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OPINION

A Gift of Grief

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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John Nantz

If you love a dog, or have ever loved a dog, then you know the smothering anxiety, the borderline panic attacks, the sheer terror of potential loss. Or, at least that’s my honest assessment of my own process. I’m not very good at grieving.

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It’s just a dog, you might say. Well no, she’s imbued with the dignity of a family’s love — besides, she’s a living creation and carries a soul.

God imbues us with the dignity of His love. After all, He created the animal kingdom and all of nature for His glory and for Adam and Eve’s benefit. They were commanded to tend, love, and nurture what God had spoken into existence. What a mess we’ve made of it all. And, all of God’s creation suffers and groans for our fall. (See Romans 8:19-23)

Last Friday, we took our five-year-old west German Shepherd to the vet. She hasn’t been herself for the past few weeks, less spunk, and a change in breathing rhythm. We thought maybe she’d picked up a bug. So, we made an appointment with the vet and expected to leave with an antibiotic prescription — back to life as usual.

But, a chest X-ray, ultrasound, and biopsy delivered the worst possible news. Our sweet Aspen was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer, common to German Shepherds — hemangiosarcoma — and it seems to have metastasized to her lungs. As of this writing, she’s resting comfortably on a swath of carpet next to her bed. Aspen is a special dog, and that’s not just a cliche. Her eyes are bright, intelligent, curious. She’s a perennial puppy and mischievous in a sweet, kind way.

She loves chasing butterflies. 

When she was chronologically a puppy, we enrolled her in a K-9 Good Citizenship class. She learned to sit, lay down, and stay, but only if there were no butterflies fluttering nearby. If her deep bronze eyes happened to catch the movement of those quivering wings, she’d be halfway across the training yard running, and leaping into the crisp spring air.

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She is and was a Christmas puppy. Her “gotcha day” was the day after Christmas five years ago, and there just aren’t enough good things I can say about her. She is deeply loved.

We’ve enlisted an army of people to pray for her and our family prays for her unceasingly. If you’re a person of faith, join with us in beseeching God for His intervention. As I mentioned before, I’m not good at grief. So, my faith falters, I ask God why now at Christmas, why us, why such a sweet dog? I know that these questions are common during times of grief and are multiplied exponentially when the suffering or illness comes to a human family member — I’ve been there too.

But, God is teaching me some things: “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1Peter 1:6,7)

A few days ago, my wife mentioned that instead of asking the “why” question, we should be asking the “what” question. What is God trying to do in and through us during this time of testing? As usual, my wife Tami is the one with the right perspective. Here’s another thing, I’ve grown in respect and appreciation for my wife, watching her stay up all night with our very sick Shepherd.

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It’s been an emotional roller coaster and in the cold, shadowy valleys, I’m tempted to forget that God is great and God is good. He is greater far than any illness and Christ’s earthly ministry was characterized by miraculous healing. The true purpose of those miracles was to illustrate Christ’s power and authority over spiritual sickness — the deadliest of spiritual disease, sin.

And in those moments of dread, I’m reminded of scripture passages like, “and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.” (John 20: 27,28) When it happens, it’s like a still, small voice whispering into my consciousness and calling forward the Word of God to my mind. It’s easy to rationalize those moments away, but they are real, precious, and fleeting — if you’re a child of God you should look for them.

Certainly, only God knows what the future holds for Aspen. Our prayer is that we have a lot more time with her and her sweet soul. Jesus said, “Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:19,20)

Perhaps the greatest example of Old Testament suffering and ultimate victory is Job. I think of him often and how much he suffered and lost. I shudder to think of his grief. But, God, in His infinite goodness walked with him and spoke to him out of the whirlwind in Job chapter 38. 

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He reminded Job of His limitless power and wisdom. I think God used a whirlwind to remind Job of how much bigger He is than any human condition. At the end of the book, in chapter 42 and verse 16, the Bible records, “After this lived Job an hundred and forty years…” 

For all suffering and grief, there’s an “after this.” It may be eternity or it may be many more years of life. God’s perspective is eternal and His love and mercy pursues all of us. Grief for a person or for a “fur-baby” can be a gift if it draws us near to the Savior. So, we’ll keep waiting, listening, and learning from Him.

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