Twelve years ago Josh and Jacob decided to get me the Christmas gift of my dreams. I have always wanted a chocolate Lab, a beautiful dog, as noble in its stature as it is gentle in its demeanor. Just before Christmas in 1997 the boys came walking in with a brown bundle of fur, complete with red bow on its head, and my heart was captured. We named her Coco. (Okay, so we’re not the most creative people in the world.)
If you know anything of my story you know that Coco has been an integral part of it. It didn’t take long for us to recognize that this cute little puppy, a refuge from the local dog pound is about as much Lab as I am British rock star. Her face lacks the strong, bull-like stockiness of a Lab. Her chest doesn’t have the broad, confidence. She is brown and she is big. Beyond that she looks a lot like an 80 pound Chihuahua. But she is mine and I have loved her for 12 years, as much for where she came from as who she was. She was a loving, thoughtful gift from my sons.
Now I confess it has been kind of a love/hate relationship much of the time. Coco has been the topic of many sermons and a number of fits of rage. She has eaten at least a dozen shoes, three tennis rackets, a gas grill, and the engine of a riding lawnmower. She has managed to escape from the most detailed (and expensive) backyard security systems you could imagine. And she is a master of the “I look like I’m coming when you call, no, I’ll runaway” maneuver. She can take me from patting her head and rubbing her belly to screaming obscenities that would make my mother cringe faster that any living creature I know. (She’s kind of like golf in that sense.)
Those of you (all 14) that have read my book, Failure and How I Achieved It, know that Coco was the topic of an entire chapter and has become for me a metaphor for grace and second chances. She was hit by a car 10 years ago, left to die, and I nursed her back to health. From that moment on our relationship changed. She lies on the deck on lazy summer afternoons with her head in my lap and we talk (well, I talk) for hours about things that need to be talked about but never heard. On really cold nights, when we can shame Doris into it, we let her sleep on the kitchen floor and I sleep on the couch in the family room so that she can see I’m close. (And so she won’t pee on the carpet.)
It’s been 12 years, one car wreck, and a lot of miles. Last summer it became obvious that I had to pick her up to put her in the truck to go for walks or out to the cabin. She has been getting slower and slower to move. And last week we took her to the vet. Severe arthritis. Bulging disks. Creeping paralysis. And that was just me. You can’t believe what he said about Coco. I’m not going to go all “Marley and Me” on you but the time has come to say goodbye to Coco.
A couple of nights ago I found her in the corner of our yard, unable to get up to come to the house. This morning I had to pick her up and hold her while she got her wobbly legs under her. She stumbles more than walks now and is starting to vocalize the pain when she moves too quick. Jacob is out of town. We’ll let him get back and on Monday we’ll take her back to the vet for the last time.
Now I can think of a thousand lessons in Coco’s story. I want to write about changing your ways, being accepted even when you don’t look like what others think you should, or learning to trust the heart of the one who takes care of you. Heck, I’ve preached on most of those and used her as an example. I could talk about grace, loyalty, and perseverance. She is a treasure of illustrations and object lessons.
I think what I need to say though instead is just thank you. Thank you Josh and Jacob for tapping into your allowance and your hearts to give me a gift that has lasted 12 years and will live with me forever. Thank you Doris for gritting your teeth and forcing a smile when Coco tracked mud on your carpet and wallowed dog hair on the sofa. Thank you neighbors for being kind and understanding when you called for the hundredth time to let me know she was out. (Except for that one jerk that lives at….oh, I got sidetracked.) Thank you Coco for unashamed enthusiasm and unabashed love, licking my face when I shed unseen tears, for listening to my stories when I was afraid to tell the truth, and for laying at my feet when it felt like I was alone in the world.
And by the way, thank you Master for loving me in the very same way, no, in a far, far greater way than I loved Coco. You have overlooked my messes, indulged my escapes into fantasy, and always, always brought me back home. You have picked me up and held me when I couldn’t get my wobbly feet under me. You have carried me from the pit of my paralysis to the warmth of your chest. You have lifted me up and taken me places that I could never have imagined existed without you. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” Psalm 8:4
So Monday we’ll do the deed. I hope Josh and Jacob don’t get any ideas about where to take me a few years from now when my joints ache and I fall face down in my food bowl. But, when that time comes, as it will, whatever it looks like, I imagine they will tell funny stories and remember some of the frustrating times that I put them through. Maybe they will try to decide what object lessons to draw from my life and what illustrations to gain from my journey. There will be a lot of things they can say I’m sure. I hope they’ll remember the change, the grace, the transformation. I hope that they feel compelled to just say, “Thank you,” to God and everyone around them. That will be enough.