Lessons from a Labrador
I am (depending on your definition of it) a fraud.
In early September as I sat down to write this blog, I was ready to confess that I had failed tenth-grade English, and spent ten years running away from my faith. This makes me uniquely unqualified to write a blog for a Christian audience. It was also around that time that the health of our 15-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever began a noticeable decline. Because his needs were immediate, and his time here on earth was rapidly coming to an end, I spent as much time with him as possible, often on the family room floor with my laptop, touching his velvety soft ears, begging God for a few minutes of calm, and the inspiration to finish the blog.
But my thoughts were as gridlocked as rush-hour traffic on the Baltimore Beltway. The worries and sheer exhaustion of caring for Duke put my devotional time on the back burner. When my early mornings with God stopped, so did the ability to form complete readable sentences. Why, when life gets complicated, is God the first to go?
D-O-G is G-O-D spelled backward.
My therapist threw this at me when the four-month-old Duke and my then-one-year-old son were terrorizing the house and each other. I was too busy in survival mode to understand what he meant except, “Don’t kick the dog, Janet.”
I recalled my therapist’s words as we watched this furry family member peacefully slip out of the family room for the last time. I realized that God gave us dogs not only for companionship, but to give us a glimpse into what Christ-like behavior looks like.
That’s when I knew that my story of failing tenth-grade English could wait for another blog.
Listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Duke’s debut happened at a busy craft show, infested with people, strollers, and other dogs. Having more social skills than all of the Richey members combined, Duke made friends with everyone, instantly. Like a game of tug-of-war, he was always pulling on his leash, but I felt a new urgency as he stubbornly directed me to a little girl, no more than five years old, bawling in a full hyperventilating episode. From zero to sixty, the girl's face went from tears to a smile that brought down sunshine the moment she saw him. Duke may not have had the Holy Spirit living within him, but his instincts were solid.
Love with a pure heart. Keep no record of wrongdoings.
And maybe, because other than filling his bottomless pit of a stomach, Duke didn’t know how to be any other way. He looked past the size, age, and color, the sticky fingers, the dirty clothes, and/or the essence of some kind of body odor permeating the air. He approached them all, tail wagging like they were the only ones that mattered. Even when our young son would pull on his ears or flop his little body across Duke’s as he tried to sleep, this docile Labrador simply gave a weary side-eye, and would later try to snuggle up against him, in a humble act of forgiveness.
Patience is a virtue.
There is a spot in the family room, now hauntingly empty, that had a front-row view of the Triple Crown: the sink, the stove, and the refrigerator. He occupied that spot, waiting for a spill or a handout. While this stalking behavior annoyed me, Grandma found it endearing. And Duke knew it. There was a special bond between him and that sweet little Korean woman. She was an answer to his prayers.
And to mine and our entire family, for that matter. But that's a story for another blog.
Comparison steals your joy and complicates your purpose.
Since Duke had no concept of comparison, he had the freedom to be the slightly psychotic chocolate Labrador Retriever that he was born to be. He barked at nothing and everything at the most inconvenient times and planted nose smudges on every reachable glass surface. He pulled on his leash and threw himself on the grass after every bath, in an attempt to rub the clean off of his ever-shedding fur. He had no concept of personal space and would take out people and furniture like bowling pins to retrieve his favorite red ball.
But he howled at sirens like an act of empathy for the victims and first responders or would place his warm body next to yours when he knew when you needed it. And in his 15 years and 4 months on this earth, I can count on one hand the number of times he growled in anger and fewer still when he actually snapped. His sole purpose it seems, was to love people.
While the Bible is the official handbook for Christian living, God seemed to know my learning style by bringing an oversized, floppy-eared, endlessly shedding dog, to teach me a few things about His nature. And then he gave me a few extra brain cells to share those lessons with others. Because everything. Always. Points back to the Creator.
Where do you see evidence of God today?