By the time the school bell rang I already had my belongings in a pile, ready for launch-off. Jumping up, I scrambled past my forth-grade classmates before they could reach the door.
“Justin!” Ms. Belson called after me, warning me to slow down. I pretended not to hear.
It was springtime, and the welcoming late afternoon sunshine bathed my face as I dashed across the school grounds. I was so excited to get home to see my new friend, Jasper, that I ran the rest of the way home.
As I arrived at the walkway leading to our house, I could see Jasper waiting for me at the window, long pink tongue hanging out, ears perked high. Reaching inside my pocket for the house key, I quickly started to unlock the door. I could hear eager whimpering inside, beckoning me to hurry. As I entered, Jasper immediately leaped for me. He wasn’t only wagging his tail, his entire rear end was swaying in joyous greeting to me. I hugged him in return, as he licked me, slobbering his undying love for me all over my face.
After releasing Jasper into the back yard, I generously filled his bowl with his favorite dog crunchies. Holding it over him, I instructed him to roll over. Familiar with the process, Jasper obediently laid down, performing the trick flawlessly. Praising him, I placed his meal in front of him, which he gobbled up, tail wagging in appreciation.
Afterwards, the rest of the world faded away for a while as we fully enjoyed each other, playing chase and wrestling in the grass. Nothing else mattered to me at the moment. However, after a while, realizing I had extra homework to do, I had to bid Jasper farewell.
“I’ll see you later!” I promised.
Jasper’s soft brown eyes longingly begged me not to leave. But it was a rule that the dog must remain outside until bedtime so he could enjoy the outdoors after being cooped up in the house all day. I hesitantly turned to leave.
Later, after finishing my homework I hurriedly started back to Jasper. Mom was cooking dinner at the stove. I grunted a greeting to her, then rushed outside.
I was disappointed that Jasper was not in his usual spot by the door waiting for me. Searching the yard, I whistled for him. Checking the side of the house, panic gripped me as my eyes fell upon the open gate. A lump rose in my throat as I rushed out, calling for him.
Both Mom and Dad joined me in my desperate search. We knocked on neighbor’s doors, spoke with strangers in the street, and searched everywhere we thought the dog could have possibly wandered off to. As darkness settled, my father promised we would do all we could to find Jasper. We spent the next days checking the animal pound, handing out flyers, and placing adds in the newspapers.
The following week was the darkest of my young life. Each day, returning home from school, I longed to hear Jasper’s impatient whining inside as I placed my key in the door. Instead, there was silence, and an empty house, and yard. So many times I imagined I’d spotted him in the street, in a park, in a yard, only to be cruelly let down by reality. However, I never stopped looking. My heart broken with grief and worry, I had to hide my tears regularly.
The doorbell rang a week later. I listened from my bedroom, still hoping for good news. And then I heard a familiar bark! I bolted to the living room. There stood a woman holding a leash attached to Jasper! The next thing I knew, I was holding him close, tears of joy and relief streaming down my face. Jasper was just as happy as he squirmed with delight, generously slurping my face.
Was it a coincidence that our pastor’s sermon that Sunday was about the good shepherd searching for his lost sheep? No other time had I related so well to the story, in a different way. Never before did I realize how much Jesus loved me and even enjoyed me! Also, how He must miss me whenever I wander away. I thought about how vulnerable and unsafe I was without Him. His love for me only made me desire to be just as loyal and loving to Him as my furry buddy was to me.
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