Just some early morning thoughts from me to you…
“And He Who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Revelation 21: 5 (NAS)
It was a gut-wrenching moment this afternoon as we said goodbye to Jackson. Jackson is the beautiful fifteen-year-old Springer Spaniel who had graced, loved, protected and brought laughter to my son Nathan, his bride Amy, and their daughters Hannah and Ellie Kate, to us and so many others.
The pain and emptiness of Jackson’s loss is intense. The numbness has come in waves for his family during these last few weeks of his life. But they’ve been mixed with moments of smiles, too, remembering the funny and wonderful life he shared with them; causing them to realize that despite the agony of this moment, they wouldn’t have missed it for all the world—not a moment, not a memory, not one waggle of his tail, bounce of his step, or faithful beat of his heart.
And so now we’re left with claiming God’s promise—
“Behold, I am making all things new.”
Not too bad, really, because it’s a promise from our God Who always keeps His promises. The promise of a God who surrounded Adam with animals in the Garden of Eden; who when He delivered Noah from the Flood He surrounded him with animals; and when His Son was born in a meek and lowly stable—you’ve already remembered—He surrounded Him with animals.
To help to paint the landscape of this moment and past moments with their beloved Jackson, I’ll share with you Nathan’s own words from this morning he entitled—Heading to Sleep—which I have set out below and which Nathan posted on his blog www.nathanwhitaker.com/blog/ at 6:42 am:
Heading to Sleep—Nathan
I just put the dog to sleep.
I’ve slept on the couch for the last two nights to be closer to Jackson and react when he wakes, and sure enough, I was able to lay with him on his bed and pet him to sleep minutes ago.
In another nine hours or so, we’ll take him to the vet to be put to sleep. I can’t bear to look at the clock.
That knowledge made for a hard night in our household. Our eleven year old understood that it was her last night with him; our six-year old gathered that, but didn’t have quite all the details. They knew that he wasn’t truly going “to sleep,” however, and their response of anguish and love was both unsettling and soothing for my wife and I.
Unsettling because of our own struggles in dealing with Jackson’s end of life issues. He’s 15, barely. As a springer spaniel, that’s no small feat. As an incorrigible springer spaniel – “he’ll grow out of it,” they said. They were very wrong – living to 15 after all that he had done is unbelievable. Two emergency surgeries to clear intestinal blockages and remove portions of his intestines, numerous emergency vet visits for eating “welcome Baby!” cigars, homemade play dough, chicken bones, an ACL reconstruction and a variety of items that I’ve found in the yard as I’ve mowed over the years – “How did that pass through?”
Soothing, because he’s been with us for every location on our marriage journey. We’d been married eighteen months when we got him, and he’s been with us in each of our apartments, and has bounced with us as we’ve relocated from city-to-city, apartment to apartment, and house to house. For fifteen of our sixteen years of marriage, Jackson has been beside us, eating whatever we forgot to put out of reach. A fixture in our family’s life.
He’s also welcomed our two babies home with us. He’s let them pull his fur as we’ve come running over to pry off those little fingers, and yet he’s slept beside cribs of those same children when they’ve been sick, repeatedly.
As I’ve maintained, he’s not a particularly good dog, but Jack’s one of the nicest I’ve ever known. (And the issue of the “good” comes down to poor, inconsistent parenting, without question.)
The vet didn’t think last summer that he would make it to Christmas, and sure enough, the last few months have been a struggle for him. Another Christmas with him came and went, however, and we’re grateful. In the process, though, it’s gotten harder with every step and new failure of a bodily function, but we’ve rolled with the punches. Cleaning the house, sometimes daily baths for him, aren’t that big of a deal, especially when we know that our daughters are watching how we deal with the aging of a loved one.
The harder issue has been the failure of his mind. He’s been wandering, pacing, head-butting blank walls while open doors stand inches away, growing increasingly agitated with each passing week. I left Denver hurriedly a few months ago while we were editing “Through My Eyes,” afraid that he wouldn’t last long enough for me to return. As always, he’s rallied somehow. They’ve never had a patient who has stayed so physically healthy that they could watch his mind deteriorate and try different medications to address his issues. We don’t know if that makes him lucky or not.
Ultimately, you can put us in the CS Lewis camp when it comes to animals in Heaven. Watching her dog dying against the backdrop of a teacher who said that “animals don’t go to Heaven” was taxing on our youngest. Our oldest got my message – “sometimes the situation calls for simply nodding even when someone is wrong” – but our youngest is struggling to resolve the conflict in authorities. While I appreciate her solution – “my teacher is older than you and therefore she knows more” – I see me walking through it again with her: “I’m wrong a lot, but not today.”
I wish we didn’t have to decide anything, but he’s so tough, so resilient, that we do. And at long last, we’re comfortable in knowing that his time is here. He’s been a beloved companion and friend, and Dad’s only other boy in a house of girls.
He’s awake again as I type, trying to get to his feet, looking to pace aimlessly. Today will be a day of eggs and pizza but no further rallies. He’s been a great dog and had a good run, and as you hope with loved ones, will leave a void in our lives while we cherish the laughs and marvel at the stories.
And, as our eldest reminded us last night, by tonight, he’ll be healed and know where to walk, or even run.
Sometimes, as we struggle for what we tell our children to help them navigate the world, they help sort things out for us, too. I appreciate my wife and daughters for many reasons, and their perspective is one of those.
But as the sun peeks over the horizon and through the trees, I still can’t look at the clock.
A few years ago, my precious elder Granddaughter Hannah asked me what Heaven was like. I told her that the best I understood God’s word on the subject, I would recommend that she look around her and envision all the most wonderful and beautiful places, things, people, aspects of nature and animals she loved, and all the things she loved to do, and then I suggested she imagine even much more than that. That’s what it will be like, I told her, and it will be beyond anything she can ever imagine.
And what I’ll add to that for you today is to envision all of that which I asked her to imagine—and also add that it is all without sin and death, without disease and suffering, and without anger, crime or corruption. A place of joyful smiling faces, peace, love, happy wagging tails, breathtaking wonder, flowers, greener grass and bluer skies.
That’s where Jackson is, fully healed, totally well, with tail wagging, running, barking and looking for nice hot piece of pizza—or whatever there might be for dinner. There he now sits looking down and out from his post watching, looking out for and over us—especially Hannah and Ellie Kate—and waiting to see us once again.
And so in this moment of loss we claim God’s promise of that Heaven He has prepared for us—
“Behold, I am making all things new.”
All people, the earth and “all things” in it. All things, of all nature, of all His creation, and today especially, with not one iota of a doubt—all those most precious of animals of His creation who have touched our souls with theirs, as Jackson did for us. My God, holy, just and loving, and of a mind which begins with a Divine common sense, has repeatedly re-assured us of His trustworthiness in matters of this import.
In her book about Heaven, Joni Eareckson Tada shares…
“If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn’t surprise me. It would be just like Him. It would be totally in keeping with His generous character…Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace…Heaven is going to be a place that will refract and reflect in as many ways possible the goodness and joy of our great God, Who delights in lavishing love on His children.”
“Holiness in Hidden Places”, (1999)
No less than John Wesley himself wondered about our most precious of pets:
“What if it should then please the all-wise, the all-gracious Creator to raise them higher in the scale of beings? What if it should please Him…to make them…capable of knowing and loving and enjoying the Author of their being?”
“The General Deliverance, Sermon 60”
And, of course, were God to indulge Himself with just a small measure of Divine “selfishness”, wouldn’t He Himself want to enjoy His wonderful sacred gift of Jackson which He entrusted to our care—or was it that Nathan’s family was entrusted to Jack’s care—for these past fifteen years? I believe God would still want to enjoy Jackson—forever and ever. Any doubts? Start to overcome them by spelling G-O-D backward!
“Behold, I am making all things new.”
And so, today we claim that promise for our family—for Lynda and me, but most importantly for Nathan and Amy and Hannah and Ellie Kate—and all those others whom Jackson has touched through the years. And we claim it for Jackson.
We will also claim it for your family—for those of you who may have experienced a recent loss, or are in the process of experiencing such a moment. We claim it for all of your “Jackson’s” which you, and we, have been, and remain, blessed.
Robert Louis Stevenson put it this way:
“You think dogs will not be in Heaven!
I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.”
And in the way only Will Rogers could say it, he shared a part of the heart of all us all who have had the privilege of loving and caring for a dog like Jackson when he said:
“If there are no dogs in Heaven,
then when I die I want to go where they went.”
Their points were clear. And Jackson’s gracious life among us made the truth of their words clear.
Now, as our numbness morphs into numerous remembrances of joy and a future of hope with our Heavenly Father, all that’s left for us to do while we embrace those memories and hope, is to try to be the kind of person our precious Jackson thought we were.
I, for one, am going to need help.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of these last fifteen years of a precious gift by the name of Jackson.
We’ll entrust him to You now—until we meet again.
Thank you, Lord.
In His Name—Scott