for these, thy gifts

I didn’t want them.

It wasn’t just them, I didn’t want any pets. With a house full of small children, the thought of taking care of one more living thing was more than I could face. The hermit crabs had been bad enough.

It wasn’t a thousand nagging requests from the kids that did me in, it was their resigned acceptance. On a visit to their Grammie’s house to see her new litter of pug puppies, they were stalwart. They cradled them, they giggled delightedly, they stroked their little round tummies and twirled their little curly tails. But not one asked if we could take a puppy home. Not a single completely-transparent-kid-hint was offered. Not even a mildly pleading facial expression. Mom doesn’t like dogs. Case closed.

Covered in the downy fluff of puppies cute enough to break the Internet, not one child asked. It was official: I was a terrible mother. The kind of mother whose “yes” was as peculiar as a solar eclipse, but whose “no” was as predictable as sundown.

Tess and Tilly looking spiffy, Christmas 2014
We brought home two. Two! Based on our child-to-puppy ratio, it seemed like the only safe course. We had more love to give than one puppy could absorb. So Tilly and Tess came to live at our house, and I began the decade-long discovery of the absolute joy of saying “yes” to pet ownership. I doubt there are two more photographed dogs in all the world. They have been dressed in doll clothes, Halloween costumes, wigs and Christmas sweaters. Good grief, no – we didn’t buy them outfits – people kept giving them to us. It was like the whole world was conspiring to make me say and do things I had sworn I would never do.

For ten years, those two comical faces have brought more moments of sheer joy and laughter to our home than I can count. Bred to be lapdogs, their favorite activity has been to loll around on a cushion on the fireplace hearth, bedecked in rolls of fur-upholstered fat, eyes closed to drunken slits. We nicknamed them Gluttony and Sloth. Their constant snoring has formed the white noise underlying the sound track of our home. Their liberal and eager affection has been our welcome at every homecoming.

Last night, Tilly drew a last ragged breath and grew still. The fireplace hearth framed her as it had so often before. Twelve to sixteen years - that was what Google returned the day I checked life expectancy for the breed, the day before they came to live at my house, when I was still trying to talk myself into it. Not ten, twelve to sixteen.

“A dog is all the work of a child, but it doesn’t take care of you in your old age.” My mantra prior to the Day of the Incredible Double Yes. Me, always eager to preach a sermon no one needs to hear. Things I said that sounded good at the time.

Had she been work? I don’t remember that part. I won’t remember that part. But I will certainly remember the rest. I wonder – how many other gifts have I rejected as a burden and an inconvenience, the recipients of my hasty No? I thought she would be a threat to my comfort. In classic last-shall-be-first fashion, she became a source of it. I did not expect the joy of having her; I did not expect the grief of saying goodbye. The grief, or the gratitude. Thank you, Father, for these Thy gifts.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.

In His hand is the life of every living thing.

Ten years of a good dog. The Creator numbers my days, and he numbered hers as well. His goodness takes so many forms. Sometimes, delightfully, that form has a wagging tail. Farewell, little friend – we feel your loss keenly.

O God, for all creatures great and small, for this small creature we have cherished, we give Thee thanks.

For the gifts you have granted at our childlike request, we give Thee thanks.

And for the gifts we did not want, for the veto of our No, this day we give Thee thanks, O God.