2017?!? Really? It’s this time every year that I find myself in disbelief that another year has flown by. Time is fleeting, for sure. I am very aware that no minute or hour or week is shorter or longer than others, but, looking back, it sure seems like there are chunks of time that have been sucked into a black hole somewhere.
Personally, 2016 was a tough one. I agonized as I watched a close friend ravaged by cancer and another friend’s marriage unravel. All around me, I watched sickness and struggles, discouraged by the heaviness. And, oh yeah, my dog died.
Shadow was my tri-color Australian Shepherd. He was a long-time fixture in camp. For several years, I used Shadow as a live illustration for Roundup talks. He was not by any standards a “good” dog. In fact, he was annoyingly anti-social. He was quite literally attached to only me. He would follow me around everywhere I went, to the point that if I changed course quickly, I would trip over him. For the opening night of Roundup, I would walk on stage, leaving Shadow in the wings. I would welcome the campers to camp and begin to lay the groundwork for how the God of the universe loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. At that point, I would bring Shadow on stage with me. A dog and campers make for a great recipe of excitement. On cue, I would walk around the pavilion floor, and Shadow would stay right on my hip. I would relate this to how God desires that we walk in his shadow, willingly and purposefully following him. Shadow would perform his impressive array of three tricks, and all was well with the world.
Then I would bring on my other dog, Abby, the anti-Shadow. Abby is a very undisciplined mutt with not a lot of smarts. She would bounce around the pavilion, not following my stern directions and being generally disruptive. In contrast, the message was one where I would talk about how God desires that we follow Him like Shadow follows me, but we tend to be much more like Abby, distracted by every whim and fad that comes along.
The message stuck. Campers were able to process this simple spiritual lesson of staying close to God and following him. Shadow was the foundational tool for peeling back the layers of the gospel message over the next two weeks.
Shadow will be missed. His death, mixed with the many other tragedies of the year had a subtle, yet profound, impact on me. More than ever, I was reminded that we are not meant for this world. We are just passing through, and this is not our home. Hebrews 13:14 says, “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” And I was also reminded that life is hard. We will struggle. We will suffer. But there is a happy ending. Our desire is that campers will walk closely with God and rest in the hope of eternity. Have a great 2017!
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.