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Nose Prints

As many of you have seen on social media, Evan and I recently lost our dear dog, Coach. As we’ve been grieving, Evan ran across an entry he’d made in his personal journal about his first dog as an adult, and the pain of her death. He’s graciously allowing me to share his thoughts with you, knowing that there are many among us who grieve their dear pets while gratefully thanking God for the gifts they’ve left in our lives.

So … in honor of Coach …


Nose Prints

By Evan Morgan

I sat in my car in the garage and wept. I was heading out on an errand and glanced at the windshield as I turned the ignition key. On the passenger side I noticed a smudge produced by the wet nose of my constant companion – my Boxer, Ella. I recalled the moment that produced the smudge, a sudden stop to avoid one of the countless rabbits that inhabit our neighborhood. Ella had made a nosedive into the windshield as a result of the maneuver and then glanced at me with trusting but bewildered eyes. Of course, no “explanation” was forthcoming, but even if it had been possible, it wasn’t necessary. She trusted me. She always trusted me.

One day short of her second birthday, she died as she ventured too far away and was struck by a car.

She came to me as a gift from my wife during a particularly tough time of life. As her “alpha male” she was in constant touch with me, following me from the moment I entered the home. I recalled the wrestling matches on the floor, the full-body shake of excitement when I returned from travels, the patient mother-instinct as our grandson tugged on her ears and face, her bouncing butt in the fields behind the house as we’d take our bike outings. I was astounded at how difficult her death was for me. For weeks I would suddenly tear up during a reflective break in my day, missing her warm nose perched in my lap waiting for the next playtime.

Her last venture was up a hill, away from the well-traveled bike path, and onto a road she had never seen before. She was so happy, running and playing. But in an instant, she was gone.

A nose print. A testimony of life and death, and much more.

It is an odd thing to feel such radically different emotions in the span of a few seconds. After all, as some would later say, “It was just a dog.” I had watched other pets come and go. Why was this one tearing at my soul? My conclusions weren’t immediate. In fact, it took several weeks for this holy moment to blossom into new realizations about grace and forgiveness, hope and hopelessness, and freedom and limits.

I eventually reached a bit deeper into the symbolic nature of Ella’s death. She symbolized both grace and forgiveness with little expectation of return. Dogs are like that. Ella set a high standard for unconditional love as she loved me with few requirements – a pat on the head, a daily walk or run, daily food and shelter. It wasn’t a lot to ask. Even on those days when work kept me late and I missed our nightly walk, she greeted me with the same delight.

I also learned a bit more about hope and hopelessness. The most difficult part of saying goodbye to Ella was the moment I put her limp body into a box to take to the vet. There was something permanent about that act. I realized later that I grieved so much because it was so final. To my knowledge I would never see her again. Not knowing the place of dogs in heaven, a theological unknown, left a sense of hopelessness in me. I wondered how an atheist must feel when they lay a loved one in a casket. The darkness of that moment is incomprehensible to me.

But God’s way is always a way of hope. He brings various forms of smudgy nose prints as reminders of our eternal and sorrow-free future.

I also reflected on limits of freedom. Ella’s romp in the fields always brought a smile to my face. I found myself jealous at times, wishing for more moments like the one Ella was experiencing. Nothing of concern, nothing to do but please her master and wait for the next meal and playtime.

And yet there were limits even for Ella. She didn’t know the danger. How could she? Freedom always comes with boundaries – boundaries set by the One who loves us more than we can understand.

Three months later, I shed more tears as I finally had the courage to wipe away the last vestige of Ella – her nose prints - from my car window.

Evan Morgan has been married to Elisa for nearly 43 years. He is the Founder and President of Our Daily Bread University. Father of two and grandfather of two, Evan loves to spend time with his grandboys playing baseball in the cul-de-sac and Wii video bowling in the basement. He loved his dogs well: Ella, Darla, Wilson and Coach.


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