"Wrestling with an Angel" The Book
Friday, October 28, 2011
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Saturday, September 17, 2011
I began reading through “The Bible in a Year” only two years ago. I use the ESV reading plan.
Last year (at the age of 44) I read through the entire bible in 12 months, for the first time in my life. Thus beginning a new way of daily bible reading and devotions that through the grace of God will continue for the rest of my life.
I write this post to emphasize the importance of daily, prayerful, structured, meditation over God’s word. By following a "read through the bible" plan, you will be absolutely amazed how God will reveal Himself each morning as you systematically drink in the scriptures.
You will also be amazed at your daily dependance on this routine. After a few months it will become a habit. The habit will then transform into a priority, and the priority will develop into a passion for God’s word. You will soon awaken to the anticipation of what God will reveal or say to you this new day.
This was the case for me only a few days ago as I came across a very helpful passage from Romans 4. I say “helpful” because only the night before I lay in my bed tossing and turning in unbelief with a thousand impossible scenarios running through my head.
- Our son, Jake, is still living five hours away from home. We feel so distant from his life. He must be moved to another facility in two years. Most places have at least a two year waiting list. There are no acceptable facilities available in our area. The outlook for a closer proximity without lowering his care standards seem dim to impossible.
- Our house has been for sale for a year now. The housing market has bottomed out in our area. We are currently carrying three mortgages (two on our current house and one rental home) The lurking shadow of foreclosure creeps towards our door each month, and each month it is chased away by God’s amazing grace. Still, we have almost given up on selling our house. And even on a shoestring budget the outlook for getting ahead seems impossible.
- I work evening shift, 4PM to midnight. Many weeks I have to work 7 days. All of my kids are in school. That means when they get home, I leave for work. When I get home, they are in bed. I have two teenage boys who really need their dad right now (not to mention a little girl who needs my fatherly attention). I am gone most of the week and I am beginning to see some waywardness in their lives. A sense of parenting and leadership failure is lurking and I cannot find a way to make the situation any better. My work schedule appears impossible.
And so I lay awake, wondering what I will do, what God will do with these “impossible” scenarios. The next morning, during my daily, systematic, structured, meditation of God’s word, I came across Romans 4:17-21.
Speaking to God’s declaration of Abraham’s faith, Paul writes:
...in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope.
...No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
As I finished reading the passage, I found a treasure of God's gold. I read it forwards and backwards; over and over again as I came to this hope-filled conclusion:
Abraham was fully convinced of God’s promises. He had hope in “impossible” circumstances because he knew God’s glory burned brightest in the realm of the inconceivable. Perhaps he had times of distrust, but “no distrust made him waiver concerning the promises of God.”
If death seemed like the end of hope, then he could hope in the God who could give life to the dead. If the solution to the problem did not exist, then he could have faith in the God who could call into existence the things that did not exist.
Abraham’s faith rested in the promises of God who created the possible from the impossible.
I closed my bible that morning with a prayer of praise, amazement, and thanksgiving, writing this entry in my journal:
I can have hope in the midst of hopelessness because I have a promise in the midst of the impossible. And if death itself should kill my hope, then I can have faith in a God who raises the dead. And if by some human reasoning, the solution to my circumstances is “impossible”, I can have faith in the God who can call into existence things that do not even exist. (Romans 4:17-2)
For His glory and my good.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Happy 16th birthday son.
It was nearly 14 years ago when your mom and I pulled into the driveway of that old farmhouse in
That smile worried us at first because the social worker who was over the adoption process warned us of your behavior. She told us you were out of control, and maybe even dangerous. I had to wonder how “dangerous” a two year old could be.
We brought you home and that smile of yours won the hearts of everyone in our family. As far as your “behavior problems”, they were solved with the introduction of a little firm discipline and a lot of unwavering love. You still had a rotten streak a mile wide, but most times you were just a little boy, being a mischievous little boy.
When you were three or four years old, I quickly recognized a gift you had for showing love and compassion to those who seemed to need it most. I used to take you along with me to the nursing home to visit the sick and the elderly. They loved to see you coming into their room with that cherub face and that beaming smile.
One time in particular I lost sight of you while speaking to one of the nurses. As I searched the floor for you, I saw you walking down the hallway holding the hand of a confused elderly woman. You looked up at me and said, “Dad, she’s lost, I’m going to help her find where she lives.” We took her to her room and you climbed up on her lap. She thought you were her son from years past. She stroked your hair, called you by her son’s name, and rocked you for the longest time. You just sat there content to let her visit her “long lost son.” We prayed for her and she was so happy. I knew then that God had given you a very special gift of compassion.
Over the years I have seen that gift at work in the life of your brother Jake. I know you sometimes had trouble dealing with all of Jake’s disabilities. He vented his frustrations on you many times, probably because you were the smallest. But you never retreated too far and you always responded in love, patience and compassion. I think that is why when we go to visit him now he clings to you in a very special way. People always remember compassion.
You have also been an outstanding big brother to your little sister, Hope. I always take into consideration that if it weren’t for your persistence in prayer, we might not even have a daughter and sister. You used to pray every night (for years) that God would send you a baby sister. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a little boy praying for a little sister, but you did. Your mom and I just laughed, not even realizing that another baby was on the horizon of our lives. And against all odds, God answered your prayer and sent us Hope. Don’t ever forget that God answers prayer.
You have been a good friend to your brother Noah. It’s quite an honor and blessing to have a brother that is also your best friend. Both of you have been through a lot together, and you have overcome much with the Lord’s help. Do not ever forsake that relationship. Very few men find a friendship like that. Never take it for granted.
You have been a good son. I know I have made a lot of mistakes over the past few years as your father. You have seen me at my best and, sadly, at my worst. I haven’t been as patient with you or as encouraging as I should have been. I have often been slow to listen and quick to criticize. I have spent a lot of time majoring on the minors and picking at the flaws while missing the very qualities in your life that make you uniquely you. I am sorry for this. Yet through it all, you have never been disrespectful to me. You have never judged. You have always loved me with an undeserving love. Thank you for these things.
Now that you are 16, a whole new world is in front of you. You will be driving soon, Lord willing, and you will be a junior in high school this year. A lot of good times are ahead of you. I hope you make the best of them. This also means that you are approaching adulthood. It won’t be long until high school is over and the real world will be knocking at your door. I want you to be prepared to open that door.
So, as my birthday gift to you, here is a few things I wish someone would have told me when I was 16. Some I have borrowed from other great fathers; most I have learned from experience. The bad news is that I decided against the 2011 red Mustang turbo convertible. The good news is, in the years to come, this may become your favorite (and most useful) birthday gift ever:
1. The most important thing you can do is love God and love people. Everything in life flows from this one commandment. (Matthew 22:37-40)
2. Choose your friends wisely, they will influence you more than you realize. (1 Corinthians 15:33) Be a unique leader, not an average follower. Don’t let your desire to impress people make you do stupid things. Be yourself and people will be drawn to you, and respect you.
3. Who you are when no one is looking is a true test of your character. (But Someone is always looking, Proverbs 15:3)
4. Take your time with girls. Set the standard high. Find a godly woman. Look for a woman who most resembles your mother’s heart. She is the best example I have ever seen in a woman. If you find her--or she finds you, she will be more valuable than all the treasure you could ever dream of. (And she will be worth the wait, Proverbs 31:10-31)
5. Live your life in such a way that when people say bad things about you (and they will) no one will ever believe them.
6. Every decision that you make has a reward or a consequence. Your reputation is built over a period of many years, but can be destroyed in one minute with one bad decision.
7. Don’t just settle for a “job”. Find a career where your gifts (of care and compassion) can be used to the fullest. Move towards a vocation where you can live your life helping people. Your reward will be more than a salary.
8. Don’t waste the life God has given to you. You will have less regrets in the end if you do what God has called you to do.
9. Always be slow to anger, quick to forgive and quick to show grace. (James 1:19-20) Remember that Jesus’ death on the cross for your sins was a complete act of undeserved grace. Think about that when you are wronged or when you are treated badly by people. (Hebrews 12:2)
10. Be humble. (Proverbs 11:2) The truest form of strength lies in humility. Here is a good definition of what it means to be humble, “Humility is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing done to us, to feel nothing against us. It is to be at rest when nobody praises us and when we are blamed and despised. It is to have a blessed place in the Lord where we can go in and shut the door and kneel to our Father in secret, and be at peace when all around is trouble.” (Andrew Murray)
There are many more things I wished I knew when I was your age, but the truth of the matter is, you will discover them as you grow and live. Some will be harder to learn than others, but if you remember and recall these ten things, they will help you with the others.
I love you son. Happy Birthday.
Monday, June 27, 2011
One of the greatest personal dividends of sharing Jake's story is receiving news that someone has been ministered to through God's amazing grace. Many of you have been a blessing to me over this past year with kind words and helpful reviews.
Recently I received a very special email from a man named Brandon Ryan.
Brandon is also a writer and has a wonderful blog. I challenge you to read his writing and look into his world. His words are filled with encouragement, openness and honesty--and so was his email. But it was not the content of the email that moved me as much as the "qualifications" of the sender.
You see, when I wrote the book "Wrestling With An Angel" I thought of many different people it might reach.
I hoped it would reach parents that were struggling with the difficulties of raising disabled children. I prayed it would reach people who were having trouble seeing and experiencing God's grace in the battles of everyday life. I hoped it would reach the lost with the light of the gospel.
But honestly, and perhaps ironically, I never even thought of Jake's story ministering to someone with severe disabilities. I am more than a little shamed by my shallowness.
The true miracle of any ministry lies in the mystery of our Father's great wisdom and amazing grace. God has a way of going beyond the meager capabilities of our words and intentions, sprinkling them with His power, and using them to reach exactly those He has in mind:
My name is Brandon Ryan,
I'd like to share with you some ways that your book “Wrestling With an Angel” has effected my life. You see, I was born with Cerebral Palsy. Doctors told my parents that I'd never be able to do everyday functions such as feeding myself or dressing myself, let alone giving me much of a chance to live.
Much like life with your son, my parents had to wake in the early mornings of the day to get me dressed for school. I remember how much time that would take.
I really saw myself in two scenes in your book, one was where you were giving your son a bath, and he rested in the water with a smile on his face. That is something that I'd look forward to, that and playing with toys in the water.
Secondly, I know all about people staring, and giving you a once over. To this day, being twenty-six years old, people still do that to me. And yes, I can say that it sometimes has an effect on me still.
I fell in love with the way you loved your son, along with your wife and family. My father spent twenty-one years in the AirForce, as well as an ex amount of years as a police officer, my mother spent twenty some years doing home daycare. Where now she and my father take care of a mentally handicapped man, who really is about two years old at the end of the day.
As I read through your story, it made me sense that the Lord was and is working on widening my heart.
All I can truly say is thank you Greg, for creating this work.
Thank YOU Brandon!
Sunday, June 19, 2011
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
My grandfather drove a semi truck for nearly 30 years. When he retired they gave him a cheap wristwatch with a picture of an 18 wheeler on it, and a safety certificate for never having an accident on the road. He cherished them both.
Then, when he reached the age when most men are counting their 401k’s and planning paradise retreats to Disney Land lifestyles, he made the decision to bring three more children into his house and raise them as his own. Instead of retiring, he started all over again.
I was two years old when I came to live with my grandparents. They always seemed old to me. The generation gap was very difficult at times, especially when I reached the rebellious teenage years. But my grandfather was a rock of steadfast faithfulness and every decision he made fell from the standard of God’s word.
He kept his entire theological library by his living room chair--a KJV bible and a Strong's Concordance--but he never used God’s word to beat or berate, only to comfort, warn and encourage.
I remember one day (in my wise teenage years) arguing from scripture that long hair was both Christ-like and biblical. I justified that Samson had long hair and it made him strong. My grandfather gently picked up his bible, opened it to 1 Corinthians 11:14 and read, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” He then read me the end of the story of Samson and closed his bible without saying another word. I quietly walked away from our “conversation” with a deep respect for the sufficiency of scripture for all things.
My grandfather looked like Abraham Lincoln without a beard. He was the most masculinely tender man I have ever known and the closest to Christ-likeness of any man I have ever watched. And I watched him all the time.
I watched him every Sunday morning from the back seat of his old Chevrolet Impala as he drove us to church. He always sang along with the gospel quartets on the radio as he drove across town. And he always cried as he sang. Every Sunday morning that I can remember, he cried on the way to church. I cried on the way to church because I would have rather been going someplace else. He cried with a longing to be someplace else too, someplace heavenly with his Savior. He lived his life in eager expectation of heaven and made very few investments on this earth that did not have eternity as a dividend.
I watched him stop on the way to church every Sunday to pick up an older lady and sometimes her disabled adult son. She rode to church with us for years. Sometimes the car was uncomfortably packed with passengers. I have no doubt that if my grandfather would have owned a bus it would have been full every Sunday morning.
I watched him pastor and preach at an old time fundamental United Baptist Church where the preachers were known for shouting, screaming, foaming and fuming with a hiccup-like cadence that I could never understand. My grandfather opened his bible and spoke gently, plainly, clearly, humbly and profoundly. Some of the first words from the gospel that sank deep into my heart came from his preaching.
He loved telling the stories of Lazarus being raised from the dead and Paul's Damascus Road conversion. I think these biblical accounts were most like his own resurrection story. He also told me about his life before Christ, about nearly dying from drinking tainted pure grain alcohol, rolling his car over a hill and coming home on more than one occasion bloody, beaten and drunk. He said he was “mean as a snake” before the Lord got hold of him. He was profoundly changed by the gospel.
I watched him as he visited the sick, the dying and the destitute--not just as a pastor, but as a person. I remember one day watching him open the front door of our house to greet the mail lady as she dropped off the morning mail. He asked her how she was doing and she replied, “I’m ok.” He pressed a little deeper, “How are you really doing?” She then paused and began to cry. I watched from our living room as he brought her into the house, sat her in his chair and listened to the difficulty of her life, consoling her with bible passages and hope. He listened so intently and cared so deeply.
He met the garbage men every week with a cold drink and a sincere short discussion about their day. It was difficult to go anywhere with my grandfather because he carried on deep conversations with everyone, from the pharmacist to the clerk at the grocery store to the janitor in the shopping center. But he didn’t just talk, he listened intently to everyone. He always had a cool glass of water for thirsty souls.
My grandfather was kind and humble, but he was also a sheepdog when it came to his family. I remember one night a drunk man came to our back door and tried to get into our house. The man was not trying to break in, he was only confused as to which house he was going to. My grandfather met him in the doorway with a pistol, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and ushered him to the street. He never said a vile word to the man, but he let him know that this was not the house he was looking for.
I watched him struggle with prostate and bladder cancer for nearly 20 years, enduring radiation treatments several times a year. The doctors visits were a steady part of his routine schedule for as long as I knew him. But the cancer never daunted his joy and I never once heard him complain. Going to the doctor meant he got the opportunity to talk to people. Every six months he was hospitalized to scrape tumors off the inside wall of his bladder. The nurses knew him by name and looked forward to taking care of him. He, in turn, considered his hospital visits as an opportunity to care for their souls.
I also watched him faithfully and dearly love my grandmother till the day she died. They were married for 56 years and he loved her passionately to the end. Then, six months almost to the day that she died, he went to be with her and Jesus. And I watched him die well. Even in the hospital during his last days, he was encouraging the doctors and nurses with hope from his bible.
His death impacted me as much as his life. I remember the night before he died kneeling at his bedside and asking God to give me a double portion of my grandfather’s spirit. I think that is a biblical request and the most honoring thing a son could ever ask to share with his father.
It has been nearly 17 years since my grandfather died and still no man has influenced my life like this humble, gentle, Christ-like father. He taught me how to be a man, to love my wife and raise my children. He instilled in me a deep love and respect for the bible as I watched him impact his entire world with a "hands on" gospel, one investment--one person at a time. He taught me that there are no insignificant people on this earth. “Everyone matters to God, so everyone matters.”
I often find myself thinking about what a truly exceptional Christian life looks like and then trying my futile best to match up to it. Is it reaching hundreds or thousands with the gospel? Is it pastoring a mega church? Is it compiling a library of solid theology or writing volumes of books? Perhaps it has something to do with how many followers you have on your blog or Twitter account?
Then I look at the life of my grandfather. He had an 8th grade education, owned two books, drove a truck for 30 years, was married to the same woman for 56 years, raised three children and then three grandchildren, and pastored a church of less than 70 people. He lived humbly, loved hard, laughed often, cared deeply and died well.
He also owned a watch with an 18 wheeler on it and a safety certificate for never having an accident on the road. Pretty good accomplishments for an exceptional life if you ask me.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
“That’s a big rock”, she said looking skyward—in the best way a five year old could reflect on bigness.
It was indeed a big rock, even to the eyes of a middle-aged man, who had observed and scaled his share of geological structures over a rather adventurous half-life. It appeared as if it had fallen out of the sky, rather than simply jutting out of the ground. It stuck in the side of the hill tapered downward like an upside-down pyramid
I could best describe this place as a craggy island in the plush forest, but the enormity of this stone was not as much in its size as it was in its symbolism.
“I don’t think…I can climb up there”, she said as she stooped to pick up a small twig, using it as a pointer to extend her expression towards the rock face. “I will carry you.” I replied. She looked at me with rather cautious eyes countering my offer with, “I don’t think that is a good idea”.
I smiled at her cynical logic. My young daughter has an old soul locked away inside of her tiny body--a prophetic sort of wisdom that is beyond her few short years and small stature.
“But I have something I want to show you. It will be worth the risk.” I negotiated, as I scooped her off the ground and swung her onto my back in one swift, playful motion. She squealed and laughed and then clamped her arms tightly around my neck.
We started up the small goat-path through the crevice in the rock. It was only about 30 feet high, but it might as well have been Mount Everest to my tiny passenger. The vertical face of the obstacle before us was cliff-like in structure and the top was flat like a tabletop. The pathway zigzagged to the side of the stone through a few smaller structures and then turned completely to the rock. It was quite a challenge just to climb the path, and then just before reaching the top, some amateur rock face climbing skill was needed.
“Are…you…sure…this is safe?” she asked as I clung to a sapling with one hand and the side of the rock with the other. “Who said anything about being safe?” I joked as my voice strained under the exertion. “We are almost there.”
As I crested the top of the rock, I crawled to the center of the tabletop and sat down on my backside. She loosened her grip from my neck and slid off my back sitting on the rock beside me. “Wow!” she said in an excited whisper as she looked out from her new vantage point. “You can see forever from here!”
“Almost” I replied.
“And why did you bring me up here?” she asked, sounding more like a skeptical teenager than an adventurous five-year-old.
“I brought you up here to teach you something about God.” I began.
“God made this rock, right?” she interjected.
“Yes, He did. He made this rock a long time ago, before He made you or me. This rock was probably here before Jesus died on the cross.”
“Probably before David fought Goliath too.” She added.
For some reason, most of our theological discussions always include at least one scene from the story of David and Goliath. Such as the day I was talking to her about the resurrection of Jesus and after much silent contemplation she added, “It’s a good thing Goliath wasn’t resurrected, we’d all be in trouble.”
“I brought you up here to tell you that God answers our prayers.”
“I already know that.” She retorted.
“But I want you to know it more than you already do.” I gently persuaded. “I used to climb this rock every week with a good friend of mine and we would sit here and pray. Sometimes, when I hunted in these woods, I would come to this rock and just sit and pray.”
“What did you pray about?” She asked sincerely.
“I prayed that God would send me a daughter. I prayed this before you were born, before I ever knew that you existed. I prayed every week, sometimes every day. When I think about this rock, I think about coming to God and asking Him for something very precious.”
“And God answered your prayer!” she interjected.
“And God answered my prayer, beyond what I could have ever imagined.” I added with a smile.
We sat there on the giant cliff looking out over the farm for several minutes. It was all that I could do to keep from shouting praises out loud as I watched her and thought of those great times on this rock with my Father in prayer.
Sometimes my faith wavered and solid promises were overpowered by the human nature of doubt and cynicism, as the weeks turned into months and the months turned into years. But our God is a timeless God and His delays are always made in wisdom and love. And today, sitting beside me smelling the spring flowers she has pulled from a crevice in the the stone table top of this sacred place, is the living, breathing, rock-solid proof, that God indeed answers prayer.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Thursday, February 10, 2011
She was eleven years old, going on twelve. That’s nearly eighty in dog years. I remember the day we got her. Jake and Noah were just starting kindergarten, Aaron was in preschool and Hope was a distant dream on the horizon of our midlife. It was a gray day in late January just after Christmas break. We piled into the minivan with three excited little boys and a newspaper classified add with “Jack Russell Terrier” circled in red ink.
Kim says she’ll never forget that drive, so far into the back woods of Kentucky that we thought we would never make it out alive. The guy on the other end of the phone line said it would be easier to meet him someplace and follow him in, rather than trying to find the farm on our own. So we met him on an old grocery store parking lot and followed him to the address listed in the ad.
I’d heard the term “puppy mill” before, but a mental image had never been formed in my head to match that descriptive phrase…until now. The entire farm was a seemingly endless sea of caged kennels all full of Jack Russell Terriers in different developmental stages, from new born puppies all the way to aged adult dogs. The boys were thrilled to see this barking field of dreams. I, on the other hand, was extremely disappointed.
“This doesn’t look good.” I said softly to my wife.
We parked the van and got the boys out to see the field of dogs. The dog hoarder who guided us in from the grocery store led us over to a small kennel cage in the front. “You can pick any one of these here.” He said, as if he really didn’t care if we picked any at all.
I walked up to the kennel and examined the motley crew of canines. They we bouncing and jumping and barking like little children at an orphanage as if to say, “Pick me! Pick me!” I kept my eye out for the leader of the bunch. I had already given the guidelines to the family. “We want a strong, vibrant, well tempered male dog.”
My wife had a different eye.
I call this the Esau principle. If I were God, I would have picked Esau to father my nation. And my wife would pick Jacob, every time. This would truly be an Esau moment, as much as can be illustrated with caged dogs. My wife walked to the very back of the kennel and pointed to the smallest dog of the bunch. The pitiful creature was curled up and quivering in the corner of the cage, not even aware of our presence, oblivious to the pouncing and barking of the strong and healthy alpha males.
“What about this one?” My wife asked the dog farmer.
“She’s the runt.” the man of many words expounded, telling me two things that I wasn’t at all interested in. “We want a strong, vibrant, well tempered male.” I replied in a scripted tone. “Well, then you don’t want this one.” He said, as tobacco spit streamed from his mouth to the ground at the foot of the cage.
“I’m not sure I want any of them.” I thought silently to myself.
Then my wife gave me that look. Most men know what I’m talking about. It’s a wide eyed look with a sweet smile that silently says, “This is what I really want. I won’t badger you about it, but if you really know my heart you will do this for me, and it will speak volumes of love.”
“How much for that one?” I asked the puppy man in a firm, yet compromising voice—pointing to the shivering runt in the corner of the cage. “The males are $250.00, you can have her for $175.00.” finalizing his offer with a fresh puddle of tobacco spatter on the ground—a sort of back woods pledge, I suppose. I passed one more glance over the strong, vibrant male “Esau” dogs and reluctantly gazed upon the “Jacob” dog in the corner.
So we left the puppy mill farm with the exact opposite of what I came for. And we named her Zoe—the Greek word for “life” which was the exact opposite of her demeanor.
But she was a good dog and she grew up with my boys following them wherever they went, leading every adventure and bringing them safely home. She was patient with my disabled son, Jake, who would often pet her too hard and squeeze her too tightly. She was a companion to my weary wife and made her smile with a content happiness that I loved to see. When we brought Hope home from China, Zoe became very protective, sleeping at the foot of her bed to chase away all the things that little girls are afraid of when darkness comes--a service she also provided for Jake through all his disabilities. She seemed to have an instictive perception for the weak and the small.
And for these things I accepted the runt of the litter into our home, finding in retrospect that in her smallness and weakness, she fit our family dynamic perfectly.
It is difficult for me to confess, especially now—that even though I accepted her, I never really liked her. I didn’t like the messes she made or the food she stole. I wasn’t too fond of her willful disobedience or her skittish behavior that caused her to urinate every time I walked in the door. We had sort of a silent agreement: I gave her food and shelter and she was a companion to my wife and kids staying out of my way. But even though I really didn’t like her, I loved my family, and she live under the grace of that love.
Today, as I drove her to the vet's office, my mind went back to that one summer, nearly eight years ago, when that grace was put to the test. Our boys were playing in the back yard practicing their golf skills, driving old golf balls into the woods behind our house. One thing Zoe was good at--fetching balls. You couldn’t throw a ball fast enough or far enough that she couldn’t fetch it and bring it back to you. So the boys were having a good time teeing up the golf balls and driving them far into the woods, putting her skills to the ultimate test.
I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but Zoe was at the starting line ready to sprint into the woods and Noah was behind the club bearing down on the teed up ball. Zoe went for the golf ball on the tee at the same time Noah swung the club and instead of making contact with the ball, he smashed the club into her skull, driving the life from her body.
Kim and I were in the kitchen when Noah carried the lifeless dog into the house with a stark look of panic on his face. “I think something’s wrong with Zoe.”
Indeed something was wrong. Her body was stiff and her tongue was hanging from her mouth, purple in color from lack of breathing. Her eyes were fixed and I could find no life in the dog named Zoe.
I have to admit, I immediately began to look for a garbage bag to place her in for quick disposal, when my sweet wife took the dog in her arms and began sobbing uncontrollably. She took Zoe over to a living room chair and sat down, rocking the lifeless canine body and bathing her in tears. And then it happened—Kim looked up at me with those eyes and said, “Do something!”
With no less urgency than a paramedic at a trauma scene, I got down on my knees, physically opened Zoe’s mouth, placed my mouth on hers and began CPR. (Yes, I gave CPR to a dog.) I continued the resuscitation for several minutes, not with the expectation that she would live, but with the hope that my wife and kids would know that I loved them.
Much to my surprise I not only received their admiration, I received the dog back from the dead. She walked a little crooked for a few days and seemed a little confused, but for the most part she lived up to her name. Needless to say, Zoe and I walked a little closer from that day on. There was a sort of unspoken bond that was formed on that day.
These are the memories that filled my mind as she took her last breath today, in the vets office, at the ripe old age of 80 (in dog years). She was a good dog.
I wrapped her body in the blanket she used to sleep on, placing her in the front seat of my pick up truck and drove to a friend’s farm near our home. I buried her under a beech tree by the stream, near a small water fall, covering her grave with creek stone and a large wooded cross made from a fallen tree branch. I laid her pink dog collar on top of the crossed branches that marked the grave.
Kim already knew what had happened, the boys are now stoic teenagers who don’t show many emotions, but breaking the news to five year old Hope was especially difficult. Zoe was the only pet she ever had, the only dog she had ever known—and now the first and only occurrence with the finality of death that she had ever experienced.
I held her tightly as she sat on my lap crying hard and long, through tear fill eyes saying over and over again, “Oh, daddy I will miss her so much.” I rocked her in my office chair stroking her hair and absorbing her tears, anticipating the questions that might come from a five year old about death and dying.
After what seemed like hours of mourning, she looked up at me with a glimmer of hope-filled concern, “Daddy?” she sobbed. “Yes sweetheart?” I replied, ready for the onslaught of questions about doggie heaven and the souls of animals. I was stunned by what came next.
“Daddy, do you think that Zoe believed in Jesus?”
A smile came to my face as I wiped the tears off her cheeks, realizing that my young daughter, during one of the saddest moments of her five year old life, was placing her trust in the only person that could comfort her in her greatest sorrow. She saw Jesus as the Savior--the only hope in the dark mystery of death. I didn’t want to crush that hope, but I did want to use it for a platform of grace.
“Zoe didn’t have to believe in Jesus.” I said. “Jesus was her creator, not her Savior.”
“What does that mean daddy? Is Zoe-Zoe in heaven?” She innocently replied.
“I don’t know, the bible doesn’t tell us anything about dogs being in heaven. But do you know what the bible does say?” I said encouragingly, “The bible says that God is a good God and He loves us very much. He loved us so much that he sent His only Son Jesus to die for our sins so that we can be with Him forever.”
“I want Zoe-Zoe to be with Jesus forever.” Hope sobbed.
I held her for a while longer and then replied, “Don’t you think that a God who would love you enough to give his own Son, will love you enough to take care of your dog?”
We talked about the sparrows and the lilies and God’s love for His creation. I told her of a new heaven and a new earth that we would someday walk in. “It will be more beautiful than you could ever imagine. And Jesus will be there.” I comforted her.
“Will Zoe-Zoe be there?” She insistently asked.
“I think that animals will fill the new earth; that is part of God plan we call redemption.” I replied, hoping I was getting through—hoping even more that I was getting it right.
“And who knows, perhaps the same God who loves you and created Zoe, will create her again--or a dog just like her on the new earth—just to make you smile” And with that, she did.
I thought about how death destroys our innocence and opens our eyes to the cost of sin. I wondered how much of this she understood. I wondered how much I understood.
We rocked a bit longer and the crying subsided. “I will miss her.” Hope resigned.
“Yes, I will miss her too. She was a good dog."
Friday, January 21, 2011
To the woman who had two difficult pregnancies by two different men and watched as one of those men violently abused the children almost to the point of death. “It was the worst case of child abuse I have ever seen,” wrote the state prosecutor. A child should never be born into that kind of environment. Thank you for giving them life anyway. Those two backward and broken little boys became my sons and grew to be fine, strong, compassionate young men.
To the young woman on the other side of the planet in Guangxi, China who wrapped her newborn baby in a blanket and laid her on the busy street corner near the technical school in Beihai. I have often wondered what that moment was like for you. I know your choices were excruciating. Even the government was against this child being born to you. Thank you for choosing to let her live against all the odds you faced. She became my daughter. She is beautiful inside and out—probably much like you. We named her Hope because that is her story. Perhaps you will see her again someday on the streets of China and maybe she will share that story with you.
To the woman from St. Louis, Missouri, who abandoned her infant son and his two older sisters, leaving them in the care of their paternal grandparents. I have often tried to understand your motives. I know your life was hard and you had little money and almost no support from the father of these children. I know you struggled with the decision to give birth to this last child because the days were so difficult. And even though I still cannot comprehend how a mother could abandon her babies, I know deep inside that you did the right thing. Thank you for giving me life, and thank you for giving that life to the care of my grandparents. They raised me in a household of faith. It was under their care that I discovered the Defender of orphans, the Father to the fatherless, and the God who places the lonely in families.
To these four women who, through the most difficult of circumstances and the most horrific conditions, made the most unpopular decision to give life when abortion would have been easier—
Your legacy lives on.