The Praying Dog Walker

Is it wrong to enjoy praying?

No.

No, it’s not wrong, but that doesn’t mean I always do.

Growing up, we prayed in King James English and said a memorized grace at meals. (I confess I resorted to that memorized grace a lot as an adult, too.)

In college, there were group prayers where I spent most of the time thinking up what I was planning to say and trying to sound spiritual.

During much of my adulthood, I enjoyed journaling and those journals often morphed into real prayers. Praying in the car on the way to school worked for me then, too.

But I’ll confess to years at a time that were close to prayerless.

In His grace, God didn’t let me stay that way. Eventually, I had to pray.

Fast forward a few years to the present.

I still struggle. I love the idea of praying continually, but do I have to wade through an checklist-2077022_640interminable list and feel guilty if I leave someone out? What do I do with the “are we done yet?” in the back of mind, or the thoughts about my grocery list?

 

 

Visuals help. I “pray around the country” for family members and unsaved friends, going in different directions for variety’s sake and zooming off to a foreign country on a tangent, then back again.

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I pray when I walk Angie the dog or when I’m driving. I’ve given myself permission not to finish in one sitting.

I’ve tried a schedule with a different focus on each day, but I always feel like I’m leaving someone out. Scratch that.

A couple of weeks ago, as part of our Wednesday night study on spiritual warfare, our pastor, Josh Daffern, discussed “Praying on Purpose.”  One of the strategies he described was to pray a word for someone, letter by letter–a sort of mnemonic device. (Hang in there. ACTS never worked for me, either.) His first word was PURPOSE. You can check out the recording of the study to hear how he used it, along with a great story.  I guess this process is somewhat addictive–in a good way–because Josh went on to generate several more words!

I got hooked, too. I couldn’t stop thinking of words. At last, a different focus for people and situations–something to make my routine, often burdensome list fresh and exciting. When a word popped into my head, a prayer was born, letter by letter. It was easy to tuck a quick but meaningful prayer into a stray moment.

Here’s how I used LEADERS to pray for our nation’s leaders.  You might come up with something different:

L-Pray that they will LEAN on God’s wisdom and strength.

E-Pray that they will lead with EXCELLENCE.

A-Pray that they will be ABLE leaders.

D-Pray that they will be DEDICATED to serving God and their constituents.

E-Pray that they will have ENCOURAGERS in their lives.

R-Pray that they will LIVE RIGHT. (Thanks, Pastor Josh, for R.)

S-Pray that they will be SAVED.

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What can you do with THANKS? (See my answers below.)

Before you grab a notebook and pen and go crazy, let me tell you why this has been such a liberating strategy for me:

  • Since I live in a world of words, this process automatically puts me in “pray continually” mode.
  • As I use little bits of time throughout the day to pray, I connect more often with God.
  • I avoid meaningless repetition because I can change the mnemonic when things get stale. I don’t dread a particular category on my list.
  • When I forget what a letter stands for, I’m prompted to think of a different meaning–hence, more variety.
  • If you pray in a group, with a spouse, or with your children, generating words to pray would be an engaging activity. You could even use a person’s name as a springboard for prayer.

No, my prayers haven’t become one giant acrostic, but this strategy has answered a need in my life. I hope you’ll try it, too.

It’s okay to enjoy prayer.

Let me know how it works for you!

Here’s what I did with THANKS:

T-TANGIBLE blessings; H-HEAVENLY blessings; A-ADVANTAGES; N-NATURE and creation;

K-KINSHIP with Jesus; S-SALVATION.

 

 

The Singing Dog Walker Is on the Move Again

A lot has happened since the Singing Dog Walker last checked in! I’ve decorated the house for Christmas and purchased many of the gifts. This weekend I resolved to get my blog ready for e-mail newsletter subscriptions! Rah! Rah!

Aren’t you glad I didn’t quite make it? More information on my stories and an option to subscribe to my newsletter will be here soon. In the meantime, Angie is walking and I am singing again.

Here’s what’s been happening to us:

Angie continued her rehab for her TPLO surgery and mastered the water treadmill:

Shortly before Halloween, Angie was bitten by a dog that had escaped her collar. God answered my prayer, “Lord, please protect Angie!” The other dog owner flew into action quickly and little Ang escaped with a couple of puncture wounds that healed fast. We hit the trail again pretty quickly, but for a few days she sniffed the scene of the crime, and I did a little less singing!

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We had a dusting of snow before Thanksgiving.

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Mindy the cat kept warm through it all.

Mindy keeps warm

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I did some cat-sitting for two teacher friends, which is always fun. I celebrated Thanksgiving with dear friends from my community group at church.

Angie got her “Master’s degree” in rehab when she graduated for the second time. I will miss the wonderful team at the Veterinary Surgical Center Rehab in Vienna, Virginia. We will go back for a visit when Angie’s in the mood for a car ride!

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Doesn’t Angie look pensive as she contemplates her future?

Her “awards” are: Golden Paw Print, Just Keep Swimmin’, Step Master, Ninja Warrior, and Beam Me Up (for laser treatments?).

Our community group at church had an early Christmas potluck party last weekend. Beware of game organizers who hand you a gift and a pair of oven mitts!

opening gift

I’m not whining, though. These wonderful folks are my family.

no whining

And so, the Singing Dog Walker and her sidekick Angie are on the move again, bundled up and waiting for Christmas. See you soon with information on how to get my newsletter! Stay warm!

 

The Singing Dog Walker–Part 4

I grabbed Angie’s leash, collar, and harness, stuffed them in my purse, and ditched the umbrella. Anything to save time. It was 3:20 and I’d said 3:00.

I stepped up to the long counter in the emergency room and the receptionist greeted me.

“I’m here to pick up my dog, Angie Green.” It’s not like she was away at boarding school for a year. This was just two nights of medical boarding while you went to a wedding. And now she’s coming home. Relax.

“What was the last name again?”

“Green, like the color.” Am I really that hard to understand? It’s just one syllable. Common name.

“Pet’s name?”

“Angie.” I relaxed the talon-like grip on my purse strap and sighed. No “Oh, yes, Angie! We love Angie.” Usually, they say something like that. Oh, well, they did say she was a sweetheart when I called earlier. I’m sure they were nice to her.

“Have a seat and I’ll let them know you’re here. It’ll just be a few minutes.”

I handed over Angie’s paraphernalia and sat down in the seating area. The gentleman to my left watched football on the TV suspended above the desk. I kept my eye on the door through which the tech would enter, bringing Angie, released from captivity. Poor girl. Had she felt abandoned?

Staring at the posters in the hallway grew old after a few minutes. I could check the score. Don’t recognize those uniforms. What?! The Redskins are ahead? No wonder the guy is so intent on the game.

Another man entered through the main door, leading a large dog who sported a red and blue bandana decorated with white stars. Tongue out, the dog grinned at us. His owner sat down at the opposite end of the long waiting room. “Sit. Good boy. Down. Yes, good boy.”

Flurry of activity. No Angie, just people coming and going behind the counter. The Redskins are still ahead. Wonder if I should bother learning some of the players’ names this year.

A client entered and exchanged a couple of words with one of the receptionists, then helped himself to two cans of soda from a fridge under the coffee machine close to Bandana Dog.

Bandana Dog stood up. Uh oh.

“Sit. Good boy. Down. Good boy. Yes. Relax.”

Bandana dog complied happily. His owner sat back and relaxed, too. No wonder.

I checked the score and the poster on the wall about supporting dogs rescued from Hurricane Harvey. Wonder if they’ll update the poster after Hurricane Florence. Where is Angie?

Wait. Was that a skittering of doggie claws in the hall?

The door opened and Angie burst out, sliding and skittering over the three-foot distance between us. She threw herself at me, then stood on her hind legs in a move that would have made her surgeon wince.  It should have earned an “Off!” from me. Instead, I let her squeeze between my knees and I kissed her shiny black head.

I tried to listen to the tech as he recited what meds Angie had received. “Do you have any questions?”

“No, thanks so much.”

Angie sniffed Football Watching Man’s feet, did a jig, looked up at me, and sat.

She might not be perfect, and she might not have a bandana, but she does have a pink heart ringed with rhinestones on her collar that says, “Angie.”

She’s mine. My little gift from God.

“Come on, Angie. What a good girl she is. Let’s go home.”

On the way home

The Singing Dog Walker–Part 3

Have you missed the Singing Dog Walker? Little Angie has been sidelined over the last few weeks with another CCL tear–this time in her left hind leg. This is the most common orthopedic injury in dogs. She came through her TPLO surgery with flying colors, and today was her checkup and first rehab appointment. We did rehab before, and I was anticipating the royal welcome Angie would receive from the doctor and therapists there.

I wasn’t disappointed. As you can see, Angie rocked her “Doggles” prior to laser therapy. She did a doggie “clamshell” first thing, without being asked, in anticipation of the treat she’d get! (I would have enjoyed clamshells a lot more if I’d gotten treats with each one!)

We’ve taken short walks every day since Angie’s surgery. She attracted a lot of attention in her cone. When she started putting her foot down, her fans applauded her.

I’ve met so many nice people since I’ve become the Singing Dog Walker thanks to Angie. One lady always stops her car wherever she is and comes over to pet Angie and cradle her face in her hands. Today she crossed the street, balancing a boxed cake and a grocery bag. She petted Angie, then paused, looked at me with concern, and asked, “Are you going to have everything you need for the storm? You know where we live. Just come and get us if you need anything–anything at all.”

Angie may be a star, and I’m just her mom and dog walker. She attracts all the attention, but I often reflect on God’s goodness in giving this little star to me, and in planting me in such a wonderful neighborhood many years ago. Back then, only God knew what love and care I’d need over the last few years, and I’m still unpacking the little gifts He gives me every day. Thank You, Lord.

Angie in Doggles

 

Angie in Doggles 2

 

 

 

Pity Party

New teacher Holly Bush of The Jesus Car might have appreciated this poem, which I wrote in 1991 and revised recently.

PITY PARTY

What a day I’ve had!

“Who wants to come to a pity party?” you say.

Then give me something to be happy about.

Make me forget

The gloppy spitballs found on the board.

Give me courage to face the class from you-know-where.

Make me believe

I’m cut out to be a teacher

So I won’t walk straight out the front door

Instead of doing hall duty.

 

“This is the day that the Lord hath made,

We will rejoice and be glad in it,”

Proclaims the plaque on my desk.

It’s only Monday, Lord–

Four more days away from rejoicing.

Today I just want some sympathy,

Period.

 

Just yesterday the preacher asked,

“Where does it say

God wills our days

To be problem-free?”

Then he laid it on the line:

“God’s will is for us to become

More like Jesus Christ.”

 

Hmm.

Could I become like Him

Without icky spitballs,

Toothaches,

And delinquents-in-training–

Those minor annoyances

That fine tune me

And pale in the midst

Of life’s cosmic crises?

 

Jesus, You learned obedience

Through what You suffered.

Did You heal with a headache,

Then rock-pillow Your head at night,

Trying to forget mercenary whines,

Clueless questions,

Sibling rivalry

And Pharisee traps?

Little annoyances–

Pale prelude

To the cosmic work that lay before You.

 

No, Lord, I can’t say I’m eager to sign up

For the fellowship of Your suffering.

Would my bumps and bruises even qualify?

The least I can do right now

As I press on

Is leave this petty pity party.

Fall–behind?

As I drove back from some errands yesterday around three, I had a strange sense of something wrong—out of sync. No dogs trotted down the sidewalk alongside their owners. The neighborhood pool was deserted. I reached for my bottle of water—almost empty. The temperature gauge on my dash read 94, and a perky voice on the radio put the heat index in the hundreds. Gee, thanks! A yellow bus lumbered by.

That was it! The bus. School was in session, but where was fall? When would the little children fly down the street in jeans and long-sleeved shirts? When would Mom bring the family dog to the bus stop and wait for her kids while sipping coffee? When would the grass stop growing and the lawn fill with leaves?

Cool, crisp Septembers in Northern Virginia are about as mythical as White Christmases, but still, I hope for them. The alarm on my “teacher clock” goes off in September and I’m ready for the energy of a new year, even though I walked out of the school door three years ago. Activities at church kick into high gear. Everybody and everything has a meeting the same week. Summer salads disappear from my favorite restaurant, and pumpkin spice beverages appear. (So what if I need something cold and icy?) When I reach the air-conditioned comfort of home, I salivate over catalogs that feature purple boiled wool jackets and plaid skirts. Fall, where are you?

Not Another School Supply List!

Christian radio station, WGTS 91.9 has a back-to-school resource guide for parents who are preparing to send their children back to school. You’ll find articles on topics such as spiritual preparation for the year, handling rejection, and homework. There are also notes for kids and teachers to download, and signs for your first-day pictures. Enjoy!

In her Come Have a Peace blog, Julie Sanders tells “Why School Mom Prayers Matter” and shares her ABCs of prayer resource.

Focus on the Family has a full slate of back-to-school resources, with sections on Transitions, Homework Help, and Challenges.

Looking ahead into the fall, parents might want to read up on Bring Your Bible to School Day, which is October 4. This is a wonderful opportunity for your children to exercise their rights and witness for Christ at the same time!

Teachers can easily feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the year—even before the students arrive. Christian educators in public schools face unique stresses. Check out Christian Educators Association International!

Have a wonderful school year!

 

A Year with Mr. Gruff

You just learned the awful truth. Your little Susie will have Ms. Oh-so-strict this year for fourth grade or John has Mr. Gruff for algebra. What should you do?

It happened to me more than once, and I survived. Chances are your child will, too. Mrs. Reed, my fourth-grade teacher, resembled a short, gnarled, weather-beaten tree. Drill sergeants bark; Mrs. Reed growled. I feared the sudden thunderstorm of her wrath when it came to math. We lined up by her desk to have the mistakes in our word problems pointed out. After a growl of frustration from Mrs. Reed and much red ink from her pen, I’d return to my seat, condemned to try again. Math hadn’t been my forte before fourth grade and having Mrs. Reed didn’t change that.

How about a little reassurance here, Pam?

My mother always struck a great balance between advocating for me when necessary and backing up the teacher’s authority. In fourth grade she thought I was learning enough math and not suffering too much, so she didn’t intervene.

The bottom line: don’t overreact and don’t panic if John has a “problematic” teacher. Wait and gather more information while trying to remain unbiased. In time, you may see that the teacher’s strong points outweigh her weaknesses. Depending on your child’s age and personality, this is also a great way to encourage some independence.

Here are some suggestions for a successful year with Ms. Oh-so-strict or Mr. Gruff:

  1. Start the year with an email just to establish a line of communication with the teacher. Don’t complain or even ask questions. Indicate when and how to contact you. Without being threatening, this shows that you intend to be involved in your child’s education.

 

  1. If you still have concerns after a week or two, contact the teacher directly and arrange to discuss the situation face-to-face. Emails discussing problems can be misunderstood without the benefit of eye contact and other cues.

 

  1. At the conference, relax. View the teacher as a partner in helping your child. Get a feel for how Susie is doing in class, then bring up your concern in a non-threatening manner, using “I messages”: I’m concerned because Susie seems afraid to ask questions about her math assignment. I’ve learned that Susie needs to sit near the front of the room near attentive neighbors in order to concentrate.

 

  1. Ask the teacher for her recommendations. Chances are you will come to a resolution without difficulty and leave the meeting with an action plan that will be easy for all parties to live with. For example, if John never seems to understand the specifics of his homework assignment, he’ll write out the details in his assignment book and the teacher will check and initial it. If you object to the book that John’s English class is reading, you and the teacher will work together to find an alternative meeting curriculum guidelines.

 

  1. Discuss the action plan at home and make sure Susie understands what’s expected of her. Email a thank you to the teacher. You can keep friendly tabs on the situation throughout the grading period.

 

  1. If the meeting doesn’t help resolve the situation, you can seek help from another staff member. A guidance counselor could help with relationship issues or even learning strategies. High schools offer peer or volunteer adult tutoring.

 

  1. If possible, avoid going to the school administration. Your protective instincts may tempt you to bring in the “big guns,” but this move may figure into the teacher’s evaluation and create a hostile relationship. In a middle or high school, the department chair may be able to help, or the guidance counselor may be able to arrange a schedule change.

 

  1. Involve the administration when you have exhausted other avenues. Documentation of how you’ve attempted to resolve the problem will be helpful to the administrator.

 

Did you survive a year with Ms. Oh-so-strict or Mr. Gruff? What did the experience teach you?

Do you have any suggestions for dealing with difficult teachers?

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

For Cassie Franklin, the heroine of my novel The Substitute, back-to-school time is without a doubt the most wonderful time of the year. For years she and her husband Joe, a school administrator, have transmitted that enthusiasm to their children. Cassie puts her home economics skills to work in August, trying out new recipes for breakfast muffins, bread, and sandwich spreads. Children Jen and Paul help their mom make a schedule of menus for their lunches. As the children got older, Joe gave them a budget for clothes and school supplies and drove them to the mall. Cassie used the quiet time to get started on lesson plans. But this year, it’s different. The kids are both in college, and Cassie doesn’t have a job. Will her life ever get back to normal?

By mid-August Sully High School assistant principal Michael Lansdowne is racing around the building. His mission: to locate missing boxes of supplies and file cabinets moved into the wrong classroom after all the floors were waxed. For relaxation, he straightens his desk and stocks up on evaluation forms for his assigned teachers. How did he wind up with more teachers to evaluate than any of the other APs?  He’s already stressed, and school doesn’t start until the day after Labor Day.

Newly-minted P. E. teacher Holly Bush, the heroine of The Jesus Car, doesn’t have as much to do as Cassie or Michael. She’ll be buying a couple pairs of athletic shoes, some shorts, and a whistle. She’s already purchased Sully Lions sweats, polo shirts, and ball caps. If only Katrina and Yolanda would get in touch so they could go over the safety and procedural lessons and field hockey rules handouts! And then there’s the matter of her anemic bank balance. How will she make it until the end of September when she gets her first paycheck?

Francine Paris, the culinary arts teacher at Sully, works for at least a week in her demonstration kitchen before the contract year begins. She runs all of her dishes, glasses, and flatware through the dishwasher and hand washes the pots, pans, baking sheets and knives. She inspects everything in her pantry to make sure no pests have wreaked havoc there. Then she’ll write a purchase order for Foodie Village and get that to the finance technician before the rest of the faculty monopolizes her time. She works hard and she works alone, which is what puts her in a predicament as The Substitute opens.

Like their real-life counterparts, fictional teachers and administrators work during the summer.  Even so, most of them anticipate the newness of the first week of school and enjoy the ritual of getting ready for it.

What are your back-to-school rituals? Are you anticipating the start of the school year?

The Singing Dog Walker (Part 2)

 

Angie on walk.jpegAngie settled me into my routine without delay. Four walks a day became a necessity since even at five years old, she wasn’t house trained. Those walks turned me into “the singing dog walker.” Don’t be fooled by the nonchalant sound of the name. I exuded ineptitude with every walk we took for the first couple of months.  Whatever I did, Angie would not walk unless she was in the mood. And so, I sang. I danced. I did cheers. We moved a few inches. I picked up the twenty-five-pound Angie and carried her a few yards, then started over.

Take me home, Virginia roads

To the place I belong…

Add something that looked like moon walking on mom’s part.

Let’s go, Angie! Let’s go!

I’m sure there are YouTube videos of us out there taken by amused passers-by, but I’m not going to search. Be my guest, though.

It got better. I got a trainer. Now I don’t wind the leash three times around my wrist and gear up like we’re going hiking every time we go out. I still sing, though. When I’m hustling Angie along on her walk so we can get to the sitter’s, to the tune of We’re Marching to Pretoria:

We’re marching off to Emily’s, to Emily’s, to Emily’s.

You’ll watch TV at Emily’s, at Emily’s, at Emily’s.

 

Angie expects me to sing when we walk. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty! This indoor girl has seen more of All Creatures of our God and King in two years than in the rest of her lifetime. We’ve had a rather gloomy, rainy summer here in Virginia, so on the rare sunny days I’ve sung Sunshine in My Soul.

I’ve relaxed that death grip on Angie’s leash and she enjoys our walks. Even when she plops down in the grass for a few minutes, I don’t fear the covert videographer like I used to. We’ve found our rhythm together, and I’ve found more time to communicate with our Creator.

How about you? Do you sing silly songs to your pets? (Please share them!) Do you worship God outdoors?