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When We Humans Find Ourselves Barking at Everything

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My otherwise laid-back, lazy, happy-go-lucky Shih Tzu Samson couldn’t care less about much most days. The world goes on around him, and he sometimes gets up to engage, but he’s often very content just to lay in his warm bed and give us a toothy grin or a quick glance of acknowledgment. Unlike his high-strung sister Delilah, he is easy to be around, low-maintenance, easy-going.

Except when he perceives something different outside as a threat. 

Usually this is a trash tote at the end of my neighbor’s driveway or a lawn mower my husband left out in the yard for a time. Sometimes it’s a squirrel, turkey, or deer, but most of the time it’s an inanimate object casting a shadow that isn’t usually there and therefore is a threat.

Samson can sit at our window-paneled door for 20 minutes solidly barking away at said “threat.” I often wonder if he finds it confusing that the trash can and/or lawn mower don’t therefore scurry immediately off—or at all.

And when I watch him going crazy for a while, spending all of whatever little energy he has being fierce protector against a mythical enemy, I see myself.

I see all of us.

How often do we, in times of stress, bat at everything in sight in front of us, viewing everything as a perceived threat?

How often do we live in attack mode, ready to pounce? This subject is touched on in “What Scaring Turkeys and Catastrophic Thinking Have in Common,” but looking at it from a slightly different angle: Whom are we screaming at, coming against, jumping on, cutting off, and defending ourselves against, when really, that person is just a lawn mower—coming to, of all things, mow the lawn?

I think so often we do this to those closest to us, with whom we are most comfortable, because we know they’re here to stay, and we need to attack something, after all, and they’re a ready, available, easy target. But I also think we run around in times of stress seeing everyone and everything as the enemy, against us, ready to snatch our time, money, or resources. Dumb as it sounds, it could be the driver in front of us some days whose mission, we’re convinced, is to keep us from getting to that appointment on time. (Yeah, because we know perfect strangers wake up every day plotting to make our lives difficult.)

Or maybe it’s the child coming into the room for math homework help when we finally sat down to pay a bill that’s overdue. Or maybe we just took our first few sips of coffee that afternoon? Maybe we were about to “get our peace on,” and they came into the only time of quiet we have had all day.

Could it be the phone call coming in from a friend who might need help? Do we see that as a drain, a struggle, a time suck, a distraction, keeping us from something else? Something we are frantically trying to cross off our to-do list?

What about the well-meaning neighbor kid coming to the door to sell popcorn for a cause? Is it his fault dinner is burning, our phone is ringing, the toilet is clogged, and the husband is home late?

How about the husband who just walked in the door and straight into Mama Rage without warning because an injustice in the kids’ world needed to be set right, and he’s the first adult she encountered since her anger started smoldering?

Not always, but often, our short, sharp, barky replies in response to anything that moves—or even things that don’t but we think they should!—are the result of us being way…too…busy and overplanned. And when we realize for a fleeting second that we are not God and can’t possibly accomplish all we set out to do that day, we notice we actually have no margins. Life quickly becomes ugly, frantic, stressful, and impossible, really. Nothing feels doable. Even the next crisis needs to take a number. We simply have no room for anything extra to squeeze in and need our attention.

Everything unplanned is “in the way”—and therefore barked at.

We are edgy, grumpy, short-of-temper, and really of no use to anyone.

Maybe that is never you. Or maybe you are around someone who is stuck in this rut and can’t see the light leading him/her out.

The first step is recognizing we have our bat out and are taking a good, solid swing at everyone in sight. (That might feel good in the moment, but we leave scars and dents all over the place that we later have to deal with. They don’t usually repair on their own, as I’m finding out.)

The second step is breathing deeply, being still, taking a moment to regather our thoughts. Pretzel breathing has become one of my new, closest friends. We need to clear our heads and allow for some self-reflection. Taking a few steps back can help us to see at whom and what we are slamming and to decide if that is truly warranted (it rarely is).

Third, for my family, we believe we need to ask God to cleanse our hearts:

Psalm 139:23-24, David speaking ESV
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 51:9-12, David speaking, ESV
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

and bring us fresh peace: 

Psalm 29:11, David speaking, ESV
May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! 

Isaiah 26:3, Isaiah speaking, ESV
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

John 14:27, Jesus speaking, ESV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Philippians 4:4-7, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. For us, these verses give us hope that we can stop barking. They offer a fresh start after repenting and then getting our peace on.

We’re not really in control, and barking and swinging are mere attempts to try to grab some control, order, and structure back. What we really need is to be still, examine ourselves, ask God to examine us, and let His peace wash over us to refresh us for the next thing coming our way.

Spoiler Alert: The “next thing” might not be in order on our list. It might very well be an interruption. Either way, we need His peace to keep us from sitting at the door ready to attack anything walking or standing by.

I’d rather live employing defense when I need it and not remain tense and rigid in a constant posture of offense. What about you?

Referring to this book again, because it’s pretty awesome:
Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem 
by Kevin DeYoung
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/

 
 

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“Good Thing” Hoarders and Longing for the Orange Pig: Thoughts About Exclusion and Inclusion

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This title is obnoxiously long. I realize that. It’s really wordy, unclear, and very jumbled. I thought about defining it in fewer words and decided to leave it. It says exactly what I want to say. Here’s why…

My dogs are obsessed with rubber squeak toys. I could put five different ones on the ground, but they go after the same one: the orange pig. And it never fails that my petite Shih Tzu Delilah claims it first and fiercely guards it, snapping at Samson if he comes anywhere near. He is 1 1/2 times her size, also a Shih Tzu (from the same litter…can you say co-dependent?), hefty and solid, but he is more passive and happy-go-lucky. She burns her calories being high-strung while he patiently waits until he has the good fortune of her taking a paw off the toy. She will go so far as to hide it in our shoes. She doesn’t always have to have it. But she definitely doesn’t want him to.

Hmmmm.

Often I see her lying there, paws guarded on top of the toy, while Samson lays in front of her, patiently waiting. He has longing in his eyes, and perhaps a bit of calculation. But he measures his moments. He is content to hang there a while until she lets down her guard or gets her possessive behavior better under control.

I love Samson for this—not so much the coveting, but the patience. He is a gentle dog, willing to take second to her more demanding nature. And while sometimes we find ourselves cheering him on to be more assertive, his quiet spirit draws me in.

So I ask myself, as I watch them, how many of us are Delilah? We hoard something we want to keep to ourselves, and we don’t want to share. I see this a lot in various contexts. Not in my particular church fellowship, but just in general, I see people not want to share the fellowship or youth group they are going to so they can keep that to themselves. Or, they want to keep their ministry small and exclusive so that they can stay intimate. I get this on some level, and in a support group or even private prayer setting, that is very healthy and appropriate, but in most other settings, my feeling is: Hope, love, grace, and peace are to be shared. Jesus is to be shared.

Or, taking it out of the church sector for a minute, they want to invite this friend to join the soccer team but not let this other one know about it. I’m not talking about keeping a birthday party limited to 10 close friends. We do have some limits we have to set. We also can’t include everyone in everything. It’s more about hoarding what is good and not wanting to share. It’s more about being inclusive in our lives, rather than exclusive.

There are other people out there, like Samson, longing for the orange pig. They are looking at us, patiently, knowing we have something good, and they want to know about it. If we have peace, why shouldn’t we share it? Or a good event/activity to go to? Why rule someone out just because we want to keep it to ourselves?

Perhaps the Good Thing Hoarders (we all do this from time to time) are afraid if we share it, there are fewer pieces of the pie for us. Maybe we think the people we bring along will look for all of their answers and peace in us. At the root of it, that seems a bit arrogant to me when we do that. It’s assuming we are always fully responsible for or the answer to someone else seeking something. Maybe they want to come along and connect with others beside ourselves. But why should we ever keep them from something good? Why do we think we get to decide who should be invited? These are questions I ask myself every time I personally hesitate to include someone in something and also during the times when I feel excluded.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people are in a larger group setting and make indirect, private jokes or references to a different group they are a part of—but others in the room are not invited. Referencing shared moments publicly about that awesome moms’ group we are a part of may not be appropriate if we aren’t open to others joining us. Or, even better, let’s reference it and then invite!

If we have the orange pig (my silly example), and we have a chance to take a paw off it and invite someone to enjoy it also, why do we hold on so tightly, like my puppy Delilah? There are so many Samsons out there looking at us and wanting some access to the peace that we have, or the happy event that we’re going to. I believe we are so wrong when we rule out inviting them or do not open ourselves up to letting them join.

For those of us who trust in Christ, the orange pig analogy in this case is the truth and peace of Christ. I think sometimes we love it so much we don’t want to share it because we want it all to ourselves. But God is enough for the whole world. We need to take a paw off (not both) so people can see what’s under it: the amazing Good News that we have in our lives. If we shut people out of our ministry, small group, event, youth group, you name it, we are selfish Delilah holding on to what isn’t really meant to be just ours.

I encourage people both in their everyday lives of activities (non-faith-based), and for those who love Christ, in their faith-based activities, to open it up. Take a paw off. Love bigger. Open the doors wider. Hearts hurt around us all of the time wanting to be included, accepted, loved, trusted. Not everyone will jump in with the same level of commitment, but it’s not up to us to decide that.

Let’s not hoard the good things in our lives. There are some unhealthy people to keep boundaries with, yes, but excluding folks just because we want both paws on is a grievous error. We only have these good things because the Father gave them to us. I don’t care if it’s a soccer team or a Girl Scout club or a ministry. People hurt when we keep both paws on.

Where can we invite, welcome, incude, or accept a “Samson” who wants access to the good things we ourselves enjoy but isn’t going to force his/her way in?

James 1:17, James, brother of Jesus, speaking

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

 

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Photo credit: B. Brown, The Crate Escape

 

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What Scaring Turkeys and Catastrophic Thinking Have in Common

What Scaring Turkeys and Catastrophic Thinking Have in Common

I was out of the house for a while one day not too long ago, and when I came back, the kids were very excited to tell me how our 10-pound Shih Tzus, Samson and Delilah, scared off wild turkeys in our yard. Apparently, they howled and howled, diligently assuming their roles as our protectors, and when the turkeys returned a second time, the kids took Samson and Delilah out again so they could give those birds another talking-to.

I thought a lot about how my pups are really not any different in size than these feathered impostors in our yard. And how in that moment of angst, Samson and Delilah took their job seriously, no matter the cost. Yes, they bark at butterflies. They also bark at the black bear that visits our neighborhood each spring and fall. It really doesn’t matter the perceived foe—big or small—they’re at the ready to scare intruders off, tiny Shih Tzu teeth and all.

And isn’t that really what hypervigilance is? Don’t we all get that way sometimes? With some of the anxiety struggles in one of my children this past year, I have remained in a constant state of “watch,” not being able (or willing) to let down my guard. I think at the root of it is a trust issue. I wrongly believe that the minute I take a deep breath and sigh, all of the balls I think I am holding up in the air will crash down on our heads and shatter, never to be repaired. But, isn’t that really arrogant in a way? Do I really even hold them up? When I look in a mirror reflecting back, I see them up there, but it’s not my hand keeping them spinning in the air. It’s an invisible, mighty one attached to my Father in heaven.

And, the truth is: I have had to scare turkeys this year. There have been wild flocks coming into my life pecking at what doesn’t belong to them. There have been bullies (in adult form), anxiety, depression, toxic people, gossip, malice, slander, you name it! Things have been taken, or attacked, that were mine. And then beyond our own home were dear ones struggling through job loss, affliction, mental illness, death, disease, injury, personal loss of other kinds.

Sound familiar? It’s the world outside of the Garden of Eden—

—And we all live in it.

So, it’s easy to see why we get catastrophic in our thinking after a while. After a year (or even a few weeks) of one thing after another slamming up against us, we don’t live just “at the ready.” We live at Disaster Preparedness Level 10.

And that’s where I was sitting when I went in to see my son’s therapist to check in, only to have her tell me I was readying for a war that isn’t really even on the horizon. And while I wasn’t suited up sitting in a tank, I was definitely eyeing the property line for more turkeys. She more or less told me I could relax my shoulders now. It’s not all up to me. The turkeys aren’t there right now. At ease, Bonnie. At ease.

Say what now? It’s not all up to me?

That was such a huge relief.

I cried for days after that.

Because she was right.

If the Time of Great Sadness comes back into our house again, God will be with me just as much as He was then. Like Samson and Delilah, I will naturally kick into protective mode, but I don’t have to live there all of the time. I can enjoy the in-between moments and live. My Shih Tzus bound around fighting over a rubber alligator and see how many different ways they can jump on my couch when I’m not looking—and practice quick jump-aways for when I am.

The turkeys aren’t actively hanging out in our yard right now. They’re probably a few streets over taking their good ole time crossing a road in rush hour traffic—just because they can. Samson and Delilah aren’t staring out the window in expectation of them. They only scare them off when the need arises.

When anxiety strikes and we can’t let go, we need to know we don’t have to walk around scaring off turkeys. They will find us; they always do, eventually, and if we’re prayerful and consulting with our Father in heaven, we’ll know how to scare them into retreat when they do. But not everything is a wild turkey.

And there’s so much living to do in-between the times the turkeys visit. Catastrophic thinking steals our joy, drains us of the energy we need when it is time to protect, and cheats us of the peace of looking up into the very capable eyes and arms of the loving Peace Giver.

Isaiah 26:3, Isaiah the Prophet speaking

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

John 14:27, Jesus speaking

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.

This blog has also been shared at any link highlighted here: Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Make a Difference Mondays, Pick Your Pin Tuesday, Women With Intention Wednesdays, Grace & Truth, A Little R & R, RaRa Link-Up, Me, Coffee & Jesus, Dance With Jesus, Blessing Counters, Coffee & Conversation, Saturday Soiree, Tell His Story, Find Stability, So Much at Home, Faith-Filled Fridays, Reflect His Love and Glory Link-Up, Bonbon ‘n Coffee Linkup, and Christian Mommy Blogger.

More anecdotal stories about an everyday relationship with God can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day (includes Book Club Discussion Questions).

 

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Eating Pipe Cleaners

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It’s true. My dog eats pipe cleaners. There’s no need to call the dog authorities. I hide the craft supplies my younger children enjoy, but Samson the Ornery Shih Tzu manages to find them anyway. I usually have an intense eye on him because of his puppy superhero abilities to be everywhere at one time, but the truth is, one or two small wound-up ones (wound-up circles that used to be antennas? or eyes? on some odd project in my house) came out with the other contents of his stomach. They are so balled up, they aren’t scraping anything on the way down or back up again, but I have to wonder: Why, Samson, why?

It completely perplexes me why he would keep trying this. When I have a rough experience with a local food chain burger, I don’t tend to repeat it for a while.

But then I think about the human tendency to feed ourselves things all of the time that are not good for us, and we know it as we consume it. And I’m not just talking about food.

I’m a crime show freak. I have not one scientific thought in my head pretty much ever, but forensic shows fascinate me. In and of themselves, they are not bad. But I know sometimes I consume too much of the macabre, the darkness of the crime, the visuals that television provides. And it seems to me, at times, that I’m eating pipe cleaners.

Then there are those people in our lives sometimes that spew negativity. Are we wrong to be their friends? No, they need friends too, so that hopefully they once in a while respond to encouragement and look up to the Light of God instead of sitting in their pit of dark. But if we give them permission to define us, our moods, our time, our thought lives—there we go eating pipe cleaners again.

How about the comparison game? I feast on that from time to time. In fact, I make a regular meal of it. Super-Career-Mom-Does-It-All-So-Why-Can’t-I? with a side of Rehearse-My-Failures salad with Her-Family-Lives-Nearby-and Watches-Her-Kids-All-of-the-Time-for-Her dressing. Swallowing down some major pipe cleaners there.

I’m not sure what it is I think is going to happen when I do that, but I know I don’t have too many more brain cells functioning than Samson does when I continue to consume that which isn’t a diet that nourishes. And after a while, if Samson keeps eating rolled-up pipe cleaners, they could straighten and scrape. So can things we take in or feed on. We know they really aren’t to feed our minds, hearts, souls, or bodies, but we do it anyway. And we scrape ourselves along the way.

What pipe cleaners can we stop chewing on today?

Colossians 3:1-2, Apostle Paul speaking

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

 

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Elliptical Spins

Elliptical SpinsI have two Shih Tzus, about 10 months old, from the same litter. Sweetest and dumbest things ever at the same time. Actually, the girl is pretty cunning. The boy is happy-go-lucky but not high on intellect or training abilities. But we adore their different personalities, because, just like the kids in our house, they each bring something different to the table. We named them Samson and Delilah. She is very lap-seeking and intense. He is very carefree and low-maintenance, overall.

One fine day I was sitting on the couch with Delilah on my lap enjoying a good Shih Tzu massage, and SAM-ssss* (our nickname for him with emphasis on the first syllable) was perseverating on the plastic wheel of my elliptical (the wheel used to move it from room to room). He was having the most fascinating time spinning that thing. Really, who was I to interrupt this mindless, drone-like activity? And, yet, it fascinated me because Samson loves to run around, chomp on a chew stick, and show us his belly, hoping it’s a nice hint to rub it. Spinning a plastic wheel was a new trick. I almost associated that kind of behavior more with Type-A Delilah. 

And I thought about how profound that is because we humans resent when we spin without getting anywhere. The few times you even find me on an elliptical (usually after a week of unhealthy eating when I am attempting to compensate with one workout on the machine), I want to get somewhere. I obsessively check the distance “travelled,” time spent, calories burnt. We don’t feel like we can take a minute to stop at a long traffic light without checking our texts. Our society is spinning endless wheels like Samson, only we are frustrated when multitasking all at once doesn’t propel us somewhere. 

So I found myself admiring my tiny-brained dog for being content in the moment, with only one thing going, and not pursuing endless distractions at once. And also that spinning that thing took him nowhere but relaxing and burning energy. Unlike Delilah, who usually exploits those moments when Samson is distracted to grab his chew stick or pull one of his favorite toys into her crate, Samson could focus. On one thing. And not have to get or be anywhere but in that moment. It made me wish for a few moments I could lay on the floor right next to him and bat at that wheel.

An excellent book for how to stop being so busy is:

DeYoung, Kevin. Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.

*We also have been known to call him Samsonite or Samsonian. 

Bonnie Lyn Smith's two 3/4 Shih Tzu, 1/4 Brussels Griffon dogs

Samson & Delilah

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Shih Tzu Shenanigans

 

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