Here is the letter I got:
“I’m struggling. My name is Joe, and I’m an addict. I’ve been to drug rehabilitation twice. I actually spent my 21st birthday there. Five years later, I’m still using drugs and I’m lying to my parents about where my money is going. I’m hurting my health, I know. It’s hard because I really want to be sober, but it’s just hard to stop. I guess I’m writing to you because your letters really are therapeutic to me.”
Today I sat down to write you a response even though, I freely admit, I know nothing about the nature of addiction. I typed one sentence when something happened. My wife came bursting into my office, shouting, “Otis has gone missing!”
Otis is one of our dogs. Otis is an alleged Labrador who might as well be our oldest child. He smells like a giant armpit and has chewed approximately 39 pairs of my reading glasses. But he is loyal, and he is mine. And we love him.
This dog, however, has been known to dig beneath our fence and explore the greater Birmingham metro area. I don’t know why he escapes. He has a pretty cushy life here. We feed him Science Diet, which costs more per bag than a four-bedroom beachfront condo.
My wife and I tore into our backyard and found a big hole beneath the fence. My heart dropped.
“Otis!” we shouted.
He was gone.
Within minutes we were canvassing the neighborhood. I was barefoot, jogging on the sidewalks, hollering, “Otis! Here, boy!”
None of our neighbors had seen him.
My wife and I split up to cover more ground, cruising side streets in our respective vehicles. We were circling the neighborhood while horrific scenarios were dancing in our heads.
In a moment like this, you find yourself acting irrationally. You find yourself losing your own sanity.
“Dear Lord,” you say aloud. “Please don’t let him go toward the highway.”
So you patrol the highway. After 30 minutes of searching, you start blaming yourself. You mentally flog yourself.
You tell yourself that if ONLY you would have reinforced the fence, he wouldn’t have escaped. If ONLY you wouldn’t have let him into the backyard without supervision, this wouldn’t have happened. If ONLY you would have been a more responsible dog owner.
“I’m such an IDIOT!” you say, pounding your hands on the steering wheel.
You’re lavishly and thoroughly panicking now. Your palms are clammy. Your heart is beating like a Sousa march. Your mind is going into dim corners.
You’re envisioning the corpse of your best friend, lying on Highway 31, limp, his little ribcage crushed. You’re envisioning red stuff saturating his white fur. You’re sick now. Physically ill.
Because you’re remembering when you once had a dog escape from your backyard a couple decades ago. He got hit by an SUV but was not killed instantly. He died in your wife’s arms. You are reliving that private hell all over again.
Now it’s been two hours.
Nobody has seen your dog. Everyone keeps giving you that frowny-faced look, telling you that if they see him they’ll call you.
One of your neighbors can clearly tell you’ve been crying and she starts praying for you in her front yard. This is sweet, but she is Pentecostal so she prays longer than anyone else in Western civilization and your legs start to fall asleep.
And still you keep looking. You visit local gas stations. You visit businesses. You knock on doors. “I’m sorry,” everyone says. “Haven’t seen any dogs.”
And eventually, you go home.
Because what else can you do? It’s been half a day now, the sun is setting and you’re nauseous. You stagger into the bathroom and kneel before the toilet because you feel like puking. But nothing comes up.
Later that night, you’re sitting on your sofa, lost in a morbid daze. Your eyes are puffy, and you realize you were supposed to be writing a response letter to a kid named Joe, but you can’t do it. Because your heart has been removed with a garden shovel.
Your dog is missing. Your dog is likely dead. Your dog IS dead, and it’s all your fault.
A tiny thought occurs to you. It’s a small thought. An infinitesimal thought. A nanoscopic thought. A thought so small you almost ignore it. But you don’t.
Something makes you stand. Something makes you go outside. Something causes you to make a beeline for your backyard shed. You were in the shed earlier today, doing yard work. Could it be?
The crickets are screaming. It’s nighttime. You unlock the shed door and 80 pounds of canine muscle shoots from the door and hits you like a steel cannonball. You fall onto the ground.
You are weeping.
“OTIS!” you shout.
He licks your face.
Your mind and body are so flooded with inexpressibly potent joy hormones that, if it weren’t for the laws of biology, they would cause your entire circulatory system to explode.
And in this intense moment, you realize that you cannot recall being this happy before. Not ever. You might never be this happy again.
Because, you see, what once was lost is now found.
And that, my friend, is how God feels about you.