This past week, the Randall family had to say goodbye to our family dog. Shadow was part of our family for 11 years. His life was full of adventures, mishaps, close calls and pure joy.

As he lay his little head down for the last time, I could not help but think about the times his tail would wag, his tongue would pant, and he would raise on his haunches to say “hello.”

As these memories came flooding back, it started me thinking about all the lessons I learned from him.

Therefore, I would like to dedicate this week’s column to the “doggone theology” Shadow taught me over the years.

  1. There is always time for a treat. Shadow could have been sound asleep by the fire, but if anyone in the house whispered the word “treat,” it sent him flying toward the pantry.

Life can get monotonous at times as we settle into daily routines. However, a little treat every now and again is just the thing that keeps you going. Look and listen for them because they are all around.

  1. There is always time for a nap. Shadow enjoyed his naps. You would find him under my wife’s desk, near the fireplace, under the Christmas tree, on the cold tile or atop of the chair where he could look over his kingdom.

Shadow believed in the benefits of “Sabbathing,” which we often take for granted. Make time for rest because God gave us the Sabbath as a gift, and our bodies need it.

  1. Risks can come back to bite you. One of the most dramatic moments in Shadow’s life occurred in Texas during one of our family’s Fourth of July celebrations. Shadow was making his rounds in my in-laws’ back yard when he encountered an unusual creature. Not entirely sure what to make of it, he lifted his leg to let the beast know he was trespassing.

As soon as Shadow’s “hello” hit the head of his new friend – a small copperhead – the snake bit Shadow in the lower regions, propelling him to cry a very loud yelp and come running inside.

After a furious trip to an emergency vet clinic and a rather large bill, Shadow came back home with renewed respect from his family. Because seriously: the little dude got bit by a poisonous snake south of the border and lived to tell about it.

Life is full of risks, and some can come back to bite you. However, how fun would life be without them?

How many rewards would we miss if we did not go out exploring, taking a chance and meeting creatures along the way?

The Bible says we should walk by faith and not by sight, but if you ever meet a fork-tongued new friend, you had better look twice before “saying hello.”

  1. Risks can offer great rewards. While some risks can come back to bite you, others can offer remarkable rewards. On Saturdays, I would often make myself a sandwich, settle down on the couch and get ready to watch Premier League soccer. Every now and again, I would forget something in the kitchen, so I would set my plate down on the coffee table before heading back to retrieve it.

As soon as I turned the corner into the kitchen, Shadow would immediately begin his stealth-like maneuvers to “liberate” my food.

Returning to my plate, I would find my sandwich “liberated,” and Shadow smiling from ear to ear. As far as Shadow was concerned, this risk was always worth taking!

So often we live in fear. We are afraid to take chances. We are worried that we could lose everything, so we play it safe.

But taking risks can mean a new friend, a new job or a new way of thinking. Taking risks can be difficult and must be entered into with wisdom, but there are moments when you get the sandwich, and all is right in your world.

  1. Honest adversaries challenge a person to be better. Whether it was Shadow stealing my sandwich or his early morning yelps on Saturdays, Shadow and I had an adversarial relationship. It was a relationship of one-upmanship. He could push my buttons like no one else, making me yell out threats of the dog pound. However, over time, we gained a healthy respect for each other. One could say we even admired one another.

While I am not entirely sure all opposites attract, there does seem to be wisdom in engaging your opponents with respect, kindness and openness.

There were moments when Shadow annoyed the living daylights out of me, but in the end, I came to respect the ol’ boy for his ways.

I wonder what would happen if we could treat others with respect, kindness and openness. Just maybe, this world could be a better place.

  1. The importance of inclusive love. While our relationship was tense at times, the most important lesson I learned from Shadow was every day after work. For over 11 years, I would walk through the door after a long day to be greeted by his fluffy face. No matter how angry I got at him the night before for being a sandwich stealer, he was always at the door when I walked through it.

Anytime the doorbell rang, and a visitor walked in the living room, Shadow was convinced they were there to see him.

He greeted each visitor with an enthusiastic wag of the tail, standing on two legs in welcome, exuding a perpetual hospitality like no other.

When a guest met Shadow, they would encounter one Randall that was overjoyed they stopped by for a visit.

More than any other animal I have encountered, including humans, Shadow demonstrated the idea of a radically inclusive love for all.

He would lay still, letting babies crawl over him. He would sit beside a sleeping child to keep watch. He greeted the postal worker and our friends with the same enthusiasm.

More than anything though, Shadow loved our family unconditionally.

There is a gigantic hole in our living room every night. No longer do we see the little white fur ball curled up next to the fire or catching a nap on my wife’s shoes.

Our best little buddy is gone, but his Shadow will stretch across our hearts for many years to come.

May we all live our lives with such joy, happiness and love.

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