Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book Nook: One Dog's Faith

I recently had a chance to review the book One Dog's Faith: How My Dog Helped Me Trust in God and Overcome Chronic Worrying. It's a heartwarming, heartfelt story about the relationship between a man and his dog, and how that helped boost his relationship with God. Anyone who has a pet that they've bonded with will be able to empathize with the emotional benefits of that connection. Author Tom Baker is honest with his struggles, as well as how he overcame them with the help of his dog.

Learn more from the author in his own words.

How can stress affect health?

I have read that the human body reacts to stress and anxiety the same way chemically as it does to the threat of physical harm… meaning that the heart and other organs, and most especially that feeling in your upper gut reacts as it would a bear charging at you. So, when I worry that I can’t pay a bank note on time, worry that my teenage daughter hasn’t arrived at her destination or I get a call from the security company that the alarm is going off at my office that has expensive TV equipment in it… my body says, “Bear, Bear, BEAR!” I suddenly become afraid, confused and feel like I have no control on the situation. I quickly play out possible outcomes in my head.  Our bodies are designed by God to handle that kind of reaction - for a short period of time… but certainly not for an extended period. 

When I worry and stress about multiple things all day, over and over… for months and even years… where my body is continually reacting to, “Bear, bear, BEAR!” pretty soon bad things are going to be happening inside. Our bodies aren’t designed to continually handle that. I have also read that stress is one of the major contributors to multiple leading causes of death… including heart attacks, lung disease, cancer… and don’t forget suicide.

During the course of a year or so, I lost 30 pounds due to worry and stress… not a weight loss plan that I would suggest. Stress is very hard on our bodies. Way too many people in our culture now are dealing with high stress every day, all day. People are becoming too comfortable being stressed and sometimes are not sure how to function without being totally stressed.   

So, does stress affect our health… um yes, probably more than we can imagine and then some. 

How can one’s stress affect other family members and relationships?

About five years ago, I met face to face with the threat of financial doom. After years of overwhelming success, suddenly, the bottom fell out and my TV production company was failing. After seven or eight months of trying to keep things together, I was going to have to lay off all my employees, I owed a substantial amount to creditors and worse than that, the IRS… who had a lean on my business and had the power to take my home and possessions, my retirement and savings were extinct, credit cards were maxed out… I completely fell apart. Feeling like a total failure and laser focused on only this situation, crippling stress consumed me, head to toe. With deep passion, I dreaded going to the office, I was truly afraid to answer the phone, because it was always someone who wanted to be paid. My mailbox only contained late notices or scary letters from the IRS. I didn’t want to sleep and when I did, I didn’t want to wake up because reality and stress would slap my face within minutes… I prayed a few times that God would even burn down my office. It wasn’t pretty.

As I allowed this stress to take me completely as prisoner… no windows to see beyond and no doors to escape, I completely disengaged with my family. I felt that my beloved deserved anyone other than me… that I wasn’t an adequate father, husband or even human. I wasn’t providing for them, food was no longer a given. They had to do without and we were in the threat of losing many things. It wasn’t pretty. I was angry, felt hopeless and I felt totally alone. I was so focused on my situation that I missed many family events and milestones… I was physically present but mentally a thousand miles away. I was a little bewildered that my wife stayed with me. She did and was a rock, by the way… she tried in countless ways to reach me as I continued to sink deeper into a pit. I remember a particular day where my parents, now in their upper 80’s, asked my family to join them for a day at the art museum and other downtown attractions. My wife’s mother was very sick with cancer so she was tending to her. The kids and I were to spend a beautiful day with my parents. The whole day, I was engulfed in my self-pity and lost in trying to figure out how I was going to handle and somehow improve the difficulties that I was facing. I will never get that day back as now both parents cannot physically handle an outing like that anymore. As time progressed, I  isolated myself from friends as I was never in the mood to chum with people. 

I was embarrassed and felt inadequate to all immediate family. The only family member that I somehow could connect with was my dog, Mango… our sweet 60-pound spaniel mix who tried her best to offer me with loving compassion. She tried had to help dig me out of my self-pity and sadness. She would continually jump in my lap and lick my face when I felt alone, she would lay next to me on the sofa when I felt hopeless and alone. Relentlessly, she would be by my side and offer looks of, “Things are going to be ok… let’s just play!” The unconditional love in her eyes, over time, pointed me to what God has been trying to tell me all my life… that He really does love us unconditionally and will move mountains in our best interest. He just moved different mountains than I expected. God will speak and act through anyone or anything just to try and reach us and show us His glory.

Through the beautiful grace of this amazing God, my wise and understanding wife and also my dog, Mango… I found peace in my situation and embraced it with both hands. Being a little hard-headed and slow to bend, the process took over a year… but ultimately, I reengaged with my family and have unspeakable joy now. I have found new strength and wake up eager to embrace the challenges of the day.

Stress certainly had a grave effect on my family and relationships. I allowed it to all happen and learned a powerful lesson through my struggles.

Why is it so important to love unconditionally?

Dogs offer many characteristics that display tiny glimpses of who Christ is and what He represents and even suggestions on how we might try to live and act. There are billions of other things that offer these glory glimpses but let’s focus on dogs for a moment. The most apparent and powerful way that I believe dogs reflect Christ is through their unconditional love. Some say that dogs only remember things for about seven seconds. We can scold them and they seem to right by our side within seconds. I don’t see this as a memory issue… I see that as unconditional love. One could not be mistaken if they added forgiveness to that equation as well. No matter how our day has been, how we act toward our dogs, how bad of a mood we are in and how sorry we feel for ourselves, our dogs love us… without stopping to look for faults or question whether we might return that love.

Think about it for a second… (I wouldn’t really do this) if I were to place my wife and my dog in the car trunk for ten minutes and close it… open it back up after the ten minutes, who would happy to see me? Hint: not my wife! Definition of unconditional love, right?

What is love, if it contains conditions? Meaningless. “I love you, except for…” “I love you, but…” adding the word, “But,” removes any substance of the statement. Christ loves without reservations, without regard for our actions or thoughts… even without regard for his own life. I have faults, I have issues and shortcomings. If I felt that Christ would love me only if I didn’t have my less-than-perfect issues, then I give Christ very little credit. It would basically be saying to Him, “Jesus, what you did on the cross… that wasn’t enough. Not enough to include my bad and selfish thoughts, my anger at the guy who cut me off this morning, my worries about money and success… my sins.” 

Christ loves me all the time… every day… without fail… no matter what. I am forgiven just by asking and believing that He actually can and does forgive me. It’s my charge to attempt to do the same. Love is meaningless when it includes condition.

How does one’s faith help with worry and stress?

I define worry as, “Being afraid of something that could happen that we do not believe that we will be able to handle.” Stress is feeling pressured beyond our comfort level… I believe that many times, the two go hand in hand. In a stressful situation, worry begs us to fret and be afraid of what might happen… afraid about how bad things might get. We pursue the goal of figuring out the worst possible outcome and then dwell on it. We see little hope that this situation could possibly turn out for our benefit. 

When we worry, we are basically telling God that He does not have enough power improve the situation or does not wish to help us. Lack of faith tries hard to convince us that our all-powerful God is not really very powerful. Christ died for us, but we don’t allow the words at the end of the sentence to have power to them… FOR US. Christ died is FOR US! Christ is FOR US! He has promised that as we love and embrace Him, that He will work for our benefit. He will make things happen and work together for our ultimate good. These things can be very unexpected and not remotely what we prayed for. But He makes things happen that show us His power, His grace and His concern for us. He will move mountains in order for us to learn, grow and find out more about Him. 

Faith tells us that not only is God present and accounted for, He is by our side and will actually help us. He is the most powerful force anywhere and is able to take any situation and make it work out for our ultimate good. He hears our prayers of petition for help… but we shouldn’t necessarily ask for Him to remove the situation but ask for strength and for peace through the process. Asking Jesus to take away our problem might be asking Him to take away the best learning and growing opportunity of our life. If we can have faith that He is working for our good, have faith that He will make our life great and that by embracing what He is doing in our life, the situation will become less stressful and will turn into a blessing if we choose to let it. 

Faith erases the word hopeless. Through genuine faith in God, we can experience an unexplainable peace through even the most difficult times. When we allow our faith to be at a higher level than our fear, then strength through stressful times is ours for the taking. If we can envision that we actually can handle a situation, then stress does not rule our thoughts or affect our actions. Faith is not an emotion, it is a choice… and choosing faith will ease stress. 

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