"Are you walking him?" asked the dude in the loud truck. "Or is he walking you?"
"Both." I smiled and followed Isaac, as he pulled me away from the passer-by.
Many a dude and dudette have stopped us over the years to ask who the leader of our walks is. For a long time, the question bothered me. I still don't like the question, but I've learned to like an opportunity to answer creatively. The purpose of walking Isaac is not to determine who is in charge or has more authority. The purpose of our walks is to walk. Sometimes I decide the direction. Most of the time, he leads me through lessons of faith on Mississippi delta streets. As long as we are not plunging headlong into a ditch or telephone pole, I'm happy to follow in his paw prints.
Early one recent morning, Isaac surprised me when we reached a familiar intersection. He made a sharp right. Curious, I followed along. With nose pointed north, he led me to a walking track in our neighborhood, where I had trained him to walk on a leash. We had not walked there in over three years. Posted along the trail were the reason we'd left: signs that read NO PETS ALLOWED.
He pulled me towards the trail's entrance, and I stood still. "No, bud, we can't walk on the track anymore." He dug all four paws into the ground and stared back at me. I walked in a circle around him, encouraging him to follow me in a different direction. He refused. He had tunnel vision for only one destination.
I sighed. Then I broke the rules. We walked past the NO PETS ALLOWED signs and headed down the circular track. Isaac picked up speed, nose to the ground and tail high. No sooner were we skipping along and the memories returned. The slow stop-and-go of training. The tree he wrapped me around when he chased a squirrel. The time he wrestled himself out of his collar and ran towards an open field. The kind walkers who patiently walked around us when our stubborn standoffs blocked their way.
I also remembered a time before Isaac came on the scene. When I first moved to Cleveland, I walked with only my music as companion. Irish folk singer Glen Hansard had released his first solo album, Rhythm and Repose, and I listened to it on repeat while walking that circle. After we returned home, I scrolled through my music and clicked "play" on a song called "This Gift."
Your heart's in wide receiving
Been too long buried in the sand
Some things require leaving
This gift will fall right in your hand
Just try to understand...
As Isaac and I prepare to leave Cleveland, 'this gift' of an ancient path fell right in our hands (and paws) . The gift of God's guidance. The gift of God's presence. The gift of joyful memories. The gift of recognizing maturity and growth. The gift of a forgotten song that is powerfully appropriate for a present situation.
The past can be a dangerous place to dwell. We don't want to live in the "what ifs" and "what might have beens" and longings of wanting back "what used to be."
But when God leads us to visit paths of the past, what gifts we can receive. We can see the good ways on which he's brought us. We can rediscover the rest for our souls. We can give thanks for what has been and rejoice for what is to be.
Spiritual discernment requires us to stand at crossroads with the prophet, to ask difficult questions, to wait for the answers. We often don't know where God is leading us until we look back to see how far he's brought us.
What is the ancient path to which God leads you today?
Will you take the risk of looking back in order to move forward?
Will you move forward in light of where you've been?
all good things to each of you,