Chapter 31 – A Dog Named Limp

pet-dog-tortureFrom my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure, rehab, jail and victory.

There is a particular gift which is very pricey and unfortunately never on sale. But before we go there I will take a brief detour to say a few words about its antithesis. That would be the word “bondage”. It is a bondage that can screw up every one of us by sabotaging the kind of life that God designed you to have and that He surely wants you to have. For many years I struggled with this bondage, and I know that many of you have too. I am talking about the bondage that comes from choosing not to forgive.  Can you relate? Be honest here, because this is a critical issue for your quality of life. Here’s what I want you to understand. To use one of my momma’s sayings, a person who chooses not to forgive is “cutting their nose off to spite their face”.  Momma had a way of getting her point across.  The point is the person who refuses to offer forgiveness is actually the real loser in the equation. Perhaps that might be the reason God put this in the Bible:  Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:12-17 (NLT) That last sentence is kind of a butt kicker do not you think?

In the fall of 2005 when I was at Sierra Tucson for my high priced makeover in the Sonoran desert, the rattlesnakes were on the move as the weather was changing from summer to fall. That time of the year seeing a rattlesnake in the desert was a pretty common sight. Holding on to a hurt is like grabbing a rattlesnake by the tail, sooner or later you are going to get the juice. And when you do your hurt will ratchet up to the red level. So what I want you to understand is that your pain actually has the potential to destroy you. I am wondering are your still aching from a slight or perhaps a rejection or a hurt? At night when you climb into bed do you lie there fantasying about getting even or how wrongly you were treated?   Maybe you have been making a pastime out of scheming about how you would get back at them or embarrass them. Perhaps you were abused as child or maybe betrayed by a friend or it could be a zillion other things.  If so, you may be on the brink of being set free from a bondage that you did not even know was keeping you a victim. You may be about to understand for the first time why you act the way you do in certain circumstances.  Whatever your situation, whatever has happened in your past, no matter if the past was 30 years ago or 30 minutes ago, remember that you are the real loser if you do not deal with your unforgiveness.  But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” Mark 11:25 (NLT) God wants you to be freed from bondage. He has been setting slaves free since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Like I said this is a “pricey” gift.  What I am talking about is very, very difficult to do, but the result is well worth the effort.

For 45 years, up until ten years ago I hated a man for what he did to me.  That guy had been dead nearly 20 years; yet, I continued to allow him to control my life.  I went to Sierra Tucson to deal with that guy. So a few days before I came home, I sat in a room with that man. Not really, he’s dead, but with an empty chair in front of me I went through a process that took me back 45 years to when I was 14.  As though that guy were sitting across from me, I began to talk to him about what happened that Saturday afternoon in the locker room at Father Ryan High School, 2300 Elliston Place, Nashville, Tennessee. I told him how it had impacted the quality of my life. I reminded “Father” how he had set me up and then how he had abused me.  I told him of the hurt, the anger, the guilt, the shame, hatred and the fear of intimacy that I carried for all those years. As I stared at that empty chair I could almost see his boney body with those hollow eyes and his thin, blondish, flattop hair. I hated him! I screamed and cried and screamed some more until I could not scream or cry any more. It was all out, the bitterness was gone. The hate was gone. The fear, the shame, the guilt, and anger it was not there anymore.  I felt it drain from me – completely drained out. During that hour or so all of those feelings gave way to a degree of understanding and the hate to words of forgiveness. God always works things out for our good. What that man did to me so long ago has been a factor in everyday of my life since. I simply decided that I had hated too long, so I forgave him.

For the first time in 45 years I saw him as a really sick man, not a demon, but a sick man.  I still do not like him, but I have forgiven him and I no longer hate.  I am free! Perhaps you might wonder how could I do that? Two reasons actually and honestly I do not know which is first. I know which should be first. I realized that hating him was killing me. When I thought about how God has forgiven me for everything I have ever done wrong or will ever do I began to “get it”. I had no right not to forgive him any longer. That day I broke forever his chains of bondage, I walked out of that room a free man and I got ready to come home. And I stopped hurting for the first time in 45 years.

When I got home, another fire of hate was kindled in me and it nearly burst into a raging inferno. But this time it was not about that guy who had abused me. It was someone else and in a sense this new betrayal was worse.    It was all I could do to keep from striking back which would have again been surrendering to hate. And then Cathy and I went on our retreat to my favorite spot on earth, the Abby of Gethsemani located in Trappist, Kentucky (http://monks.org/).  During those days God spoke to me through a dog, a dog named Limp. You know God does do that kind of stuff. I believe that He does. The people in the neighborhood know that the monastery is an easy mark, so for 150 years people have been dropping unwanted dogs at the front gate. One day about 25 years ago the monks woke up to the “Dog of the day”.  This dog was in really bad shape; she had three good legs and one bad one. Obviously, she had been starved because the monks could easily count her ribs. She had stripes on her boney shoulders where the fur was missing; most likely she had been whipped. There was a scab around her neck where she had strained against a chain or rope until she was raw. They named her Limp. She was one pitiful, frightened, bitter, unforgiving dog. So frightened that she would not let anybody, not even the gentlest monk get anywhere near her. She trusted no one because she was in bondage to her past. As the days went by and as Limp began her recovery, almost every monk would take her a little something from his plate.  For the longest she refused to eat out of their hands. The food had to be put on the ground then she would snatch it and run off. Finally she began to trust again and she got where she would eat out of the monks’ hands and then even roll over and stick her paws up in the air and say “please rub my belly”. She became a brand new dog! She came out of bondage. Limp had recovered! She started following old Father Matthew on his early morning walks through the woods. One day, just past Half Moon Lake, Limp picked up the scent of a deer. She started sniffing around, found the deer and gave chase until the frightened deer got caught up in a barbed wire fence. Instantly, without warning Limp made a leap for the neck killing the deer.

The sad truth is that the story of Limp is a parable of life itself. More often than not when God has nursed us back after a horrible injury instead of passing on his mercy and grace to someone who hurt us, we try to get even by taking them out. If I choose to remain bitter and continue a “get even attitude” then, I am not a bit better than that ungrateful dog named Limp and neither are you. This is not going to be easy, but we’ve got to choose to forgive and to love our enemies as hard as it is to do. If we do not then we are sure to live out our days in a self-imposed one man/woman cell of bondage that might rival my 45 years. I have tasted freedom; I do not want to go back there ever again. I refuse to!  I pray that you do not either. Jesus was pretty straightforward. He simply put it all this way. Love God and Love you neighbor. Let us all do that starting now. (Talk by Father Matthew Kelty, Abby of Gethsemani  November  22, 2005)

Up next: Epilogue

For the complete beta version of my book  for free Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory. http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

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