(This is my Christmas letter to Grace Church)
It was a hot day in June of my 12th year. I had been away at summer camp all week. On Friday afternoon mom and dad met the bus to pick me up and take me home. As we got ready to pull into the driveway, I saw my border collie, Tippy, lying in the road ditch. I hoped against hope that he was just taking a nap while he waited for me to get home. Unfortunately, Highway 94 in south Graves County had claimed another family pet. As my dad made ready to lay Tippy to rest, I walked the field behind the house...a complete and total mess. That day I swore to myself that I would never, ever, never love another dog. What was the point? I'd just get attached and something would happen to it. So at 12 years old, I gave up on having a dog. Forever.
Over 30 years later, something began to change. Every now and then I'd find myself thinking about Tippy and thinking that it might be nice to have another one. But I didn't want to go through that again, and since I was allergic to short haired dogs, that was a good enough excuse. I'd see one and say, "Stupid dog." I'd hear someone talking about their dog chewing up the couch I'd say, "That's why I have cats. Dogs are stupid. Cats don't care if you're there or not." I tried hard to hate dogs. The truth was, though, I was just scared of losing another one.
Then the desire got strong enough that I actually started looking for one, but it was going to have to be the right one...the perfect dog. It couldn't make me sneeze. It couldn't bark. It couldn't chew up my house shoes. It couldn't go ripping around the house, and it couldn't dig up my yard. I figured that if I set the requirements high enough, I'd never find the perfect dog, and I could say, "Well, hey, I tried."
Well...I found one. But he wasn't perfect. He didn't make me sneeze, but he barks some. When I went to meet him, he was a nervous wreck. He couldn't control his bladder. He cowered. He wouldn't come to me. As the shelter director told me his story, my walls started coming down. He had been mistreated all of his life. He didn't trust men. He was malnourished. He was dirty. He needed to be loved. After 30 minutes or so, I thanked them for letting me meet him and left. All week long I kept thinking about that stupid dog. I spent the next several days going back and forth between wanting to rescue him and give him a shot at a decent life, and thinking that the last thing I needed was a dog to take care of. Then late this week I said to myself, "What are you so afraid of? Just do it. He needs you."
Now, why have I written about that in a Christmas letter to the church I serve? There are a couple reasons. One, this time of year brings to mind a great many hurts in our own lives. Many of us are dealing with grief that will never go away, and the best we can hope is that time will somehow ease our pain. Nothing that anyone can say or do will make that just go away, and I want to honor that place in your lives. Well-meaning people will, to their error, try to convince us that it's time to just move on. However, some of the things we are grieving can never be replaced or forgotten, nor should they be.
Still, this is also a time to remember that there are, walking among us, an immeasurable number of people who want one thing...to be loved. They're not perfect. Many have things in their past that have separated them from family and friends. Some are struggling financially. Many have experienced some great loss in their lives this year. For people who find themselves in any of those situations, this season only amplifies the effects of depression and anxiety.
The baby that we gather this week to celebrate grew up to tell us that those were the ones he came for. We may have never thought about it quite that way, but the very reason there is a Christmas season is because there was, and will always be, someone who needs to be loved. Since Christ's presence on earth now is no longer a physical one, the work of bringing love, joy, peace, and hope to a hurting world falls squarely on our shoulders as his followers. This season calls us to be even more intentional about doing just that.
At Grace, our mission statement is to "Connect people to Christ and to each other." It's not just a catchy slogan that looks good on the sign out front. It's at the center of who we are...the work we've been called to...our very reason for existing. We are here for the ones who feel that, for whatever reason, they aren't loved. If you would like to partner with us on this awesome task, we can help change the world one relationship at a time. It's not an easy work that we're called to...but it can be life changing. By helping support the ministries of the church we can bring hope, joy, peace, and love to a hurting world.
His name is now Perry, and he's so ugly that he's cute. This week he found a new home. The first four years of his life have been filled with fear and suffering. This Christmas, he has shown me that love really does conquer fear and I'm going to do all I can to make sure that for the rest of his life...he knows that he's loved. We, as a church, can do the same for any who cross our paths.
Grace Church LaCenter
PO Box 330
LaCenter, KY 42056