Several years ago, we posted a picture of our new family dog on our family blog. Her name is Ada, a hulking English Mastiff, weighing no less than 80 pounds when we first took her in. As soon as we posted Ada's picture, one of my friends posted a comment on that photo, "Nice looking dog, but are you guys crazy?"
Apparently we were. Or, at least a bit naive. Okay. Very naive.
Four years into being Ada's owners, we have learned just how naive we were. But, maybe we are just the type to learn our limitations by audacity. Besides, isn't that the American way? Go big or go home. Shoot for the moon. Buy an 80 pound English Mastiff.
It's not that we've completely failed Ada. She's got a good enough home with us. We keep her outside now most days, and she has free reign of our property - instinctively barking off most intruders real or imagined. She still greets us when we come home from a day in town by galloping towards the woods - barking for all the world to know that this is her home. Her protectiveness of us has been a good thing on occasion, but we should have known it was just a matter of time before her zealousness got her in trouble.
Just before Memorial Day last summer, Ada decided our postal carrier needed to be chased off our property. Her bravery led her to hurtle out of our yard into the street, her barrel-chested mass bounding towards the old white Jeep. The Jeep won of course, trapping Ada's rear left paw beneath its front wheel and causing a significant gash in Ada's foot. Anna and I were mortified, and - of course - filled with pangs of guilt and shame. Ada's foot stood as immediate confirmation of how inadequate we are as dog owners. With our emotional tail between our own legs, we limped into town with our bleeding she-beast of a dog, watching the blood collect on the front mats of my truck and Ada's maple brown eyes softly saying nothing.
It's been over a year now since Ada's foot was mangled in an instant only to be tenderly treated for months. People still ask us often, "How's Ada?" We pass off some story about how she's doing better, and in a way she is. I had my doubts she would be able to keep the leg, let alone be able to walk again. She does walk, runs even. But, the wound is still there, and not just as a visible scar. No, the tender parts are still pink. We do our best to treat it still.
It's not just that we let our dog get hurt. It's that Ada's injury serves as a symbol of everything we've tried to do here ... on our farm ... in this place ... as a pastor ... as parents. I could go on.
Of course we were idealistic when we moved here, but time has also proved that we weren't just naive about what it takes to raise and care for an 80 pound dog.
If you would have asked me seven years ago what I would imagine our life would "look" like here, my mental image would have been far different, far rosier.
I would have pictured a nicely painted home, a well-kept yard, a garden that flourished in the summertime, and something along the lines of - oh, you know - the grounds of Versailles. Okay, so maybe that was being a bit too optimistic. But, certainly I thought the clean, orderliness of suburbia was what we were headed for. It was, after all, what I was accustomed to.
If I were to snap a photo right now of our place, clean and orderly would be the last two adjectives you would choose to describe the photo. The heat, humidity and rains of June have turned our yard and garden into a endless explosion of weeds. The front of our house is already weather-worn and badly in need of a new coat of paint.
We used to walk by several homes south of our little apartment in Pasadena that were picturesque and beautiful. There was one not far from us that was a smaller, one-story ranch house with the front and back yards landscaped in an Asian style. A very nice looking older gentleman was often out in the yard, trimming his hedges or tiding up his landscape. I think I imagined something like that, but I never accounted for - oh, you know - raising my children, pastoring a congregation, and still wanting to maintain an active lifestyle of fitness and recreation. One of those things alone would have been sufficient to occupy even my best efforts. But, for better or worse, Anna and I aim big. And when you aim big, you get weedy gardens and mistakes and setbacks.
But, it's good. Even as the weeds steadily reclaim our gravel driveway and the forest threatens to pull our barn back down to the earth: it's good. If my idealism has taken a few serious blows to the chin, so has my pride and that is no doubt a good thing. Besides, in the failures and setbacks, I've begun to realize that life is still okay, even when it isn't perfect, even when it is messy. Maybe most importantly, I've got a deeper sense of what the "good life" looks like - the kind that was woven mysteriously into this God-given creation, not just the one the type that is marketed by lawn fertilizers and home improvement stores.
And - I have to say - I kinda like this good life: the fireflies that float like soft sparks above the grass as the birds sing their final anthem for the day, the yarrow that bursts with color, this hay and clover that overtake the eastern edge of our property where the deer cross. I like its abundance and its messiness; I like the way that life always comes back in this place. What else is grace, after all, but the repairing of our mistakes and the healing of our wounds by the emergence of new life?
At night now, Ada comes walking towards me in the early cool of the evening, still as regal and majestic as ever, even if she does carry a visible wound. She lays down in the grass. She stretches out her front legs and crosses her paws, and lays there - her head erect, her eyes scanning the horizon. In the twilight she is beautiful, even if she isn't perfect. Yup, she's very much our dog. The good Lord willing, she will be for sometime.