unconditional love

I met my husband when I was 16 years old.  I knew of him, knew his name and who he was. But I really got to know him the spring of my junior year.  I knew from the start he was different. Level headed, quiet and caring. I fell hard for that quiet and studious bright blue eyed boy.

We were best friends and just ecstatic to spend time together. We were constantly trying to surprise one another with love notes, gifts and sweet deeds. We loved boldly for two carefree teenagers. We expressed that love with bold gifts. Among those gifts were jewelry, iPods, guitars and even an infamous cell phone to help close the gap between Auburn University and Athens, Alabama. 

Lots of gifts have been exchanged since those high school days. Among my favorite have been trips to California and the Dominican Republic, a bracelet with our little family’s birthstones and my beloved engagement ring.

But I will lay claim to the very best gift given in our 16 years together.

I knew of one thing Andy always wanted. One thing he swore he’d have and I could never imagine myself ever wanting. He made it very clear exactly the kind he wanted and even had a name picked out for that future friend. So on March 16, 2005 I went bold, once again, and went to pick out the present of a lifetime.

My best friend Ashley and I drove 2 hours north to pick him out. We drove up to meet a man who had brought two choices for me.  The man rounded the corner with two little balls of fur and feet. And there he was. The one. I knew it instantly. Big brown eyes full of love and a black mask around his sweet little mouth full of puppy breath.

Patton.

I knew Andy would adore him. I, on the other hand, thought he was the most precious puppy, but didn’t think I could really love what he was to be one day:  a hyper, massive and intimidating boxer.

Sometimes the people and things you love the most in life are the ones unexpected.

Patton grew up to be an 85lb lap dog. He’d climb up into the bed and lay his head on the pillow like it belonged to him. If you were comfy on the couch watching a movie, he would help himself into your lap. He went everywhere with us. If we went to a friend’s house for dinner, the lake, a weekend trip to visit family, he would go with us. Everyone loved him and he was welcome everywhere. He was our first child and we wouldn’t even think of boarding him. I grew to love that big clumsy canine with a fierceness I never expected.

If we could have figured out a way to incorporate him into our wedding we would have. But he was there in our hearts. When Andy’s brother stood up at our rehearsal dinner to give his best man speech he informed us that he had not prepared one. He did, though, have a letter from Patton that he was supposed to share to thank us for bringing him into our family and to give his approval of us joining our lives together.

There were many heartfelt and poignant speeches that night but this was the only one that brought Andy to tears. There’s no love like the love of a man and his dog. There’s literally a place in our hearts that only the love of a pet can fill. And for us, it was overflowing.

Job 12:7 says “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;”

Unsure of what unconditional love is? What it means to be faithful, obedient and loving until your dying day? Look to your animals. They ask nothing of us but to give them the bare necessities of life and they love us completely. We can scold them for their mistakes and send them outside when they bark, but as soon as we open our arms to them, they come running.

This emotional relationship is a beautiful picture of our spiritual relationship with our Savior.

On Monday, May 16, just a few days ago I woke up like any other day. Patton rose with me; my big, blind and clumsy shadow. I let him out and fed him, you know… the necessities. I went to work out and returned home to get cleaned up for the day. I heard a cough coming from the bedroom and thought nothing of it. A few seconds later Andy came into the bathroom and said the words I knew I’d have to hear at some point but never expected that morning. Patton had left us.

Jesus took his precious life to be with him. I don’t blame Him. I’m sure Jesus was just like us on the day we welcomed him into our lives; excited and giddy to have Patton by his side in Heaven. 

When talking with my four year old about Patton’s new home in Heaven, Liam informed me, “Patton will come visit!” Yes, sweet boy, he will.

He loves us too much not to come and watch us as Liam plays in the sprinkler. Or when Vivi runs through the house looking for a lost baby doll. Or to come join in the excitement when we are opening gifts of Christmas Day. We just won't be able to see him, but he'll be there.

Just as our God delights to just be in our presence, having us bring Him into our home to enjoy in sweet communion... so it is with our precious animals. Content just curling up next to us to know we are there.

Today that space in my heart hurts, but it is full of the love from a fawn colored, velvet headed gentle giant named Patton.

Love and blessings,

Anna