“I Am Free”

You know you’ve had a cleansing, freeing breakthrough of an experience when…

For longer than I’d like to admit, work with my guide-dog has been a sore subject. Actually, work of any kind has been a bit touchy. Post-traumatic stress has been a thorn in my flesh for a number of years, and a true fear of over stimulating or challenging work has been with me since 2010. My mother was diagnosed with MS during my final semester at university; I had been taking seven classes and working part-time at the university’s writing center. Somehow, I came to associate multiple sclerosis and medical crises in general with hard work…

So, that was my reasoning behind fear of work. But why with my precious guide-dog, Natasha? Because the school from which I obtained her was likewise very difficult for me. The work was strenuous, and the environment so extroverted that my spiritual life felt profoundly threatened from day to day. And–this may come as a surprise to most people–most visually-impaired people, even those with a guide-dog, do not always find orientation and mobility easy. Guide-dog work requires full, intense concentration. You must be aware of your surroundings at all times, remember your foot position in conjunction with your dog’s paws, attempt to figure out when to correct distracted behavior and when to simply continue on your walk, and especially judge traffic. Your guide-dog won’t do that for you, though s/he has been trained to get you out of danger should you misjudge. But, really, it’s up to you to listen for traffic and give the “forward” command accordingly.

Ever since I got Natasha, I had been working with her on a consistent basis, but had always found it laborious. There was no listening to the crunching of leaves underfoot or taking in the numerous sets of chimes hung in neighbors’ yards. So when it came time to take her for her usual walk this afternoon, I was less than enthusiastic. Actually, that’s the best use of hyperbole I’ve ever encountered–I had been dreading guide-dog work all day. We all have to do what we have to do, though, so I began to rig the two of us up: a two-pound leather harness for Natasha, and a treat pouch for me. The biscuits inside would be dispensed if Natasha did something particularly reward-worthy.

And then, we set off. The first part of our walk around the neighborhood was unremarkable. We listened for traffic, we maneuvered our way through commands, we crossed intersections, we traversed our way around mailboxes and lawn mowers. It was challenging as always, but somehow exhilarating, too.

Then, it happened. It was such a small moment that it almost slipped by me, unnoticed. I had been letting my mind wander just a bit. I was thinking of words that my sister and I had coined, of intriguing prepositions, and of the juncture between life and linguistics. Yes, I know I’m eccentric… Anyway, just at that moment, Natasha took me to the curb of our sixth intersection. She stopped, just as she had been trained to do, and awaited my next command. A breeze ruffled my skirt and blew my hair into my face. And all at once, I realized that I was having fun. That, for the first time since I had acquired Natasha, I was overjoyed to be working with my guide-dog, my companion. All afternoon, we had been working in perfect rhythm, and I had been loving every moment of it.

“Natasha, forward!” I don’t think I’ve ever spoken such beautiful words, in the physical realm, in many months.

The rest of that walk was unpolished. Natasha became a little distracted by a rabbit, and I had to correct her and keep her from becoming too distracted. But–oh!–it was one of the most perfect walks we’ve ever experienced together. If only there were some way to express to Natasha what I had been experiencing! Because, you see, it must have affected her, too. Dogs can tell when you aren’t enjoying something, even if you do put on a pleasant demeanor when interacting with them. But perhaps she felt it–from my end of the harness handle right through to the straps that went around her chest and belly. Dogs can also tell when you’re relaxed, and when there’s almost nothing you would rather be doing than interacting with them.

When we got home, I could contain myself no longer. Sitting down on the porch–embroidered skirt and all–I began loving on my dog for all she was worth. Rub, rub, tail-wag, tail-wag. “Oh, good girl! Good, good girl, Tashi. OOOOOOOOH, praise the Lord! Thank You, thank You, Jesus.” In that moment and given the context, both sentiments were absolutely appropriate.

I can’t explain it, but the Lord has set me free in all work-related areas. No longer do I equate challenging activities with arduous chores or labor. Not my vocation, not work with Natasha–NOTHING! Just one more step in continuing the healing the Lord has wrought in my life.

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