We have 4 big dogs in the family, all of whom live at our Colorado Springs home. The 10 year old, Kodi, was diagnosed last week with an osteosarcoma in her shoulder -basically a bone cancer. And the hard news is that it is terminal, apart from a miracle. The difficult decision we had to make was whether to have the leg amputated, or to have her "put down" - euthanized - soon, before that leg bone was to shatter. Ultimately, we opted for amputation. For my part in that decision, there were 3 truths that guided me. Truths that actually have a lot to do with living a missional lifestyle.
I would often talk with our veterinarian in Kansas City about end-of-life issues for our dogs, and his philosophy was simple but mature: you are responsible to do for your dogs, who are voiceless and powerless over the diseases/illnesses they have, what offers them the best quality of life, within the limits of your resources. John taught me that when we "signed on" as pet caregivers, we took on a responsibility to do for them what they could not do for themselves, within our finite boundaries. And our goal was to help the dogs have their best quality of life. As I looked at Kodi last week, happy and wagging her tail and full of energy and vitality, it was clear that she is not "done." She has a strong quality of life still possible for some undetermined length of time. That's what I signed up for, to help her have that. It was clear that the amputation was the way to go.
A second truth that helped me in the decision is the call to love, which inevitably means sacrifice. This sacrifice might mean sleepless nights, watching over meds, getting them out for exercize when one might not feel like it, sitting watch in a waiting room, financial commitment, standing by them when they are suffering, and, of course, saying goodbye when the time comes. Amputation definitely fell into this realm.
And another friend taught me the third truth. It has to do with acceptance. He said, "Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.. . Unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy." Reinhold Niebuhr said something similar: "Taking, as our Lord Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it." In other words, if I will only accept things the way they are as the starting point, I mean, truly accept that THIS IS THE WAY THINGS REALLY ARE, I can start to celebrate what is possible in light of that starting point, instead of getting sucked down into all that I wish was different. I decided that amputation gave us as a family the chance to celebrate everything that is wonderful about this little dog, to savor every day we have left for and with her, to remember what we have adored about her and will always treasure, and to gather around her and make her last months the best they can be. That's what acceptance makes possible.
This is the way of missional living. "Signing on" with Jesus Christ leads us to decisions in which we do what we can for the voiceless and powerless of our world, within the limits of our power and resources. It means that we will make decisions which will at times cost us, even dearly, and especially in terms of having our hearts broken. And ultimately the missional lifestyle insists on our deciding to accept this world as it is, as our starting point, not some illusory fantasy of the way we wished it were right now. This, and only this, gives us the freedom to celebrate what IS possible and to embrace happiness in the midst of the shadow of sin and suffering.
You know, Kodi may not be much. She in fact is called a "tripod" now, meaning she has only 3 legs. She's lying at my feet snoring at the moment, settling back into her home in the first hours since leaving the hospital. But oh, she's not done teaching me about how to live - even how to live missionally in a ravaged, hard world full of injustice and the blight of evil. What a good dog she is.