Pieces

 

Imagine that your sin, whatever it is, is a glass kitchen plate.

You clutch it tightly, out of fear of breaking it. So tightly you start to feel your pulse pulsate against the outer rim of the plate under the pressure.

Eventually, you can’t take it anymore. Hauling this plate around is inconvenient, and starting to become downright uncomfortable.

When you finally let that plate slip through your fingers, your eyes follow it all the way to the ground where it shatters into what looks like a million pieces.

The logical thing to do in this situation would be to sweep up the pieces and throw them away.

But…

Instead, you choose to arrange all of those tiny, jagged pieces into your own beautiful little mosaic chaos displayed in the center of your kitchen floor.

You may leave the room for a bit to go out and live your life, but you never forget to return, sit in the middle of that pretty mandala of glass, and pierce your palms with its pieces to watch yourself bleed.

Why is it, daughter, that you are so inclined to watch yourself bleed over sins that have already been forgiven, for sins that My Son already bled for?

Is it because you feel like you don’t deserve any better? Because you feel guilty? Because of your shame?

 

…your sins I will tread underfoot (Micah 7:19)

…your sins I will cast into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19)

…your sins I will make white as snow (Isaiah 1:18)

the new creation has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 

Apply My Word as you would a salve into your deepest wounds.

It may sting, daughter. And it may take a bit for that to stop, but it will.

I promise.

It will.

 

…the pain you are feeling will in no way compare to the joy that is coming (Romans 8:18)

 

 

Christianity Is Not My Religion

Religion: “a system of beliefs or a code of moral conduct that judges (qualifies or disqualifies) a person based on their adherence and obedience to certain codes, rules, laws, traditions, or the performance of required acts.”

Lately, my heart has been hurting. Specifically, my heart has been hurting for those that directly or inadvertently live out their Christian faith in accordance with this definition.

Unfortunately, there are many many Christians out there that choose to define their faith, first and foremost, in this manner:

  1. I don’t…cuss *gasp
  2. I don’t…drink *gasp
  3. I don’t…party *gasp

But, I DO make sure to:

  1. Go to church every Sunday
  2. Tithe the right amount of my earnings each year
  3. Pray daily for the deliverance of the Democrats

Friends, I am here to tell you that Christianity is so much more than the things you choose to separate yourself from, what party you affiliate yourself with, and the seat you warm at church. If these are the most definitive Christian qualities about yourself, I highly encourage you to sit down and re-prioritize the qualities that define your faith.

Are you known for your selflessness? Your kindness or gentleness? Your loving and joyful spirit? Your humble heart? Your encouraging attitude? Your tears shed for those that are hurting? The sacrifices you make daily for others? And if so, do you exhibit these qualities freely to all people despite their beliefs, ethnicity, political affiliation, gender, age, or sexual orientation? Or are you kinda selective about it?

These qualities should positively radiate from each and every Christian, the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians. These feelings shouldn’t be forced, but should be exemplified freely just as God has already freely granted us His gift of His amazing grace.

Religion tells us that we must earn our salvation by not doing evil. Christianity tells us that all we need to do is believe that Christ has already paid the price for the evil we have done. There is nothing else we need to do to be right with God…Christianity is about what God has already done to provide us the opportunity to be right with Him!

Christianity is supposed to defy all logic and all reason, not close its self off in yet another box labeled “Religion #…” with its own set of rules and ordinances we must follow. Radically love all others the way that Jesus did when He came down to free us from sin and the confines of religion. No exceptions.

He doesn’t love all others with the exception of you.

 

Don’t Date A Christian Boy

All throughout college, I was under the impression that if I could just find myself a ‘Christian boy’ (or, what most girls call a ‘unicorn’), I’d be all set. Someone with a bible verse in their Instagram bio, a cross around their neck, and a position of authority in a local church or ministry (bonus points if they also had long flowing locks like Jesus).

That Christian boy would then proceed to take me on all of these cute dates, which would in turn remind me of just how much God loves me…my knight in shining armor, my savior on earth, the solitary facet of my life that I could finally start thanking God for.

Guys, I’m here to tell you right now that Christian boys aren’t all they are cracked up to be, and they are not quite as scarce as the mythical unicorns we portray them to be. In fact, they populate the earth in great numbers.

Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way.

A Christian boy remembers to move their lips occasionally during worship to make it look like they are singing. A Christian boy reads about love, but speaks hate. A Christian boy finds it hard to sit still during a church service, continuously whispering to his buddies sitting around him. A Christian boy desires to marry a ‘good Christian girl’, but doesn’t think twice about trying to infringe on her purity throughout their entire dating relationship.

If you are dating a boy like this, run. Settling on a guy like this just to tell your girlfriends that you are dating a ‘good Christian boy’ is not worth it, I swear.

I was so consumed with the idea that somehow dating a good Christian boy would somehow ‘make perfect’ the girl that grew up in Colorado without a God for most of her life. I needed someone that grew up in church to teach me a few things, right?

Wrong.

What I really needed was to realize, on my own, that this girl was made perfect years ago, before any ol’ boy came around. To finally realize that even the godliest of men could never accomplish what I was expecting them to do.

That power lies only in Christ, and Christ alone. Christ mends what is broken, and stands proudly by what He has healed and made new. He patiently waits for us to come back to Him, no matter how many times we venture off into the unknown. And upon our return, we are once again known by Him like nothing had ever happened. With the same love, the same devotion, the same grace.

And if He realizes that, “hey, that dude over there just might be able to glorify My Father even more hanging around a girl like this”, then by golly He’s gonna stand with you and fight to keep all of those “Christian boys” away from you that will have the opposite effect and instead extinguish your relationship with Him.

Be still, and wait for that GODLY MAN that closes his eyes during worship with tears streaming down his cheeks, that sees love as an action verb rather than a noun, that pays his full attention to the preacher speaking to him in order to decipher whether or not he is truly sharing God’s truth, that desires a godly woman to walk alongside him and is willing to sacrifice daily to keep on treating her the way God wants him too (even if at times she doesn’t deserve it).

Charm is deceitful, and looks are fleeting. Remind yourself of this if you find yourself clinging to your current boo just because of these things. What they are on the inside is worth far far more in the long run.

I realize that the man that I am describing truly is a freakin unicorn. But with God, if there’s a will, there’s a way. If His will is to have you rock the crap out of single life, CELEBRATE THAT (seriously, it’s awesome haha). But if His will is other wise, all you have to do is sit back and freely receive that oh so special gift.

But whatever you do, don’t you dare date a Christian boy. Believe it or not, you truly deserve better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty Pebbles

When I was a little girl, I used to love collecting river rocks. I would often wade out into the frigid waters of the Taylor River, my eyes reflecting the same shimmering light that danced atop the water encompassing my ankles. The ends of my long blonde hair would slowly dip in and out of the water, kinda like a paintbrush, as I reached down to collect the rocks below. Each time I touched a soft stone, I could hear my mother’s voice reverberate softly in my mind, It’s the river that made them that way, Alyssa. It’s the water that made them smooth…

People from past relationships…are kinda like river rocks. While still in the river, the glimmering water casts its spell and declares that all of the stones are beautiful, even though nothing is really known about a certain stone besides its color and maybe its size until we take the plunge and raise it up out of the water.

Reaching for that rock can be scary, just like dating. The hair stands up on your arms as your being is shocked by the cold of a new, foreign current. You like what you see, but you still really don’t know much at all about who or what exactly you are drawing up near to you. Unfortunately, there really is no easy way of doing it. You either take the risk and be vulnerable, or comfortably embrace your current circumstance on your own.

One cannot accurately evaluate a stone, or a person, until you reach out during those first few dates and gradually grab that rock and lift it up out of the water. Now, you are able to see things much more clearly than before. The illusion that the mirage the water brought with it will have faded. Now, you are able to see that certain something for what it truly is.

Sometimes, the stone isn’t as smooth as you thought it would be…or maybe it’s bulky form doesn’t rest all that comfortably in the natural folds of your hand…You find yourself slowly changing your mind. This is not at all what you were expecting.

The right thing for you to do, in this instance, is to toss that rock back into the river. But, why is it that so many of us choose, instead, to let that stone settle down into a home surrounded by the lining of our pockets? The longer you carry it around, the longer you become attached to it. Attached to something that keeps bumping a bruise into your thigh as the rock’s rough edges keep pounding in stride with every step you take. That rock may be doing a lot of moving around in there, but it’s never going to get smooth unless you toss it back into the water. However, like a child, you like it simply because it’s yours.

Letting go isn’t often easy. In fact, it nearly never is. Once that rock is gone, you are able to uncover that bruise you had been choosing to ignore for so long and see it for what it truly is. Black. Ugly. Mangled. Disfigured. Your mind now plays host to a number of thoughts.

How on earth did I ever let this get like this? Why did I allow this to keep on happening to me? Why was I so stupid? Why? Why? Why?

Letting go is hard, but it is absolutely necessary in order for the healing process to begin. Over time, that bruise will heal. That rock you thew back into the river? The current that carries all the trials of this life and the passing of time will hopefully smooth that stone out one day with their harsh friction, allowing that stone to rest gently into the hand of another.

The time of healing can be a long and painful one, if the bruise is bad enough. In this case, maybe you should hold off a bit before quickly settling on a random stone just to feel something jangle in your pocket like loose change. Unless, that is, you don’t mind allowing that bruise to spread to such an extent to where it becomes the new normal to you.

But, when you are ready (which one day, God willing, you will be), you can try your hand at wadding out into those bitter waters once again. You might pick up a rock similar to the first, but you now know to gently put it back in the water and allow your eyes to travel elsewhere. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll proudly share a home with a pretty pebble that’s smooth surface peaks out just slightly over the edge of your mantle.

Rise

The other day, I caught a glimpse of the thick, hardened callouses along the bottoms of my feet while wearing my Chaco’s (ya know, the good kind that don’t wrap around your big toes). I quickly looked away, my long hair snaking its way into my mouth during the process, proceeding to ask myself for the millionth time what on earth I am doing training for the OKC Memorial Marathon coming up… I looked at the tips of my fingers as I pulled the stray hairs out of my mouth. Same callouses, just smaller. Thanks guitar.

It was then that I was reminded that callouses form on the heart, too.

The physical definition of calloused is “made hard” or “hardened”. However, the secondary definition consists of adjectives such as “insensitive”, “indifferent”, “unsympathetic”…

Friends, I encourage you to not let circumstance harden you hearts. Past, present, or future. That exam you did poorly on, that boy that never notices you, that post you quickly scroll past on Instagram for whatever reasons, that extra roll that just won’t go away around your middle, that person that made you cry, that coworker that narrows their eyes when they look down on you, that bank account that makes you seriously reevaluate how you chose to spend the rest of your life, that parent that you can never seem to make happy, that friend that unintentionally did that thing that destroyed you, that sibling that you can’t help but constantly compare your life to, that family member that just won’t get better, that prayer that you’ve prayed almost a hundred times to no avail…

These things are all common circumstance. For many. You are not alone.

Circumstance holds the potential to have immeasurable power over your life. The good things that happen can do you good, but can also cause you detrimental harm when being worshiped by the competitive defense/guilt mechanism known all too well by way too many that steals our energy, focus, confidence, clarity, and joy. Likewise, the bad can be truly terrible, but the weight of what truly makes it terrible can strengthen us once we finally brace ourselves and lift it up to God.

You will be ever hearing but never understanding, you will ever be seeing but never perceiving. This person’s heart has become calloused…they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes… (Acts 28:26-27)

Calloused hearts find the bitter in what is sweet, and the dusk in what is light. Even when it isn’t easy to do so, forgive. Embrace. Love. Encourage. Restore. No circumstance is meant to keep us down. That pain of the past that you just can’t let go? Let it go.

We are made to rise. Be that radiant light. Defy the odds. Rise.

Singleness is No Season

As a single 22-year-old who has had only one “official” relationship, I cannot tell you how many times that I have been constantly reassured by both friends and family that this is just my “season of singleness” that I have to get through. Ugh…just hearing the phrase “season of singleness” now, after hearing it so many times, has me grinning that half-smile you make the moment you realize that the baby you’re holding is wearing a diaper full of poop.

Now don’t get me wrong, singleness is most definitely a “season” to those that are happily married or to those that are still giddy after recently changing their relationship status on Facebook from “single” to “in a relationship”. They’ve been there, done that. But to those not involved in a romantic partnership, singleness is currently their life.

A season is defined as, “a particular period of time during the year.” As most of us know, a period of time has both a beginning and an end. Period.

Lol, see what I did there?

But in all seriousness, whenever somebody tells someone else that they are just in a “season of singleness”, they are insinuating that “this too shall pass”. Like the bitter cold of winter or the April showers that are sure to bring May flowers. But who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to inadvertently tell someone else that the current circumstance God has you rocking right now isn’t good enough for you? Or that you deserve better? That you are supposed to feel this way. Cold, clammy, and discouraged…

Honestly, God has so much in store for you right now. Not when you are enjoying the rays of sun that summer brings when you are finally able to prove to Him how good of a Christian you are through your wholesome dating relationship or through your godly marriage, but now. 

Summer doesn’t come around when you enter a relationship, but when you finally realize that your worth and your happiness is in no way hinged on something as fleeting as a relationship. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:8 that it is good for others to stay unmarried as he did if they can help it. He takes this statement a step further when he says later on that it is much easier to glorify and care for the things of the Lord when you are not having to worry about the cares of your significant other (1 Corinthians 7:32-33).

The only time that God is gonna dub your singleness as a “season” is when He realizes that you were better created to glorify Him through a tangible relationship. A relationship that will thrive cohesively alongside the one you already have with Him.

Lean on this truth, friends. If God brings you a wonderful godly person to do life with, by all means go for it! If not, that’s great too! You are already involved in an intimate relationship with the Most High! And maybe next time you get to sit down and talk Jesus with a certain single someone, try to refrain from uttering that cursed Christian catchphrase.

Have Courage, Dear Heart

You’ve been praying for weeks, perhaps even months. Nothing.

In the mean time, you continue to live life. You wake up and brush your teeth with the same old toothbrush that you have been planning to replace for the past month. You go to work or school and go through the motions. Blink, breathe, repeat. You go to Walmart at the end of the day and forget to buy the toothbrush. You shower after dinner and maybe watch another episode of Friends in bed you’ve seen at least a dozen times until you suddenly find yourself waking up to the same old day, the same old toothbrush, the same discouraged heart.

Suddenly, there is a spark. No fireworks or roaring flames, but a single spark that could easily be quenched by the smallest rain or tear drop. Your first instinct may be to ignore it, for surely whatever it is you’ve been praying about isn’t just now getting noticed after the weeks, months, or even years of feeling completely and utterly alone in your struggles. Or, perhaps you might even choose to give it your full attention, leaning close enough over the ember to where its faint light just barely brushes against your cheekbones…and promptly put it out yourself once you realize that what little it had to offer just wasn’t what you were expecting.

Friends, I highly encourage you to listen to that still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). Treasure it, and willfully blow on its ember in order to further radiate its glow. At face value, it might not be what you thought it would be. Perhaps the answer seems too discrete, too simple, or too difficult for you to follow through with. But with a little attention and acceptance, and, finally, application to your life, you will see for yourself that His will is good, pleasing, and possibly even perfect (Romans 12:2).

“Have courage, dear heart.” C.S. Lewis

Dear Mr. Right

Dear Mr. Right,

Although it may seem unfair that we have still yet to probably even lay eyes on each other, I promise you that we are just still not ready to meet each other yet. As much as I want to rush this process and experience life with you immediately, I can’t. I can’t risk searching for you now, only to be overlooked by you when I am still not the woman not even ready to love herself. You might not be ready for me to accept you just yet either, so don’t you try to hunt me down.

Instead, I want us to each just be perfectly content with who we are as individuals firmly rooted in Christ. And perhaps, one day, you’ll randomly catch a glimpse of me and let the Lord lead you after that. Please be rather persistent with me, for it will be difficult for me to once again become vulnerable for another.

But with you it will be different. You, will be forever eternally grateful that I took that chance with you…by proving yourself to me every day that you will never abandon me and leave me bleeding. I at times may wonder why you’re taking a chance on me too, but your constant and steadfast love for me will one day forever quench that flame of doubt. For the first time, I will be able to have a tangible example of just how much Christ loves and pursues me as His bride…without ceasing.

You’ll look at me and, just as with Christ, I’ll be it. I will always be enough, and I will never have to prove myself of that to you. You will always know this, and on the days that I might start to forget this about myself, you will be quick to remind me of God’s truth about what He says about me. Together, we will bring Him both glory and joy by being two souls of the same mind, of the same love, being in full accord one with another. Until then, keep being you and I’ll keep being me.

Love, His Daughter

Who Holds Tomorrow

If you are a friend or family member of mine, you are very well familiar with the fact that I have just recently graduated from college. But, what you may not know, is that I never made up my mind about what I was gonna do after that. My decision to come to OU? It was the closest college from home. My major? The subject that I most excelled in. I just figured that I would eventually “have my life figured out one of these days.” What others call, a plan. 

In my past life shrouded in mourning and a severely anxious spirit, I had to lean on God like never before for both His comfort and His peace to envelope me in such a way that they one day became mine too. Now, I find myself leaning heavily on Him again. But this time, to be reminded both of His provision and the fact that He has a plan for me.

God knows of our every need…and our heavenly Father knows that we need them all (Matthew 6:32). God eagerly yearns for each and every one of His children to meet Him half way and turn to Him. Seek the Lord (Psalms 34:10)…walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11)…and we shall lack no good thing…neither will it be withheld from us…

But how do we determine something as a “good” thing? Does it become good by us just wishing it for it to be so? Because we want it to be? Many things that are in fact inherently “good” can quickly become a problem once we treat them like they are more important or more necessary than the One who actually created all of these things. I constantly have to keep myself in check when it comes to this all too familiar scenario. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting things like a good job, a home, or a significant other…but these desires can and will hinder your relationship with God if you place them above Him in importance and pay homage to them like your own golden calf.

God is literally our everything. He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all…how could this same Father not also graciously give us all things (Romans 8:32)? Many blessings are bestowed upon us just simply by being who we are: God’s children. Good things can and will happen to good people all the time, even if they have yet to realize and accept who their Father actually is. For other blessings to be freely given, however, one must ask. Ask in prayer…with thanksgiving…with faith(Matthew 21:22)…all the while asking in his name, and He will deliver (John 14:14). Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). God rewards those that seek Him…and those that seek Him must believe that who they are seeking actually exists (Hebrews 11:6). Abide not only in Him, but in His word (John 15:7). Sometimes the only reason we do not have is because we do not ask (James 4:2). Keep His commandments and live your striving to please Him, and He will strive to please you (1 John 3:22).

In life, it is often extremely easy for us to start stressing out about our wants and needs that have yet to be met. We stress out so much that we at times completely forget that we are already being protected and provided for. I often have to remind myself of this, and rest in this truth. I think that I’m all grown up, but sometimes if I don’t get what I want just when I want it…I quickly I lose faith. I can either beat myself up over this fact, or I can choose to be thankful. Every time I do lack faith in a certain area of my life, I both know and yearn to turn to God for help and not other things every single time I am reminded that I, being the mere mortal that I am, will always fall short. I may not always know what tomorrow holds, but I do know who holds tomorrow.

Big Dog

I never planned on posting the following (originally being a class assignment), but after my dog Lou passed away this morning I feel like I owe it to him:

I’m sitting on the big leather recliner in my family’s living room. My mother is reading the latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens, and I am sitting there doing nothing (at age seven, even doing nothing is better than doing homework).

“Mom, I want a dog,” I said.

My mother’s eyes eventually looked down into mine.

“You’ve already got a dog, baby.”

My eyes then fixated on the small mound of gray fur pinned firmly against my mother’s thigh. One move from me would undoubtedly unveil that Yorkie’s pearly whites and, quite possibly, trigger a full-on attack. I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow in response.

At that, my mother set down her magazine on the glass end table next to her and placed a pair of folded hands in her lap. An explanation was needed, and fast. I proceeded with caution.

“I…I want a nice dog! An…actual dog! A…a big dog…”

As long as I can remember, I wanted a big dog. Thanks to movies such as Old Yeller Balto, and Where the Red Fern Grows, this seed had been planted in my head from a very young age. I didn’t need a Great Dane or a Mastiff to make me happy—just the average Labrador would do. My mother, on the other hand, would not allow any kind of dog into her home that couldn’t fit into a purse. Ever since she was attacked by a large Doberman as a child, she’d get extremely nervous around any other dog about that size, no matter the breed. Pickles felt only bitter hatred towards my sister and me, but with my mother she was always as sweet as pie (probably because we accidently sent her flying down our staircase a couple times too many as kids).

Later that year, we ended up packing up all of our belongings (including our “dog”) and moving to the Rockies of Colorado. Here, dogs were everywhere. In fact, dogs practically ruled the tiny town of Crested Butte. If they weren’t wearing vests and booties, these pooches would be seated at restaurant patios eating organically grown dog treats in their very own chairs (when I got a little older, I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t sucked into the realm of George Orwell’s Animal Farm). Only Labs, Huskies, and Saint Bernese Mountain dogs (and the occasional mutt) were ever seen roaming around town with their people, no tiny toys like Yorkies…

It was only after my mother was literally thrown into the world of big dogs and convinced herself that she could at least coexist with them when she actually started considering granting me my childhood fantasy. At first, she was subtle.

“That dog over there didn’t growl at me.”

A little further down the road, she would eventually speak the sentence that is still one of my favorite childhood memories:

“If you were to get a Lab, what color would you want?”

I never got the chocolate Lab I wanted named Snickers, but I did end up with a Vizsla named Lou. While Mom was thumbing through a bird dog breeding catalogue out of sheer boredom during one of Dad’s infamous five hour Cabela runs, she spotted a breed that looked a lot like that of a Labrador. According to the catalogue, Vizslas were a little thinner and taller, with larger ears like that of a hound dog. The coat color appeared to be a rich red copper, which ran completely flush from their eye color all the way down to the color of their toe nails. I’m not entirely sure which of these features worked their magic the most, but from then on my mother wanted my first big dog to be a Vizsla.

After my mom’s extensive online search, my dad finally prepared to bring me home the big dog that I had always wanted. That morning, I rose with the sun and planted myself squarely on one of our white front porch rocking chairs until the blessed puppy was projected to arrive (practically all day since Dad had to retrieve him). But when Lou was finally handed to me through the open driver’s side window of my dad’s big black truck, it felt like I had only been sitting there for a minute or two. At that moment, I had just made contact with my best friend.

The next few years in Crested Butte were like a dream. Lou and I did everything together, from hiking in the wilderness to curling up together whenever he got the least bit tired (which was often). Being a breed with above-average intelligence, Lou took to every single trick I taught him like a duck to water. Lou even got to the point where he would turn the situation around and start to do tricks on his own in order to accomplish his own desires (sitting turned into “feed me, please” and laying down translated to “I am most definitely not going outside”). Any time my family and I took him out on the town amidst the other big dogs, he was the only one of his kind. People never failed to take notice, and would often inquire about his breeding and origin. I went from the new girl from the South with a little pet Yorkie to the new girl with that “super cool dog” whose name no one could pronounce. As a young girl, I literally felt like I was living the dream. It wasn’t the altitude that kept me short of breath, but the presence of my dream dog in my very own reality.

Mom, however, may have felt a little differently. When Lou was a puppy, my mother never could bring herself to play with Lou. When we were children, Mom would always tell my sister and I that we were to never to touch a dog’s ears unless we wished to get mauled. With my little sister being born two years younger than me with an inherent love of doing things her own way, she quickly broke the rules. But, no matter how forceful the touch or tug, Lou remained perfectly docile. This genuinely shocked my mother, and from that point on she had to rethink everything she had ever thought about bigger dogs.

Although affection via physical touch was almost never given, Mom did grow to enjoy taking over Lou’s mealtime. My mom was a stay-at-home-mom for as long as I could remember, and having another kid to feed was the most joy Lou could have ever given her. Lou may have been mine, but Mom was always the one that ended up taking care of him, and caring for others was definitely her love language. Mom continued to watch out for Lou even after our sudden move from the mountains back to Oklahoma thanks to the recession of 2008. It was only when her physical health was in decline many years later when she finally bequeathed me the title of Lou’s sole caretaker.

Up until the end, Lou had always had a special bond with my mother that no one else seemed to have. Don’t get me wrong, Lou loved me unconditionally, but not the same way as my mother. On Mom’s crummiest days, Lou would act as weak as a kitten around her, softly whimpering as he gently laid his head in her lap until she started to feel better. Lou could always tell if someone was hurting or broken, and these were the only times you could find him not smiling. When waves of anxiety would come over me shortly after Mom’s passing, Lou would resume his position just as before and would patiently absorb every ounce of pain, however long that took.

Growing up, I liked the idea of dogs having emotions, but I never could bring myself to believe it. I always figured that this ideal was just something that people thought up because that is what they wanted to hear, to believe. I always saw dogs as devoid of emotion. Sure, most dogs appeared to be overtly happy on the outside practically every second of every day. But if happiness is in fact the only “emotion” they ever feel, could one really go as far as to say that dogs are in fact “emotional”? When someone is described as emotional, one doesn’t automatically picture a purely happy-go-lucky individual. When I am emotional, which is unfortunately rather often, I experience feelings such as fear, panic and anger. To me, that is what comprises true emotion, feelings such as these. If a dog were to appear to have any of these emotions, it was thanks to their inherent instincts to survive, not to make an emotional statement (obviously a dog would appear angry if it were attacking another dog over food or fearful if it was the one being attacked). Dr. Jakk Panksepp, mentioned in Temple Grandin’s Animals Make Us Human, brings up the apparent appearance of rage, fear, and panic in animals (included in his list of what he calls “The Blue Ribbon Emotions”), and he agrees that all three of these moods are triggered whenever survival is threatened. The core emotion of rage? “Evolved from the experience of being captured and held immobile by a predator.” Fear? Felt “when their survival is threatened in any way.” Panic? “Evolved from physical pain.” If what an animal is “feeling” is just what they had been forced to experience thanks to evolution, is it really an emotion?

It wasn’t until my dog Lou started expressing what appeared to be emotion for no reason or benefit of his own that I began to see just how much he trumped the emotional capacity of even most humans. Not everyone would go through the trouble to get up when one wasn’t feeling well just to see if they were okay. Not everyone would just sit there for hours on end until your sides finally stopped heaving from panic. Being around people mentally or physically crippled is rarely enjoyable; it actually never is. The whole time you are thinking of their once normal self that used to do things for you but no longer can. For a dog, it makes absolutely no sense evolution-wise to continue to be invested in an individual who no longer gives you any tangible benefit, instead costing you your time and energy. Although Lou shouldn’t, he strongly desires to comfort others hurting through physical touch in an attempt to help absorb some of the pain (kind of like osmosis). Which made me wonder, why would Lou do this if he gets absolutely nothing tangible out of it?

The only conclusion I can come to on that point is that, like people, Lou has the capacity for sympathy, there is a harmony or an agreement in feeling between two individuals. In order for a dog to be sympathetic they must possess their own feelings which they then mirror to yours. Dogs gain absolutely no benefit from doing so, yet they persist in the desire to struggle alongside you. It doesn’t matter how many times you revert to feeling down, a dog will be ready to take the long trek down to the bottom of the steepest slope you’re at just to struggle and traverse their way back up alongside you as your spirits eventually mount up to the peak again. Who knew my big dog would also become one of my biggest role models?