Thursday, April 25, 2013

Patch

I thought Patch would be okay. We had nursed runts in both of Rosy's previous litters, and they'd eventually grown and thrived. But Patch was truly a runt, several ounces smaller than all of his siblings. Maybe that's why he was everyone's favorite. The underdog. Literally.

But Patch was special in another way. Most Golden puppies come out totally golden blond, all one color. Patch was two colors. His main color was dark bronze, like his papa. But he had a little white patch on his forehead, and another on the back of his neck. Those were the first patches we noticed. Over the next 24 hours we also found that the tip of his little tail was white, all four of his paws were white, and his entire underbelly was white!

We try not to get too attached to our puppies because they're with us for such a short time, but we couldn't help loving Patch. He was so tiny and so unique and so precious. And such a mystery! How did he get so patched?

We asked Google. My first idea was that one of the Boxers over the back fence had, you know, infiltrated. But I looked up Boxer-Golden mixes, and they didn't look anything like Patch. But the more I searched, the more I discovered the patched Goldens of the world. One blogger even wrote a diatribe against all the skeptics who told her that her patched Golden surely was not purebred, and she claimed she'd even sent off his DNA to the Proof of Purebrededness folks, who'd assured her that her Golden had pure bloodlines all the way back to heck and gone.

Papa Huck does have a little white patch on his chest, after all. So we shrugged, softly stroked Patch's patches, and fell more deeply in love.

I knew loving Patch was dangerous because I would have to give him up, but in my heart, he was mine. I wanted to keep him. I wanted to watch him grow and see how beautiful he would be when he grew up, all bronze and white. I wanted to discover the personality that went along with those patches. And odd as it sounds, I had this idea that somehow, he would be mine. That he would never belong to anyone else.

And like I said, I thought Patch would be fine. I knew how to combat Fading Puppy Syndrome. We bought the special formula ingredients, added the boiled liver, and diligently bottlefed Patch several times a day, weighing him before and after each feeding to make sure he was taking in nutrients. We also got him to Rosy's nipple as often as possible, helped him latch on, and even expressed her milk for him a little to show him there was good stuff in there if he'd just put forth the tiniest bit of effort.

But no matter how many ounces of life we dripped and dribbled into his little belly, Patch's weight dropped. Of course he immediately lost some of his birthweight, but unlike his siblings, he never gained any of it back. Never added any meat to his bones.

Worse, he didn't want to be near his siblings. He constantly wandered off into a dark, cold corner and slept alone instead of burrowing into the pile of warm puppies dozing under the heat lamp. Every time we found him in the corner, we added him to the puppy pile. But we couldn't make him stay there.

We also couldn't make him eat. When Patch was about six days old, his before and after feeding weights showed he'd ingested very little milk. We kept trying, and he kept spitting it out his nose and spilling it down his chin.

We could not give him the will to live. He just gave up.

On his eighth day, Easter Sunday morning, Jeff found him stumbling away from his mama on weak little patched paws, whining piteously, cold to the touch. Jeff wrapped him in a heating pad and tried to feed him again. Patch barely responded.

We wanted to go to church as a family, but Jeff knew he couldn't leave Patch alone, so the boys and I went by ourselves, asking Jeff to give us a call if there was any change. We hadn't driven four miles when my phone rang.

"He's gone," Jeff said, his voice choked and strained. "He was gone less than five minutes after you left." Jeff had held him while he faded completely away, and then tried vainly to revive him with puppy mouth-to-mouth for several minutes. But it was no use. Our little Patch had left us.

Jeff buried him in the flowerbed next to the garage, and then he met us at church, where we sat solemnly as a family, the joy of the resurrection not really penetrating our grief.

I felt guilty. I felt like Patch's death was my fault. That somehow, I hadn't worked hard enough to get him to thrive. I turned to Jeff as we sang "In Christ Alone" and spoke the lie aloud. "This is my fault. I could have saved him."

God used song lyrics to refute my lie.

From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand

From Patch's first cry to his final breath, Jesus commanded his destiny. No power of Becky, no scheme of Jeff, could ever have plucked Patch from God's hand when it was time for him to take his final breath.

Peace washed over me as hot tears of relief burned my eyes.

Later that day, I chose a white silk rose and stuck its plastic stem in the brown earth covering Patch's grave. And I said to the Lord, "Well, if You commanded his destiny, then why did You even create him in the first place, if You were just going to take him a week later?"

But it was a great week, came the gentle reply. I gave you the gift of knowing and loving Patch.

How beautiful. Thank you, Abba.

But these past few weeks, God has used Patch to show me something else.

See... I tend to measure my value by my performance. Can you relate? I think most of us can. Once during a purging project, I mentioned to my mom that I only keep things that are useful. Jeff joked from the next room, "Well, then I better be sure to stay useful!"

Patch was not very useful. He performed quite poorly, in fact. He cost us money, he cost us sleep, he didn't do his part to try to thrive, he wasn't even breed standard. Not useful at all.

But he had value. Oh, yes, he had value. He had value to me because I loved him. I loved him madly and irrationally and completely. Not because of his performance. Because he captured my heart. Because he existed. Because he was mine.

And what of my value? Is it actually measured by my performance? Does it decrease on the days I feel useless?

No.

I have value because God created me. Because he loves me madly and irrationally and completely. Because I am HIS.

His forever, only His
Who the Lord and me shall part?
Ah, with what a rest of bliss
Christ can fill the loving heart!
Heav’n and earth may fade and flee
Firstborn light in gloom decline
But while God and I shall be
I am His, and He is mine.


~George W. Robinson, 1876

Every time I see that white silk rose sticking up out of the dirt, I think of Patch. So completely helpless, so completely loved. Just like me. Just like you.