On a ski day earlier this week, on chairlifts filled with three or four, the intentional question I tried to squeeze in was, “What is your proudest accomplishment in life?” One group of kids went the joking route, and one group went for it. After the first answer was serious, the others were too. That’s rare enough, but what comes next was even more rare: they asked me for my answer. With some questions and in some settings, I would deflect that question and keep the ball in their court, but I figured this question in this setting made sense for the answer I felt strongly was most truthful. I told them that my proudest accomplishment in life is raising my dog, Hero. If you know me, you’ll know I love my dog with all my heart.
I don’t want to be a weird dog guy, but I can’t help but say that I think he’s absolutely perfect. Sometimes I think I love and care about him so much that it provides a glimpse into the way God love, cares for and thinks about all of His children. Hero’s unconditional love for me reveals my shortcomings in the ways I respond to God’s love for me. If only my unconditional loyalty, obedience, trust, love, and affection toward God were as unwavering as Hero’s are for me. Raising Hero is not only the proudest accomplishment of my life, but also a source for many of the important life lessons I’ve picked up along the journey. Here are just a few:
- Unconditional means unconditional. There is absolutely nothing in the world that Hero could ever possibly do or not do that would ever make me love him any less. Think of the worst possible thing a dog could do, and let’s imagine Hero did that. Would I love him any less or think any less of him? I can’t even imagine what that would feel like, and I don’t think I’m capable of feeling that. I’m pretty sure the same goes for him. No matter how many days in a row he misses the dog park, or how late or early he goes on walks, or how many times I don’t share people food with him, he will never love me any less. I am so thankful that God loves me like that, and I want to respond the more like way Hero responds to me.
- Hide and Seek. Every time I open my front door, Hero is waiting for me, wanting to give me hugs and hoping for scratches. Whenever that doesn’t happen, I know something has happened; he may have had an accident inside, chewed on something he shouldn’t have, or knocked something over. When that happens, I wander through the house, calling his name, letting him know I want to see him like always, even though I already know where he is. I eventually make my way to his only hiding spot, underneath a bench, in the nook I set him to take his first picture as soon as we got home the night I bought him. If it’s something he feels is particularly bad, he will refuse to make eye contact, staring straight ahead or at the ground. How can that not melt a father’s heart? How many times has God searched for me, found me, knocked on the door, opened the door, stepped through the door, just to see me staring straight ahead or at the ground?
- Forgiveness. Sometimes when Hero is hiding, it’s for good reason. He has destroyed a rug, chewed up shoes, knocked things over, nosed through the trash, and other dog things. Sometimes when I get him out from under the bench I show him what he did wrong, even though he knows, and try my best to communicate that he shouldn’t do it again. I have to forgive him no matter what he’s done, and that’s often not even hard just because I love him so much. He forgives me when I come home late and skip his nightly snuggles, or when I’m too busy to take him to the dog park as often as he really wants to go. The stern talking to and half-hearted swats on the butt don’t compel Hero to remain obedient and loving as much as the complete forgiveness he experiences every time, and I’m sure that’s the only reason he forgives me just as much.
- He’s perfect! When I walk Hero down the street, people always think Hero is a puppy, and they ask “What’s her name?” They’re usually shocked to hear that he is actually a five-year-old, fully grown, purebred, male boxer. Technically, he’s the runt of his litter, the smallest a fully grown male boxer gets. He has a small head, beautiful face, and ears that don’t fold right because his breeder botched his attempt to crop the ears. He was the only puppy in his litter that didn’t sell, and the breeder was glad to let me have him for a quarter of the price rather than keep him. From many technical perspectives, he wouldn’t be considered perfect, but he is absolutely perfect to me! I love everything that might be seen as a flaw, plus more. He is special, and I wouldn’t change anything about his physical appearance, personality or heart even if I could. Feeling this way about my dog just reminds me how much more God feels that way about me.