Disturbing the Peace

This past week, Max woke me up in the middle of the night twice on Monday and once Tuesday. And by middle of the night I mean right in the dead center of what would have otherwise been some really peaceful sleep.

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He usually does not wake up in the middle of the night, but he had spent all weekend with some other dogs and had partied a little too hard.

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He had all kinds of stuff making his stomach turn that he normally doesn’t – other dog’s food, lots of bones, and even probably some people food. I expected it to be rough for him, but I did not expect to be woken up in the middle of the night. And on multiple occasions.

Max disturbed my peace.

And I have realized he disturbs my peace quite often, even when not in the middle of the night. I often work from home when I have things to do that require more focus than I am afforded at my job. And most days, while I am trying to get a lot done at my computer, Max comes up to me desiring some attention. Whether he is wielding a toy or just forcing his cute head onto my lap, it is clear that Max is on a mission to disturb my peace.

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While I understand the behavior, I usually get annoyed and let him outside. But the thing about having my peace disturbed is that there is another byproduct that I am beginning to notice. The community I help lead has been digging into the notion that when peace is disturbed, often inner thoughts are more fully revealed.

Max has been teaching and reinforcing that lesson as well. He has revealed that I have many assumptions and default motivations that rest just under the surface and which I often don’t really notice. And Max has taught me that I need a little disruption in order to bring those thoughts more fully into the light.

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When Max disturbs the peace I construct around myself in order to get more work done, he reveals that I don’t take enough time to slow down and really be present to what’s going on around me or especially to the people and dogs in my life. Max has taught me that my actions show that I value productivity over meaningful time spent with others and that my inner thoughts are focused far more on accomplishing tasks than on compassionately and lovingly attending to those around me.

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But Max has also taught me that there is some hope. In disrupting my peaceful sleep so much this week, Max has also revealed some more positive inner thoughts. Max has revealed that I care deeply for him, because I am convinced that a sure test of what people most value is what we will wake up for in the middle of the night. And Max has taught me that if I am willing to forego sleep to care for him, perhaps that level of care and compassion can influence all of my life, even when my inner thoughts seem locked in the little world I create.

So thank you Max for disturbing my peace, and in so doing revealing some of my inner thoughts. And thank you for helping me direct those inner thoughts in a more caring, compassionate manner.

But, I’d also be grateful if you didn’t disturb my peaceful sleep anymore…

Matted

Max’s hair often gets matted, especially just under his ears. It’s hard to see, but once I start petting him and scratching around his ears, I often get a big handful of clumped up hair.

Sadly, there is not much Max can do about this and I am pretty bad at both preventing the mats and getting rid of them when they emerge. Since he very rarely shows any sign of being hurt, I quickly forget it is a problem. The mats grow on unseen until they are really too big to ignore.

And Max has taught me that while I don’t experience matted hair like he does, there are many dirty, useless things that clump up in my own life too. Whether it is nagging doubt, failures, hateful thoughts, or apathy, my heart seems to experience a similar state of matted material at times.

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After some quick research, I learned that Max’s mats are probably caused by a mixture of movement (scratching his head/ears), old hair loosening but not falling out, and external dirt sticking it all together. As the old hair is pressed together with dirt and clings to the hair still growing, it clumps together in a tangled mess.

Similarly, I recognize that when I just can’t let go of something that is wearing me down, when the stresses of the world press upon me, and when external concerns cling to me, my heart gets matted and tangled. If I don’t fully let the self-doubt and bitterness fall away from me, it gets tangled up in the new directions I am trying to move and is all pressed together by hatefulness that is still too apparent in the world.

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I have also learned that mats are bad not only because they impede the growth of new hair, but also because they inhibit oxygen getting to the skin and begin to pull on the skin so that it is weakened. On top of that they become potential breeding grounds for parasites that can cause even more damage.

The mats of the heart seem to create similar problems. They keep me tangled up in unhelpful issues and make new growth harder. These mats make it harder for my soul to breathe the fresh air of forgiveness and easier for other forms of carelessness and selfishness to emerge.

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The good news in all this is that mats can be removed. But, Max has taught me that they must be removed carefully and that often it takes the help of others. Since mats are formed close to the skin, which is thin and fragile, most mats need to be worked out by hand. I have had to cut out some of Max’s mats, but that too must be done slowly and carefully so as not to cause more harm. And usually I have to have my spouse’s help so that one of us can comfort and distract Max while the other works out the mats.

I’m the kind of person that has about the same amount of patience as Max when trying to work out the problematic parts of my life. And when doing something as personal as working out the mats of my heart, I do not want to open up to others. But Max has taught me it is crucial to take time and allow others to help, because my impatient scratching at these mats only tends to make them worse. He has taught me that it is important to really try to get at the root of the mat, but that sometimes I have to work away one tangled problem at a time. I have to identify and deal with each strand so that I can really let it go.

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The other good news is that the hair itself is not the problem. The heart itself is not bad. And the work of getting mats out reaffirms the importance and goodness of what had gotten tangled. Max has taught me that in no way is the hair or the heart problematic or awry. They just need care and maintenance.

Max has also taught me that even after getting rid of the mats, they tend to return quickly. There’s something about that spot that lends itself to matted hair. Which makes it even more important to regularly brush out the old hair and care for the new. He has taught me the importance of letting go of harmful things and cultivating the ways I can grow in love and compassion, and to do that over and over again.

So thank you Max for teaching me how to identify and carefully remove mats, whether they be literal in hair or more symbolic in heart. Thank you for being patient with me (and teaching me to be more patient with myself) as I learn better how to address these mats.

To Be Seen

Whenever I walk in my front door, Max patiently waits until I acknowledge him. Sometimes, this takes a while, because I enjoy making as few trips from my car as possible (two trips is too many), so I tend to load myself down and have something hanging from every appendage. He will often sit right in front of the door, leaving just enough room for me to come in, but positioned to where I have to notice him. Then, he just turns his head around as I put everything where it belongs and waits for me to come back to greet him.

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At first, I thought he did this as a way of guilting me for being gone so much. (That probably says more about me than him). Maybe he is a little sad to have been left alone all day, but I think there is something even more fundamentally important that he is conveying.

I think all Max really wants is to be seen, to be noticed.

Max experiences something that I think so many of us also experience – the desire to be seen. We all long to know that our often dreary lives have value and that others see that value. We find profound hope in not being overlooked or ignored.

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Being seen is often quite literal, especially for Max. He thrives on the attention I can give him and once I give him some of that attention, he is overjoyed. In that moment of being seen, Max knows he is cared for and loved. He knows that he is important and valued.

Max has taught me that being seen in this way is a powerful expression of loving care. He has taught me that so many people also long to be seen in this way. He has taught me there is power in really looking into another person’s eyes, giving them our attention, and, in doing so, assuring them that they are important and valuable.

Max has taught me that to really see others in this way is a wonderful, free gift we can always give. And it is a gift we can give to stranger and friend alike.

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That moment of greeting after coming into my house after work does not tend to last long. Granted, there are years of love and care that are the foundation of that moment between Max and me, but it really only takes about a minute. I get down on Max’s level, look right at him, and greet him with kind words and a head scratch. And then Max’s desire to be seen is fulfilled.

And I really don’t think I have to change much when I interact with humans in this way (except maybe losing the head scratch).

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Max has also taught me that the desire to be seen is insatiable. He craves it everyday. And I reckon we all have a consistent desire to be seen and valued. I don’t know why – maybe it’s the self-doubt that plagues our minds, maybe it’s because we are social creatures and this is the best starting point for connection to others, maybe it’s because in so many other ways we hear messages that we are not valued, or maybe it’s because it is nice and we know deep in our being that to see others and to be seen is just a better way to live.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that seeing and being seen is something that must be nurtured consistently. Max has taught me that it is something I should practice daily.

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And because it must be done over and over, it is easy to forget, or to think that I have checked that off my to do list. And so, Max has taught me to be a little more diligent in seeing him and others. I can be bad at that because I easily get lost in my own little world, but I hope on my good days, I can offer Max and all others I cross paths with this simple expression of care and value.

(as close as I could get to the original Hendrix version)

So thank you Max for teaching me the importance of being seen and valued. Thank you for teaching me to be more attentive, especially to those who feel overlooked. And of course, thank you for paying attention to me and showing that you too see and care for me.

Interruption

Max tends to be a bit of an interruption in my life.

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For instance, when I sit down in the evening to watch TV or read, he often starts pleading to go outside and I have to pause what I am doing to open the door for him. Or, when I lay on the couch for a few minutes after a busy day, he quickly comes to try to play (for some reason he is never content just to join me). Even as I write this entry, he is letting me know he wants to go outside and then come back inside and then receive some attention.

As frustrating as these little interruptions are, I really can’t blame Max for them, because he doesn’t understand what I am doing, and if I were him, I’d probably do the same.

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But Max provides an even bigger, more consistent level of interruption in my life. I have to be sure to structure my day around feeding and walking him at appropriate times. Such structure means that I cannot stay at work or stay out with friends super late without having taken care of Max.

If I do have a lot of plans all day, I have to interrupt those plans at least for a little while to make sure Max is cared for. I have to interrupt the flow of my (often over-busy) life to do the simple work of feeding, walking, and spending time with Max.

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Sometimes, this interrupted living is very hard. I can get immersed in what I am doing, or exciting opportunities can pop up unexpectedly. But then I have to be mindful of how long I will be gone and sometimes have to turn things down.

But, the more I live a life interrupted by Max, the more I see the value in it. Interruptions are not inherently bad, especially interruptions of love and care.

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Max has taught me, through his interruptions, that life is more than being consumed by a busy schedule. Life is more than going from one exciting thing to the next. Life is also about having that busyness interrupted for moments of sharing love and caring for another being.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have an incredibly busy life. And I even find quite a bit of value in all the things I rush around doing. But Max has taught me that the interruptions are valuable too. He has taught me to pay closer attention to the people and things that derail me and cause me to invest my attention in a different way. He has taught me to be more intentional about being present in those interruptions and allowing them to be moments when I really connect with others.

Max has taught me to view interruptions not as detractors from full life, but rather as meaningful additions to full life.

So, thank you Max for interrupting me (though I am not always thankful in the moment). Thank you for helping me experience the value of interrupting my busy day to share quality time with those whom I can love and for whom I can care.

 

P.S. This is one of those lessons I have learned in various ways from various people the past couple of weeks. So, I also give credit to my boss and coworkers and all the people in my life who interrupt me in helpful ways and teach me the value of attending to interruptions.

Birthday

Max’s birthday was this week. He turned four years old on November 8.

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And for the second year in a row, I completely forgot until several days later. This year I even thought about it the week before and double-checked the day, but when Sunday got here, I did not remember at all. And it shouldn’t ever be a difficult day for me to remember because it is the day before my sister’s birthday.

You can see how sad he is that I forgot.

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Actually, if he was disappointed, it was probably just because Sundays are very busy for me and I don’t get to spend much time with him on those days. I’m sure if he understood or cared about his birthday, he would let me know. Either way, he seems to be fine with a little extra attention and treats whenever they come his way.

But Max did teach me how bad I am at remembering important things like birthdays. While I don’t care much for celebrating my own birthday, I do like celebrating with others. I never intentionally put those things out of my mind; I just have a terrible time remembering them.

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So, Max taught me that since I can’t remember these things on my own, I should show I care by doing whatever I need to remind myself of these special days. I can be more intentional about putting them on my calendar and taking time every now and then to think forward and backward in time to see what I recently missed or what is coming up.

Max has taught me that such effort is a form of caring for those important people in my life and it leads to powerful ways of expressing that care.

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He taught me that remembering what is going on in people’s lives does take some extra time and thought, but that it is worth it to show the people in my life that they are important.

He taught me that celebrating others, like any form of expressing love, requires some effort. And the effort does not detract from the authenticity of the celebrating, but rather adds to the expression of care.

So, thank you Max for teaching me to put in a little more effort to remembering the important people in my life and the significant things about them. And I am very thankful that you have been on this world for four years and in my life for most of that! Happy Birthday!

Hospitality

Max has been a bit of an orphan this past month. I was out of town on various trips for about 4 straight weeks and sadly could not take him with me.

But thankfully so many people were willing to take care of him.

I mean, who could resist this face, right?

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And though I missed him while we were miles away from each other, he continued to teach me about the importance of hospitality.

The people taking care of Max gave of themselves and welcomed Max into their lives. This loving action not only made my life easier, knowing that he is being taken care of, but it also made Max’s life better. He now knows so many more people love him (not that he is lacking in that awareness) and he was able to share life with them too.

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Max taught me that hospitality is welcoming people into your life (even sometimes at a moment’s notice) and caring for them. And this is something that is done not only during trips or at big events, but also in everyday life. As I greet Max every morning I can be vulnerable and give myself for him to make him feel loved. I can welcome anyone I meet throughout my day into my life and show them I care for them.

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Max taught me that hospitality is about being generous with time and life. It is about knowing that we impact our neighbors in a positive way when we open wide our doors or in a negative way when we shut them out. And while hospitality can often be most felt when we have no other doors open to us, I am learning more and more to be generously open to anyone passing by my life at any time.

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In this sense, Max taught me that hospitality is a disposition of loving openness combined with the actions of welcoming and taking time to show care to another. That can look like sharing a drink or meal, offering a listening ear, telling someone they do belong here, or even taking care of a dog for a week or two.

So thank you Max for teaching me to be more aware of the ways I can extend hospitality to all I meet. And, more importantly, thank you to all who have shown me some form of hospitality – either by taking care of Max or by the many other ways I’ve been welcomed into your lives.

How do you know?

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
How do you know
If your dog loves you?

You pet him and feed him
And take him on walks,
But don’t know what he thinks
Cause he never can talk.

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Does he love you or not?
Does he know that you care
Or just tolerate your presence
With dispassionate stares?

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What brings him true joy?
He sure loves treats and food,
And when rubbing his belly
He knows it feels good.

But does he know why?
Can he understand
The reason behind
Your gratuitous hands?

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How is love shown?
How do you know?
What really lasts?
What really grows?

When you walk in the door
He greets you with glee,
And follows you around
Always right at your knee.

You live and you learn
And adapt to each other-
Day in and day out
You seem more like close brothers.

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Do you know that he cares
And looks after with longing
When you leave everyday
From your place of belonging?

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There’s comfort that’s felt
When you’re in the same room,
And compassion conveyed
When you share joy and gloom.

It’s the littlest things
That pack the most punch,
When through daily shared life
You gain more than a hunch

That the looks and the hugs
And the listening ears prove
A caring, patient presence
Can clarify love.

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You do tell him you love him
And you know that it matters-
These words of a promise
That make doubtful fears scatter-

But the words are just signs
Of what’s felt in between,
Because love can be shared
Without saying a thing.