That's what I thought, until a dog's death and some snowshoes helped me to see ...
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On Monday morning Max, one of my two beloved Newfoundland dogs, passed away after a brief but arduous battle with bone cancer. As he died, I held him in my arms and whispered in his ear, “I love you, Max. You are a very good dog.”
After his initial diagnosis, Max received an advanced chemotherapy treatment which gave him an additional month. We spent that time doing his favorite things. He rode up front every time we headed into town. He ate a few steaks and walked along his favorite trails through the woods. But most of all, I got to spend time with Max, telling him how much I loved him.
This month with Max taught me many important lessons, but most of all it taught me about grace – a concept I have struggled with for a long time.
Grace makes no sense. Why would God give us free and unmerited love that we are not only unworthy of, but could also never return in equal measure?
But these past few weeks, involving both Max’s death and a de-cluttering operation due to a move, have given me a better perspective on God’s grace.
Needing to be rid of a lot of furniture, I posted everything to Freecycle, a site where, as its name suggests, everything is free. As I did, I was intrigued to find another side to Freecycle, where people could ask for something they hoped to receive. How logical, and yet, how strange and enticing.
I made a wish! On I posted that I would love a pair of used snowshoes, nothing fancy, just to walk with my two Newfoundland dogs through the woods this winter. I didn’t expect a reply.
A few weeks later I got a reply from a woman named Julie, in a nearby town. She had a pair of snowshoes and wanted me to have them. As I picked them up, I couldn’t miss the joy on Julie’s face, which I am sure was reflected back to her in mine. We’d both benefited from an unexpected gift – one to give, and one to receive. When I took the snowshoes out of their carrying bag, I saw that they were Red Feathers, the exact brand I’d dreamed of.
What have used snowshoes and dying Newfoundland dogs taught me about grace? Well, the extra month with Max enabled me to trade grief for gratitude, to focus my remaining time with Max on my overwhelming love for him. Julie’s generosity brought me sheer, undeserved joy. Weren’t these both experiences of blessing and unmerited favor? In both cases I got the smallest glimpse of the love of God. My own heart might be wide open to love, but it is also limited by human-ness.
Imagine how much greater the depth of love that is available to us from God, who has no limitations!
When we experience unexpected love and joy, we gain insight into God’s love for us. The grace we receive when he forgives our sin and promises to never remember it, only because we asked for forgiveness.
There is nothing we can do to earn the love God has for us. If we tried, we would surely fail. Who can be so good, so pure for more than a minute? I can’t.
And that is where God’s grace becomes our bridge – this path of love meant to bring us closer to God, who asks nothing in return, except that we walk it.
It’s easier to understand and accept how thoroughly I loved Max than to understand God’s love for me, and yet Max wasn’t perfect. When he sat up front, he put more than one small puncture in the upholstery of the car seat, and the front dashboard was the target of the infamous Newfie drool. But, I saw beyond all that to the joy in his eyes that only made me love him more, and without reservation.
Can I see myself as God sees me, with all the small and large punctures and ruptures I have been responsible for? The person God created and loves, despite all of that, simply because she is his creation – and a facet of himself?
I am beginning to grasp the tiniest bit of why and how God loves me, and that means, finally, I am beginning to grasp the tiniest bit about grace.