I find that I am more likely to put an article on my leisure reading list if it promises me a list of take-away points. I suppose that may be due to my assumption that reading anything longer than a bulleted list is going to require an investment of emotional capital that I simply may not be prepared to pay. So if you are like me and need to know the price that you are going to have to slide across the desk in this transaction, I have great news! For this article only, the toll on your sensitive psyche is a mere ONE point. And it's about a subject everybody loves. I am guessing you won't even need to take notes.
My family has a "dog." I use the quotation marks because this is the most intriguing animal that I have come across. We purchased her from a local shelter with the heart-swell of pride that we were giving this little orphan a loving home and would dote on her and pamper her with every nicety a canine could want. We purchased a crate that was far too big, toys that were far too boring and a dog house that was far too, well, vacant.
We are not sure exactly what breed(s) she is. The events of the past four years, though, have allowed me a best guess: some kind of cross between a Boxer and an armchair. I am fairly certain on the armchair part; the Boxer is just based on her coloring. Why an armchair, you ask? Isn't it kind of sad to refer to your family pet as a piece of the furniture? It would be if my intent was derogatory rather than descriptive. I have heard this sweet bundle of food consumption bark a total of three times in four years! She prefers to spend most of her days behind a chair in our room, usually with a towel covering her head. She is not a huge fan of going on walks but is a fan of rides (who isn't?). When she is on the leash she is pretty responsive, but if she sees a car – it's the oddest thing – she will stop and duck her head to the side as if to say, "If I can't see you, you can't see me!"
She is an odd, odd duck. In fact, maybe there's a little duck in her heritage as well? I have friends who have been to our house on multiple occasions who, until the events I am about to describe, did not even know we had a dog. She's a very inside pet. But, all that being said, she really is the perfect dog for our family. She is a goofy, laid back, easy pet to own. A friend recently dubbed her "Snickers the Anti-Dog." I find the title supremely fitting.
Whenever we are going to be out of town we typically have someone stay at the house with her rather than board her. This is when one of her most bizarre tendencies shows up. If we leave town, this docile dog who usually has the adventurous nature of a tree sloth suddenly transforms into Carmen San Diego. At her first opportunity, she will find a pathway around, under, over or through (is she part teleport, too?) our fence to set off into the wide world she loathes. Since she has no need for human interaction and an aversion to paved roads, you can walk the streets looking for her all you want, but your best bet is to put out a bowl of food and wait. She always finds her way back. How? I have no idea. She has certainly not made a mental map of our neighborhood on our walks that terminate roughly 25 yards from our front door.
I said she always comes back. But a couple of weeks ago, that theory failed. We had taken a short trip. Her caregiver was at the house. As he let her out to run around the backyard, she found one of her magical escape routes, squirted through the fence and was gone. Really. For good. She had never been gone more than one night. This time? One, two, three nights passed. Our thoughts leapt to many things, mainly that she may have joined a rogue pack of pooches touring the countryside in search of towels to sleep under. It was clear she wasn't coming back.
As a dog who didn't need human affection and who avoided us far more frequently than she sought us out, you would think that her loss would be barely mourned, if even noticed. Snickers couldn't fetch or roll over or play dead (a skill I think she could master pretty quickly if she'd just applied herself). She didn't crawl up in our laps or want her belly scratched. But, she was one of us. Not having her presence in the house – not having to let her out, pour her food, put her to bed – was odd. There were tears shed. There were questions asked. There were prayers offered. All for the Anti-Dog who seemed to hardly know we existed. She was greatly missed.
Which brings me to the "one point" I promised in the introduction, the lesson I took through witnessing this scene in my family's life. We so often think there is a relational premium on what we can offer; what we can do. We attach value in relationships to how we perform for the other person. And this tendency also extends to our relationship with the Father who adopted us. But I wonder if the joy of true relationship isn't found in what we can offer or what we can do. In fact, I am pretty sure God has told us that there isn't anything we can offer that he doesn't already own or anything we can do that will make him love us more, or create more value for him. He lacks nothing. So maybe the value of relationship isn't so much found in doing as it is in being. BEING in the relationship. Being present. Being open. Being content. Yes, even being quiet (with a towel over our heads). This quirky little pet didn't do anything. But she was ours.
We chose her. We adopted her. We paid for her. We provided for her.
Because we wanted to. And that brought us joy.
God loves you. I have the evidence of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross for sin to prove it. He loves you. He doesn't need you – as if you were purchased for the return on investment you could provide. He bought you to be with him. The question is not if he loves you, but if you love him. If he has given you faith to believe, be thankful today. And... stay home. Don't stray!
Okay, the rest of the story is that TWO-AND-A-HALF WEEKS LATER, after much calling, driving, looking, and "social media-ing," we had given up on ever seeing Snickers the Anti-Dog again. But while my family was out of town one day, I got a phone call from Animal Control. They had picked up a brindle dog with a "Snickers" tag around the neck! In her wanderings she had apparently gotten stuck between a fence and a retaining wall. She was found by the electric company who "just happened" to be doing work in the area.
Twenty dollars later we were reunited. She was in surprisingly good condition and seemingly happy to be home. To announce her return, I snapped a picture of her (the one you see attached to this article) sitting in our van and sent it to my wife. She was with my son at the time, the one who seemed most affected by the loss of his pet. As she showed him the picture, he tried to brush away the tears that were welling up in his big brown eyes. Then, with complete sincerity and incredulity, my innocent little 9-year-old looked up at his mom with a furrowed brow and asked, "Wait, you mean she was hiding in our van the WHOLE time?!"
I guess goofy runs in the family.
Jay Sampson is the Teaching Elder at Heritage Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma where he pastors literally tens of people every week. A father of three and aspiring fantasy baseball champion, Jay has been teaching at Heritage since 2007. Weekly podcasts can be found at www.heritageshawnee.org.
Publication date: September 24, 2014