Thursday, April 20, 2006

God won't let me get away with anything these days.

I came home from work this morning to let Bailey the Killer Beagle out for a few minutes. She probably needed to do her duty. (doody?) While she was leashed in the backyard I decided to extend my quiet time a few minutes and get some more "face time" with God. It was not a long time. Maybe fifteen minutes. I got up and went to let Bailey in. She was not there. The end of her 25 foot leash was in the grass minus the dog. Oh sure, the collar was still on it but she had run at it so hard that the plastic "catch" had snapped. Leash and collar? Present. Dog? Absent.

You see, Bailey the Killer Beagle is an inside dog. In reality the only thing she kills is time. But she is a Beagle and she is fast. And she is a great tracker. She'll track anything and everything right into the path of an oncoming SUV if you let her. I walked to the front yard and, just as I thought, she was sniffing her way up and down the street. She didn't mean any harm. She was just busy being a Beagle. She is also smart enough to know that if (when) I catch her I'll take away her freedom and bring her home. She cannot get SUV'd in my living room.

We went up and down the block for thirty minutes. The mailman tried to snag her. I yelled at him to mace her for me and I'd just stroll over and pick her up. He looked at me like I was crazy. He knew Bailey wouldn't hurt him. The same thing was repeated fifteen minutes later with the gas meter reader. Now I was chasing her by car. The plan was to let her trap herself in a fenced in corner and then I'd grab her. She did that twice. I'm still dealing with the aftermath of a broken toe and I couldn't catch a hairball blowing across my carpet these days.

I gave up and went home. So did Bailey. She strolled into my back yard and through the open gate into the yard of the neighbor behind me. The totally fenced in yard of the neighbor behind me. I closed the gate. Mission accomplished. I made a few half hearted stabs at catching her but there was really no rush. She couldn't go anywhere. That is when my neighbor who lives next to the house where Bailey had caged herself showed up. This guy has a reputation for being mean. My other neighbors have warned me about him. I've only met him a few times because he doesn't like people. And he doesn't like dogs. And he doesn't like people owning dogs. Particularly people living near him.

I smiled at my neighbor and said hello. You know what he was busy doing on this spring day? Building a fence. A big, tall, solid, wooden fence. I don't really care. My yard and his yard only touch for about the width of a needle at my northwest corner. Yet it is somehow poetic that he is building this fence. Anyway, he returned my greeting with a grunt, cigerette dangling from his lips. He was ... actually is ... wearing a really filthy t-shirt and ripped up, cut-off jeans. This guy is NOT Wilson from Home Improvement. I told him that my dog had caged herself in and that I was going to let her wear herself out in our joint-neighbors yard. He went back to his fence building. I went inside of my own house to drink about a gallon of water.

That is when I looked out my back door. Bailey was sprinting across my yard to freedom. Mr. Fence-it was standing at the open gate.

What I felt at that moment redefines the word "seething." Had I been in the middle east I could have fixed the entire military/religious/political problem in just a couple of minutes. I would have won. The land would have been mine. East Bank/West Bank/Temple Mount, it makes no difference. I would have owned it all and all warring parties would have been darned glad to have signed it over just to get me off of their ... case.

I opened my door and approached my neighbor. His cigerette fell out of his mouth. Seriously. As he picked it up I said, "did she manage to squeeze through that gate?" He lied, assuring me that she did. "That's one small opening! She sure managed to get really little, didn't she?" He listened to my obvious sarcasm and turned back to his work. I got in my car and followed this little brown beagle butt for about four blocks. She trapped herself in another back yard. I have no idea who lives there and I was praying they were not at home as I clicked their gate behind me.

This time it was war. Broken toe or no broken toe. Fury trumps pain everytime. In less than sixty-seconds Bailey was in my car, cowering on the floorboard. In ninety-seconds she was with me in the back yard, trembling in my arms. I approached my neighbor. He mentioned how I sure had managed to find her fast. That's when I lied to him. And that's when I ran aground against the Truth that has set me free. You know who I mean.

I told my neighbor, "Yeah, and it's a good thing. My wife really wants a Great Dane." I gestured with my free arm to show that the dog would stand pretty close to my own six foot height. He stopped what he was doing and looked at me now. He asked if I was kidding. I told him that I was not. I said that my wife had always wanted a Great Dane and that I had promised her one when Bailey was gone. I told him that if I hadn't found her I would have bought one tonight. He told me that if I got one I had better fence in my whole back yard. I told him that a fence wouldn't help. The dog she has her heart set on would just step over it anyway. I turned and walked back to my house leaving him feeling whatever he was feeling.

I settled the score with Bailey. I took her inside and put her in the cage she sleeps in. It's a cushy arrangement with comforters, blankets, and every amenity short of plumbing and cable. Then I picked up the entire cage ... and her with it ... and set it out in the middle of my back yard. She barked. My neighbor looked up. I smiled at him. I told him to have a nice day. Bailey kept barking. I went in the house. I watched through the window as Mr. Fence-it threw down his tools and went into his own house.

I was mad. Still mad. Not at the dog but at the neighbor. This guy deserved to be slapped around. He deserves a Great Dane keeping him up nights and stepping over his fence like it was nothing more than a blade of grass. Christopher called from college and I told him what had happened. He never talks long but I think he made this one shorter than usual. Rage isn't hard to read. I walked into my living room. There was my quiet-time stuff. Still open on the chair. I sat down next to it and immediately began to tell God how angry I was and how my neighbor deserved a little vengence to come his way. Perhaps some locusts in his garden or blood red water out of his faucets. You know, a little Old Testament wrath!

I did not get through the first paragraph of my ranting before I heard Him speak. The Holy Spirit asked me a simple question. "Does Mr. Fence-it know Jesus?" I stopped dead in my verbal tracks. "How do you expect him to behave when he's obviously lost in his sin with absolutely nothing to look forward to?"

Geez. Double geez. I hate it when God does that.

Within a minute I was back in my shoes and walking toward the fence. Nobody was there. He was still inside. I went through "The Gate of Guilt" and walked around to the front of his house. His car trunk was open but nobody was around. I made my way back to my own yard. I told God, "Look, I'm trying to do what you want me to do here. I want to obey you. I need to fix this. And I could use a little heavenly help." That's when his back door opened. He looked at me and walked behind his shed. Too bad. I followed him. He had to look up at that point. I asked if he had a minute. He strolled over to the fence, obviously not at all sure what I was about to do or say.

"Look. I'm not going to get a Great Dane. My wife doesn't really want one. I was just mad because my dog got out. I was hot and tired from chasing her. You have made yourself a really nice backyard and I don't want to do anything to keep you from enjoying it. My family likes dogs and so I bought a really small one and she is only outside long enough to do what dogs have to do and then she stays in. I'm trying to keep her from bothering you. And I'm sorry I lied. I was mad about ... (I almost told him I knew what he had done at the gate but that was not my God-assigned-mission and I didn't want to have to come back and apologize again so I shut-up about it) ... I was just mad. I hope you will forgive me."

He took his cigerette out of his mouth again. "Yeah, that's ok. She's a cute dog." He turned away before stopping, looking up one more time and saying, "You've been a good neighbor too." Then he went back to his fence building.

Me? I came in and apologized again. To God. He has every right to expect better of me than that. I try so very hard to be Jesus-with-skin-on to people at church. Sometimes that doesn't work out so well either. Not everybody appreciates it. But that's not my fault and it's not my problem. My job ... my calling ... my passion ... is to "Love God and Love People." That is my personal mission statement for life. You've probably heard me say it before. I hope to live it out more and more everyday.

I didn't get to tell my neighbor today that there is a better way to "do life." Maybe I will someday soon. I don't mind walking across the back yard to engage in a conversation if it will change some person's eternal destiny. Anyway, no kudo's to me on this one. I blew it. But I did learn the lesson and I did make it right. Better late than never, I suppose.

I even let Bailey out of her cage.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I mowed a bird last week. Yes, that is what I said. (The picture, from the scene of the crime, was taken a week or so earlier. I don't mow snow.)

It seems that I came home from church on Wednesday night a little later than planned. The sun had set but there was still some light. The grass in my front lawn was taller than it should be. So I pulled my riding lawn mower out of the garage. It is not in very good shape. I inherited it from my father. He purchased it in 1994 so it is rather old too. But its condition has steadily deteriorated since coming under my care. Guilty.

The headlights do not work. I have never changed the oil. The blade is dull. The front left tire consistently leaks. The muffler is held on by one bolt. And ... the bolts holding the motor down ... don't. Dad would be upset. Really upset. But he's not here and unless that "great cloud of witnesses" is bored enough to watch me cut grass I think I'm safe. Besides, it still works and I keep promising myself that I am going to fix it. Get it all spiffed up. Make dad proud. I'm going to do it too. As soon as I fix my motorcycles carburetor this Saturday. Yep, the lawn mower is most certainly next.

Anyway, back to my confession. I started the mower up, put my ipod headphones on, and pointed toward the front yard as best I could find it in the late evening light. I lowered the blade all of the way, put it in 4th gear (I had to hurry as it was now getting seriously dark.) I took off. The mowing was completed in record time. I put the contraption away. (It blew a bright orange flame through the muffler when I turned it off in the garage. You could still smell it the next morning!)

Speaking of the next morning, that's when I noticed it. The bird formerly called "Sparrow" was in my front yard. He was really in my front yard. He was near the road. He was near the house. He was under both trees. He was snuggled up next to the bushes. The Sparrow was everywhere. The Sparrow was nowhere. Mainly there were feathers. Was he alive when I ambushed him with the red monster? Was he pulling a worm from the damp evening grass and failed to hear me coming? Was he already dead and waiting for some squirrel to claim him as supper? Was he just flying low when fate caused us to intersect? I do not know. I will never know. Unless maybe God shows me His "Sparrow Log Book" when I get to heaven. He keeps track of these things, ya know. I don't think I'm in trouble ... but I could be. Oh geez, I could be.