Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lessons in Terror from a Housedog

Nothing epitomizes fear quite like Buddy in the middle of a rainstorm.

The other day, we had another one of our monster rainstorms—the kind that come every afternoon (and morning...and night...recently we’ve had record rains) and remind me yes, you do live on a tropical island and where suddenly, it seems quite plausible that the entire earth could be flooded by 40 days of rain, and in fact, we really ought to be buying stock in our local ark-building business.

You know, this could be us... (image from
Imagine four drum lines all practicing a different song inside a tiled locker room, and you understand the noise our tin roof makes when the heavens crack open. Add in the cheesy movie effect of lightning striking our neighboring mountain top over and over while thunder echoes like bowling balls slamming back and forth across the valley, and you get the picture.

Some days, he forces himself to move...and hides behind the toilet
photo by Jessie Wright
And it’s absolutely hell on earth for Buddy, our little housedog. At the first whisper of rain, he runs in a panic, trying to hide behind the toilet. But by the time the bowling balls and drum lines appear, he’s given up. Death is imminent. He stands, frozen in terror on our handmade rug. His eyes are glassy. I try to call to him, but it’s no use. He is blind and deaf, shaking uncontrollably like he’s having a seizure. He has seen the Grim Reaper, and it’s time for him to go.

Not unlike me, sometimes.

It’s two months until I return to the US for my home assignment after years of living in Papua New Guinea. And I’m ready to go back. It’s been a tough few years, and I’m tired, battered. I miss family and friends and independence and security and my own culture. I’m tired of sitting with a friend, at a loss for words because her grandchild died suddenly that morning from preventable causes or because the only clinic in this part of the country that has the right equipment to see the bullet lodged in her husband’s skull (from tribal fighting) is on the fritz again or because hooligans raided her garden (their primary food source) and a dog killed all her son’s chickens overnight (his only chance at paying this year’s high school tuition). Yes, I’m ready.

But it’s also been a very good few years, and I’m overjoyed at what the Lord has done in my life and in those around me. I love this place, these people, this work. And at this point...the US is more unknown to me than here.

And so, the thunder crashes, and like my poor little white dog, I can easily find myself frozen, staring at the future and all the worries, both real and imagined, that come with home assignment.

But then I laugh to myself (and cry...because sometimes it’s gotta be both), because—count them!—how many predictions of my so carefully planned last few years have actually come true? Really? Hmm. And so, how much more founded are my fears of the future—that same future that is held in the hands of a God who loves me and has a life for me so much more than I can ask or imagine?

And I’m grateful for these years of goodness and of trauma and of joy and of disease and broken plans, because through them, I’ve learned that God's peace is not so much a happy feeling that replaces all the negative emotions. Instead it's such a big and heavy confidence in His goodness, at being cradled in His arms, that those negative emotions are so muted, they aren't worth focusing on.

When Buddy stands quaking before me, he can’t snap himself out of it. Nor do I expect him to. He’s afraid.

So I do the only thing I can...I pick him up. Only then does he wake from his stupor, burrowing into my lap, as if trying to get under my skin, where his fears can’t reach him, where he’ll finally be