Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Dog Who Helped Me Become Real

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand" (The Skin Horse, from The Velveteen Rabbit).

The summer of 1993 marked the middle of the most difficult season of my life to that point. Two years prior, a difficult decision I believed to be right and obedient had proved even more costly than I had imagined. Some of the cost was inherent to the decision, but I no doubt increased it by my lack of skills, maturity, and courage to handle the ensuing conflicts.
I sought comfort for my grief and shame in food, sleep, Scripture, spiritual reading, and desperate prayer (sometimes in that order), even while trying to reassemble the shattered dreams with duct tape and ingenuity.

By that summer, I was almost out of duct tape and ideas, and I decided with my parents' support that the next step was to buy a dog. At the time I was living in my old room at their house, no longer enrolled in college, and working at temporary clerical jobs and babysitting, yet somehow it seemed perfectly reasonable to spend more than a week's wages on a purebred Lhasa Apso. A male one, to breed with my sister's dog, Muffin.

After weeks of scanning classified advertisements and making phone calls from the breakroom at lunch, just before July Fourth we found a good prospect in Oak Cliff, a good drive southwest of us. The one snag was that I already had a childcare commitment after work that night, there were only two males in the litter, and we had learned from experience that the males sold most quickly.

My kind and longsuffering parents agreed to drive out to the breeder's house with check in hand, examine the candidates, and act on my behalf.

The babysitting evening is a blur in my memory, as all I could think about was whether my parents were meeting and picking up my dog. When I arrived back home, the lights were still on and the kitchen was full of my parents, youngest sister, her dog, and a tiny brown ball of fur who fit in my two hands.

First meeting 
He nestled in my lap immediately, and I was so smitten I hardly even minded the flea bites. After much deliberation, I named him Steinway.

For sixteen years, he was my most constant creaturely companion. Friends came and went; my sisters moved into their own places and one married; I met and married Allen and exchanged my parents' roof for his; but Steinway loved me without reserve or qualification through it all. He had no job to take him away during the day or move him to another city, no competing interests except the squirrels on the lawn or the occasional Nylabone.

Story time, ca 2002
From him I learned the power of presence, the importance of "with." As I put aside the salvage attempts and sat among the shards, he let me cry into his fur and didn't even seem to mind. He curled up on the dining room chair next to mine, whether I was up at 4 am or midnight studying. When I left, he waited for me at the front window or atop the back of the sofa, from which perch he could see both entrances. When illness woke me in the night, he found me and kept me company, and I did the same for him. He was my Velcro dog, sticking by me through whatever came. Throughout his life he made visible to me in an almost sacramental way the invisible, constant, loving presence of Christ.

I did not always love him wisely, but I hope I loved him well. His companionship and puppy needs were a gift from God to turn my focus outward again, and God brought his affection to begin to heal my hurting heart and give me many years of joy before his departure broke it again. The memory of his fur and weight is still imprinted on my arms.

He helped me live through the brokenness, rubbed off some of my sharp edges, and taught me that Real is more beautiful than "carefully kept." For sixteen years we loved the fur off each other; because of Steinway I am that much closer to Real.

Steinway Leone Moore (May 1, 1993-June 22, 2009)


  1. This is very touching. Animals love so unconditionally. Our pets are such a beautiful gift from God.

  2. @Patti HananThank you, Patti. Yes, they are. God bless you today.

  3. What a beautiful story of love. And I love the Velveteen Rabbit story. (I had a stuffed donkey that was almost real to me.)

    I particular love this line of yours:
    "From him I learned the power of presence, the importance of 'with.'"

    Yes. I want to grow more comfortable just being "with" and not feeling like I have to entertain or teach or learn or feed. Being with is often just the right thing.

  4. Such a beautiful tribute to the one who loves unconditionally. Maybe this is the reason Adam named him God's name backwards. :)

  5. aaugh!! how is a crumble supposed to get any work done, with such a flurry of wonderful posts to read and ponder?

    i know that some people think that C. S. Lewis's (and John Wesley's) speculations about dogs and other domestic animals making it to heaven are sentimental and silly, but i've never seen why.
    as your piece brings out so well, a dog can be a really important part of our lives, and of our spiritual healing and growth. in a recent post, Jeanne Damoff says of her father that "he loves with his whole being". that's something i think many of us (certainly, me) have trouble doing--even in a very good relationship between, say, a parent and a child, or a husband and a wife, there are various factors (distractions, anxieties, different ideas about what's best...) that make it hard for us, in a given moment, to give ourselves completely to our beloved. my experience, as well as yours, is that (exceptional circumstances involving squirrels and nylabones aside) a dog can be exceptionally good at loving (us) with his (or her) whole being. also, as you bring out, a dog doesn't demand a lot from us, or from life. so, in spite of the limited and imperfect nature of our love, we can often be pretty sure that we are loving a dog well enough to make him (or her) really happy, and more or less as happy as creatures of that sort can be. that knowledge is a blessing indeed.

    i'm really sorry about your grief at Steinway's departure, and i hope there is something to Lewis's and Wesley's speculations, so that when your joy is complete, Steinway will be part of it. but i'm so glad you had Steinway for as long as you did, and through some of the hardest parts of your life. if my Mom were still with us, she would describe Steinway as "providential", and that's just the word for him.

    thank you again for the post!

  6. @Lisa notes... Thank you, Lisa. I agree with you; just being with is often just the right thing, but it sometimes feels too simple to be helpful. That's why I, at least, have to learn it.

  7. @chris aaugh!! how is a blogger supposed to get any work done, with such a flurry of wonderful comments to read and ponder? [Smile]

    Thank you again for your additional insights and sympathy. Jeanne Damoff writes beautifully, but I did not see the post you mention.

    I also rather hope there is something to Lewis's and Wesley's speculations, but God will see to the completeness of joy in either case.

    "Providential" has its place in my vocabulary, as well, and it would be apt for Steinway. I'm sorry your mom is no longer living (in the body, anyway). The loss of a parent is a greater grief than mine; may the Lord grant greater comfort as well.

    You're welcome.

  8. I love _The Velveteen Rabbit_ and have a story to build around it, some day, but my Skin Horse is a person, and it's hard to explain just how in a sensitive way. Maybe I'll grow into it. This is a beautiful post, and I'm glad you and Steinway had one another.

  9. Oh, what a beautiful, beautiful post!

  10. I liked your description of him being a "velcro" dog...I have one of those right now, and I don't even like dogs as much as I like cats!!! How did this happen? And yet my love for her grows every day...seems pets teach us about the love of the Lord in so many different ways!


  11. @Brandee Shafer Sometimes stories need to ripen like garden vegetables. You'll know when the story is ready to be told. Thank you for your kind words, friend. I'm glad Steinway and I had each other, too.

  12. @Mama Zen Thank you! I'm so glad you came by today.

  13. @Cindy How did this happen? You let her into your home. After that, puppy love is inevitable. They are great evangelists, aren't they? :)

    God bless you today, neighbor.

  14. I see with some of my sons, how that kind of relationships speaks so eloquently to them - to the marrow. It is a beautiful relationship to watch:)The one son I am thinking of needs that kind of unconditional love, that kind of love without words, no jugement just comfort, that quiet yet always there companionship!

  15. Beautiful tribute to your furry companion.

  16. @bluecottonmemory Your son is blessed to have a mother who recognizes that and (I'm guessing) seeks to provide it. May the Lord give each one the love he needs and guide you in mothering them.

  17. Oh, that dog is so cute, and what a beautiful story! "Real is more beautiful than carefully kept!" Love that, tinuviel, and I concur! Precious story, precious love, and how tenderly the Father looks after us.

  18. From him I learned the power of presence, the importance of "with."

    so tender, this... and the quote from velveteen rabbit, perfect. love to you.

  19. While the post is a beautiful tribute, the title is especially poignant. I never stop being amazed at how God works everything together, on every level, to make us who we're meant to be--which certainly includes real.
    (liked the line about being almost out of duct tape and ideas. . .)

  20. @pathoftreasure Thank you, Anna! So glad you liked it.

  21. @Amy Yes, everything on every level. Even dogs and doctors. And duct tape, I suppose. :) Hope you are having a good week.

  22. When we were trying to have kids and found out we couldn't, my husband and I got a chocolate lab puppy. We fed him and cleaned up after him and he loved us unconditionally. He was the best dog ever.

  23. @Nancy Then you understand. Thanks for sharing that. I'm grateful the Lord gave you that gift. Grace and peace to you in Christ!


Thank you for sharing your day with me! Your presence here is a gift. *You* are a gift. Right now I am unable to reply to every comment, but please know I read and pray for each and every commenter. Grace and peace to you in Christ.