The Stories of Our Lives

Rita and I share our home with two wonderful canines—Cooper and Sophie. Cooper arrived several years ago and enjoyed the perks of being the only dog in the family. His world was shaken a bit when Sophie arrived this past January. In dog years, Cooper is a middle-aged man, and Sophie is a teenage girl. Sophie has tremendous energy. Cooper still has the stamina to keep up with Sophie for a time. Over these past months, they have become very devoted to one another.

Since we returned from Klintsy in July, I have been walking Cooper and Sophie in the early morning and in the late evening on most days. Rita often accompanies me, and you may have seen us walking our canine children. Out in public, Cooper and Sophie reveal very different personalities. When we meet someone along the way, Cooper begins with a low growl, erupts into barking, charges toward the person, and then retreats—but he never stops barking! Sophie is Miss Congeniality. As soon as she sees a person along the course, she is up on her hind legs to get a better view. Her tail begins to wave back and forth. She dances toward the person confident that the stranger wants to meet her.

How do you explain the different responses to strangers by these two adorable, loving canines? Well, you must know their stories. Cooper came to our house as a refugee. His life began with another puppy in the home of an orthopedic surgeon in Louisiana. The house was inhabited by a husband, a wife, and a pack of little boys. As a young pup, Cooper apparently endured some cruelty. Perhaps it came from little boys who didn’t know how to love a puppy. Maybe two puppies were just too much for a young family with a pack of little boys. Whatever the case, the doctor decided one puppy had to go, and Cooper was shipped out making his way to Paducah. He did not escape before he was scarred by that time. He is afraid of strangers. He is terrified of a broom. He must overcome his fears before he can allow a stranger to touch him. Cooper struggles to get beyond the turmoil of his puppy days.

Sophie enjoyed the life of a princess. She wore bows in her hair and cute little doggie outfits. She arrived with all the accessories needed to assure the comfort of puppy. She came from a wonderful home where she was cuddled and caressed. Her gracious and joyful attitude toward life and people was shaped quite early.

Cooper is challenged in another way. He apparently has diminished vision. He goes along with his head down following his nose. Thus, cats, squirrels, and humans frighten him, and he reacts with unceasing barking. On the other leash, Sophie has sharp eyesight. When she sees something, she sits up on her hind legs, motionless, and watches closely. When the cat, squirrel, or human moves, she runs toward the stranger wagging her tail. Cooper is often startled by the world moving around him. Fear rises first in his being. Sophie can’t wait to see what is coming next. She responds to the drumbeat of adventure.

I suspect people share a great deal in common with puppies. As people, we all have our stories. Our stories are shaped by the formative year and events of our lives. As we lived into our stories, some of us learned to trust and others of us learned to be distrustful. The events of our lives taught us to see the world differently. There are those of us who see the world as a cold, hostile place, and others who see the world as a warm, inviting place. Some of us see people as potential friends. Others of us encounter strangers and see a potential adversary. Some of us learned to graciously accept who we are, and others of us just can’t accept who we have become.

Just like dogs, our stories tell a great deal about us and reveal the groundwork of the challenges we face in living with ourselves and others in this world. Love is a wonderful experience for some and a frightening experience for others. Trust is as normal as breathing or as torturous as having our wisdom teeth extracted. God is our friend, or God is our antagonist.

Just like Cooper and Sophie, people respond to others and life in different ways. We are easily drawn to the “Sophie” people. “Cooper” people require a little more understanding. To offer acceptance, we must be attentive to the stories people tell. We must listen compassionately seeking understanding. Because we all have stories—unique stories—we must graciously receive the stories we are privileged to hear.

Ultimately, only God knows all the chapters of our stories. Only God knows the impressions life and events have imprinted upon our souls. Perhaps, only God, with the assistance of his children, can set us free to live hopefully as ourselves. All of us have broken and wounded places. All of us experience joy and meaning in our own ways. To live in harmony, perhaps we need to explore the depths of grace. Maybe the first step toward more gracious living is sharing our own unique stories. To share our stories, we must create a place and a time where we can speak honestly with our fear. Perhaps our first listener needs to be God in moments of solitude. Perhaps when God sets us free, we will share the stories of our lives creating greater understanding in a world of convulsing in misunderstanding.