Learn to Teach your Dog with a Click // Clicker Training 101

Maybe you’ve seen it on the shelf at the pet shop, or seen the word mentioned in puppy training books. The clicker is a small plastic box that emits a loud popping sound when pressed. It is a simple but powerful communication tool and a positive way to condition your dog to new behaviors or tasks. Sound crazy? Let me explain.

The Psychology Behind the Clicker 

The concept of the clicker is based on the psychological phenomenon known as “conditioning”, as discovered by Pavlov in his famous experiments with dogs during the early 20th century. He found that when he consistently paired food with the sound of a metronome, the dogs began to salivate, I.E. expect food at hearing the metronome alone. Clicker training makes use of this concept by teaching the dog to associate the sound of the clicker with a treat. This is your first step in introducing the training tool to your dog. 

What Kind of Food Rewards Should I Use?

Because clicker training is fast moving and based on repeated rewards for desired behaviors, you want something small, low calorie, and easy to gobble down in a second. You may choose to use pieces of your dog’s normal kibble, a brand of commercial training treats, or small bits of plain chicken. Whatever you choose, make sure to think about how much they will be taking in during each session and calculate that into their meals for the day to avoid weight gain.

Teaching Your Dog to Love the Clicker 

Be aware that some dogs may have sensitivity to the loud noise of the clicker at first. If you suspect this may be an issue for your pup, start off by simply taking out the clicker and feeding them when they see it. Once they seem excited when it comes out, progress to feeding them at the exact moment you press the clicker. The timing is very important here. Your dog needs to know that this sound always means a treat.

Connecting the Clicker with Desired Behaviors 

Once your dog understands that the clicker means something tasty, you can begin to use it as a marker for desired behaviors. The moment your dog hears the clicker, he will assume that whatever he is doing will result in an immediate reward. For example, if you would like to teach your dog to sit, the minute you observe your dog exhibiting this behavior, speak your chosen command, click and immediately feed. He will quickly learn that sitting in response to your cue is an exciting and beneficial thing to do.

*A word of warning though. It is very easy to accidentally reenforce negative behaviors if your clicker game is a little off. If you are slow on clicking when your dog sits, and instead click a few moments later when he has decided to jump up on you instead, he will learn that jumping is the thing that will get him a click and a treat. During training sessions, you must keep the clicker and food reward ready so that you can mark desired behaviors the instant they happen, not too early, and not too late. That said, if you are a few moments late in clicking and your dog is still doing the thing you would like him to do, that is perfectly fine. In fact, delayed clicking may even come in handy as a technique to teach sustained tasks, such as a down stay.

Short Sessions and Small Steps 

Training sessions can be demanding for both you and your dog. Try to keep them short (10 to 15 minutes) and consistent (once or a few times a day). Particularly when teaching more complex tasks, make use of a technique called “shaping” by rewarding small progressions toward whatever final behavior you are looking for. For instance, if you are working on the “stay” command, you might start by clicking and treating after a shorter period, and progress gradually to longer and longer spans of time. Or, if you are working on teaching your dog to pick items up off the floor, you might start by clicking and treating when they merely look at or sniff the object you want them to eventually retrieve.

Teaching the “Touch” Command with the Clicker 

So, you’ve got the basic theory down. Let’s put it into practice by teaching your dog a useful little command called “touch”. When you ask your dog to “touch”, he should eventually bop your closed fist or palm, depending on your preference, with his nose. This command is simple, but has three great uses.

1. Focus. If your dog is distracted by something and behaving poorly, you can use “touch” to get his attention quickly back on you.

2. Movement. It can be an incredibly easy and effective way to maneuver your dog without pulling the leash. Just put your hand where you want your dog, tell him touch, and he will be there in a flash if he knows there’s a click and treat coming. 

3. A fun game. Your dog might need to get some energy out on a rainy day. You can use the touch command for a fun challenge for your dog. Put your fist all sorts of different places for him to find and bop. Here you can start asking him for a few touches in a row and reward only after several successes.

Here are the steps 

1. Start your session in a low distraction environment with your clicker and treat pouch ready and available.

2. Put your touching hand (I use the right as I usually have my dog’s leash in my left hand) somewhere your dog can reach it. Wait until he investigates your hand by sniffing it. If he doesn’t do this right away, you can shape the behavior by first rewarding him when he looks at your hand, or put a treat in your hand to give him an incentive to come close and sniff. Don’t give the treat to him until you have marked the behavior with the clicker. Click and treat as soon as he makes contact with your hand.

3. Once he is consistently making any sort of contact with your hand using his nose, pair the behavior with the word “touch”. Click and treat when he responds appropriately.

4. Start to click and treat only for his more insistent contact. Ignore any less than passable “bops”, and wait to reward his best ones. Make sure that he is bringing his nose to your hand, and not the other way around.

5. Repeat this process until he is giving you the exact sort of bop you want… pretty enthusiastic, firm, but still with his nose, not teeth.

6. Practice refining this command by moving your hand to different locations on your body or around the room, and then progressing to higher distraction environments. Remember always to keep your dog on a lead or in an enclosed area outdoors unless you are certain that his recall is rock solid even with distractions present.

Et Voila!

You have learned to train your dog with a click. For more posts on dogs, look for the “related posts” header on this page, or click here.

If I Could Name All the Guide Dog Puppies | A List of Names Beginning with “C”

If you’re a dog-lover like me, you might consider naming your canine pal to be a pretty weighty task. This is especially true if the pup in question will be a working partner, as well as a best friend. The following is my third post in a series dedicated to listing some of my favorite potential dog names. As a service dog handler myself, I’ve chosen names that I think are particularly suited to give to a working dog, taking the length, ease-of-pronunciation, meaning, and associations all into account. Check out my list of A names or B names for more ideas.

Dog Names Beginning with “C”

Cruise (Masculine): I like this one for a guide dog particularly because “cruising” is such a great way to describe what it feels like to walk freely with your guide. It is also clear, short, and distinct from most English commands that I can think of 

Callum (Masculine): Scottish derivative of “columba”, meaning dove

Clemintine (Feminine): these little citrus fruits are bursting with flavor. Good for a little girl with a lot of personality.

Conan (Masculine): this comes from an Irish word meaning little wolf, which seems appropriate. It is also the name of a U.S. special forces military dog who was awarded a medal of honor at the Whitehouse in 2019. Notably, Conan was named after TV personality Conan O’Brian.

Chloe (Feminine): I think this name is fairly widely-used for dogs already. It is a Greek name that means “green shoot”, and refers to Demeter, goddess of aggriculture and fertility. Appropriate for a dog with a youthful attitude.

Corin (Masculine): containing the Latin route for “heart”, this is the name of a prince from C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and his Boy.

Coco (Neutral): the delicious stuff we put in cakes.

Clodagh (Feminine): a popular name in Ireland associated with a river in County Waterford as well as a saint.

Chico (Masculine): meaning boy in Spanish. I just think it’s cute.

Ceili (Feminine, pronounced “Kay-Lee): a social event or step dance traditional in Scotland and Ireland. I attended a Ceili with my friends for my 16th birthday (I know, make fun of me all you want) and had a blast! Great memories associated with this word and I think it makes for a great name.

Cooper (Masculine): an English occupational name associated with those who made buckets and barrels 

Chapel (Masculine): this one could maybe go feminine too. Just draws to mind beautiful places with stained glass and I liked the sound of it.

Cherry (Feminine): as in the fruit. Might be a good one if your dog’s coat has a reddish hugh.

Cheer (Masculine): a similar one for a male, denoting happiness.

Chess (Masculine): as in the game. Good for a clever or somewhat mischievous dog.

Chesapeak (Neutral, Chessie for short): a similar sound, named for the bay on the east coast of the U.S. between Maryland and Virginia. 

Chaucer (Masculine): as in the English author, for a scholarly type.

Coral (Feminine): a lovely shade of orangey-pink, the tiny sea creatures that grow in reefs, and the mother from Finding Nemo.

Calypso (Feminine): from Greek mythology, meaning “concealing the knowledge”. A nymph who kept Odysseus prisoner on her island for 7 years.

Celtic (Masculine): beginning with a hard “C” sound, this refers to a cultural and linguistic group of the British isles. Use with caution if you plan to spend any time in the UK, though, as it is also a football (soccer) team and could get you into some trouble.

Cove (Neutral): a small inlet or bay in a larger body of water. Might be associated with peace and calm as a more sheltered place along a coastline.

Clue (Feminine): only thing with this one is you could never say “I have no clue” without lying 🙂

Castle (Masculine?): I just think this makes for a cool name

Carolina (Feminine): a region, but also a wild dog breed 

Chip (Masculine): reminds me of the little china cup from the Beauty and the Beast 

Camberra (Feminine): the name of my stuffed koala bear growing up, and the capital city of Australia.

Cornflower (Feminine): a European bloom associated with growing in aggricultural fields. Blue, white, or pink in color. Can be used medicinally for various ailments.

Do you have a dog with a name beginning with C? What would you add to this list?

See you next time for “D” names, and don’t forget to check out the “A” and “B” lists if you haven’t already.

The Stroller Struggle | What to Keep in Mind When Searching for a Buggy as a Blind Parent

Working out which buggy/pram/stroller to get was one of the first challenges that came to mind after finding out we were expecting. As a blind mama, I won’t be pushing a stroller, but pulling it behind me. The problem is most strollers are not designed for this sort of functionality. For that reason, I plan to use a baby-carrier in most situations, but more on that in another post. Back to buggies.

The Problem with Pulling a Stroller that’s Designed for Pushing

Wheels-

In most cases, strollers are designed with swivel wheels in the front that move easily in the direction you desire to travel, if you are pushing from the back, that is. If you are pulling it, the swivel wheels become a nuisance because they fishtail every time you try to turn. In addition, the fixed wheels in the back of the stroller make it difficult to turn because they do not move in accordance with your direction of travel. This means that the only way to turn while pulling is to lift the stroller slightly or allow the stroller to tip somewhat to one side. Obviously, this isn’t ideal.

Handle-

Many strollers have two vertical handles to push the chair along. These models are virtually impossible to pull comfortably as you have to choose a side, left or right, that you will use, leaving your control of the contraption quite lopsided.

Handle-Height-

Another problem with prams is that the handle is often too high to comfortably grasp from behind. If you think about a pull suitcase, one can hold the handle easily at the resting length of one’s own arm, but often times a stroller handle is waste height or higher (at least for anyone like me who’s a few inches below average height).

Direction of Chair or Carry Cot 

Some buggies have a fixed facing position for the chair or carry cot and do not allow the user to reverse their original positioning. This means that while your child may have been facing the most desirable direction when pushing the buggy, they may not be facing the direction you or your child would like when pulling it.

Price-

There are strollers with features that ameliorate some or all of these issues, but in my experience so far, they are often much more expensive.

So, What Are the Solutions?

1 Wheels that can be adjusted from swivel to fixed in both the front and back of the stroller. If this is not possible, a reversible handle may also be a functional option. If the stroller is a model which has fixed wheels in the back when pushing, and swivel wheels in the front, a reversible handle allows the user to place the swivel wheels nearest the handle, that is toward the front when pulling, and the fixed wheels furthest from the handle, or in the back when pulling.

2 A horizontal push bar. This allows the user to pull from the center of the handle, rather than only from the left or right side.

3 A low, hip-high handle (or lower if possible) that can be adjusted to be higher/longer only if need-be 

4 Reversable chair or carry cot. This allows the user to switch the facing direction of the chair or cot independent of the stroller handle.

5 Buy used! I knew this could be one of the priciest items on our baby must-haves list, so I decided to research which stroller I needed as early as possible so that I could be looking out for a suitable model on second-hand websites. I’m SO GLAD I did! Our chosen model, the Bugaboo Chameleon, retails online for around 800 euro. We were blessed to find an older version of the stroller and several handy excessories online for a grand total of 50 euro.

Another option you might consider is to purchase a travel wagon. They do tend to be bulkier than your typical stroller, but they definitely seem more practical when you have multiple children to cart around, and, of course the best thing about them is that they are designed specifically to be pulled. Keep in mind, though, that many of them have limitations when it comes to traveling with a newborn.

In every case, don’t forget to consider which carseat you plan to purchase and whether it will be compatible with the stroller or wagon you choose.

I hope this post was helpful! Please subscribe for more content, and click here to read more posts from my parenting blind series. Until next time, happy trails to you and your family.

If I Could Name All the Guide Dog Puppies | A List of Names Beginning with “B”

This is my second post in a series dedicated to dog names. I have chosen names that I think would be suitable for service dogs, but they could be used for any furry friend in need of a title. Find my picks for “B” names below, or read my list of A names here.

Bryony (Feminine): a wild vine with greenish flowers. 

Brody (masculine): there seems to be some disagreement about this name’s origins, but it may be derived from an Irish or Scottish word meaning “muddy place”, or it may come from a Pictish word denoting kingship. Either way, I like it.

Bridey (feminine): exalted one (Irish), from Bridget. A nice one if you love the Brody sound but are looking for a girl’s name.

Breezy (feminine): makes me think of lovely summer days. Could be nice for a cheerful Labrador type.

Bear (masculine): I’m sure you’ve met a dog called bear in your lifetime… it’s a perfect description for the big, fluffy, huggable sort, or might give your little dog a bit more respectability. It’s worth noting with this one that “bear” might sound like “chair” or “stairs” if you are training a guide dog, so you may have to train other alternatives like find the “seat” or “steps”.

Balto (masculine): this was the name of a famous sled dog that led the way to deliver much-needed medicine to a town in Alaska during the early 20th century. A noble dog that deserves to be honored by other noble dogs carrying on his name. (some sources I read noted that his original name was Togo, so you could go with that one, too).

Bunny: this is a slightly cutesy name, which I generally prefer to avoid, but I make an exception here because I just think it’s so adorable!

Blue (neutral): a nice color and a nice name, and if you remember Blue’s Clues it could be a reference to a bit of childhood nostalgia, too.

bluebell (Feminine): a generally deep blue-violet, bell-shaped wildflower native to western Europe. These blooms are associated with faithfulness, humility, thankfulness, and abiding love. If you pick this name, just be careful not to pick her namesake. Old tails say that plucking a bluebell may induce the fairies to trick you into getting lost, and wander without rest forever. 

Brave (Neutral): if you want to bestow confidence and courage on your canine partner, this is a simple way to do it.

Barista (neutral): just be careful of how you talk to your dog in a cafe, in case the person behind the counter gets confused. I can think of a few cute nicknames for this one, like Barie, Ris, or Rista. 

Badger (Masculine): what can I say. I love naming dogs with other animal names! Makes me think of a dog with a fierce but steadfast character. This may be because of my being an avid Redwall fan as a child.

Blossom (Feminine): a gentle, sweet-sounding name for a gentle, sweet doggie.

Bliss (Feminine): much the same as the above, though a one-syllable option.

Beacon (Neutral): my guide dogs have been a light in the darkness more than once in my life.

Beowolf (Masculine): evoking the hero of the ancient Irish tail by this name. Definitely a strong one for a large, powerful dog. When he’s off duty and you need a cuddlier nickname, he could be called Wolfie.

Bishop (Masculine): the title of a clergyman in some Christian traditions who was responsible for overseeing multiple churches in one region. Carries the same sort of connotations for me as Abbott, from our previous list.

Blaze (Masculine): a good one for a dog with a fiery personality. Could also refer to coloring. A white stripe down the middle of a horse’s face is commonly referred to as a “blaze”.

Can you think of any B names to add to this list? Have you ever met a dog with one of these names? Let us know! See you next time for the “c” litter!

Learning to Be a Mother

I’m a mother!

Pregnancy test. Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.comPregnancy test.

That might not be a shocking statement to anyone who doesn’t know me, but it’s still a surprise to me. I’ve had lots of defining moments in my life—graduations, baptism, international travel, engagement, wedding. They have all been profound times, but all of them somewhat different from that morning I waited, with bated breath and shaking hands, for my husband to read the result shown on the tiny digital screen of the pregnancy test.

“Yep, we’re pregnant.” my husband had said from the bathroom.

Pregnant… I thought in utter joy and disbelief. A new person existed now that hadn’t before, and God had chosen to make their first home within me?!

How can anything be the same after such a realization? My mind raced with all the implications… job, diet, health, money, the skills we would have to learn, the things we would have to purchase, everything, it seemed, had to be reconsidered in light of this new, precious life that had been entrusted to us.

I think this must be true for any parent, but especially for parents who don’t fit into what you might call the “typical mold”. As a blind mom, the world won’t look at me as normal. Often,, as already happens in other situations, they will probably see me as less capable, but with the right tools and techniques, I can be a perfectly successful mama. This may not be obvious to the ignorant bystander, but it is to me, particularly when I observe my blind friends who are parents. They breastfeed, bottle-feed, and change diapers, they get their kids to and from practices and events, they help with homework or even homeschool, they play games, they administer medication, they keep their children safe when out on the road. So, not your normal parent? Only in the sense that they do all of it without looking.

Still, just like any other new mom, I do have a lot to learn. I hope that by sharing the information I gather here, it can be an opportunity for others to learn as well, both about the capabilities of blind people in general, and about specific techniques that might help you or someone you know in their parenting journey.

So, if you’d like to learn along with me, click here for any future articles in this series, or find the “Parenting” category in the navigation bar.

On the Temptation to Be Idol

It’s a pale, grey light that filters weakly through my curtains. I feel drowsy, and no wonder, when the world seems to be saying, “Slumber.” 

But my thoughts cannot settle into sleep, punctuated as they are by the constant clang of that convicting proverb… 

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”

And so I blink and type and try to stave off rest another while, and use this gifted time for noble things. Still, I would be lying if I said that I wouldn’t rather be in my dreams.

But as the puritans knew very well, nice as momentary pleasures may be, it is a far greater joy to do my duty for Christ, than to live this life for me.

My best defense against that dreaded thief of time is to pray the Lord will keep that blessed proverb clanging, that I will hear and obey every given day, and serve even in my yawning.

If I Could Name All the Guide Dog Puppies | A List of Names Beginning with “A”

I don’t know about you, but I find names incredibly interesting. The way humans assign sounds to things, and meanings to those sounds fascinates me. One particular area of interest for me is in naming guide and service dogs. Naming a service dog is quite important. It is the word you will use to refer to the animal that helps you on a daily basis. It should therefore be something not only that you like, but that is functional. That is to say, it needs to be a name that you can spit out quickly when your dog does something bold. At the same time, it needs to be respectable, as this dog will have to be honored as a professional in public places where dogs are not usually permitted. For that reason I tend to steer clear of names that are a bit too cutesy, like “Precious” or “Fluffy” or “Bubbles”.

Most of the time, service dog users don’t get to pick their dog’s names, so I haven’t gotten to do anything with my many name ideas. I thought I’d post them here as a resource for anyone who needs some inspiration.

Guide dog schools frequently name their puppies using one letter per litter, so I will follow that pattern here by posting lists alphabetically. Here’s twenty options for A names that I love for a litter of new service pups.

Aaida (feminine): the one who is helpful (French). A fitting name for a dog that will be helping you on a daily basis.

Artemis (feminine): the Greek hunter goddess. I think it’s a nice sounding name, and it can be shortened to Artie as a sweet nickname.

Ace (masculine): excellent, expert. 

Acorn (neutral): you’ll find in these lists that I have a soft spot for nature names. The drawback with this one is that the only nickname I can think of is “Corny”, which might not appeal to you.

Alaska (neutral): as in the state. Connotations may include mountains, sled dogs, polar bears, rifles, etc.

Arrow (masculine): as in, fly arrow, straight and true. Just sounds cool to me.

Archer (masculine): there is the arrow, and then there is the one who aims and shoots the arrow. 

Arwin (masculine, though neutral really I would think): friend of the people. If your dog is a lab, the only more accurate name would be friend of the food.

Aquila (neutral): Latin origins meaning eagle. Also Biblical, husband of Pricilla as recorded in the book of Acts.

Apphia (feminine): darling (Phrygian). Our service dogs always become our darlings.

Arbor (masculine): a shady garden alcove. Time with our dogs can be a haven of peace, and I think this name communicates that well.

Abbot (Masculine): the head of a monastery. A sweet A name for a young dog with an old soul.

Avonlea (feminine): the home of Anne, from Anne of Green Gables, set in Prince Edward Island. I have a friend with a dog by this name, and I always thought it was a bit of a mouthful for a working dog, but if you think you could handle it, it strikes me as a beautiful one.

Aladdin (Masculine): as in the character from the Disney movie. Originally middle-eastern meaning noble of faith. I don’t particularly like the character Aladdin but I do think the name is cute for a dog and has a bit of gravitas given the meaning.

Arielle (female): continuing with the Disney theme.

Aerwyna (Feminine): meaning friend of the sea. Perfect for a dog who loves water. Could go with Wynnie for short.

Aslan (Masculine): the lion from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. Quite a strong name.

Annabell (Feminine): favored grace. Guide dogs in particular help their people move gracefully throughout the world, and every service dog is a gracious gift from God. A lovely name and a fitting meaning.

Azure (neutral): a bright shade of blue. Almost sounds like “Asher” when spoken quickly, but is a slightly more unique choice.

Apollo (Masculine): the Greek god associated with music, poetry, archery, and medicine. Brother of Artemis. Are you sensing a theme or two here?

What do you think? Could you see yourself using any of these names? What would your A list be?

See you next time for the B litter!

“As the Lord Forgave You” | Reflections on God’s Justice and Our Call to forgive

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

I took a moment this morning to consider this verse. I thought about what it meant to forgive. I thought about the people I had had difficulty forgiving. Exhibit A. my speech teacher in college, whom we will refer to as Dr. X. I went out of my way that semester, a semester that I began with an emergency surgery and three day stay in the hospital, I went above and beyond in her class, and I received an “A/B” on all of my speeches. A/B? I had never received such a mark in my life. What did it even mean?

Person holding a red pen.
Photo by Roman Koval on Pexels.com

I requested clarification from her and she replied that she “hadn’t decided yet”. Keep in mind this was on assignments I had turned in over the course of weeks and weeks of classes. She hadn’t decided whether my assignments were worthy of an A or a B marking after that long? Why? And how could I improve without a clear understanding of where I stood grade wise?

In the end, she never gave me a proper answer, despite my repeated queries, and eventually gave me a B in the class.

The injustice of it all made me furious for years, and I had to take some time every time I thought about forgiveness to forgive her. She was just doing her best to grade her students fairly, I told myself… trying to quench my anger, Only to realize I didn’t believe that. I believed she was biased, I believe she graded me unfairly because she didn’t like the views I had expressed in speeches and didn’t like the fact that I missed three of her classes and still did well. I had plenty of evidence supporting those claims, and I stand by them. I don’t have to abandon them in order to forgive her. Our culture often seems to define forgiveness as finding a reason that someone’s behavior might be excusable, and then excusing it on that basis. But is that really forgiveness? Is that the pardon that Paul is referring to when he talks about forgiving others as Christ forgave us?

When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he didn’t die for a bunch of things we did without knowing any better. We have the law. We knew what was right and wrong and we did The wrong thing over and over again anyway, and he forgave that.

I must conclude, then, that merely excusing behavior as somehow acceptable when it was not is not what is meant when we are told to forgive others. God, even in his magnificent grace, does not abandon justice in his response to wrongdoing. He does not explain away our deceit or adultery or covetousness as “understandable in our situation”. No. He is the righteous judge, who demands a price to be payed for all evil.

Wooden cross.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For the believer, this price is paid in full by the blood of Christ. We are declared innocent not because we are, but because Christ took on the sentence we deserved. This means that any evil committed against me by a fellow Christian has not gone unanswered. Like my own sin, their’s has been paid for by Jesus. A sobering thought. Can I really remain unforgiving when I realize that the same blood shed for my own evil was shed also for their’s? Equally sobering is acknowledging God’s answer to the non-believer’s sin, that is, hell. 

God’s response to evil is wholly sufficient, whether through the cross or through his eternal judgement. Thus, I need not fear recognizing my neighbor’s offense as truly wrong. As angry as I may be, reflecting on God’s provisions for perfect justice must lead me to forgiveness and even tenderness, not because what they did was okay, but because what they did has been, or will be, rightly dealt with. I cannot, and need not, add anything to God’s justice through my own retribution. Furthermore, if the offender was a non-believer, I should, at least at some level, be moved to compassion knowing that this person is facing eternal damnation. This is someone who, like me, needs the Gospel and if I, a Gospel believer, respond to them with hate and vitriol, I venture to say that they will be no more likely to turn to the one I claim as savior. 

Forgiving a professor for an unjust grade may be a small thing, and indeed it is, but God’s answer is the same for little injustices as for immeasurably grievous ones. The Lord does not ask us to excuse evil. He commands us to forgive, knowing that he will handle every evil great and small with righteous judgement. I think that is a much more satisfying model of mercy than anything our culture could offer.

Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 2

This is the continuation of Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 1. For full context, I recommend giving that a read first.

My husband and I on our wedding day with black lab Prim. I am wearing a fifties style white, cap-sleeve dress with sweetheart neckline and puffy skirt. My husband is in his navy suit. Prim is wearing a burlap vest trimmed with blue ribbon, strings of pearls, and pink flowers.

I know we weren’t the only 2020 couple that got our wedding plans totally derailed by Covid restrictions. Fortunately, our August date fell at a time when we were allowed to have 20 some people in person at the ceremony. We had to let go of our hotel wedding with over a hundred guests, including all of my family and friends from America. I wouldn’t be able to wear my grandmother and mother’s wedding dress, as I had hoped. My mom wouldn’t be there to help me get ready. My brothers would not be groomsmen. My best friends from the States wouldn’t be standing with me. My Dad wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle, and the toasts and dancing I had imagined for our reception wouldn’t happen either.

But praise God we could still get married! I ordered my 27 euro white dress on Amazon. I set to making wedding vests for our flower girl and ring bearer, that is, Prim and my nephew puppy. Several of my sweet friends from church helped me put together decorations and set up the church hall for ceremony and reception. My dear friend’s mother-in-law gathered beautiful arrangements of wild flowers and greenery for the tables and window sills. Our family gifted us the money for our reception meal, and friends offered us white table cloths and silverware to dress up the dinner. 

Here again was the good and the hard. I didn’t forget everyone and everything I was missing that day. My heart ached for the presence of my loved ones far away, and for the traditions we wouldn’t get to take part in because of the lockdowns. All of that is true, and yet also true was the anticipation I felt as I waited, dressed and ready in my friend’s car, with my flowers and Grandmother’s Bible clutched in my arms. Prim was excited too, sweet in her burlap vest covered in pink hyacinths and pearls. I was breathless as my maid of honor helped me into the church and hovered with me at the door of the sanctuary. My stomach lurched at hearing the harp begin to play. It was almost time!

“Are you nervous?” my friend asked in a whisper.

“I’m so excited!” I whispered back, feeling like I might actually choke with the thrill of it all.

It took seconds for my friend and I to walk down the aisle, and then I was beside him, and all there was was joy. His hand found mine, and I held on. We smiled and laughed and sang our way through the ceremony, and walked out into the August sunshine, officially husband and wife.

God seems to have made the human heart with the capacity to enjoy blessing and endure trial at the same time, to live through hard things, and know that they can still be good, or at least, that good still exists because the God of goodness remains. I don’t understand how our wedding day could be as blessed and sweet as it was with all the hard that was attached to it, but by God’s grace it was, and I smile every time I think of the day I became my husband’s bride. 

God makes the same commitment to his church as my love and I made to one another on that August afternoon. 

“I take thee”, Jesus says to his bride, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”, though our Lord, in his sovereign kindness need not finish, “until death do us part”. Instead, he can truly say, “And death shall never part us.” because of what Christ did at Calvary.

As my friend pointed out, the Gospel is our greatest example of the good and the simultaneous hard. Jesus, though blameless, lived a life of difficulty, “A man of sorrows acquainted with grief”. Though innocent, he died the death of the worst criminal, and suffered the wrath of his father. And yet, he rose again on the third day, and it is because of all of these things that the Christian can be declared righteous before God. The “Good News” of the Gospel is wrapped up in the most difficult experience a human has ever endured. While there may be times where blessing and trial come in tandem, as it did on our wedding day, it is ultimately this good news that gives us hope even when it seems blessing is altogether absent, so that even then we can say, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 1

When a loved one of mine got married, they shared with me a lot about the struggles they were experiencing in the transition. Most of them were normal growing pains that I had either gone through myself in my own transition to marriage, or heard others mention concerning their own, but some struggles were challenges unique to them and their situation. Many of them were difficult, even exceptionally so, but a month after their wedding day my friend said something that has stuck with me ever since. 

“Our marriage is really hard,” she said, “but bad and hard are not the same thing. Our marriage is hard, but it is also good, and that’s okay.”

Her statement pretty much sums up how I feel about 2020. It was hard. Like many others, I experienced far greater loneliness and isolation than ever before in my life. During our first three months of pandemic lockdown, I finally understood what King David meant when he said, “darkness is my closest friend”. Weeping became a regular part of my daily ritual. All of the melodies I found singing or playing instruments seemed to be sad ones. It was all I could do to eat the same things, walk the same routes, and write, as I was finishing a master’s degree at the time. Anything else felt far too monumental even to attempt.

Even so, oh, the Lord was so kind to me all that time. He drew me to prayer, brought me to much-needed truth in his word, and after several weeks, even brought my heart to rejoicing in the very midst of the trial. It’s not that the sadness went away, but the Lord, ever so gently, opened my eyes to the fact that it was my own selfish anger and bitterness about my situation that had driven me to the greatest depths of my despair. That April evening, he called me to repentance during a phone conversation with my, at the time, fiancé. I nearly felt betrayed by the words coming out of my mouth when the Lord finally caused me to submit to the sovereign plan he had decreed for that period in my life. 

The relief that flooded me immediately after was utterly unexpected. All the weeks before I had been fighting for all I was worth, stubbornly insisting that life MUST be different than it was, believing that I could somehow change my circumstances by pure will power, but I couldn’t. As I failed day in and day out to alter the things that felt SO UNFAIR, I grew more and more despondent. It wasn’t until that moment of submission that anything changed. I felt like I was giving in. I felt like I was losing some battle I had been determined to win, but the peace that washed over me those seconds after I spoke was not the feeling of a defeated warrior. It was the feeling of a rebellious child who had finally come back to her loving father in obedience. Those weeks were hard, some of the hardest I have ever experienced, but in some ways, they were good, if for no other reason than the one who carried me through them was the good shepherd himself.

Those weeks were characterized by several other traumas that I will not detail here, but I am grateful to say they did not last much longer past spring. After a change in housing, I spent a truly blissful summer in the Irish countryside, graced daily by food, family, work, and constant music. There was not one, but two pianos in the house where I stayed those six wonderful weeks. It was there that I began to heal from the physical and mental traumas of the springtime, and, I’m happy to say, started prepping in earnest for my upcoming wedding. 

To be continued in part II.