Chocolate Lab

It was my birthday. My mom invited Sarah and me to get in the car, as she started driving several miles west of the family farm. We pulled in a driveway of a home I had never been, and there was this litter of puppies (“The cutest ones ever!” as we humans automatically believe when approaching such a bundle of precious new life.). My mom pointed at this one English chocolate lab, and said, “She’s yours.” That was a bit of a shock for me. I had just graduated from seminary, about to start the first call with a congregation in Michigan, but I guess I didn’t know I was ready for that kind of adulting just yet, having to be directly responsible for any part of a bundle of new life. Regardless, there was always a dog around during my growing-up years, most of which I got a little more emotionally attached to being the youngest of four, as my older siblings grew up and had to move onto the adulting stage. So, my mom must have thought I needed one around for myself.

Zoey had to stay on the family farm for a while, as I got things settled into the parsonage. My mom brought her up the day of the installation service. She was still very much a puppy, wanting to chew on table legs and flip-flops and perhaps an “accident” here and there. Whenever I left the house, I would have to leave her in a room at the top of the stairs with blankets galore on the floor. I could always hear her whimpering when I came in the back screen door, escalating my guilt meter to the max. And yet, whenever I opened the door, she would run through the whole house with relentless excitement and joy. I guess we ended up needing each other, especially as Sarah was finishing nursing school back in Ohio.

Zoey and I would spend a fair share of quality time together. I would hit a tennis ball all over the massive parking lot of the church, not to mention up-and-down the extensive hallway along the offices and classrooms many evenings. We would make the trek to some nearby dunes along Lake Michigan. We would walk up and down all the streets of the town. She provided a bit of home in a place that was far from where we were both used to in the life-shaping time of our journey. She did more than her fair share of being a “best friend” to my wandering humanity at the time.

Zoey is now well into her 12th year of traversing this earth, and as our family has gone through a fair share of transitions in recent years, our “Zo-zo” (her nickname coined by the diaper dandies) has had to deal with her own brunt of it. The century-old home we moved into in Cleveland Heights wasn’t designed for older paws in mind, to say the least. She has a decent backyard, but nothing like multiple fields around a farmhouse or even a massive church parking lot just outside her back screen door. However, she’s no longer able to go up and down blocks of houses to sniff her fellow canines’ markings. She’s no longer in that puppy stage by any stretch of the imagination.

And yet, she still exudes a precious bit of that relentless excitement and joy when seeing us. She still does all she can to be a “best friend” even to the diaper dandies who may have a bit too much energy to her elderly liking. She still has a wonderful something to offer to our wandering corner of humanity. There may come a time when we must decide if it’s best for her to make a trek back to the family farm, the place where she learned how to deal with and care for us humans, to maximize her quality of life for however long she may have left.

Regardless, in the meantime, we see firsthand how there’s this relentless Spirit in us that will insist on finding whatever way it is to still make an impact, to still feel valued, to still realize we have something to offer. Even if we can’t quite do the stairs as well anymore, even if we can’t make it up lengthy sidewalks, even if we don’t have the energy to greet all people in our midst with excitement and joy…there’s still something there. There’s still God there; not just with whatever bundle of younger new life, but with all of us throughout all our days. The same God with all the Resurrection power to take on anything this life throws at us. And however we do our part to as best of a friend to one another, it can most certainly make an impact for us on the receiving end. As if there are absolutely no limits with how and where this God can emerge, whether it be on sand dunes with a picturesque sunset backdrop or the coziness of a living room rug. After all, friendship in all settings in this life most certainly helps with any wandering we take on, including with the most precious friendship with Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God, indeed!