A yellow dog showed up at our house the day of our son’s third birthday. I remember him gleefully looking up at us as he hugged the dog, “You got me a dog for my birthday!?” he exclaimed, pushing all his other gifts aside.
We stared at him blankly. We had no idea where the dog had come from. He just happened to have great timing by showing up to a party he hadn’t been invited to. We broke the news to William gently, telling him the dog could stay, but only until we found out where he belonged. We crushed his heart, but what in the world!? What kind of dog just shows up on a birthday?
Our searches left us empty handed and eventually we realized the dog was here to stay. We named him Hank and he stole our hearts.
A few years later, we found ourselves in a place of deep grief after we buried our third child. William had just turned five; Kate was almost three. Unable to process what had happened so suddenly, we decided to take some time away as a family. We took Hank to ‘Camp Kennel’ a few towns over and drove away.
The moment we pulled into the driveway three weeks later, we sensed something strange had happened. On the floor was a new dog bed and other obvious signs that a dog had been living in our home. A note was taped to the door, “I’m out on a walk. Love, Hank”. We looked at one another in confusion. We had picked up Hank from the kennel on our way into town, just a few minutes prior. He was currently running through the yard at breakneck speed, revisiting his favorite spots.
That’s when our neighbor came walking up, with a yellow dog on a leash that looked just like Hank. Only it wasn’t Hank. It just really, really looked like Hank. Somehow, as our community had scrambled to surround us, she had gotten the message that she could help by taking care of our dog, which she had done so faithfully for the time we’d be gone. As it turns out, a different yellow dog just happened to run away at the same time and when she saw him in our yard, she assumed it was our Hank.
And just because this story couldn’t get any more confusing, when we checked his collar to see where he belonged, we found not only a phone number, but a name. Hank. The Hank-imposter was also named Hank. I know.
When Hank-but-not-our-Hank’s owner came to get her dog later that day, she innocently said to me, “Oh! We had lost hope that he was going to return! My kids have been taking it so hard.”
That’s all it took for my fragile world to start spinning. I looked at William and Kate playing in the backyard. I had just mustered the courage to go back into the house, with the empty crib and the endless reminders of the daughter we had buried. How could I be happy for her kids, rejoicing over a lost dog, when my own kids had lost their sister? My heart was crushed.
I wonder if you’ve ever been confused by the way God is working in your life. When the plans you have come to a rushing and disappointing halt, in spite of the prayers you’ve prayed. What are we supposed to do when we’ve taken all the right steps and done all the right things, and yet, somehow, we find ourselves holding a broken heart, a shattered dream, a bleak future? How do we live when life doesn’t seem fair?
There was no one who championed Jesus like John the Baptist. He was driven in his message and focused in his mission. As he preached a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, he fulfilled what Isaiah had prophesied: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Luke 3:4).
Yet, just as Jesus’ public ministry was ramping up, John was sitting in prison. This man who spent his time in the wide open spaces of the desert, wearing an outfit of camel hair and a leather belt was confined to the darkness of the dungeon, relying on his disciples to bring him news of the outside world. Things were not lining up like he had planned.
John’s disciples came to Jesus with a message. “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask,” they said. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20) If Jesus was proclaiming liberty to the captives, why had his biggest cheerleader been left to suffer in Herod’s prison for such a long time?
Jesus didn’t give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Instead he gave evidence. “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” His words echoed Isaiah, a fulfillment of prophecies John would have recognized and understood. And then he added, “God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.” (Luke 7:22-23, NLT)
I find it so easy to follow Christ when my life follows my plan. I dive into the hard work when there’s clear direction and purpose, especially when it allows my life to stay on its own happy course. But how easy it is to abandon the plan when life takes a turn I wasn’t expecting. When the disappointment comes and I find myself in the bottom of a dark, dank dungeon of questions and disappointment. Are you, like me, ever tempted to echo the words of John the Baptist, “Are you the One who is to come or should we expect someone else?”
There were a lot of things about brokenness I didn’t understand that day I stood in the yard between the two Hanks. My sorrow was fresh and deep. I felt like I was alone, dangling off the ledge of a cliff. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to survive.
In the moment of my raw soul honesty, I struggled to make peace with God’s answer to the prayer for a lost dog and apparent decision not to answer mine for my daughter. I felt forgotten. I wonder if John the Baptist felt the same way?
“There are very few places where the soul is truly safe,
where the knowing,
the longings of the soul are
and listened to
rather than evaluated,
or beaten out of us,”
says Ruth Haley Barton.
What do we do with our stack of unanswered questions? Perhaps, like John the Baptist, we bring them to Jesus. We sit and confess our fears to Him, our longing for more, our lack of understanding. And then we wait. We give Him space to move into our lives, and we see that not only is He working in the souls of others around us, He is working within us. He doesn’t scold us, doesn’t reprimand us for our clumsy sorrows. He simply invites us to draw closer. To lean in.
“The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor,” He whispers to us.
The Bible doesn’t record how John received the message. Though his life ended brutally in the dungeon, his voice still calls out to us in our desert. And you and I? Our stories aren’t over. We must cling to hope, even when God seems silent. It is possible, even when you feel disillusioned and alone. You may find it hard to see it clearly, but the truth is, He is always at work. Even when it takes a couple look-alike dogs named Hank.