Friday, June 24, 2011

Obedience: Lessons From a Dog

While working with Joaquin on his memoir these last six months, he shared how God used his dogs to teach him about obedience. German shepherds are known to have a high degree of intelligence, which explains why Joaquin believes God has used them to teach him many things in life. While working the nightshift, Joaquin often retreated to the serene setting of the Japanese Gardens in the wee hours of the morning. It was there, in the treasured quiet moments between police calls, where God spoke to Joaquin’s heart.

Owners and breeders of German shepherds are familiar with the initials: GSD. One night while Joaquin was parked at the garden with Rookie, God asked him to take a closer look at those initials.

GSD…God Serving Dog.

Spell DOG backwards…GOD.

Shepherd…how many references in scripture tell us that God is our Shepherd and we are His people.

As all dog owners know, dogs demonstrate unconditional love, much the same as God. Joaquin joked that he thought sometimes God brought these thoughts to his mind just to baffle him. The parallels are plain to see. Just like Joaquin’s dog sits, waiting for his master to speak, we need to do the same with our Master.

Here’s the clincher: when God does speak, we need to respond in obedience. That was the all important part I failed to grasp right away.

On a family vacation in the Black Hills one summer we happened upon BrulĂ© playing in a tourist area. The music from this upcoming band of three was as captivating as the surrounding landscape. Their distinct sound initially caught my attention—the hauntingly beautiful mix of flute, keyboard, and traditional drum they are now famous for. Listening one could immediately sense something deeper at the heart of it. Sure enough, in reading Paul’s Artist Bio I was equally captivated by his life story.

All the way home I heard a Voice, You should write a book about this man…

But before I reached home my own doubts drowned out the Voice, telling me I had no connection to Paul LaRoche, a complete stranger. Besides, I wasn’t Native American, or adopted, and I didn’t have any writing credentials.

And because I didn’t trust the Voice, I let three full years pass before I responded in obedience.

Once I did, doors opened in ways I never could have imagined. What I lacked in experience I gained in affirmations as I began writing, and a series of trips to South Dakota. When Hidden Heritage: The Story of Paul LaRoche was released in 2006, I knew I had found my calling. That same year I went on a mission trip to Mexico with a group from our church. A testimony from one of the men became the material for my next book. Seeds of Salton is a powerful story of courage, love, and the transforming power of forgiveness. And before I could find an agent to rep Seeds of Salton, I received a phone call from Joaquin, asking if I would consider writing his memoir. You see one of the places BrulĂ© played was the Soaring Eagle Casino near Joaquin’s hometown of Saginaw. Joaquin too was moved by their stirring music and found an instant connection to Paul.

I’ve been fortunate to write the stories of these three individuals, a journey that’s allowed me to spend time on an American Indian Reservation, discover the rugged ranchlands of Eastern Montana, and most recently, ride shotgun in Joaquin’s police car.

Lower Brule Sioux Reservation
South Dakota

Montana section road

Montana sunset over the Missouri Breaks

Riding shotgun with Joaquin on patrol

Looking back, think all I would have missed had I not stepped out in faith back in 2002. Come to think of it, that was the very same year we got our dog Miss Abbie, my puppers, who was always at my side, waiting for me to speak.

My faithful and loyal Miss Abbie, helping me write
I dunno…I think Joaquin’s onto something with lessons from a dog.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Michigan & Rookie...Things I Learned

The manuscript is written, the edits are complete, and now it’s time to move into the design phase. After months of research, interviews, discussions, and rewrites, it’s exciting to know Joaquin and I are mere weeks from having a published book.

One of the coolest parts of being an author is learning about the topic you’re writing about, in this case a K9 police officer. When I think back to last summer at this time, the Hidden Heritage episode with Joaquin’s story, “Native American Heroes” had just aired. At that time I only had an outline written and had no clue all the things I was about to discover.

CITY OF SAGINAW – Even though both Minnesota (where I live) and Michigan (where Joaquin lives) are in the Midwest and border Canada, the two states are quite different culturally. The outlying cities in Michigan (including Saginaw) that supported the automotive industry and manufacturing plants of Detroit created a much different way of life than out-state Minnesota, where farming and small businesses were the prominent employers.

K9 POLICE OFFICER – Like most people I was aware of the typical duties of police dogs, but I had no concept for the intensive training that is required for the handler. The partnership between a working dog and officer is much deeper than a family pet because it’s a 24/7, life-and-death, love and loyalty. The extraordinary bond begins on the first day of training and continues from that day forward, both on and off the job. Officers who begin K9 training are told they will become closer to their dog than their spouse, kids, or fellow officers because of all the time spent with the dog, a statement that in fact turns out to be true.

DANGERS IN POLICE WORK – Even though I worked in police records for the City of Lakeville Police Department for 7 years, my comfortable third-ring suburb of Minneapolis saw much less violent types of police calls than Saginaw. In contrast, Joaquin worked the nightshift for the City of Saginaw Police Department for 22 years and was routinely involved in high-stress calls: shootings, homicides, fatal crashes, escaped fugitives, armed robberies, fatal fires, violent domestics, narcotics busts, gang violence, and more. As Joaquin said, “You learn what you have to do in order to go home at the end of your shift.”

GIVING BACK – Even though Joaquin worked fulltime as a police officer, he went above and beyond and found another way to give back to his community. Using his K9 partner Rookie as his mascot, he created Precinct 131, an educational program designed for young kids in Saginaw to “say no to gangs, guns, drugs, violence,” in a community besieged by gang violence. What began as a short K9 demo to one classroom at a time, Joaquin turned into a multi-faceted ministry with outreaches to nearly every group of people in Mid-Michigan.

SEARCH-AND-RESCUE – Through the eyes of Joaquin and the nose of Rookie, I learned what it was like to be at Ground Zero following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, thrust into the dangerous work at The Pile. More importantly, I realized the responsibility Joaquin felt in helping the victims and families, and the never-give-up spirit among the search-and-rescue volunteers. Joaquin’s experience started with the devastating images at Ground Zero, compiled with the survivors retelling their painful stories…and how heavy the totality of it weighed on his heart.

SERVANT’S HEART – After spending this past year working with Joaquin on his memoir that included two trips to Saginaw—seeing Joaquin’s K9 facility, joining him on ride-alongs in his K9 patrol vehicle, attending K9 training, long phone conversations—what I discovered was a man with a servant’s heart. Joaquin turned his love for his dogs into a gift for his community; a tool to reach out and make a difference in the lives of young school kids and local citizens.

Bottom line, I can’t wait to share this heart-warming and touching story of Joaquin and Rookie with everyone!