I was standing at the checkout counter in Dollar General waiting to swipe my card when the cashier cheerfully exclaimed, “I like your necklace!” Smiling politely, I thanked her. “It’s really cool. What’s it say?” I sighed internally, continued smiling and replied, “Luke. It says Luke. It’s a memorial pendant. Luke was my dog.” After an awkward pause she muttered, “That’s so cool.” Still smiling, I kindly thanked her as I swiped my card and punched in my pin number. As I exited the store and walked through the parking lot, my thoughts looped back over the brief exchange. “Luke was my dog” is what I had said to her. How inadequate those words were to convey who Luke was to me.
After eleven years of unwavering devotion and constant companionship I’m left with a mere symbol of his presence. I wear a pendant filled with Luke’s ashes around my neck. Saying goodbye to Luke was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. We often mitigate the grief we experience when losing a beloved dog by suggesting that it doesn’t compare to the loss of a human. I think we almost feel ashamed for being so deeply bereft over the loss of a canine companion when there are those who have lost children, spouses, parents. But in my experience the pain of losing a dog is just as intense as the suffering we experience upon losing a person. In some cases it’s even more profound. Relationships with people are often riddled with frustrations and offenses. Let’s face it, our capacity to love one another well is tainted. We set out with good intentions, but our own inadequacies ultimately unleash pain and suffering onto those we love at times. Dogs don’t do that. Because they shower us with perfect love, there are no landmines of trauma to navigate in their passing. Luke never hurt my feelings, he never responded harshly and he valued being with me above all else. I could always count on him to joyfully accompany me, to comfort me, to accept me. I could always count on Luke to love me perfectly.
Interwoven so intricately with what constitutes as our lives, we are wrapped up in relationships. We would like to consider ourselves self-reliant, autonomous creatures. But we’re intrinsically bound to our experiences. Like it or not, we are the sum total of our relationships. It’s our connections with others that shape who we are and the paradigm with which we see everything else. Just as relationships with hateful, angry, vindictive people can have long lasting destructive effects, the alternate is true of healthy, nurturing relationships. To be loved, valued and cherished is a rare gift that transforms us from the inside out. While people often struggle to illustrate a love that reflects God’s heart, dogs naturally pour themselves out in self sacrificial love. It’s interesting to me that humans, those who were created as God’s image bearers intended to represent Him in the world, so readily miss the mark while dogs eagerly serve as conduits of God’s perfect love. If our relationships with people are of an eternal nature, how much more are our relationships with our dogs? The depth of devotion, the intense connection. I believe that the purity of such a profound spiritual bond transcends time and points forward into eternity. The fact that we can cultivate such extraordinary love, such intense soul ties with our dogs must be an indication of eternal implications.
As God pours His love into a broken world, we spin and toil and struggle to grasp the good. Life is a mixed bag. Chaos and peace, love and fear, we’re caught up in an onslaught of glorious moments which break upon the shore of loss and suffering. I remember looking into Luke’s eyes the last few years of his life and feeling a deep longing to enjoy him more. Tears would well up at the realization of the elusiveness of such a thought. Try as we may, we can’t slow the hands of time. This life is but a brief encounter, but the longing in our hearts betrays such a reality. And in the midst of our anguish the love of God breaks into the world. The hope of restoration propels me. All that is precious in this life will be amplified and clarified in eternity. Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) We’re not promised an ethereal, intangible existence on the other side of death. The promise is for abundant life, resurrection life. Life that satisfies. Father Richard Rohr says it best, “For those who are in Christ anything that has blessed and enriched us in this life will not be lost, but rather will be infinitely enhanced in the resurrection.” While I miss Luke in this life, I’m convinced that I’ll be reunited with him when time gives way to eternity.
As the words, “Luke was my dog” hung in the air, haunting my thoughts, I mumbled under my breath a revelation of his true identity. He was the incarnation of God’s love for me. The manifestation of perfect love.
Until we meet again ❤️