I go up yesterday morning to go to work, as I often have to do on the second Saturday in January. One of my duties as an actuary is to estimate our company's need for loss reserves, and this has to be done in a very narrow time window before year end financial statements are prepared. It makes for long hours this time of year. So, I headed to work, planning to get it all done in time to see the playoff game at 3:30.
I left my dog Elphie in the back yard, figuring she would enjoy running around and playing back there for the few hours I was gone. Although she stays inside with me most of the time and sleeps inside, I do this alot, and it's not a problem.
But this time it was. Somehow, Elphie found a weakness in my fence. And she wiggled her way through it, and then she was gone.
I got home about 3:30 and immediately knew something was wrong. I saw the hole she had pushed through the fence. I called her name, but there was no answer. I called...and called...and called.
The next few hours are a blur now, but suffice it to say I was distraught. Between then and bedtime, I spent hours riding around looking to see if she was in someone's yard, as did my dad. I walked up and down streets calling her name, as did both my dad and my sister. I called my vet and went to the Emergency Animal Clinic. I called the Humane Shelter. Nothing. I put lot posters up all around the neighborhood. I was desperate. Elphie is, of course, the best dog in the world. I love her so much, and she was gone. All because she had wanted a little freedom and a little adventure.
As I went to bed last night, my heart hurt. Let me correct myself - as I went to sleep. you see, I couldn't bring myself to sleep in my bedroom, because to do so I would have to look at Elphie's empty bed beside mine. And I was trying to everything I could to avoid thinking about her possibly being hungry, and out in the cold all night. It was almost unbearable.
Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." (Luke 15:4-7)As I lay on my couch last night, hurting and desperate to find Elphie, I thought about my heavenly Father. Like my dog, I have wandered off from his protective care. I haven't realized how good I had it, with Someone to love me, feed me, nurture me, and do what's best for me even when I don't understand it. I don't understand how good I have have it in his back yard and in his presence. I want to get away and chase my squirrels. I want to do things my way. I want freedom. And when I force my way out of his care, I get lost. So lost.
But what I truly understood last night, what I felt more clearly than I ever have, is how much it hurts our Father when we are lost. How he desperately calls out name over and over, pleading with us to come back into his fold. Yes, Jesus loves me. But loving me to the point of hurting - just words until I felt it for myself. Oh how it must hurt him!
Listen as Don Francisco sings about it:
This morning, one of those posters paid off. I got a call as I was getting out of church, and hen it was a number I didn't recognize, my heart leapt. It was from a man two blocks over, and he had found Elphie. She was ok. He had taken her to the Human Shelter (apparently my phone description of her wasn't very good), and she had slept in a warm place all night. I was thrilled.
So, I think I'll go pick her up in a little while....what?! No! Are you kidding me?? I rushed out of that church and drove immediately to the Shelter, and got her the heck out of there as quickly as I could. Because I love her and I wanted her to be with me. Where she would be taken care of.
Do you think our Father loves us any less? I am an imperfect human, and my dog is, well, a dog. God is infinite, full of love, mercy, and grace. He is so anxious for us to be back where we belong, we cannot even comprehend it. Wow!
As Elphie sits at my feet and I type this, I am filled with joy. May I experience the same joy by sitting at the feet of Jesus, and remembering how much I mess things up when I stray.