When I moved to Nashville three months ago I knew that living alone in a new city was not going to be my ideal situation. To make the transition easier I thought about the possibility of adopting a dog. I had a few dogs growing up but of course the real work of raising a puppy was done solely by my parents, with my job consisting mainly of playing with them and occasionally taking them on walks.
After a few weeks of being in my new place I knew a dog would be just what I needed, so I decided to take a trip to visit a local animal shelter. The plan was to get a dog that was at least a year or two because nobody has time for potty training and raising a puppy.
Well, jokes on me. The fourth time to the shelter I saw this little tri-colored timid puppy (which I know now he was trying to trick me with his calm demeanor so I’d get him, sigh). When I held him he burrowed his little head in my arm which = heart melted/no turning back.
Here I was walking out of a shelter with an eight week old puppy feeling like a new mom leaving the hospital with her new baby who had no idea what she’s doing or how she was going to keep this little thing alive.
So, like any responsible adult I called my mom and told her what I had done, and how I hadn’t thought twice about all the things I would need to buy, the vaccinations, the potty training, etc. All I knew was that he was adorable and was going to be my perfect little companion in this new and sometimes scary season of life.
I’m happy to report that three months later both he (Nash, named appropriately), and I are still alive. It was touch and go there for a minute but we’ve made it through. As I’m reflecting back on the first three months of having a puppy there have been some meaningful things I’ve learned along the way (including how much more understanding and respect I have for all the moms out there to human babies!) You are the real heroes.
1. A Fresh Perspective on Freedom
When you look at a puppy they are the perfect picture of freedom. When I take Nash anywhere and walk by anyone he goes into full-on tail-wagging-excitement, ready to kiss the face off of anyone that will come over and show him some attention.
However, this new perspective on freedom was more about realizing that because I loved him, it was almost instinctually that I would exercise restraint as his caregiver. I didn’t allow him the freedom to run and jump on every person that walked by, or let go of his leash and allow him to run around in the road. It’s this renewed understanding that true freedom involves boundaries.
When I think about God, and the seasons of waiting and trusting we often find ourselves in, we can feel like God is withholding, neglecting, or overlooking us. But God knows more than anyone that for us to live in true freedom it means providing parameters around how, when, and what enters our lives. What we can perceive as rejection is God protecting us from something that could potentially steal our freedom.
God’s love is jealous over what will keep us truly free and at peace. So, just as I exercise restraint with the little puppy I love, how much more will God do the same with us whom he died for?
2. The Importance of Repetition
I remember the first time I took Nash outside in the hopes that he would go the bathroom on the grass and not on my white rug. He sat down on the grass, looked at me as if to say, “this is nice, but what are we doing here”?, and started listening to the birds chirping in the trees.
I thought, “Oh God, that’s it, my dog will never be potty trained and will only ever go the bathroom on my white rug.” Dramatic? Maybe. But when you start off on any new endeavor it feels like there is no way you’re going to make any progress.
However, with each day that passed he and I figured it out, and even though I’ve had to steam clean my white rug like a hundred times, when I take him outside he knows just what he’s supposed to do.
As humans we aren’t much different. We need the constant reinforcement and repetition of truth that defies the lies we’ve heard and even spoken over ourselves. It’s no coincidence that the Bible says that, “faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God”. (Romans 10:17) Our faith in God, in his plan, in who He says we are all comes from the repetition of hearing His voice.
Also, just as bad habits are formed through repetition, new and healthy habits form in the same way…one day at a time. I always tell my clients that progress doesn’t always feel like progress, but then you look back and realize that with the repetition of each day you’ve come so much farther than you thought.
3. How Much We Value Other’s Perceptions of Us
Whenever I go to the dog park and he does something “impolite” like jumping on someone right after he’s just rolled around in the mud, or nibbles with his razor sharp puppy teeth on some stranger’s arm, I immediately feel responsible and embarrassed.
What I’ve realized is that because I’m his primary caretake, what he does or doesn’t do reflects back on me. And I’m realizing how Nash has become an extension of how other people see me. I can’t even imagine how much mothers to actual humans go through this. Say your kid is losing his mind in the grocery store and having the tantrum of all tantrums…I would imagine you could feel the hot arrows of judgement and opinions of the mothers walking by.
Since a child or (in my case) animal’s behavior reflects back on us, it could change the way we treat the people or things in our care. Let’s say for a mom, their child is well-behaved so therefore the mom is loving and kind. But what happens when their child loses their mind in public and completely embarrass them? Will she then be mean and condemning?
I’ve found that what we care about and how we care for those things reveals a lot about where our motives and intentions are. When we’re required to care for someone else above and before ourselves it stretches our patience and reveals how much we desperately need to rely on something so much stronger and bigger than ourselves.
All that to say, I’m grateful that I’m able to start this journey of caretake with a puppy, because being a parent to an actual human is probably one of the hardest but most valuable jobs in the world.