Puppen: The “perfect” little dog who broke my heart and taught me what it means to truly love

puppen

I’m not a father, but hope to be someday. I like to think I have a lot of love to give. I also know I’m learning what it means to truly love.

I know this because I’m learning it in the hardest, most heartbreaking way of my life. I’m learning to love and lose from a little dog named Puppen.

Her real name was Jewel, but we didn’t like it because it wasn’t a fashionable fit for our then eight-year-old Scottish/Cairn terrier, Jack, or Captain Jack, the pirate. Jewel and Jack? The alliteration works, but we could do better.

Jack and Jill? Nah. Who names their dog, Jill? Let’s see … how about a liquor theme? Jack and Brandy? Brandi. Bingo.

We called her Brandi about a dozen times, but it felt like we did so to call her down. Brandi didn’t work because it didn’t fit. Our little tri-color (red, tan and white) Miniature Aussie deserved better. Then my wife’s mom called her “Pupdawg.”

Pupdawg. It fit. She became Pupdawg and Pupdups and Pupcake. Then, for us, she became Puppen.

And Puppen was perfect.

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Lover and leaper

She was a natural, consummate athlete. She moved with a fluid efficiency, nothing wasted. Puppen quickly revealed her love for chasing, leaping and catching Chuckit-propelled balls and, later, for frisbee fetch.

Puppen was an affectionate love-bug. She’d lean against you during car rides, snuggle sessions, afternoon naps—she was an ultra-sensitive natural therapy dog who gave as good as she got.

Her car-ride love-leaning turned my father-in-law from a cat person to a guy who rushed to our Miniature Aussie breeder to get his own Puppen—her half-brother who became his Merley.

Puppen was, paws-down, the smartest little whip of a dog I’ve ever known. She picked us at the breeder’s. While her litter mates rolled around in a big ball of furry puppy, she stood apart investigating her surroundings. Then she saw us.

Puppen made a beeline for the fence gate and stood on her hind legs to welcome me with a few well-placed whimpers and longing gazes from her soulful brown eyes. She seemed to be saying, Get me outta here and make me yours. These brothers and sisters of mine are idiots.

No training needed

My mother-in-law has complimented us more than once on how well-trained Puppen was. I had to correct her. She trained herself. Puppen was an obedient, loving, wicked-smart dog who naturally took to frisbee fetch, love leans, and so many other wonderful things that made her her.

A contractor friend reminded me of Puppen’s intelligence one day while he was building a music studio for my father-in-law. “She’s the smart one. When she watches me work, I can tell she’s thinking things through.”

Puppen would ascend to her perch of a giant red rock on the ranch to survey the situation while the three other dogs ran off barking at phantom intruders. Let the slobberheads scare up whatever it was (or wasn’t)—I’ll wait here and watch.

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Puppen & Merley

A month or so ago, Puppen was in the prime of her life—a few months shy of six and always ready to go and keep going while chasing frisbees and launching herself in the pond after well-placed ball throws.

Too much, too soon

Puppen seemed indestructible. We looked forward to many, many more years of joy with our perfect little dog. Life was wonderful. Then we were caught flat-footed the last Saturday morning in June when Puppen woke us wailing.

Her teeth were locked on the bars of her crate, eyes wide and bulging. Through tears and our worst fears, I unlocked her teeth and gently pushed her snout back through the bars. My wife pulled her out, her body limp, as she panted and drooled.

We called the vet and were told he was booked with emergencies. Emily’s parents rushed over in robes and slippers. Puppen seemed to rally, but then suffered another seizure that caused Emily’s father to collapse on the carpet next to her crying, “Oh, no, no … Pupdawg, Pupdawg.”

We carried Puppen to the truck and headed off to Reno for an emergency vet an hour and a half away. It was the longest drive of my life. As my wife tried in vain to comfort her, Puppen went through a half a dozen more seizures during which she wailed and paddled her front feet helplessly.

When we finally arrived, Puppen gave my wife one last look that may haunt her for the rest of her life. For one brief instant, she looked at her with recognition. During her fits, those piercingly intense brown eyes went blank.

prognosis: Grief

I carried Puppen into the clinic where she was whisked to the back for an IV and for what we hoped would be seizure-stopping midazolam. While waiting for the vet, we heard her screaming every ten minutes or so.

At this point, I was confident the vet would verify that Puppen had late-onset epilepsy and that it was merely a matter of getting things under control and then managing her condition with medication.

The look on his face told a different story. He knew Puppen was in deep trouble. We talked about cat scans and MRIs and taking her to Sacramento three hours away. We called Emily’s father who had spoken with his vet friend.

We discussed leaving her at the pet hospital and in good hands until Monday. Surely by then the IV and medicine would help her rally, so we could get her to another vet with advanced medical imaging capabilities. So we could fix her.

We asked to see Puppen before we decided what to do.

One look at our little pupdawg shattered all our plans and hopes.

Fear and anguish

Lying on her side with a puppy blanket covering her to the shoulders, her eyes were blank and half open. Her breathing was labored. Then she wailed and writhed. The addition of two more injections of the stronger anti-seizure medicine, phenobarbital, did nothing to help her.

The vet told us that her heart rate was dangerously low, which is not a symptom of epilepsy. He said that she probably wasn’t in pain, but was confused and frightened. Our little Puppen was a smart, sensitive little dog, and the information broke our hearts.

When her seizure ended, she panted and drooled, but when we spoke to her close, her ear flicked and she let out a faint whine of recognition.

This is when we knew that it would be an absolute mercy to deliver her and let her go. When Emily gave the word through sobs, I told a visibly relieved and wonderfully kind vet what he knew and hoped we’d choose to do.

They wheeled Puppen into a private room. We spoke to her soothingly and she whined with each word while desperately staving off yet another racking seizure. Her whines seemed far away and sadly plaintive. The vet gave us a merciful yet heartrending ten minutes or so with her.

Our words to her were of sorrow and regret that we couldn’t help her live and would miss her terribly.

Merciful release

As I watched the overdose of pentobarbital run from the plunger and into Puppen, she breathed deeply several times in a way that I can only describe as a peaceful letting go of relief. When her heart stopped forever, we sobbed in each others’ arms while the vet verified that it was done.

They wrapped her in a sheet and took an ink paw print. I carried her out to the truck through tears. We would bury her in a grove of cedars on the ranch, so that our little Jacky could join her at some point.

As I carried Puppen down the drive to the cedar grove. I cradled her little head against my neck. Through sobs, I told her I was sorry I couldn’t save my little girl. My wife braced me as we stumbled to her resting place. We’d picked her together and brought her home nearly six years before and now we were letting her go so cruelly early.

It seemed surreal and impossible that she was gone. How could such an athletic, intelligent, energetic, loving, obedient, beautiful little dog get so sick so fast? The disbelief and grief hit us like a freight train.

From sadness to fondness

Today is a week since our world was rocked. We’ve cried together and laughed with recollection of Puppen’s short, dreamy life as a ranch dog. We see her everywhere here. Somehow the memory of a little 16-inch dog casts a giant shadow everywhere we look and on our hearts.

We know time will heal us, and we’ll think of her with smiles and sadness, and later with fondness and little stabs of happiness.

Meanwhile, God is using Puppen and our love for her to tenderize our hearts toward each other and toward others. There’s nothing more clarifying than the life-color-draining grief of losing a love—even one for a dog.

My wife says the cedar grove where we buried Puppen reminds her of the Cedars of Lebanon, the Old Testament stronghold of a living, loving Lord. She says she feels like God is guarding Puppen even as he guards her heart.

Learning to truly love

I’m learning to love the one who made Puppen and who loves her more deeply than I ever could. Jesus wept for Mary and Martha as they grieved the loss of their brother, Lazarus. He wept even though he knew that day he would raise him from the dead. This is the sign of the ultimate loving and knowing heart.

I like to think that we’ll see Puppen again when God makes all things new. When he heals this broken world and knits the bones and flesh of our little pupdawg back together with a word of command and perfect love for us and his creatures.

Someday, there will be no more tears or pain or fear or seizures or heartbreak. I long for that day with a newly-softened heart that God used my little girl, Puppen, to break, so he could heal.

The Shack: A rickety Emerging Church construct concealed in a stirring story of spiritual discovery

God

You know the feeling when someone describes you as someone you’re not? I do. I don’t like it. At all. I wonder how God feels about being misrepresented in The Shack?

Emotion and identification are powerful components of good fiction. William P. Young uses both effectively to craft a readable and powerful yarn that’s inspiring to many, confusing to others, and disheartening to me.

And now comes the movie version and another round of fresh emotions. Thanks, Hollywood.

What does The Shack have to do with the emerging church? Everything.

But first, what IS the emerging church? It’s a movement started by disaffected evangelical Christians who initially sought to make church more relevant in our postmodern age. In doing so, like Young with The Shack, they recreated a god, Christ-figure and spirit they can live with.

Young’s god in The Shack is a portly African-American woman named Papa who is warm, loving and accommodating in contrast with the cold, distant and demanding deity Young claims is the God of the Protestant Bible.

In a 2013 interview, Young said this:

“I’m a missionary kid and a preacher’s kid—evangelical, fundamental Protestant … You know, that’s about as distant from relationship with God as you can get. And it’s always been you know, religion that has been the primary impediment to actual relationship with God, because it creates a mythology about performance—that you can perform your way into the appeasement of the deity.”

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Not to invalidate Young’s personal experience,

But don’t fundamental Protestants believe the Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that there is nothing anyone can do to appease God? Hence the necessity of Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross? If Jesus’ life and death removes “the impediment to actual relationship with God,” what does Young mean by a “mythology” about performance?

What I think Young means is this:

Many emerging church adherents believe that evangelical Christianity’s teaching about sin and our response to it in light of Christ’s sacrifice is a performance-based appeasement strategy. This is because they believe God is only love, like Papa, and does not require a response to Christ’s atoning death.

And because emerging churchers do not consider the Bible reliable, they can dismiss its teachings that God is a holy and sometimes angry God. Just as they dismiss the existence of Hell and believe that God will forgive all, no matter their lifelong rejection of him. In the end, you see, love wins. And justice loses.

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Lost in translation?

There are no examples of performance-based mythologies in the Protestant Bible. It has always been about Grace. But many in or sympathetic to the emerging church say they never felt like they fit in with evangelical churches. Or they decry evangelical pastors’ preaching about heaven and hell and the response to each for the Christian.

Perhaps they refer to Jesus’ Gospel teachings like this one in John 3:36 as a performance-based myth: “He who believes the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Ah. So perhaps this is the hang-up: People like Young have a problem with Protestant beliefs that call for obedience—or using their translation—performance. Can you imagine Young’s Jesus in The Shack uttering such absolute and intolerant words?

God’s word?

Young, like other adherents of his belief system, reject or affirm Jesus’ words based on what they choose to believe about him. When many in the emerging church do not believe the Bible is God’s word and cherry-pick it to build their construct, anything and everything is on or off the table.

In depicting God as a black woman, the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman and Jesus as a Jewish carpenter—all of which are all love all the time—Young covers many progressive bases—feminism and the anti-paternal God, universalism and the humanization of Christ.

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Papa is no Aslan

Some will point out Young’s Papa is merely an allegorical device as, they say, is C.S. Lewis’ Aslan. This comparison is faulty for two reasons: Lewis’ Narnia is allegory, and Aslan is an alternate-world Christ-like figure; Young’s The Shack is didactic (meant to teach) and his Papa and Sarayu are depictions of God and the Holy Spirit, not allegorical devices.

For a better discussion of the differences between Papa and Aslan, feel free to read Tim Challies’ Why Papa of The Shack Is not Aslan of Narnia.

For an accurate description of Aslan, I leave it to the characters of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia:

“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

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Young’s Trinity is a triad of his own creation

Granted, many will find encouragement in a safe, passive Papa, a mousy and mysterious Sarayu and a bumbling, comical Jesus. I know that some feel burned by fellow sinners and pastors of traditional American Protestant churches, and I realize that The Shack is a balm to many.

I recently exchanged emails with my former pastor who thinks the movie version of The Shack can spiritually help “millions of people.” I certainly hope not. If helping millions requires misrepresenting God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, please William P. Young and those behind The Shack film, don’t help us.

Stripping God and the other members of the Trinity of their purity and holiness and “dangerousness” while denigrating and dismissing the beauty and sufficiency of the Gospel and Christ’s atonement, as The Shack does, is no help at all.

This will help grow the emerging church; and it will help grow Young’s and the movie makers’ bank accounts. But it won’t help grow genuine faith in a loving, holy and just God.

The Shack distracts and confuses people from seeing God as he is and seeks to depict him as Young and others want him to be. This is a shame and a sham. It’s also a foolish misrepresentation.

Give me a dangerous Warrior-God who’s also the ultimate loving father over a passive Papa any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Subjective truth: It’s a lead balloon and the tie that binds progressives in religion AND politics.

truth

While watching Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s Senate hearing, it hit me like a bolt out of the blue—our BIG issue as a nation is not Russian election meddling or LGBTQ rights—it’s our embrace of subjective truth.

I watched a senator say our Constitution is a living, breathing document that should adapt to the times. As if the principles of American liberty require adjustment because things have changed so much in a mere 229 years.

Does the senator truly believe we should reinterpret meaning in a static document simply because it’s more to her liking? And more to the liking of people who pretend that the truths woven into the Constitution are somehow less true with the passage of time?

The notion that truth is subjective is an absolute non-starter—and it’s faulty thinking.

If truth doesn’t exist, then it would be true that truth doesn’t exist, and once again we arrive at truth. ~Nabeel Qureshi 

Truth is, we all operate in a world of absolute truth, and we all affirm its supremacy a thousand times a day whether we realize it or not.

During the same hearing, another senator described the type of Supreme Court justice American needs right now.

It went something like this:

America needs a Supreme Court justice who will look out for the downtrodden. One who will protect our children and keep the rich from taking advantage of the poor.

Excuse me, senator, protecting our children and the poor is your job, not a Supreme Court justice’s. You draft and vote on laws; our justices make sure those laws are Constitutional. This is how our democracy works.

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Progressive beliefs, regressive truth

Similarly, the progressive wing of the emerging church believes that the Bible is not Scripture, but is merely a “library of books” written by men whose prejudices and viewpoints make it unreliable as a guide for Christian living.

Question: If the Bible is a library of books, who’s the managing editor?

But rather than reject all Scripture, emerging church leaders cherry-pick Bible truths they can live with it. Like the uber-easily digestible maxim that God is love. But to them, God is only love. He doesn’t ask anything of them in terms of obedience or justice or sharing truth, no matter how unpopular.

To these spiritual progressives, we all have carte blanche to live for others without structure and without guidance other than what we feel is right. This eliminates personal responsibility and accountability.

Is not spiritual life without the truth of Scripture like self-governance without a timeless Constitution?

When either incompatible state is taken to its logical conclusion, the result is anarchy.

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If there is no objective truth, how can we know the Constitution OR the Bible is reliable?

In the minds of progressives—in culture, government and religion—truth is purely subjective. Except when it comes to bolstering an agenda; then helpful truths quickly become absolute.

Like these convenient truths:

All men are created equal. This truth actually means that everyone is created with equal worth to the Creator. It has been subverted to mean that everyone IS equal and thus should be given every opportunity to act upon this equality through denigrating measures such as affirmative action.

God is love. According to Scripture, love is only one of God’s attributes. The Bible also says God is holy and just and righteous and pure. These characteristics, if true, call for accountability and responsibility—just as our Constitution calls for rule of law based on self-evident truths.

When progressives disregard the Constitution’s or Scripture’s authority, there is no rule of law—civically or spiritually.

Care for the poor. This is where progressives in religion and politics coalesce and differ most strongly with evangelicals and conservatives. But it’s not a question of if we should help the poor; it’s how.

Progressives think the federal government is best suited to help the poor. Conservatives think state and local government and religious groups and churches are best suited to help the poor.

I receive care from the federal government—the Veteran’s Administration. Trust me, the federal government is a ponderous, inefficient caregiver; it’s far from ideal. Local volunteers and people on the ground are much better suited to make a real, lasting difference by helping poor people help themselves.

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When we leave caring for the poor to the federal government, we wash our hands of them.

The poor become enslaved to a system that crushes their spirits and keeps them dependent.

If political progressives think we should give people what they need without encouraging them to give themselves what they need, they do not understand human nature. If religious progressives think the Creator is all love and is not holy and pure and just and that the Bible is not reliable, they do not understand God’s nature or human nature.

Because our topic is subjective truth and its effect on the rule of law and the reliability of Scripture, allow me to offer these concluding arguments:

But first an observation:

I’ve never seen such a starkly obvious difference between those who rely upon Constitutional and Scriptural authority for governance and interacting with God and others and those who seek to create their own framework for the same. This self-created framework is based on feeling rather than thinking, emotion rather than cognition.

Today’s progressives in the political and religious arenas seem to have forgotten this objective truth: What feels right is not always what is or ought to be right.

Subjective truth is by its nature not true. If a tree falls in a forest, it’s irrelevant whether anyone is there to hear its crash. And no, God cannot create a rock that even he can’t move. The size and weight of the rock is irrelevant. If he can make it, he can move it.

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Subjective truth is the pig that doesn’t fly.

It’s a sideshow clown who distracts and pleases childish minds with colorful balloon dogs. It’s a non-entity that binds the brains of many.

And sadly, its effect is on full display in our Senate chambers as we seek to confirm a Supreme Court justice whose job is to ignore subjective non-truths in favor of the rich tapestry of truth and human dignity found in our Constitution.

My message to Congress and my fellow politically- and/or spiritually-minded Americans is this:

Let go of the lead balloon of subjective nonsense and soar on the wings of truth. It will truly set you free.