The chain was strong, a little rusted, but it was thick and I could see it was strong. What worried me was the length. I stood there with one hand on the chain link fence, the other balancing three meals and three deserts in Styrofoam containers, my eyes were locked onto those of the subject of the “Beware of Dog” sign. His eyes were locked onto mine.
The fence went around a mobile home with a porch, a deck, a carport, and a loft built up over the carport. There were a few cars in the yard so I was hoping someone was home. But the very full dogfood bowl next to the fence possibly indicated otherwise.
He sat there expressionless, (dogs can have expressions so they can be expressionless) his head pushed a little forward and down, his body looked like a spring, if springs were furry and muscley. I reached for the clasp on the gate and those tawny eyes narrowed, I was looking at a furry, musclebound spring with Clint Eastwood eyes. Only Clint didn’t have a gun, he had perfectly bright white teeth.
Those teeth looked strong, I knew from my days as a vet tech that Pit Bulls came in third behind Rottweilers and German Shepard for bite strength, but that the 240 lbs of pressure that I knew that this guy could chomp down with still made my mouth go dry. That and his silence, no barking, no straining at the end of his chain, he just sat and waited for me to make my move.
“Who’s a gooood boi?” had no effect on him, my cutest dog voice left him just as unwavering like a statue just as before.
That chain. A little rusty, it was blending in with the leaves in the yard. There was a large SUV in the yard between the dog and the house, I was trying to estimate if the chain was long enough for the dog to get past the SUV. If not I could get to the front door to try to deliver these holiday meals, meals provided by the Salvation Army to be delivered by me. It would have been easy to move on, to report back my leader that I couldn’t come through because of the dog. He would have understood, I know he would have, but I hated to think that folks would be expecting a meal and get nothing.
I was actually hoping the dog would bark to alert the residents that someone was here and I wouldn’t have to try to get past him. But he just sat there quietly looking like a cannon ball ready to launch (do cannonballs launch?) Not a peep from him though, cannon balls don’t bark I guess.
I reached again for the big double gate that was about 30 feet from the dog house where this guy was chained. Thinking peaceful thoughts I opened the gate and swung it toward me. I was thinking it would be easier to escape if the gate was opened out rather than in, but it grated and stuck on the gravel drive. I had to push it in. The dog was now standing, waiting with the a confident patience. Moving at the speed of a glacier I eased my first step into the yard. No response from the dog.
I took another step and was now completely in the yard and the dog made no effort to approach. I tried to look as non-threatening as a man in jeans and a polo, carrying three large and three small Styrofoam containers can look. With my face passive I tried to walk slowly without looking like I was stalking and I made it to the SUV. I now had a large, gas guzzling (if broke down) symbol of American Rugged Individualism between me and those strong white teeth that were attached to a very strong tan body.
I couldn’t see the dog but I could faintly hear the chain clink as he shifted. A bead of sweat dripped from my forehead and down my cheek, my brain was telling me how stupid this was, it was just a turkey dinner and not worth getting murdered in the face by a Pit Bull for. My heart told my brain shut up and remember what it’s like to be hungry, to be alone and feel like no one cares at a holiday. My feet took a few more steps. My heart quit yelling at my brain because it was too busy trying to pound itself out of my chest.
Each time the gravel crunched under my feet there was a leafy crunch under the dog’s feet. I bent to look under the SUV and saw those tawny eyes staring at me. Dang. I really felt like the front door was farther than the chain could reach, but there were about 5 feet between me and the door that I wasn’t sure of. My brain told me not to run, running stimulates a dog’s predator response and makes them want to chase. Instinct what battling intelligence as I stepped past the SUV at almost a half jog. This half jog was immediately interrupted by a sweep of leaves, dust, and chain clanging cacophony. I turned to face the noisy dust cloud and out of it emerged those teeth.
My feet backpedaled and I stumbled on the gravel, I bicycled in the air as I fell backwards, one arm whirling for balance, the other trying not to drop those precious Styrofoam containers. Teeth flew at me, now eye level as my mouth snapped shut when my rear bounced on the ground. I scrunched my face ready to feel those teeth sink into it, but that tearing of flesh never happened.
I opened one eye hoping to see only half the horror and saw the dog sitting, tongue lolling, tail wagging. I swear he looked like he was laughing at this great joke he just played on me. The chain though, was stretched nearly taught and I was beyond his reach. A whimpering whine was the first sound he made and I wasn’t sure if it was because he didn’t get the chance to murder me, eat the food, or have some human contact. I wasn’t about to find out.
I had managed not to drop any of my containers and I stood, brushed off some dust with my free hand, and tried to steady my nerves as I walked up the porch to knock on the door. I couldn’t hear anything inside, no t.v. or voices. Everything was quietly contrasting the commotion of just a few moments previous. So I was extra terrified when the second dog pounced at me when I knocked.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of fur at teeth fly at me only to bash harmlessly against the inside of the window next to the door. This dog was inside. A little shaky I turned to look at the first dog who’s face was split in a wide, toothy (sharp toothy) grin with his tongue hanging so far down it almost dragged the dirt. His tail was kicking up dust and leaves as it furiously wagged back and forth in laughter.
Two things were obvious; no one was home, and this dog thought he was hilarious. I was walking dejectedly from the door, letting my heart rate come down. The chained dog was looking at me wagging his tail so hard it was wiggling his butt. I really wanted to give him a couple pats but thought better of it, those teeth were still looking pretty dangerous. I’ve known too many dogs who would bite even with a wagging tail because they really enjoyed biting people. (there are times I can really relate)
I walked a wide parabola around the SUV to make sure I was past the farthest extent of the chain and the dog whined even more as I left. He knew his fun was over.
It was hard to walk past that dog, to try to deliver food to someone in need. The smart thing would have been to go to the next house, but I felt like that would have been giving in to fear. Even though there was a sign warning of the danger of proceeding I felt that my mission was more important than fear.
The next house had something that, for me, was even more difficult to get past. It was a beautiful, brand new, shiny black Harley Davidson trike. Did I say beautiful, looking into the paint of this bike was like looking into forever. I looked at the $35k bike and then glanced at the single container with some turkey and mashed potatoes, balanced on top was a smaller container with a pumpkin spice muffin and I was like, “I can’t even…”
My heart sank and I felt a little sick to my stomach. My judgement was on fire. A guy with a $35 thousand dollar motorcycle was on the list for a free holiday meal. Ug
I would have rather faced twenty viscous dogs on extra long chains than have to face this guy with his expensive bike to give him his free meal, prepared with love and care by sweet and generous volunteers. I was getting angry. I was judging. I was forgetting.
I was forgetting that there are no asterisks in the bible. *Feed the hungry… *Care for the poor… *Visit those in prison. The bible doesn’t do qualifiers.
*unless they’re hungry because they bought a motorcycle they couldn’t afford, unless they’re poor because they can’t keep a job because of drug use, or unless they’re in prison for horrible things
I prayed on my way up to the door, asking God to take away my judgement and fill me with the joy of service. I knocked and I wish I could tell you that this guy told me the bike was a gift, or that he won it in a contest, or that it belonged to his visiting brother. But no, it was his. I kept praying. I prayed as he asked me where I thought he could get a new blue ray player. I prayed as I told him that he could probably grab one at goodwill. I prayed as he told me through broken teeth and a scraggly mustache, “No… I need a new one because the one I have doesn’t have 3-D.”
I sat and chatted with him longer, through the conversation I stopped praying and just listened to a human who needed someone to talk to. We chatted about movies (3-D and otherwise), the weather, a little football talk, and even about his motorcycle… it was really beautiful. I told him how I love motorcycles but that I made a promise to someone amazing (someone who’s no longer even in my life but some promises you keep) that I would never ride again. He thought that was pretty amazing to hold to my promise like that.
Then I told him about broken promises I had made and how hanging on to this one was sort of making amends for all the others. He asked what changed about me to make me want to keep promises, I told him that God had changed my heart and made me want to give more than receive. He looked a little thoughtful, told me that was pretty cool, and turned to go watch football on his giant t.v..
I turned to go, walked past his beautiful bike and saw my shiny black jeep, with almost as much chrome as his bike.
I knew he and I were the same, I tried to find happiness in shiny cars, alcohol, and pretty women. He looked for it in motorcycles, big t.v.s, and 3-D blue ray players. So, I truly believe that the gift I extended to him had nothing to do with the turkey and stuffing, but more I shared with him that I have a new source of joy, a true source of joy. I doubt his life changed on a dime, but maybe he has something new to consider.
As far as the free meal, a gift must be given freely, without judgment of whether it’s deserved, without hope of reciprocation, without anything but the hope that you make someone’s life a little better, a little easier. It’s not easy for us as humans to give in such a way, but I know that gifts I’ve received, and grace I’ve received was undeserved, and so it’s my job to give in the exact same way.
*But seriously?!?! a $35k bike!
…o.k. I still need work, I have learned to overcome fear, but I still struggle with judgement. To get out of judgement I tell myself about 2 Cornthians 4:15 and I know that my service has a purpose.
All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
And as I was walking the parabola around the extent of the change I was wishing I had paid more attention in math class because I couldn’t remember if I need to add or subtract five feet from y squared to shift the vertex to the right….
given x = y^2
x = y^2 -5 or x = y^2 +5, I must have guessed correctly because I survived to write this story! Thanks y’all and God bless. Fair warning I have a few cloud poems floating around in my head…