I reached a new level of crazy dog mom. I did a breed reveal photoshoot with Belle.
And you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care if others think I’m crazy or laugh. I don’t really care if other people think I’m “obsessed” with her. Because they don’t know what this beautiful being has helped me through. They don’t know my story.
But now I know a bit more of Belle’s.
It doesn’t really matter what her breeds are. It doesn’t change how much I love her or her training. It doesn’t change that I knew she was the one for me the minute I sat in her kennel at that shelter.
But what it does do is remind me that our mixtures are what make us. Our pasts, our weaknesses, our stories don’t define us, but they do help to shape us. They are our background, for better or worse, and knowing how they have shaped us makes it easier for us to navigate our future.
I don’t know what my family photos will look like from here on out, and I hope that one day my family photos look a bit more like the ones of a few years ago. But this one is perfect for me and fills my heart with joy.
I’ve said before that my dog has taught me plenty of lessons, and she continues to teach me things on every adventure we take together. With our road trip fast approaching, I wanted to get Belle used to her life vest, especially since she’s never worn one before. So I decided to take her to a dog beach.
Belle is what I call “selectively social.” She’s also the type of dog who, if she is not interested in socializing or in befriending another dog, is quick to let that other dog know. In that sense, she is like me. Perhaps that is why we are such a good match. This means, though, that when we go somewhere lots of other dogs are likely to be, I watch her very closely. She never instigates, but she will defend herself.
We have visited this particular dog beach before, before we really delved into training together, so I could safely compare her behavior this time to her behavior last time. And, boy, has it improved! (Score one for me!)
She loves fetching toys–balls, sticks, you name it–and she doesn’t much care if it’s really someone else’s toy. But she gets very possessive of balls and throw toys around other dogs, so I never bring them. (Can you see where this is going?) One dog parent had brought a water throw toy for their dog, and when it was thrown, Belle wanted to tromp after it, even though the other dog had it in and was swimming back. When I called “Belle, no!” she stopped in the waves, and I could see her think. Then she made the decision on her own–to listen to me and return to me. I was impressed to say the least.
Like I said, she is “selectively social,” so when another dog started trotting around after her and trying to instigate who knows what, Belle got grouchy–just a small warning noise–and ran to me. I try to allow her to stand up for herself first and see if the other dog takes the hint, but when this dog just would not stop, Belle turned. I grabbed the leather tab I have on her correction collar just to have control of her, and this other dog circled us. What I found interesting is that, even though I had hold of the collar tab, she didn’t try to pull from me to handle the situation herself, like she would have done a year ago.
She even sat still for photos and listened to her commands. She didn’t go in the water until I said it was okay, and she came back to me when I told her to. It felt like she knew I was keeping an eye out, and she trusted me to handle the environment.
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On her leash in public Belle is excellent. She can get particular about people approaching me, so we developed a “say hi” command so she would know it’s okay. A complete stranger approached us as we were walking the downtown area and wanted to pet her. She was hesitant about this person and stood close to me, but when I gave her the command, she lifted her head and allowed this individual to pet her. After a second, she turned her attention back to me, as if to say “I’ve had enough,” so I touched her back to let her know I “heard” her.
The best scene, though, was before we left to head home.
We were sitting outside, enjoying a water and the boat scenery, and a young boy–maybe an early teen–sat on a bench just a short distance from us. From the bit of the conversation I overheard while he was on the phone, he seemed in distress. A couple, who I assumed to be his guardians, approached, and he walked up to them, apologizing for something. As he neared our bench, Belle stood and nudged his hand.
“No,” I told her sharply, embarrassed she had just approached without permission.
“Oh, it’s okay, I like dogs,” the boy said, looking to be worried he got her in trouble.
I placed my hand on her back and said to him, “That’s okay. It’s just for her. She is learning she can’t say hi unless given permission.”
But Belle continued to watch him as he had his conversation with this couple. So I watched her.
“Can I pet her?” the boy asked a few seconds later.
“Sure,” I told him, smiling.
Belle took the opportunity. As he bent down to say hi, she folded herself into him and gave him a gentle head butt. Then she did something she doesn’t do to just any stranger: she licked him. And I don’t mean once. She gave him lots of kisses, and I watched with a smile as he laughed joyously and loved on her.
As we drove home, I thought about her interactions throughout the day and how she has improved since last year. I thought about how she listened so well to me, how she was so attuned to me, and how she just seemed to know when someone needed a little extra love. And I was impressed.
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In all we do, it is clear Belle’s trust in me has grown. Our bond has strengthened through training and everything we do together, so she knows me better. She knows when I need her to be near me, whether it’s because I’m uncomfortable in a particular social setting or because I’m in tears at home. Her attention and obedience to commands has gotten better because she wants to please me, and she knows I love her and want to do what is best for her. Our relationship–and thereby her intuition and attention to me–is built on that trust.
Like Belle, I have grown and learned a lot in this season. Like Belle, I am not perfect; I am still learning. Like Belle, my relationship with God must be built on trust–trusting that He loves me, that He wants what is best for me, and that He has good plans for me. But I would like to think that, like Belle, I know my master’s voice better now.
My mind is tangled. My heart races. I can’t breathe. No matter how much I try to regulate my breathing, I can’t calm it down. So I sit in a type of silent pain, waiting for the hours to pass.
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This is what my life is like a lot of days. Struggling with anxiety means your head hardly has a quiet moment. Sometimes it has to do with a situation or event, sometimes it doesn’t. My anxiety has been around since at least high school. I think I hardly noticed it in school because anxiety and stress is “expected” in college. When life after college got out of my control, my anxiety “came back”, and it did so with a vengeance.
As a Christian woman, I have been given the “Christian answers” to my anxiety:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know not God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” — Jeremiah 29:11
But these didn’t really help because I didn’t understand what was behind the anxiety. And there is something behind the anxiety: a voice whispering all my insecurities.
You’re not really qualified for that job, so don’t even try.
You’re not a good woman or a good wife; it’s no wonder you’re struggling. He doesn’t want you. Who would?
You’re a terrible dog-mom. You don’t know what you’re doing at all.
But that isn’t God. It’s the enemy. And I have to tune out the enemy or I will continue to suffer.
“The voice you believe will determine the future you experience.”
If I continue to give space to the enemy’s voice, I will experience an anxiety-ridden, miserable future. If I choose to turn my mind to Christ, though, I will experience His peace, love, and mercy–and a more positive future.
Over one year ago, I felt a nudge that I felt was from God. I felt like He was telling me that what was about to happen would lead to a positive future. But then things crashed around me, and I began to question if I had truly heard Him.
And that is when the enemy comes in and whispers lies: Did you really hear from God? Did He really tell you that? Maybe He really doesn’t want good things for you. He’s just watching you suffer, and He isn’t going to do anything about it.
But getting out of my head long enough to even try to focus on God’s voice and promises can be a lot. It can be emotionally draining.
. . . . . .
I had to find something to get out of my head. So I started taking exercise more seriously. I began running–and have even done a few 5K races–with my dog, Belle, and I was finally utilizing the exercise facility at my apartment. I noticed a difference within days. My mind was focused on running pace and number of reps, so it didn’t have time to entertain any more lies.
Exercise helps me refocus my energy and push myself in positive ways–in ways that will make me physically and mentally stronger. Adding Belle to the mix actually helped my head because I became focused on our combined abilities and we bonded.
Even with music in my ears, I often start to silently pray, especially during races. This helps my spirit and it makes the time fly by.
And when I get home from a run, I feel motivated to read my Bible and journal.
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But some days are better than others. Some days my heart races for no reason. And if that happens when I’m at work, I have to wait it out until I can go on a run. Today was one of those days. As I was running, lies began to seep in again: you won’t make 3 miles. Just give up now. Stop trying. But I didn’t listen; I pushed through. And when I refocused my energy on my music, on running with my dog, on the moment, I was able to push that whisper away.
My story with anxiety isn’t over. There are so many other components–exercise and nutrition, therapy, practices. But I know God has plans for me, and I believe that now. I am better at discerning what is God and what is the enemy. And that is progress.
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Do you struggle with anxiety? What do you do to manage it? Is there a way you could manage it better?