Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Trooper's Eyes pt 2

Seven years ago this month, I posted my very first piece on this blog.  Weird how things work.  The title of the piece?  “Trooper’s Eyes”.  I'll post the rest of the previous series soon...


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Ash Wednesday is kind of sucking around here.  We’re in the midst of a historic stretch winter wise here in Louisville, which I love.  What isn’t so great is that we have had to cancel our Ash Wednesday service and it’s looking like our Thursday and Friday night activities are now likely to be canceled.  I also just got some really crappy, albeit not unexpected news.

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As a Wesleyan, I’m a believer in prevenient grace; the idea that God is pursuing each and every person with reckless abandon from the moment of conception until either justification or death.  I believe that as a part of this process, God most certainly uses the people in and the events of our lives to draw us to Him.  In that, I do believe prevenient grace ends at the moment when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  I sometimes get irritated when I hear others continue to talk about the events of their lives after having received Christ as prevenient grace.  Yeah, I know, big issue to get irritated with (lol).  However, I do believe that God does continue to use the people in and the events of our lives to His glory.  And perhaps, a good dog here and there.

At this moment in time after having had a couple of good, solid spurts of tears; I’m believing that I’ve been snookered by a divine conspiracy.  There is a period of time in my life that has been turned over and dissected by yours truly, so many times that I have come to the conclusion that I’m truly never going to figure any of it out.  But today?  Today, I think something new has been added to the equation, something I never considered.

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Way back in the early part of my journey of injury and illness I bought a little German Shorthaired Pointer pup named Gus.  At the time, no one, including myself knew how badly I was hurt or how bad things would get.  I absolutely loved Gus.  He was a very sweet puppy that was an incredibly talented pointer.  One time while playing with him with a quail wing at the end of my fishing pole, I dropped the pole to run in the house to take a phone call.  When I came back outside, Gus was still pointing that wing.

As my health rapidly deteriorated, I had less and less time for Gus.  And for anyone who has GSP’s, you know that they are incredibly demanding dogs, especially as they are growing.  I eventually was forced to make the decision to give Gus to a friend who was an avid bird hunter.  Gus would have the life that he deserved and it broke my heart to part with him.  That was in the mid 90’s.  Over the coming years as my health and situation continued to deteriorate, I often spoke of Gus and how much I missed him.

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In 2005, my health was worse than it had ever been.  I spent most of my time in bed, enduring excruciating pain.  I was scheduled to have a surgery that Rickelle and I each were secretly convinced would end my life.  I even had a conversation the day before with the surgeon, “If this goes bad, please just let me go.”  The rest is as they say history.  I awoke from the surgery that probably should have ended me, knowing that something was different, but not knowing what exactly.

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Several weeks after surgery, secretly wrestling with the implications of what may or may not have been taking place in my body, Rickelle came to me with a newspaper ad.  “German Shorthaired Pointer Pup, last of litter, $150.”  To say I didn’t want a puppy at that time would be a massive understatement, but she said to me, “At least go and look.”

Now it should be noted here that my wife truly is one of the most brilliant and intelligent people I know and that is saying something.  She should have known better, I mean what on earth in the previous decade made her think getting a high energy, high drive puppy was a good idea?  Another point?  I had yet to share with her my inner wrestling match.  Something had happened on the operating table, something changed and it scared me to death.  What if it proved to be a cruel trick?  So much of the disease that I suffered from baffles doctors; perhaps this would be just another example.  I couldn’t trust it yet.  “At least go and look.”

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I had never been to Wilmore, Kentucky before.  I had no idea what it was or why I should know what it was.  I didn’t know what an Asbury was, much less that there was a seminary located a few blocks from the address I was traveling to with my son to see this puppy I really didn’t want; a seminary where I would later spend some of the absolute best years of my life.

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We pulled up and knocked at the door.  The gentleman who answered asked us to meet him around on the side of the house.  When we rounded the house, a gangly, clumsy ball of legs and kinetic energy came bounding out of the door.  He was absolutely stunning to look at.  Big and beautifully marked, my first thought was, “Why on earth is he last?  Why on earth does this guy only want $150 for him?”

Those questions would soon be answered.  We were told a story of how this last pup had in fact been the pick of the litter, but when he was about four weeks old, his mother tried to kill him.  She crushed a portion of his skull, requiring some reconstructive surgery.  He told me of how it had been touch and go, that they didn’t think the puppy would make it, but he did.  The pup’s name was Trooper because he fought and survived.  The only remnant of the horrific injury?  A lightening bolt shaped scar right between his eyes.  Despite that, no one else wanted him.  As he was telling me the story, he had no idea that there was no way I was leaving without that puppy.

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Oh the times that I have regretted that decision.  Trooper was not only highly energetic, but he was bullheaded, stubborn, and just generally annoying.  I remember telling him through clenched teeth one time, “I now know why your mom tried to kill you!”  There was no way to wear him out.  A walk?  That was just encouraging him. Fetch?  You had just sentenced yourself to having a slimy tennis ball plopped in your lap for hours on end.  Ignore him?  He screeched like a pack of howler monkeys.  You want to know the greatest injustice of it all?  I learned shortly after getting him that quail are rare in Kentucky and pheasant are non-existent.  As I would later find out, this dog was monstrously talented with birds.

At my wits end, exhausted and frustrated, a friend finally suggested, “Have you tried taking him to the dog park?”

“Dog park?  Dog park!?  What on earth are you talking about!?”

We went that same day and it was glorious.  He ran and he ran and he ran.  I felt kind of stupid just standing there watching him, so I started walking the perimeter of the park.  That first day I let him run for a solid hour and I walked a handful of laps, the most physical activity I had done in years.  At home that night?  Trooper was calm and dare I say, enjoyable?  We went back the next day and the next and the next.

Within a few months, we were spending two hours at the dog park every morning at 5am.  I got to where I was walking twenty laps at the dog park; 10 miles.  Every day.  No matter what.  Rain, thunderstorms, snow, sub-zero temperatures we were out there.  Miss a day?  Trooper made you pay for it.  We didn’t miss. 

We became something of a legend at the dog park.  I would joke with people who would ask why we walked so much, “If we don’t, he’ll die.”  Inevitably they would get concerned looks on their faces, “Why!?  Does he have a medical problem?”  My response?  “No.  Without running this energy off of him, I’ll kill him.”

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In those countless hours and miles, Trooper and I became inseparable.  In many ways we kind of became extensions of one another.  But something else was taking place in those miles and hours; I was getting better, I was getting healthier, and I was getting stronger.  Whatever had happened on that operating table, whatever had changed was coming to fruition in a dog park.

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Divine conspiracy; I believe I have been snookered.  “At least go and look,” she said.  Without Trooper, I’m not sure what would have happened to me.  He forced me to get up, to keep moving, especially when I didn’t feel like it.  He forced me to kick in the door that had just barely opened in the recovery room, to take a chance; to bet on a long shot.  Sometimes when a miracle presents itself, we actually have to get up to claim it.  We have to chase it.  Sometimes we need company on the journey; a friend.  A few short years after bringing Trooper into our home, I was attending that seminary a few blocks from his birthplace in that town I’d never heard of.  Divinely snookered indeed.

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Trooper slowed with age and became the perfect gentleman.  He’s one of the most lovable creatures God has put on this planet.  His favorite thing?  Snuggling under the blankets on the couch.  For a while now, there has been some telltale signs that things haven’t been right with him.  Lumps, bumps, sleeping a lot, moving slower.  He has seemed to have aged at an accelerated rate over these past two years.

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Over the past few weeks, it seems more and more of my friend is slipping away.  We don’t let him play anymore; he hurts himself.  I haven’t taken him to church with me in a long time; he has trouble on the tiles.

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We went back to the vet today.  He doesn’t want to put weight on his hand quarters and leans forward.  His lymph glands are now swollen.  I deal with death a lot.  It’s part of the job.  I recognize it, know it, and also recognize the difficulty in sharing bad news with loved ones.  Despite that, I asked the vet, “So, this is it?”  I needed to hear it from her.

“Pastor, he has started his journey.”

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Seems somehow poetic in a beautiful way despite my broken heart.  Trooper in so many ways pulled me from “that” journey and sent me on another one.  And now I have the honor to walk him back to where he found me.  I knew it had started, but hearing the vet say it, well, that just brought it home.

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If we hadn’t had to cancel church tonight, I would’ve been preaching in part on Genesis 3:19, “From dust you came and to dust you will return.”  It is the journey of us all.  Death is as much a part of life as birth.   At some point over the coming weeks or months, I will lose my friend and with him no doubt a piece of me.

God used this dog, who truth be told, is probably a little too much like me for comfort, to save my life.  Divinely snookered.  My heart breaks, but I am thankful.  Thankful for the pain because the pain is love.  Thankful for the journey, and that we still have a little ways to go.  He will return to dust.  Someday I will too and on that day, I fully expect to be greeted at some point by a gangly, clumsy ball of legs and kinetic energy.  Death and resurrection.  Seems somehow fitting today of all days.



4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Bless all of you.

Juli

Adam Roe said...

Oh, Corey...I'm so sorry brother, but I am glad that you and Trooper have had each other. I will pray that you and he finish his journey well. God bless you both my friend.

Dinah said...

You have given him the best possible world, and he has given you the best possible world. You have been together through it all, and you'll be there for him as he crosses the rainbow bridge. God bless you & your loving family, both human and canine.

Anonymous said...

My heart breaks yet rejoices at the same time...God has blessed you and continues to bless you... Thank you for sharing your journey with Trooper with us...what a blessing!!!!!