Monday, January 6, 2014

A lesson in love

The sun began to rise on snow-covered Erie, Pennsylvania on another cold January morning. Mornings are always peaceful, especially when the world outside is freezing cold and the warmth of a fireplace (even an electric fireplace) begs to be enjoyed.
This morning was such a morning. Snuggled up in my warm pajamas, I surveyed the ice and snow outside, resting in the comfort of a warm and peaceful house. Pippy was doing the same. She laid all sprawled out on her dog bed on the floor in-between the kitchen and the living room. When she first received her dog bed she had no interest in laying on its padded cushion. Instead, she would lay on the hard wood floor. Despite all of my appeals to get her on the comfy bed, she insisted on staying on the floor.
Then one day the cat discovered the bed. Patches, the elder (and larger) animal in the house, took to the bed immediately. She stepped on top if it, turned around a few times, then laid down and fell fast asleep. Pippy watched in what first seemed to be confusion but then turned to amazement and lastly, I suspect, envy. She hadn't observed how the bed was to be used. Now she saw the benefits of the bed. It did look comfy. She, too, wanted to experience the joy of a soft place to rest.
Ever since the cat moved from the bed Pippy has taken to it like a fish to water. She comes in from her walks and goes to the bed. She finishes eating and goes over to her bed. Just like the cat, she gets on top of it, turns around and then lays down. She's a quick learner and the cat is her guide. Pippy's peaceful mornings are now spent on her dog bed, not on the cold, hard floor, while mine are spent preparing breakfast and reading my daily devotional. The house is always quiet and still.
Until Patches arrives.
Patches is large, yes, but not loud. It isn't Patches that brings commotion to the morning. It's Pippy. When Patches strolls into the kitchen, which she does every morning like clock work around 7:00, Pippy goes wild with excitement. She jumps off her bed, asleep or not it doesn't matter, and runs over to her buddy, Patches. The old cat is immediately showered with love and kisses. Pippy attempts to lick her face. She jumps around her in circles. Her ears flap and her tongue wags. Pippy is thrilled that her cat friend, Patches, has arrived and she greets her with sheer joy.
But poor Pippy, Patches just won't reciprocate. Patches lets out a meow of disgust. Sometimes she actually runs in the opposite direction. Most days she just stops and lets Pippy get all of her excited affection out of the way. Then Patches proceeds to her food and water bowl. After getting her fill, Pippy usually attempts to engage her once again. But Patches has had enough. She walks into a different room, jumps on some piece of furniture that looks inviting and goes back to sleep. She's a cat. This is what they do.
No matter how many times Patches ignores Pippy the routine continues. Pippy continues to love on Patches. And Patches continues to act annoyed.
This morning as the daily drama unfolded I began to see it in a whole new light. Instead of an annoyed cat and an overly excited dog, I saw it as a lesson on how to love.
Now don't misunderstand, I don't think it is beneficial to annoy people with suffocating smothering and obsessive, energetic kisses. Dogs can get away with displays of affection that humans simply cannot. There is, on the other hand, a lesson to be learned from the relentless love that Pippy showers on Patches. No matter how many times Patches ignores her, Pippy still shows Patches love. Pippy never receives reciprocation from Patches and yet she doesn't let that stop her from continuing to love. Pippy's love is not dependent on Patches' reaction. Pippy love Patches regardless of the love she receives in return.
A question arose for me to ask myself: do I love with this same passion and dedication? Is my love that unconditional? Do I love the people that don't show me love in return? Do I love the people who are hard to love?
Pippy's love reminded me of Luke 6:32, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them."
Somehow Pippy understands this principle and no one had to teach it to her! She loves Patches, a cat who shows her no love in return, with a love that is undying and unshakable. How easy would it be for Pippy to stay on her bed instead of greeting Patches in the morning? After all, her bed is comfortable and it isn't as if Patches seems to care all that much about receiving the greeting anyhow. That doesn't stop Pippy. Ever morning she continues to love Patches.
That little dog of mine never ceases to amaze me, teaching me valuable lessons and challenging me to put my faith into action. I've read about loving the unlovable thousands of times. The scriptures that teach "love your enemies" are familiar to every child who ever attended Sunday school. Yet, I am quick to forget. I often catch myself withholding love from those who don't show me love in return or for those who don't show love the way I would like them to. I allow my love to become dependent on the person I'm loving.
Jesus tells me to love no matter who it is or what I receive in return. Why? Because in loving others I am not displaying the goodness in my own heart but I am displaying the love of Jesus Christ acting through me. If Christ dwells in my heart then His love will pour out through me because He IS love.
His love is not dependent on the good we terrible sinners can obtain. If we had to work for His love we would never be able to attain it. No, His love is freely given, a gift that we can choose to accept through His sacrifice of death on a cross.
When we accept Jesus Christ's gift of salvation we receive the indwelling of His love through the Holy Spirit. The love He gives is unconditional and overwhelming. Through the indwelling of His love in our hearts we are able to share that love. He spreads His love to the lost through us when we allow ourselves to be vessels used for His glory.
Pippy showed me how to be that vessel  this morning as she poured out unconditional love on an old cat who couldn't care less. Pippy loved her anyway. My prayer today is that I would love like Pippy loves: passionately, wholeheartedly and without ceasing. When I love, may I love not on my own strength but through the limitless power of Jesus Christ who dwells in my heart.

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