I had a sad day yesterday. I had to return a rescue dog that I adopted a while back. I cried throughout the day. My last moment with her was her huddling in my car, eyes dilated with fear as the assistant reached in to take her out of my car. Her fear was a stab to my heart, for I had lavished love, toys, snuggle time, play time, a safe yard (I had to put up a fence), a good buddy (my Springer spaniel), walks, runs, hikes and treats on her every day. I sang her songs, played games with her and tried to make her a part of our family, with no holds barred.
But she wouldn't stop barking, growling and acting threatening (would she actually bite someone? I don't think so...) towards people in my house. A visit from my grandchildren set her off and they had to stay in the bedroom the whole visit.
A visit from my husband's family resulted in chaos the whole week they were here. Lots of treats, love and cajoling were the order of the day, yet she never could overcome to need to bark and growl at them. His other sister visited and she did a bit better, but it was still hard to predict how she'd react with each encounter with our guests.
She even went into the guest room, for days after they left, growling and acting upset.
She grabbed treats from my Springer. They played fairly well together, and had fun running around the yard. She sometimes bullied my Springer, who is a mellow one year older dog, who seemed to take it all in stride. But overtime, my Springer became rather mopey. She seemed to sense the neediness of her new partner, and pulled away from me.
Then came our Sunday walk. We had a lovely time, for Idaho in the spring is worth the long wait of winter. All was going well until she pulled out of her harness. I managed to catch her and relocate the leash to her collar. She pulled out of that, and thus began our two hour odyssey of trying to catch her. People along the greenbelt tried to help, advise, criticize and remind me of the leash laws. She chased people, barked, growled, and frankly frightened people. I managed to lure her out of the traffic areas, and into a large meadow. I prayed and prayed and prayed.
Finally, I approached her as she was drinking from a stream, distracted her with a promise of tug-of-war, and grabbed her by her scruff.
I carried her to the car. She weighs over thirty pounds, and I was exhausted. The day was over and so was this relationship.
I am sure I could have done things differently. I acknowledge that. But I did the best I could in a situation that was spiraling out of control for me, my family, and our other dog. What rang in my ears in addition was that over this weekend, my daughter bought a pop-up trailer, and the first thing out of our grandchildren's mouth was, "Maybe Grandma and Grandpa could camp with us!" Then I thought of this dog running off at a campsite, growling and barking at other campers, or worse, running off, never to be found and thus traumatizing me and our family. Not to mention a terrible fate awaiting her out in the wilderness.
What made me cry when the young man at the shelter took her was the utter fear in her face. It seemed as if all we had tried to do had never happened; and yet, with just me, she was a loving, happy, spunky dog. If we could have lived on an isolated desert island, she and me would have been BFF's.
With good times and bad, I try to look for the Holy Takeaways: What do You want me to learn from this, precious Jesus? It was a hard, hard decision. I listened to my son, my daughter and son-in- law, and a dear friend's wisdom. All of them said that she was not fitting into the rhythm of our lives. She needed more than I could give. So, after wise counsel and prayer, I gave her up yesterday. The tears fill my eyes as I write this.
So, here is what I have processed so far:
We are all rescue dogs. We all have a story, and not every part of that story gets told. I didn't know her story; all I could see was her behavior. Same with us. I may not know why you do the things you do, and judging you is so easy. Offering advice--"Hey! Do this! Do that!" seems so helpful. But, do we really know each other's heart the way God does? He gently works with us in a way that no one else can. Yes, people can be agents of His, but the deep work in the heart has to be done by Him. We have to be willing to offer our heart. He is more than willing to take it and remake it.
We may be adopted and loved in God's family, but our brokenness still exists. Do we run from others, growl and bark because our fear wells up in us and takes over? Perhaps this is why one of the fruits of the Spirit is patience. We meet others who love the Lord but draw back time and time again. We offer love, friendship, prayer and conversation, and they respond. Then they don't. They act as if we are the enemy, not a fellow traveler in Christ. Or we act that way, and see the hurt in others' eyes. "Why can't you get it? Why do you draw back in fear?" We wonder that too...why don't I get it? Why do I draw back in fear? We may not have allowed God's touch in our lives in that area yet; we have yet to trust that He really does know us best.
Sometimes, we have to let someone go. We have done all we can for someone, but we have not seen any fruit. Perhaps we need to relinquish them to God. We may think, "Just one more thing would have made the difference!" All the way home, I kept thinking about other strategies I could have employed. Like a loving pastor who goes many, many extra miles to the detriment of his family and himself, or a sister who year after year, keeps investing into a person's life, we keep saying, "Oh...I will be the one to make the difference in this person's life!" Pride in our ability is in operation here. It is not a vicious kind of pride, but it is getting in the way of the One who alone can truly make someone whole.
My daughter commented that this dog needed more discipline than I could provide, because I identified too much with her to be effective. True. I hurt because of her past and I tried love alone when what she needed was both love and discipline.
God disciplines us in His love, for He knows our ways are not good. Our ways come from our sin, our brokenness and our need to be self-sufficient. But in a world where the wilderness is not safe, our running away, our sense of "freedom," is really a road to a lonely or brutal end.
I prayed for this dog to get a family who can meet her needs and give her the loving boundaries she so needs to feel safe in this world.
I have that reality myself: "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children." (Romans 8:15)
God hurts for those of us who run away, growl, bark and have fear in our eyes. He tries to bring us back to His side, safe and secure. But we have to be willing.
He will relinquish us to our choice of not drawing near to Him. But He waits. And He hurts.