Monday, February 11, 2013

UGOs and Broken Cisterns

Ebony's spy name is Special Agent Hoover with good reason. Here at Wits' End, we have no five-second rule when otherwise edible food falls on the floor. We don't even have a three-second rule. Special Agent Hoover swoops in and vacuums up the evidence before we have time to think.

(If you ever visit our home and hear one or both of us yelling, "Leave it!! Off!!!!!" we have most likely dropped a grape or coffee bean or something else that could put Special Agent Hoover out of commission.)

Sometimes he even scoops up that which is not food. We call these things UGOs, as in "Unidentified Ground Objects," following the lead of the dog Satchel from the comic strip "Get Fuzzy." Dogs experience the world through nose and mouth (not unlike toddlers?), so this can be Ebony's way of identifying an object which may or may not be food. Acorns, rocks, twigs, plastic artificial tears caps, lettuce, . . . such things usually fail the UGO screening criteria and return to the sidewalk or floor with a comically wrinkled nose. Sometimes, however, Special Agent Hoover's taste buds operate on faulty intel and he actually swallows non-food UGOs like part of a zip-top bag he found in Amore's coat pocket. We have to be quick with this one.

Last Thursday, Ebony had been outside enjoying the mild weather longer than usual. Unable to see him from the door, I called to him to come to make sure the nefarious Dr. Miao (a neighbor's cat which frequents our yard) had not taken him hostage or worse. He did not come after several opportunities and ample time, so I put on my outdoor shoes and found him loitering by the compost pile with no obvious reason for having ignored me.

At 3:56 the next morning, we discovered the reason: he had been eating dead leaves from the compost pile and that his stomach had determined they were not in fact food.

One load of laundry later, Friday afternoon I let Ebony outside to greet the dogs across the alley. I turned my back to answer a text message, and when I looked outside again he was gone. As before, I called. No response. Sigh. When I went out to retrieve him, I discovered he was not in fact eating from the compost pile, which does contain food waste and might reasonably appeal to an always hungry dog. Instead, I found him up to his ears in this:

Behind the compost lay a heap of vacuumed, shredded leaves being processed for mulch. In layman's terms, a pile of rotting leaves. Appetizing, yes? For Ebony, they were at that moment the most delectable treat in the world. Truly there is no accounting for taste. Not only did he ignore his training and refuse to come when I called, but when I stepped around the side of the house he glanced at me and ate faster.

"No, Ebony! Leave it! Come!"

Munch, munch, munch.

The only way to separate him from his toxic treat was to take hold of his collar and physically move him out of that area. Even though he'd already been sick on leaves once, they tasted so good on the way down that he returned for more and forgot all his training to listen and heed my voice.

Following the vet's instructions, we watched and waited and nothing seemed abnormal. All was well this time, but if he ate these leaves again his life and our wallet could be in danger. Rotting leaves are toxic, and because they are hard and sharp they could injure his digestive tract just as surely as a splintered chicken bone.

On Saturday, Amore screened off the area with chicken wire as a temporary barrier until he can install something sturdier. The first time Ebony went out after the new hindrance to his favorite snack, he headed that direction almost immediately.

He trotted over to the temptation, tail wagging in anticipation. Then he discovered not all was as expected. An obstacle stood between him and his leaves, and he couldn't go through it.

Nor could he go under it. (He probably could have gone over it, but thankfully he didn't try that option.) Foiled again! No doubt this was the handiwork of that nefarious Dr. Miao.

He lingered some moments longer with the most disappointed look on his face. How could I refuse those eyes? And yet I did, because those puppy dog eyes wanted what would only do them harm.

In my initial frustration at this nonsensical behavior -- why on earth would he return to what had made him ill once already? -- I failed to notice the "log in my own eye." Rotting leaves don't tempt me, but how often have I (do I) try to fill an empty love tank, an aching soul, or a spirit growling in hunger with that which is not food and does not satisfy?

The word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah speaks to just such a pattern, so I have a hunch I'm not the only one who does this:
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance" (Isaiah 55:2, NASB).
These words present two clear alternatives: pouring out my resources on futility or listening to my Father and Master and receiving what is good and delightful in abundance. Phrased like that, the choice is obvious. I'll take the abundant good, please.

In daily life, on the other hand, things get a little blurry, at least for me. Will I eat an extra-large serving of chocolate or waffle fries or cake, or will I take my melancholy self to the Lord in prayer, worship, and listening to His Word? Will I take my troubles to Him or anesthetize them with Web browsing, shopping, or entertainment? Will I give prayer the priority or run to friends and doctors first, before seeking the Lord's perspective?

Jeremiah presents the choice even more starkly than this Isaiah verse. In Jeremiah's terms,
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13, NASB).
Evil? Really? Twin evils, in fact. The nation of Israel in Jeremiah's day had forsaken the Lord by idolatry and rejecting His law; furthermore, they had "hewn themselves cisterns" by seeking help in military alliances instead of repenting or trusting the Lord to help and guard them in the coming discipline.

Some of you may protest that I'm making a mountain out of a leaf pile here, but I have seen affliction enough in my life that I know for myself how alluring false comforts and broken cisterns can be. They seem to provide immediate comfort or solutions for a painful problem, but they have always eventually added to my trouble in the end. Friends, doctors, delicious food, and recreation are good and have their place, but if I am seeking from those things that which only God can supply, I'm trying to store the water of life in a leaky bucket. By trying to meet my God-given deepest needs in those ways, I am giving them priority over Him, and that's idolatry in my book.

When He kindly allows my broken cisterns to produce immediate discomfort, how will I respond? Will I run back to them at the next opportunity and try to get all the pleasure I can before He makes me stop? Will I fret in frustration if He graciously puts roadblocks in the path for me to "spend my wages for what does not satisfy"?

Better yet, will I stick close to my Master, listen to His voice, and trust Him to give what is best in the right times and amounts, even if it feels inadequate or tastes yucky?

Lord, keep making me Your Velcro companion. I want to follow You so closely that the clink of my dog tags always points to Your presence. I fail often, daily, but that's my desire, Lord. In sad times, in hard times, grow my trust in You. Strengthen me to choose to come to You, to listen to You, to follow Your commands, and to hold fast to You as the only fountain of living water and the only source of true joy and satisfaction. You know what my personal rotting leaf temptations are, Father. Call me away from them and put barriers in my path if need be to keep me from running to false refuges instead of to You. You are the only wise God, my Savior. I yield myself and my emptiness once again to you. You are Yahweh my God, who brought me up from the Egypt of my sin. I open my mouth wide to You and count on Your promise to fill me (Psalm 81:10).

Thanks be to God for His good and abundant gifts this past week:
His patience with me when I keep trusting in broken cisterns :: learning from life with Ebony :: no emergency vet visit :: chicken wire :: strength for a very long day Wednesday :: shower knobs I can turn and completely shut off :: lovely date Saturday night :: working on Bible study Sunday afternoon :: goldfinch sighting at our feeder :: the little wren Caruso cleaning out our window screens and bug zapper :: visually locating the doves I heard in the live oak ::  

a day at home today :: relapsed ankle pain after using the wrong resistance band in my therapy :: invitation for Mezzo's master's recital :: anticipation of family time for Thunder Twins' birthday party Saturday :: God's ever-present help to strengthen me for this day
(counting gifts #9170-9185)

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