I had waited many years before finally giving into the boys’ frequent begging for a dog of their own. I wanted the boys to be more mature and fully aware of the responsibility for taking care of another life. I wanted to make sure I was ready to take on the responsibility myself. As far as I am concerned having a dog in the house is like having another child that never matures past the age of three. Being a single parent with two busy, hungry, boys is demanding enough without adding a dog to the mix.
At any rate, a few months ago I finally agreed to let them have a dog. We picked out a terrier mix from the local shelter and the boys named him Toby. Toby is a loveable dog and we had several little incidents — the normal stuff that happens when you are adjusting to new dog in the house. However, nothing could have prepared me for what we came home to a few Sundays ago after church…
The moment I pulled up into the driveway, I noted that something was horribly awry with the windows. The front blinds were dragged down with a few of them missing altogether. We rush and open the front door and there Toby is running wildly around the house. He had escaped from his crate! I looked over to the dining room and behold, one of the blinds in the dining room had chew marks all down the front and were torn. We go upstairs and the blinds in the boys’ room looked the same as the front blinds – busted out and dragged down.
That was the absolute last straw. I was fully prepared and ready to release Toby back to the animal shelter. I could not tolerate this mutt tearing up my brand new blinds. We just had these blinds installed a few weeks ago. I was so proud of my nice, pretty, new blinds. They looked dignified. Now here comes this mutt, tearing up my house. I’ve been through enough drama and loss. I just didn’t have time or money for this kind of foolishness.
Once they boys were fully aware of my intention (and they knew I was dead serious about turning Toby back in the next day), they began to be very sorrowful – to the point of sobbing. My youngest son, Trey began to weep uncontrollably, loudly proclaiming his love for Toby, how he had failed Toby, and how he was going to miss him so much. He couldn’t stand seeing Toby walk around the house, wagging his tail, knowing full well that he would never see him again. He knew that once I turned him back over to the shelter, his chances of getting adopted by another family was slim because he would be a “return” which meant that he would likely be put to sleep. Trey could not handle this thought at all. Michael, the oldest son, attempted to be stoic and tried to play a video game, but he couldn’t take it either and stopped playing. He began to confess that it was all his fault. He did not close the crate enough when he took Toby’s leash off before we left for church. He said that he did not double-check to make sure that the latch was secure. He could not take Trey’s crying so badly and he felt upset and sad. Michael, who seldom cries, began to sob.
I told the boys that the mutt was going back. Who was paying for these blinds? Now I have to go back and buy more blinds and get someone to put them back up. How do we look with a bedroom sheet hanging up in the front room looking all tacky to prevent people from looking in night? How can I trust that this mutt will stay in the crate when we go to work and school tomorrow?
The boys went downstairs, sat down on the couch and put their heads together. They decided that they needed to give up something in exchange for Toby’s life. They did not want their dog to die because they were careless. Trey stated he was willing to get spanked, go without fruit snacks, and not have any privileges — anything at all in order for Toby to live. Michael didn’t want Trey to take the hit for something he felt responsible for. Trey said that the blinds were blinds but Toby was a living creature. He shouldn’t have to die over some blinds.
They decided that they needed to give up two very important things – the new official PlayStation 3 game controller that Trey would was to get from his dad the following week (value $60) and Michael decided that he could do without replacing his cell phone. He had previously lost it at school and some kid found it and threw it in the trash. The plan was to replace the phone the next week and the insurance replacement cost was $50. Trey said that he had been going without a controller for his long so he didn’t need it anyway. Michael said that he didn’t need a phone and the phone was not worth Toby’s life. He said his chest hurt hearing Trey cry. The boys called their dad and asked him to give the controller money for the blinds. Between the both of them, they found $110 to replace the blinds and save Toby’s life.
They showed a willingness to give up items that they truly wanted for the life of a little 20lb dog. Their love for Toby superseded their desires for material things. Michael cared for his brother’s pain more than his own pain. As I observed the sincere interaction between these two boys, I noticed that their petty differences in terms of bickering, getting on each others’ nerves, blaming each other, etc. had all disappeared. They were united in purpose and on one accord (this is a rare occasion) for the sole mission of saving Toby.
I also noticed something about myself. I was quickly very willing to give the dog up with no thought or consequence. I always had it running in the back of my mind that if this mutt turns up to be too much to handle that I would be taking him back. Thus, I had not truly allowed myself to attach fully to Toby the way the boys had.
This got me to thinking. Once you have been endured a lot of difficult stuff, once you have been under enough stress, no matter how much you pray and how much you claim to know God, it is very easy for your heart to get a little hard. When our hearts get hurt, they become hard. Hard hearts break easy. Tender hearts bounce back. When your heart loses its ability to bounce back – watch out. Yes, it is important to have boundaries, to use discernment and to guard your heart, but it is also just as important to know when to love, when to forgive, and when to give someone (or an animal another chance). When we look at the way Jesus gave sacrificial love to us, we should be willing to love sacrificially as well. I used this example for the boys later that evening and showed them how their love for Toby resembles the same sacrificial love that Jesus had for them when He died for their sins. I explained to the boys that they showed real, true love for Toby, not just gushing, emotional love because they gave up things that were important to them in order to save him. I explained to them that just like us when we hurt others or do something wrong, Toby had no clue as to how much damage he had inflicted. Yet, Jesus died for us and spared us in spite of our ignorance of our sins and their long-term consequences. On top of that, He had to wait until we understood the gravity of our sins before we would even come to him for salvation. This means that Jesus has a tender heart toward us.
The boys had shown the responsibility that I wanted them to have from the beginning about taking care of another life and they showed it above and beyond what I thought they would do. We must be willing to show sacrificial love in our daily decisions and not just mere lip service and fleeting emotions. Lesson learned: We cannot be Christ followers but walk around with hard hearts. Just like these two young boys, if we name the name of Christ, we must remember to keep our hearts tender and open in order to live life fully and freely. It is not always easy, but with Christ all things are possible – including keeping a mutt.