I adopted my dog, Ezra, in sin. No, really…it was sin. Ya see, my faithful pure-bred, tri-colored, English Setter, Luke, had passed away after we had almost reached the ten year stride together. Sometimes blood thickens and stops a beating heart.
Strokes just happen in old age… or any age. Luke managed to survive three that week before the last one crept itself into his sleep and slowly swallowed up his last breath.
He died on a Thursday….
the floor boards beneath his still body felt warm with his lingering left over heat when I found him like that. Peaceful, in his bed. I had visited him earlier in the pitch of the night around 1 am, “Lukey?” His old tired head lifted slightly as he reassuringly peered out his one patched eye, the one that marked him since birth making him the irresistible pick of the litter, as if to say, “I’m so glad to know you’re still here…thank you…” I knelt low to kiss his familiar face, tell an old friend that love and faithfulness had grown sweeter in me over the years we’d been together, and press into hear his heart through familiar fur and beloved dog scent. I told him I would see him in the morning. But the morning brought sobs and instant loneliness.
I fell asleep on the couch later that week and dreamt that those old familiar rapid sniffs at the end of a wet nose against my cheek were waking me. But when I opened my eyes he was gone. I begged the goose for another dog. Luke had been my companion as a stay at home mom for ten years. He and I waited side by side for the kids to shuffle and a bumble through the door every day after tired teachers said goodbye and janitor’s sweeps swayed through halls. Luke was always ahead of me on this. If I saw him sitting by the door, eyes locked on the cu- de-sac in front of our house, I knew it was time for the kids to arrive. Sometimes we baked cookies together as we waited. Luke would jump off the couch as soon as he was on to cookie scent, usually at the first mix of warm butter and sparkly granules of sugar.
And so it was too painful to think of baking cookies without two sets of paws waiting to scamper after run away chocolate chips, irresistible deep eyes that could hold a thousand word vocabulary with each blink, twitch and extra fur-skin on furrowed brow rising and falling to the inflections of my voice, right there at my side, in every room, at every hour of the day.
So the rain bird and I set out exactly one week after Lukey’s passing to adopt a dog we had found in secret against the goose’s wishes. We had kept this one quiet alright, and set out on our journey to fill our aching senses of touch missing silky fur, sight missing ignorant cuteness, smell missing that inoffensive odor of dog that becomes more desired than disdained to dog lovers, and sound missing a language only dog lovers understand spoken and exchanged through howls, yips, growls and barks.
and we found this…
pitiful as he was, well, being last and all. The rest of his siblings had already been chosen, but not Ezra. Here he remained…caged, all day, every day, having already been returned from a prior adoption that just couldn’t keep him. He had tasted freedom, only to be returned to what seemed to be a hopeless future. That is, until we set our gaze on him. He was simultaneously adorable and incorrigible.
Turns out the dog we had researched and traveled over an hour away to adopt, just wasn’t going to make it back to the shelter in time from spending a few days with his foster mom, but if we wanted, we could certainly take Ezra.
Pitiful and playful…lumpy and loveable. If nothing else, I felt like his name was meant for us, Bible lover that I am. I knew Ezra was a minor prophet, but I didn’t know just what mysterious meaning his name held. I’m big on meanings of words and names. They seem to hold foundation and base to the soul behind a name, either steadying it or affirming its proneness to falter. And the original meanings of words, well the richness runs deeper than the sound or use of our language we so often take for granted or unskillfully use. Words and names give authenticity to what the heart is speaking. If we use them too casually or idly, it’s an indication the heart could use some digging and tillin’ about it, fallow as it is. If we think…if we pray… before our words have a chance of getting ahead of our tongues and slip too quickly out between the thin space of our lips, they can speak life and truth leaving a legacy about us. A rich, gospel infused legacy. So this little lumpy guy Ezra, well his name means, “the Lord helps.” I guess that rang true for Ezra that day we adopted him, sinful as it was going against the gooses’ wishes.
I’m not downplaying that sin. With my incorrigible pup in tow, I found it to be more of a grueling challenge than the comfort I was seeking in a new companion. I almost gave up on poor Ezra. Through tears, I begged the goose’s forgiveness and vowed to continue the arduous task of caring for this lump of nothing but naughty. Five years later, the goose still isn’t crazy about Ezra. The goose complains, “he barks too much!” I say he is just doing his job, what he was created to do.” But praise God He can redeem all sin for His glory so we are free to live and love in a mysterious swaddling of grace. A grace to care for animals passed on to us through the Creator’s heart, an assignment if you will. Like the first one he gave to the first man, Adam.
And so it is with Ezra…the dog I purchased and adopted in sin, God has used to teach me more about Himself and it goes something like this:
I am Ezra’s master and he is the creature.
I chose him in sin. God chose me while I was dead in sin (Ephesians 2:5)
I adopted him and I lavish love on him. Heaps and heaps of love he could never earn. I am adopted (Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:15) and He lavishes love on me (1st John 3:1).
I loved him from the moment I saw him and knew he belonged in our family.
I provide for all his needs, physically and emotionally. He never has to worry about a shelter, food, comfort,
perfect care… My God supplies all my needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
Ezra’s eyes are ever on me filled with trust. Yet he still fears me leaving and suffers separation anxiety, even though I will never leave him anywhere like he was left and torn so irreversibly from his mama. In fact, I reassure him that I love him several times a day. My choosing Ezra was a sort of promise and covenant sealing the adoption. And because of that covenant, I am responsible for Ezra and his needs and comfort never go unmet.
Does this sound familiar, beloved? It should! Read Ephesians 1: 1-14 and remind yourself of these heapings of unafforded grace.
When it’s time for a walk all I have to do is say, “are you ready?” And Ezra runs to the door. I always use a lead with Ezra even though he doesn’t wander too far away without one, for safety purposes we need to stay connected. It is for Ezra’s good that he stays on the lead so he doesn’t catch a whiff of something tempting, set his nose to the ground, and ignore all of my commands, while instinct takes him further and further from boundaries of love. Often during our walk I let the lead lengthen, but that isn’t always good for either of us, you see because Ezra gets easily distracted at all the fun whiffs and smells in the woods and so when the lead is long, Ezra tends to leave my side and wander off on a scent that creates tension in the lead. He is no longer in step with me and force is needed to reign him in. Other times, Ezra breaks our pace and rhythm by thinking he has to “mark” every little stem of a weed or bush there is instead of keeping in step with me and our destination on point.
I don’t know if you are catching anything I am writing about in terms of how we are all a bit more like Ezra than we think. Isn’t it just like us to want to leave our mark on so many things, instead of staying focused on the one thing we were called to? We just long to be accepted…noticed…remembered….
You see. Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We need to stay connected to the vine, in order to bear much fruit in Christ, in order to move freely to His rhythm, walking in step with Him. In order to leave that gospel infused legacy, we need to abide in Christ…stay tethered… If we don’t, we too, will end up lost in a world of wanderlust, fending for ourselves, outside the boundaries of safe grace we are free to walk in while we keep in step with the Spirit. But just as Ezra has this instinctual and unstoppable urge to follow any scent outside the path, we too, have an instinctual sin nature about us, that is easily distracted and pulls so strongly at our curiosity, that we tend to take our gaze off the Prize and chase after anything that seems to feel or look good here and now.
Scripture commands us to “keep our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2). But when we take our gaze off Christ, our hearts are attracted to far lesser things that promise excitement, comfort, success, money, love, fulfillment, even health and wellness, calling to us from the darkened woods on either side of our light-filled path with Christ. Imagine,
the scent of money
or an ungodly relationship,
or envying our neighbor or sister in Christ and her marriage,
being nothing more than the straggling weeds Ezra stops to sniff or leave his mark on along the way.
WEEDS! and if the weeds aren’t bad enough…he will stop to sniff out
dead, wet leaves….
the feces of other animals…
and the putridity of a half-eaten, rotting carcass, full of maggots…
These things actually smell good to Ezra! He doesn’t know that they are bad for him, and can make him fatally sick.
They are deceiving….
And so it is dear fellow follower, if not for being tethered to Christ, we would be off full sprint through deep woods, only to our own folly and destruction.
What grace we experience tension on this tether! The tension ensures us that we are still connected to the Vine and that even though we are sin-driven on scents of deceiving pleasure, fruit will be bore as we become more and more disciplined along our journey with our Master. And though we may lag behind when the hills are steep, the next go around on that same hill we will have found that we have gained momentum as we go from sniffin’ and a laggin’ to “laying aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Well that’s it fellow sojourners, I hope you enjoyed my gospel for dogs, cuz God can redeem even my sin of adopting poor Ezra against the Goose’s wishes and redeeming it in a story for His glory!