Scaredy Dog

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No one who had a church leadership role on September 16, 2001, will ever forget that day.
It was the first Sunday after the 9/11 terror attacks. 
For five days, America had been reeling.  The shock and horror of what happened in New York City, Washington D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania plunged the nation into a kind of living nightmare.    
That reality overwhelmed me when I stood for the first time at our early service and looked into the faces of the worshippers.  There were people I had never seen before.  And individuals whom I hadn’t seen for years.  They had come together to mourn.  And to see if God – if there really was a God who cared – had anything to say about such evil. 
On September 13, I had met with a pair of Christian Science leaders from our community – a conversation that had been scheduled well before the attacks. 
I asked what they were thinking and feeling about the events of the previous 48 hours.  They clung to their Christian Science convictions: The “tragedy” was just an illusion.  Nothing bad had happened.  Our perception of suffering was merely a collective misunderstanding of reality.  A good God, after all, could not allow such things to happen.  Therefore it had not happened.
But for those who gathered for worship that Sunday morning, the suffering had been anything but an illusion.   
Throughout that fall, church attendance would be higher than usual.  Not to mention sales of Bibles, teddy bears, and guns.  Therapists would see additional clients.  High-end restaurants would add comfort food options to their menus.  Some of those mac and cheese dishes are still around.  President Bush would plead with Americans to go shopping.  “Don’t let the terrorists win” by depriving stores of their customary year-end sales.
But all that was still ahead.  On September 16, there was simply sadness and fear.
What I remember most about that morning was the children’s sermon.  We customarily invited kids to come forward and talk about our theme of the day.
Live animals were always a hit.  Over the years the kids got to experience gerbils, crayfish, a lamb, a boa constrictor, a terrarium filled with Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a lively ferret named Spunky, and a pair of goats who, as it turned out, could have used a bit more toilet training.  Times with the children were often more memorable than the “real” sermon. 
That day I brought one our own dogs to church.  Cory was a Shetland sheep dog, or Sheltie.  Imagine a miniature version of Lassie. 
I asked the kids if they had ever heard of a scaredy cat.  Hands went up.  “Well,” I said, “Cory is a scaredy dog.  He’s scared of big noises.  And the vacuum cleaner.  And other dogs who might show up in our yard.  And the nice man who delivers packages to our front porch.” 
But one thing always helped, I explained.  If Mary Sue or I stood behind him, he became the bravest dog in the world.  If he knew that we were nearby, he could stand up to any other dog or even the lady driving the mail truck. 
I told the kids that this was a week in which some people would probably feel a bit like Cory.  There were things that might make them feel afraid.
I looked up at their parents.  That’s when my voice broke. 
I reminded them that “Don’t be afraid” is the command of God that appears more times than any other in the Bible.  And “I will be with you” is the Bible’s number one promise. 
“Those two go together,” I said.  “We don’t have to be afraid of anything that will happen today or tomorrow because Someone is always standing behind us.  God will always be with us.” 
In many ways, that was a difficult Sunday. 
But I would also have to say it was a uniquely special Sunday.  All the curtains had been pulled back.  We were vulnerable.  We were uncertain and afraid.  We needed God.  And we knew it.
America, being what it is, tried to regain “normalcy” as soon as possible.  The sad thing is that normalcy, for all too many of us, is ignoring God – or at least pushing away the realization that life is fragile, and that trusting God is our privilege and our call every new day. 
Even when life is tough, however, we don’t have to be a scaredy dog. 
That’s often when we’re reminded of what we most need to remember:
God is always behind us.  And he’s not going anywhere