By Hugh Chapman
When the sun rose over the Gulf of Mexico on our first full day on the coast, I was there on the beach. It was 6:15 on a vacation morning, and nobody else from my family much wanted to join me – nobody, that is, except my good friend Shadow. As I strolled briskly along the earth’s edge, Shadow trotted alongside me, seeming to enjoy this strange new world as much as I did. Together we stopped for a moment and I sifted through some shells. Then, as I picked up a chunk of barnacled driftwood, the dog looked on excitedly and pranced impatiently as I drew back to throw. At my release, the dog was off like a shot, kicking up smoke-like puffs as she ran fiercely along the sea drenched sand. She had come a long way since the day we first saw her, and whenever I think of her transformation, I have to laugh.
She was my daughter’s dog — no mistaking that. Nearly a year before Danielle and I had rescued the mutt from the pound. The Animal Warden in our little town confided in me later that we had arrived only an hour before the dog was scheduled to be put to sleep. It turned out to be a good day for all of us – though at the time, it was hard to tell.
The father/daughter trip to the pound that morning had been a matter of Ol’ Dad making good on a promise to Danielle that on the first snow holiday from school, we’d hike the half mile or so to the Animal Shelter where she could pick her out a puppy. So that chilly morning some ten months earlier, as our boots and galoshes crunched loudly in the glazed and glistening snow, Danielle had spoken excitedly about the kind of dog she would get. It would be a little fellow, maybe a Terrier or Pekingese, or perhaps a Dachshund or Poodle.
But when we finally arrived, panic began to swell within my chest. The dogs were not pedigree, as Danielle had imagined. They were not even the loveable selection of mutts that I had expected. Rather, they were a pitiful lot of homely mongrels, and not a cute one in the bunch. Danielle, however, was not discouraged and her eyes sparkled as she scanned the room. Finally, I saw her fix on one particularly shabby animal in the dingy corner cage.
“She’s an indoor dog and partially house-trained,” the crusty old caretaker informed us as Danielle sauntered toward the cage. “Last owner dumped her off a week ago. Looks to me like she’s been kicked around quite a bit, but I’d bet she’ll make a good pet. Just needs a little love. Better take her today, they’ll be a-putting her down this afternoon.”
Danielle didn’t understand the fate that awaited the dog, but I did. Still, I’m no pushover for animals, especially one as homely as this, and I held firmly to my resolve. My hesitation was strengthened even further when the mutt began to cower as Danielle approached the cage.
“You know what, Sweetheart?” I said, “Let’s look for another dog, maybe we can find a nice puppy this weekend at a pet store.”
But already Danielle was reaching gingerly into the cage and I became quickly alarmed. “Careful Honey,” I warned. “That old dog might bite!”
But the caretaker was confident. “Naw, that-there dog’s ain’t-a gonn-a bite nobody. She’s gentle as a lamb; probably too gentle for her own good. The kids who dumped her off called her Moonshadow,” he spat the name in a humorous sort of disgust, then grudgingly mumbled, “Some kind of hippie name, I guess.”
At Danielle’s gentle touch, the pitiable animal cowered further and let out a whimper. Then, to my dismay, my daughter made her announcement. “Dad, this is the dog I want.”
Steeped in sudden anxiety, I spoke quickly. “Now, let’s not get in a rush Sweetheart,” I said while briskly motioning toward another area of the shelter. “Look, there are some more dogs over here. Oh, and look! Here are some cats! Danielle! Wouldn’t you rather have a cat?”
“No Dad,” Danielle stated, this time even more emphatically, “This is the Dog I want.”
I pictured Danielle’s mother who would be waiting at home to see what I might show up with, and I shuddered at her probable reaction to us trodding home with this horrible animal. But Danielle was adamant, and pleaded with me from behind big blue eyes. Eventually I found myself ready to reconsider, and within a half hour we were in the snow again, this time leaving behind eight footprints, rather than just four.
In the days to come, Danielle and the dog became fast friends. Shadow was not an old dog at all, as we first believed. As it turned out, she was little more than a year or so old, and had only seemed aged because of her unkempt appearance. And she was smart, fetching and doing tricks in a matter of days. The old caretaker’s assessment proved over and over to be correct. Shadow quickly won the hearts of each of our family members, and she eventually turned into the best dog we have ever owned.
Yet as good a dog as she was, even the best of animals (much like people) are not without fault. Shadow, it seems, has a propensity for rolling in the muck. Furthermore, she is apt to do so at any time or any place. The most embarrassing incident had occurred scarcely a month before our Christmas trip.
We were home among a Thanksgiving gathering of friends when Shadow approached my chair and nuzzled up to my hand hoping that I’d pet her. As I moved my hand across her head, I immediately noticed the putrid smell of decay, and from the look on the face of many of our guests, they had discovered the same thing. A quick investigation revealed what I had grimly suspected — Shadow had found something dead in the yard and had rolled in it. And now she had brought the stench into our home!
Angry that she had dampened our gathering, I hurriedly put the dog outside until Danielle and I had a chance to slip away from our guests to clean her up. As the water cascaded over the animal, she nuzzled up to Danielle. In that instant I knew all was forgiven.
That night as I lay in bed remembering the events of the day, a strange sort of parallel began to unfold, and I believe God spoke to me through a poignantly humorous analogy. On that evening it clearly occurred to me that just as Shadow, on a snowy day eleven months before had been saved from certain death by her master, I too, as a young man, was saved from an eternity away from my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Then as I drew the parallel further, I began to wonder how many times during the course of my own life that I have saddened Jesus by disobeying His demands — and by carelessly wallowing in my own brand of muck. Is there any wonder then, that when we insist on bathing ourselves in the stench of sin, that our master expects us to repent before trying to move closer to him?
Yet just as Danielle continues to love Shadow, I know that despite my own failures our God continues to love me. Though he hates the sin, his love is unconditional and he waits patiently for us to confess what we have done. Then he unwearyingly clean us up, releases us from the stench of our sin, and bids us join him in Christian fellowship.
In the brilliance of a Gulf coastal sunrise, a skinny scraggly dog stood expectantly at my feet, wet from a December morning’s surf and clenching a chunk of salty gray driftwood in her teeth. If I wanted to throw a stick and have her to fetch, she was willing. If I wanted to sit in the quiet of the morning sunshine, she would be at my side. If I wanted to walk further down the shore, take a brisk jog, or simply return to the beautiful condo from which we had come, my loyal and loving friend was more than ready to adhere to my commands. She wanted only to learn my intentions, and then to help in any way she could. For that, I loved her all the more.
I believe that as we progress through our daily lives, our Lord and Master Jesus Christ expects nothing less from us. We must make a continual and sincere effort to understand His will for our lives, and then we must be constantly willing to set aside our own desires and concentrate on his command.
If we’ll do that, I believe that he’ll accept us just the way we are, and he will forgive us for our faults.
Move over old dog, we’re more alike than you know.