Dog training 101

Last summer I was fortunate to get a beautiful golden retriever puppy, Sunny, who is now seven months old. We are training her to be a therapeutic visitation dog. Yesterday Sunny and I had our first training session with our coach. Sharon uses positive reinforcement techniques to train a dog to remain attentive by its master’s side, constantly looking to its master for cues on what to do and how to behave throughout the day.

As we went through our training exercises together, I was struck by the similarities between the skills Sunny needs to learn and how we are to live as followers of Christ. Sunny learned “watch me” – she has to maintain regular eye contact with me whenever we are together. Then came “take it” and “leave it” – she now has boundaries about which things are good for her to take (dog treats and her toys) and which items she should ignore (sneakers and dirty socks are at the top of that list). Her main job, however, is to remember that I’m her master and she needs to take her cues from me. Sunny belongs to me, but sometimes she forgets and tries to direct my behaviour instead of letting me be in charge.

As Christians living in a hyperactive world, sometimes we need to pause and remember that we belong to God, not the other way around. Our job is to watch Jesus at work around us and join him in what he is doing, not to go our own way and do our own thing. We need to be attentive to the things in our lives that are good for us to take and the things we should leave behind.

In Hebrews 12 the Apostle Paul gives us the proper perspective:

And let us… fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12:2)

We belong to him.

Light is Everything

“…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”      (Matt 4:16)

Light is an amazing thing. Every morning it cuts through the darkness and lights up the heavens, marking the beginning of a new day. It exposes everything in its path; nothing can hide from it. Light illuminates, revealing things unseen, and it also cleanses. Anyone who’s hung laundry outside can attest to light’s power in bleaching out stains, making the dingiest whites fresh again. Light sustains us, helping our bodies produce the vitamin D we need to live. And light reflects whatever it touches, revealing bits of us to those who surround us.

Light is pure, powerful, and unrelenting. Light is everything.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”     (John 1:4-5)

As Christmas approaches, let’s take time to remember all that Christ’s birth brings to our lives and our world.

“For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.”      (Ps 56:13)

Is This All?

Many years ago, when I was just a little girl, my family travelled to my grandparents’ home one province over for the holidays. Christmas eve unfolded in its typical fashion. My grandparents’ home, although modest by today’s standards, twinkled with coloured lights, tinsel, and all the Christmas trimmings. My grandmother and mother set a beautiful holiday table with candles and special linens and we feasted on a turkey dinner. Dinner was barely complete when we rushed over to the tree to open our gifts, and then, sitting amidst the piles of shredded wrapping paper, we nibbled on my grandmother’s amazing Danish baking.

As the evening drew to a close, my little six-year-old heart grew discontent. My family had not attended the Christmas eve service that year. I suspect the women were more than happy to put up their feet after a long day of preparations and avoid the hassle of bundling up the family to attend a crowded church service.

I snuck off into my grandparents’ spare bedroom and plopped down on the bed, bereft. My Mom found me a while later, eyes brimming with tears. When she asked me, “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” all I could croak out was “Is this all?”

At that young age I wasn’t able to articulate what the “all” was, but I knew something was missing. My father thought I was complaining about the gifts they’d bought me – I still remember the disappointment in his eyes – but quite the opposite was true. Even children realize that Christmas is about much more than a special meal, sweet treats, and gifts nestled under the tree. The old hymn, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, captures the true meaning of the season perfectly.

Hark the herald angels sing,

Glory to the newborn king.

Peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled

Light and life to all he brings,

Risen with healing in his wings…

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

What a promise. Second birth… new beginnings… life with God through Christ Jesus.

This is the all.

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manager.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Christmas Expectations

With the first Sunday in Advent just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about Christmas and all that it entails. This year will be different. My father passed away in February, making this the first Christmas without either of my parents. Past traditions take on new meaning: bundling up for the annual trek to the greenhouse to buy poinsettias – Dad always liked the red ones the best…Mom’s red cabbage – who would have thought that cabbage could smell and taste like love…shopping together for gifts for a disadvantaged family in our area…listening to my father read the story of Jesus’ birth to our children on Christmas Day and give thanks before the meal.

Blessing and sorrow often intermingle freely in the push and pull of human life, but I’m finding it difficult to reconcile the sadness that lurks in my heart with the celebration of Christ’s birth and the hope it brings. I wanted to make “joy” my watchword for this advent season, but my spiritual director, Sr. Marie, convinced me otherwise. “That’s too ambitious for this year,” she said. “How about peace?” She shared a poem with me by Joyce Rupp. This fragment is a beautiful prayer for those of us missing loved ones this Christmas, as we struggle to fill the empty space their loss has left behind.

Guardian of the Grieving,
lift up my sad heart.
Let me find laughter
in the midst of my loss.
Let me find hope
in the midst of my sadness.
Let me find comfort
in the midst of my emptiness.
Let me find meaning
in the midst of the confusion.
Let me find you,
ever-vigilant Beloved,
as my shelter and my solace.
Sustain my aching heart.
(Joyce Rupp, Prayer 19, Prayers to Sophia)

He will.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)