This first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Incorruptible Beauty, a quarterly newsletter for Christian women. It was originally entitled "The Great Dog Disappointment."
My Dream Dog
When I was in my early to mid-teens, I wanted a dog. I knew exactly what kind I wanted. I flipped through a dog breed book until I found it: an alert, bright-eyed dog with almost cat-like grace and a mane of soft black fur. It was called the Groenendael, more commonly known as the Belgian Sheepdog.
Groenendaels were scarce in “my neck of the woods.” At the annual dog show in my state, there were a total of two Groenendaels in the entire vicinity. Of those two, neither impressed me. They were of the “new, European” line, bred for narrow noses (and thus eye problems) and more “refined” bodies. I wanted the rarer “old American” line, bred for a sturdy build and hardy health. I knew I would have to look far and wide for the dog I wanted.
The Dogged Pursuit
At that time, I had a deadly fear of phones, but calling breeders, whose contact information I found on the internet, was the only way I knew to get in touch with people who knew about Groenendaels and where I could find one. It didn’t help when my phone calls didn’t go as planned.
“You’re looking for a what?” the elderly man bawled into the phone.
“I’m looking for someone who can tell me more about Groenendaels. You know, Belgian Sheepdogs.”
“I don’t know what you’re selling, but I’m not interested.”
Click. Wrong number? I couldn’t tell. And now I was more scared than ever of calling strangers.
All of the breeders hesitated as soon as I explained that I wanted to breed the dog and sell the puppies.
“Look, the only way to become a reputable breeder is to show the dog and earn a championship. If you breed, you have commit to allowing me to pick the mate, and giving me back X amount of puppies from the litters.”
Part of me understood the restrictions, in the interest of maintaining line purity and high quality. On the other hand, I had no way of showing the dog in my current circumstances. Weren’t there other ways of proving a dog’s quality?
Hope at Last
I didn’t give up. Out of dozens of breeders that I contacted, I found three who were willing to help me. The first agreed to relax her guidelines if I would pay half again the worth of the dog. I eagerly awaited the next litter (a matter of 6 to 9 months) but she never contacted me again.
A second breeder was very sweet, but I had contacted her too late. Her prize “old American” female had just been retired. The breeder referred me to another breeder, who finally agreed to let me have “Red Boy” from her latest litter.
Then came the news. “Red Boy” exhibited a trait that might make him unsuitable for breeding. As I waited to see if he would outgrow the condition, I prayed for him, wrote about him in my journal, and daydreamed about him.
The Bitterness of Disappointment
The e-mail finally came. “Red Boy” was not going to fulfill the role I wanted.
Two years. Two years to come back to square one. After I had had a good cry, I summoned up my strength and resolved to continue.
That’s when Dad stepped in and said, “Enough.” I had spent two years of my time, my energy, and my money chasing a dream. I was approaching high school graduation and I had to think about the future. It was time to move on.
For months, I crawled through life in a haze of disappointment. Over time, other things filled my mind and other dreams arose. I moved on.
Growth From Disappointment
Looking back, I see this disappointment as a period of growth for me, for three reasons.
First, the experience of seeking my dream dog forced me to learn useful skills: talking to strangers, researching thoroughly, haggling with breeders (actually, the negotiation was mostly Mom’s department—she was dauntless!), and surviving setback after setback in pursuit of a goal. These skills became critically important in my future pursuits, such as publishing my own book (not an easy task) and serving in various work and ministry situations.
Secondly, I learned to accept discouragement. During my search for a dog, my younger sister got two guinea pigs. The way I saw it, she put maybe a total of a few hours into her search for a guinea pig and voila! She got a pet of her own. I spent years of my life working toward a pet of my own and in the end, I got nothing. I felt like Miracle Max: “While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a paper-cut and pour lemon juice on it?” But in the years to come, my disappointments would be greater. The disparity between the denial of my desires and the fulfillment of others’ desires would hurt a lot more. I had to learn to accept the reality and find joy in my own circumstances.
Which leads me to reason #3. I learned that God really does know what He is doing. Unknown to me, college and new jobs would soon consume so much of my life that I would have neglected my dog. Perhaps, because I didn’t get a dog, I had the time and energy to devote to publishing my book. In later years, I even found myself in the unusual situation of praying for a dear friend who did start her own kennel, lost two out of five dogs, and weathered disaster after disaster, with consequences of thousands of dollars. I have wondered if the fulfillment of a dream can come with its own disappointments. Sometimes God is not done teaching us.
Most importantly, when my desires as an adult are not fulfilled, I remember. I remember that God said “No” in order to direct me in a way that was far better for me. Even when the disappointment hurts, I know I can trust Him.
And that knowledge makes the disappointment worth it.
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None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.