Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Stranger in My House

We had a visitor at our house this week. Someone who we didn't know stopped by for a stay. My wife called him Teddy, saying he looked like a real live teddy bear. Personally, I didn't see the resemblance. To me, he just looked like what he was - a cocker spaniel.

We're dog people. We have a basset hound named Harvey and a black dog we picked up as a stray, named April. They're plenty of work on their own, but for two days we had three to deal with. And Harvey didn't want any part of "Teddy" setting foot on his property. But being dog people, seeing the dog running down our road, almost getting hit by a car, we just had to take him in.

We spent most of a day and a half looking for Teddy's home, searching everywhere to our east, since that's the direction Teddy was running from when he passed our house. But no one knew of a family with a cocker spaniel. We thought of calling the shelter, but decided we'd just plan on keeping him. The main reason to keep him was my wife, who has been wanting to get a spaniel - any spaniel. Then one showed up on her doorstep.

Then about 48 hours after he had showed up, Teddy's owners pulled in the drive. Turns out that he lives to our west, partially explaining why we couldn't find his owner. After all we were looking to the east. Also turns out that his name is Junior and was expected back home. We can even see the house where he lives from our kitchen door. It's just about a mile to the southeast of us. (Yes, we live in a place where seeing a mile away is no big deal.)

So now we're back to normal. Harvey and April are still here. And Teddy/Junior is back where he belongs, after giving his family a scare. But it's a little different around here. He wasn't here long, but that little cocker spaniel certainly made an impression.

The whole experience got me thinking. We all have people who come into our lives for a short time, then leave. And even a short time together can make a big impact. I have many friends with whom I rarely communicate and almost never see. Old college roommates, people I used to work with, shirttail relatives. . . all of whom I'd love to spend time with, but there's too much distance - physically and emotionally. I realize that most of these people I may never see again this side of heaven. Yet they had great impact on my life.

Some of the happiest times of my pre-married life were my years in college. We were tight, the bunch of us. Today, one is dead - killed by a drunk driver. Another lives over 1000 miles away. The rest are like me - tied up with family, work and our everyday lives. I miss those times.

Why does God allow people to slip away from us? Why would I blame God? Isn't it me who lets people slip away? Looking from a distant perspective, those guys were a lot like ol' Teddy - here for a while, then gone. And even though I have let too many friendships slide in the past 20-30 years, I am so grateful for those people being a part of my life. Even the people I didn't care much for at the time, now I can see practical things in my life affected by those people.

I even remember being dragged along on a double date in college. One of my roommates was desperate to go out with this girl and she would only agree if he found a date for her friend. Well, I was the guy for the job, apparently. We went to the dorm to pick up our dates. I was introduced to my date. I can't remember her name, but I'll call her Cathy.

I said, "It's nice to meet you Cathy."

She nodded and forced a weak smile. Apparently I wasn't what she was hoping for.

As the double date progressed I began to realize that "Cathy" had not even said a word to me. Not "Hi." Not "Thank you." Nothing. So I began to ask her questions just to get her to verbalize something. Anything! But she managed to ignore me the entire evening. When we dropped off the girls, I was too amused to be mad. I had actually had a date with someone who wouldn't speak to me! Let me tell you, that's great training for marriage!

But the "visitor" who made the most impact on me was my firstborn son. Payton was the product of a troubled pregnancy and a premature birth. A wriggling in my wife's belly became a terribly small human being, seemingly right before my eyes. I saw the miracle of life. Then I saw that miracle taken away. And I didn't know what to do or what to think or even what to feel. And as I screamed out "Why?" to God and to anyone who would listen, nothing made any sense. There was absolutely no reason for God to allow my son to die.

It's been almost 14 years since then. And I'm still not sure I understand why God allowed Payton to stay so briefly in my life. Wouldn't it have been better if he had never been conceived? I would have been saved a lot of pain, as would my wife. But these days I can see a few hints of what God did with that tragedy. I can see how my attitude has changed toward others who are going through pain. I know that because of Payton, my wife gave her life to Jesus Christ. I know that I am now so incredibly grateful for the three kids I have sleeping under my roof tonight. Like the hints of daylight just before the dawn, I see the shadows from the brilliant light of God's love. Because of that little visitor who was almost literally, here one day and gone the next, God has gotten a stronger foothold in my life.

The cocker spaniel is home now. My old friends have lives of their own and I occasionally hear from them. Payton is home now too. I will join him there someday. But even the shortest of time together can change us if our hearts are open.

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