I’ve had a lot of loud, bombastic, in-your-face type teachers and I have learned a lot of from them. But I have to say that the lessons that have changed me though and through have come from those with gentle hearts. The best teachers are always the most humble ones. One such teacher that stands out in my mind is our family dog, Cisco. He was a large mixed breed with an incredibly bushy coat and huge paws. A “noble soul” as a friend called him.
He loved being outdoors. The weather didn’t particularly matter to him because of his thick fur that shielded him from cold and rain. In the summer, he would simply escape the heat by lying under the deck in the dirt. One thing he truly loved was going for a walk. Because of hectic family and work schedules, we never had a set time for walks. in fact, most days he just loved to lounge in our large backyard and chased rabbits, squirrels and the occassional deer for excersize. Whichever family member was home and had the time, would take the dog for a walk. This meant that the poor dog never knew when to expect it. Nevertheless, he would jump up excitedly whenever he saw someone holding his leash. He could be ready to go at a moment’s notice even if he was in a deep sleep when you called him. Everyone in the household knew that you had to be very careful when using the “w” word as it would cause an eighty pound dog to rush at you and pull you towards the door. Now, when was the last time that i was so excited about something? Middle age can cause things to slow down but i don’t want that to be an excuse to lose the sheer fun of the simple things that i enjoy. I want my heart to race when my husband unexpectedly reaches for my hand. i want to be unable to suppress the smile when i see my kids pull in the driveway (even if they were only out for a few minutes). I want laughter to overflow when i meet up with an old friend and we reminisce about days gone by. That’s a good lesson to learn and remember, thanks Cisco.
I find myself remembering one walk that we took about two years ago. Cisco was starting to develop arthritis in his back legs and we found that we needed to shorten his walks. Instead of going around the whole block i would cut through the local elementary school parking lot with him. This day we went out about noontime. The sky was blue, the air crisp and cold with about an inch of snow underfoot. A perfect winter’s day that Cisco loved. As we turned the corner into the school, a bus turned with us. Cisco heard the bus before he even saw it. To him, that familiar rumbling was the sound of the big yellow box that took his boy away each morning and then brought him back each day. His ears were alert and twitching as he listened to the engine getting closer. When he saw the school bus, he ran to catch up with it. The bus pulled up to the front of the school and stopped. We were walking on the other side of the road and Cisco pulled me until we were parallel with the bus. He stopped and pranced back and forth a bit. A soft, little whimpering of excitement was heard as he intently watched that bus waiting for his boy to emerge. Two other buses pulled up behind the first. They were lining up to take the half-day kindergarten students home. But the dog didn’t know that. He only knew that this was the same bus that took his boy away each day and returned him each afternoon. He fully expected that to happen now. Cisco knew his job. When that bus rolls up, he is up and running to the door, tail wagging, to greet his friend. It took some doing to coax the dog away from those buses but he eventually figured it out and we continued on our walk. Crazy thing is that he would react like that every time he heard the bus slow down outside the house. We live on a main road and those buses come by often but he would only get excited when he could hear the bus slowing down and stopping. This was his job, to love his family and look out for us. Oh, that we could be so devoted to a job that is put before us. Cisco taught me what determination looks like, that ability to finish the job you are given because you care about the people who are depending on you to do that job. Thanks, again, puppy.
Did i mention that Cisco was a big boy? We were told when we adopted him from the shelter that he was a border collie mix and would grow to around 40 pounds. He certainly looked like a collie and had many collie traits but size was not one of them. We knew we were in trouble when he hit the 40 pound mark around 6 months old and had paws that were bigger than his head! Still, our lovable goofball fit right into our family,so we bought a larger food dish and heavier leash as he continued to grow. His adult size was right around 80 pounds of fluff. He was a strong protector of the family with only one real fear. He hated loud noises. Thunderstorms, firecrackers and smoke alarms would completely unnerve him. He would try to crawl up on my lap at such times. I would comfort him, but trying to convince him that he was not a lap dog was a lesson i don’t think i ever really got through to him. But he did teach me something. When he was scared, he went right to his master, the one he knew he could depend on for love, comfort and strength. This is a hard one for humans to comprehend. We all have a security blanket to reach for when times get tough. For me, it’s chocolate, for others it may be something good like a trusted friend or something bad like alcohol. And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that the first place we should go to for help is our own Master, God Almighty, Jesus Christ, Lord of all, whatever you want to call HIm, but He is the one with all the answers and who has asked you to let Him be your strong tower in times of trouble. Silly, foolish people and oh, so wise puppy.
Cisco is no longer with us. Arthritis, cataracts, and finally bleeding tumors got the worst of him but he had one final lesson for me. The day before he died, he wanted to play with me. He had gotten a toy for Christmas just a few days before. I can’t even remember the last time he wanted to play fetch and he surprised me when he nudged my arm. I was sitting at my desk and he picked up his toy and came over to me. He softly growled as i tried to pull it from his mouth and i realized that he was barely holding on to it. I threw it a few feet and he stiffly walked over, picked it up and returned to me. His deep brown eyes were focused on my face, eagerly waiting for me to throw it again with his tail wagging. So I did, just a few feet. He retrieved the toy, turned to look at me and then slowly sunk down on the rug with his distinctive “hmmph” sound. I didn’t realize what he was trying to teach me then, but i get it now. It was the most important lesson that he had for me. He wanted me to know how much he loved me, enough to still play with me even as his body was winding down and each movement caused him pain. He wanted that one last time to make me smile. He put his love for his family above his own comfort. So, here’s his last lesson for me: LOVE. Love regardless of what is happening in your own world. Love beyond what you may think your ability to love is. Love.
If I speak with tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.
1 Corinthians 13:1