The Four Legged Lesson

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh.
Is there anything too hard for Me?”
– Jeremiah 32:27

One Easter weekend when I was a teen, someone slipped into our backyard while my family was sleeping. They didn’t count on meeting up with Gretchen, our friendly Keeshond, who probably grabbed the nearest squeaky toy and begged the intruder for a little midnight play. Keeshonds aren’t normally an aggressive breed, and Gretchen’s wide-eyed doggy charm could melt the most hard-shelled dog hater around. Underneath layers of fur beat a heart that would follow you anywhere. And that’s exactly what she must have done.

The next morning, we discovered the gate wide open. The latch was intentionally tricky, and it had taken a long arm, some fancy finger work, and patience to open it in the dark. We searched for over an hour, thinking that Gretchen might have slipped out after the intruder left, to explore our neighborhood. She rarely left the spacious yard. We checked the edges of a nearby highway, in case she’d been hit by a car, but didn’t find her. I imagined her romping from gate to gate, greeting other dogs and having herself a ball.

“There’s a chance she may have been stolen,” my dad decided. “We’ll just keep our eyes out for her and hope she comes home soon.”

My thoughts turned to the day my mom had sneaked that furry pup home from a pet store to surprise my dad. He’d rolled his eyes, pretended to be upset, and asked if she’d lost her mind. We already had a cat, and what-in-the-world-was-she-thinking? But she handed the pup to him for closer inspection, knowing he’d fall instantly in love with her the minute she nuzzled his neck. He did, and she spoiled the whole family as the years went by. I already missed her sweet personality, perky expression, and backward-curling tail that reminded me of a tightly coiled spring. How would I stand never knowing what had happened to her?

After our Easter church service, we headed out to look for Gretchen again, calling her name every few steps. I half expected to find her waiting by her food dish out back. My dad jammed his hands in his pockets and rattled his change-something he did unconsciously when he was deep in thought. “Dogs have good radar. Maybe she’ll find her way home,” he tried to assure me.

Silently I asked God to direct her steps toward home. I didn’t promise to become a missionary in a snake-infested jungle or give up M&Ms for a year. I simply asked the God of the universe to undo what had been done. He’d hung the moon and was an expert at rotating seasons and providing our planet with light and heat; surely He could turn her four paws in the right direction. She’d find her way back-if she wasn’t chained or confined indoors.

A week passed. Two. Three. In my frustration, I eventually stopped praying, and decided that it wasn’t meant to be. I hoped Gretchen was with people who were treating her well, and if they weren’t, I secretly hoped that she’d rebel and bite them so they’d turn her loose.

On a hot July afternoon, my dad and I were talking in the front yard. I started across the street to check our mailbox, when I heard a familiar bark. The bark turned to a high-pitched yap-yap-yap, and I turned to see Gretchen, racing up the middle of the street, her tail curled high over her back. A short length of frayed rope hung from her collar and her once-beautiful gray coat was now tangled around hundreds of cockleburs.

She leapt and danced around me like a prodigal dog, then raced for the backyard gate as if she’d been gone for just an hour instead of months. We filled her dish to the brim with food and water, and hardly took our eyes off her for the rest of the day.

Her footpads were cracked and bloody, her body worn out. She’d lost weight, but hadn’t lost her playfulness. Dad shook his head in amazement. “She’s come a long way. I wish she could tell us what she’s been through.”

Decades later, I’m still floored by the memory of Gretchen’s journey home. With the passing of time, it has become a picture of God’s faithfulness at work. Long after I’d given up searching for our dog, He honored my plea for help. Long after the shock of her disappearance faded from my mind, He was busy working out the details, planning to point her toward home. Through the experience, I came to believe that God takes pure delight in the details of ordinary, everyday life.

I also learned that there’s a priceless beauty in the act of relinquishing my own timeline when I pray–to trust the Lord to work at his own pace, in his own way, for a bigger picture and a higher purpose. That lesson didn’t come naturally; it took an intruder and a dog to drive the message home.

©2008, Bonnie Bruno

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