Painting by five year old, Virginia Brooks
Spade sees us far off in the distance. He is waiting to welcome us home, spinning, jumping, ears flopping in the driveway. He seems to be dancing almost. He delights in my return, in the return of my children. I pull in the garage, and he runs to the car door to greet me, jumping up and down so that I can see him through the window. Bursting with joy and excitement.
I wonder why he continues the ritual because it was just recently I even noticed his driveway dance. Most of the time I am way more focused on what needs to get done than on receiving his love. I just want to open my car door, get the children unbuckled, make sure they have remembered their backpacks and socks and shoes they have shed in the car. I forget he is there as the list of to-dos start to run through my mind. “When will we get homework done and who needs to be dropped off where and what will I make for dinner, and whose library books are due and who needs to practice math facts and who needs to do what chores?”
My thoughts run away from Spade and all his dancing and delighting in me. “I don’t have time to pet you right now,” I think, “and there is too much in my hands anyway, too much for me to carry to the house.” He walks right in front of me, trips me as I walk toward the back door. I nudge him away with my foot, ask him to move out of the way. “Why do you always have to stand in my path,” I think to myself. But he seems unphased by my nudging away, and continues to walk just in front of my feet.
Santa Claus brought Spade on his sleigh three years ago on a cold Christmas morning. A seven month old because Santa knew that would be easier for Mom and Dad. No trips to the restroom at three a.m. was the thought, already crate trained according to the trainer Santa got him from. But Santa did not know that crate trained did not mean house trained, so in reality Santa dropped an untrained teenage dog down the chimney, said, “Ho ho ho” and drove out of sight.
To introduce his awkward self, he leapt in the middle of our coffee table, all four legs flying in different directions, crosses, nativities, and books flying from the table. Then he introduced himself to my mother the same way when we walked next door to open our gifts. And a few weeks later, I set the kitchen table for dinner complete with drinks and silverware just in time for Spade to run across the room, leap in the middle of the table, and run laps around it, sending drinks, placemats, and silverware soaring.
Santa was also unaware that English Cockers need tons of affection and simply cannot stand to be alone. Separation anxiety, they call it, which manifests itself through hours upon hours of clawing at doors if left outside for more than one minute. Santa must have forgotten that I had a six year old, a three year old, and a nine month old child, and who has love leftover for a dog when you are a mom of three?
We had asked Santa for an outside dog, something I could love when I wanted but one that would be content alone. Instead, we received a needy want-to-be lap dog that still insists I walk him to his bathroom spot in the morning. He will not leave the back door if I do not, and will spend the next few hours clawing the door, until someone finally gives in and lets him in.
When I crouch to tie the children’s shoes, he wedges right in between us and begs for attention. I push him back, but he wedges right back in, over and over, until I have to pin him to the ground just to get the children’s shoes tied. When I paint, he lays on my feet, and when I write he lays under my desk. When I get in the car, he sneaks in the door and jumps to the way-back seat and refuses to come out so that I have to climb over the seats and physically lift him out of the car. When I attempt to let him out, he rolls over and lays on his back so that I have to drag him out the door by his collar. And when I let him out one door, he figures out a way to get in another. And all these behaviors are simply because he cannot stand to be separated from me.
But when my six-year-old comes home, he finally leaves my side to be with her. She loves that dog with the same kind of never-ending, unconditional love that Spade showers on us. Everywhere she goes, she make two quick clicks out of the side of her mouth and calls his name to invite him to come. She delights in his presence, notices his every move, lays with him, snuggles with him, plays dress up with him, invites him to all her candid dance performances, feeds him, and if ever he scratches on the door, she lets him in, accepts his affection, and delights in it.
Recently, Virginia painted a painting of Spade, and when I asked her what scripture she would like to put on it, she thought about it for a minute and said, “Love is like a dog to me.” I told her I thought that was a beautiful phrase to add to her painting, so we stamped all the letters, glued a ribbon on the back and she hung it on the back door right above the plexiglass that now covers the door. As we hung it, I noticed the grooves where Spade spent the first year of his life scratching at my back door, before we were forced to cover it. And as I studied the grooves his paws had made, I was reminded of the words that Jesus spoke, “I stand at the door and knock,” and I realized Virginia’s words were not far from God’s truth, that love really is like a dog to me.
The love of Jesus began to scratch at my heart as He whispered, I love you with a never-ending, never- stopping, never-giving-up kind of love. I will never stop knocking at your door, even on the days when you are so focused on doing that you forget about the being. Even the days, when you shove me away in the small shoe tying moments, because the clock is ticking and you forget it is I who made time and it is I who gave it to you. Even on the days when you never notice my presence, when you forget I am with you as you paint and as you write and as you carpool and as you cook and in every little moment as you live. Even when your hands are too full to reach out and touch me because you forget it is I who brings you joy and that receiving my love will empty your arms.
I love you even when you shove me out the door of your thoughts. I tend to turn your life upside down, tend to get right in front of you when your hands are full, even let you stumble a bit, so that you will remember I am present. I get in your way, alter your path, because I have a better one, one that involves laying down all that you carry so that you can kneel down to receive my love.
Like Virginia, would you call my name and invite me to go wherever you go? Would you delight in me like I delight in you? Would you see me for who I am? I am not someone that gets in your way. I AM the way, the only way. And my ways are not your ways. I am not focused on your always running away. I am delighting in your return. Would you open your eyes and see the delight in mine, the deep love I feel for you. “Delight in me, and I will give you the desires of your heart.” My yoke is easy and my burden is light because all I require of you is to receive my love, to keep coming home to me in repentance.
So Spade still waits in the driveway for me to come home, dancing and twirling and celebrating when he sees my van round the corner. He awaits my return like my Father awaiting his prodigal daughter. And I took notice of Spade yesterday, emptied my arms, and bent down to receive the love he had to give. And now I call him over by my chair at night and see in his eyes the love he has always had for me but I was too tired and busy and burdened to receive. But a love is finally growing down deep in my heart for the dog who has loved me with a never-ending, always-pursuing, always-forgiving, never-leaving-even-though-you-leave-me kind of love.
I once asked my husband if he thought Spade was the spawn of Satan sent to torture me in my child rearing years or if he thought Spade was a messenger from God sent to teach me patience. I was never sure which in the early days, but Virginia reminded me with a smile the other day that dog and God have all the same letters, and she was so proud of herself for figuring that out on her own. So dog and God have the same letters and in the end, Spade was a letter to me. A love letter dropped down my chimney from the God who loves me even more than the dog who is obsessed with me. I could cry to think of the times I have ignored them both and the joy I have missed in receiving their love.
So I return home, and I see the God spelled backwards far off in the distance, dancing and twirling, ready to shower me with his love. So I smile now and delight in all his delighting in me, and I remember the words of my Virginia, “Love is like a dog to me.” And as Spade celebrates my return in the driveway, I am reminded that love is always waiting for me to come home…
Luke 15:20 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…