A year and a half ago, we gave away our dog Ella to a wonderful family. They were going to provide her a loving home in the countryside, and we knew that was a better alternative than moving her to Florida. She’s a mutt: a mix of beagle, basset and labrador – but if you look up Coonhound on Google, you’d see her picture. I always figured hound dogs loved the south – remember the dogs on the porch in “Hee Haw?” Well, Ella hated the heat, was at home in snow and rain. So we felt it best for her to not bring her with us when we moved. And as much as I’ve missed her, she is with a family she adores and who love her back, in a climate that she manages well.
We had her for her first six years, and like most dogs, she had her favorite toys. She had a stick that she loved to gnaw on – she had been so proud dragging it home from her walk. She also loved pine cones – I remember seeing her on a Sunday in December, tossing the tiny pine cones that she had pulled from my front door wreath – just throwing them in the air and watching them float down until she could catch them and toss them again. She was so full of delight, her whole body wriggled. It was hard to get mad at her for dismantling my wreath with such joy exuding from her!
Inside, she loved stuffed animals, especially the ones that squeaked. She would zero in on the squeaker and with her very strong back jaws, bite through the fabric to pull it out. She would completely de-stuff the toy – there’s a lot of batting that squishes into those fabric carcasses! But the squeaker was her delight – rolling back and forth, wiggling with the squeaker squawking until she had completely punctured it. Her entire body would wag as she laid on her back, paws flailing in absolute bliss.
I bought her two rubber toys, thinking that she wouldn’t be able to disembowel or destroy them – one was a blue figurine of a person, and the other was a red shape of a dog. Oh, how wrong I was. She applied her strong jaws to biting off the feet of each animal, and tossing those in the air. The footies flew just like the pine cones! For awhile, we had two blue footies and four red ones, but they slowly disappeared, until we were down to one of each, then only one red one, then none at all.
Fast forward 12 months, and my kitten Annabelle discovered a new toy – a red footie. As far as I can tell, it somehow became lodged in the netting of the underside of our couch, until one day it fell out onto the floor. Because suddenly, my darling kitten is chasing a bouncing red rubber footie across the living room floor! If cats have favorites, I’d say she loves this footie. Just like Ella, she tosses it in the air, but instead of catching it, she watches it bounce haphazardly a few times before she pounces on it. She picks it up and carries it to another room, where the routine begins again. And then suddenly it’s gone – nowhere to be found, until it shows up several days later in the window track or by the TV or under the throw carpet. She tosses it, she pounces on it, she wrestles with it, she buries it, then delightfully finds it again and the play starts over.
Watching Annabelle makes me smile as I see her pure joy in playing with the little red footie. I often wish I had such a thing, that would bring me joy like her toy does, and did for Ella before her. But that is external joy, and the Bible says that our joy comes from within. Knowing that our names are written in heaven for eternity. Complete joy from Christ placed in us. A gift from our Heavenly Father and as fruit of the Spirit. Multiple verses speak of joy being found in the Presence of God.
So why do I feel like I’m still looking for it? For some external toy, some outside thing that gives me the exuberance of a small red footie. I told my therapist years ago that I wanted my joy back, and I feel like I’ve been looking for it ever since that first depressive episode 8 years ago.
I think it might be that I find that joy, that exuberance again, as I continue to sit with Jesus each morning. As I draw closer to God and He shows me His heart and fills me with His joy. A joy that cannot be removed or lost in the couch cushions. Complete joy of His kingdom, forever and ever.