It was time to get out of Dodge.
I headed to the hills. The Hill Country that is, an hour and a million miles away from my suburban strip-mall city life and the carpool line. A weak cell phone signal and pollution-free skyline was calling to my soul. I was accompanied, of course, by my dog.
My dog and I would be inseparable if only malls and grocery stores would recognize the value of canine companionship. She's a nearly four-year-old Labrador retriever named Valentine and the subject of many of my musings and meditations. I will stop short of telling you that God speaks to me through her, but sometimes I wonder ... She is the mother of eight, brave girl; and one of those pups, nearly two, resides with her at our home.
She is a good mother. She loves her rambunctious son in spite of him constantly stealing her tennis ball and his propensity to still chew on her ears. She "slobberily" and dutifully cleans his ears with her big pink tongue and nibbles at imaginary fleas in his fur. They sleep at my feet during the day, lounging on one another's paws and snoring their doggy kind of snores while chasing rabbits in their dreams.
I love my children and husband, too. (I am thankful for cotton swabs when it comes to ear cleaning though.) I dutifully care for them, nurture them, feed them and play with them. Sometimes, they also steal my toys. I recently lost my iPod to my son and I am just a few years away from losing my shoes to my daughter.
Getting away from all of them though is a good thing for the modern mom (both the two-legged and the four-legged). We are in bondage to our activities, lists, agendas, meetings and volunteer "opportunities." We are often working outside the home, too. It is a miracle we have time to breathe.
Getting away from it all always brings this into perspective for me. Jesus had his wilderness wanderings and times of garden prayer. He was not afraid of time alone with his thoughts and his Heavenly Father. Nor should we be. To survive our crazy, warp-speed life, we need to occasionally experience the transcendent nature of nature.
Hiking today amidst the limestone rocks, scrubby cedars and rolling hills of my friends' Hill Country ranch, I observed with amusement the response of both my own soul and also the change in my dog's temperament. I had this desire to run across the pasture, arms flung wide, singing like Julie Andrews in some Texas-sized version of "the hills are alive ...." Valentine also seemed to display a level of freedom and joy I rarely see in her.
My husband said the other day that he thought she might struggle with depression. Yes, my husband said this about my dog. He's a counselor. He normally specializes in marriage and couples therapy, but he might have a money-making idea if he can figure out how to counsel people's beloved pets. But I digress.
Valentine does occasionally have a somewhat mournful and melancholic look about her. Perhaps it's the result of a citified life with the obligations of mothering her pup and having to also help put her two-legged little girl to bed each night, suffering kicks from those long legs as she snuggles steadfastly across the foot of the bed until our daughter goes to sleep.
Hiking in the Hill Country though is a different story. I watched her today, loping along beside and around me, nose in the air sniffing "un-citified," rarified air, tail wagging madly and tongue hanging out, flapping in the breeze. I felt the same freedom of spirit, and if I had a tail, I'm sure it would have been wagging too. Best I could do was swing my long-arms and slightly-wider-than-they-used-to-be-hips as I strode along, enjoying views that went on for miles and pure blue sky.
Mommas (and momma dogs) need this. It is not just an indulgence. It is not a narcissistic or hedonistic break in our world of give, give, give, serve, serve, serve. Time apart from our daily grind, no matter how much we may love it, is essential to restore the sacred to our frenetic lives where the secular rules and connection with our soul has been replaced with connection to the internet and too many other obligations ranging from the meaningless to the truly important.
The ancient wisdom of the bible, in both the Old and New Testament, encourages us to "consider." This "considering" is so much easier to do when we are freed from our regular to-do list. Consider the works of the Lord, consider the lilies of the field, consider the birds of the air, consider .... Jesus taught us that taking time to consider God's works and his provision for the feathered creatures that fly is followed by a directive and a promise: "The thing you should want is God’s kingdom. Then all these other things you need will be given to you." (Luke 12:27-41 ERV) The things we strive for, worry about, fret over — in the broadened perspective of an eternal kingdom and infinite grace of a loving God — are met in full.
Tonight I will "consider the stars" as is encouraged in the Psalms. I'll watch the waning moon rise over the Texas hills and marvel that a God who created such magnificent beauty loves me and calls me, a busy suburban mom and wife and working woman, to his heart. I'll snuggle with my four-legged best friend in front of a fire and be grateful for long walks in the scrubby brush and look forward to going back to my scrub brush and laundry and projects and deadlines and lunches to fix.
For this momma, a regular, albeit brief, vacation is all it takes to refresh the soul and spirit and bring into proper perspective that which we all dutifully do. We do all these things not just to raise a generation of productive and valuable members of society, but to grow up kids who can also step away from their city lives someday, behold the hills and stars, and see something of the infinite in their world. Hopefully, with a happy canine by their side and the love of God deep in their hearts.