Four Paws From Heaven:
Devotions for Dog Lovers
By Jeremy Reynalds
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- If dogs could read, they’d like the book Four Paws from Heaven.
I think that my St. Bernard would.
Four Paws from Heaven, by M.R.Wells, Kris Young, and Connie Fleishauer, serves to remind us, as its book cover so aptly points out, that a dog can add a lot of joy to our lives.
“These furry, four-footed creatures truly are wonderful gifts from a loving Creator that bring joy, laughter, and warmth to our hearts and homes, the book cover reads. “ Sometimes they do seem ‘heaven sent.’”
I agree with the book’s publishers that “these delightful devotions will make you smile and perhaps grow a little misty as you enjoy true stories of how God watches over and provides for us even as we care for our canine companions.”
Readers of this inspiring devotional will learn how just a little obedience can keep us from danger, why trusting our Master is always a good thing to do, and why how just “being” with God is the best place to be in the entire world.
In a recent interview with M.R Wells, I asked her what dogs can teach us about unconditional love. She said that one of the stories in the book is titled “Love, Morgan Style.”
Wells said, “My dog Morgan senses when I'm hurting, and he instinctively offers himself. He has no idea what's wrong, but he reaches out. He paws at my face, drapes his body over mine, or presses his muzzle against me. He's there and he cares -- which is so important to someone who's in a crisis. I had to learn that. I tended to draw back if I didn't know what to do. I feared rejection. I thought I had to fix people's problems. But the comfort of our presence and expressions of concern, and just being available to others, is often what helps most. Dogs are so eager to give of themselves, and there's a great lesson in that."
Kris believes that ‘unconditional love’ is the top perk and most basic ‘great and unsearchable truth’ we can learn from our dogs. "The unchanging adoration our dogs have for us gives us a glimpse of how we should be worshiping and adoring God.”
With most dogs wanting to stay close to their owners, I asked Wells if there is a lesson we can learn from this about staying close to our Heavenly Father. Wells said that one of her co-authors has a story in the book called “Close to You.”
“The title is taken from an old '60s pop song,” Wells said. (My co-author) talks about how Gracie (his dog) thought the very best place to be was close to her master. She worked very hard to stay by his side. My dogs do the same. They're my shadows. But we humans don't always strive to stay close to our Master. One way Kris restores his closeness with God is to hike in the mountains, confessing his sin and memorizing and meditating on Scripture. In that natural setting he feels the centuries drop away. It's as if he's walking with Christ, the living Word, 2000 years ago. What works for someone else might be different, but it's important to stay confessed and take time for our relationship with the Lord.”
I asked Wells how dogs can help encourage us when we are troubled. She said that her other co-author wrote a story called “Fairy Dogfather.”
“It's about how their dog Stuart lifts her husband's spirits by being a ‘fool for love,’ Wells said. “Steve's a hardworking farmer, and by day’s end he’s beat. At times he's emotionally down as well. He drags in and slumps in a chair, just wanting to rest. But Stuart has another idea. He leaps in Steve's lap and licks his ears. Soon Steve is laughing, cheered by Stuart's reckless affection. Like the proverbial ‘fairy godmother,’ this ‘fairy dogfather’ sets Steve's world right, but of course, it's only temporary. God has done so much more for us with His ‘reckless affection.’ God the Son laid aside His glory to be born as a human and die for our sins. He lifted us out of our transgressions and into God's family, if we have believed in Him. And we can lift others' hearts and spirits by sharing this good news and being willing to be ‘fools for God's love.’”
Four Paws from Heaven points out one major difference between humans and dogs -- that dogs don't judge us by our physical appearance. I asked Wells how we can learn to do likewise. She referred to a co-author who wrote the devotional “Gracie Looks at the Heart.”
“(My co-author) shares how some mornings what he saw in his mirror didn't thrill him. He had more white hair, but less hair overall. His face looked tired; like wax drooping on a hot day. The bicycle tire around his waist was itching to grow into an automobile tire. Like so many in today's world, he was focused on his outward appearance. But on such mornings his dog Gracie treated him like a rock star. What she saw and loved was who Kris was on the inside. God doesn't judge us by our outward appearance either. He looks at our hearts. (I Samuel 16:7) We need to focus on people's hearts, on who they are inside. As Kris writes, ‘…it is my heart, the internal, eternal part of me, which defines who I am. God sees that…and so do our dogs.’”
The book reminds us that God doesn't forget about us when we are disobedient. I asked Wells where obedience and faith intersect.
“The Bible teaches that to love God is to obey God,” Wells said. “It also says that without faith it's impossible to please Him. Our dogs trust and obey us even when they don't know why we ask them to do things. I think one way we show faith in God is by doing what He says even when it may not make sense to us. Several of our stories touch on this. In ‘Seeing Eye Master,’ (one of my co-authors) shares how God led her and her husband home to their families when they wanted to go on the mission field. They trusted and obeyed even though they didn't understand. Shortly after, (her) father died suddenly, and her mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. Their ‘Seeing Eye Master’ knew what was coming, and led them where they were needed. There may also be times when God calls us to obey without ever knowing ‘why’ in this life. We just have to trust in Him, and His goodness.”
Knowing that dogs have better hearing than humans, and can detect danger, I asked Wells what we can we learn about ignoring a faithful dog's warning and how this relates to ignoring God's warnings. Well said that in the chapter titled “A Woof of Warning,” one of her co-authors shares how her dog Huxley started barking late one night when the family was sleeping.
“Huxley had different kinds of barks, and this one clearly signaled danger,” Wells continued. “ But on that particular night those who heard him rolled over instead of dragging themselves out of bed. In the morning they learned that thieves had broken into a shed on the property and had stolen some valuable farm tools. They realized they should have made the effort to heed Huxley's warning. God also warns us of danger in various ways: godly counsel, His Word, or the still small voice of His Spirit. Connie tells how God nudged her to get more exercise, but she found excuses not to. Then their family moved from one home to another and it was much harder on her physically than it might have been if she had gotten into better shape. God warns us for our good, just as Huxley did, and we ignore Him at our peril.”
Like humans, dogs can suffer from emotional scars of the past. I asked Wells to talk about some of the ways they respond to early trauma?
“I got my dog Morgan as a two-year-old rescue,” she said. “I've guessed he was abused in his former life. He was terrified of vacuums, mops, and loud sounds. If he sensed the slightest disapproval from me, he tucked his tail and cowered. He was very uncertain when he met new people, too. He'd seem fine and then suddenly erupt in a frenzy of barking. I talk about this in a story called ‘How a Dog Became a Butterfly.’ Morgan had a new life with me, but his old baggage still clung to him. It's as if he'd been a caterpillar and became a butterfly -- but his old fear cocoon was still sticking to his wings. I had to meet Morgan where he was and be his ‘wing cleaner.’ God does the same when we ask Jesus into our hearts and become His children. He meets us where we are, old baggage and all. And through His people and His Spirit, He works with us and loves us until our wings are clean and we can soar as butterflies were meant to.
I asked Wells what she hopes that readers will discover from reading the book.
“We are hoping that people will identify with our stories and find insights they can apply to their own lives,” she said. “We think it's a plus that our book has three co-authors. We're from different backgrounds and have different life experiences to share. Our 64 short devotionals combine anecdotes about our dogs with personal human illustrations. Each entry focuses around a central spiritual insight. We've also included a few thought questions after each devotional for personal contemplation or group discussion. We hope that our book will spur readers to look for pictures of God's truths in their own pets and the world around them. They are everywhere, if we have eyes to see them.”
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Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. He has five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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