Over the past seven years since I joined a local Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy raising group, I have had the incredible opportunity to learn so many things from how to train a dog, to the more intricate life lessons that come my way teaching me anything from patience, contentment, and everything in-between. I am really excited about starting up this series of blogs on the impact being a puppy raiser has been in my life through learning important life lessons. I thought it fitting to post my first blog in this series this week as I celebrate the first birthday of my fifth puppy I am currently training. I am sure there will be many more lessons I learn throughout the coming months and years, and I look forward to sharing those experiences with you all too!
Anybody who has spent any amount of time with me knows that I am a go-getter. If a task needs to get done, I will be the first to raise my hand and offer to complete the task, or even take the initiative and just do it without a prompt. I am also the oldest of three siblings, so naturally I was taught (and learned from experience) that I need to lead by example in front of my siblings, as well as be the leader of our little Three Musketeers pack. I am sure I owe a lot of this trait to the diligent training of my parents who taught us from a very young age to joyfully and completely finish tasks that need to get done, and take the initiative to also start and complete tasks on our own. Saying the phrase “I’m bored” in our home was practically the equivalent to using foul language, and I learned very quickly that there is never a time to be bored, and that if I didn’t keep myself busy with either work or play, mom was sure to always find something productive for me to do.
This character trait engrained in me from a young age has also been hard to juggle as I have gotten older. As someone who always takes the initiative, I have learned that I also usually gets stuck doing a majority of the projects that need to get done because I am either the first to sign up for them, or others have learned to not speak up and take on the task because they know I will offer to complete it myself. There is also an increased stress level of taking on too many things (even if they are good and godly!) that stretch me too thin. Learning to let go, to say “no”, and to let others handle things differently than I could have has been a huge learning process that I won’t pretend I’ve mastered yet *wink*
Because of my go-getter personality, my worst nightmare is getting a cold that knocks me out from doing work for upwards of a week or more. I go from spending the day at work and coming home to help with chores and running errands and working on projects for church, etc., to barely having the strength to move around in my bed. I am literally good for nothing when I am sick, and it drives me crazy!! I have had to learn that sometimes it is okay to be knocked out of production so we can rest, because God initiated a day of rest after the sixth day of creation and blessed it.
One of the most important commands I teach each of my puppies I train with Guide Dogs, is the “stay” command. This command is different from the “wait” command. “Wait” is an in-between command that requires the dog to pause momentarily and listen for what I am about to ask next. It is also used before a release such as during meal time, play time, and getting out of the car. When I ask my puppy to “wait” I am always next to them. “Stay” on the other hand requires much more self-control on the puppy’s part because it requires me as the raiser to physically leave the presence of the puppy for a short amount of time. This as I mentioned not only teaches the puppy self-control, but patience, and trust in my return as well. This training almost always requires another person to help enforce, and is reinforced through a game of “hide-and-seek” to make it fun for the dog. Out of the five puppies I have personally raised, and the many others I have “puppysat”, each puppy progressed through this command at different rates – but all struggled with it. One of my pups in particular, a beautiful white labrador retriever named Valisa, really struggled in this area for a while. She would literally cry when I left the room, even if it was just to grab something from another room really quickly. She loved shadowing me everywhere, and the moment I told her to stay I might as well have told her I had died.
It was during one of these training exercises that I had what you might call a “lightbulb moment”, although I believe in “lightbulb moments” about as much as I believe in luck. What really happened was the Holy Spirit gently and quietly began telling me some observations about myself. Any follower of Jesus Christ can testify to a time in their life where the Lord was either silent on a matter, or His answer was for them to be still and wait on Him. How often do I cry out to the Lord begging Him to show me what to do next when I know all along that His answer is for me to stay exactly where I am? Why can I not trust that when He says “stay”, it is the best for me and He always returns, just like I do with my dogs!
I read a devotional one time that I thought not only perfectly described my dilemma when the Lord asked me to stay, but also clearly explained why staying was His best not only for me, but the best way for His glory to be displayed. The poem in the devotional written by an unknown author states,
I’ll stay where You’ve put me; I will, dear Lord,
Though I wanted so badly to go;
I was eager to march with the “rank and file,”
Yes, I wanted to lead them, You know.
I planned to keep step to the music loud,
To cheer when the banner unfurled,
To stand in the midst of the fight straight and proud,
But I’ll stay where You’ve put me.
I’ll stay where You’ve put me, I will, dear Lord;
I’ll bear the day’s burden and heat,
Always trusting Thee fully…
And then, when my earth work is ended and done,
In the light of eternity’s glow,
Life’s record all closed, I surely shall find
It was better to stay then to go;
I’ll stay where You’ve put me.
Sometimes, I even correlate movement as getting closer to God, but unless the Lord decides to carry me through a difficult time, or if His response is not to “go”, then I am to “stay”. Oh that I could learn to trust my Savior in matters of coming and going, like my pups learn to trust and obey me when I have them stay and they patiently wait for my return!
As a go-getter, it has been a struggle re-training myself that sometimes my greatest work and my greatest exhibition of strength and bravery is actually in the joyful and patient stillness in waiting for my Savior to show me what’s next. My prayer is that others see that strength in my patience while I wait on the Lord to work. Not a strength by any means of my own power, but a power given by the help of the Holy Spirit that leads others to see Him in all His glory.