Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Woman's Best Friend

Gryffin on adoption day, resting after his 1st bath.
by Rev. Laura Barclay

A few months ago, my husband and I adopted a dog from the Kentucky Humane Society. After three years of allergy shots, I was ready for my first canine. We had been to the shelter several times and never found the right one for us: relatively quiet, good with kids so my niece could play with him/her, medium to small in size, and a low shed breed. As we looked through the cages, I saw a ball of matted fur in the back of one off to the side. Large brown eyes stared out of a mound of dirty white hair.

The name on the card read "Walter". It wasn't his real name (if he was ever given one) but a moniker given by the intake volunteers, which didn't seem to fit his obvious youth. I slowly removed him from the cage and he walked around with me, hovering close to my ankles. While I knew we should keep looking at the rest of the dogs, this one had crawled into my heart. He kept gazing up at me intently and expectantly. I hated even putting him back in the cage to fill out the adoption forms--I was a afraid he'd think I didn't want him, or worse, there would be a mix-up and he would be gone when I returned.

In the days to come as we bathed him, re-named him "Gryffin", took him to the vet to cure his kennel cough, weaned him off of people food and tried to convince him we'd never abandon him, I learned that he was found at a gas station in the small town of Mayfield, KY.  He tried to crawl into the car of a newspaper delivery woman before she called the pound to come and collect him. He was transferred to Louisville because of his sweet nature and high probability of adoption.

Gryffin whimpers and cries during storms, watches us sadly when we leave the house but no longer slams himself against the door to follow. He has gradually eaten his meals more slowly since he trusts that there will be another soon to follow. He still has panic attacks, but far more rarely unless brought on by his bad allergies. Yes, he's a handful--with him I adopted his anxieties, his health problems, and his fears. But he's given me such a blessing in return.

Gryffin lets me style his hair between cuddles.
On days when I'm stressed, he jumps in my lap and forces me to play. He knocks me out of a downward spiral of anxieties because he is highly attuned to his parent's moods. Gryffin's demanding sense of play time forces me to exercise more which also lowers my stress and reframes my mood. More than anything, I have found it incredibly rewarding to help be responsible, along with my husband, for guiding this little guy out of his shell and watching him become more relaxed, loving and confident every day.

I'm learning about that oldest and most ancient of relationships and what having "dominion over the animals" means. It's a great responsibility to care for this puppy, discarded and unwanted by someone who didn't or couldn't understand the depth of that task. In caring for Gryffin, I'm also caring for myself. I'm being reminded of the blessing of God's creation, the importance of being connected to all creatures in it great and small, and my heart has grown larger and more grateful.

I'd love to hear from you: Do you have a special relationship with an animal? What have you learned from that relationship? Leave me a comment!

This column originally appeared in Next Sunday Resources.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Wild & Precious Easter

“Mangrove tree inside Snipes Point near Key West,” Florida Memory, Wikimedia Commons
by Rev. Laura Barclay

I had the opportunity to go on a much needed vacation recently with my husband to sunny Key West. Because he had looked forward to this for weeks, he immediately wanted to book some excursions. We settled on a jet ski tour around the island and a boat trip that included snorkeling in the middle of the ocean. After nearly drowning in the ocean when I was 12, I was less than enthused about these choices, but I try to live by Eleanor Roosevelt's advice to "do one thing everyday that scares you."
I was even less enthused the next day when I realized we had hired a speed demon for a jet ski instructor who used words like "gnarly" and "rad" far too much. My options were to go between 45 - 50 mph and risked being flayed by the water if I fell off or lose site of the guide and wander aimlessly off the coast. While I like a bit of adventure, these are not my idea of good choices.

During one of the rare times he stopped to give us information about the island, he told us about the mangrove islands off the coast that we were about to fly past and barely see at breakneck speeds. He said that mangroves aren't actually saltwater plants. So how do they live in saltwater? They send a sacrificial leaf down to soak up all the salt. While this leaf withers and dies, the rest of the plant remains hearty and healthy.

I was just about to ask another question when he revved up his engine and rocketed away, and the moment passed. Later, I thought of this plant and how timely it was to learn this lesson the week before Easter. Throughout Lent, we give up bad habits or taken on spiritual practices in the hopes of reconnecting with the very core of our faith in God, and perhaps to learn something about ourselves. 

What is our sacrificial leaf? What have we had to give up so that we could flourish in our lives and our calling? Isn't that a bit like taking up our cross, as Jesus bid us to do? Well, in order to make it to the end of that terrifying jet ski tour, I had to give up fear. Instead of thinking about the sickening sound my body would make hitting the water at high speeds, I tried to focus on the wind in my hair, the color of the water, and the uniqueness of the moment.  I realized would never be in this situation were I in control. Control can be both good and bad; we can surround ourselves with things that comfort us, but we may miss a lot of great experiences. 

Our God is a great one who defeated death. Jesus flipped our world on it's end when he showed that the evil power of a corrupt Roman ruler wouldn't have the last say. Nothing is safe. The order of things has been upended. C.S. Lewis put it best in his "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" when the children are nervous about meeting the Christ-like character of the lion, Aslan. Susan says, "Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." Mr. Beaver replies, "Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

In a world where anything can happen, we aren't in really in control, and we follow a God who can defeat death itself, what does Easter mean?  In this celebration of our risen Lord, I think we should all ask ourselves what our place is in this world. If we take up our cross, shed our sacrificial leaf, and lean into God's call, what could we do? What will we do?

As the great poet Mary Oliver asked, "Tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?"
The article originally appeared on "Next Sunday Resources":  http://www.nextsunday.com/a-wild-precious-easter/

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Lesson in Humility

by Rev. Laura Barclay

A few days ago, during a respite from one of the many polar vortexes that have blown through Louisville, I took my dog for a walk. My neighbor called me over.

“Hey there! I saw you fall the other day.”

“Oh, yeah. I slipped on the ice.” I laughed nervously and stared at my dog.

“Yeah, you fell. Then you laid there a while. You looked like you were hurt, and I thought you might have moaned a little. I was about to come over and check on you, but you stirred a bit, fell back down, pulled yourself up, and then limped slowly inside your house. I thought it was best not to disturb you, since you were probably icing your wound.”

Thanks, neighbor. He keeps an eye out for those around him and not a lot makes it past him, but I could’ve done without the painstaking retelling of one of my most recent examples of clumsiness. The only thing that makes this story even more embarrassing is that I was running back inside the house to change my shoes when I fell. I had realized I was about to take my sick dog to the vet in my house shoes instead of my snow boots.

We’ve all been there—tripping on the street and moving quickly along like we just decided to change our pace, as if anyone besides children would suddenly decide to start skipping instead of walking. Or maybe we spill a drink on our shirt and then decide to wear our coat to cover it for the rest of the evening. “Oh no, I’m not uncomfortable. I love sweating.”

But here’s the thing: life is too short to pretend we are perfect. As a recovering perfectionist, I should know. This means that where I would normally get very anxious about completing a project or meeting a new group of people, I now just try to do the best I can. If I fail or people don’t like me, so what? Neither of those so-called potential failures should be the measure of success to Christians, who are commanded to love their God and their neighbors as themselves. That’s easier said than done, and I can still get very anxious about the smallest things. But having a mantra of “so what?” has been helpful during those moments when I screw up or my neighbor slowly regales me with tales of my face plant or I just can’t seem to get it together.

Paul advises a church in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Paul’s point is that we are all part of the body of Christ, and each one of us has gifts and a role to play. We don’t have to be perfect or have it all together. We are meant to work in community to help one another and embody the love of Christ. We can fall down, mess up, be awkward and fail. Each one of us is beautiful despite (and even because of) our shortcomings.

You are a member of the body of Christ. You are gifted and special. Let’s work together to share this message with all God’s children.

This article also appears on Next Sunday Resources.