Whistle and He Will Come

Recently, I found myself digging a grave. Most of the dirt on our place is sugar sand. That means you can dig it pretty easily. But for some terrible reason, known only to the demons that arrange those kinds of things, on this day the dirt was hard clay, and every shovel had to break the earth with a steady blister-making pounding. My tears didn’t soften the ground nor did my curses make the rock any easier to break. Only the heart-rendering, back-breaking shovel-work moved that hard clay. It didn’t help that my best friend lay a few feet from me covered in an old blanket that he used to sleep on. Raleigh, our hundred-and-twenty-pound German shepherd, with a body larger than most wolves and a heart bigger than most men, lay beside the grave I was digging. It was a very hard day.

But let me back up and tell you about my friend. Named after Sir Walter Raleigh of English 17th century fame, he was an amazing dog. I know he was born a dog, but my heart tells me he didn’t stay one. Raleigh was my friend, my constant companion. Being a shepherd, he had a thing for herding. He herded anybody that walked by him. That meant he got in the way, nudged me, moved right in front of me when we walked together, then slowed down so I had to trip over him to get him to move. He was also protective. He thought it was his sworn duty to get between me and the fireplace flame even when I was trying to light the silly fire! You ever try to start a fire with a mountain of fur between you and the sparks? It’s hard.

Raleigh was playful. He loved to come up behind me when I walked out to the back pasture or the garden and would stick his head between my legs and push through. I called it the German-shepherd-waddle. He considered himself to be a horse on those days and was almost big enough to ride. He also loved to fetch a log, and yes, I said that right. Most people’s dogs fetch sticks. Raleigh fetched fence posts, the bigger the better. Do you know how hard it is to throw a wooden fence post any distance at all? But when your buddy starts jumping up and down like a ten-week-old puppy and can’t wait for you to chuck the pole so he can run six feet and fetch it, well, you do your best. He didn’t seem to notice I couldn’t pitch the post very far because one day he uprooted a tree and brought it to me to throw for him to fetch. I drew the line at that!

Raleigh loved freshly toiled dirt and would follow my tractor around and around when I plowed. Eventually, he would plop down in the middle of a fresh row of dirt and enjoy the coolness of the earth. He was a bit of a slob though when it came to drinking. His beard would drip water all over the floor. There were two ways he loved to drink: one was from my hands on the outside faucet. I would turn the faucet on, cup my hands beneath the water, and a large head would bump me. He’d stick his big nose right down on my hands and start lapping up the cool water. It is an amazing thing to have inch-and-a-half fangs so close to your hands you can rub them with your thumb, while their owner enjoys making as big of a mess as he can splashing water all over himself and you. The second way Raleigh liked to drink was from the bathtub faucet. He would come up to the tub stick his great big head over by the faucet, which was his signal for me to turn it on. Many a night I would get up and go to the bathroom to meet him laying by the tub waiting on me for a drink.

Raleigh has a sister, Lizzy or Lizzy-Beth as she is called when I’m mad at her, which is a lot of the time. Lizzy has a totally different temperament, bossy and sassy. Good grief, together they were my only two friends most days. I got to where I could almost speak German shepherd, and I am pretty sure they understood Texan very well. The reason I know this is because Raleigh would come to me as I sat in my easy chair. He would rest his head on the arm, look up at me with his gorgeous brown eyes, and listen to me. They say dogs don’t like it when you look them in the eye, but that’s not always true. If they are wise, and you are too… If they have learned to trust you because you are trustworthy… And most of all, if they love you, they will. At least, Raleigh would look up at me and watch, patiently waiting for me to gently run my fingers down his head, between his eyes, and along the tip of his big nose. He would close his eyes and grin, look up, and we’d make eye contact. I would stare into those large windows of his soul and know without a shadow of a doubt that he really had one.

He was so big; he could have been fierce, yet he was so gentle and tenderhearted. Once I watched him hover nervously over a toddler who was walking and falling with a thump back into the grass. Raleigh hovered and herded the child, his eyes riveted on the baby, closely observing every move more nervous than a new mother guarding her firstborn. When the baby fell, Raleigh stepped back, his eyes big asking, Are you ok? Did you hurt yourself? When the child began to cry, Raleigh licked his face. He looked back at me whimpering like he was saying, Hey you’re the adult! Come take care of him. He fell down.

Raleigh made me feel protected. I think if all the demons in hell had tried to attack my family, they would have been met with vicious tooth and claw by my big, loving dog, so long as it wasn’t in the middle of a thunderstorm. That dog hated loud noises, and he especially hated thunder and lightning. Every time a clap of thunder would burst, he would run for my lap. Have you ever had a hundred-and-twenty-pound lap dog trying to bury his big nose under your armpit? It doesn’t work well. And while he never met a stranger, he sure scared a few, and I’m okay with that.

Raleigh was only five-and-a-half when he passed, and that was the day my heart broke. I noticed that he had been a lot slower moving his big butt off the floor. It got worse. One afternoon he didn’t want to move at all and he whimpered when he did move. He wouldn’t eat, and worse than that, my water horse did not want any water. We were worried. It was obvious he was in terrible pain. We tried to go to bed that night, but something inside of me knew that my best friend was dying, and I couldn’t stop my tears from flowing. They weren’t small, little, polite sobs that are appropriate to bring out at the funeral of a great aunt you hardly knew. No, these were the kind that hurt when they come and bring great gasping sobs. I couldn’t stop them I clinched my teeth and cursed and prayed and finally got up out of bed and went into the back room where my friend lay. I just held him. I stroked his fur and wept and prayed. Finally, the long night was over. My friend still couldn’t move, and now he had lost the ability to keep his urine. Raleigh was in terrible pain. His hips had buckled with catastrophic hip dysplasia. I had him examined by a human friend who knew the signs from years of raising his own dogs. His reaction when he saw Raleigh was, “Oh No!” We could have done things that might have prolonged my dog’s life, but none of them would have eased his pain or freed him to run again. So, my good friend and I lifted my big dog, placed him in the back of my old pickup truck, and took him to a special place at the back of our farm. It’s shady and covered with flowers. It’s not too hot in summer, and the fierce north winds are broken by the trees in winter. I dug the grave, and my human friend ended my furry one’s pain.

After my human friend had dried his eyes, we wrapped Raleigh in the blanket he slept on as a puppy, and gently placed him in the big hole I had hammered out of the hard clay. I had to tuck his glorious tail in so he would fit in the grave. Later, when I visited his resting place, I tried to talk to God, but it came out in large gasps and faltering words. “Will I ever see him again?” I asked, “Will I ever get to hug his massive frame close, bury my face in his mane, and smell the earthy scent of my friend? I mean, Lord, I know one day you’re going to blow a loud trumpet, and the dead in Christ will rise. But what about my friend? Did he have a soul? Can he hear a trumpet from the grave?

As I stood at his grave trying to hold back the tear-laden memories, I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit say, “After you hear the trumpet, after you have stood again, whistle and he will come!

When I heard those words in my spirit, I fell down at the foot of that new grave and imagined the moment I would hear that trumpet: I will stand again, look around for my friend, and then I’ll whistle loud and clear. There will be a scratching, a rumbling as large chunks of earth move, and then a big paw will break out of an old grave followed by a huge, dirty nose. I’ll hear a bark and then the biggest, most glorious shepherd will bound out of the ground and run toward me, knocking me flat on my butt and licking my face while I pretend to be annoyed. Oh, Glorious Day!