The summer after second grade, I wanted two things more than I wanted to breathe: to finally attend overnight 4-H camp like my older siblings, and to own a miniature dachshund. In the 70s, they both cost about $35, which was a chunk of change. I knew it, and my dad knew it, so he said I could have my choice. Of course, I chose the dog.
She was perfect: tiny, tan, smooth, and wiggly. Missy and I had the best summer together. But inevitably, summer ends and third grade calls. About a week into the new school year, I was running late. I usually played with Missy for about 15 minutes each morning before I left. I still didn’t have my routine down of feeding Missy, feeding myself, and catching the 7:10 am bus. I remember feeling upset and crying and kicking Missy a little with my shoe when she wanted to play. Ignoring her sweet, pleading eyes, I grabbed my jacket and headed out the door.
That afternoon a call came from the office into Mrs. Voran’s classroom that my dad was there to pick me up. I knew that was not a good sign because we lived 17 miles from town and Dad didn’t just pick me up in the middle of the day. Immediately, my mind went to the worst thing I could imagine. I walked toward the office for check-out, asking God to please let this not be about Missy. I crawled into Dad’s pickup and squeezed the vinyl seat, asking God to please let this not be about Missy. But, of course, it was. She had been hit by a car while I was at school.
My nine-year-old soul was crushed.
Mostly, I remember being sad that I didn’t know it was the last time I would see her.
That was my first taste of the reality James describes as life being a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. It evaporates, without fanfare, without warning. So much of life just slips away from us.
I didn’t know the last time I rocked a child to sleep or received a colored picture from one of my children, the last time my son said he wanted to marry me, the last time I heard a child sing on stage, the last time I saw a daughter’s softball pitch. They all slipped away quietly, unassumingly, with me never suspecting the gravity of the moment. I also never knew my last mission trip to Mexico, the last time I sprinted or ate Zaxby’s chicken fingers without fear. And I never knew the last time I’d wake up carefree and not think instantly about my heart.
These soft endings were not endings until they were deemed so by future events.
Other endings are more expected: Your child’s high school graduation is a door you see coming for 18 years. Retirement, moving from a house, a daughter’s wedding. All bittersweet moments that come at you with warning. These hard endings may be more difficult in the moment, but more easily accepted in the long run.
The soft endings, the unexpected ones, the ones that are not “endings” until the time has long passed to appreciate them as such, are the tough ones for me. Life itself can be a soft ending. But like at an auction, I thought I’d hear “fair warning” before the gavel fell. Now I realize you usually can’t count on that.
Our good God designed much of life to be a soft ending. He didn’t want us obsessing over these very beautiful, but very human “lasts.” He knew we can live captive to hard endings. But perhaps the even bigger danger is living captive to regret on the soft ones.
And regret can be a powerful force.
From my journal:
I have mountains of regret for not going to the doctor years ago when my husband first suspected something was wrong. Caught in its early stages, heart failure has a much better outcome. He urged me for years to get evaluated. I didn’t want to be labeled a “hypochondriac.” Now I feel more like the poster child for “Don’t Be An Idiot.”
I had to move past that regret. And grace was my only way forward. Because regret and grace can’t be roommates.
Grace is the root of Christianity. If we can’t embrace grace, we can’t live in faith. Ultimately, grace is God’s perfect plan to bring all of His children home. Fully internalized, it is also a way of living this life until we get there.
We can’t foresee soft endings. Eventually, everything we have here will disappear like morning fog, gone before your lunch hour. Meanwhile, we can only live as fully as this broken life allows. And rest in grace for the times we miss it.
Grace allows us to take risks with our faith and invest fully in imperfect people. And, perhaps most miraculously, it urges us past regret by extending God’s costly grace to ourselves.
Even when soft endings slip past us.
Especially when a sick heart (or a perfect dachshund puppy) is involved.