God and Big Red
Often I flip the family album page to the picture of Big Red, the red Labrador retriever who nudged my daughter and I further along on the path to acceptance and healing. I smile and pull the pair of shredded slippers that he left me out of the closet and hug them to my heart. God doesn’t always work through slippers and a red Labrador retriever, but He did in our case.
Like his red and green Christmas ball, Big Red bounced into my daughter’s life and mine when a very important person refused to reenter it. Her father had deposited us as unnecessary cargo in a small town in Washington State and driven off to pursue his dreams. We boarded a train to a civilized city where I could get a job and life creaked forward. I missed him and she did too. Even though she had just passed her second birthday she would ask, “Where’s daddy? When is he coming back?”
“Soon, I hope,” I would say, holding her close and kissing her hair.
We both missed our dog that was not a red retriever, but a brown spotted beagle that my husband had named Dawg. Hoping that my husband would come for us and desperately trying to hold on to the connection, I kept in touch with his mother who lived not too far away from us. Through her he knew where we were, but he just didn’t come for us.
God sent Big Red to us instead. Big Red wasn’t the name on his papers, but we called him that because of his size and the immensity of his spirit. He came from a much more distinguished pedigree than we did, but his generosity of spirit did not allow him to act the part of a snob for even a bark or two. Instead, he loved everyone and even when people didn’t love him back he loved them anyway. Big Red’s love can be compared favorably with God’s love.
Although Big Red had an owner who took care of his physical needs and loved him, he knew that he owned the world and belonged to everyone, His owner loaned him for many weekends to a couple who also substituted as grandparents for my daughter. We visited them often and soon Big Red had scampered his way into our hearts as well. He admired the bedroom slippers that I had gotten for Christmas and one day when I wasn’t guarding them he snatched them, flipped them in the air and chewed off the toes. Big Red went camping with my daughter and her substitute grandparents and their grandchildren and he didn’t play favorites. At the lake he splashed everyone equally and he deposited sticks to throw in everyone’s lap regardless of gender, age, or willingness to throw them. Yet, he had time for quiet moments and secret hugs when my heart was too full of hurt to be with other people.
When Big Red developed arthritis and bone trouble as the veterinarian told us that dogs of his pedigree often did, I dreaded what I knew would eventually happen to him. “God always takes the people and things I love,” I fumed to myself in self pity and despair. I worried about my daughter as well. She had had so much loss in her life. How would she take it when Big Red died or had to be put to sleep?
I felt like we were living on the edge of a cliff with Big Red standing guard over us. When he toppled over the edge, we would too. One day when he whimpered in pain I hugged him and got the slippers he loved so much out of the closet. I dangled them in front of his nose and whispered, “I wish you didn’t have to suffer. You are such a wonderful friend.”
I looked into Big Red’s soft brown eyes and I didn’t see fear or resentment or even pain. I saw love and trust and even a playful gleam when he saw the slippers. I knew that my hand on his head gave Big Red hope. I knew that God’s hand on my life and my daughter’s would hold us steady. It has. When this certainty fades with time and dreams that don’t come true – my husband never returned- I pull out the slippers as Big Red’s gentle reminder to me.