The old girl sighed. Then sighed some more. I looked up from my laptop where I was working on my sermon and gave her a knowing look.
She didn’t want to be stuck in a living room where the constant sound of cars, not crickets, kept her ears on constant alert. Nor did she want to feel the pull of a leash limiting her exploration of the great outdoors—that was, whenever she was allowed outdoors as there were now just one too many dogs in the neighborhood encroaching on her territory.
She wanted the open pastures and the rolling hills she knew as a puppy. She wanted to feel the tickling of the breeze’s fingertips on her fur, the same breeze that tickled the corn stalks beyond our old Vermont house making them sway with delight. She wanted to keep watch from behind the safety of the weathered picket fence for the occasional deer who would peek its head out from the corn stalks to engage her in a game of who can stare at the other the longest.
Sofie, my bumbling Bernese mountain dog who had now become my “old girl,” wanted the place where the heart sighs not with discontent, but sighs a sigh full of peaceful content.
She wanted her happy place. The place we all have. The place we all long to be. The place unique to each one of us, for each one of us is uniquely made by God.
I know a man whose happy place is found going out and about the country roads of Washington County in upstate New York in search of eagles, eagerly hoping to catch one of these majestic birds in flight with his camera. He can and does spend hours meandering dirt and forgotten roads to feel his heart fill with peace.
Another woman I know has found her happy place among the rolling hills bordering on New York and Vermont where after many a dark night of the soul, coupled with ardent prayers for someone to share her life with, she is now celebrating her one-year wedding anniversary in the home-sweet-home she had longed for. She often shares moments from her happy place, posting the most glorious pictures of sunrises breaking through the dense fog and illuminating the beauty of the world as its rays reach higher and higher over the hills.
I wonder if she sees in those pictures what I see? Her story of how God illuminated the dense fog in her life with the most beautiful hope hovering higher and higher in her heart.
I thought of the happy place of a former magazine colleague who, when her heart let out a sigh of discontent, would steal away on a subway downtown to the tree-lined city blocks of Greenwich Village and lose herself in the beauty of the grand old brownstones.
Back in my pre-pastor, editor days my happy place was walking down Fifth Avenue and gazing at the chic display windows of Bergdorf’s and Saks, thinking of how fantastic life would be lived in a particular designer outfit. I smile when I think of my former self. For now my heart sighs with peaceful content whenever I can slip into a pair of farm mucks and walk in the tall grass of the cow pastures to the top of the hill behind our Vermont house. There I simply sit in the quiet and the beauty of all God has blessed me with. And my heart? It sighs a peaceful sigh.
Sofie let out another sigh. I stopped writing my sermon for I realized my old girl was in need of some pastoral care. I sat with her on the couch she had clumsily hoisted herself up on and wrapped the quilt I had just finished making gently around her. She had somehow claimed that quilt has her own. And that was fine with me. I hugged her and patted her head. Sofie’s happy place was now a six-hour drive away and not often visited due to my busy life as a pastor serving in Maryland. But as I petted her, I got to thinking.
Our happy places don’t have to be within reach to make our hearts sigh with peaceful content. I remember some years back a woman telling me how well her elderly mother was settling into a nursing home. Stripped of all the belongings she loved, as they didn’t fit into the tiny room she was given, the elderly mother would always have a smile on her face. When asked why she always smiled, she revealed her secret. Whenever she felt a sigh of discontent coming on, she would close her eyes and remember the things she treasured. It was then she realized, while circumstances in life always bring change, nothing could ever take away joy. She discovered her happy place was always in her heart. All she had to do was close her eyes to visit.
“I know. You want your happy place,” I softly whispered to my old girl. “But it’s right here. Here in your heart. Close your eyes and see the corn swaying in the wind.”
I wondered if Sofie understood what I was saying. Then it happened. She closed her eyes and as she did her tail started wagging joyfully back and forth. I swear I saw a smile grace her mouth. I smiled too. She was in her happy place. The place we all have. The place we all long to visit. The place where our sighs of discontent miraculously turn into sighs of peaceful content.