog. And, then, after God probably got a good chuckle of this spectacle, I imagine him lifting his index finger at one of the angels, nodding his head and saying, “Lets go help the kid”.
Because, this time, Bear crosses back onto the alleyway but runs straight into our garage. Of course, he runs under my SUV, and settles behind a tire. He does not respond to my voice to come out of the darkness and into the light. He resists my invitation to leave the solitary sanctuary of a tire for my welcoming arms of love.
There is only one thing I can do. I get on my back and do my best impression of a thin mint cookie. It must have been some sight to see if anyone had been watching that morning. The blind dog, and the large man, lying side by side, puffing hard, under the car. After a few moments of quietness, I looked at him and said one word. “Really?”
A few moments later, I slid my hands under him, pulled him to myself and we wiggled out back into the light together. It was at that very moment that I had my Potter’s House moment. As I lay there, holding him, I said these very words out loud, “Oh Lord,I have done this to you at least a hundred times.”
I began to recall the moments that I resisted his urges, ignored His calls, neglected his wishes, and shunned His plans. At least once in my life, I even turned into be a modern day Jonah, running as far as I could from Him.
Chasing Bear that day – who thought I wanted to harm him – all the while I was trying to rescue him – allowed me to understand God’s pursuit of me in a way I had never known it before.
If you are running from His love, understand something Bear taught me that rainy day. No matter where that dog had run that Monday morning, I would have chased him, followed him, pursued him, tracked him, trailed him, and tailed him, until I had found him, rescued him, liberated him, and finally, saved him. God will do no less in his loving pursuit of any of us.
3. Its Very Likely You Have Underestimated God’s Deep Affection For You.
I am not sure how to reconcile what I am about to write – I just know intuitively that it is truth. Nearly every person I have known that is a follower of Jesus believes, deep down inside, that they have let the Lord down. We are acutely aware of our shortcomings, our failures, our broken promises, and our propensity to do the same wrong things over and over again. Eventually, that awareness seems to leave us with a sense that God is probably, at his core, pretty disappointed in us – especially in light of everything he has done for us.
Without question, the greatest lesson I am learning from Bear is how great our capacity of love truly is. It may be expressed for another person or, in my case, even for another creature. From the moment I encountered Bear, I became aware of what seems to be a bottomless affection for him and a desire to do everything within my power to provide him with a home of tender-loving kindness and protected safety.
Its not like I haven’t felt affection like this in my life before. In fact, the fondness that I feel for Bear is nowhere comparable to the depth of love I have for our two sons, our two daughter-in-laws, our four grandchildren, and even our five beautiful nieces and their handsome brothers. Nothing could ever change the reality of the depth of my love for each one of them. And, yet that Grand Canyon size capacity of love for family is in no way diminished by the great affection God has placed in my heart for Bear.
What I take away from that is that God has given all of us the ability and capacity to be a much more loving person than we likely are. Let me say that again because I think it is something more than one of us needs to hear. God has given all of us the ability and capacity to be a much more loving person than we likely are.
There is something about Bear coming into my life at this particular time that seems particularly prescient. I am sure that it has something to do with my diagnosis of Stage Four metastasized prostate cancer. Maybe, it has something to do with the fact that while my disease is being checked for now, its very likely I will have to face it head on, perhaps, sooner or later. It may turn out to be something along the lines of finding out, the hard way, that God IS Enough, when it seems life is crashing in.
I now realize that it took me writing this journal entry before I could actually define and articulate it what God was up to in the matter of Bear. Now, I understand that God permitted Bear to come into my life to show me, to remind me, to reinforce within me what it feels like to HIM to love me. Me, who understands better than ever why the old hymn writers like John Newton used phrases such as, “who saved a wretch like me, or Isaac Watts who penned, “Alas, and did my Savior bleed for such a worm as I”.
Those guys GOT it when it came the revelation of the condition of sinful man. But, what they didn’t always get, is that is NOT how God looks at me or anyone else anymore who has been found, rescued, and redeemed. The greatest theological modern day worship song we sing today has these lyrics in it.
I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off theses heavy chains
And wipe away every stain now I’m not who I used to be
Because I don’t have to be the old man inside of me
‘Cause his day is long dead and gone
Because I’ve got a new name, a new life I’m not the same
And a hope that will carry me home
Oh God I’m not who I used to be
Jesus I’m not who I used to be
‘Cause I am redeemed
Thank God, redeemed
God knew I needed a reminder of what is like for Him to love me. The truth is, I have come to realize, that “I am Bear”, in a spiritual sense. I am incapable of facing the world before me based on my own strength and ability. I am as blind as Bear is when it comes to understanding the spiritual warfare that is out there against me. Like Bear, it is easy for me to fall into a pattern of decision-making driven by fear. I have spent far too many days hiding under a kitchen table or behind the tire of an automobile.
I don’t have to do that anymore. It’s ok to come up for air, to come out of the dark, and slip into his loving arms and into Him whose hands will never allow anyone or anything to snatch us away from Him. His capacity to love me, to have affection for me, to be delighted just by knowing me as his own, causes my fondness for Bear to pale by comparison. And, what is true for me is also true for you, right now, right here.
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