What is it about pets that we allow them to worm their way into our hearts so deeply? I’ve only really been a dog person so I will speak from what I know and what I know is that these beautiful, loving creatures become family. We chose our boy, Oliver, when he was just a pup. A German Shorthair Pointer, usually full of energy, but on the day we went to play with the litter he just lay in my arms and slept while the others romped and played and nipped at my feet. “This is the one I want, the snuggly one.” Well, let me tell ya, he was good at fooling you! Once home, he was a dynamite of energy! Puppy classes commenced and I was pleased with how fast and easy he was to train; he wanted so badly to please. When you said his name, his eyes would lock onto yours and his ears would perk up, giving you his undivided attention; waiting for you to give him a command. At 65 pounds, he had never lost his desire to snuggle. Once I sat down, he would try to get as much of his body on my lap as he could, but his head always had to be near my chest. He knew how to love well!
I learned a lot about love by watching Oliver. He had an uncanny ability to know when I was sad; hurting and he would quietly be at my side wherever I went. He was letting me know he was there for me. If I sat for a moment his head would be in my lap, his loving brown eyes always watching me. When I was happy and excited about something, he would jump up and down and bark; celebrating my excitement too. He was my running partner for years until I slowed and he got faster, then we settled for walking and playing ball. In the summers when I got in our pool, he would be right behind me, swimming out with me to make sure I was okay. He was always faithful! Very few times did he ever do something wrong, but when he did and my tone of voice changed his emotions were written all over his face. He was sorry. He would give me a minute or two and then gently approach me with a penitent heart. I could NEVER stay mad! When he turned 9, we heard the “C” word for the first time. We were devastated! We traveled far and wide, seeing this specialist and that one and when all was said and done, we were told to just bring him home and love on him until the time came. For weeks I cared for him, changing his bandages on his leg two to three times a day and driving him weekly to see a specialist who was monitoring the progression. Through it all, he continued to faithfully be by my side and eagerly anticipated our times of snuggling. You must know that I had prayed so hard for healing and I had enlisted the help of other prayer warriors to do the same, but it became clear that God’s answer was no; not on this side of heaven. When I knew the cancer was getting out of control and he began to show signs of being uncomfortable, I knew the time was at hand. My prayers shifted, asking God to just take him. I didn’t want to be the one to have to make the decision as to when. I couldn’t do it! I didn’t want Oliver to go, yet I knew I didn’t want him to suffer either just because of my selfishness. With tears flooding my eyes, I made the call to our Vet to set a time for us to say goodbye. As I hung up the phone my heart began to slowly tear. The hurt and anguish I felt were acute.
The morning of our appointed day, I sat crying out to God asking “why?” “Why have you said “no” to both of my requests?” What followed was an amazing, deep, personal experience with God. Out of left field came the story of Lazarus. I kept hearing the words “Jesus wept.” I opened my bible and turned to the story and began to read (John 11:1-44). The words “Jesus loved Lazarus and He loved Mary and Martha” caught my attention. Then the two words, as Jesus stood at the tomb of his friend, the one he loved, “Jesus wept.” Scripture tells us that as Jesus experienced being with the ones he loved and seeing their heartache and anguish over the death of one close to them, He was deeply moved in his spirit. As I read through this account, I began to hear Jesus say to me, “It was never supposed to be this way! You were never supposed to experience the pain and suffering of death. It grieves me deeply to see what sin has caused for the ones I love.”
Then in my heart, I heard, “Lisa, I said “no” because I want you to see my heart and how I feel when I have to remove the breath of someone I love, especially when that someone has never chosen to love me. I love all of my creations, even Oliver. As much as you have loved him, I have loved him more since I created him.” I had never stopped to think how much God’s heart must hurt as he watches those that he loves deeply suffer through death, and especially when he knows their time of death is at hand when he will have to remove the life-breath from their body. In that moment I felt such a connection to God. In that moment, he let me experience him on a much deeper level than I had before. It did not change the pain and hurt of my heart as I laid next to our sweet Oliver on the blanket, gently rubbing his head as he breathed his last breath, but I understood. I understood what sin had changed all those years ago. I understood that death is hurtful even to God; it is an ugly thing. And, I understood the joy that now lies ahead because of God’s great love for us; a love that brought Jesus. A love that will one day usher in a world that will be as he originally intended. Will I get to see Oliver in heaven one day? I am not for certain, but I know God promises us complete joy in heaven and he must know, that for me, complete joy will need to include my dog!