by Jon Reeverts
Dog people and dog lovers will probably get this; other people might roll their eyes or be offended.
Some families have a dog whisperer in their line. We do. It’s Keala. She’s been like that from the time she could recognize an animal on a page of a book. She would pinch the image in her fingers and pretend to pull it off the page and play with it.
To this day, any dog, stranger or familiar, chooses her first and wants to be her friend; it’s one of her gifts.
On the other hand, my wife Jenny is not a whisperer. She doesn’t have the time, or sensitive gift to exude that invitation. Her gift is different. I’ll come back to that.
The other day, I was catching up with a friend I had not seen or talked to in months. At one point in our conversation we arrived at what dogs are able to teach us. She said, “I told my husband he could learn a lot about how to love me from our dog.”
I have said, “I can learn a lot about rest and identity from our dog.” He is not a slave to image-conscious living.
Why is it that “man’s best friend” can be such an effective communicator with so few words?
Dog people see it - others brush it off.
Back to Jenny. When our daughter Mackenzie and son-in-law David rescued Pete, at the advice of the adoption middleman, their intention was to love him out of his past and enjoy the fruit of that loving relationship for his lifetime with their young family.
Pete had other intentions. Their busy work and school schedules left Pete alone in their tiny apartment many hours a day - he taste-tested most of their furniture and possessions, redecorated their apartment with the accessible trash, shredded cherished wedding gifts, and would corner Mackenzie when she first arrived home from work or school - it was a little scary, because Pete is an Akita/Labrador mix. If you read up on breeds, it would say this - “training an Akita is not for the faint of heart - they don’t easily back down.”
When you greeted him or visited him, he pinched your skin between his front teeth, gripped your wrists in his powerful jaws and ran from any attempt to pet him. Jenny kinda hated him, because he had singled her out to nip her.
In Pete’s defense, he had a history of abuse, rejection, abandonment, mistreatment and was socially awkward. He was hurt, angry and distrustful of any bi-ped (human).
When they came back to visit Burlington, there was no way Pete was going to be allowed in our house, Jenny said. But when Mackenzie and David went to visit David’s family, Jenny went to work. It was to be a you or me confrontation.
Love was going to take on a new look. Pete was captured, snapped in a choke chain and leashed to be introduced to our house. It kinda looked brutal for some moments. He had such personality and responsiveness despite the rage and pain in his heart and mind.
Within an hour Jenny said to me, “There’s a really good dog inside of him.”
It was a unique vision of being able to look past the pain and see him for who he really could be.
In that moment, I knew that she intended to rescue Mackenzie and David from Pete and that he would begin a new journey. Akita’s may not easily back down, but neither does my beautiful wife. She’s strong-hearted and competitive and persistent. Just what an Akita needs.
This is the story of redemption. Being redeemed means that someone will go past every obstacle and to any length to show their love. This is what Jesus did through the cross.
There were times in the following weeks that I witnessed Jenny’s five-foot frame involved in play from behind a trash can lid in our backyard - Pete didn’t know how to play ball or tug of war, he just knew war. Jenny won. But Pete ripped the dog door, frame and all out of the side of our house.
Morning and evening walks around the neighborhood were a battle of wills, but a claw collar gave Jenny the advantage, and in a short while, Pete did not fight her but accompanied her and paraded at her side, respectfully.
Evening saw Pete grow bold, especially after he had been fed. “I don’t need you or your love.” And, I will escape from you, run around the house, terrorize your plants with a rip of my fangs and steal your towels hanging on the kitchen stove handle to play keep away from you as long as I can - “You’re not the boss of me!”
Moments later, Jenny would be in a full assault wrestling match with a dog her size whose massive teeth were exposed, but with state championship technique, she would take him down and pin him. Akita’s are not for the faint of heart, neither are farmer’s daughters.
He submitted - after battle after battle.
He no longer had to be leashed at bedtime to prevent him from climbing on the bed. Pete doesn’t climb or rest on furniture. Pete responded to discipline - even the way a child desires to know love through boundaries.
A little sidenote: When Mackenzie and David called a few months later to tell us they had bought a little Show Basset Hound. Jenny hung up on them. She was pissed! I’m not training that dog!
But that little dog - she, became part of the story, because when she met Pete - who was going through basic training at our house - she relentlessly decided that they would be playmates. Pete put her whole head in his mouth. He could have crushed her. But instead, he watched as she received affection and gave it. Pete learned from her as well.
Today, Pete snuggles at Jenny’s feet, takes joy and celebrates their morning walks, stands between her and any uncertain visitor. There is a good dog that shines through at every turn.
Here’s the point - we call that submission. It’s a beautiful thing, not a harsh thing.
Most of us equate submission with rolling over in the face of dominance. Those words are used as opposites, but biblically, this is not the definition or picture of submission.
Biblical submission brings out the beauty in a person. It is a harvest of joy, fullness and abundance.
An untrained Akita is a menace to the world around him - he is banned from apartment complexes and feared by passers by. His dark slanted eyes, square head and powerful jaws evoke distrust and keeping one’s distance - maybe why they were used to guard royalty as part of their heritage.
But a trained Akita is majestic, proud, confident, responsive and loyal. People stop in awe of his ripped muscular physique and stance, markings and demeanor.
Scripture says, “We were once children of wrath.” As unbelievers and even as believers who hold on to their old identities, we are a menace to the world around us. We do what we want. We torment society and live in selfish willful lives that others detest. We shred people’s possessions, destroy their memories and spread trash in their lives, all in the name of our hurts, wounds, abandonment and rejection.
But 1 Corinthians 6:11 says “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
That is the power of redemption. It’s the picture of being brought from far off to intimacy. It is the image of releasing our past wounds, fears, anger and distrust, and coming into a relationship that bears fruit.
So what exactly are you saying, Jon?
This: most of our marriages are still stuck in those past hurts. And, “Hurt-people - hurt people.
We fear submission, as defined by the world, as being crushed and shedded of dignity - and, I guess, if you’re going to have a worldly marriage, you will have to live in that space.
But biblical marriage allows each of us to bring something to the table, release our fears, and stand naked, transparent, exposed and unafraid before each other.
We receive,... not deceive one another.
It brings out the good, the majesty, and grace that Jesus gave us through a redemptive, new life. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
It is the reason we search the scriptures to understand the new life that we have been promised and given - a kingdom life - that we can stand guard of and protect. It is not for the faint of heart, though it is for the brokenhearted. (John 10:10)
Over 400 years ago Shakespeare penned a play entitled “The Taming of the Shrew.” The world today finds that play detestable and unworthy of the stage - because it sees it as chauvinistic and abusive to women - it is hate speech in their eyes. But through the lens of grace it is an unveiling of male and female gifts given in selflessness to each other. It’s a lot to process, to be sure.
What lens do you look through? For your marriage and spouse? For your children? For our place in society?
Will we be children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-5) or children of the promise (Galatians 4:8)?
Surrendering our rights and past identities can be painful and difficult. Resting in hands that we are not sure we can trust reveals our fearfulness. There is a “what if” voice resonating in our heads.
In Christ, we learn, little by little, that His promise and truth surpasses any worldly philosophy, warning or desperate fear, any wound, mistreatment, or abuse. His love takes us to a painful cross (Galatians 2:20), but brings resurrection on the other side.
It brings a bountiful harvest of affection, trust and intimacy that we all desire but can hardly believe exists. I invite you to continue to stand in that space until God reveals to you (by personal revelation) that an abundant marriage is not only possible, but promised - no matter how long you have been married or what you have been through.
There’s something good inside - Life, In Christ, reveals it.