Wednesday, February 15, 2006

At the End of My Leash

Every time I take Maya out for a walk, she does her best imitation of a sled dog. She heads out the door, sprints out onto the front lawn, and runs as far from me as quickly as she can, lunging into the distance at the far end of her leash with all her might. This dog weighs in at a hefty five pounds these days, but she seems to think that she can pull her 150+ pound alpha dog across the lawn, the street, and eventually across town if I let her. What she is hoping to get at is a mystery to me, but she does the same thing every time we go out.

Occasionally, a bird or a squirrel will rustle in the bushes at the other side of the yard and cause Maya to give chase. She watches the birds fly up into the trees and rears herself up on her hind legs hoping that she can bridge the enormous gap between her and a live dinner with her six inch lower limbs. She plants herself at the foot of the tree her squirelly prey disappeared into and settles in for what she hopes will be a soon and inevitable descent. Most of the time, however, she is pursuing nothing other than the hope that just beyond the reach of her leash is the consummation of all her little dog dreams: an open bin of Greenies she can dive into and devour, a dish of carrots for her to snack on, or perhaps an unfinished bowl of microwave popcorn that no one will snatch out of her grasp. I call her back to me, bend down, look her in the eyes and say, "Do your business, Maya; do your business. Mind your business, girl, and get it done."

This morning, I happened to have a book and pen in the pocket of my robe when I went out, so as I watched Maya pursue the impossible dream of catching a bird, I jotted down a few thoughts related to being at the end of my own leash. I listed a few things that I gaze into the distance and hope to spot: a house that has no leaks, cracks, or blown light bulbs; a career in writing that requires no letters of inquiry or rejections on my part, only the unrelenting pursuit of publishers aching for a few of my pithy essays; a married and family life that has no ebbs, only flows, no down times, only up times; and no nights where we fall asleep with the TV on. I much rather have us fall asleep with books in hand, or with each other in hand.

I often rush to the end of my imagination and dream up other life scenarios f9or myself. I imagine myself living Oprah's life: never having to scrub a toilet, wash a dish, or load a washing machine with doggie-urine soaked floor mats. I dream up hunky men in aprons, cooking and serving dinner for their wives and children, insisting that their work day wasn't so demanding that they cannot also fold and put away the laundry. I sit on the couch with my feet up, sipping endless pots of tea, reading, journaling, and eating gourmet meals that I didn't have to shop for, prepare, serve, or clean up the remains of. I dream of children who make their beds, do their chores, and walk the dog with joy and gratitude for having been asked to give of themselves in the maintenance of our happy home.

Landing with a thud back into the reality of my front yard, I tell Maya sternly that she'd better do her business because I'm not standing outside all morning waiting for her. I also tell her that the sooner she gets it done, the sooner we can go inside where breakfast awaits her. There's no need for her to eat the dirt clods, pine cones, or old piles of her own excrement. There is much better fare to be had in the house.

No sooner are those words out of my mouth than I hear them resound in my heart. Gail, why do you eat the dirt dug up by your imagination? Why settle for the false claims of endless fun, frolicking, and fantasy vacations that are depicted on television and in magazines? Those are the prickly pine cones that make me choke and long for the real food that awaits me in my own real life. Why harken back to the "good old days" when I was young, my marriage was new, and we were free of debt, extended family chaos, and stretch marks? Those thoughts are piles of my own excrement that are the stuff of pure fantasy. Except for the first two years of our marriage, we have always had a mortgage payment. We have always had a crazy family. I haven't always had stretch marks, but I have them now, so I need to get over my whining!

Mine is a blessed life, even when the graceful, high-flying birds soaring overhead look far better than the turkeys gobbling and stumbling by my side. (I couldn't resist that analogy; no offense intended, dear.) Their poop still stinks and is devastating to the car's paint job. When the roof leaks, the toilets clog, and the car makes a funny noise, I have to draw back from the end of my leash and be grateful that we have a beautiful home to live in, and that whatever problem the car may have can be fixed, and we can afford to fix it. There are countless people for whom a roof overhead and a car in the garage are unimaginable blessings.

When I remember that the care and raising of these children, the love and companionship of this husband, and the feeding and bathing of this dog are all my freely chosen responsibilities in the life that I have freely chosen to live, when I remember the great contentment and joy I have experienced in this life, then I can draw back from the end of my leash. When I remember that I can choose to walk at the heels of My Father in Heaven who has given me so much for which to give thanks and waits patiently for me to mind my business, do my business, and head back home to be fed and loved by Steve, Kristiana, and Daniel, then I realize that living at the end of my leash is no longer necessary. When I head out into the world to meet up with friends for lunch or a cup of coffee, when I go to church and spend time with other followers of Christ, when I check in on the Internet with my unseen, but deeply loved friends and fellow travelers on this road called life, then I realize that living at the far end of my leash, always seeking what is beyond my grasp, straining for what is clearly not mine to have is no longer necessary.

Why not just hang out right here at home where I can get my belly rubbed, get scratched behind my ears, and every once in a while have somebody clean up after me when I make a mess in my crate?

Life is good.
God is good.

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