The Stray

Photo by  fancycrave.com

Photo by fancycrave.com

If you were a stray in my childhood, I collected you and brought you home. I wrapped you in cloth, found out what food you ate, fed youby eyedropper sometimes, made you a shoe box with tissue paper nest, put your box by my pillow, and stroked your fur or feathers until you calmed and slept. Baby mice, baby birds, baby rabbits. Anything lost or abandoned or too weak to survive on its own. I had a place for you in my house and in my heart.  

I thought of myself as an animal Mother Theresa. And I imagined if I lived in Calcutta, I would do the same with people.

My husband jokes that he was the final stray I brought home.

When we moved to Mexico, I carried my love for animals with me. Many days out on the desert ranch, I helped village children learn compassion and gentleness towards the animals they came in contact with. This wasn’t always an easy task because the outlook on animals is different there. For the most part, they provide a means to an end—food, protection, transportation. Very rarely are they coddled or adopted as a pet, especially in the villages. The people often struggle with feeding their own family, let alone a dog or cat. And without funds for spaying and neutering, the homeless population grows exponentially.

Extremes exist on both ends. Both cultureswhether we neglect or pamper. This isn’t about that. This is about what happens to a heart turned cold.

Many nights on the ranch, we cooked our meals outside, in the open air. We built fires and sat around them enjoying food, rest, and good stories from the day. Smells travel far on desert wind, and we often had uninvited guests on these nights. Strays looking for their next meal, their next comfort.

A few of those homeless dogs who found their way to the ranch we adopted and took them into our pack. But we had trouble with them eventually as they never fully lost their street sense. On occasion, they would attack the farmer’s livestock and damage our relationships with our neighbors. So, we stopped taking them in.

Our own dogs, two German Shepherds, helped with border control. We never trained them, they just lived off our cues. When a stray dog came onto the property, our dogs would determine how to respond by our actions. If we welcomed the animal, they would too. If we yelled to scare them off, the chase would ensue. Most often, the strays high-tailed it off the property. Our dogs would stop at the fence line and then return to the fire, a job well done.

When the work day began next morning, we’d shore up our fences and tighten our barrier against further intrusion.

One day, however, things went all wrong. I can still see the dog without effort, even years later. His image embedded in my thoughts. Rooted there to remind me of something eternal. The dog was a tan and black terrier cross, with desperate eyes. He came onto the property slowly. Slinking from the fence line, closer and closer to the warmth and smells and laughter of the circled fire.

When he got too close, I stood. My dogs came to attention. And when I yelled, “Yaah, get out of here!”, our dogs took up the chase. But the visitor did not run like most. Instead, he cowered. Curled himself in a ball while the large shepherds barked and nipped at him. He growled and nipped back, but would not be moved.

I stepped closer and reached down for a stone. The people taught us that if you are afraid of a street dog, just pretend to pick up a stone and they will run off. They know stones.

When I faked the motion, the intruder ran a few paces toward the fence, then crumpled again in the dirt.

“Get out of here,” I yelled with little response, except to rile my own dogs more.

In one final effort to be free of the trespasser, I launched the rock in my hand. Never had I had such precision in my aim or even considered the consequence of my actions. The stone found its mark and the crouched dog let out a yelp. A bitter cry from a heart of despair.

I froze in place. Dropped my arms and cried for the choice I had made. Maybe you think it’s no big deal, or you empathize with my heartache. Either way, think about the questions I considered …

What am I doing? How—how in heaven’s name—did I get here? And when did throwing rocks become justified in my mind?

I called my dogs off and approached the intruder. He remained huddled on the ground, but barred his teeth expecting the hurt to continue. But he didn’t move. Because when you have nothing left, how do you give up on the only string of hope you have?

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry. It’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid.”

Then I gave him something to eat, and he never came back. But I haven’t forgotten him.

The outcast. The exiled. The unclean. Pushed to the borders and left to starve—physically, emotionally, spiritually. And we wonder why they huddle in the streets and on the corners. Why they curse and snarl, and sometimes steal. We wonder how they got there, and how we came to the place of shutting them out. Or even throwing the stone in our hand. How?

I was not who I imagined myself to be.

Why do you enter my gate when I don’t want you here? Why do you refuse to leave when you make me so uncomfortable? I have nothing for you.

Ah, but I do.

I have a shoe-box and a cloth. I have tissue paper and an eye dropper. I have a gentle hand to heal your wounds and a smile to calm your fears. And I have the One to give youone much better at loving you than I am.

The one who removes stones from hands and hearts.

And in Him, friend—when I come to the end of my meager offering—you’ll find your hope.

 

 

 

The Al-lure

boats-dusk-fishing-88473.jpg

I spent several afternoons on vacation watching the fishermen on a pier in Naples, Florida. I’m not into fishing, or boxing, yet both seem to take up space in my novels. Besides the wisdom from a questionable man who boasted of wrestling a 30-foot shark up the side of the 40-foot pier, here’s what I have learned about lures.

*Novice warning: This is NOT a fishing lesson, as I know absolutely nothing about fishing. However, after being on this journey for half a century, I know a little bit about lures

Here is my simplified version:

1. Lures are shiny. They are attractive and get our attention. The lighting enhances their features, and their dance beckons the onlooker. Some flit and flop and become loud in our heads. Others wait patiently, quietly, remaining an unobtrusive, ever-present appeal, anticipating the very moment our defenses are down.  

2. Lures are chosen with great care to catch just the right fish. One lure might draw you in. A different one me. You might need a minnow. I may need a worm. The avid fisherman knows exactly which one. And the careful choice will incorporate just the right shape and size and color to be the most effective in the right moment.

3. Re-casting again and again allows the lure to be placed both in front and behind the eye of the beholder. Forward and back, glamorizing what’s ahead and also what’s behind. How we relish in and dream of the “what could be’s,” the possibilities and prospects of the unknown, while we repaint and redecorate the “what has been” until it gleams brighter than ever and calls us back to the ghosts of our past. Ah, those were the days. If only …

4. Lures masquerade as something we truly need. In fact, we question whether we can live without them. Believe me, that fish does NOT need a mouthful of plastic gunk with a hidden death hook. Yet, he goes for it, time and time again. Why? Because it LOOKS like just what he needs. It mimics the true thing. The real nourishment that will satisfy all of his hunger.

5. And lastly, lures in life are crafted and used by the wrong hands. So, never would you see the Fish Hatchery Executive Manager—the one sworn to fish birth and growth and all good things fishy—never would you see him at the end of the pier trying to snatch his little ones. No, you see the fisherman, whose desire is to catch, kill, and eat. That’s his job. That’s his determination. How many fish do you know that have been caught at the end of a line to find the reality of all their dreams come true? And yet, so often we trust it. We believe the lie. Biting “hook, line, and sinker” (pun intended) into the lure that will lead to death.

"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

Now, possibly not in fishing, but certainly in life, the Master Fisherman—the True Fisher of Men—needs no lures or hooks. His gentle voice and scarred hands are enough. No lies or empty promises. In fact, if you see them, you can be sure He is not holding the pole.

He is the real thing. Not the fabrication. Only He can truly meet the craving in our hearts and the longing in our soul.

I pray today you find Jesus, the Master Fisherman, to be everything you need.

 

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