FIRST-PERSON: 'Playtime! I like this game.'

BRISTOL, Tenn. (BP) -- One Saturday, Sophie escaped. Sophie is our boxer puppy, born last year on Easter Sunday. She is pretty, smart, sweet, but not always well-behaved.

Most of the time, as our granddaughter Katie Grace says, "Sophie's a good girl." But that day, she reminded me of Marley in the book "Marley & Me" by John Grogan. Marley was the inspiration for three books and a movie by the same title about a dog adopted by Grogan that found his way into the hearts of the Grogan family in spite of being extremely mischievous and as destructive as a Tasmanian devil.

Sophie, on this Saturday, performed more like Marley than her namesakes, Sophia and Grace, both princesses.

Diligently working in the yard, I had failed to secure the fence. Suddenly I realized the gate was slightly ajar and Sophie was no longer within the boundary. Katie Grace would have said, "Oh ... my ... doodness!"

So I began to call her and make kissy sounds with my lips that usually bring her to me. I looked around and there she stood with a deer-in-the-headlights look, just outside the fence. No problem, I thought as I pushed the gate open wide.

Wrong. My actions seemed only to remind her that she was on the outside looking in. Free!

As I continued to coax her, pretending to offer a treat and creeping slowly toward her, she made a quick decision. Instead of obeying her "master," she bolted.

"Oh, boy!" I was reading her canine mind, "Playtime! I like this game."

As she sprinted up the alley behind our house, I jogged behind her, pleading, "Sophie ... good girl ... come to Daddy."

Then, abruptly, she stopped, turned and galloped toward me like a race horse. When she was almost within my grasp she veered and streaked past me. She had to be smiling as she scampered by. "Woof, woof!" Translation: "This is so much fun. Can we do it all afternoon?"

She darted across a yard. "Oh no! ... street ... cars." Then she headed back toward me, changed direction again and headed away, down the alley ... street ... cars! Next-door neighbors interrupted their game of horseshoes to join in the chase. Sophie was up for the challenge. She was a puppy possessed.

She streaked past us and headed toward a fence. Through the enclosure she greeted the neighbor's dog, "Woof, woof! You're missing out on a good time."

Finally, my wife Sammie, realizing that two-thirds of her household was missing, came outside and saw the circus. "Get her a treat," I implored. "Grab her leash and bring it out."

Calmly, soothingly, Sammie coaxed Sophie back into our backyard. I rushed to secure the gate, breathed a sigh of relief, then collapsed on an Adirondack chair.

As I struggled to catch my breath and recover from the excitement of our little romp, a thought crossed my mind. This experience surely has a spiritual application. Sophie's call-of-the-wild activities were not that much different than how our relationship with God can be.

God loves us, provides for us, cares for our every need. Then as soon as we see an opening, we run from Him. We strike out on our own like prodigal puppies. We avoid His grace, His blessings, His mercies. We ignore His commands.

Finally, by His grace and because of His great love, we hear His voice and recognize the importance of responding to His call.

The consequences for continuing to run from God and ignore His call include being left outside the house of God and the gates of heaven.

Steve Playl, a retired Baptist pastor, is a chaplain at a Bristol, Tenn., hospital, a newspaper columnist and college instructor.
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