I have never been as scared as I was this afternoon. I got home from soccer at the Boys and Girls Club, and walked up the steps to our apartment. I was on the phone with Andy, complaining about something that I've been angry over for days. When I opened the door, the dogs ran past me down the stairs. They do this from time to time, and usually they just turn the corner at the bottom of the stairs, so they can do their number one in the grass.
I set my keys and purse down inside and then turned to go back out and collect my animals. But when I reached the bottom of the stairs, I only saw Daisy looking back up at me. I called for Gatsby, but didn't see him anywhere. Panicked, I told Andy I had to go, hung up, and ran Daisy back up the stairs into the apartment. I searched inside quickly, thinking that maybe I had imagined Gatsby running past me but that he'd actually stayed in the apartment. He wasn't inside. I shut Daisy in and sprinted back down the stairs. I ran all over the place, frantically searching all of the places that I normally take Gatsby for a walk, certain that he had to be somewhere.
If you know Gatsby, you know that he is not a dog that runs away. He always comes when I call him. He's actually very easy to communicate with, and he understands people's voices and emotions extremely well. So I could not imagine my dog being able to hear my panick-stricken voice and not running to find me. But I called and called, and looked everywhere I knew to look, and I could not find him.
I called my mom completely panicked. I was gasping for breath, as the reality of what was actually going on, began to sink in. "I cannot find Gatsby!!" I cried. She kept asking me to repeat myself because she couldn't understand me. She encouraged me that I would find him, to keep looking. Andy arrived home as I was talking to her. I had called him back after hanging up so abruptly to let him know Gatsby was lost. "I'm on my way!" he said.
When he got home, we combed the apartment complex again, and asked all our neighbors, the guys that do maintenance, the people who work in the office, and the kids who play in the courtyard if they'd seen our little black and white dog. No one had, but they said that they'd keep an eye out.
We got in the car and drove the streets around our apartment complex. I was barely looking at this point. I was distraught and thought God might be punishing me for the bad attitude that I had been wrestling lately. We paused in a parking lot, and I prayed through gigantic tears, "Lord, please forgive me. Please don't let Gatsby suffer because I have been wrong. If it's your will, Lord, please let us have him back again."
We went back home and Andy began to call animal shelters and veterinarians. I called Lacy, and left her a weepy voicemail with the bad news. She called back and said, "Call the police!" I told Andy, and he did. I walked in and out of the apartment while Andy faithfully hunted down all of the ways to track a lost pet in Austin. I would walk out and wander circles around the apartment building. Then I'd come back in and sit on the porch or look out the window, waiting for him to come home.
I called my mom again. Through tears, I told her that I thought God might be punishing me. She said, "Meredith, I don't think that's the kind of God we serve. But maybe God is trying to teach you something. And when Gatsby comes home, you remember this." She seemed very confident that he would return. She reminded me of times her Cocker Spaniel, Justice, used to disappear for hours on end, chasing scents out in the woods, and would return bedraggled and exhausted. But my heart was heavy. I was not sure that I would ever see Gatsby again. I was afraid that maybe someone had grabbed him and taken him away. I was terrified that he might be stuck in a fence or a hole or something somewhere and that he would die there alone, thirsty, hungry, afraid. And I knew that it would be my fault. Because I was more concerned with my complaint than with watching my dog, and I took my eye off him, and that was all it took.
Every now and then I'd break down into tears and wails when I would think about the fact that he was not here with us, and Andy would hold me and we'd ask God to have mercy.
After almost an hour and a half, mercy came in the sound of a voice outside the door. A man's voice was asking someone, "Do you know where the people live that have the black and white Cocker Spaniel." I heard him and ran out the door. He recognized me, I guess. He was a neighbor Andy had talked to earlier. He and some friends were out working on their truck during all of this chaos. "I found your dog," he said.
I followed him, crying, across the parking lot. I was still a little bit afraid of getting my hopes up. I thought that maybe it would be some other dog or something, for some reason. But while I was walking across the asphalt, I could hear my Gatsby barking. Nothing has ever sounded so good. Two guys were keeping him cornered so that he couldn't run off, and that's why he was barking. Gats never did like big guys in wife-beaters. But they were the friendliest faces in the world. I ran to my buddy and picked him up and dissolved into "thank yous" and lots of tears.
When we got home, Andy, Gatsby, Daisy and I collapsed on the floor in our office. We kept thanking God and praising Him for being so merciful to us. I am amazed at His faithfulness, His goodness, His great mercy. Gats is like my child. It would have been devastating not to have found him.
I prayed Psalm 34 to the Lord when I got home. I love verse six so much. I think it truly applies to this situation.
"This poor man cried out and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles."
Apart from just being amazed at God's faithfulness in answering prayer, I learned something from this experience. The situation that was causing my complaint had to do with the way that I have been treated and/or perceived by other people. I waste a lot of time getting really worked up about other people's thoughts toward me. I try to counter that with what God says about me, but sometimes I hone in on their voices, not His. But in the hour of my need, I did NOT consider them at all. They were powerless in this situation, as was I. God alone knew where my buddy was. God alone could protect him and bring him back to me. God alone did.
My mom was right. I serve a God of incredible grace and mercy. He disciplines those He loves, that is true. But His grace has poured out to me, once again, today. And I am reminded that He is so important. His words and His thoughts toward me are what really matters. And when I waste time focusing elsewhere, grievous consequences can ensue.
So, thank you God, for your great mercy. Thank you for hearing our prayers and answering them. Thank you for being near to the brokenhearted and saving those who are crushed in spirit. Thank you for bringing my little black and white dog home safe and sound. I hear you. I see you. And you are what matters.