So I’ve been resisting writing this post since the end of my sabbatical two and a half years ago. But given the last seven lengthy, rather dense posts, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to share it. Growing up we weren’t allowed to have pets. For a brief period we had a kitten named Tiger who my oldest sister had rescued from the ditch where he’d been tossed out the window of a passing car. We fed Tiger with an eye-dropper. He became the cutest little tabby you could imagine. He would be so excited to see us pull into the driveway at the end of the day that he would jump at the car tires ….. and one day my mother ran over him. That was the end of my short-lived but loving experience with a pet.
A few years ago, my youngest daughter begged and begged for a pet. I decided that fish would be a good place to begin. So we bought a tank and filled it with three goldfish named Shrek, Fiona and Donkey. Who knew goldfish could poop so much?? And of course, cleaning the tank fell to me. Donkey died pretty quickly and Fiona not long after. But Shrek hung on for what seemed like forever. Eating and pooping and not much else. When you think about, not really much of a pet to interact with.
The summer I was on sabbatical, I had enough breathing space to really consider if maybe our family was ready for a pet. The kids were a bit older and a bit more independent …. So the thought of bringing another dependent into the family didn’t seem so overwhelming. A family I’d stayed with during the summer one year in university had a little teacup terrier – and I remembered what a delightful little pup that dog was. And so, knowing I’d have a few weeks off yet before heading back to the office, we took the plunge. We got a little Yorkie puppy named Pippin. Who knew a dog could have such an impact on a busy family of five. All the dog owners are, at this point, nodding their heads in agreement. All the non-dog owners have probably already stopped reading.
Pippin probably isn’t the smartest dog going. But in a funny way, that gives me permission to not always be at the top of my game. But Pippen is an absolute model of forgiveness…. usually. He loves unconditionally. He is always excited to greet us. He wants to hang out with us. When I work from home his favourite place is to curl up right beside me – somehow feeling reassured by my presence and offering me a wee bit of companionship.
I say Pippin is the model of forgiveness and unconditional love …. usually ….. because I’ve experienced something with Pippin that God has been using to reveal some stuff to me. A dog in a home and in a family knows who their leader is – it gets established early on – and in our case it was me. This was probably because I was the one that was home with Pippen that first month. So Pippin and I have a special bond. But …. I am also the only one in our family of five who is on the road to the degree that I am. This past year alone I’ve been gone for 2 weeks, a week, 10 days etc. at a time. Now when I come home, Pippin is beside himself with excitement to see me. But then he gives me the cold shoulder for a day or two or three depending on how long I’ve been away.
As I’ve reflected on this, it seems that Pippin is this living expression of dealing with perceived rejection. When Pippin gives me the cold shoulder it seems less about him holding a grudge and more just about his reticence to trust that I’m going to stick around and be a consistent presence in his life. After a few days, he begins to trust again that I’m not going to go away.
As I’ve navigated these transitions with my little puppy, God seems to be using it to remind me to trust him, to bring my perceptions of rejection to him, to snuggle up beside him and allow him to love me. Not only that, as I rub Pippin’s belly (his most favourite thing in the whole world) and I chuckle to myself at the ways he has completely wormed his way into my heart, I glimpse the ways that I am lovable to my Father. Pippin’s attempts at giving the cold shoulder treatment are short-lived and I can be patient through them. I know that in a day or two, he’ll find his way back to snuggle up beside me – where he and I will both experience the joy and contentment of being together and being loved. Perhaps because my relationship with my little pup is non-verbal, most of our time together is simply about being present with each other. And this has been a rich and deep metaphor for me of the security and joy of Emmanuel, God present with me. Through this little furball expression of God’s creation, I’ve found a new window into God’s heart. And it makes me smile.
Do you have a pet? What have they taught you about God’s heart toward you?