My 6th birthday party was at the Banner Elk Park in Avery County in the middle of June. The weather was perfect, all my cousins were there, and my Momma made me a Barbie cake. I wore my favorite yellow dress, my aunt Rhonda french braided my hair, and there were more presents than I could count. We had the whole park to play in, including the creek that all of us kids loved to wade through on the slippery rocks.
I remember that party for all of those reasons, yes, but the reason I remember that day more than anything was because of a golden retriever who captured my heart. I had never had a dog, although I have always loved animals. When we first got to the park that day, a golden retriever who we all lovingly began calling “Old Orange” because of his beautiful reddish-orange coat, took right up with me and didn’t leave my side all day. I don’t know what it was, but we instantly became best friends, and I sobbed at the end of the day when we had to leave him behind.
Fast forward 15 years.
It was hard for her. She didn’t necessarily “want” to move away. Leaving her family, her friends, her job, and her church – the church that felt like family, the church where she and her husband had been married and grown together and first felt the call on their lives to go into the ministry. But she was obedient and gracefully followed her husband and supported him as he began seminary in a new town, hours away. This act of obedience meant the overwhelming task of having to try and make a new place feel like home, finding a new church to get involved in, finding a new job, and leaving the familiar behind. Perhaps the sweetest thing she had to leave behind (because their apartment would not allow pets) was their golden retriever named Sammy, who was far more than “just a dog.”
When she asked me if I would consider taking him I didn’t even hesitate. I had wanted a golden retriever my entire life. Yes, of course I would take him. My heart almost exploded and I didn’t even know him yet.
The night they brought him over, I had left the door open and was sitting on the couch. We had planned it this way so as to not overwhelm him. They brought him in, let him off the leash, and it was truly a moment I’ll never forget. Sammy looked around, and then came straight to the couch, hopped up beside me, and laid his head down in my lap. It was amazing, like he just knew.
Since that day, I’ve spent the last two years loving him, spoiling him, playing with him, cuddling up to him, and treating him like he’s a human. It feels like a lifetime of love squeezed into two short years, and more than anything, I’m honored that I was the one who got to love him.
Until now, I never knew how hard it was for my friend to give him up. I had never experienced the loss of a pet. Although she knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was being well loved and well taken care of, it was so hard, and especially in a new, unfamiliar place, I know there were many days she longed for the comfort that he could have brought her.
When I made the decision to stay at home with Landon instead of returning to work, I knew it was going to be hard. I knew, especially with us living off of a teacher’s salary alone, that we were going to be faced with big sacrifices and hard decisions. But much like my friend who followed her husband in obedience to answer God’s call on their life and stepped out in faith, trusting His plan, I am doing the same thing now. I know God has called me to be a homemaker. I know my place is at home with Landon, nurturing him, teaching him about Jesus, and pouring all that I have into our little family.
Just as she had to sacrifice things that hurt her heart, I am now going through a season that requires the same of me, albeit different in nature. To some people, this seems so ridiculous, probably because they’ve never had the privilege to experience the special bond and love that only a dog like Sammy can give.
When I made the dreaded phone call to tell her what was on my heart and see if she might want to take him back (now that her husband is out of seminary and they live in a new place that allows pets, in the mountains of N.C.) my voice was shaking and tears were rolling down my cheeks before I even spoke the first word. Little did I know, God had been working all along. Not only did she definitely want him, God had prepared the way and orchestrated lots of little details in preparation for this. Before the conversation was over, we were both crying, thanking each other for meeting a need in each other’s lives through these seasons that God has led us to. Even now, as I type these words, I can’t keep the tears from coming, because Sammy filled my heart with so much joy, coming into my life at a time that I needed a little extra dose of comfort and companionship more than ever, but I’m reminded of the words Amanda spoke over me during that phone call: To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the Heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
I am so thankful that our Father cares about the details. When I was sitting in the parking lot of Banner Elk Park with a golden retriever in my lap crying my eyes out on my 6th birthday, Jesus was holding my heart in the same sweet way He’s holding it now, at 24.