Photo: Abby (red collar) and Jackson at the river behind my home.
Meet my dog, Jackson. I acquired him from the local shelter along with his “bunkmate,” Abby. Abby was a great-looking Labrador mix, with an estimated age of 10 or 11 years. She and Jackson, who was thought to be about four years old, arrived at the shelter together and appeared to have been living together for some time prior to that. Since Abby and Jackson were already a pair, I took them both. They had been starved and were very thin, so both were very happy with my program of extra rations until they were back to normal weights.
Apparently, they had been abused and were fearful for the first few months. Eventually, they warmed up to their new lives in my home. Abby lived two more years before developing liver disease. I had her put down in October. When you adopt an older dog, you are signing up to be the rest home and hospice provider. It is worth it, however, and I was pleased to give her a happy and healthy final two years.
Jackson, since I have known him, has been a fearful dog. Part Dalmatian (he has a white chest with Dalmatian spots and white, spotted paws), he has the nervousness that sometimes accompanies this breed. His mistreatment has left him fearful of any new noise, all sticks and brooms, and sudden movements. His fear can be disabling and was significantly worse for months after the loss of Abby. He seems uncertain with any changes to the routines, and hides in the closet if I am cooking, cleaning, opening a package, or most anything else that he was not expecting. Of course, if you have seen my cooking, you might hide, too! He is my constant shadow in every movement around the house. Robert Service wrote a poem about such dogs, entitled, “Mongrel.” The last stanzas are appropriate to Jackson:
“And now he is a household fixture
And never wants to leave my side;
A doggy dog, a mongrel mixture,
I couldn’t lose him if I tried.
His tail undocked is one wild wiggle,
His heaven is my happy nod;
His life is one ecstatic wriggle,
And I’m his God.”
How does Jackson deal with His fears? Like the mongrel in the poem, “he never wants to leave my side.” When I sit, he tries to become my lap dog – all 75 pounds of him. My stretching routine on the floor becomes a wrestling match as he tries to lay in my lap while I am stretching, and as I try to push him aside. I cannot take a nap unless I lay on the floor so he can lay against me. I dare not let him upstairs at night or he will try to take over the bed!
A friend of mine was asking about Jackson one day, as Jackson was trying to crawl into his lap. As we talked about him we both identified how Jackson, in his near desperate efforts to be always close to me is a great example of how we are to pursue the nearness of our God. Psalm 91, a psalm of Moses, paints a picture of this nearness to our God to which we all must attain. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!” For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark” (91:1-4).
Jackson is always “dwelling in the shelter” and “abiding in the shadow” of his master. He continually looks to me as his refuge. As Moses with his God in 91:9, Jackson makes me his refuge and his dwelling place. The words of Moses are interesting, because to abide in the shadow of another, one must be as close as possible, nearly underfoot. Jackson is good at being underfoot. Our God desires that we be good at being “underfoot” as well. He longs for our nearness, and yearns for our intimacy with Himself, our dependence upon Him. Such deep and intimate communion is that for which we were created as a people, and it is here that we find our deepest fears assuaged and our deepest needs met.
In a future post, I will unpack more about how Jackson illustrates a close relationship to our God.