This past Monday we had our family dog of nine and a half years put to sleep. She was a Golden Retriever named Taffy. My wife bought her on the side of a highway near Bastrop, Texas as a puppy-on a whim. She quickly became a dominant thread in our family tapestry. She tapped our pocketbook too much, she made us mad with her adolescent antics, and she stole our hearts. She didn’t retrieve very well and she once ate most of a lasagna off of our countertop. But she helped my seven year old daughter overcome her fear of dogs and she never veered from providing us with a rousing reception upon coming home-even if we just went to the mailbox. She obeyed two commands-“Come” and “Sit.” Looking back, she was our “sacred object” that got us to Italy and home again over the past five years. In her, God provided an emotional constant to the stormy experiences of life and ministry in a foreign land. But about six weeks ago we discovered she had cancer. She went through a major operation just before Thanksgiving-there was just too much-it had spread too far. We are grateful as a family that she made it this long and through the holidays. We needed her and I think she needed us. It has been a challenging time of transition to life back in the States.
The pain of losing our dog has caught me off guard. I have teared up at random times. I have felt kind of lost and empty. Why? She was just a dog. Maybe she represents the culmination of other losses. Both of my parents passed away during our first year in Italy. They died four months apart, also of cancer. And I am only child. I had only passing moments to truly process my loss back then. Fresh loss is forcing me to reconsider other losses.
I have been reading Genesis in the Bible this month. Genesis means “beginnings.” Chapters 1 & 2 describe God’s creative activity for the beginning of life as we know it. The ultimate purpose for humankind is also established. We are to reflect God’ s image and steward the rest of creation. But in chapter 3 everything changes. We move from being image bearers to becoming image builders-because of sin. Fear, shame and hiding become regular drivers of human behavior. And death enters the world. We were not meant to taste spiritual and physical death. We were not meant to suffer loss. But now we do. It’s a devastating reversal of the created order. And we especially mourn the death and loss of those who were close to us-those we loved. Death and loss steal relationship and replaces it with seemingly unanswerable questions. That’s why I miss my dog. That’s why I miss my parents. I have lost relationships that I treasured.
Death and loss should also serve to make us wonder what is wrong with the universe. These impostors should actually cause us to consider God because we are hard wired to sense that we were meant for more. Genesis 3 also begins to reveal God’s rescue plan. He is not only the Creator-He is the Redeemer. The rest of the Bible unveils the magnificent storyline of God chasing after people to rescue them from sin and death and loss. The end of the book reveals a re-creation that is a believer’s future certain hope. In that future reality, death and loss are destroyed. Relationship with our Creator is fully restored. Do you understand? Do you hope?
I will feel the loss of my favorite dog for a longtime. I will experience new losses. But I know the end of the story. There is hope in One who died on my behalf. And He says, “Come.”