Personal Notes from Mike

  • Happy birthday this past week to my dad:  87, happy and healthy, especially for a year when he almost didn't make it and had several surgeries.  He's doing well now and we hope a healthy year lies ahead.
  • Heading over to Springfield this afternoon for the installation of our new bishop: Frank Beard.  He will be the ninth bishop I have had in my 44 years of active ministry.
  • This 15th anniversary of 9/11 is a time to ponder how that event has altered our country...and our world.  In some ways we are stronger, but in other ways the residue of fear and anger is a toxic presence that continues to challenge people of faith and people of rationality.  My prayer is that God will continue to make peace and justice in a world still vulnerable to powers of hate and deception.  Blessing on this 9/11 anniversary.

September 11, 2016
The Dog Sent from God (???)
There were these three country dogs who decided to spend their weekend in the city. It wasn't an actual city because it was Dalton City, population 600, or so the sign reads. But the dogs didn't care that it wasn't an actual city because...well...they're dogs. They were just three pals who wanted to have a little fun. 
Friday night was the highlight as the dogs got to frolic in a torrential downpour. But by Saturday morning, Dalton City got back to being itself, and the dogs got bored, and they began to drift back to their country home.   
(This is when I enter the story.)  I was cruising southward on Route 121 when I spotted a tall brown dog gallop across the busy highway.  It's bright green collar tipped me off that this was someone's pet.  In previous years my habit in such a scenario is to slow down, avoid the dog, whisper a prayer that it not get hit by another vehicle, and then drive on. 
But not this time.  For you see, in May of this year I had a conversion experience:  It all started with Fitz, my daughter's and son-in-law's dog.  

Friends (who also had a dog) had been caring for Fitz while Alison and Nelson were out of town for a few days.  But on the third day, Fitz and his pal decided to jump the fence and explore Chicago on their own.  The two dogs got separated from each other.  When Alison and Nelson heard Fitz was missing...they panicked.  They hopped in their car and raced as fast as they could back to Chicago, several hours away.  Alison called me en route to tell me the news.  It was hard for me to piece the story together through her sobbing.  But I immediately hopped in my car and headed for Chicago myself.  I had no idea where to find a rambunctious dog in a city of 3 million people.  But I needed to comfort my daughter.
I'd gotten about an hour up the road when I got another call: that Fitz had been found...alive.  (His pal is still missing.)  Fitz was rescued in the middle of a busy intersection in south Chicago, about four miles from where he had escaped.  A woman driving about town had seen him and correctly assumed that an animal needed help and that a human somewhere was in distress.  She stopped, coaxed Fitz into her car, and drove him several miles to the animal shelter.  I think it was a miracle that Fitz finally made it back to Alison and Nelson.  And it took an exceptionally bold and generous woman to cinch the miracle.  I call her "ML," Miracle Lady! 
That was the day I was converted.  I decided that if I ever came across a lost dog, I too would befriend it and try to find its owner.  
So forward ahead to yesterday:  Dog with domestic collar crosses busy highway, I slam on my brakes, do a U-turn, and drive back to where said dog had appeared. But there was no dog: he/she had evidently disappeared into the corn field next to the highway.  
So I parked the car, put on my emergency lights, walked toward the cornfield, and started trying to woo the unseen dog. At that moment I simply couldn't think of any good "pick up lines" for a canine hiding in a corn field.  All I could come up with was, "Hey dog, come here."  It wasn't working.
Just as I was about to plunge into the corn myself, I turned around and spotted another large brown dog trotting across the highway toward me.   This one had a brown collar that read, "Call Nancy."  And there was a phone number. 
So I grabbed the collar, to secure the dog... read the phone number in spite of the squirming dog, and suddenly noticed (by touch and smell) that the animal was disgustingly soaked.  WWMLD.  (What would Miracle Lady Do?)  

After meditating (briefly) upon what Miracle Lady would do, I was re-inspired and awkwardly led the dog back across the highway to my car to get my cell phone, keeping a protective grip on her collar.  

When we got to the car her tail started wagging vigorously...she evidently assumed I was taking her for a ride.  But here's the thing: my conversion has not yet extended to the point of letting a large wet mutt in my car.  So here I am beside a busy highway, using one hand to grip the dog collar, the other hand to work the phone, and my torso to body-block this wet mongrel, hoping she would get the idea that she was NOT getting behind the steering wheel.  She wasn't getting the idea.
"Nancy" answered on the third ring (praise the Lord) but seemed slightly confounded that I was trying to rescue her "country dog" just outside Dalton City, in the country.  She quickly decided, however, to indulge my kindness.  After informing me that there were three dogs, she also assured me that the dogs ran into to town occasionally and usually found their way home.  She would, nevertheless, send her husband to pick them up.  He would be right there. Then she hung up. 
Right then I saw the third dog:  a black one running up to me.  This would make three:  the one disappeared in the corn field, the wet one in my grasp, and now this black one.  As I reached down to welcome the new arrival it became immediately evident that this third one had been in a tussle with a skunk.  Of course, he too started trying to get in in my car.  
I was getting nervous.  I figured I could keep them out of the car. But I didn't want them to run away before the owner arrived.  Of the three of us there by the dangerous highway, Wet Mongrel, Skunk Dog, and myself, I was the only responsible adult.  What of my responsibility to Corn Field Dog you ask?  She was on her own.  I quickly reckoned that her running away was the Lord's way of not giving me more than I could handle. 
I just needed to keep them out of my car.  I knew in my heart, with rising shame, that Miracle Lady wouldn't hesitate to let Wet Mongrel in her car.  But Skunk Dog?  Miracle lady is a saint but she isn't stupid!   No way Skunk Dog gets in the car.  Thus reassured, I frolicked with the two dogs by the roadside, away from my car, until their owner arrived.
Last week I preached on the lone sheep that got lost from the ninety-nine and implored my congregation to find new ways to BE the good shepherd.  It can be no coincidence that God sent Skunk Dog to me six days later.  I'm not sure yet if the incident has a deeper meaning.  I'm working on that.  But so far all I can conclude is that God occasionally likes to toy with the preacher.    --Mike

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS




J. Michael Smith | #3 Western Avenue Heights | Mattoon | IL | 61938