Gentle to the max…

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A few years ago, I had a rescue dog named Max. He did not have the best life for his first 5 years, having been owned by an alcoholic and kept tethered outside. He was sometimes beaten, and his body bore the scars.

He would invariably figure out a way to slip through his collar and make a run for it but also invariably be picked up and taken back to his owner.

Except for the last time.

In the fall of 2009, he found himself at a rescue shelter, where he was adopted out and brought back… three times in short order. The note on the door to his enclosure simply said ‘too much to handle’.

Out of chances, he was scheduled to be put down the first week of January 2010. I came to the shelter the last week of December 2009.

I hadn’t planned to adopt a dog that Christmas. But, when I set eyes on Max, he was sitting quietly against the back wall of his enclosure with his ears back and a green stuffed toy in his mouth. I could sense his anxiety. I could also sense a kind and gentle soul. I could feel my heart tugging in his direction.

I decided to think about it for a couple of days. But, as I walked back to the car, a dog appeared and ran to the end of the fenced-in area to quietly but expectantly wait for me. Realizing it was Max, I bent down and put a couple of fingers through the fence. He immediately dropped to the ground and started gently licking my fingers.

Within the hour, I left the shelter with my new dog.

I can’t claim that it was an easy transition. He not only had to adjust to being an indoor dog, he had never been walked on a leash before, and he was a husky lab shepherd mix who needed a ton of exercise. He also had anxiety issues. Complicating matters was the fact that his previous owner was French, and so Max didn’t even understand English (something I didn’t find out for over a year… and it explained a lot!!). He was also seriously underweight, at only 45 pounds.

But, slowly but surely, we both adjusted. His anxiety lessened, his weight increased (to 78 pounds), and we fell into a routine of 3 one hour walks each day. His kind, funny and quirky nature overshadowed his occasional displays of stubbornness.

The one thing that consistently impressed me was his gentleness. In the beginning, he was so hungry that he would go crazy at the mere thought of food. But, even then, he would always take any treat ever so gently between his teeth, always being careful never to bite down on my fingers.

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The best illustration of his gentleness had to do with boiled eggs, his absolute favorite treat. He would gently take the egg into his mouth and then run down to the mat in front of the patio doors. Sometimes he would come and sit beside me, and we would both consider the egg as it lay there on the mat. Other times, he would just lay beside it, as if standing guard.

When he was finally ready, he would take the egg into his mouth and roll it gently around until, seconds later, he would deposit the yolk – fully intact – back onto the mat. He always made sure that I noticed and then, and only then, would he eat it.

Personally, I think he liked to prolong the experience. Savor the moment. Save the best for last.

I called it his party trick. He never got tired of doing it, and I never got tired of watching.

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Just over 2 years after adopting him, Max suddenly took very ill on Good Friday. By Easter Monday, he was gone. A massive intestinal tumor. Ironically, he’d been given a clean bill of health not even three months before. Just before he was put down, they brought him into a private room where he climbed into my lap and started gently licking my fingers as I wept.

He was gentle in life, gentle in illness, and gentle in death.

I marvel that a dog who had experienced so much hardship could be so gentle. It’s a lesson to us all that, no matter what we’ve experienced in life, it’s up to us what kind of person we will become. We can choose to rise above our circumstances and write a different ending.

Be better instead of bitter. Be gentle instead of harsh.

The moral of the story?

Gently, please…

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Faithfully…

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One example of faithfulness in the Bible is about someone who isn’t often mentioned – King Hezekiah.

20 This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. 21 In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. (2 Chronicles 31:20-21 NIV)

There is great honor in being described as someone who has the reputation of doing what is good and right, of being faithful,  and of working wholeheartedly.

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Faithfulness.

Showing true and constant support or loyalty, being deserving of trust, keeping your promises, and doing what you’re supposed to do.

As with most things, some aspects are easier than others. Some people faithfully frequent a restaurant or follow a sports team or make it a point to always attend a certain event. But, what about things like being faithful to your spouse, always doing the right thing (even and especially when it’s not popular or convenient) or keeping your promises no matter what?

Faithfulness is characterized by steady devotion to a person, thing, or concept… with emphasis on ‘steady devotion’.

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Many people have intentions of faithfulness… it’s the consistent practice of faithfulness that’s harder to maintain. Our best chance of success is to establish in advance what we’re going to be faithful to or faithful about – and why – and then set our hearts and minds in that direction.

If it’s to always do the right thing even when no one is looking, set your mind to do it. If it’s to follow God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body, set your mind to do it. If it’s to honor your marriage vows by being faithful to your spouse, set your mind to do it.

You get my point.

Anything worth pursuing is never easy. But always worth it.

So, keep the faith…

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Kindness & Kids…

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Where does kindness start?

I think it starts with kids. After all, the kindest adults are often the ones who were the kindest children. Or, at the very least, who were taught the principles of kindness as a child.

As with most things, kindness is best learned from the beginning.

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Many parents are preoccupied with their children’s achievements, grades or happiness but how many place the same importance on whether their child is kind? If they had to choose between the attribute or the accomplishment, which would prevail?

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One cold and snowy winter day when my son was attending university, he noticed an elderly woman struggling to get to the bus stop as the bus approached. He cried as he recounted how she would have been able to catch the bus if he had only flagged it down.

That was a proud moment as a parent… to see how it broke the heart of my child to know he had missed an opportunity to extend kindness to someone who had especially needed it.

“You will never have a completely bad day if you show kindness at least once.” Greg Henry Quinn

While I am extremely proud of my son and all that he has accomplished, I am proudest of who he is as a person. All the accomplishments in the world can’t make up for lack of character.

Cultivating kindness in our children is an investment that will always pay off.

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Need some ideas?

  • Make extending kindness toward others a priority for your child. Help them understand the importance of being kind to everyone, and hold them accountable.
  • Create opportunities for your child to show kindness. Have them participate in the regular care of a pet. If you don’t have a pet, consider adopting a fish or a hamster. Taking care of another living thing encourages kids to think outside of themselves.
  • Expand your child’s range of influence. Volunteer as a family. Fill a shoebox together at Christmastime for a needy child. Suggest your child make a card to cheer up a sick friend.
  • Be your child’s role model and mentor. Kids learn kindness by watching the example of adults they look up to. As a parent, you hold a position of particular influence. There are so many teachable moments in your child’s life… take advantage of them.
  • Read your child a story from the Bible about kindness, such as the one about the Good Samaritan. Ask thought provoking questions like, “If a mean kid got hurt, would you laugh and say, ‘It serves him right!’ or would you stop and help”? or “Has there ever been a time when you’ve avoided helping someone? What would you do differently next time?”

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It’s far easier to teach kindness to a child than it is to unteach unkindness to a teenager or to an adult.

The Bible says to train up a child in the way he should go and that when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). Notice that it says ‘train up‘. Train up from a young age. Train up when your child doesn’t understand kindness. Train up when your child doesn’t feel like being kind.

The practice of extending kindness to others works to soften our hearts and change us, and the same is true for kids. You can’t routinely go out of your way to be kind to others, and not have it change you in fundamental ways. Even if you’re only going through the motions, the day will come when you realize that you do, in fact, genuinely care.

No matter what your age is, kindness matters.

I kid you not…

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Kindly consider…

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Kindness is something that’s not easy to define, yet somehow everyone knows when someone is being kind… or unkind.

As Christians, we’re called to do two things… love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves. According to the Bible, “There are no commands more important than these” (Mark 12:30-31 NCV).

Kindness is at the very heart of love, perhaps emphasized by the fact that there’s an actual word that ties the two together… loving-kindness.

The extent to which we are kind conveys the extent to which we love.

Being kind comes at a price. It requires going out of our way for someone else, and that will always cost our time, energy, or resources… sometimes all three.

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This past week, my husband and I went out of our way to do something we really didn’t want to do but something that we felt was important to do for someone close to us. Quite honestly, it didn’t feel the greatest… or even very comfortable. We don’t know if it made a difference, and we may never know. But regardless, it was the right thing to do. The kind thing to do.

The thing about kindness is that it’s what you do whether anyone notices or not. Whether it’s appreciated or not. Whether you’re given recognition for it or not. Because true kindness is never self-serving or self-important.

An act of kindness can be something as small as sending someone an encouraging note. Or helping someone carry their groceries. Or holding a door open for a senior. The options are limitless. We just need eyes to see opportunities because they’re literally all around us.

What’s the payoff?

Kind people are happier. People who focus on others are always much happier than people who focus on themselves.

The bottom line is that kindness is a necessary stop on the road to joy.

Seriously?

Yeah, kinda…

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Power in patience

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I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s power in patience.

Consider anyone you know who seems especially patient, and you’ll see a person who is in control. I don’t mean in control of their circumstances or in control of their life but in control of themselves.

Patient people tend to be relatively measured and calm. They have perspective. They don’t miss the forest for the trees. They’re fully present in the moment, and they don’t let frustrations derail them. They have self-control.

In fact, they can sometimes make patience seem easy… even effortless. But, make no mistake, it’s just as hard for them as it for the next person. The difference is in the practicing.

Practice makes permanent. Practice makes patience.

Patience recognizes that, while we often can’t control an outcome or timing or circumstances or people, we can always choose to control our response.

In fact, patience is like a diet. Most diets operate under the premise that you need to eat a certain way for a certain amount of time so you can achieve the results you want, and then life can continue as it did before. Only, all too often people end up gaining back all the weight – and then some – because the diet wasn’t sustainable.

The truly sustainable diet isn’t a diet at all… it’s making a change in eating habits that’s practical for the long haul. It’s only once we accept that there’s no magic formula… just a new way of life and a new way of eating – one bite at a time – that real change happens.

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The same is true with patience. We will become more patient once we come to the realization that patience isn’t a quick fix, but a change of mind. It’s changing how we react to disappointments, waiting, anger, frustration, things not happening that we wanted, or things happening that we didn’t want. Or things happening in a different way or a different timing than we’d hoped for. Step by step, patience is developing a determination to change the things we can change – ourselves… our actions and our reactions – and turning the things we can’t change over to God.

But, what if you’re like me, doing reasonably well with patience in many ways but feeling like you’re fighting a losing battle in certain situations?

Well, the Bible has the answer for that.

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When I come to the end of myself (which is often…), Jesus is always there to fill up my weakness with his strength. And, what He’ll do for me, He can do for you.

Can’t do it on your own?

Power up…

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Patiently waiting…

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I’m convinced our ability to navigate ‘waiting’ is pivotal to patience.

Just consider all the things we could be waiting for at any given minute…

Waiting for something to start, waiting for something to end, waiting for something to happen, waiting for answers, waiting for healing, waiting for results, waiting for justice. Or small things like waiting in traffic, waiting in line, and waiting in waiting rooms. (I find it humorous that they’re actually called waiting rooms, pretty much giving you the heads up that waiting will happen).

I’m famous for standing in a line and then switching to a different line, that seems like it’s progressing faster… only to discover that the line I’d abandoned was the quickest. The same goes for waiting in traffic. And yet I still persist in changing lines and lanes. Although, while it used to regularly drive me crazy, I’ve come to pretty much expect it. My ability to patiently wait has improved over time. And, when I find impatience creeping in, it’s often a measured response.

But, trust me, patience doesn’t come easily. Or perfectly. I’ve worked on patience probably more than any other attribute in my life. And I know better than to ever think I’ve mastered it because that’s precisely when circumstances show me how far I still have to go.

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Our 21 month purebreed British bulldog, Charlie, is a dog who’s always waiting.

Waiting for water.

His need is insatiable to the point of fixation. According to the vet, it’s psychological. But, to Charlie, the need is very real.

He will drink to the bottom of his dish, no matter how much water is in it. He’ll drink until he gets sick (which history has shown us repeatedly). To him, water is the equivalent of a t-bone steak. So we have to be keepers of the water dish.

And so, Charlie is a dog who waits.

Some days, his entire day is spent waiting for water. He’ll lay by his food dish for hours. If water should appear, he doesn’t want to miss it. But, regardless of how often he gets water, as soon as he’s finished drinking, he starts the waiting process all over again. Sometimes, he’ll break it up with naps but, trust me, a whole of waiting goes on.

Charlie has become a very patient dog. But, even then, occasionally the waiting gets to be too much, and he’ll bark once as if to say, ‘Hurry up, people!’. But, we just say no, and he goes back to waiting… because he’s learned that he’s most apt to get what he’s waiting for when he’s being patient.

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That’s a valuable lesson for people. Our patience might not always achieve the results we’re hoping for but it will always do far more than our impatience will. At the very least, being patient changes us.  We become kinder, more tolerant, more tolerable, and self-controlled people. Happier people… because impatience never made anyone happier. Or more popular.

So… need patience?

Just wait for it…

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Have patience…

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Patience is foundational to navigating life. But, patience doesn’t come easily to most of us, perhaps because it gets tested so many times in any given day.
Last week, I was driving in the middle of three lanes of northbound traffic during rush hour traffic through an intersection where they’re constructing the first diverging diamond interchange in Canada. As I started to pass under the recently laid spans of the bridge deck, a heavy piece of bolted metal dropped onto the hood of my car, leaving distinct indentations and damage to the paint.
Have patience…
Two days later, we took our 21 month old British bulldog on a rare drive only to have him pee on the seat between us shortly after we had stopped to give him an outdoor pee break.
Have patience…
The day after that, I wrote an entire blog post that disappeared forever just as I was about to publish it (even though I had saved it numerous times throughout the process).
Have patience…
A couple of days after that, life threw me an unexpected – and unpleasant – curveball that I didn’t see coming, and that I’m continuing to have to deal with.
Have patience…
Several months ago, I had received a recall notice in the mail for my car, which I took to the dealership only to discover that the notice was for my last Nissan vehicle. The one I had traded in 3 1/2 years earlier. I phoned Nissan Canada to have the error corrected, and then promptly forgot about it until today, when I received a second recall notice in the mail for the same vehicle.
Have patience…
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I did reasonably well with 4 of the 5 instances I’ve described above but I assure you that’s not always the case. Patience is something I grapple with circumstance by circumstance, and I’m reasonably certain I’m not the only one.
Just this past week in the news… Justin Bieber got decked after punching a guy in the face in Cleveland. Twin sisters got in a physical altercation while driving in Maui, and one lost her life when the car subsequently plunged off a cliff. A disagreement in a Costco parking lot in Toronto turned into a brawl between two middle aged couples, prompting one news source to say that we’re living in an age of rage.
This is what the Bible has to say about patience…
“Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.” Proverbs 14:29
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32
It’s easy to be impatient and hard to be patient. But patience is worth it. Impatient people are rarely happy people and usually not that fun to be around, not to mention that others tend to notice when you do things that go against the tide of human nature.
Sometimes you even get featured on Oprah.
But, God always notices even if no one else does.
My goal, my prayer, and my hope is that I will get patience right far more often than I don’t. That the times I demonstrate patience will point others to the One who is able to do in me exceedingly abundantly above all I could ever ask or think.
The patience of Job?
I’m aiming for the patience of Joy
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Perfect peace…

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Peace is an interesting topic because many people want it, few have it, and most don’t know how to get it or keep it.

Peace has been around since the beginning of time, starting in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve never had a single argument, no one was at war, and even the animals all got along. Peace never crossed their minds because they didn’t know a time where they didn’t have it. For one brief time in history, there was peace.

Perfect peace.

But, then sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and mankind has struggled to keep a grasp on peace ever since, starting when Cain murdered his brother Abel, and quite possibly when Adam and Eve had an argument or two over whose fault it was that God had banished them from the Garden of Eden.

One of the earliest words signifying peace was the Hebrew word ‘shalom’. To this day, it’s spoken by many Jewish people around the world, and even by many non-Jewish people. It’s often used interchangeably with ‘hello’ and ‘good bye’, which reminds me of John 14:27 when Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

Shalom.

At the church we regularly attend, after the praise and worship part of each service, it’s customary to shake hands with those around you and speak the blessing, “May the peace of Christ be with you.” To which the reply is, “And also with you.”

I confess it felt weird to do that the first one hundred times or so but I’ve come to appreciate that it’s one of the nicest things we can say to each other. There’s power in speaking peace into someone else’s life, as well as having peace spoken into your own life.

Words aren’t the only way peace is conveyed. For centuries, the dove has been a universal symbol of peace, as has been the olive branch. And, in 1958, a British designer and artist, by the name of Gerald Holtom, designed an actual peace symbol.

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Peace must be important to our well being for there to be so many different ways to communicate it. After all, consider that wars rage, terrorists terrorize, people feud, families divide, and it can be easier to hate than to love. Some people are even at war with themselves, as evidenced by self-harming behaviours and self-hatred.

You don’t have to look very far to find people needing peace.

Peace is elusive but the peace from Christ is perfect. Isaiah 26:3 puts it this way:

“You will keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.”

Sounds straightforward, eh? Well, in practice, we’re imperfect people trying to perfectly trust God, and that affects our peace. Oh, we can have moments of peace… and maybe even stretches of peace… but then something happens to cause inner turmoil or external turmoil in our lives, and our peace goes out the window, just like that.

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It’s like riding a bike. It’s easiest to ride on level plain, with no obstacles in sight. But, add some rough terrain, a few obstacles, and a couple of steep hills, and it’s another story entirely. You find yourself having to stand up to pedal or maybe you have to get off your bike and start pushing. Sometimes you need someone to come alongside you… either to help push or simply to encourage you.

Someone to help you bear your load.

“Two people are better than one,
    because they get more done by working together.
If one falls down,
    the other can help him up.
But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls,
    because no one is there to help.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

But, then there are the sweet moments when you find yourself at the top of a hill. The bigger the hill, the better. And you can just soar to the bottom without having to hardly touch the pedals.

It’s in those moments when you can just enjoy the ride, and revel in the joy of the journey.

Ahhhh… perfect peace…

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For the love of…

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The past couple of weeks have been really good in some respects but really tough in others. Tough enough that my last post for April is only happening on the first day of May.

The details are unimportant but, for more than a year, I’ve had an ongoing challenge with certain people who don’t love me. I’m pretty sure they don’t even like me. My recent discouragement has come from thinking that the tide had finally turned only to discover than I’m somehow farther from shore than ever before.

If I could avoid them, I would but, in this case, it’s neither practical nor possible. So, I have to deal with being actively disliked pretty much every day, and to say it’s not easy is an understatement. I pray a lot that the situation will change but only God knows if it will.

So far, He isn’t saying.

There’s a cost to love… even when it’s reciprocated. It costs us time, energy, commitment, and sacrifice. It costs the same things when it isn’t reciprocated.

It just feels worse.

But, if I consider the alternative, history shows that hate comes at the highest cost of all… our souls. Hate breeds nothing but more hate. If you don’t believe me, just check the news everyday. You’ll find far more reports about hate than about love because love is hard and it doesn’t come naturally. It’s no coincidence that when people choose to love instead of hate, they often end up on Oprah because that reaction is not our human nature.

My own situation alternately upsets, frustrates, discourages, and angers me. It depends on the day, and sometimes the moment. But, I continually remind myself that I can’t live there. I need to choose to rise above my emotions, and be loving.

No matter what.

Period.

That means extending kindness, showing an interest in them, praying for them, and treating them like I treat everyone else. Treating them the same as I would if they were being lovable.

But, let me be clear about one thing… loving others doesn’t mean being a pushover or a doormat. It doesn’t mean putting ourselves in harm’s way or living with abuse. It’s important to set boundaries for another’s behaviour towards us. When those boundaries aren’t respected, sometimes we have to put distance between us and them… both physically and emotionally. Sometimes for awhile and sometimes for forever.

I wish I had this ‘love’ thing down pat but the past couple of weeks have shown me that I have a lot of room to grow. Truth be told, I will always have a lot of room to grow but I sincerely hope the learning curve won’t always be quite so steep.

I know I’ve only been on The Joy Journey since the beginning of April but focusing on love these past few weeks – both the successes and the challenges – has helped me feel more joyful in general.

So, gotta love that…

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Loving-kindness…

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A number of years ago, I attended a motivational business seminar where I had the opportunity to participate in the following exercise. The room divided into groups of three, one of whom was chosen to be ‘the tree’… standing with their arms extended out to the side, like branches. When the seminar leader gave the cue, the remaining two members of each group took an arm and tried to push it down to the person’s side as they made positive statements about them.

You’re a great person. You’re really nice. You’re a hard worker. You make people happy. You have a great sense of humor. You’re kind.

When the seminar leader instructed everyone to stop, we discovered that not one group had been able to push down the arms of the people with their arms extended.

The second part of the exercise was identical, with the exception of the statements verbalized. As group members tried to push down the arms of the other member in their group, they instead made negative statements about them.

You did a terrible job. You never do anything right. No one likes you. You’ll never be able to do that. We don’t want you in our group.

The result was surprising. Everyone’s arms folded like a deck of cards. Not one person was able to keep their arms extended in the face of negative input.

The people and the methods were the same in both exercises. The only thing that varied was the words that were spoken. The lesson was unmistakeable. Our words have the power to either build others up or to tear them down.

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I thought of that exercise again recently with the challenge I’ve been having trying to incorporate one 35 minute daily walk into Charlie’s life (our 19 month old purebred British bulldog). The main challenge has been that Charlie doesn’t want to walk. He doesn’t even want to leave the property. If he could talk, I’m sure he would point out that British bulldogs are physically built to excel at naps, not walks. And I don’t think he appreciates my rationale that one short walk a day still leaves him with 23 1/2 hours a day for napping.

So, each walk has started like this. I put Charlie on the leash… we go out the door and down the steps. Charlie thinks he’s going for a pee but then, at some point, realizes that was only ‘Phase 1’ of the outing. I start walking toward the end of the driveway but then Charlie puts the brakes on… basically plants his feet and becomes a 49 pound stone. So, I brace the leash across the front of my legs while continuing to slowly walk forward until he eventually has no choice but to follow. This pattern continues for many blocks until Charlie suddenly shakes off his protestations, and inexplicably walks beautifully beside me for the rest of the walk.

I can attest to the fact that I’ve tried everything to get Charlie to be less resistant for the first part of his walk. My theory that he would remember his walk from the previous day, and that it would motivate him to eventually walk willingly right from the beginning never took flight. Instead, each day was like Groundhog Day, with practice becoming permanent.

But I recently came up with the idea to praise Charlie the minute he walked – particularly near the beginning of our outing when the walking didn’t tend to go so well. Now, even if Charlie drags his feet, as long as he’s walking, it counts as walking… and I instantly praise him. Good boy, Charlie. If he plants his feet the next moment, I say nothing except ‘Come’ and just keep moving ahead until he has no choice but to follow. I’ve wanted Charlie to associate praise with the action of walking, and have hoped it would prove to be motivating.

Guess what? It’s working!

Until I tried this little experiment, I never said anything positive OR negative to Charlie on our walks… just mostly things like ‘Come’ or ‘Yes, you’re going to walk’ (the latter quite possibly through gritted teeth). But, something as simple as giving words of praise for something that genuinely merits praise has made all the difference.

I can’t say that Charlie is 100% onboard with his walks just yet. He still plants his feet in the driveway when he realizes that we plan to actually leave the property but his resistance doesn’t continue too far beyond that anymore when, not so long ago, it was a battle of wills for literally many blocks.

It made me think of the word ‘loving-kindness’… meaning tenderness and consideration toward others. I think there are many ways we can show loving-kindness to those around us – including the Charlie’s in our lives – but one of the most powerful ways is through our words. Of course, extending loving-kindness through our words means nothing unless our actions back them up but I truly believe there’s nothing quite like our words to build others up in a way that few other things can.

Don’t let on to Charlie but I think our daily walk has become the highlight of his day. I know it’s become the highlight of mine…

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