Leash Lessons

Chai running at the dog park

Our dog Chai was found a year and a half ago running around the farmlands surrounding our then-hometown Sterling, Kansas. We knew this when we got her from the animal shelter, and this knowledge of a wild side helped us in choosing her name.

“Pumpkin?” (the name given to her by the folks at the shelter.) Nah, too orange.

“Penny?” Right color, cute name—like her—but, too… tame. Her golden eyes have a James Dean look. She’s spunky and a bit…

“Spicy,” said Em.

“Like chai,” said one of us (probably me, since it’s my all-time favorite drink, but I don’t remember, so I can’t claim it.)

“Yeah, she’s a mix of sweet and spicy.”

She seemed to leave all the spice behind after we adopted her, but when we left on a trip and asked two neighbor boys to take care of the dogs while we were gone, we found out that without the constant activity of our family, Chai’s spice was alive and well.

“She found every possible hole in your fence,” one of the boys told us when we returned. He’d ”fixed” them with bungee cords he found in the garage. “Then she realized that with a running start, she could jump the fence. I finally had to tie her in the middle of the yard, and even then she figured out she could wiggle backwards out of her collar.”

For a week after we returned, neighbors would tell us how Chai had come visiting. They’d all just taken her back inside the fence—only to have her visit again.

The wild side had returned, and it didn’t want to leave. She began jumping the fence at every opportunity, running through town, then discovering the forest on the west side of it. She had a couple of all-nighters, not returning till the next morning, trailing a leash on one of those occasions. Finally we gave up training her—and worked on the kids: don’t let her out except on a leash. Don’t put the leash DOWN. Know that if she sees a squirrel or rabbit, you hold on tight.

Then we moved back to West Chicago. We joked about taking Chai—and PJ, for good measure—to the local police station that first week. “See this little boy and this dog,” we would say. “If you see either of them running around, they should be at ____________. Please bring them home.”

But after a few “excursions” (fortunately PJ’s was just around the block—though I scolded him like he’d crossed a major highway), they both seemed to settle in. We could even let Chai wander free around the back yard—as long as we were out there with her.

But lately the wild streak has come back. I blame the squirrels, who seem to be holding a tribal reunion in our town.

But maybe it’s the crisp weather.

Or the moon, as one of my Sterling neighbors used to say. “Full moons bring out the wild in dogs.” She said it happened with her dog, another rescue found running in the wild.

Regardless of the cause, Chai’s back on the leash whenever we set foot outside the house. I’m thankful for the local dog park.

I just came back in from taking her out to do her duty—on the leash.

And it made me think of myself.

I’m on a leash, and I’m really, really thankful God has the other end of it.

I’m not saying there isn’t freedom in following Christ—oh, there is—so much abundance, so much joy—but ironically, the abundance and joy and freedom are only found when I’m close to Him, the leash slack and easy, my closeness born of my desire to be with Him, born of my understanding that being with HIM is not “better,” it’s BEST, BEST, BEST.

But I’m like Chai, constantly pulling to the end of the leash (though my temptations are mirages of “orderliness” [legalism, guilt, self-righteousness, martyrdom) rather than the lures of entertainment and adventure).

And He pulls me back.

He lets me stick my nose in poop or step on a thorn or get briars in my coat, but He pulls me back, even while He knows that this is my bent, this is what is natural for my humanity. He knows that I will do it again and again and again. And every time He pulls me close, pulls me near.

He never lets go. Never gets so tired with my tugging that He says, “Ok, go, leave, if that’s what you want.”

Never. Not ever.

He HOLDS ON to me.