So She Got Me a Puppy!?!

  • Steve Hatter
Puppy holding a badminton birdie in its mouth

I love my dog, Oliver.

I’m a bit surprised to say this so assuredly because bluntly, he has been a pain to teach and train since his arrival as a three-month-old puppy four years ago. Cynthia surprised me with him—a pure-bred Golden Retriever—for my 60th birthday! And yes, I was surprised. And, yes, I also will admit to some less than wonderful feelings about it all when I saw on the day of his arrival that our house had been converted into a combination of a kennel and play space.

Puppies require heart investment and patience, and honestly, I wondered if I had already mined every ounce of these virtuous ideals deposited in me in the raising of five kids. And this is not to mention the stewardship over three previous dogs, three (or four?) cats, turtles, an Iguana, fish, Guinea Pigs, and even mice. But my dear wife, Cynthia, knew better about me, as she rightly discerned the risks of significant transitions happening in our lives and that I would hunger for relationships.

Coincident with my turning 60, we were rapidly progressing to a full-on empty nest. We were dealing with aging parents, a job transition for me, sons deploying to combat zones, and some health questions. All these challenges are par for the course for anyone, really, so my point is not to draw attention to anything unique with me. It is more to say that life’s big transitions and more complicated circumstances have a way of bringing clarity regarding what really matters in this oh-so-brief whisper of a life that God has given us.

Despite my desire for order, discipline, organization, professionalism, and predictability, I have also learned that I am made for relationships. Empty nesting is not supposed to be about finally having a spic and span house! I’ve learned such truth by observing my wife over the almost forty years we’ve been together. She has proved to me that couches and tables, clean rugs and vases and wall paint, all the good stuff we are blessed to own, matter for nothing and are utterly expendable. What is far more critical is heart connections. Why? Because God made us in His image, and that means He designed us for deep and complex relationships.

Consider Genesis 1:26 and then Genesis 2:21–25, noting verses 18 and 20, which I have italicized below:

Genesis 1:26: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

This remarkable statement alludes to the unfathomable relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the Godhead. Their magnificent and perfect relationship is the blueprint for us, those created in their image.

Genesis 2:21–25: “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:18–25 provides the design for the single most important human relationship between a man and a woman who become husband and wife.

Simply put, we need relationships because we’re made for relationships, and these relationships must align with God’s design and statutes. Failing to see this truth means failing in life, regardless of what stage, whether close to retirement or just starting.

So back to Oliver. No, he is not human (even though he probably thinks he is). But he is a marvelous creation of our good and loving God, who I believe made domesticated dogs to point us back to our most fundamental needs. Oliver is a living picture of unconditional love, affirmation, loyalty, and appreciation toward undeserving me despite how he has challenged and even frustrated me. As such, he is a grace and a mercy. Yes, he helps to fill the void I feel because my kids are grown and gone.

But Oliver is not really the main character of this blog. My wife, Cynthia, is. Like getting Oliver as a surprise, she has had many, many, many really good ideas about how we should live and what we should do within God’s providence over our four decades together.

Getting me a dog when I was sure I did not need one is but one example. Her gifting in relationships has proved especially true regarding how we shepherded our five children. She has lived out the biblical role of helper to me, as well as the reality of two becoming one flesh.  I love Oliver, but I truly love Cynthia. I’m able to love her the way God—in all of His indescribable goodness—meant for me to love her when he designed marriage in the first place. Marriage, simply put, is a miracle, and good Christians should enthusiastically herald the institution in God-glorifying ways! So, I’m doing that here in this blog.

I’ll close with this exhortation: If God so chooses for you, marry God’s way and stay married God’s way. There is no other way!