This is the face that makes me smile. His name is Jackson. He came to live with us over fall break in 2019. He was 17 weeks old – a rescue pup. His owners wanted to breed toy Australian Shepherds, but they failed. Jackson and his brother were rescued after the other pup in the litter starved to death. Even now, I have to take a deep breath and trust God to help me forgive. I don’t know how that happens. Because it did – Jackson became a part of our family.
Last fall was an intense period in my life. My plate was way too full. I was carrying way too much responsibility. Sadly, I convinced myself that it really all depended on me. I lost my way and I lost my abiding trust in God’s presence. It’s what Parker Palmer calls, “functional atheism.” Giving God a nod, but believing that it really all depends on me. After months of this heresy, I had lost touch with that quiet inner place – the place that roots me to who I am and who God is.
When Jackson came to live with us, he was my reminder. I didn’t really find that place because I was still stuck in my own hubris, but Jackson softened me somehow. He made me smile at a time when I didn’t smile much at all. He brought me joy. He made me get outside because puppies need to go on lots of walks.
At the end of February, I got sick. Really sick. All that I’d been trying so hard to hold together began to unravel and there was nothing I could do but watch it evaporate. When I couldn’t breathe, I was rather limited. I tried. I tried to push through. I tried to rescue. I even tried to apologize for my mistakes. Didn’t matter. I lost it all anyway. Jackson? He was growing into this awkward adolescent and finally learning to potty outside consistently. I had to stop and sit on the curb several times to catch my breath when I walked him, but he didn’t mind. He waited on me and even gave me a few licks.
Then, at the end of May, we had to say goodbye to Sox Shoes Gwartney, our dog of 16 years. He will be the subject of another blog. For days, I cried. And Jackson let me. He was always happy to see me when I got home and ready for a game of keep away. The grief of COVID and the other losses I suffered was so heavy that even as my lungs healed, I still found it hard to breathe some days.
Jackson is now just over a year old. He is the first dog I’ve ever really loved in my life. And, you know what? He loves me in return. I fail him all the time, but he just loves me. I’ve said many times over, “Jackson saved me,” because he did. His boundless love and affection made my physical and emotional pain bearable. And, his unconditional love made it possible for me to come back to God, to trust again.
I guess we needed each other. Jackson needed me to spot him and tell Kurt and Elizabeth it was time to say yes to another dog. I needed Jackson to see me flailing and help me find my moorings again. I will never get over my gratitude for the provision of my favorite little guy, Jackson Juneau Gwartney.