Steve Ballew Headshot

Steve Ballew is executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.

SN03851, SN03858, SN03917

When 2020 opened for business, I decided to start taking my wife’s Border Collie mix along with me on my four-mile runs. In the spring I added my son’s two dogs. As I tell all who will listen, “I don’t have any dogs. I just help take care of other people’s dogs.” As 2020 closed, I put together some life lessons on running with dogs.

You can only run as fast as the slowest “dog.” I am the slowest dog. Since our running is a team sport, the other dogs must constantly wait on me. Sometimes, we forget that life is a team sport. We must learn to run with the team. Maybe, we can stretch the slowest to run a little faster. But, we are only successful when we learn to run together.

You can get off the leash when you learn to obey the voice of the master. That was one of the reasons I began with just one dog. I had to get her used to running without a leash before I could introduce the other dogs. One of the other dogs was a puppy. So, at first, his only task was keeping up (or, getting carried the last couple miles). The puppy has never been on a leash because he has always been responsive to my voice. The third dog is still on the leash. He has never learned to listen to my voice. The leash is fifteen feet long. He still tests every bit of it for most of the run. 

Sometimes we strain against our Master’s “leash.” No matter how hard I run, the dog on the leash wants to run harder. Like him, we sometimes tug against God.  We pull.  And, for as long as it takes, He attempts to train us to listen for, hear, and obey His voice. The sooner we learn, the sooner we can get off the leash.

Run harder when the road bends. Something really cool might be there when you get around that bend. 

The dogs and I run the same dirt road every day. Dogs would make terrible car drivers. They speed up as we approach bends in the road. Why? Because they sense something might be around that bend that needs their attention. Maybe, we take out the sense of adventure when we slow for the twists and bends in the road of life. Maybe, we should speed up. Something really cool might be right around that bend.

The circumstances don’t matter. Dry. Rain. Snow. Hot. Cold. Run anyway. 

Dogs don’t care about the circumstances.They only care about the run. We spend way too much time allowing circumstances to determine what we are going to do or not do. If we are supposed to run, then we should run, no matter what. The excitement is in the run. Just show up and run.

You cannot run without getting dirty. Inclement weather only makes that worse. Our transport vehicle is a 2012 Ford Focus. Luckily, it has leather seats. I have to vacuum the car after every run. Dirt. Mud. Small pieces of tumbleweeds. Hair. And, that’s just the driver’s area! Life well lived is dirty. The greater the need for clean-up, the greater the adventure just experienced. Embrace the joy of cleaning up.  

The adventure is off road. The road is well worn. Many people, vehicles and animals have traveled the road. But, the real adventure is off road. The run is supposed to be four miles. The two dogs off-leash run at least six miles. Why run on the road when we do not have to? We spend way too much time on roads and paths already worn down by others. While these paths may be new and exciting for a season, they eventually become mundane. If we all run the same path, we all have the same experiences. Get off road. Explore the unexplored. Learn something new.

Chase the rabbits. You probably will not catch them. But, the fun is in the chase. The dogs are always on the lookout for rabbits. They are always prepared. I am usually surprised.  I am not looking for rabbits.  My first notice is not the rabbit but the sudden jerk of the leash trying to take off at an odd angle. So far, the dogs have not caught any rabbits. They do not care. They just enjoy the chase. I need to learn to chase more rabbits in my daily routine. Even if I never catch them, my life will be more fun.

Run hard downhill. Run hard uphill. Just run hard. And, when the run slows down, take advantage. Catch your breath; a sprint is coming. Life is meant to be lived. We are not here to survive; we are here to thrive. We are supposed to show up at the end of life totally spent. But, in order to arrive totally spent, we must take advantage of the slow downs - to rest, to properly prepare ourselves for the next sprint. Sprint well. Rest well.

Different is not wrong. Not all dogs like to hang their heads out the window. We have to drive about a mile and a half to get to our trailhead. One dog sits in the back seat and wants to hang his head out the window. He is a drooler. The door below that window is covered. Another dog sticks his head out the window, brings it back in for a while, back out, back in, back out, and back in. The other dog sits in the front passenger seat. She has never wanted to stick her head out the window, ever. That is okay. Dogs who stick their heads out of windows are not better or smarter than dogs that do not, and vice versa.  Different is not wrong. It is just different. Maybe we need to learn that, most of the time, different is not wrong when it comes to people. It is just different. And, to that other person, you are different. Maybe we should try to celebrate our differences; enjoy them; and, learn from one another.

Four legs are better than two, at least when it comes to running up and down hills. That is true when the path is dry and dusty. That is true when the path is wet and slick. And, that is especially true when the path is snowy and icy. Recovering from a slip is much easier when one has three other legs, rather than just one other leg. How you are created has advantages. You may just need to find the correct circumstances to prove that.

Ignore the tumbleweeds. They will fall off eventually. Did you know that tumbleweeds are magnetically attracted to dog fur? If not the entire tumbleweed, then small parts of it show that attraction. When they attach themselves to the dogs, they do not slow down. The dogs just keep running. And, most of the time, the tumbleweed parts eventually fall off. 

Most of the stuff we spend so much time and energy stressing about will eventually fall off if we simply keep running. Just keep doing what you are supposed to be doing. At some times, we will need to stop to have the Master pull the tumbleweed out of our lives. But usually, we just need to keep running.

Steve Ballew is executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.


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