When I was 12 or 13, I was attacked by a dog on the way to catch the bus for school. I can still vividly remember what the teeth felt like on my leg right before the owner got the dog off of me. I wasn’t injured but it changed my interaction with all dogs forever. I developed a clinical phobia of dogs to the point that even hearing the jingle of dog tags changed my breathing. So, you can imagine my husband’s surprise when I suggested we get the family a dog for Christmas. My kids asked for pets for years but with their allergies and asthma, the doctors told us it was best to avoid pets in our home. This was fine with me since I was allergic to cats, had a dog phobia, and wanted my boys to be as healthy as possible. Although we still have allergies, the only one left using an inhaler is me and usually because of cold weather.
I knew that my younger son told my sister “he really needed a pet with fur.” He has an aquarium of fish. When I talked to her about getting a hamster he saw at the pet store, she encouraged me to get a small dog like hers. Many people over the years have extolled the virtues of pet ownership with no impact on me or my phobia. For some reason, I came home that night and started searching the Chihuahua rescue sites. I contacted a few rescue organizations and four days later, we brought home a nine pound, three year old, Chihuahua Terrier mix. Mitzy met all our criteria: small so I wouldn’t be afraid, young enough to be around a while, past the puppy stage, not too hyper to trip my mom, and she loves to sit on your lap and snuggle. Perfect. Thanks, Rescue Lady/Angel, for all your advice!
To be clear, I didn’t want a dog. Getting a dog was something I was doing for everyone else because I knew how happy it would make them. In my world, it was the ultimate gift because of my history and frankly, my aversion to pet smells and hair! With a newly redecorated house, this was the most unlikely time to get a pet. I told my husband, “I think I’ve lost my mind” because I couldn’t explain my change of heart.
After the Charleston shootings, I wrote a blog called “Who Will Change Your Heart” which is still one of my most popular postings. I know that God changes our heart through others, through messengers. These messengers may be in our lives for a moment or a lifetime. I think God has opened my heart wider to do something for my kids that was previously impossible. Some of you may not think this is a big deal. Let me be clear, even a month ago, I never, ever would have thought I would be living with a dog. I had a saying in my house for years: “if it has more than four legs and it’s in my house, it better be dead.” This mostly referred to Texas-sized insects, but you get the idea.
Lately, as I have pondered what Advent means to me, I realize that I focus more on the second coming of Christ than on the first coming of Christ into the world as a baby. I think more about the adult Jesus than the baby Jesus. [FYI – adult Jesus Christmas ornaments are scarce.] It’s the only season of the liturgical church year that addresses the second coming. The rest of the church year is based on historical events in Jesus’ life – not future events. And unlike Lent, where we are invited to grow closer to God through individual retrospection, I think Advent is our opportunity to grow closer to God through our relationships with each other. After all, Jesus came to show us what human relationship can be when we are rooted in his love. His teachings were about our relationship with His father but they were also about our relationship with each other.
So as I struggled to be in the moment during Advent and feeling like I’d not made much progress, I now think maybe I have. My relationship with my family has certainly changed in an unexpected way. I have also been hearing many stories from those who experienced a heartbreaking lack of real relationship in their previous Christian communities but are now finding true connection at St. Mary's.
We don’t know when Jesus will come back. As we walk through this season of preparation, how can we live our life in expectation of the return of the adult Jesus? And, I don’t mean in an apocalyptic-stock-up-the-canned-goods kind of way, but in a way that draws us a closer to God as a community in waiting. Waiting for all things to be perfected and modeling that perfect love that transcends all division, all fear, all hate. How can we all grow closer to God by reaching out in love?