Friday, October 17
I used to hate dogs. I could not understand why other people seemed to love them so much. I've always been a cat person. Strangely enough, my first pet was a dog. A little Dachshund named Dodger. And I remember loving him and being very sad to leave him when my family moved to Saudi Arabia when I was five. But those feelings were soon enough forgotten and from that time until the end of my junior year of college, the only pets my family had - both my dad and stepmom and my mom, my brother, and I - were cats. I love cats. They're independent. They're clever. Despite what non-cat people say, they have a lot of personality. All the cats I've ever owned have been an incredible source of entertainment and laughter. They can tend to be kind of elitist. You have to work for their affection, and it's so rewarding once you've earned it. I always thought dogs were fairly dumb animals, giving their loyalty and affection to anyone who gave them the slightest bit of attention. And really, who wants love you don't have to earn?
Which brings me to my next point.
My mom had been wanting a dog for quite a while when she finally was presented with the opportunity to take a dog from a woman she met in a parking lot who was having trouble finding the time to care for her dog Savannah.
I swear she's the most beautiful creature that has ever existed. I love her with my whole being. Her wonderfulness is unending. It was only after she came into our lives that I was able to begin to tolerate other dogs. And it is because of her that having a dog later in life is now a non-negotiable for me. (A dog that will live in harmony with my future cats, of course...)
There are a lot of wild dogs here. A lot. And it's very rare to see one that looks fully healthy. They mostly look dejected, scared, malnourished, deformed, and abused. Dogs here are definitely not man's best friend. They are mistreated and for the vast majority, if not all, that's the only life they'll ever know. On my way back from a hike on a mountain near my house, I was walking to my host family's house to say hello and a dog that I hadn't noticed moved about three feet away from me. It startled me at first as it can be unclear as to what a wild dog's reaction to an oblivious and obtrusive human is going to be. But it just stood up and cowered timidly. And as it backed away from me, I looked it in the face and I saw Savannah and I felt for that dog the love that I feel for her.
And I had a thought... And at the risk of sounding blasphemous... I think Savannah is like Jesus. Kind of.
She loves me when I take her for walks. She loves me when I throw her toys in the backyard. She loves me when I run around the house and play with her. She loves me when I love her.
She loves me when I don't have enough time for her. She loves me when I would rather watch a Project Runway marathon than take her for a walk. She loves me when she's covered in dirt and I don't want to get near her. She loves me when she smells and I push her off of the couch because I don't want to sit next to her. She loves me when I ignore her.
It's only because of Savannah that I have been able to love other dogs. Well-behaved dogs. Pretty dogs. Friendly dogs. Even annoying dogs... in small doses. And the dispirited, desolate, and mangled dogs I see here on a daily basis.
I love dogs because I love Savannah. I love Savannah because Savannah loved me first.
And much like Savannah, Jesus loves me when I love him. He loves me when I laugh. He loves me when I delight in the beauty of nature. He loves me when I take interest in the world around me. He loves me when I work hard.
But far more significantly, he loves me when I'm ungrateful. He loves me when I'm impatient. He loves me when I think poorly of others. He loves me when I think poorly of myself. He loves me when I'm yucky. He loves me when I'm lazy. He loves me when I really couldn't be bothered. His love for me is flawless and endless and is constant and consistent no matter the circumstance. I only know how to love at all because of the example he gives by loving me.
It's only because of Jesus that I am able to love other people, although not even close to approaching how perfectly he loves. My family. My friends. Strangers. People that are interesting. People that are funny. People that are friendly. People that annoy me. People that aren't particularly nice to me. People that are sad. People that are lonely.
I love people because I love Jesus. I love Jesus because Jesus loved me first.
So, I guess the answer to my earlier question is: Me. I want love that I don't have to earn.
To be a disciple means that we deliberately identify ourselves with God's interest in other people. "That ye love one another as I have loved you..."
So, no joke...
About 15 minutes after I finished writing everything above, I decided to sit on the stoop outside of my house to read The Audacity of Hope (Go Obama!) and a little puppy wandered over to me. I could tell that he had been injured because he has a lump on the left side of his jaw and throat area. I sat for a little while baby-talking him and kind of touching him with my fingertips. (He's fairly dirty). I heard a dog yelping and crying last night which caused me to have a fairly strange dog dream and I figure that it must have been him. A couple neighborhood kids rode by on their bikes and I asked if they knew what had happened to him. They said another dog bit him. So, I had a decision to make. One option was to continue playing with him for a few minutes and then leave him to fend for himself. I didn't think that was a very good option.
I went inside and filled a bucket with hot water and tried to clean him up a bit. I cleaned the area around his jaw and neck and he didn't yelp or flinch or anything, so I'm not exactly sure what the problem is. I gave him some water and he seemed to have some trouble swallowing. I gave him a homeopathic remedy (Arnica) for trauma, muscle fatigue, sprains, and bruises on the counsel of my mother. A neighborhood girl came by. I told her what I was doing and she said that he belongs to the family that lives behind me. The concept of dog ownership here is pretty foreign and judging by his condition, it's pretty clear that he's not being taken care of very well by the owners that he may or may not have. It was getting pretty dark, but I heard the son of the family behind me and asked him if the puppy is theirs. He said something along the lines of "It was at our house". After a while, I locked him in my front gate and went over to the neighbors' house to ask if he belongs to them and they said that he just runs around outside. I told them that I was going to take him. They said I should just keep him in the area inside my gate but outside my door and that's where he is now. In a little cardboard bed with some fabric in it. I gave him a little dish of milk to see if he'd take it. He lapped a bit of it up, but I think he got a bit overzealous because then he started to cough. I may give him a bit more in the morning so that he can have something of substance as I'm not sure he can swallow food at this point. I was not planning on becoming a dog owner during my time here and the timing certainly seems less than ideal. But whatever...
It's only the first night, so I may be getting ahead of myself. I'm going to bathe him in the morning. I'm pretty sure I already have a flea bite on my hand. But I have the opportunity laid out right in front of me to love and care for something whose life would otherwise be most definitely hard and painful and troubled.
He's sleeping so peacefully. I keep opening my door to check on him. He must be so tired. Spending every night out in the wilderness with older, bigger, tougher dogs on the loose. He's safe inside my gate. He's so precious. I want to take care of him. I want to nurse him back to health. I want to love him in a way he's never known.
For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. (Ezekiel 36: 24-26)
So maybe his name will be Zeke.