When I was 16, I had a rough year. I had two major surgeries. One of them was to fix my ankle, and the other one was to remove a tumor on my ovary. Both ruined my life. I couldn’t play volleyball anymore and was told I may never have children. But when I turned 17, my outlook on life improved almost immediately.
I think maybe it was because I was so deeply depressed and uninterested in life that my mom decided to finally relent and get me a puppy. A golden retriever for my golden birthday.
December 12th, 2006 I saw a golden retriever puppy for sale online at a local pet store (please don’t lecture me- we didn’t know about puppy mills and I’ve more than learned since then). We drove straight there after my mom got home from work. We signed all the papers, paid a whole lot of money, and he was mine.
Within 2 days of having him, I could tell something was wrong. He had kennel cough, and because nothing can ever be easy, it was the year the power was knocked out for a week because of a windstorm… so my little puppy’s kennel cough developed into pneumonia, and I cried and cried because I was pretty sure he was going to die. But 500 dollars in vet bills later, he survived.
When he was 2, I noticed he was walking funny. He had terrible hip dysplasia. By the time he was 3, he had arthritis in his back from his bad hips. That was also the year his hair started falling out. All the vets could tell me was that I had a sick dog, who probably wouldn’t make it to the age of 5.
Then my sister found a new vet. He was wonderful and he helped us manage Charlie’s health problems in a way that improved the quality of his life. He was a sweet, happy guy who loved to play horsey and bring toys to show off (but he never learned to play fetch).
Charlie lived to be 10 years, 3 months, and 25 days old.
I’m not writing this blog post to depress anyone with the news that my dog died a few months ago… believe me, I’m depressed enough for all of us. Rather, I needed to remind myself of a few things: 1) If my dog could live with all his health problems, and still be the happiest guy in the room, so can I (well, not the guy part… ). 2) A prognosis isn’t the same as a guarantee, and there is always the possibility for miracles. 3) Every day should be filled with enough love to make all the hurt we feel worth it.
We all have our struggles, times when life seems cruel and unfair. But to those of us who have faith in God, we know that He has promised us so much more. We can have full confidence that He is good and He is for us. We can give Him all of our hurt and pain, and He will exchange it for joy and grace. I know he was “just a dog”, but Charlie taught me so much about God.
It’s in the difficult moments, when I feel like I’m about to be swallowed up by my pain that I stop and think about my baby boy, whose golden fur soaked up every tear I’ve cried over the past 10 years. I think about how despite his many health ailments he always found a reason to be happy, whether it was someone coming in the door that he could greet, or a scrap of a toy he could bring to give to someone. When he really didn’t feel well, he would let out an audible sigh, and that was my cue to come sit on the floor and pet him slowly, and when he’d start to wag his tail, I would know he was feeling better. I feel like God sometimes sees me this way… That even when I think I have offered a piece of myself to Him, it’s just like a dirty rag… But He is pleased with me anyway… And when I am not doing so great, He comes to meet me on my level until I feel like I can pick back up the burden I’ve been called to bear.
Thinking about it tonight, the number 17 has always felt significant in my life- significant but not necessarily “good”. Maybe it just feels significant because I was born on the 17th, so I make it significant… But if my 17th birthday was an incredibly happy occasion complete with the promise of a brand new puppy… The year 2017 has so far felt like a year devoid of hope, and full of pain and sadness and a whole lot of other ugly emotions. However I know I am not without hope. A quick google search has provided me with the information that the number 17 biblically symbolizes “complete victory” – and that Jesus overcame death around sunset on Nisan 17. As Easter is approaching this weekend, I am reminded of the pain Jesus endured on the Cross for my sake. Though He would never belittle my pain, I gain a new perspective when I look to Him. He did not die for me so I could let bitterness and sadness and pain take up occupancy in my heart. I am hoping and believing that even though 2017 started out feeling like I had been utterly crushed and defeated, especially today when I felt the blows upon my heart, God will give me total victory because of the Blood of the Lamb that was shed for me, so that I may lay hold of His good promises and partake of the uneven exchange that the Cross made available to me.
“To those who have sorrow in Zion I will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. I will give them the oil of joy instead of sorrow, and a spirit of praise instead of a spirit of no hope. Then they will be called oaks that are right with God, planted by the Lord, that He may be honored.”
– Isaiah 61:3