Finding Peace with A Lion
In my upbringing as the granddaughter of an Episcopal minister, I often heard God referred to as my ‘Heavenly Father’. But this ‘faraway father’ certainly did not feel like a loving parent or protector to me. My biological father had abandoned me as a young child and the ones who stood in his place filled me with fear and a deep sense of rejection. I wouldn’t ‘find God’ or define him for myself until I began to contemplate suicide after several years of looking for my missing sister. She was lost somewhere among the homeless and after years of searching for her in shelters, on city streets, and in morgues across the country, I was deeply depressed and exhausted from the journey.
I had become a witness to a hidden underworld that shook me to my core. There were literally thousands of people who were lost among the homeless…most with a mental illness and/or co-occurring substance abuse issue…. many of them vulnerable and at risk for exploitation and harm. I learned there were also at least 40,000 unidentified deceased persons buried without names. Not because they didn’t belong to someone, but possibly because they had never been reported as missing or were transient. This resonated as my family’s repeated requests for a missing persons report were denied. I knew the odds of finding my sister, dead or alive, were slim to none.
My despair grew with each passing day that turned into weeks, then months, then years. Where I had once felt sure it was my mission to find her and tell the world about these injustices, I started to sink into the darkness of these realities.
I can still feel the dense coldness of the metal door as I forced myself to walk through it and into the morgue to see if the “Jane Doe” homicide in the news could be my sister. I was devastated by the horrific details and that she had been left in a dumpster. And at the same time, relieved to find out she was not a match. But investigators remained at a loss as to who she belonged to.
I don’t remember driving home but, I collapsed on the floor when I got there. I cried out to a God I wasn’t sure existed. “If you’re there – send me a sign or I quit. “ I had no other leads to find my sister. My then marriage was broken. My spirit crushed by what I knew but felt helpless to change. I just wanted an end to my pain. My closest friend recognized I was slipping and made me seek help from a therapist immediately. I resolved myself to go through the motions to appease my concerned friend. But I returned home later to the same feeling of defeat. An urgent telephone ringing interrupted the overwhelming silence of my house. A family friend wondered if I could take in a dog being surrendered by his owner. Before I could really think about what I was agreeing to, Aslan (a chow chow who looked like a lion) met me warily at the front door.
If you’ve ever read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, you might recall that Aslan is the ‘Lion’ throughout all of the books. His character is widely accepted as being symbolic of God. I was simply enchanted with the magical stories as a child but they meant something more to my grandfather who studied C.S. Lewis in seminary. Although my grandfather had passed away soon after my sister disappeared, he was often in my awareness. He was the only loving father figure I had ever known. And while I wanted to believe in the God he knew – I had not found God in the church like he did. But on the day of Aslan’s arrival, I was thinking of all this and wondering if God had found me.
Tears threatened to fall as I greeted Aslan. He was anxious, with matted fur and a defeated look in his eyes. But after a few short weeks of consistent grooming, regular meals, and veterinary care – he began to look like the once regal ‘lion’ that he was. He stayed close by my side as we both began to take new steps back out into the world and around the block. Each day both of us began to get a little stronger. Eventually I saw the light in his eyes return. And he made sure I was awake each morning to take him out for our daily adventure around the neighborhood. We stayed in this routine, until my light returned and hope was restored, up until his final days two years later. I miss him fiercely. But remain convicted by the presence of divine love. After all, what is DOG spelled backwards?