Just recently before Sunday school started, Nate and I heard a story from Cleve – who grew up in the area. He was talking about the old mountain men and the coon dogs they used to own. These dogs just didn’t hunt coon though. They also hunted rabbit, squirrel, grouse. The owner wasn’t particular what the dog hunted back in those days. Now days we do have specialized breeds of hunting dogs, but back in recent Appalachian history, having a hunting dog was a matter of survival providing meat for the mountain families.
Now, the hunting dog was always near his master and followed him everywhere. When it was night time for the dog to lie down, he let the hunting dog sleep on his coat. The master’s coat would be thrown down on the porch and the dog would lay on it. Back then men didn’t mind odors so much. The man would put the coat on again in the morning to go out to work…maybe to pick corn. He would throw the coat down in the field and the dog would lay on it, waiting for his master. Day after day and night after night the man’s coat would be the dog’s bed. No matter where the man was.
When the owner took up his gun to go hunting, the dog of course was ready to do his job. Sometimes hunting would be easy and the man would come home quickly with supper. Sometimes it would take longer to find game. Sadly, sometimes the dog took off running after a rabbit and wouldn't come to the man’s call. I know how that goes…that not listening thing. The dog didn’t come back and the man went home without the dog and possibly without supper. I can just see the man calling and calling and waiting until it is dark. Sadly, the man takes off his coat and throws it on the ground and walks home. The next morning he has hopes that his dog will be laying on his coat. What joy he has when the dog meets him!
There are a few things that come to mind as I thought about Cleve’s story about the hunting dog.
- The owner must care a lot for his dog to give up his coat for his dog’s bed. That coat represents home and comfort and security for the dog. Could I liken that coat to something that God gave us? His word - it is a source of comfort to me. God’s word gives me hope and strength in life, whether situations in life are good or bad, God’s word can always be relied upon.The verses in Psalm 119:9-16 says “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. They word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O Lord; teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared all the judgements of thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.” I am thankful to God for giving us His word. When times are busy and I go off for the day…or sometimes, oh the tragedy, it may be a few days and God’s word is laid aside. The realization of this…it is missed! And I’m sorry for my error and return.
- The story of the hunting dog and the coat for a bed reminds me of one more thing. That is when a family member leaves the house. I know there are parents who have long grieved this situation. Carefully I say…it may not have been your fault? There are so many allurements in this world that lead people astray. It could be fame, it could be rebellion, it could be drugs, it could be any number of things. Like the old hunting dog that took off after his prize, so sadly our family members can take off too. Would you consider laying down the coat? Having the open door? Having the bed available for the wandering one to return. Remember the story of the prodigal son. The father was watching and waiting for the son’s return. He was ready with a hug and forgiveness.
Oh Lord, may I be like the man that throws down the coat – and overlook the “smells of the dog” he cares for, overlooking the faults...and Lord, may I happily be returning to the security of your Word and your ways knowing that You will always be there to strengthen, teach, protect and love.