10 Churchill Street, Witbank, South Africa
It was an ordinary school morning with its clamor of backpacks and lunches and the drama of finding a matched pair of socks before running out the door to find Mom, already waiting in the car, engine idling. As we pulled out of the driveway, I spotted my dog, Cuddles, sleeping in an unusual spot. He was curled up in the agapanthus flowers: a cotton-white tuft nestled between green and purple. Cuddles had been lost-and-incredibly-found just weeks before (the story had made the local newspaper), and I was still joyous at our reconciliation. I waved at his curled up little form and headed off to school.
It was an ordinary school morning in class, and an ordinary trip home. I would have lunch, play with Cuddles, and then tackle the challenges of my fourth grade homework. Except, Cuddles was nowhere to be found. Not under my bed, not in the basket, not in the back yard, not in the flowers where I’d seem him earlier. I enlisted my sisters’ help to find him. No luck.
Some blurred minutes later, I called my Mom at work. I can imagine her now: closing her office door and removing one of the red, plastic clip-on earrings she’d received for Mother’s Day and faithfully wore, pressing the receiver to her ear. I remember fragments:
My baby, Cuddles is gone…
… hit by a car…
… found him in the agapanthus…
… buried under the apricot tree…
…I’m so sorry…
I don’t remember much after that.
That was more than thirty years ago, and I have since made a trip back to that town, that street, that house I grew up in – jam-packed with memories fading with each year. There is a fence around the house now, and the wisteria above the garage door has been trimmed back so that no one has to duck underneath it for fear of losing an eye. The avocado tree is twice as tall, and the weeping willow we once danced under is now gone. But the agapanthus are still there, and even though it’s been three decades, as I drive slowly past the house with all there is to take in visually – my eyes still go there first: to that clump of green and purple, just as they did every morning after Cuddles’ death for the remainder of the time we lived there. I can’t not look. Even after all these years.
Cuddles was not the first pet I’d lost, but it was the first grief I remember. Years later, when I read the account of Lazarus’ death in John 11, Jesus’ words jumped out at me. “Lazarus has fallen asleep,” Jesus said, “but I am going there to wake him up.” (John 11:11) The disciples were confused: why was Jesus going to wake him up? If he slept, surely he would get better? But, as John explains, Jesus was speaking of the sleep of death, not the sleep of slumber: both states he was equally able to awaken his friend from.
I had thought Cuddles was sleeping the sleep of slumber, when in fact he was in the deeper, longer sleep of death. Like the disciples, I was confused. Like the disciples, I was grieved and unable to wake my beloved one from this latter, darker sleep. Like the disciples, it boggled my mind that Jesus-Himself the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)- is able to wake us up from the sleep of death.
I don’t know whether dogs go to heaven, or whether Cuddles will participate in the life to come, but this much I do know: whenever I see agapanthus flowers I think of our home on Churchill Street, and of my sleeping dog, and the grief I felt. I remember that one day I will sleep the sleep of death, too, and on that day – I have entrusted myself to the One who has overcome death. He will take me by the hand and say “Talitha, koum” (which means Little Girl, get up! – Mark 5:41), and on that day, I will awaken, and He will take me Home.
Bronwyn Lea is a South African born writer and speaker, making her home (in this life) in California with her husband and three kids. She writes about the holy and hilarious in faith, family and culture. You can find her words on her blog, various other great publications on the web, and connect on Twitter and on Facebook.
Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because later this year, I’m publishing a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.
The story of Jesus is a home story.
Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in the months ahead in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.