Big Sam


About 5 years ago, I was introduced to a dirty, furry angel. He showed up one day at our back door, wearing only a collar that said “Sam”. He was huge and looked a little scruffy around the edges for such a beautiful Golden Retriever, definitely not what one would expect when thinking of the breed standard. He stood by the back door, pawing it firmly and panting, all while wearing a goofy doggy smile. This gentle giant walked right into our hearts that day. He was looking for treats and love. I think I would be hard-pressed to decide which one he wanted more.

The first time Big Sam showed up, I decided just to pet him, as he seemed very friendly. Whew! Was he ever stinky! Seems his owners had a different view of a dog’s care than the rest of our neighbors did. They had acreage and let their animals be 100% outside “ranch dogs”, roaming free, hunting, chasing whatever moved and bathing in the ditch water. Not a bad way to go if you’re a dog, but hard to invite into your well-groomed human existence. My husband, children and I started “visiting” with Big Sam outside on the patio. I got the sense that, at some point, Sam must have been an “only” dog, living his life inside with the company of children and beloved by all. His life seemed to have taken a turn somewhere though. At some point, he was put outside and told to fend for himself with little outside intervention. As time progressed, he seemed dirtier, hungrier and more and more in need of someone to love on him. So we did. And not just us. As the other neighborhood moms and I talked at the bus stop, we began to realize that he had a circuit of homes in our neighborhood he would visit on Saturday mornings. Food and love? Check. Next house: food and love? Check. And so it went…

We soon discovered there were more Goldens on the neighbor’s property than just Big Sam. Maybe word got out when he started coming back standing a little taller, looking flush from his time cleaning out all our refrigerators. The next time he showed up, he brought along a beautiful female, Shelby. At least that is what her collar said. A sweeter dog you will never meet. She and Sam would both close their eyes in ecstasy when you would pet their heads. They made a great team, each taking turns for petting and eating and charming us. Then came Maxie. A slender female, who though very skittish and certainly none too bright, was very sweet in her own way. We are forever grateful that we met Big Sam, because through a series of God-inspired events, my neighbor and I each ended up with one of Big Sam’s puppies.

We named ours “Lulu”. If you had walked through the first few years of her life with me, you would not judge me for her name. Yes, you guessed it. My puppy was Maxie’s daughter. Those times when I would get so exasperated with her, she would sense that she had better turn on the charm…quickly…and would flash me that “Big Sam” smile and snuggle in my neck. I would immediately soften and forgive her for her latest (hourly) offense. Running away chasing squirrels instead of coming to me when I gave her the “come” training command? Yup. Sitting down and refusing to move when she was asked to walk beside me like she had been taught? Yup. I was only wanting to take her down the street on an excursion to see her friends, the other neighborhood dogs, and chase the ducks at the pond, for Pete’s sake! And I was giving her treats along the way! Would she even pretend to cooperate? Nope. There were many days I did the “walk of shame” where I took this dog for a walk and ended up having to carry her home because she staged a sit-in, from fear (school buses are scary), stubbornness or exhaustion. It seemed to be intentionally timed to happen at the most inconvenient time or place, with the biggest audience for maximum impact. I won’t forget that one neighbor’s droll comments as I walked down the street with her in my arms: “Nice to see you out walking the dog.” Or “How’s that training class working out?” Sigh! The days when she chased down the squirrels? Of course, she came back so black with mud, you could usually only see her eyes.

Sorry if this makes you bristle at the elementary comparison, but when I took the time to ponder this whole Big Sam / Lulu life-lesson I was given, though, I was kind of amazed. Think about it with me: Time after time, I act like Lulu. God is trying to get me trained. I need to know and understand the authority of His voice. It is for my own good and safety that I understand His commands are for my good and they are laced with fun times and treats to encourage me in obedience. The squirrels I choose to chase, well those are just what they sound like. Distractions that lead me away from the best that my Master has for me. Fun? Sometimes, but the consequences of having to apologize, repent and be restored again, not so much. As for that walking business: You see, Jesus has perfectly planned and timed my walk with Him. On the days I am fearful of things I encounter in my daily walk, Jesus reaches out to calm and reassure me that He is walking next to me and that He will let nothing truly harm me. He may use situations to teach me. Much like I did when I made Lulu assume a sit/stay pose at the end of our driveway while the school bus drove past her down the street. I was trying to make her realize that there was nothing to fear and while she obeyed me, nothing could harm her. The days I am too stubborn, He gently encourages me through His character of patience. He soothes and distracts me from my bad, non-cooperative mood by sending a friend to speak kindly and give me that undeserved pat on the back of encouragement. The best part is that when I find myself too exhausted from chasing all those squirrels, He lovingly picks me up and walks with me in His arms the rest of the way home, to a place He has prepared for my rest.

The best part of meeting Big Sam? His legacy. We were never sure what happened to him. One day, he just stopped coming as frequently, then never came back. We moved shortly thereafter. We sure do miss him, but every now and then, Lulu will cock her head just so and smile at us…just like Big Sam. Or close her eyes in adoration when we pet her…just like Big Sam. Those times melt my heart because I love to see Big Sam in Lulu. I love it when her actions mimic the gentleness he displayed. I love it when I see that same goofy doggy smile looking back at me. I even love it when she is having so much fun that she gets a little muddy and I have to clean up her paws. (Shhh! Don’t tell my kids!) It always involves me having to dry her off with a towel, which ends up with me hugging her.

I have to think that the full circle of this lesson is that in the same way I love to see Big Sam in Lulu, God loves it when He catches a glimpse of Jesus in us. How thrilling for God to see His adopted children displaying the same characteristics as His firstborn! How wonderful for Him to see the kindness and gentleness radiating from us, as we grow into the character of His son. How satisfying for Him to see that the fruit of His training has been worth it as we walk in obedience beside Him, sensitive to His desires and commands for us. At the center of His heart is the desire for our good. And He doesn’t even mind cleaning us up. His clean-up always involves a hug, too. He is a good Master. Let us not forget where we came from, how much He loves and cares for our needs and that His instructions are GOOD!

Sit. Stay. Wait…Leave it! Go! Get ‘em! Come here. Go home.

Psalm 95:6-8

Come, let us bow down and worship him! Let us kneel before the Lord who made us. He is our God, and we are the people he cares for, his sheep that walk by his side. Listen to his voice today: Don’t be stubborn…

1 John 4:18

Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love takes away fear. It is his punishment that makes a person fear. So his love is not made perfect in the one who has fear.
Isaiah 64:6 a

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a filthy rag;

1 John 1:7

We should live in the light, where God is. If we live in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood sacrifice of Jesus, God’s Son, washes away every sin and makes us clean.

Genesis 22:18

Every nation on the earth will be blessed through your descendants. I will do this because you obeyed me.”