It was a frigidly cold winter day when he came to stay. His fur and flesh were stretched tight over his ribs and spine. He was barely able to walk. Abandoned, he was looking to survive. I wasn’t sure he’d live. I pulled the garage door up enough for him to come in and out, put down a blanket, set out some food and water, and went to town for de-wormer and rabies shots. He didn’t leave that blanket often during those first few winter weeks. The boys and I visited him regularly. We became his family. Slowly he gained strength and weight and by spring he was healthy, fleshy, and fast – running in ridiculously happy circles in the yard, eliciting laughter from the boys.
We named him Cain, short for Canine. “Dog” didn’t have the right sound. He wasn’t a perfect dog. One 4th of July we came home after a short trip to visit family. We planned on harvesting the sweet corn from our garden but discovered Cain had pulled every stock up by the roots and eaten the best part of every ear. Who knew dogs liked corn? Not perfect but close.
When we moved to the city, I couldn’t bear to take Cain away from the country life he loved. I gave him to my friend Tim. Several weeks later I called Tim. Tim said he was having to tie Cain up on Sundays. Somehow, he knew when Sunday rolled around and he made the three-mile trek to church and sat on the porch like he did every Sunday when I was there. But when the preaching started, Cain would start howling. I guess he missed me.
I was reminded of Cain a while back. Marty, George, Michael, and I were on a bike ride. A dog came out and started running alongside us. In my experience, when chasing cyclists most dogs don’t have good intentions. They are dangerous. Bites and crashes are no fun. But this dog wasn’t chasing he was joining, running alongside whoever was out front. Marty sped up to try and wear him down. It didn’t work. I took a turn. This dog and I went side-by-side for about a mile. He reminded me of Cain who used to go with me when I jogged. Cain would with me and occasionally his Labrador Retriever blood would kick in and he would run off to a pond to swim, catching me later down the road.
This dog wasn’t quitting so I stopped. He walked up beside me and I pet his head. While looking down I noticed drops of blood all around the front of my bike. My first thought was, “What did I do to myself this time?” Then the dog put his paw up on my shoe. More blood. That’s when I saw it. He had run so hard and so far, his pad was torn and bleeding. I said, as if he could understand, “Why did you keep going? You should have stopped long ago. Now you’re hurt.”
I thought about it later and realized he kept going because the joy was greater than the pain. And the joy wasn’t possible without the pain. Joy and pain are not mutually exclusive. They are, at times, dependent on each other, so intertwined in our experience, one cannot be felt unless the other is endured. The journey of life is not a choice between joy or pain.
It is said of Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” Therefore, we are to “fix our eyes on him,” (Hebrews 12:2), and follow him who knew that the greatest joys are often the fruit of the most difficult suffering.