Nichole Collins MacMillan

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A Blog Post

A Puppy Parable

The last two days have been beautiful by the river.

The last two days have been beautiful by the river.

When my days start as I want them to, they start with an hour beside the Tennessee River where I walk my two dogs, Barks and Lily.


IMG_5003Lily is a beautiful old Pointer who darts in and out of the brush on the bank.  Even at 11 years old, she can run forever.  Barks is a yellow lab nearing his first birthday.

This daily walk is critical to the rest of my day’s productivity and serenity.  Caesar Milan is right.  A tired dog is a good dog.

In the same way, Nikki after a walk is nicer than Nikki without a walk.

It’s almost as important as coffee.


While walking, I throw a tennis or lacrosse ball for Barks to retrieve.  For the whole hour.  This is job security for my massage therapist.  I am so right-hand-dominant that I can’t throw a Chuck-it for a dog with my left hand.  (We’re working on it.  The perfectionist in me has come to accept that accuracy really doesn’t matter when throwing a ball for a dog.  Barks really doesn’t care as long as he gets to go get it.)  On occasion, Barks can’t find the ball in the brush, but he is so smart – and our walking trails are near tennis courts and lacrosse fields.  He may not come back with the ball I launched, but he’s coming back with a ball.

This baby was so proud of such a pitiful ball.

This baby was so proud of such a pitiful ball.

Once he brought back the most broke-down tennis ball I have ever seen.  It was split in two and had stopped bouncing long ago.  It could not be thrown with my Chuck-it.  Barks could not accept this.  It was a ball.  I should send it down the trail for him to return.  His confidence and will are stronger than mine.  I kicked that ball for 10 minutes before he found a better one.


One of the lessons the puppy has struggled to learn is that while tennis balls float, lacrosse balls don’t.  Invariably, he gets thirsty and tumbles down the bank to the river for a drink – ball in mouth.  He drops the ball and laps the water.  If it’s a tennis ball this is not a problem.  But if it is the hard rubber kind, it goes to the bottom.  Until today, Barks has been unable to get it back.  I wasn’t sure if it was puppy vision that wouldn’t let him focus on what was below the water or puppy fear that, like a young child, kept him from plunging his head under to retrieve his beloved toy.


It was fear.

And today, he conquered it.


Having left behind too many of his favorite playthings, today Barks focused on the ball and stuck his head under the really cold water and came back up with it in his mouth.  He was so proud.  And so was I.  Like any good mama, I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture – adding it to Facebook so all of you could share in his accomplishment.  (And you did not disappoint.)


If it worked once, it would work again.  Like the day he learned to jump off the diving board into my parents’ pool and did not stop for hours, today Barks kept returning to the river just so he could sip the water – and drop his ball and pick it up again.


At one point this did not go so well.  He stuck his head under and did not come up with the ball.  He tried again.  And again.  And he got a little frantic.  The more he tried, the muddier the water got.  He couldn’t see the ball and neither could I.  And my encouragement to be still and let the water settle made no sense to his puppy ears.  Must. Get. The ball.  I called him to me and tried to distract him for a minute.  Nothing doing.  Must.  Get.  The ball.  Finally, he gave up on that ball, ran off to the woods, and came back with a new ball and restored pride.


Tomorrow, we’re going back to that spot.  I know the waters will be still and hope he will be able to go straight down and get his ball.


But Barks probably won’t learn the lesson of all of this in the way that I have.


In his puppy flailing, I can see myself.  So focused on the thing I want that I can’t stop trying to get it even when my trying is making it harder to see where I need to put my energy.  I can muddy some waters with the best of them.

I see myself ignoring the beckoning of a Divine Mama to slow down, simmer down, give it – and myself – a little rest.  Let the waters get still again.  Catch my breath.  Come back to it later.


Let the Spirit restore my soul.


And if I listen to my pup, maybe I’ll learn that sometimes, it’s just time to let that one go and bound off into the woods to find what else is waiting.  There is enough.  More than enough.


Thanks be to God for the lessons of the river and the parables of the puppy.


The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

Psalm 23

  • Sarah Erickson on December 15, 2017

    ❤this is the best.
    All will be well at the water’s edge.

  • nikki macmillan on December 23, 2017


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