I don’t know about you but I have so enjoyed the different voices we have heard from this pulpit in the last few months. I love hearing how the spirit speaks to us so differently yet really quite the same.
So now it’s my turn. Several years ago when our pastor Deborah Suess met our dog Gabby
and saw how spoiled rotten he was, she used to say, “if I have a second life, I want to come back as your dog”. One day we were talking about pets and I was sharing how much Gabby was teaching me about life and God’s love and Christlike characteristics that I constantly work on to incorporate into my daily interactions with others. She said “that would make a great sermon”. She encouraged me and thus I wrote some thoughts and presented them one Sunday morning. As I read that first version a few weeks ago I realized how many things had changed, and I had some additional thoughts to share. So here is my revised version of God Spelled Backward (which by the way wasn’t an original title that I thought of).
It all started on an autumn day in the late 1970’s. We were doing some remodeling on our house and my sister and her husband and kids had come up for the day. Rick, her husband was going to help Bill hang drywall and my sister and I and the kids were going to Greenbluff to pick apples. We had gone to a farm up there named McGlades for years. They had two adult Irish setters that we always admired and petted when we were there. Well, that autumn day was different. Their female setter had had puppies and were ready to be adopted. So not only did I arrive home with apples, we also had a puppy! We fittingly named him McIntosh. That was the beginning of our love affair with Irish setters. As the years have gone by, between us, our son, Jason and our daughter, Leah we have had eight Irish setters in the family. MacIntosh was our first. Then came Zach, Gabby, Samson, Annie, Willow, Kira, and Embers. All are romping in doggy heaven except Embers who is Leah’s current dog.
After McIntosh was gone, Bill and I didn’t get another dog for several years. In fact it was after I retired. I knew Bill really wanted another dog, so I decided to surprise him with a puppy one year for Christmas. When we went to pick him out at the breeders house, there were 14 puppies in that litter! Christy, the breeder was telling us that this one little male was very vocal when it came time to eat. He was adorable! We ended up bringing him home, naming him Gabby.
Right before we got Gabby, I had had foot surgery. Not moving around a whole lot I spent most days in the recliner with my foot elevated. Gabby was a real cuddle bug, so he was in my lap most all of the time. We developed a real bond. In fact, Gabby continued to jump in our laps even when he weighed 65 pounds. My daughter told me one time that one dog will always be your “heart dog,” and for me Gabby was my heart dog. For Jason it was Zach; for Leah it was Samson.
Gabby gave Bill and I so much joy. He was a gentle soul. As I spent so much time with him I came to the conclusion that animals have feelings and souls, and I saw it just by looking in their eyes. Gabby had very expressive eyes. I started looking at other animals eyes, and it just seemed like they were speaking through them. Sometimes I am a little embarrassed to admit some of the things that have bothered me when it comes to animals. For example, Bill and I went to the Ellensburg rodeo a few years ago. We didn’t go to the main events but to the kids competitions and fun stuff like barrel racing and mutton busting. I started crying because I felt so bad for the sheep — they looked so scared and confused. My chickens at home all have personalities, and they have come to trust me through being gentle and soft-spoken– and in turn they speak to me. When our friend Judi lived with us for a few months she had her cat Shanene (Sha-ne-ne) with her. Shanene was getting pretty old and sick. Judi was having a hard time deciding if it was time to let her beloved pet go. I remember one morning when Judi was in the shower, I went down to her bedroom to visit Shanene. I gently put my hand under her chin, so I could see her eyes. It was so clear to me she was saying, “Please, it is time.” It was hard for Judi to make that call, but we went that day and we said goodbye.
Beginning with Gabby and through the years, our dogs have taught me so many things. Here are some:
True Friendship –we’ve all heard the saying “dog is man’s best friend”. Or woman’s. There is a lot to that. I remember when McIntosh died, our family had a memorial service for him. We wrote goodbye letters to him and our son, Jason, in his letter, said that Mac was someone he could go to and talk to and he would always listen. Never talked back, just listened and then comforted. Isn’t that what we want in a friend? Someone we can depend on for a listening ear, and then to just leave it at that. Not necessarily give an opinion–just listen. Accepting us just as we are and not expecting more. Are we true friends to each other?
Loyalty–what could be more loyal than a dog? It doesn’t matter what you do, they are always there. They don’t judge or condemn. They will do anything for their master. Sometimes when I took Gabby to the park and he started to roam a little too far from me, I would hide from him. It was fascinating to watch him when he realized he couldn’t see me. That’s when the nose took over. He’d start running wildly with his nose skyward until he got my scent. Suddenly all of those instincts to sniff everything went by the wayside until he found me. His loyalty to me outweighed interest in anything else. Are we loyal to Christ, not letting our humanness overtake us?
Forgiveness—receiving and giving. For the most part Gabby was an exceptional dog. He never tore anything up by chewing or made any messes. The few times he did, his reprimand was very short. He looked at me with those big brown eyes with that “please forgive me” look, and who could stay angry at that? At the same time he was just as quick to forgive. Probably several times I stepped on his paw or tail by accident, and he would let out this pathetic yelp which of course makes you feel horrible. But again the eyes said it all. “It’s ok, mom, I know you didn’t mean it.” Do we give and receive forgiveness from each other with no strings attached and no record keeping?
Obedience—- when I think of the word obedience, I think of obedience school for dogs. We took Gabby to obedience school. The way to teach a dog is to repeat over and over and to reward them with a treat and then praise. Soon they will obey without that treat. What they want is to please their master. They worship us and they love pleasing us. Do we strive to please Christ by obeying the spirit within?
Joy—-this was my favorite with Gabby. Gabby was full of joy. To me nothing is more joyful than seeing a dog that is happy and content. Ears flopping, tails wagging and a big smile on their face. Gabby biggest moment of joy was when Bill came home from work. It seemed like he knew how to tell time, because right around 4:30 everyday he would go in the backyard and sit and wait. When he saw the car come in the gate he would run and get his squeaky ball and then the fun began. Pure joy! No matter if we were gone an hour or a day, it was the same abundance of excitement. Dogs’ joys are simple—run, sniff, play in the snow, chase a squirrel, take a walk, meet friends at the park. Do we enjoy the simple things of life so fully?
Acceptance of everyone —did you ever notice that dogs really don’t see each other in terms of breed, size or color. In fact, often it is the little dogs that are in charge. They almost immediately set up a pecking order, so to speak, and then they sort of just accept it and move on. Granted there usually is an alpha among them and as long as everyone is ok with that, they work it out. Acceptance and tolerance for everyone.
Encourager–what could be more encouraging than to have someone be so joyful at just seeing you after being gone all day. I don’t know about you, but it says to me I am worthy of someone’s love and I do have a reason to come home. I have an incentive to keep going — to get up in the morning and do it all over again. This dog is counting on me for his livelihood, without me he has nothing. That is a great encouragement —he trusts me to do and be there for him. I am needed. I think of single people, especially seniors who have pets. I remember my grandma—she thought the world of her dog. They were very close companions. I think they counted on each other for encouragement. Do we encourage each other by saying, you did a great job, or thank you, or it sure is nice seeing you today.
Hope — a dog’s day is full of hope. They are hoping to go with you in the car, go to the park, take a walk, chase their favorite toy, have a special treat, sleep in our bed, take a nap in the sunshine. Have you ever had a dog come up to you with perked up ears, leash in mouth and cocking his head to one side, just seeming to say, is it time for that walk? Do we live with hope in our daily lives. What do we hope for? Do we anticipate each day with a renewed hope? Do we ask Christ what we can do each day to live in the hope that he has called us to?
Loving –this is what it is all about. If we are being a friend, loyal, forgiving, obedient, joyful, accepting, encouraging and being hopeful isn’t that love?
Gabby always wanted to be near us. When we were gone from the house and left him alone, about 95% of the time when we returned home a piece of our clothing was in the middle of the living room floor. He wanted our scent near him. I think having that near him gave him reassurance that we would return. He wanted to be near us more than anything in the world. His love was unconditional and never-ending. Do we keep near enough to Christ to never lose his scent?
So these are the things that our dogs have taught me throughout the years. Many of you might have other animals that teach you some of the same things. I believe that God created animals for our enjoyment and to teach us the Christlike qualities that we all work at every day.
I wanted to end with a few of the practical things we can also learn:
1. Get plenty of exercise everyday.
2. Find joy in being able to run and jump, not everyone can.
3. No one will want to kiss you if you have bad breath.
4. Scratch what itches.
5. Play more, worry less.
6. We all need to be told good boy or good girl from time to time.
7. The size of the heart is more important than the size of the body.
8. For the most part, be satisfied with who you are and what you have.
9. Enjoy the company of children.
10. Be gentle and loving with older people.
11. A good belly or back rub makes everyone feel better.
12. Be willing to learn new tricks.
13. Messes can be cleaned up a lot easier than broken spirits.
14. Take a ride on a pretty day and savor the wind blowing in your face
15. Fire hydrants are our friends.
16. When you have a chance to go to the bathroom, do so.
17. And finally, life is, on the whole pretty doggone good.
I still wonder if it is a coincidence that dog is God spelled backwards.
This message was presented by Pam Emery during Sunday worship service on June 10, 2018.