A Lesson Learned from Barney and Otis
By Timothy W. Tron
The river was an angry confluence this morning; its icy waters swirled like molten metal, knifing their way down the mountain. The mood matched my own in some respect; these seemed to be turbulent times. There was darkness all around, and it was as if God had hidden His face from the world. Day after day I had called upon Him, lifting my prayers upon high, only to wait and listen to the beat of my own pulse. Each day, there was only more news of evil growing bolder.
My heart carried a heavy burden.
The psalmist seemed to say it best, “But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.”- Psalm 88:13-17
The chill in the air reached into the marrow of my soul. My mind weighed deeply on the scripture as my feet trod farther upon the forest path and eventually the highway to Collettsville.
As I rounded the bend in the road, the general store began to come into view. There at the edge of the parking lot, stood Barney and Otis. Their tales wagging as they recognized me and were thrilled to see me coming. I could tell their joy was restrained, for they had not been certain of who I was. To give them a sense of assurance, I called out to them,” Morning Otis, morning Barney.” At the sound of my voice, they went into full-blown exuberance, dancing and playfully biting at one another as they began to walk my way. They greeted me with the heart-warming welcome of long-lost friends; separated by the ages of time. They belonged to the general store’s previous owner, but most of the town had adopted them as their own. They roamed freely, from one end of the tiny village to the next, making the store their second home.
I had never fed them, I had never given them any form of sustenance; rather, our friendship was based only on my petting them and giving them attention. “How uncanny,” I thought, that these dogs, named after the characters on the “Andy Griffith Show,” were so starved for attention, that they would react to warmly to someone whom they only saw at most, once a week. Then too, like the characters in the old T.V. show that seems to live on, Otis and Barney were reliant upon Andy to make their day complete. Otis, the town drunk, made use of the jail as his second home and depended on Andy’s willingness to allow him to “Dry Out,” instead of being subject to the penalties of prosecution for being publicly drunk. Barney, the ever-incompetent deputy, was Andy’s side-kick, cousin, and most importantly, best friend. Their comparisons to the dogs, and how they too relied upon the kindness of the town’s people made their names even more appropriate.
It was then that the idea of our own relationship with Jesus Christ came to mind.
The parallel was striking; I was to the dogs, what Christ is to His believers. As Jesus was walking toward the John the Baptist, he stood, and his two disciples, and looked upon Jesus as He walked, saying, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” They stood and recognized Jesus walking toward them. They were overjoyed at His presence and made the proclamation of exaltation to which all would eventually know, but none had begun to know at that time. The dogs, like the sheep who knew the sound of the shepherd, also knew me by the sound of my voice. “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”-John 10:4-5
The comparisons began to become clearer and clearer.
As Otis, Barney, and I walked toward the picnic table where I normally sit and read my Bible, they kept up their excitement, nearly knocking me down at one point. They could not contain themselves. They both leaped upon the table and continued wagging their tales in anticipation of sharing time with me. Laughing to myself, and shaking my head, I knew this wasn’t going to work; there would be no time to study scripture this morning, these two needed me more than I needed to study. From there, we made our way over to the bench in front of the store, where we quickly made ourselves comfortable. I sat down on one end of the bench as Otis jumped up and stretched out, laying his head in my lap. Barney sat respectfully at the side of my leg, leaning into me so that he could touch me as he reclined back. I poured myself a cup of coffee and began to pet and talk to my devoted friends. Their warmth was as welcome to me as I was to them.
They sat enraptured and still, swooning over me as our time passed. My thoughts drifted as cars passed, one after another.
My mind again returned to Jesus and His disciples. How many times would we picture scenes as such; the loved one leaning against Christ’s bosom at the last supper; Christ sitting somewhere as He taught, His disciples gathered close in His presence, taking in each moment, savoring their time, knowing that as He had mentioned, their time would soon come to an end. The passing of understanding in the silence of being one was ever present.
Otis eventually fell asleep, his legs beginning to twitch in dream-like response to whatever he might be chasing in that land of repose. Barney was reticent to continue to lean upon my leg. It was then that it had dawned on me; God was telling me that leaning on Christ is what I had been reminded by these two beasts of God’s creation. The joy that had been shown, in essence, lifted my own spirits.
I took inventory of my heart at that moment and felt a joy that had been missing for so long. I had broken the through the water, so to speak, and now I could breathe once more.
My thoughts returned again to the scripture that had so enraptured me earlier that morning.
Unlike once in my life, my walk was now in faith; yet, that had not always been so. There had been a time where it was as if my life was running from God, not toward Him. That trip we made when I was in High School to the rock pit returned as the scripture repeated in my head, “While I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.” Again, as before, the waters of life had become overwhelming to the point, it felt as if I were drowning; the sea of sorrow began to compass about my soul.
We had taken up snorkeling, my friends and I, and wanted to practice in calmer waters than the nearby ocean. So, we found an old abandoned rock pit, just off of Hwy. 40, south of Ft. Myers. It was a perfect place to practice. Today it is known as Lake’s Park, complete with walking trails and beaches. Back then, it was simply a dirt road that led to the water’s edge; a party location for most wayward youth.
There in that pit, over the course of a day’s exploration, we eventually came upon a hole, a large, round area in the floor of the pit. It was obviously deep because the change in the color of the crystal-clear water was only because of the lack of sunlight reaching its extreme depths. As would be typical for teenage boys full of vigor and testosterone, we immediately challenged one another as to who might go for the bottom. Up to this point, we had only covered moderate depths of possible 10-15 feet at most. None of us wore appropriate free-diving equipment; no weights, no depth gauges, no safety vests in case we passed out in an extremely deep dive. All we wore were our goggles and our cut of jean shorts. Needless to say, God was watching over us, because we knew no better.
Preparing to go deep, we began to hyperventilate; a trick we had learned to hold our breath longer, but a potentially deadly result, unbeknownst to us. When the signal to go was given, we began our descent into the deep blue void below. I can recall to this day, kicking with all my might as my ears struggled to clear and my head began to rack from the pressure pushing in on my skull. My own calculations to this day were that it was easily over 50 feet in depth, having free dove in other locations since that time with the appropriate gear. It was the darkest water we had ever seen. My fear led me to reach my arm in front of me in case there was something that I might hit before seeing it in this depth of darkness. My lungs began to call for air as the bottom had not yet been reached. Knowing time was short, I pushed harder and was suddenly rewarded with the sudden appearance of white sand. A momentary pause to look around only revealed an ancient beer can resting in the white sandy bottom, partially buried, where it had landed decades earlier.
My lungs began to scream for oxygen.
Time was nearing its end.
In an instinctive action, I pushed hard from off the rock pit floor and began swimming for the surface with all my might. Those strong, runner’s thighs served me well as the water rushed past my mask so fiercely that it tore away at the breathing tube which tried to stay below. My lungs had all but been depleted of the life source before I reached the top.
It was close now, only a few feet more, but there was nothing left.
Time was out.
Peeling what little oxygen I could from the depths of my soul, I savored my last taste of life as my lungs instinctively began to exhale,… below the surface.
Looking back, God was with us that day.
Not one second was left, not one ounce of air remained in my chest as my body hit the surface, barely clearing the water as my body wretched for that beautiful life source above; the air of the earth. My body gasped for oxygen as my lungs filled their depleted reservoirs.
It was the closest I would or would ever come to not making it back from below.
That day still rings present in my mind, and as I read the 88th Psalm, my heart couldn’t help knowing that although we might be encompassed by waters of darkness, with God, we can someday break through the surface, freeing ourselves from that bondage, and those trials that have held us hostage. That moment, when Christ enters our lives, we can emerge forth free from our sins; when our trials have left us weary, but our metal has been tempered in the fiery trials, we are stronger all the more. We burst forth into a new world of the living, stronger, awakened, and able to receive his tender mercies upon our soul.
Yesterday, I sat by a waterfall waiting for God to speak to me; nothing came. As my footsteps trod down the trail earlier this morning, I listened for His voice; nothing. I began to wonder again why was He hiding His face from me?
It was when I least expected it, He spoke.
This morning, God used two of his creations, beings that only live a life based upon instinctual behaviors, to awaken my soul. Yes, you can say God spoke to me through two dogs. Otis and Barney showed me through their actions toward me, how we too can survive some of the most challenging trials of life, by simply looking to Jesus and leaning on him. He is there for our asking; He is there if only we shall accept Him into our hearts. Our burdens can be lifted, and we can be set free from the bondage of sin. In times of trials, He is there as our life preserver, to sustain us through the darkness. He is our light. When we hear the sound of his voice, we know Him, and we go to Him. For those who do good, they love the light and go to it so that their deeds may be manifest.
All it took was a wagging tail and a moment of repose on an old wooden bench.
Be confident in the darkness and trust in the Lord. There is hope, and where there is hope, there is the light.
Let the light shine in the darkness.
Thanks be to God.