So what am I doing here?
The first time my answer was simple. I carried in a nearly new bag of dog food. Some flea and tick prevention. A bag of dental chews with just two missing.
“Do you take donations?” I asked the girl behind the counter.
“Of course we do,” she replied. “Thanks so much for thinking of us.”
And since I was already there, I signed the waiver holding the animal shelter harmless, and wandered back through the kennels.
That was the first time.
Three days later, my answer is much more complicated. I’m still not looking for a dog, but I cannot stay away from this place. With its noise and smell and sense of desperation, it is an unlikely place to find what I am looking for. And yet I know, instinctively, that here I am looking for the same thing each of these dogs is looking for.
It is a terrible place to look. Amidst fear. Amidst rejection and abandonment. And yet isn’t that the very place to look?
Who hopes for what he already has? Paul asked. Hope that is seen is no hope at all. But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:24)
Hope is found in the most unexpected places. Because it is pain that begets hope.
I know this, as I look at the bars separating me from the inside. The spilled dog food, the soiled toys, the little touches that cannot hide the dismal nature of these holding pens.
Hope is not found in the sunshine; it is not needed there. Hope is found in the shadows.
The staff here know that I am just looking. Looking at cages. Looking at the lives inside of them. And looking at freedom.
Tags appear even as I wait: “On hold for someone special – adoption pending.” One staff member tells me he started just over a month ago, and already most of the dogs that were here when he started have been adopted.
This is both unbelievable and wonderful to me.
This place – this frightening and confusing and horrible place – can be the start of a beautiful new beginning.
If that is true for these cast-off canines, could it not also be true for me? And for you?
We have a Heavenly Father who is not only our supreme caretaker, but who can break off chains and knock down prison walls. When Israel was at one of the lowest points in their history and held captive in Babylon, God sent a word to them through the prophet Jeremiah: “I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
While this particular proclamation was to Israel, the premise is true for us today. Our Heavenly Father has told us that he has good plans for us, and they are still unfolding. Because of His great love for us we are not consumed. He will teach us in the darkness how to hope. He will prod us in the present toward our future.
Hope can be found even in a cage. Do not forget this.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her dog, Marly, who recently passed away but is not forgotten. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org.