According to the Dog Breed Info Center website: “The Redbone Coonhound is a handsome, robust and strong coonhound. It has a clean, well-modeled head, with a medium stop between the brow and nose. The long, hanging ears extend to the tip of the nose when the dog is following a scent. The tail is held upright. The paws are compact and cat-like, with thick, strong pads. The skin is a rich red color. The coat is shiny and smooth, lies flat, and is short like that of a Beagle. Coat colors include red, and red with a little white. Although some Redbones might have traces of white on their feet or chest, this friendly, elegant dog is the only solid-colored coonhound.” Yesterday I met one of these dogs. His name was Rusty.
Time at the Dog Park
Marissa (Daughter #2) had the day off. Her husband, Brian, didn’t. So, Marissa met me and Roxy at one of the local dog parks. With our busy schedules and Marissa’s transition into married life, the two of us have too little time together. I relish the opportunity to spend quality time with any of the three of my now-adult daughters.
The park was empty when we arrived, but we were soon joined by several large dogs and their owners. We watched and laughed as our little dog gave all the big dogs a run for their money. Roxy not only has the speed of a Porsche, but she has the ability to turn like one. All the dogs soon laid panting in the hot, afternoon sun. The other owners collected their dogs and made their way out of the enclosed dog park.
Mary and Rusty
Not long after the group of dogs and owners left an elder lady named Mary and her six-year-old Redbone Coonhound Rusty arrived at the dog park.
“Does your dog eat little dogs?” I asked playfully as Mary and Rusty entered the enclosure.
“Oh, no!” Mary giggled. “He’s nothing but a big teddy bear. He thinks he’s a puppy.”
Mary let Rusty off his leash. Once Roxy and Rusty completed the customary meet and greet (sniffing each other from bow to stern), the two walked around the dog park together. Rusty, being a hound, seemed to sniff every square inch of the large enclosure. Roxy followed closely behind him.
“Roxy looks like a big dog in a little body. Those ears and those eyes, and the color of her coat; she’s beautiful!” Mary exclaimed.
“Well, Rusty is very handsome, too.” I replied.
For the next half-hour or so, Mary, Marissa and I chatted. Here’s what I learned about Mary.
Mary is a retired school teacher. She taught at one of the local elementary schools for many years. She retired as a vice-principal. Mary was married for 49 years to the love of her life. Sadly, he died some 14 years ago. She was devastated.
Mary told me of the long, difficult nights soon after her husband’s death. She lied in bed on her tear-soaked pillow begging God not to allow her to wake up the following morning. She didn’t want to live without her husband. She didn’t want to be alone.
Mary sought grief counseling. She joined a group for grieving widows. She talked to her minister who gave her Bible verses to read and upon which to meditate. Then one day, a friend of hers suggested she get a dog.
“I didn’t want a dog.” Mary explained. “I told my friend that I might think of getting a cat. My friend said, ‘You know what they say about cats, don’t you. With a dog, you are the center of the universe. With a cat, you are a member of the staff.'”
Mary found a black Labrador puppy at a rescue. There was no information on the dog–nothing about the previous owner, nothing about the dog’s personality; nothing. But Mary needed a companion. My heart went out to her as she told me her story.
The lab, which she would name “Buddy,” became her best friend. The warmth from a loving pet sleeping next to her in her bed allowed her to sleep, as she put it, “like a baby.”
Buddy died at the age of 14.
Mary was devastated yet again. She had lost her husband. She had lost her faithful K-9 companion, and she found herself alone, once again.
Mary tried to convince herself that she would never get another dog. That determined sentiment lasted all of four days. Mary adopted Rusty just a few months ago.
Rusty, now six-years-old, had had a hard life. Given up by his owners, Rusty bounced around from shelter to rescue. Mary learned about Rusty and decided to see if he could come anywhere close to replacing Buddy. Before she could bring Rusty home, a representative from the rescue had to make a “home visit,” similar to that of DCS or a human adoption agency. The world has really gone to the dogs, but I digress.
“I bought Rusty a large dog bed and placed it on the floor at the foot of my bed.” Mary told me. “I hoped that one-day, Rusty would want to sleep in bed with me the way Buddy did. After making Rusty comfortable in his dog bed, I decided to take a shower. When I came out, there was Rusty laying in the middle of my bed!”
I could see Mary’s eyes get watery. It could have been the dust and the wind, but I think what I saw in her eyes were tears. This sweet octogenarian, who I had known for less than an hour, felt comfortable enough to share her life with me. I silently thanked the Lord for the tremendous blessing. I thanked the Lord that my daughter, Marissa, was by my side to see and hear it.
I learned that Mary has had a boyfriend for the last seven years. A few years her junior, he is one of seven brothers, all raised on a farm in Iowa.
“My family and I are moving to Iowa at the end of the month.” I said.
“Really? Where in Iowa are you moving to? My boyfriend grew up in Sioux City.”
“We’re moving to Davenport to be part of a church, there.”
We continued to chat about Iowa and Mary’s life.
There it Was–My Segue
I didn’t know how long Mary would stay at the dog park. I couldn’t let such a wonderful conversation with this stranger-now-acquaintance end on the mid-range notes of dogs and Iowa. I wanted to end on the highest possible note–the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Mary, you had mentioned that when you were struggling with your husband’s death that you talked to your minister. Do you attend church, locally?”
Mary told me she had attended a Methodist church in one of our local retirement communities, for many years. But the way she talked about it indicated to me that she either wasn’t presently attending regularly or at all.
“My family and I are members of Grace Community Church, down in the valley. John MacArthur is the pastor.” I offered.
“Oh, I know that church!” Mary replied. “My boyfriend is Roman Catholic. He likes to tell me that little lies are worth about five ‘Hail Marys.” She said with a laugh.
There it was–a very natural segue into a law and gospel conversation. Segues (or transitions) are not hard to find. You simply have to remember that God has given you two ears and one mouth for a reason, and it’s not so you can hear yourself talk. Take the time to be a good listener. Take the time and have the genuine, caring desire to listen to people’s stories. But do this remembering that listening is not gospel communication. Listening is a precursor to gospel communication.
“Well, it takes much more than that to cleanse us of the sin of lying.” I told Mary.
By now, Rusty was siting behind our bench. Roxy hopped up on Mary’s lap.
“I’ve never met a little dog that was so loving and gentle! She’s like a big dog in a little body! I love her!” Mary exclaimed.
“Well, I think it’s obvious that Roxy loves you too, Mary.”
Roxy is a very friendly and seemingly affectionate dog. And Roxy hadn’t a clue about what was going on. She heard us talking. She wanted attention. So, she hopped onto Mary’s lap. Roxy had no idea the Lord was using her. Roxy didn’t have a plan. Roxy wasn’t trying to partner with me in any way whatsoever. Roxy is just a dog. But I believe the Lord was using Roxy, nonetheless. Mary was drawing comfort from my little dog–a level of comfort that allowed her to be at ease talking to me–a stranger.
While we shouldn’t humanize our pets, we should give God praise and glory for being sovereign over all things–even the where, when, why, and how of our pets’ behavior and interaction with other people. And, if we are wise and discerning, our pets can be wonderful tools for the gospel.
I pointed to Rusty behind the bench. “Mary, if I lied to Rusty, your dog isn’t going to punish me in any way. He doesn’t have a clue. I will suffer no consequences for lying to your dog.”
Mary laughed, and her laugh caused me to chuckle. Mary was such a sweet, mom-kinda-lady.
“If I go home and lie to my wife about where I spent the afternoon,” I continued, “I might end up sleeping on the couch.”
Mary laughed again. This time she shared with me the story of the first time her late husband ever slept on the couch. It was a funny story.
“If I lied to my boss about being sick so I could bring Roxy to the dog park, I could lose my job. And if I lied to a judge in a courtroom, I could end up in prison.” I said.
“That’s true.” Mary replied.
“Or what about this?” I offered. “What if I slapped Marissa in the arm, just playing around? She’s not going to call the police. I’m not going to suffer an real consequences for goofing off with my daughter. Now, if I slapped you in the arm (I assured her I would not do that), you might find it strange. You might end our conversation and leave. You might even call the police. But I’m probably not going to go to jail for a playful, silly slap that did you no harm.”
“But what if President Barack Obama came to the dog park with the First Dog? What if I decided to slap the President in the arm? If I survive the encounter, I’d go to jail for a very long time, and rightfully so.”
“Mary, the point is this. God will punish all of our sins, even the ones we think are no big deal. God is good; He is holy, righteous, and just. And the punishment that God has determined for sin–all sin–is eternity in hell. Does that make sense?” I asked.
“Yes it does.”
“God provided only one way to escape His just and holy wrath, and that was through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.”
Mary smiled, and then she looked at her watch.
“Well, I’m going to have to be going.”
Usually, when someone abruptly says he (or in this case, she) has to leave it is because he simply doesn’t want to hear about Jesus. While the person might not ever say it aloud, his or her darkened heart filled with hatred for Jesus simply will not abide the mention of his name or the proclamation of His gospel.
Only genuine Christians love Jesus. No one else does. No one else even has the capacity to love Jesus. That’s why no one, of their own volition, will choose Jesus. God must cause a person to be born-again (John 3:3-7; 1 Peter 1:3), born from above. If God does that miraculous work in a person’s life, he will take his heart of stone and give him a heart of the flesh and the first fruits of his salvation will be repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is by grace the Christian is saved.
With Mary, I did not sense any discomfort in her. I do not believe she wanted to end the conversation. I believe she had to. I believe she genuinely had to leave.
“Mary, I served as a deputy sheriff in Santa Clarita, for 20 years.”
“Really? Well, thank you for your service.”
“You’re welcome. During part of my time as a deputy sheriff, I also served as a chaplain to the deputies. I wrote something, a pamphlet, to help people in times of grief. Can I give you one?” I asked.
“Well, I’m doing much better now, but I would love to read it. Thank you.”
Always Carry Gospel Tracts
We collected our dogs and walked together to the parking lot. Once there, I went to my car and retrieved a couple copies of my tract In Times of Crisis. I handed the tracts to Mary.
“Oh, thank you. I will give one to my friend. I think it will help her.”
With that, we said our goodbyes.
“Well, I hope things go well for you in Iowa.” Mary said.
“Thank you. I hope we see you and Rusty here again, before we leave.” I replied.
“That would be nice. I would like that.”
I secured Roxy in the back seat, and Marissa and I climbed into my car. We both had smiles on our faces.
I thank the Lord for allowing us to meet Mary and Rusty, the Redbone Coonhound. What a wonderful gospel opportunity it was.