Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘Dogs

Most people think of Disneyland as the “Happiest Place on Earth.”  I call the post office that. Now don’t get all postal on me; I do realize it has its faults. I call it “The Happiest Plae on Earth” because it is the place that takes my cards and letters and delivers them to you, my precious friends. It also delivers your sweet greetings to me.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

The other day, I received an email from a friend about the post office.  I was on the phone completing some marketing research and I started to tear up. Seems that happens almost every time this old dog lover reads this email. I figure the sentiment was worth sharing on this blog:

The email states it is absolutely true. Even if it isn’t, it gives us a lot to think about concerning love…

Our 14-year-old dog, Abbey, died last month.

The day after she passed away, my 4-year-old daughter, Meredith, was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey.

She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her.

I told her that I thought we could, so she dictated these words:

Dear God,

Would you please take care of my dog? Abbey died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I’m happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick. I hope you will play with her. She likes to swim and play with balls. I am sending you a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her. Love, Meredith

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith in it and addressed it to God/Heaven.

We put our return address on it.

Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven.

A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, “To Meredith” in an unfamiliar hand.

Meredith opened it.

Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, When a Pet Dies.

Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope.

On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey and Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith:

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help and I recognized her right away. Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don’t need our bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture, so I’m sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me.

What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.

By the way, I’m easy to find. I am wherever there is love.

Love,

God

He stood surrounded by dogs desperately trying to locate mine. This amazing dog sitter harbors the dogs in his house rather than in kennels, also giving them free run of his considerable backyard. As such, he is in high demand and takes very few canines. Few being around ten. Trying to separate mine so I could take her home, all of the dogs swirled around his feet vying for attention. Finally, in desperation, he called me over to help. 

All I did was say one word, “Lily.” Immediately, my black German Shepherd, jerked her head up, removed herself from the pack, jumped over the gate delineating the “people” side of the house from the “dog” side, climbed over the owner’s living room couch to sit motionless at my side. It was graceful, fluid and sweet all at the same time. No obstacles were going to prevent her from joining me.

Fortunately, she was also quick. There are rules in this house; both husband and wife of this dog sitting couple are also Master Dog Trainers and quite strict. I was pretty certain Lily just broke about 10 of their doggie edicts! Thank goodness with all the commotion going on, the fellow wasn’t aware of Lily’s inappropriate behavior.

It set my mind to wonder:  I was created to pursue God. I was created to know God – to be satisfied in Him and Him alone. To worship Him and Him alone. But even as a believer, do I leave my pack and run to God the way Lily ran to me? Am I so content surrounded by the swirling demands of my schedule, my relationships, my activities that I’d fail to hear my Master’s voice and leave it behind to run to the true source of my satisfaction and hope?

One tiny word and Lily ran to me without hesitation or regret. John 10:27 says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” She knew my voice and she wanted to follow me.

God turned a beautiful display of loyalty into a valuable lesson.  Lily left the clutter of the other dogs because she heard my voice. She recognized me as her Master, knew she belonged to me and longed to be by my side. Like her, I must turn away from anything that muddles my faith and place my trust in Jesus Christ. We were created to be set apart, to live set-apart lives and the only way we can live that kind of life is by spending time at His side.

Who or what are you trusting in today? Are you ready to show your loyalty to God by running to Him; by finding contentment just being by His side?

Today, may you feel the incomparable peace of your Master’s voice.

I really thought I mastered it. I honestly felt I understood precisely how far to place things away from the counter’s edge so my German Shepherd, Lily, couldn’t get them.  At eighteen months, I believed she outgrew the curiosity of grabbing things placed there. I was sorely mistaken.

Silverware, paper, oven gloves, all found a way into her mouth! The most terrifying, though, was the pill incident. In my computer room, distracted in a Skype session with my out-of-town husband, I heard a crack come from the dining room. Investigating, I found Lily practically smiling at me with an empty pill bottle hanging out of her mouth. It was a full container purchased from the pharmacy only the night before.

I panicked. Abruptly ending the session with my husband, I desperately searched the house from top to bottom. No pill bottle top; no pills. With dusk setting in, my choices were limited; hunt in the backyard or immediately put Lily into the car and break land speed records to get her to the nearest animal poison control. Reluctant to put her through medical intervention, I opted to search.

Near the end my backyard investigation, I saw something white sticking out among the blades of grass. Could it be?  Yes, it was the top of the bottle. Now where were the pills?  In the growing shadows of evening, my flashlight beam illuminated them – faint robin’s egg blue tucked amongst the lawn’s dark blades.  I picked up all I could find, quickly went inside and counted them. All of them were there, now once again safe in the orange bottle.

Only when the bottle was placed on a cabinet’s shelf did my body react -folding in on itself, collapsing on the floor – too tired to do a victory dance, too exhausted to yell at Lily. Torn between strangling her or burying my head in her neck. The latter seemed more appropriate. Burrowing my head in her fur, tears started in earnest. How close had I come to losing her? And then I lifted up a quick prayer to God that she was more interested in the pill bottle than the actual pills.

When the tears stopped flowing  I realized how much I’m like Lily. How often do I strain my relationship with God for something that looks satisfying; that piques my interests? How often am I deeply tempted not to miss the pleasures of life even when they bring grief, fail to glorify God or, as in the case of Lily, can cause me real, physical harm?

In the darkening gloom of my kitchen, I had a moment when everything stopped. I realized how truly blessed I was – not because disaster was averted with my dog – but because I am loved beyond measure by a God who sees all the times I stumble off His chosen path for me; detouring to something unworthy of both Him and me.

Alone on the dirty kitchen floor, His love caved in on me; a love so strong it hangs on to me even on the most uncertain of days.  Even when I’m turning away, running away from Him.

Unlike the items on my counter, His love is never out of reach. And I’m truly in awe of all His love blessings even in the randomness of my days; aware I have no guarantees – except one. That nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

Pizzazz.  That’s what I was looking for.  An attention getter.  Most importantly, I wanted the photograph to capture the special bond between me and my dog, Rascal – a picture illustrating the tight connection between us.  And in the process bring me comfort and healing since Rascal had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

It was a tall order, I admit, so I went searching for backdrops. Something to make us stand out, yet was in keeping with our personalities. When I found something that might work, I’d pester my husband to take a few pictures. Summoning every creative molecule in his body, he’d snap away, but the results would be less than spectacular.  Oh, I don’t blame him.  I was asking him to use a lens to capture a feeling, an insight into my soul all the while I was yelling at him, “Don’t get my butt in the picture.”

It seemed I’d never find the perfect backdrop to make Rascal’s black and white fur stand out and my blue eyes sparkle. Looking back it was an exercise in futility because although Richard managed to snap some great pictures, there was never one that truly stirred my soul. That’s because no picture could ever give me what the deep recesses of my heart longed for – more time with my canine companion.

When my life’s hurts become overwhelming, I don’t have to go searching for backdrops. Soothing comfort can be found in the backdrops God provides.  Luke wrote, “He will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice because of His birth.” (Luke 1:14)  In a lowly manger, God came to this world and other than the angels singing that night to the shepherds, his birth went widely unnoticed by the inhabitants of Israel.

Yet it was the beginning of many more backdrops – a merciless cross – an empty tomb and with that, eternity itself. His backdrops change everything about life. There are times when what He has asked me to do simply doesn’t make sense to me. But against that backdrop I found that faith is a matter of blind obedience, not human logic.

Life doesn’t lack the rough spots. But it takes storms to teach us that God is faithful and will provide the strength to stand firm.

Only when we sit at the feet of Jesus, surrendering our plans and dreams, do we discover that Christ came not to eliminate the storms of life. No, he came to fill those storms with His presence. We can always count on His joy in us when we face the storms of life – a truth that makes our hearts sing and our souls dance.

And with each storm comes the victory waiting to be claimed – the awesome privilege of clinging tightly to the hand of God.

The email’s subject line read simply, “Lecktor.” Still that one word had an ominous tone to it. It was the name of my girlfriend’s beloved pet – a champion German Shepherd, a hero in the Search and Rescue community.

I read the email and immediately felt the need to flee the house. I could hardly breathe, the walls started crashing in and I had to run away. Lecktor, who had once covered miles and miles in search of lost humans, was slowly losing his battle to stand. My friend faces the horrific decision to put him down. Age is one foe he couldn’t conquer; the email listed details of her decision.

Sitting in the parking lot of the local grocery store, I called my husband in tears. I tried to explain why  I was crying – why I was sitting in my car sobbing. Losing a pet is so gut-wrenching and as I blubbered, I tried to explain my deep emotional reaction to my husband.  “I know,” I whimpered, “how hard it is to lose a dog you love.”

Worried that something had happened to our dog, he tenderly asked, “Where’s Lily?” Assuring him that our own canine was safe at home in her kennel relieved him, but did little to calm me.

My heart broke for my friend. I cried because I did not know how to comfort her. I cried because I couldn’t wipe away her pain. I cried because I knew her family was saying goodbye under crushing sorrow. And I cried because there is loss in this world and sometimes it grabs me, shakes me and refuses to release its grip.

To escape the hold this news had on me, I had the uncontrollable urge to one-by-one hug everyone in the parking lot. Because we have all been there. We have all suffered loss. We are together in grief. But I figured that action would only result in a panicked call to the police and a trip to the psych ward for me.

So instead, my loneliness drained me sitting deep in the crevice of my sadness.  Heartbroken, unfixed, I was powerless to erase my friend’s grief. There is no earthly fix, no person can repair a loss like this. I often tell people we heal in community but those words seemed pathetic. Yet it was all I could offer. I pray my friend is comforted by my desire to sit with her in her pain.

I sat in my car facing this lonely place comforted knowing God is my Search and Rescue team. In the unique solitude of the parking lot, all I could do was pray. My prayers to heal Lektor won’t be answered. Yet because of Jesus, we don’t need to hide from loss. We can ask Jesus into it with us. He won’t always remove the cause of our anguish, but with Him, we are never truly alone.

I could tell in one glance, she wasn’t doing well.  After surgery, Lily, my beloved canine companion, looked dreadfully uncomfortable in her Victorian collar. And despite the vet’s reassurance Lily wasn’t in pain, I could tell something was amiss.

Arriving home, she didn’t want to get out of the car. As a German Shepherd weighing almost 70 pounds, I couldn’t muscle her out, either. So I let her be, leaving both the car door and the garage entryway door open, hoping she would make her way into the house when she felt up to it.  Like any doting dog lover, I checked in on her about every ten minutes.

But the last time I checked, she was gone! She wasn’t anywhere in the garage, couldn’t find her in the house and there was no dog in the backyard. I panicked. Given her condition, she couldn’t have left the premises, but where was she? As the minutes clicked by and I rushed from room to empty room, my mind traveled to the worst case scenario – she’s bleeding to death in some closet somewhere and I didn’t find her fast enough to help.

Finally as my fear reached desperation pitch, I located her! Somehow, Victorian collar and all, she managed to squeeze between the tiny distance separating our concrete wall and the hedge. And there she sat, looking even more uncomfortable than she did in the vet’s office.

I must admit, I’m a bit like Lily. When difficult times are the norm, my first reaction seems to flee from my Master instead of flying  to Him. That’s because I blame God for my misfortune rather than my foolish miscues or the fallen condition of the world.

I’m not the only one. Psalm 10:1 implores, “Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” In my despair, all I can think about is me.  Me, me, me.  My hurt, my discomfort, my disappointment. My self-centeredness pulls me off my normally solid footing and into a riptide of even deeper misery. And once in over my head, even my prayers are shallow. They make God into some sort of magician whose only purpose is to keep my life from running amuck.

I drown myself in sorrow. It is there that God must rescue me time and time again. He whispers softly to me, “Why don’t you trust me? Why don’t you come to me? I love you and want you to abide in Me at all times – especially when you are dismayed. Let me shelter you and give you hope.”

You’d think after a lifetime of this habit, I’d know to run to Him first. When I hide from God, I feel foolish and ashamed. Psalm 119:11 gives the remedy for exactly this situation, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

When I run to Him instead of away from Him, when I pray and seek His guidance in the Bible, I’m no longer adrift in a sea of dejection. The Holy Spirit softens the hurt, relieves the burden and replaces it with joy.  For joy is found only in giving control of your life over to God.

On Sunday morning, my dog, Lily, woke me up at the crack of dawn.  My apologies to you early morning risers, but 6AM, in my opinion is not a time fit for man nor beast to be roaming about outside. But a dog’s needs being what they are, I was forced to get out of bed.

This morning, that simple act unexpectedly forced me to collide with the wonder of God. The earth was still, no traffic noise, conversation or dogs barking wafted through the air. The dew was still on the grass and bushes. The sun played peek-a-boo with the dawn sky.

His strength and power were so evident, I almost stopped breathing.

Despite not being fully awake – my eyes and ears were barely open – my heart was slightly more tender at that hour, so experiencing the presence of Almighty God seemed effortless.  It was as if God was shouting in the early morning silence. Piercing through my dreariness, His words brought comfort, “I am here. I love you. You are chosen, redeemed, loved and forgiven. See My world and yourself with new eyes.”

Currently in the midst of an emotional season of self-doubt, I’m bruised, embarrassed and suffering from a mind-soul disconnect. My brain grapples with my inadequacies, even while my soul declares my identity in Christ is not dependent on what the world – including myself – thinks of me.

In the garden that morning, this tension disappeared. I drank in all of Creation and marveled at all the things God put into place to maintain life here on earth. The trees, the flowers, the dew, the sunlight, even the snails. Things we take for granted, but they are the masterpieces of God. Even my body is a work of art – the senses that allow me to experience the world around me, the antibodies that fight off infection, my breathing in and out…

Chronicles 29:11 states, “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” The backyard reminded me creation was a gift from God, a instrument to see His glory.

When I take my focus off myself and seek God, my self-doubt is replaced by His glory. My foolish thoughts are brushed away to allow space for His grace and love. The learning begins, for His loyalty to me destroys my doubt.

If you are facing uphill battles, a season filled more with hesitation than certainty, go outside. Take a walk in the forest, go sit by a lake, experience the crash of a waterfall, follow a butterfly. Within the beauty of those things, you’ll sense His gracious faithfulness.

It is waiting for you right outside your door.