The other day I was sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee and I heard dog tags jingling on the pathway that leads from the driveway up to my front door. When I stood up, I saw Taffy, my daughter’s service dog, jogging up the walk with a big smile on her face (really, she smiles.) “Where did you come from and how did you get out of the house?” She pranced up to the porch and nuzzled her big head into my hands as if to say, “It’s okay, Mom. I was just out for a morning walk.”
Taffy is almost 12 years old and she has been Johanna’s service dog for almost 10 years. She has been by Johanna’s side through many ups and downs, in the hospitals, on planes, on stage. They have been in the NY Times and on national news. Taffy was trained by Canine Companions for Independence to support Johanna with daily tasks, like picking up items, tugging things, providing distraction from pain and being a social bridge to help Johanna connect to the rest of the world. Johanna is much more approachable when Taffy is at her side.
Taffy opens doors for Johanna, literally and figuratively speaking. She is trained to open doors either with a push command, which works well on automatic handicap buttons, or by tugging on a rope tied to a handle or a drawer. Taffy, because we have certified public access, can come with Johanna and me anywhere we go. We do have to plan for extra time because Taffy opens numerous doors for conversations and interactions with others which have strengthened Johanna’s ability to communicate with people of all ages and abilities.
As Taffy ages, we give close consideration to her needs as a geriatric canine. We put her on “light duty” and we limit her travels in public. I have noticed some changes in Taffy, as she moves towards retirement age. In particular, it appears that she is taking a little advantage of her own training and skills. On careful inspection, I realized that Taffy just opened the front door with a little push of her big head. She is a very quiet dog and she doesn’t exactly run fast. But this quiet, sauntering dog, likes to head to the neighbor’s yard for greener pastures and dog bones. I guess this is the way she plans to spend her retirement. With warmer days finally arriving, I warned our household to lock the front door, not to keep people out, but to keep Taffy from using her advanced skills and starting retirement early.
After discovering her morning jaunt, I had her lie beside me on the porch as I opened my bible to read. I had to laugh. The scripture was about locked doors being opened.
“During the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison and led them out, and said, “Go and take your place in the temple area and tell the people everything about this life.” (Acts 5:19-20)
As I read this scripture, I began to think about how many times the Lord had sent angels into my life to open doors and lead me out of prison. I promise you that I haven’t been locked up in prison, but I have felt stuck just the same. We all have felt that at one time or another. Our prisons may or may not be physical walls, but they often are emotional, psychological and spiritual obstacles that hinder us from moving freely in the purpose God created us to accomplish.
My prison was exhaustion and depression from a very long winter, coupled with frequent hospitalizations and crises in the family. I just couldn’t seem to move out of a slump I was feeling. Despite my attempts at diet and nutritional supplements, herbs and prayer, I couldn’t seem to move forward. I could not accomplish things that I needed to get done in my home, my business and my personal life. Then, the Lord sent me a few angels to open the doors. One came in the form of a card signed by a group of women out of state who I have never met. They read this column and heard about Johanna on Facebook and in the news. They sent a card to let me know they were praying for our family. They sent us a gift certificate to Love Lane Kitchen because they know it’s our home away from home. They sent Johanna some iTunes gift cards because they know she likes to sing. When I opened the gift for me, I cried. It was beautiful necklace with the words; “Just breathe” inscribed on the front. In that moment I felt the doors unlock and the walls coming down. I was so touched that a group of faith filled women took the time to read my writing, learn about our family intimately enough to send us gifts and pray for our specific needs.
The other day, another angel came to open a door and help me out. I’ve been trying to do some clearing out, organizing and spring cleaning. A friend of mine offered to help. In just two-and-a-half hours, we finished what would have taken me two days to accomplish. We covered a lot of ground in the two rooms we worked on and had a wonderful time sharing and encouraging one another. I felt stuck, locked in procrastination and fatigue, but the Lord sent me a friend who opened the door.
After Jesus’ resurrection, there were a lot of locked doors. Many of the gospel accounts of Jesus appearing to his disciples after His resurrection, describe the disciples hiding fearfully in their homes, behind locked doors.
“The doors were locked because of fear….Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
Sometimes the Lord sends angels to unlock the doors of our heart and sometimes He comes in an overwhelming sense of His presence. Unlike Taffy, busting through the door with her big head, and her happily wagging tail, Jesus comes through the doors as we invite him in. He offers us his presence and his peace so that we can go and do the same for others. He sends us his angels along the way to let us know that we are not alone. When the doors open, step out and take the advice of the angel of the Lord; “Go and take your place to tell everyone about this life.”
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at FreeIndeedFreelance.com.