Recently my husband and I bought a new bed. This was unplanned because we were quite happy with our old bed—a full size—which we had had since early in our marriage, almost 30 years. The reason for our new bed purchase is our small Schnauzer mix, a dog we adopted from a rescue organization in southern Idaho.
Fauzie (pronounced Fozzy) was found wandering on a farm road in Burley. His coat was so long it covered his eyes, and he had developed vision problems. He was terrified of his first foster family’s other dog, which caused him to urinate in their house, so they couldn’t keep him. Luckily, he landed with another foster family, Tom and Barb, who live outside Rupert. Tom had built heated, state-of-the art kennels outside their home. Barb’s easy going manner and deep love for lost animals gave Fauzie the confidence to settle in. He became best friends with another one of Tom and Barb’s rescue dogs, a huge Saint Bernard. The two of them often napped together on Tom and Barb’s leather couch.
Barb took Fauzie to the local vet in Heyburn, a man of considerable experience and compassion, who provided medicine to begin healing Fauzie’s eyes. She took him to a groomer, and with proper nutrition, his coat became glossy again. Then, because they already had two dogs of their own, Barb put an ad for Fauzie on the rescue website. It said, “This old guy loves to be a couch potato.”
My husband, Tim, showed me the ad. We were searching for our family’s second dog. Our first, a golden retriever, had died two years before. I said, “Do you really want to adopt an old dog and risk losing him so soon?” So we kept searching. But Tim kept coming back to Fauzie. He had prayed about finding the right dog for our family. He told me, “I just have a feeling about this guy.”
By then Fauzie had lived with Tom and Barb for five months. No one had even tried to adopt him. Tim and our daughter went to “meet” Fauzie on a Saturday. Tom told us later he whispered to Barb, “I think this is his family.” And sure enough my family bonded with the little guy immediately. The next week, Tim went to Burley to bring Fauzie home, and that was my first meeting with him. I’m not the dog lover that my husband is, but Fauzie changed that.
We’ve now had him five years and little by little Fauzie has grown in confidence. It turns out, he wasn’t old. Abandonment and neglect had made him slow and cautious. But we soon learned he loved to run on trails. Fauzie slept at the foot of our daughter’s bed until she left for college. Then he slept at the foot of our bed, curled in on himself. But gradually, he spread his full length. Then he began to insert himself between us. Then he took over the pillows. Fauzie was claiming his full place in the bed. We contorted ourselves in the small space to accommodate him. Eventually, we gave in and bought a new bed.
Fauzie’s sense of love and belonging is now so complete, he doesn’t think being a dog gives him any less right to a good night’s sleep than the rest of us. Perhaps this makes us bad dog owners. But his transformation reminds me of the power of love and compassion. It reminds me that all creatures, certainly all people, seek to belong. We long to be welcomed to a place at the table. Or in this case, to a spot on the bed.
The reading today is about Jesus’ baptism in the gospel of Mark, and we remember our own baptisms, the occasion of being welcomed into the Body of Christ, part of the family of believers everywhere. We are reminded baptism isn’t a static thing. We seek to be in the world and to act in a way that strengthens the Body of Christ, not only other believers, but to welcome others in with love and compassion, so they, too, can claim their rightful place as beloved children of God.
In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Father Gregory Boyle writes about his life and ministry to gang members in some of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Again and again he tells the stories of hardened gang members succumbing to the power of compassion. Their transformation happens when they suddenly see they are not on the outside of God’s love and never have been. They’ve been beloved all along. Boyle writes that to “’Be compassionate as God is compassionate,’ means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.”
This week we witnessed again how bitterly divided our country is. I feel the despair of such a vast divide. But a wise friend of mine told me that it’s not our political views that have the power to bind us together. Rather, what binds us together is our belovedness by God. And through God’s boundless compassion, God is always looking to bring the outcasts inside, even outcasts whose seem antithetical to all we hold dear.
Boyle notes that when the outsider is brought in, it’s not just a transformation for one person. It is a healing and a source of strength for the entire Body of Christ. He writes, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a covenant between equals.”
I’m grateful that through the compassion of many people, Fauzie became a full-fledged member of our family. My prayer is that we will keep our hearts open to compassion, because that is the salve that will bring about the transformation we long for, that will strengthen all of us as members of God’s family.