Monday morning was a beautiful morning on James Street so I decided to work outside. I took a few minutes and sat in the city silence, enjoying the sound of the passing traffic, the wind in the peeling sycamore tree, the sound of cicadas high up in other trees on other blocks. I read a portion of Erika Morrison’s book Bandersnatch. I’m getting toward the end and find I’m reading it slowly, sipping it, like the last bit of a good drink at the end of a delightful evening. I set the book aside and felt a little overwhelmed at how much work I had to do – Mondays are usually that way. But I brought all my work out on to the front porch and started with the fun part – the bills.
“Excuse me?” a watery voice asked. “Could you walk my dogs?”
I looked up and saw her standing at the bottom of our steps: a white-haired woman. She wore a red skirt and a green top that she kept tucking in nervously. She leaned over, her hand on the iron railing.
“I’m sorry?” I said because I was sure I hadn’t heard her correctly. People don’t just walk the city streets asking random strangers to walk their dogs. Right?
“I’m looking for someone to walk my dogs,” she repeated, and I looked around. I still couldn’t believe she was talking to me. I was busy. Didn’t I look busy? In my mind, I started to reply to her.
I’m sorry, I have too much to do. Good luck. I’m sure you’ll find someone. I’m not even a dog lover. If you are looking for a stranger to walk your dog, don’t you at least want them to really love dogs?
But I looked up and down the street and no one was there. No one was anywhere. It was just me and this white-haired woman. And I remembered a passage from Erika’s book. I remembered all she had written about seeing Jesus in the people around us, and I realized with startling clarity that this woman, with her hesitant smile and insistence, with her missing teeth and her wind-blown hair, was Jesus.
Jesus needed me to walk his dogs.
Which, let’s be honest, was slightly inconvenient and even a little annoying. If Jesus would ask me to move to Iraq or do something else radical, I’d probably do it. But something simple and inconvenient? Something I don’t feel “called” to do? I sighed and packed up my things because I knew I wouldn’t experience a moments peace for the rest of the day if I didn’t walk these dogs. I left with the woman who said her house was only just around the corner.
I asked her what kind of dogs she has.
“Pit bulls,” she said, “but the one is just a puppy, and the other one should be okay if you come into the house behind me.”
To say she was a slow walker would be the understatement of the year. I asked her about it, and she said she had arthritis in both knees. She told me about how her mother had died a few years ago, how she had moved south to take care of her, then came back to Lancaster after she passed. She asked me what I did and when I said writer her eyes lit up.
“I’ve always wanted to write down my own stories,” she said, and proceeded to tell me things about her life. Graduating from the community college when she was 54. Going to Catholic school when she was a girl.
I followed her into a dark corridor and up two flights of hand rail-less steps. I thought that this could be the beginning of one of those stories that doesn’t always end very well, the kind of tale that ends in a mugging or a dog bite. But I’ve told myself recently that I need to do more things worth writing about, I need to live more adventures. It turns out the first one was walking two pit bulls owned by a woman who lived around the corner, a woman named Barb who I had never met before.
She practically had to crawl up the stairs because of her knees. I helped her when I could.
“My therapist says I have to keep moving, I have to get out of the house,” she said. “If I don’t, she says I’ll become a shut-in.”
She climbed those stairs like Everest, all the way up, then opened the door to the dogs’ room. A pit bull jumped up on me. She was the older one, brindle colored with scars on her head.
“Oh, good, she likes you,” Barb said with obvious relief in her voice. We talked for a little while, and then I walked the dogs. The older one was well-behaved and left slack in the leash. The younger one pulled me down the sidewalk. When I got back I asked her for a favor.
“Could I take your picture and put it on my website?” I asked. “I want to start telling the stories of the people who live in my neighborhood.”
“Oh, my,” she said, “I have to fix my hair. She rain into the bathroom and came out, furiously patting her clothes down and fixing her hair. She was suddenly a bundle of nerves.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You look great.”
* * * * *
Maile came back from running her errands and found me on the porch, working. Leo was asleep in the stroller. Mai started to laugh, because she knows I like to keep to myself. She knows I’m not a spontaneous kind of person.
“How was it, walking the dogs?” she asked, smiling.
I told her about Barb. I told her about the dogs. I shook my head, finding it hard to believe how far outside of my expectations a morning can go when I follow that quiet voice.
The voice only audible in the silence.
* * * * *
Friends, before you go let me tell you about a book that came out on Tuesday, just yesterday, a book I can’t wait to read. It’s called Wild in the Hollow and it’s written by my friend Amber Haines. Here’s what it’s about:
I always knew there was more than what my eyes could see. Maybe that’s why it’s easy for me to imagine Eden. I have my own version, the place where I clearly remember my early childhood experience as beautiful, wild, and protected.
In prose that is at once lyrical and utterly honest, a brave new voice takes you on a windswept journey down the path of brokenness to healing, satisfaction, and true intimacy with God. Amber Haines calls us to dispense with the pretty bows we use to dress up our stories and instead trust God to take our untidy, unfinished lives and make them free, authentic, and whole.
“This book made me feel homesick and at home all at the same time. Only Amber could so beautifully and rightly write into the parts of our human experience that usually defy words.”–Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts
“Amber Haines is a once-in-a-generation voice. She moves us back to the place we all long to be–deeply intimate with and known by God. This book is a true gift, and I have more hope because of it.”–Nish Weiseth, author of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World
“How can a woman with a story so different from my own be telling my story too? Amber Haines has found a way, and I am deeply grateful for her artistry, her honesty, and her courage. This captivating book has stunned me speechless.”–Emily P. Freeman, author of Simply Tuesday and A Million Little Ways
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