In November of 2010 my life changed forever. Previous to that day in the late November, days before Thanksgiving, I had merely tolerated dogs. They were creatures that I was, at times, forced to share temporary living space with, and no more. While I and my sisters were growing up we always had cats, for a short time there were hampsters and rabbits. My grandparents always had dogs and I remember getting attached to them, but no more than a child or youth could when visiting several times a year. Then, Chewy-the-Dog moved into the parsonage in Boothbay Harbor, Maine and suddenly life changed. Suddenly, there was another creature that woke me up in the morning, with a cold nose to my nose. There was another reason to go for a walk through town. There was something else to clean up after.
It’s true that Chewy-the-Dog reminded this bachelor that there is joy in sharing a living space with another living being. I think the best thing that Chewy-the-Dog has taught me, though, is how much God loves each and everyone of us.
Things my dog has taught me about God’s love:
No matter how much I screw up, Chewy is always glad to see me- I, like every other human being, am imperfect. I once told someone that I shoot to get things right about 10% of the time. There are days that I feel like I can’t do anything at all right. My family is disappointed, I managed to overlook a detail that was important to a parishioner, I got a parking ticket. It doesn’t matter what happens, when I walk through the door, Chewy’s tail starts wagging and he comes galloping through the kitchen ready to greet me, exuberantly. On the really tough days, he’s there to lay his head in my lap or sit really close to me on the couch as if to say, “don’t worry...it’ll be okay.” His simple actions serve to remind me that no matter where I go or how tough things seem to get, God is there, holding my hand, reminding me that it’s all okay.
Sometimes all you can do is throw a tennis ball- I, like many of my colleagues, work long hours and it is easy to get sucked into working 7 days a week. When Chewy thinks I’ve been working to much he’ll come running with a tennis ball or one of his chew-toys and will get me up to go to the backyard and throw his ball or play with his chew toy. Although he hasn’t learned the art of ‘fetch,’ his version of the game is more ‘fetch then chase,’ which involves me running around the backyard after him, until I’ve wrestled his ball from him, he understands the importance of taking time to stop and rest. It is easy to get sucked into believing that if you put one more hour of work into the day or work for weeks at a time, things in the world will improve. It is true that we are compelled to do God’s work. We are called to emulate the actions of Christ, but even Christ rested. God, on the 7th day of creation rested. We clergy are quick to point out that other professionals sometimes have a ‘savior complex’ but we are slow to realize that we can fall into that trap, too. Working harder and harder, and for what? Kingdom work requires long hours, and hard work but it is not our job to save the world, that’s God’s. It is our job to emulate Christ, to share God’s love and compassion in a world that is aching to know God and invite people into deeper relationships with the God that will save the world.
Even though the kibble never changes, Chewy is always thankful for a full bowl- Twice a day, I pour a cup of the same kibble into Chewy’s bowl. It never fails, when it is time to eat, Chewy is excited to eat what is put before him. When I see him excitedly turn from watching me make dinner, to his bowl and begin devouring the kibble that is just more of the same, it reminds me to be thankful even for the most mundane dish I am preparing. That I should not only be thankful for the wonderful bouillabaisse but also the hard boiled eggs and carrot sticks.
Car rides are the best- It’s not necessarily that we’re going to exciting places. In fact, Chewy-the-Dog and I have the same reaction about going to the doctor, except his reaction is more or less an outward expression of what I feel inside. He doesn’t freak out, because he really doesn’t freak out, but it’s certainly not his favorite place to visit. The exciting part is the journey. It’s the getting into the car and hanging his head out the window. It’s the new smells as we drive along. It’s simply the being with people that love him. As Christians, one of the major tenants of our faith, is that we are going onto perfection, that we someday will love the way God loves, and in some ways we could say that, in that moment ‘we have arrived.’ I certainly look forward to that day, but Chewy reminds me that it is the journey toward perfection that makes up the experience of the destination. The lessons learned on the road that make the difference in our experience. If we don’t live through every part of the journey, how can we appreciate the sweetness of perfection?
Everyday is a new adventure- I am not a morning person. It takes me a little while to get out of bed in the morning. This morning the alarm started going off one hour before I had to get out of bed. Once I am up, I am good to go, but it’s that time between the alarm going off for the first time and placing my feet on the floor that is probably the worst part of my day. Chewy, though, seems to look forward to what the day holds, even though his day usually starts the same way every day. He goes to the backyard, does his business, and then lays in ‘his spot.’ As we move about our day, there are opportunities to share God’s abundance with others. There are opportunities to share God’s peace with others. There are opportunities to be who God is calling you to be in each moment of each day, and that’s something exciting!
Chewy, in some ways, has taught me how love and be loved in return. No matter what happens day to day. No matter if every ball I have in the air crashes to the ground or if I get it all right, Chewy-the-dog is there to see me as God sees me--a beloved child who is just trying to get a small piece of life right.