by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
For the first time in nearly a dozen years, my wife, Charlotte, and I are without a dog. We had our beloved dog, Teri, put to sleep in late November. She had a large, inoperable tumor in her abdomen. She hadn’t been eating and was having trouble climbing steps. If you’ve been attending Maplewood UMC for a while, you may have heard me preach about her. She was the dog I called “mongrel” and “freak of nature.” But we loved that silly dog anyway. However, she will be our last; we’ve decided we won’t be getting another dog.
We adopted her in June, 2003, when she was about five months old. The lady from the shelter told us she was a Queensland Blue Heeler. Another name for that breed is Australian Cattle Dog. She was a mix but that was her dominant breed. They have a reputation as an intelligent breed and Teri was no exception. She was also a sweet, affectionate dog. The people at the shelter had named her “Pepper” but our daughter, Monica, who was ten-and-a-half at the time, named her Teri. No one knows where it came from but that became her name.
In a fairly short time, Teri became my wife, Charlotte’s dog. She liked the rest of the family but her first loyalty was to Charlotte. In dog terms, Charlotte was her “alpha” or pack leader. She was a great watchdog and she once barked at my brother-in-law, Rob, who isn’t a “dog person.” I always thought that was one of the signs that she was an intelligent dog. I figured any dog who barked at my brother-in-law had to be smart.
We miss her, and our house and lives are emptier without her. When I leave the house, there’s no dog “herding” me out the door. When I drop food on the floor, I have to clean it up because there’s no dog to eat it. And when I have a late night snack, there’s no dog sitting nearby mooching. Most of all, there’s no sense of the unconditional love that comes from a beloved family pet. A part of our family is gone, never to return.
You may be wondering what this has to do with the holidays, except perhaps for the animated Peanuts special “I Want A Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown.” Partly, it’s because our dog is on my mind. But beyond that, she came into our lives and made them better. She gave us unconditional love. She left us far too soon. And all those are things you can say about Jesus.
He came into the world and changed the lives of Mary, Joseph, the apostles, and many others, and I know he’s changed mine. Living for Jesus won’t necessarily make your life better but it will give you a new reason for living. Further, it will give you new life (1 John 5:11-12). It will change your values and it will change your sense of your own value (Matt. 10:29-31).
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Jesus died too soon. If he had lived to my age he would have repudiated his doctrine.” That isn’t what I mean when I say he died too soon. What I mean is that his friends and disciples missed him and wanted him to stay. Peter didn’t want him to die (Matt. 16:22). After his resurrection, Mary Magdalene didn’t want him to go either (John 20:17). He left his work for his disciples to finish (Acts 1:8).
Most of us know John 3:16 but fewer know 1 John 3:16: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (NRSV). This is the kind of unconditional love such as many people have never experienced. God’s love is everlasting and unconditional because love is God’s nature. “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8 NRSV).
We may never see Teri or any of our other pets again. I don’t know whether there will be animals in Heaven, although it would be a shame if there weren’t. When we get there it may not matter. But I do know Jesus will be there and we will see him (1 John 3:2). He touched numerous lives while he was on Earth, and he continues to touch and redeem lives today. This is our hope and the hope of the world. This is the message of Christmas.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. . . . Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1a, 2 NRSV.)
Copyright © 2014 by David Phelps