Emma Rose
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The Beauty of Breathing

Yesterday our recently rescued Westie Emma Rose spent most of the day panting, wheezing, and gagging. Today she dozes by my chair as I write this, nuzzled against my leg. Bad days and good days. Three weeks ago, the vet diagnosed her with pulmonary fibrosis after a 4 am trip to the animal emergency room where she ended up in a dog-sized oxygen chamber with an IV.  We left down-hearted about her terminal prognosis, and wondering if vet insurance is a good idea. Five months ago, when we saved Emma Rose from a puppy mill, we had no idea we would enjoy so few days with her or that she would teach us valuable lessons about life and God.

Breathing is a beautiful thing. I used to take it for granted. God breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7) and every breath we take right now is His gift. When I awaken in the night to soothe Emma's choking, I sometimes count those labored breaths and savor the gift of breath that God has given me today and for eternity. John uses the Greek word pneuma (breath) to show how God will bring his two witnesses back to life in Revelation 11:11: But after the three and a half days a breath of life entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. I've so aware of this gift as I listen to Emma Rose's soft chest gently rise and fall. But tomorrow may be different, for her, for me, and for you. How will you and I spend our breath today?

Emma Rose spent her breath enthusiastically this morning. She rushed outside into the almost cool air to run with our other Westie, Wallace. Their task? To guard the bird feeder from cheeky squirrels. She took what breath she had and used it to defend her homeland. I wanted to corral her to save her strength but the vet advised us to let her do what she wants to do. I'm inspired by her dogged perseverance.

When I'm hindered, I tend to get cranky. I've asked my Lord to help me with that awful propensity. But not Emma Rose. I suppose that you let abuse either ruin you or make you into the best you can be. She's let it make her sweet, affectionate, loyal, and grateful. God answered my prayers by sending me an excellent model.

She enjoys every day in her new home regardless of how she feels. Sometimes she goes outside because she loves to lie in the sun. As the afternoon temperatures rise, I want to keep her cool to protect her breathing but then I remember wise words from Ecclesiastes 5:20: For he does not think much about the fleeting days of his life because God keeps him preoccupied with the joy he derives from his activity. So I just let her enjoy the moment in the sun.

What works best to restore her breathing is caresses and calming words. Last night David lay on the floor beside her just stroking her for about 15 minutes and that helped immensely. The presence of God does the same for us. My summer study focuses on understanding more about how God speaks to us, and I have a living example beside my chair as I delve into that study each morning. God's presence is real and when I take the time to listen, hear, and respond, my worries and cares dissipate. I know He cares for me.

Some people will probably think this blog borders on the silly—when the world crumbles around us and people are in desperate need of Jesus, and here I am writing about our dog. I wholeheartedly agree. Some go to extremes, treating animals like people, letting them replace children, and making them the center of their lives. But another extreme might be ignoring the world around us—the beauty of the mountains and the seashores, tulips and roses, all of God's creation, including His animals. God says Go to the ant. . . observe its ways and be wise! (Proverbs 6:6). I find profound lessons in the world around me. They lead me to know Him, love Him, and serve Him all the more. I'd hate to miss anything God puts in my life to instruct and guide me, including an ailing dog.

Only God knows how many days we have left with Emma Rose. Undoubtedly, we will lose a little sleep as we soothe her in the night and shed some tears when she is gone. But I'm not sorry we adopted her. I've heard the story of a family mourning over the loss of their golden retriever when the young son offered these words of consolation: God put us here so we could learn to love well and our dog did that better than anybody so I guess it was time for her to go. When Emma Rose goes, I'll remember those wise words. Until then, I'm watching, learning, and savoring the beauty of breathing. Pay attention. God's speaking all around you.

Sue Edwards

Dr. Edwards is Assistant Professor of Christian Education (Specialization: Women's Studies) at Dallas Theological Seminary and holds degrees from Trinity University, DTS, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is the author of New Doors in Ministry to Women, A Fresh Model for Transforming Your Church, Campus, or Mission Field and Women's Retreats, A Creative Planning Guide. She has 30 years experience in Bible teaching, directing women's ministry, retreat and conference speaking, training teams and teachers, and writing curriculum. Married to David for 34 years, she especially enjoys extended family gatherings and romping with her four grandchildren.