They say dog is man’s best friend, but what they don’t tell you is that dog can also be man’s best teacher. Until I was four, I loved these furry friends immensely but feared them more. You can imagine my shock one Christmas morning in the mid-90’s when my parents presented a tiny fox terrier as the grande finale of our gifts. I wanted so badly to hold that white, sleepy, bundled-up pup, but fear kept me admiring her from afar.
My parents had high hopes that this precious puppy, named Penni because of the perfect copper circle on her neck, would help me overcome this fear – and they got more than they bargained for. Soon, Penni and I were inseparable; I even pretended to be a dog at times! I tried – unsuccessfully – to train her to walk on a leash as I rode my bike, and I’d often take a coloring book to our sunporch to be with her. Regardless of her small stature, she became a powerful force in our home – if I didn’t want to do something, my mom suggested I do it with her or play with her afterwards, and that usually did the trick.
I’m sure I would’ve loved dogs if not for Penni, thanks to the Beethoven series and my matching stuffed St. Bernard that I may or may not still have, but I’m not sure I would’ve overcome the fear that gripped me without her. Whether my parents meant to or not, they taught me an important life lesson through getting Penni:
Don’t let fear rob you of a blessing.
Fast forward twenty-ish years, and I was faced with another chance to practice this truth. Last December, I was gifted a puppy as an early birthday present, and initially I was overjoyed. When reality set in, though, I almost talked myself out of receiving her. Would I be able to train her? What would I do with her when I had to go out of town? Or when I went to work? Would she chew up the furniture in my rental? How would my roommate do with her?
The idea that I didn’t deserve a puppy like anyone else also hung over me like a cloud. I can’t articulate why, and it’s kind of still true, except instead of in a self-deprecating way, now I realize I’m blessed to have her even though I didn’t do anything to earn her.
So the same way I almost let fear stop me from getting close to our family dog, I almost let fear of inadequacy and commitment, along with a twisted form of asceticism, stop me from accepting the gift of my very own puppy, and I would’ve missed out on SO much.
When I got Honey at the end of 2019, no one – except God – knew the challenges that 2020 held for the world or for me personally. Three days after getting her, I went through the hardest breakup of my life, and for weeks on end, the only reason I got up in the mornings was to take care of her. Not quite three months later, the world as we knew it shut down. For the ten years before that, it was an anomaly if I didn’t have a meeting, Bible study, dinner out, etc. at night. Once my social life vanished under Stay at Home orders, there were days when, like after the breakup, I probably wouldn’t have stepped foot outside if she hadn’t needed exercise.
Honey has undoubtedly been the best gift I’ve ever received. She’s one that keeps on giving, the brightest part of my darkest days, and a frequent reminder to let myself enjoy life – to slow down and walk in the sunshine, to stop and look at my zinnias, to be still and listen as the wind blows through the trees.
Last weekend, we celebrated Honey (and her sister Maple)’s first birthday, even though she had no idea why streamers adorned our kitchen. Aside from my wanting to (safely) have people over, I thought she deserved to be celebrated for who she is and for the ways God has used her in my life. While I reflected on what exactly He’s taught me through her, as with Penni, the theme of accepting and enjoying blessings emerged. Since this idea is so multifaceted, I’ve decided to write a four-part series called “Receiving in…” to highlight God’s view of our blessings and how to receive them well. Stay tuned for the first post, “Receiving in Faith Towards God,” and until then, I’ll ask you to do two things: