By Nancy Virden (c)2021
Topper wagged her way into my nine-year-old heart on the porch of my family’s new country home. Here, life allowed room for dogs and cats to replace the turtles, parakeets, and gerbils of town.
Seezer soon joined Topper. My father had found an orange mix of Irish Setter and Golden Retriever tied to a backyard chain, a victim of physical abuse and neglect. Possibly due to beatings about the head, Seezer never learned his name or one command.
Topper and Seezer played vital roles as my childhood confidants. Home was not sweet. I did not want to return after school. In the house I learned it is wrong to feel sad and even worse to express it. Outside, these friends allowed me to sob into their fur.
They made me feel wanted. Seezer jolted into a full back-end wiggle each time he saw me. He would fold onto his front elbows in the universal play-with-me pose, while his eyes shone with unabashed joy. It is dogs’ God-like capacity to love without limits that draws us to these creatures.
They forgive easily, too. Jim was an angry, selfish teenager. In a hot flare of temper, he impulsively threw his young retriever over the side of a bridge into a river and walked away. After a mile into his hike, the dog caught up, wet, shivering, and wagging his tail. Forty years later, Jim still cries when he describes this moment of grace. Dogs have much to teach us.
I want to share with you four lessons we can learn from our faithful furry friends. Number one is the focus of today’s blog. The other three will be addressed in upcoming blogs.
(1) We thrive in packs.
No dog is an island. According to Dog Behavior Psychologist Lizi Angel, dogs are social creatures, much as we are. She has found loneliness due to isolation to be a factor in depression and compulsive behaviors in dogs.
Unlike canines who tangle themselves in our legs, plant their heads on the nearest human lap, and snuggle between our feet in bed, we tend to isolate instead of taking proactive steps toward getting our social needs met.
If you experience depression, know that it worsens as we hide away. Connection to each other is what everyone needs. It is risky and worth it. Ultimately, it is our decision and responsibility to fight for a happier life. Then comes the hard work.
Returning to a social space does not have to be dramatic. If you know Jesus as your Savior, then you already understand he meets us where we are. Ask him for help and wisdom. Small, doable steps at whatever energy level is available at the moment, are fitting. Answer a text. Sit quietly with the family. Go to the store and smile at one person. Go to church and sit in the back; then say hello to someone. Nearly any connection is progress away from lonely island life.
Today’s Helpful Word
Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.
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Always the Fight Ministries (ATFM) has been displaying compassion for those fighting mental illness, addiction, or abuse since 2012. Nancy is the founder and voice of ATFM and openly shares her emotional resurrection from despair.
NOTE: I am not a doctor or a mental health professional, and speak only from personal experiences and observations. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.
If you are feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here.
If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S. or go to your nearest emergency room. In the EU call 112. (For other international emergency numbers, go here ). Hope and help are yours!
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I recently heard this African proverb:
“If you want to run fast, run alone.
If you want to run far, run together.”