Sunday, January 1, 2017

Closing Doors

I have always loved animals. It probably helps that as a child my family always had at least one pet in the house. From cats to birds to dogs to hamsters, my mom was the best when it came to bringing us furry friends to love. I loved them all, but of course there was nothing quite like having a dog. We had more dogs than any other type of pet. Their loyalty was healing and their shenanigans made my sister and I look all the more innocent. We had dogs from the pound, dogs from friends, dogs from family members, dogs from all over. We hardly ever turned one away. In fact, I don't think we ever did. That must explain why when I've had to, it's been a fairly painful experience.

This year I am preparing to walk a one hundred mile pilgrimage that I walked a few times several years ago. It's a beautiful and graced experience, and I would recommend it to anyone. This particular pilgrimage takes place across New Mexico over a period of almost one week. Getting to know the women I walk with and receiving the love of those who feed and house us has always been spiritual nourishment. On occasion, stray dogs walk along with the pilgrims, and sometimes even go home with them if the owners cannot be found. As you might imagine, I was ecstatic when a dog joined our group during one of the years I walked.

The lovely little dog that followed us had many names since almost every one of us chose a name for her. We decorated her with a bandana around her neck and she wore it proudly, never scratching or pawing at it. When we had to stop along our path for breaks and she was not allowed inside, she would wait patiently outside. During our longer stops, many of us wondered if she'd stick around or not, and we'd eagerly go back outside when the break was over to see if she was there. To our surprise and absolute pleasure, she always was. She followed us twenty whole miles the first day, and when we had to retire for the night, we worried about where she'd go or if she'd be there when we woke up. We prayed for our faithful companion and anxiously waited for the answers morning would bring.

Morning brought answers indeed, and our little friend of many names was still there. We rejoiced and the journey continued. She followed us another twenty miles, but at the end of our second day's walk, we had to be bussed to the location where we would be sleeping. We assumed our pet could join us for the ride, but that was not the case. The bus driver wouldn't let her on and none of our supply vehicles would agree to take her either. I got on the bus and never cried so hard in my young adult life. I couldn't even stand to look out the window, but was later told that the dog didn't know what to do. She would turn in a circle, look at the bus, and circle around herself again. I don't even remember hearing if she tried following us or not, but I couldn't bear it. We'd taken a dog forty miles away from home and then abandoned her. Even as I write about the experience now it makes me cry. My family had never turned a dog away, and for the first time I was leaving behind a little companion I'd grown to love.

I try to avoid thinking about this story because I cry every time I recall the event. However, I could not help but return to ponder its meaning because I had a dream recently which reminded me of it. I dreamt that I was ministering with a group of Sisters. We were at a hospital, visiting and praying with people, and one of the Sisters had her dog with her. The dog was not allowed into the people's rooms, so she told it to sit and stay each time we came to a different corridor, and it obediently did so. At some point a dog came in from outside and began following me around. I enjoyed its company, but it was not as obedient as the other dog. It would never sit or stay when I told it to. Instead, I had to close and re-open the doors to each hallway whenever I made my way around to the different wings of the hospital. It was a lot of work and it began to slow me down. I couldn't keep up with the Sisters or with my ministry obligations. I didn't know what else to do, so as much as I didn't want to, I decided to send the pup back outside. Its company was no longer a luxury I could afford.

The title of this blog is “Closing Doors" because as we enter a new year, there are some doors I'll be closing. Most often the new year is associated with resolutions and exciting new plans. For me, the new beginnings that await are ushered in by an ending. As much as I love dogs, I've had much more amazing people friends. They have made the greatest companions I'll ever know and have impacted my life with great peace and joy. I have a small circle of close friends, and most of them remain. Some have drifted out, as happens over time, but this is the first time I've ever had to choose to close the door on a friendship. It feels like a great loss. It feels like abandoning someone who's walked countless miles with you, or like choosing to shut someone out whose company was worth more than a thousand perfect days. If I felt like I had any other choice, I wouldn't close those doors. But I have to. I'm spending all my energy on opening and closing doors and it's slowing me down. I open myself up for the sake of the friendship, and then I have to close myself back up in order to guard against its instability. It doesn't change how much I care about my friend. My friend may never even know how valuable they were and still are to me, but their happiness and my happiness are equally important.

Please continue to pray for me as I pray for each of you. May all your friendships, all your relationships, all your beginnings, and even all your endings be abundantly blessed throughout 2017. Happy New Year, my friends.