Unconditional love: Is that why God created pets? I think so. They can’t do anything for us except show us unconditional love. They will survive on a minimal amount of attention, but they will thrive on love lavished on them. We are like God to them. We determine when they will eat, when they will go out and come in, where they will sleep, and if they get a walk or playtime with a ball. They watch our every move. I like to call them “eternal optimists.”
Chelsea was special because no one wanted her when Mark found her being offered for adoption on a store parking lot. She had been abused and would have surely been put down if he hadn’t taken her. But just like in ministry, my husband is drawn to those who have no hope and need to know the unconditional love and healing of Jesus.
Mark and my stepdaughter Michelle loved this funny little dog that could jump a six-foot fence and run faster than a speeding bullet to catch a ball or a Frisbee. Slowly trust was built, and Chelsea had found her safe place in her new home. When I came on the scene, she had to have time to accept me and my dog Maggie, but she did, and we became part of “the pack.”
Chelsea was gentle and affectionate with us but very wary of strangers. She didn’t want to be away from her people and would take the screens off the windows to try to get in if left too long outside. As a result, we still have no screens on any of our windows. She would never leave our yard even if she jumped the fence, but would come scratch on the front door or just wait for us to come home if we were gone. She liked to sneak up on our white couch in the front room, leaving her dark hair all over the sticky fabric. That drove me nuts. But she was part of the family, and we loved her just the way she was.
A few weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon, we took Chelsea and Chloe, our little Bichon, to my daughter and son-in-law’s house and put them in the backyard with their dog while we all left to attend our grandson Colton’s birthday party. Our house is for sale and was going to be shown that afternoon, so we couldn’t leave the dogs at home. When we went back to pick them up after the party, Chelsea was gone. She hadn’t wanted us to leave her there, but we didn’t think she would leave their yard. No doubt she was looking for Mark.
The search began. Driving, driving, and more driving. Handing out fliers, talking to everyone we saw outside. Posting on websites for lost pets, posting fliers around town. Even after Mark had hip surgery that Monday, he was back out there with his crutches looking the very next day. Family members and some friends tirelessly searched. Michelle’s boyfriend Spencer came in from Memphis and searched day and night for three days, followed by Michelle when she got a day off from work. Our daughter-in-law Jenn drove around many days with babies in tow in carseats. Hopeful leads came in, but all were a dead-end.
How long do you continue to search? In the end, we know that she is God’s dog as are all things He created. There has to be a release, but when a dog is lost, there is no closure. I cannot imagine the anguish of parents with missing children. When my little Maggie died because of an auto-immune response to tic fever, I was able to hold her and say goodbye with my family gathered around. Mark would have liked to have that kind of closure as well.
Now I’m asking the Lord what it is He wants to teach us through this experience. And I think I know. He too loves us unconditionally. We are completely dependent on Him to save us, or we will perish for all eternity. There is nothing we can do to earn His love and nothing we can do to lose it. All we have to do is say yes to Him and receive. He hurts when we hurt. And He will come looking for us if we wander away.
Most of all, I’m brought to the realization once again that love and pain go hand in hand. If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t grieve over the loss of who we love. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He bore the physical pain of crucifixion and emotional pain of separation from the Father. He loved us when we were unlovable, bruised by the enemy and hurt by the world. If I can trust that Jesus would do that for me, then I can surely trust Him with the life of our little pets that bring us so much joy. And I can praise him for enlarging our hearts, for to not know sorrow is to not know love, and to not know love is to not truly live.
Chelsea, you were a good dog. Maybe you will show up one day, or maybe you are already jumping and running in heaven. Jesus, thank you for bringing more of the knowledge of how you love us through our time with this little dog. Wherever she may be, we will trust that she is safely in your care now. Amen.