Updated: Mar 8
When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
My dog, Marlee, is the first dog I’ve had in over 30 years and the only one I’ve kept inside and worked with to train. Marlee came home to us when he was eight weeks old. He is a Golden Doodle and it is ironic that he never developed even one curl, because it was the curls that melted my heart and made me decide I just had to have a dog – a Golden Doodle. I picked him out of four male pups that all looked very much alike. None of them had curls yet. The funny thing is, Marlee looks exactly like a Golden Retriever! He did not get any of the Poodle look. And now, it doesn’t matter in the least because Marlee is mine. He is beautiful and funny and very affectionate. I never dreamed I could love a dog so much. Now Marlee is eight months old and has grown from an eight-pound puppy to a very strong, energetic 50-pound dog. (The training book says he is in the “adolescent stage.” Having had teenagers, I can see that!)
Marlee loves most everybody. He has been good therapy for my husband, Fred, during this shut-in Covid time. He makes Fred laugh and gives him something to get up out of bed for. It is Fred Marlee knows will give him peanut butter on a spoon if I say it is okay. Marlee also loves my daughter, Annie, who comes each morning to have coffee. He jumps into her lap as if he is a tiny pup. He also gets crazy excited when he sees Tucker or Aaron who live in our apartment complex and who give Marlee extra attention when they see him.
So that Marlee can get the exercise he needs (which is more than I can do from this apartment) he goes to doggy daycare several days during the week. He is very excited to go there and the staff tells me Marlee has “friends” he runs with much of the day. He’s always glad to see the staff who comes to get him at the door.
But here’s the thing … as much as Marlee loves other people (and dogs), it is my voice he listens to. It is me he depends on and trusts to feed him, to take him outside to potty, to get up in the middle of the night – sometimes more than once if he has a problem – to take him to the elevator and down and out of the building so he can be relieved. It is me who cleans him up and makes sure he has the right amount of food, who takes him to the vet, and to training, who works with him to teach him manners. It is my voice that he knows to stop something when I use a stern tone; and it is my voice giving him assurance and praise that makes him sit up straight, his tail sweeping the floor as it wags, looking at me so doggone cute as he hopes for a reward – the treat he knows is in my pocket at all times. I have loved and cared for Marlee since he left his mother and he trusts me. He knows he’s loved – even when he is mischievous and doesn’t obey as quickly as I want him to – he never shows any kind of fear that I might hurt him or stop taking care of him. He just aims to please and loves to be with me. When I leave him for a while, he stands on his back legs and puts his big front paws on my shoulders and nestles his cute little head into my neck. He is so very happy to see me!
I thought about Marlee as I read my devotional today which included the scripture verse from John 10:4. Jesus was talking about himself and all of us who profess him as our Savior, when he said that the shepherd gathers his own and the sheep hear and know his voice and follow him. He is our Good Shepherd – the one we can trust to protect and to guide us, the one who knows each of us by name and loves us unconditionally – even when we are not as quick to obey as he would like. We can trust that he will not leave us or abandon us; that his love will never fail. We can be assured that we are forgiven and saved from sin and death because Jesus laid down his life for us on the cross.
Sometimes Marlee gets distracted by all the noise and commotion going on around him – other people, honking geese flying over, ducks swimming in the river, squirrels climbing trees, trash blowing around. With those distractions, he can lose focus on my voice and I have to call his name several times to get his attention.
I think that’s a good example of why the wilderness theme works for Lent. The wilderness might have some distractions but mostly it is quiet and empty of busyness. It is a place where we can focus on The Voice of our Good Shepherd who calls us to refocus on our relationship with him and on his purpose for our lives.
Perhaps you have been distracted with concerns about the pandemic and about loved ones – parents or children, work, fear of contracting the virus; perhaps you have felt out of touch with so many churches not meeting in person, not having the personal contact with your family of faith. Virtual meetings and worship are just not the same as being there. I think this time has been a real challenge to stay focused on our faith life. Even though many of us have had more time being at home, we’ve had so much on our minds.
My prayer for you and for myself is that, in this wild and wonderful wilderness time of Lent, we will hear the voice of our Shepherd – Jesus – and our spirits will be renewed; our souls will leap up with great gladness and joy as we get close to him again. Be sure to find your quiet wilderness spot and listen to the song, “I Hear Thy Welcome Voice,” sung by Cindy Powell.
Bask in his presence in a time of quiet … and may your spirit be revived once again.
Peace and Grace!