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My Final Lesson

A LITTLE MORE THAN ELEVEN YEARS AGO, a golden retriever puppy entered life at the Webster farm, and a mystifying attachment took root in me. We were about eight years into country living, and a handful of other dogs had entered and exited our lives. A few literally wandered in while a few others, we purchased to fulfill some function—mostly guardians for the goats and sheep we were raising at the time. But my attachment to them amounted to “easy come, easy go,” very much unlike Denver. Denver lived among us—dozing by the wood stove, rolling in the grass while we had morning coffee on the porch, opening wide to let snowballs tossed his way explode in his mouth. Most of all, though, the mystery of his effect on me opened the door to lessons God seemed to have prepared exclusively through this charming creature.

An early lesson came to me as I puzzled over why I felt so differently about Denver than I had about the other dogs who had inhabited space on the farm. Denver mattered to me. His life took on meaning the other dogs’ did not. So, Lesson #1: Denver's relationship to me set him apart from other dogs, and human beings are like that with God. It's our relationship to Him that gives our lives meaning. We matter uniquely among all creatures because we matter to Him. Apart from God, people are dogs in a pack, trying to muster significance merely in relationship to each other. Yet Lesson 1 raised another question: Why does a Being as majestic and unfathomable as God care about creatures as relatively lowly as people? Again, Denver supplied the answer—or at least another version of the question which provided the answer. I was puzzled by my feelings for him largely because of the difference between us: Why do I—a member of the human race, vastly more intelligent and capable than any dog—have such affection for a four-legged animal that can't even say my name? But I couldn’t deny my love for him. The picture was clear: my love for Denver reflected the way a vastly more intelligent and capable God-of-the-Universe can care about me. Which brings me to yesterday—June 30, 2018, a date I will now always remember—when Denver offered me one final lesson. For months as I’ve watched his declining health, I’ve prayed that I would not have to make the decision to put him to sleep: “Please, God, take care of that for me. Let Denver die peacefully in his sleep—on his blanket one quiet night or snoozing on the front porch on a balmy day.” Throughout the night of June 29, I reminded God of that prayer. Yet in the morning, it was obvious God was leaving it to me and the family to decide that Denver’s time had come. Standing at the bathroom mirror Saturday morning, my spirit wilting, I finally said to God, “I get it. You’re sharing another part of Yourself with me. . . . You have to do this with us.” And the death of his loved human creatures is as painful to a Father in heaven as the death of one particular dog on earth is to me. Death is, and always has been, the enemy.

So, Denver, a man’s best friend who was exactly that to me, now lies in the grave I had envisioned for him in our backyard yet had never quite believed he would need. But he did. I’m grateful for all the lessons he taught me about the love of my heavenly Father. And knowing the serenity my Golden Friend brought to our house, it's comforting to think he will be good at resting in peace.


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