This has been a really rough week, and I am finding it unusually hard to find the right words to describe it.
Rebekkah’s dog, Ella, jumped the fence and ran into the neighborhood like she’s done so many times before. Only this time, she never returned home. Now, this sounds fairly minor in the big scheme of things, but in this household, this has been nothing short of a full-fledged tragedy.
Anyone who knows Rebekkah knows, she doesn’t allow herself to invest too many powerful emotions in anything or anyone. Following the slow death (by distemper) of a beautiful dog she had adopted from the pound a few years ago, she had sworn to never have a pet again. The dog was already sick when Rebekkah adopted her, and she had been unable to just dump it back on them and let him die unloved and unwanted. I watched in nothing short of sheer horror my daughter care for a dog that the vet had no hope for. The week or so it took Samson to finally move from a puppy who wanted to play, to a dog in too much suffering was torturing Rebekkah, and her grief was unbearable for me to witness.
I have always worried about Rebekkah’s ability to harden herself against the things in life she doesn’t want to be vulnerable to. Life is messy, and full of grief, but without those things, how would we be able to truly enjoy joy, contentment, or peace? So, being her mother, I eventually pushed her into adopting again, this time two sibling German Shepherd puppies. She loved these dogs, but no where near the same way she had Samson. I noticed right off she was keeping herself guarded from being hurt by loving them. My meddling didn’t work, and we ended up finding them better homes.
Then, a little less than two years ago, Ella showed up on Rebekkah’s doorstep, and from that moment on, she was considered a real gift from God, down to the fingerprint shaped pale gray spot on her ear. Animals tend to prefer me right off the bat, until they get to know the other people in the house. But Ella didn’t. She made a beeline to Rebekkah, and an instant bond was created between this somewhat lonely girl and this dripping wet, lost little puppy.
We have worked around this dog in so many ways. Ella’s presence in our lives felt right, and it never occurred to any of us that things would be so much easier without a medium-to-large sized dog who can jump like an antelope to consider. Ella was Rebekkah’s first love, and that was that.
Like Rebekkah, I have often struggled with making a connection to people. I can’t really say what happened along the way that made me so isolated and guarded, but animals have easily bypassed my emotional security system. Dogs and cats make me feel calm, peaceful…. happy. I grieved my German shepherd, Jake’s death, with a much more intense sadness than I do losing people in my life. Despite knowing that any animal I take in and love will eventually leave my life at some point, I continue to keep pets anyways. Having a pet I love and who loves me back has many more positives for me than the negative of one day having to lose them.
Rebekkah, though, has a very different way of protecting herself, and when it became clear that Ella was probably not coming back, I found myself angry at God, and fearful of how my daughter would change because of this. Yes. I prayed for her return, posted lost dog notices everywhere, drove neighborhoods night and day yelling her name…but in the deepest part of me, I felt like she was gone. I listened to my daughter weep the kind of tears that come from the deepest despair, knowing that she, like me, needs time alone to process the pain, and any of the usual things people normally do to comfort each other would not be effective or comforting at that harshest point of her grief.
That first night was painful in every way. Rebekkah had walked for hours throughout the neighborhood, calling Ella’s name. I had posted pictures on Facebook and Craigslist, haunted the Tulsa Animal Welfare site in case she had been picked up and taken to the pound. For days, I would drive anywhere someone thought they might have spotted her. Visions of worse possible scenarios danced through my mind, and prayers for safety would veer off into desperate begging God to not have allowed her to suffer in any way. It would seem that we were dying from hope deferred, and our hearts were becoming sick. I was sad about Ella, too, but it was Rebekkah’s sadness that was taking its toll on me. I listened to her list of regrets… taking her walking more often, playing catch when she wanted, and the worst one, having not been grumpy and out-of-sorts when she had let her out into the backyard that one last time. My daughter’s heart was broken, and I feared that God had pushed her too far… I watched for grief to begin turning to bitterness and depression, and an even deeper level of withdrawal from life than she already displayed so often.
As the first night turned into the second, turned into the third, my daughter finally arrived at the point that she could talk to me about this latest blow. I was surprised to find that she had not withdrawn from God, nor was she anywhere near as angry with Him as I was. She was sad, and her imagination was equally vindictive as mine when she allowed herself to wonder why Ella had not come home, but she was at peace with God.
C.S. Lewis once wrote in The Four Loves:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Even as I began to talk to my daughter about the selfishness involved in protecting ourselves from loving others — animals or people — I realized how I tend to not trust God with the really important stuff. Yes, I can easily turn over my finances, or helping me find the right house to live in, but the things I love the most in this life — my children — I often find myself unable to believe God has their best interests in mind. It was all too easy for me believe He had less of a real understanding of what this would do to Rebekkah, and beneath that, I feared her faith would not be strong enough to sustain such a personal blow. God had given her Ella, and it was within His power to bring her home again. What did it mean if He didn’t?
In the end, Rebekkah asked God to return Ella, and when He did not, she accepted that He had said no, and even more, that He had good reasons for choosing not to do so. Her faith flew right past mine, strong, determined, though tinted with the wisdom borne only in real suffering.
This morning, I received a message on Facebook that someone thought they had seen Ella running up a major street near our house, and Simon and I drove up and down, and back and forth, calling her name. We did not find her, but for some reason, I feel like we just might get her back after all. I have a renewed hope, and yet, I also have a peace in understanding we might not ever find her. Either way, I’ve made my peace with God, who has always been able to withstand me disagreeing with Him. Even more important, I have a reason to believe Rebekkah’s faith isn’t shallow, brittle, or delicate. She has always insisted that God deals with her through hard edges and storms, while He wraps me in a bubble of tremendous mercy and gentleness, and neither of us would have it any other way.
Have a good weekend, and say a little prayer for Ella. At some point, I will stop looking, but not today. One more day…