Seven years ago we got a puppy. I saw her when I was visiting in a nursing home. She was three weeks old, part Golden Retriever, party Husky, part question mark. All cute. She slept in my lap while I visited with a parish member. Though I had never had a dog of my own (just the little dog who grew up with us), I was suddenly considering it. I "knew" it would be a commitment. Yeah.
In the past seven years there have been sleepless nights, broken legs, trips to the vet, obedience school. There have been diet problems and behavior problems. There have been bills. We have been worried. There have also been times when I wouldn't trade our dog for anything, when she has showed her charm to strangers, let a child hug her, walked alongside me, sighed with contentment. It's a package deal.
It's a package deal, though now that she's seven, there are more good days than bad.
One morning last week, though, I was getting ready for work, and called our dog in from outside. Admittedly, she was out in our backyard longer than usual, but she seemed to be doing fine. We are grateful for our fenced in backyard, and we are also grateful that this year the snow is not so deep that she can just walk over to the next-door neighbor's yard. Anyway, I called her in, and she came, but I immediately sensed that something was wrong.
Maybe the right word is "smelled." She smelled funny. And, she looked funny, too. And she was leaving funny brown tracks in the kitchen, which were not dirt.
Our dog likes to roll around in the snow. That's one of the things she likes to do. But, in our unseasonably warm winter, I guess it's not just snow out there.
So, here I was, all dressed up for work, washing the kitchen floor and making my dog sit and stay while I washed her paws. And her neck. And the side of her face. It's not one of the things they write in the book about the Rewards of Dog Ownership. But, as we have discovered, it's a package deal.
During the season of Lent, I think it is also well to remember that being a disciple is a package deal. There are those who would entice us with the Rewards of Discipleship (you know, "Your Best Life Now" and all that), and there are also those who would make discipleship into a cult of suffering. But being a disciple of Jesus is neither a cult of suffering nor a cult of success. It is simply a package deal. It is what you get when you follow Jesus. It is the way of life, even though the road leads through death.
Many years ago, when my Lutheran congregation designed and built their sanctuary, they discovered that the pews they ordered came with kneelers. Even though kneeling is sort of unusual in Lutheran churches, they decided to keep the kneelers. They were right to do it.
After all, it's a package deal.