02-03-2020: Fourth Week after Epiphany

I don’t know what it’s like in your house, but when the Thoma family has the chance to dine together, the table discussions are fairly well balanced. What I mean is that you might expect the parents to do most of the talking, asking the children about their day, discovering the particulars of their friendships and fondness for certain activities. But in our house, the kids are just as interested in learning about the details of the parents’ lives. They want to know what we did during the day. They want to know how it went. They’re even more the prying types when it comes to our pasts. They want to know what life was like for us as kids.

On Thursday night, the discussion revolved around the topic of pets. Someone shared the story of a funny cat video they’d seen, and the next thing you know, we were talking about the types of animals we’d prefer to have as pets. In actuality, however, the Thoma family can’t have pets. Two in our bunch are terribly allergic to just about every creature the good Lord saw fit to create. That didn’t dissuade me from sharing that a member of Our Savior has a potbelly pig, and she just loves the thing. Even better, she claims it’s hypoallergenic. I suggested we invite both her and the pig over for a visit to see if that’s something we might consider. There was a response of relative curiosity around the table.

Jen pointed out that pets become a part of the family, they need a lot of time and care, and when they die, it can be a heart-stinging time.

It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to the pets Jennifer and I had as kids. Jen talked about her Doberman named Zeus, and how he died because he’d eaten a rock that eventually got lodged in his intestinal tract. I talked about a particular husky we had and loved. Pandy was her name. I mentioned how she was a great companion for me and my brother, Michael, especially in the rougher neighborhood where we grew up. I told the story of how we’d go to the nearby public park to play basketball, and if we wanted a section of the court, all we needed to do was bring Pandy along. She was a massive Alaskan malamute, and fortunately for us, she looked like a giant wolf. Her thick coat covered a colossally muscular frame. People would steer clear of her, even though in truth, she was as gentle as a drifting snowflake. In fact, on days when snowflakes did grey the sky, I used to climb into her dog house and nestle into her fluff. I know she loved it just as much as I did.

I also told the kids about the time she was stolen from us.

I grew up next to a tavern in Danville, Illinois. You’d be right in assuming taverns can be shady places. Unfortunately, such shadiness wasn’t unexpected on the weekends. A late night visit to our front door by a stumbling drunkard intent on making a phone call wasn’t necessarily surprising. Even worse, I’m pretty sure drunk driving was a regular occurrence. I know this because over time, Michael and I learned to be the first ones to the tavern’s gravel parking lot on Saturdays and Sundays—the mornings after the place’s busiest evening frivolities. We’d learned it was likely that a tipsy patron might stagger to his car, clumsily excavate his pockets for his car keys, and upon discovering them, fumble them out with a stowaway wad of five or ten dollar bills dropping at his feet.

I’ll bet you can guess who found the money.

Consider it a personal confession that every now and then, our bikes got new accessories, our bedroom walls donned a new poster, or the Donkey Kong and Pac-Man machines at the nearby Zayre department store was kept well fed for a couple of hours.

Anyway, one Saturday morning, Michael and I made our way out the back door and over to the tavern lot, and as was our custom when passing Pandy’s dog house (because for a while we had to keep her on a long chain at night in our side yard), we called to her. But she didn’t come. She was gone.

The chain wasn’t broken. The latch that attached to her collar was intact. Someone had clearly snatched her.

But people know people. Conversations are had. Drunk tavern-goers say things to the “quiet man,” the bartender. Doing a bit of investigating, my dad got word that a man—not a regular customer—had visited the tavern and was suspected of having enticed Pandy into his truck and taken her back to his home about 100 miles over the Indiana border! My guess is that whoever it was this crook had come to visit in Danville had betrayed his visiting friend as gaining a new dog right around the same time Pandy disappeared. My dad figured this out, deduced the thief’s whereabouts, drove to his home in Indiana, discovered Pandy in his backyard, and called to her.

She heard her name and came leaping into his arms.

To this day, I still don’t know the specifics as to what happened between my dad and the larcenous man. Those were adult things I never learned. But what I do know is very simple. Even though she was our pet, Pandy was family. A member of my family had been stolen away. We had to get her back. The whole family was invested in the search. The father of the family did whatever he could to find her and go after her. When he found her, he called her by name, and she was back in the arms of those who loved her.

I told this story to the kids. And for those who know me, you’ll know when I think on things like this, they become typological. In other words, I see connections to Christ. I see images that remind me of my faithful God and His efforts. I’m prompted to think of His deepest desires for the lost in this world. I can see the relative connections to the people I serve, the relationships we have here at Our Savior with one another as brothers and sisters in a Christian family. When a member of our family is enticed away by the temptations and terrors of the thieving world, it hurts. We want to search. We want them back. In the midst of it all, our heavenly Father is invested in the rescue, too. He doesn’t say, “Oh, well. It was nice while it lasted.” He acts. He’s already gone the distance to find us by sending His Son. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is our greatest rescue. In our baptism, He claims us. It’s there He calls to us by name, reminding us that we are His, calling for us in the midst of this cold world to nestle into His arms of divine mercy and security. This Gospel alive in the family prompts its members to action. Our voices begin to sound like His voice. It also readies the wandering ears for the reversal of any terrible sin that might snatch us away.

The day we got Pandy back was one I’ll never forget. If joy ever had a moment when it could be something tangible, something graspable, the instance I threw my arms around that dog was one of those times.

Think on that when it comes to those among us who stray. It’s one thing to get your dog back. It’s something altogether different to see another member of God’s family return to Him—and ultimately, to be within arm’s reach of the whole family in the glories of heaven.

Of course, it takes guts to pursue anyone in this way. It takes guts to confront the thieving temptations. I appreciated my dad chasing down and confronting the man who stole Pandy. Thieves don’t typically appreciate being discovered, and you never really know what you’ll be getting yourself into when you step forward to confront treachery.

Still, you’re not alone in this. We’re a family. People know people. Conversations are had. The burglarizing struggle is identified. Phone calls can be made. Visits, too. We prove a readiness to help. Maybe, in a sense, we find the straying Christian and they’re happy we’ve paid attention. Maybe they aren’t. Either way, the effort to search is indeed a first inclination born from a family that won’t stand idly by when someone we love is missing at the Lord’s dinner table.

Think on this. Even better, consider acting on it. I know you know the members of the family I’m talking about.