Walking Our Faith: Living in the shadow of past relationships
On Tuesday afternoon I rushed down I-70, hoping to beat the incoming snowstorm, to pick up my newest Newfoundland dog foster. His name is Russell, he’s 5 years old and a beautiful example of his breed. He is coming in to Big Dogs Huge Paws rescue because his family could no longer take care of him. They made the next best decision and surrendered him to a rescue organization that will find him a loving forever home.
My job is to take Russell to my veterinarian for a health checkup and then to the groomer to get cleaned up, but most importantly to help him feel settled and loved until it’s time for him to be adopted.
Russell is the third Newfoundland dog I have fostered since January. But I have to admit to ulterior motives to my altruism. Henry, my 11-year-old Newfoundland who I adopted from the same rescue organization, was the center of my life for eight years. When Henry passed away last September he left a big hole in my heart.
If you’re an animal lover or have had pets of any kind, I am sure there was one special animal who stole your heart. The relationship somehow felt more special than all the others. That was my relationship with Henry.
Henry was not just a companion. When I looked in his eyes I sensed a stoic wisdom that was always a calming presence in my life. I have missed him dearly since he passed. I have never been married, never had children. My primary experience of love has been through family and friends.
As we know, human relationships offer unique challenges. Perhaps that is why thousands of years ago we developed relationships with animals. I know Henry offered me unconditional love, more than I deserved. When I was filled with sadness, when I struggled with a bout of depression, Henry often laid his head on the edge of my bed and nudged my hand until I looked in his eyes.
I must admit that when each new dog arrives in my home, I look in their eyes and wonder, will you be my next Henry?
But when I brought Russell home on Tuesday, I realized that looking for Henry in another dog is neither fair to that dog, nor fair to the memory of Henry. No dog will ever replace Henry, nor should they have to carry that burden.
So I am determined to just let Russell be Russell. Rather than seeing my foster experience as a beauty pageant to find the next Henry, I am going to redefine my role as being the best foster mom I can to each dog, to love them and help them find their own forever home.
It occurred to me that we may be tempted to bring these same expectations into our human relationships. How often in the past did I meet a man and compare him with someone I loved decades ago? How unfair is it to not allow this person to be seen in their own light?
It’s very tempting to live in the shadow of past relationships, whether they are of a spouse who has passed or a dear friend or even a parent or a child. How often do we limit our ability to embrace new relationships because we close our wounded hearts?
Our emotional residue can make fresh starts more challenging. I believe we can ask God to open our hearts to experience not only God’s love for us, but another’s love for us. We can seek God’s forgiveness for things we did not do right in our past relationships and we can seek God’s blessing as we grow and become more loving.
I often recall the lines from Psalm 139: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb, you knew me before I was born, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Will we grant that same promise of compassion to each person we meet? Not see them as a stereotype, or based on our last interaction with someone similar, or make them bear the burden of someone who hurt us in the past?
When we carry brokenness, our arms are too full to welcome the future, our hearts too closed to receive the hope and love that we all desperately need.
Will we extend God’s grace to each person who enters our lives? It is a gift we not only give to that person, but one we give to ourselves.
I look forward to eventually finding the Newfoundland dog who will join my family. But I believe this time it will happen not because I see Henry, but because I recognize that dog’s own soul.
Suzanne lives in Breckenridge. Her books are available at Next Page Books and Nosh in Frisco and at the Tattered Book Cover in Denver.
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