Yes to Grizzly. Yes to God.
I carry pepper spray on my keychain and sometimes I have a loaded 38 in my purse. This is not the me I’m accustomed to living with and not the world I’m used to inhabiting. But lately, I’m living a new narrative, one of admitting my fear and weakness.
When my husband arrived at the scene after my attempted assault, the first two sentences out of my mouth were, “I want a gun. I want a German Shepherd.” I have no idea why I said that. My counselor friend who studies brain science says I was in shock, that what I said in those first few hours came not from my thinking brain but from a deeper place where the survival instincts dwell. It was my amygdala talking, the “fight or flight” part that processes everything in terms of “Is this a threat?” Were there to be a next time, my primal brain wanted more resources than my fifty-four-year-old, five-foot-one-inch frame with a loud mouth.
Brain science aside, I asked myself later why I said that. Why those particular things? I’ve never wanted a gun nor a German Shepherd. In the last ten weeks, I have acquired both.
Recently, I was approached about a German Shepherd available for adoption. My first thought when I saw his picture was how scary he looked. He’s huge, black, and his name is Grizzly. His large ears almost come together as one when he perks them up. His picture had the same imposing presence as the gun in my purse. I wasn’t sure I could handle such a dog, and yet pretty sure nobody would touch me if I had him.
I showed my husband his picture, prayed about it, then put it out of my mind for awhile. Human wisdom and common sense told me I had two dogs already and a daughter’s wedding on the horizon. It’s crazy to get another dog right now! But Wally, the Schnauzer, can’t walk on a leash more than 500 yards before he wants to be carried; and for personal protection, he is more liability than asset. Pancho, our trusty Chow-mix who guards the yard, is elderly with two compromised ACLs. Her bark is still good but her leash-walking days are behind her.
I kept Grizzly’s picture on my phone and looked at it every few days. Was this crazy? Or was this an opportunity to trust God when the wisdom of the world was foolish and His “foolishness” was wise? My friend called. This dog was in training to be a service dog, but was flunking out because his guarding instincts were too strong. In my new reality, is there such a thing as too strong of a guard? My friend asked would I like to try him out for a few days with my other dogs. He would be a wonderful companion dog for someone who has experienced trauma, she said. I still can’t believe that is me sometimes.
“I’m surprised you have time for a new dog right now,” my dear aunt wrote. I don’t. I’m completely trusting that this dog is a gift to me, that there is not a scarcity of time in my life, and that God is showing up for me in the moments and hours with Grizzly.
My morning routine of lighting a candle, sipping my coffee and dwelling in silence, reading and journaling has been completely upended. My first duty after making a cup of coffee is to let Grizzly out of his kennel to relieve himself and stretch his legs. That means my first twenty minutes of the day is now in the yard playing fetch.
I looked in his eyes on the third morning he was with me and realized how different that week had looked from last week. My devotional books sat unopened and journal entries were few. And yet I felt as close to heaven as I ever do when he would return to me, stick in mouth, looking me straight in the eyes longing for my approval as he dropped his prize at my feet.
"What might you have to show me of yourself, O God, in my moments with this dog?” This was my morning prayer, whispered while I knelt in the wet grass praising him for his obedience. “What truth is coming to liberate me embodied in this shiny coat and running on these giant paws?”
Be willing to let your life change. The answer seemed to come back.
I’d spent the first night on the sofa in the room with his kennel because he was whining in the dark and unfamiliar room, keeping the rest of the family awake. At first I thought I’d sneak out of the room, but every time I moved I’d see him lift his head and point those giant ears straight up. He was watching me, constantly listening for me.
I’ve been adjusting my daily routine to accommodate playtime, feedings, brushing his coat, exercise and reinforcing his training. It’s put me behind on my normal routine and chores. I’m tempted to frustration, but then remember that I have to make room in my life for this new thing, this relationship, this companion. This dog of mine. I have to let my life change.
Between January 6th and March 18th I could count on one hand the number of nights I have slept without waking up several times. Then Grizzly came - with his voracious appetite and need to be near me and demands on my time - and I began to sleep all night. I cannot explain that. It’s grace.
After our first night together in the den, I returned to my bedroom and we both have slept peacefully since. I had not been consciously afraid at night. My husband was there. My home is safe. But good sleep has returned to me since this dog showed up.
It wasn’t “Change your life” -an active voice command where I am the agent of change. It was passive voice; someone else is doing the action and I am receiving it. Let…be willing to let your life change….It’s an acceptance of what is, a surrender to the unknown future, a willingness to proceed where I cannot see and to embrace what comes to me unbidden.
I walked the labyrinth with this phrase in my head and heart the next day, confessing my fear and grieving my loss of control. I do not know where God is taking me in this new journey. I cannot see the center while I’m winding back and forth on the path. I suspect that Be willing to let your life change has much bigger implications than just my daily routine with a giant new dog; but for now, he's a beginning, a place to say Yes.
Yes to Grizzly. Yes to God.