“Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the LORD.” Psalm 107:43
Alfred Lord Tennyson, an English author and poet, wrote, “God gives us love. Something to love, He only lends us.”
For years I kept this quote on my refrigerator, until it became a yellow, tattered, sliver of newsprint. Having loved and lost a number of faithful pets, it ever reminded me to cherish the love of all that God ‘lent’ me. I never expected to someday draw an inner strength from it to help our young daughter learn one of life’s most important lessons … never be afraid to love.
When just a toddler she had to say good bye to our beloved cat, Rocky. A few months afterward, I overheard her conversation with God on her play telephone. She told God if He would let Rocky come home to play with her for one day she would promise to send him back. She knew Rocky could only be well in heaven with God; the doctors here on earth could not make him well. Then again, when she was four years old, she had to say good bye to our beautiful Siamese cat, Nicki. Both losses seem to hit our daughter especially hard.
Fortunately, at that time we had two other wonderful cats, Mindy and Sandy, and our beloved beagle, Buttons. Having other pets to love somehow made the hurt more bearable for the whole family. Our daughter was only six when our Buttons died at almost 16 years old. So, by the ripe old age of six, our little girl’s nightly prayers had become a long list of heartaches remembered.
I knew we all needed time to grieve, time for the hurt to lessen. Whenever the children talked of getting a new dog their description of what they wanted was always the same … Buttons. About six months later I went looking for that special beagle to heal our hearts. There was a beautiful little puppy with the same markings that looked just like our Buttons. Beagle puppies’ markings change over the course of the first year, but at least for a short time, the children would have their Buttons back. Meanwhile they would grow to love this puppy in her own right. We named our new puppy Bandit. She had stolen my heart immediately.
The younger two children were thrilled, completely accepting her into their young hearts without hesitation. However, I wasn’t prepared for our daughter’s reaction. She wanted to know why I had bought that puppy. She wanted to know if I could take it back! It almost broke my heart. I told her the seller would probably let us return her, but I had already fallen in love with Bandit, and so had the rest of us. I told her I was afraid I just couldn’t return her.
I asked her why she didn’t want the new puppy, but she couldn’t tell me. Maybe her young mind wasn’t able to put it into words; she just stood there looking so small and fragile. After searching my soul for the answer, I understood. All these months she had been silently waiting for the next pet to die, knowing it would do no good to ask God for them back, as she had tried that once before. Now, seeing the new puppy, she was afraid to love again. She was afraid to love and lose, afraid to experience that pain once again.
When I asked her if it was that she was afraid to love the puppy, she tumbled into my arms, sobbing that if she loved her she would die too. Both of us had a good cry, and holding her close, I tried to explain about living, loving, and dying. How it is far better to have loved, even if we must say good bye to that love at some point. To help her more fully understand, I asked her if she wished we would never have had Buttons, knowing full well what the answer would be. I told her that Bandit did not want to be Buttons or replace her; that if she gave Bandit some time, I was sure she would come to love her.
During all of this, she had been cautiously watching Bandit at play in the yard and the boys petting and playing with her. Now and then a flicker of a smile had started at the corners of her mouth, but was held tightly back in fear of letting go. Then, after a few minutes, she threw her arms around me and skipped off to play with her new little friend. I saw a lilt in her skip that hadn’t been there in quite a while. I knew then, that even more than the rest of us, she needed this puppy to heal the hurt in her heart, and to renew the cycle of love in her life. After all, that is what life is: a cycle of love, both given and received. And something to love, God only lends us.