What’s In A Name?

The annual cousin’s reunion. Tables filled with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, casseroles and enough dessert to give someone sugar shock. Every year we have a family gathering in my dad’s big barn with a pot luck lunch and plenty of reminiscing and entertaining banter. This past year Clementine, our tiny bulldogge puppy, tagged along. She enjoyed the day tussling and playing with my parent’s Boston Terrier, Lola. While I’m certain that God made Clementine especially for me, I’m also convinced that He had Lola in mind as well.  I think Lola needed a friend and God sent her a best friend in Clementine.

As I observe Lola brimming over with excitement each time Clementine comes to visit, my heart is filled with joy. Lola rushes to grab the most interesting and desirable toy in the room to offer up to her cherished companion. When cookies are doled out, Lola generously drops her cookie at Clementine’s feet as a love offering. Lola loves to run, and by run I mean bolt through the yard like a shot. Lola is fast. Clementine isn’t. At least not by Boston Terrier standards. It’s heartwarming to watch Lola instigate a game of chase only to slow down or stop and roll over, belly up, so that Clementine can not only keep up, but tackle her. The cultivation of this sweet little friendship has been a blessing not only to Lola and Clementine, but to me. To witness the generosity and kindness expressed by these pups as they pour out love in its purest form is transformative. There are never any false pretenses with dogs. No ulterior motives. But that pondering is deep and wide and for another day.

As the day’s festivities unfolded everyone took an interest in meeting Clementine, the tiny pup that was bottle fed. The little miracle puppy. She soaked up the attention and pranced around with her most adorable wiggle-butt maneuvers. Everyone was smitten. My uncle looked on with a smile and then asked her name. We told him her name was Clementine and he nodded amusingly. The name was her litter name and it simply stuck. We chose the theme of folk songs for that litter of pups and among the list of songs was Clementine. This little nugget of a pup wore the name so well that we decided to keep it and began affectionately referring to her as our little tangerine. You know, like the Cuties Clementines? She was no bigger than a tangerine for many weeks and she was also sweet with a twist of tart, so the analogy seemed fitting.

What’s in a name? When God gave Adam the privilege of naming all of the animals, he was charged with the responsibility of calling forth their personality, their  very  being. It wasn’t a string of letters, verbiage or simple words that were given in the garden of God. A name is much more than that. A name encapsulates a being’s very nature, personality and character.  Is it really any different as we name our companion animals today. We look into them and catch a glimpse of who they truly are and we give them a name that we believe best sums them up. It’s why naming a new puppy is fun and, at times, challenging. Finding just the right word to pin onto a furry little creature that we already love with an intensity we can’t articulate is no small task. It can take much time and thought to settle on the perfect name for our beloved pets. But sometimes names suddenly emerge without any reflection or forethought. Like an angel dropped them out of the sky, they suddenly spring forth and fit perfectly. Turpentine is such a name as that.

After a day of eating, touch football and catching up on the happenings in everyone’s lives, we all began to box up leftovers, put away the tables and engage in long drawn out goodbyes. In the south goodbyes turn into conversations that last at least another hour.  In the course of time, my uncle again approached Clementine and as he listened to everyone talking to and about her, he let out a chuckle. He admitted that up until that moment he thought we were calling her Turpentine and had went the whole day referring to her as such. That gave us a good laugh and we began to affectionately refer to her as Turpentine when she was being defiant, stubborn and just plain ornery. Turpentine, or The Terp for short, has become her alter-ego title. As sweet and affectionate as Clementine is, she is equal parts sass and attitude. I’m always amazed that God could pack so much personality into such a tiny package. She’s independent, opinionated and strong-willed. She’s adorable, charismatic and affectionate. As with anyone, words fall short of accurately capturing who this tiny fireball really is. She’s my sweet little tangerine, Clementine, most days, but sometimes she’s a shot of turpentine.

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Clementine

It  was life as usual since I said goodbye to Luke. There was a giant void with him gone, but I had surrendered to the idea that I probably wouldn’t ever have such a deep connection with another dog. Of course, I love all of my dogs. Immensely. But there’s a deep soul-tie that sometimes happens along that’s unexpected and profound. Once you’re knit together with another creature in the depths of your soul, life will never be the same. And losing them will be agonizing.

But then along came Clementine.

As I watched over Velvet giving birth to 9 beautiful bulldogge puppies, I noticed about midway in the birthing process that an exceptionally tiny pup had been pushed forth into my world. Weighing a whopping three ounces at birth, this pup was alarmingly small. She was less than half the size of her litter-mates. As I watched her scoot around and struggle to nurse in what seemed to be a sea of giants, I knew that I had to intervene if she were going to live. I put her in a shoe box next to my bed on a heating pad and began bottle feeding her every two hours around the clock. I prayed a lot. I cried a lot. To say that I was exhausted is an understatement. I have vivid memories of bottle feeding her during the night while seriously wondering if anyone had ever died of sleep deprivation. It seems ridiculous now, but in that moment I was convinced that I might simply drop dead of exhaustion.

Needless to say, I lived through the many days of agonizing sleeplessness and emerged from the experience healed and whole in a profound way. The heaviness of life without Luke coupled with weariness as I bottle fed this wee little pup opened up a floodgate of God’s grace which poured forth in unexpected and overwhelming ways.  As my heart ached for Luke, God sent to me a pup that I would have to surrender myself to. As with any relationship, deep connection and love is only cultivated through devotion and self sacrifice. As I poured myself out so that this little pup might live, my soul began to connect with her in ways that I had not anticipated. Simply put, she stole my heart.

It’s our natural inclination to wonder where God is when we enter into adversity and suffering. Life is often heavy and riddled with struggle. No one is exempt from the cruelty and harshness. I have found that it is precisely within the struggle that God’s presence is most tangible. After all, the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and he rescues those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) As my heart broke, God’s heart broke and poured out into me healing in ways that I didn’t recognize in the moment. I wouldn’t have chosen it. I resisted it, in fact. And as with most of what’s meaningful in life, it only makes sense in reverse. A dear friend of mine said that this pup was God’s love song to me. As beautiful as that sentiment is, I remember thinking as I was running on fumes that she was more like a heavy metal song. Now that I’m on the other side of the struggle and I’m able to more clearly discern what God was doing, I cherish that sentiment in my heart.

We named this miracle pup Clementine and she graduated from a shoe box, to a plastic tote, to our bed. Still tiny, she weighs in around twenty five pounds now. I’m amazed that the good Lord could pack so much personality into such a tiny package. Opinionated and strong-willed, Clementine was a fireball dropped right into the middle of my “life as usual”. I find myself wondering how I ever lived without her. Isn’t it interesting how we relent to a certain type of existence and then suddenly, out of nowhere, life is turned upside down and transformed into something we never could have imagined, something glorious?  That’s what grace does. It bores into our messiness and revolutionizes our lives. It’s unexpected.  It’s often wrapped in unassuming packages. And sometimes it’s a tiny runt puppy that steals your sleep and erodes your resolve. I’m thankful for the grace gift of Clementine that I didn’t ask for, didn’t know I needed and tried to resist.

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And though she be but little, she is fierce.

 

 

 

Life Without Luke

It’s been one full trip around the sun since I said goodbye to Luke, my canine soul mate. I don’t remember the logistics of that day, but I remember with clarity the palpable realization that life without Luke would be agonizing. Grief is a thorny issue indeed. Does anyone ever get over magnificent loss? I don’t think so. I think the pain and sorrow pierces right into the core of our being and transforms us into something else entirely. It crashes over us in waves, revealing emotions and desires that we often leave neatly tucked away as we go about our tidy little lives. Death is a violent assault against our souls, plain and simple. It’s unbearable and unavoidable. To love greatly always requires that we open ourselves to the reality of great loss.

I was right. Life without Luke is agonizing. Sure, there are moments of joy sprinkled amid the heaviness. But isn’t that everyone’s reality? Life is struggle. Life is also a gift that is beautifully breathtaking, filled with moments of unutterable splendor. Losing Luke has forced me to view life’s moments through a different lens. No longer do I take the grace gifts of life in stride. I see the miracle of moments more readily. Realizing that the cycle of life is rushing along with full momentum, I’m more able to surrender to the inevitable and embrace the goodness that’s often tangled up in the messiness of a broken world.

After all, the richness of the relationship that I shared with Luke was a grace gift. I don’t think I would have ever described it as such, although I felt it deeply. Isn’t that always the case, though? The most profound emotions are complex and words to accurately convey elude us. To be known and loved completely without an ounce of pretension or malice. That’s a miracle in this hateful and utterly broken world. It’s undeserving. It’s scandalizing. It’s exactly how Luke loved me. Simply put, dogs are proof that God loves us. They’re a four-legged reflection of the agape love that is only attributable to God.

I’m grateful for the gift of Luke in my life. I loved him fiercely. I still do. But it was his love for me that brings into sharp focus the sheer goodness that unexpectedly comes upon us, engulfs us, transforms us. It’s subtle. It’s often wrapped in unassuming packages. It’s easily taken for granted. But once our awareness is piqued we either struggle and strive to hold onto that goodness and ultimately lose it or we surrender to it, breathe it in and let it recreate us. It’s the magnitude of the goodness of the gift that violently contrasts the anguish of losing it which leaves us broken. But through brokenness comes abundance. Ann Voskamp says it best, “for a seed to come fully into it’s own, the shell must break open, it’s insides must come out and everything must change. If you didn’t understand what life looks like you might mistake it for complete destruction.” I thought that losing Luke would destroy me. Turns out it did. It wrecked me. To say that I miss Luke is a massive understatement. But through brokenness comes abundance. Abundant joy, love and goodness transcend the grief as time marches on.

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Until we meet again, sweet Luke.