Changes Afoot

Skyskape

These days we have a lot of changes going on!

First, we changed our hosting provider due to some rather crappy support at HostGator.  I used to have a dedicated account that let me host multiple sites, but as I moved away from web development into farming and writing for a living, I no longer needed that much space. I didn’t realize that downgrading my service would mean downgrading my support!

So… We’ve moved our website to WordPress.com, which provides everything we need at a lower price with options to upgrade as we grow. Unfortunately, that meant migrating, which allows causes some kind of loss no matter how careful you are. We lost our featured photos and our theme. We look a little different, but we’re working on choosing a premium theme to get us back to our previous standards. I’m also working through posts to make sure all the photos get back in.

Second, we’ve lost our dream property. Someone swooped in with a cash offer before our current place sold. We’re sad, but we’re also sure that God has something wonderful planned, so we can fulfill our calling of helping others learn to care for God’s creation.

We appreciate you’re hanging in there with us as we live out of boxes and are far more silent than we’d like to be! I promise to get things back on track and moving forward as soon as possible. In the meantime, we’re going to take this time to revamp our pages to make our services and mission more clear.

Have a suggestion or a comment?  Please let us know! We’d love to hear from you!

Some Questions to Ponder

I’ve been spending some time contemplating three books, all of which really struck a chord:

  1. How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, Rob Bell
  2. Breathing Under Water: The Spirituality of the Twelve Steps, Richard Rohr
  3. To Know as We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education, Parker J. Parker

I’ve been undergoing a major transformation the last few years that will culminate in a shift in my career, my lifestyle, and my ministry. In some ways, I have rediscovered childhood loves and forgotten joys. In some ways, I’ve discovered new layers to my personality and spiritual life.

I’m discovering that great spiritual formation and great art live in the same liminal space, opening the conversation rather then declaring what God thinks or what the world needs. Both require us to dig deeper and neither suggest an answer. To be the writer and the spiritual being I aspire to requires more posing of questions, more exposing of paradox and mystery, and more exploration.

So… Here are a few questions for your journal, your contemplation, your musings.

  • What gives you joy?
  • What are the moments when you stop and say, “I can’t believe I get to do this?”
  • How often do you stop and really see what’s around you?
  • When was the last time you stopped just to breath in the scent of honeysuckle (or anything else)?
  • When was the last time you stop to enjoy the warmth of the sun on your face?
  • When do you feel the most connected to the world around you?
  • When do you feel the most alive?
  • What causes you the most stress?
  • What is standing between you and God?
  • What can you let go of?

God bless my brothers and sisters!

My Dog Ate My Shoes! – Part III

20180510_163753In the first of this three part series, I talked about choosing the right dog for your family and your life stage. In the second, I talked about why your dog hates being alone and what you can do to help. Today, I want to talk about training.

Dogs need direction both when they’re with you and when you’re not there. There was a time when I shied away from training our family pet. He was a member of the family and didn’t need to know tricks or how to behave like a show dog. A sit and a stay were all we really needed, or so I thought.

Then, along came Rosa. Rosa was the result of an accidental breeding. She was the last of her litter, being given away for free in the Walmart parking lot. My soft-hearted husband brought her home for the kids. From the very being, she was very fearful, which later developed into aggression. Knowing what would happen if our dog bit someone, we went out in search of training, which really changed my perspective on dog training.

Now that I’ve trained a therapy dog, I know that the more you train your dog, the stronger the bond between you gets. Dogs love to have a job, and they love when they get your undivided attention. My dogs LOVE training time. They get me, and they get treats. It’s a concentrated hour of heaven for them.

I’m not suggesting that every house dog needs the level of training my dogs get, but I would recommend that every dog owner invest in a basic obedience class with a local dog trainer. It is truly a gift you give your dog. Not only will it strengthen your relationship with your dog, but it gives your dog a sense of his place in your pack and a clear understanding of what you expect from him.

If you want your dog to come with you on family outings, I definitely recommend not only the basic class but also investing in an AKC Good Citizen class. The Good Citizen class gives you and your dog the skills to handle being in public with lots of distractions. No matter how well behaved your dog is at home, unless you’ve taught him how to behave when confronted by distractions, you’ll be very disappointed in the behavior you get in public.

Imagine taking a 3 year old child to a toy store for the first time and teaching him in that environment how to spell his name. How much success would you expect to have? Bringing your dog to public places without preparing him will produce similar results. Part of your responsibility as his caretaker and handler is to set him up for success.  A Good Citizen class will do just that.

Every dog I’ve owned has been the best dog I’ve ever had. The dogs keep getting better and better, except it’s not the dogs. It’s me. With every dog, I become a more knowledgeable and skilled handler. Our dogs love us. We’re their whole world, and they love to make us happy. We just have to get better at communicating what we want and understand their responses.

To recap, start by researching what dog (breed, age, etc.) is the right dog for your skills and situation. Be brutally honest with yourself, because you and your dog will be glad you did! Next, be prepared to address your dog’s loneliness and possible anxiety when you head off to work or school. Finally, invest in training you and your dog, which will help you achieve the relationship you want.

Above all else, remember that our dogs use behavior to communicate to us. Happy, well-adjusted dogs don’t tear up the house while you’re at work. If that does happen, your dog is trying to tell you something. Seek professional help for you and your dog, because the relationship is well worth the effort.

My Dog Ate My Shoes! – Part II

In my last post, I talked about the importance of selecting the right dog for you, your family, and your lifestyle, which can go a long way in ensuring a happy relationship between you and your dog. This week, I want to talk some about why dogs so often destroy their owners’ homes when left at home during work or family outing.

Dogs need two things. Direction and company. This week, we’re going to address the issue of company.

Dogs are pack animals. They HATE being alone. Seriously, they HATE being alone. Everyone heads off to work and school, and the poor dog is left alone. They hate that. If you don’t believe me, install a camera in your house. See what you dog does when you leave. Even if he isn’t tearing apart the house, your dog’s face will break your heart. You have work and friends. Your dog has only his family. You’re his everything. If your dog is tearing apart the house, he’s telling you he’s bored, and he’s lonely.

If you search YouTube, you can find videos where dog owners did just that. They installed cameras to record what their dogs were doing when left home alone. Most of the videos are heartbreaking. The dogs are visibly distressed and upset. Imagine leaving a three-year-old child home alone without explanation. Just leave him or her locked in the house alone. What do you think the child’s reaction would be?

Personally, I wish we lived in a more dog friendly world, but that’s complicated by bad dog owner’s who don’t teach their dogs how to behave, something we’ll touch on next week.

Until we do live in a more dog friendly world, there are a lot of tips and tricks for easing your dog’s mind when you’re not around. If you’re up for it, a second pet can be wonderful. Even if it’s a cat, your dog will feel much better not being alone. Our dogs aren’t happy when we leave, but they snuggle together while we’re gone rather than destroying our house.

If that’s not an option, consider crate training or allowing your dog to sleep on your bed while you’re not home. Your dog is comforted by your smell. If you do crate train, give your dog something of yours like an old sweatshirt to keep in his crate while he’s home alone.

My personal preference is crate training. It’s not only a great way to give your dog some security when you’re not around and ensure that your house is in tact when you get home, but it also gives your dog a space that belongs to him even when you are home. In a multi-dog house, we rarely confine our dogs to their crates, but we do use the crates at feeding time to give each dog a safe space to eat in peace.

Here’s a video on crate training from one of my favorite trainers Zack George:

The most important part of successful dog ownership is the same secret to success in any relationship: communication. You have to listen to what you’re dog is communicating, and you have to clearly communicate what is expected.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the importance of dog training in developing a happy, healthy dog.

My Dog Ate My Shoes! – Part I

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain or post on Facebook how their beloved family dog ate their shoes, couch, children’s toys, etc. People are always amazed that their darling pets could be so destructive when they leave the house. The dogs are, after all, supposed to be defending the house not tearing it to pieces.

I encounter this so often that what I planned to be a single post turned into three. Many times, it becomes such a problem that the owners end up rehoming the dog, which despite good intentions often goes terribly wrong.  Many people don’t realize that their untrained house pet will be euthanized at the county shelter or that the lovely wife and children they interview are actually picking up bait dogs for their dog fighting husband/father.

So…  Why does this happen?  Why do people end up getting rid of the dog they dreamed of having and just couldn’t wait to get home?

99% of the time people make an emotional decision when selecting a dog. Even with all my knowledge, I’ve done it myself. The heart should be involved, but the head needs to be involved too.  Not every breed works with every family, and sometimes a family is better off adopting an older dog rather than getting that adorable puppy in the Walmart parking lot.

I recently helped out in rehoming a young Shepard mix. His owner was an experienced dog owner, but she was in an unusual situation. Her family was dealing with cancer and a recent death in the family. They didn’t have the time or the energy for a high energy breed or for a young dog. They would have had a much easier time adopting a senior dog that didn’t need nearly as much exercise or training and would be happy snuggling on the couch.

I very often see people often choosing a Jack Russell Terrier for apartment living because of the breed’s size, but the breed is a high energy breed with high prey drive. They don’t do well when left alone, and they don’t do well without significant exercise and training. Truthfully, Great Danes fair much better with apartment living than any of the terrier breeds do.

It is really important to do your research to find out what breeds are best suited to your lifestyle. It’s just as important to think through whether your lifestyle is suited to raising a puppy or better suited to adopting an adult dog.

Take my dog Bear. He was just a year old when we adopted him, so we will still have him for much of his life, but he was already house broken and sleeping through the night when we adopted him. Rather than 2-3 months of midnight bathroom brakes and puppy training, Bear only took two or three days to settle into our routine. He was also quite comfortable spending time in a crate next to our other dogs while we were at work. We did do extensive obedience training to get him registered as a therapy pet, but the initial training for basic obedience didn’t require much effort.

Tank, on the other hand, was adopted as a six-week-old puppy, but we were in a very different place. My husband was retired and could loose sleep at night and catch up on sleep in the morning. He was also home all day. We had a fenced in backyard and a dog door, so housebreaking was much easier. In fact, the only time Tank had an accident in the house was after dark when he was afraid to go out by himself. When Tank came into our lives, we were able to invest the time and energy into housebreaking and puppy training. We were also prepared for the strong personality of a livestock guardian breed.

It’s easy to fall in love with a puppy at a pet store or an adoption event, but remember that it’s a big commitment, and be sure to take the time to really think through that commitment. It isn’t the same as buying a dress. Rehoming an animal is traumatic at best, so be sure that you’re really making the best choice for your family.

Next week, we’ll talk about some things to consider after you bring your new furbaby home.

Fighting Demons

I decided to hold off on the post I had planned for this week to take a minute and share with you some recent struggles. Often, when I succeed, I hear, “But it’s so easy for you!” It actually isn’t. I work hard at overcoming my demons just like everyone else. Sometimes, my demons get the best of best of me. My personality type and my personal dysfunctions generally prevent me from letting people see that inner struggle, but it’s there, and I’m working on it.

Lent has always been my favorite time of the year. I love the Gospel readings of Jesus’s teachings. I love all the purple. I love the music. There’s a raw open quality to it that I admire and love, a quality I wish I had more of. It’s a time when grief, pain, and sadness are ok. It’s a time when are limitations are ok. The Christian message is that those things are ok all the time, but that tends to get lost on mainstream Christianity that asks me to say 24/7 that things are well with my soul. The truth is that I need Christ because my emotional insides are a hot mess.

As is usually the case, I went through some serious spiritual formation during Lent this year, but instead of leaving me enjoying the Easter season, it’s left me wondering what’s next. I feel a bit like Jacob after wrestling with an angel all night. I survived and have a new name, but I also have a limp. I’m struggling with how to move forward with that new limp.

Easter morning is usually for me what Christmas morning is for most people. I love putting on a bright spring outfit and heading to church knowing that there will be a joyful celebration of our Lord and Savior’s triumph over death.  There’s an excitement in waiting to see what beautiful spring creation the Altar Guild has come up with this year. Being in the choir, I know the joyful music we’ll be singing accompanied by brass and organ.

This year, from the moment the service started, all I could think about is how much my Dad would have loved it. Easter was always his favorite holiday too. He took the whole family shopping for new outfits and bought all his girls orchid corsages. He played trumpet in high school and was always partial to brass. “Jesus Christ Has Risen Today” was one of his favorite hymns. He would have loved our processional Easter morning. Instead of feeling joyous, I spent the morning feeling his loss.

At the moment, I’m being kind to myself. I’m talking some time to journal, and I’m taking some time to be alone. In addition to my spiritual struggles, I’m fighting seasonal depression, because winter just doesn’t seem to want to let go this year. I’m fighting sinus infections, because the weather is all over the place. So I’m taking time for rest and healing. I’m giving myself a pass on deadlines and goals.

We are ultimately Easter people, but Easter doesn’t exist without the preceding crucifixion. It’s ok to struggle. It’s ok to hurt. Even when you know the resurrection is coming. Even when you know God has your back. It’s ok to feel the grief and feel the pain. This too shall pass.

Finding God in the Natural World

I recently had a conversation with a woman at church, who said that we couldn’t find God in the material world. I think that’s a big part of our problem in America. We don’t make the distinction between the man-made material world and the God-made material world. God is everywhere in the material world, because God made the material world and revealed God’s self in that world.

For so many years, theology has separated the spiritual world from the physical world, but how do we know God? As Christians, we know God through Christ–the physical manifestation of God. If God meets us in the physical world, why would we try so hard NOT to meet God in the physical world? Doesn’t it only make sense that we try to meet God in the world God created, especially this time of year when we’re walking with Christ as he approaches death and resurrection?

In the middle of writing this, I had lunch with my niece in Nashville. On the way there, I passed a dog in the culvert between the northbound and southbound lanes of the highway. I couldn’t see his face, but based on his hind end, it was probably a Great Pyrenees. He wasn’t there when I came home from choir the night before, so he must have been hit sometime overnight or in the morning. I couldn’t stop, but I couldn’t just let him lay in a ditch.

In tears, I called my husband. He made a three way call to Bedford County Animal Control. Thankfully, they are wonderful animal-loving people and didn’t think I was crazy. They said someone would be out to check on the dog right away. As I continued driving to Nashville, I had to wonder what kind of person could hit a dog and keep driving.  This was an extra large dog. At least 100 pounds. Unless the person was drunk, the driver knew s/he hit something. How can you just keep going?

I thought about how scared that poor baby must have been, and I thought about my own dogs. If you have any doubt, I’m here to tell you that yes dogs do love. Dogs also understand justice, and they know when they’re dying. I cried most of the way to Nashville, grieving for that poor dog.

When I came back through the dogs was gone. I choose to hope that he is still alive and is in the care of a loving vet. I hate to think he died alone in a ditch, because someone hit him and didn’t care enough to stop.

This is the problem with the world. We’re too concerned with things that don’t matter to see that we can meet God in the eyes of a dog that needs our help. God’s creatures deserve our love and concern, and in caring for them, we get a glimmer of understanding as to how God cares for us. I am personally grateful that God loves that driver more than s/he loves God’s creation, and I pray that God softens that driver’s heart enough to feel the weight of what was done.