Today is Valentine's Day, but rather than talking about romantic love like everyone else, I want to talk about another kind, one that has taught me about love with no strings attached.
Wendy was my first baby. I fell in love the moment I saw her: big brown eyes, an adorable nose, and really big feet. She was, after all, a puppy--a beautiful Labrador Retriever the color of my favorite Valentine gift, milk chocolate. Soon we adopted a brother for her, Roman, a Lab the color of white chocolate. About the same age and size, they made a striking pair.
When we brought home our first real baby, I worried how the dogs would react to our new, loud, little one. At first, they were puzzled and nervous. Whenever the baby cried, Roman would leave the room, but Wendy would run over to check on her. She’d wag her tail, slow and low, and with those eyes, she’d ask me, “Is she all right?”
Soon, they were both used to the new addition to our family. When my daughter was in preschool, she had fewer crying spells, and those were generally brought on by toddler angst. Wendy would nuzzle her to comfort or reassure her, sometimes distracting her enough to head off a possible tantrum. (Good girl!)
Wendy wanted to be wherever we were, even after she had surgery for a torn ligament. The big purple cast was an obvious visual reminder to be careful around her. My daughter would take a break from playing, pet her, and say, “Oh Wendy. Does your boo boo hurt?”
One morning, Wendy sat in front of my office windows surveying the neighborhood. My daughter put down her doll, went over and stood next to her. She said, “Wendy, let’s look out the window together.” She carefully put her arm around the dog’s neck and gently petted her nose. They stood looking at each other—eye-to-eye. Of course my camera was in another room, and the moment was over too quickly.
Through them, I learned how to nurture and care for someone who depended on me, and my daughter learned compassion and gentleness. They gave us companionship, good memories, sloppy kisses, warm welcomes, and lots of laughter. Plus, they barked ferociously at anyone who came near our door, which suited me just fine.
They weren’t perfect, of course: Wendy was wild her first year and a half; Roman dug through the trash more than once; and if the opportunity ever presented itself, they always ran off, coming home filthy, smelly, and exhausted. But I was always so glad to have them back.
After they died, we couldn’t stay dog-less for long. Sometime around Valentine’s Day, we adopted a new pup, a gorgeous Lab/Shepherd mix with black fur and ears that stand straight up. Now gray around her muzzle, she’s a devoted, obedient, very smart girl.
Like centuries of dog lovers before me, I’ve often looked at my dogs and admired their physical beauty and steadfast devotion. Dogs love their people even when we aren’t lovable. Even when we’re grouchy, demanding, neglectful, selfish.
Their example reminds me a little of God’s love for us. He loves us unconditionally—no conditions or strings attached. Just because. Even though we aren’t lovable. It’s hard to imagine a love that perfect, isn’t it? Good thing he gave us dogs to demonstrate in a small way what a love like that looks like. And what joy it can bring us if we accept it.
I hope you enjoy today regardless of whether you have a dog or a Valentine. And I hope I get some chocolate. :)
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