Friday, November 30, 2007

A Big Ugly Dog and Forgiveness

Several years ago, I was the victim of a crime. The event was perpetrated by a dog, but the crime was really the ignorance of its owners. They bought a dog (in a city, where it is statistically likely to have been bred from fighting stock) that was known for its power, strength and aggression, and then they never bothered to put the dog in obedience training. Instead, fairly ignorant of dog behavior, they kept the 80+lb dog in their home, letting it interact with guests and children in their neighborhood.

I met the dog when it was only about 2 or 3 years old, and within seconds of the meeting it ripped my nose and lip nearly off. The owner drove me to the hospital where I had my face pieced back together by a plastic surgeon. I was terrified, my husband was terrified and my children (who stood next to me as the dog attacked) were terrified. I spent the next week drugged in order to cover the pain which was not only in my face but entire body which had bruises, scratches and teeth marks from the dog jumping on me. With that attack, nightmares, a constant sense of shock and fear became ingrained in me.

On the way to the hospital, I could barely talk and I was praying that my lips were still attached to my face. I also begged Jesus to just get me through this ordeal and help me to use it for his glory. I held the towel over my mouth (to catch the blood) and looked at the man who owned the dog.

"I just want you to know that I forgive you for letting this happen." I said, "I understand that things like this can happen and I just want you to know that I forgive you."

He responded with some apologies, and I thought that this was going to be some great thing that God would work for his glory. Well, it was, but not in the way I thought.

The next day the owner and his wife came over to see how I was. I was still drugged and terrified, and I appreciated their concern. But then, the owner said something that made it feel like the attack was happening all over again. He implied it was not his fault or the dog's fault.

"I don't know what happened. I mean I don't want to make this matter smaller than it is or anything, but this he's such a good dog that I just have to think that this was a playful nip that just went too far."

A playful nip that went too far???? I had over 54 stitches in my face!!!

On that day, I couldn't deal with the guy anymore, so I just smiled, told him I appreciated his visit and secretly hoped he would leave.

Several weeks later, though, I got a call from him. He had talked to his vet, and his vet had suggested that the dog (because he was such a great dog -- or perhaps because he helped to make the vet have a successful practice?) not be put down. Instead, they suggested dog therapy.

Yes, I know it's really really really stupid. But what came next was even more incredible.

"See," he told me, "Sometimes a dog can misinterpret your motions and think you are being aggressive. Your body language told our dog you were a threat, so he bite you."

Oh my, I thought, he's really telling me that this attack was my fault! Instead of the victim, I was the instigator!

Let me stop here and explain just what it feels like to have a crime committed against you, to be brutally attacked and then have the perpetrator suavely explain that it was your fault. There was nothing, nothing that could've hit harder. My face was still ripped up. I had a son who was showing symptoms of PTSD, it hurt to move my arms, I was scared to take walks outside, I was scared to go to the park, I was scared of my own dog, I couldn't sleep at night without nightmares .... and he sat there and told me that it was my fault! Even now as I write about it it raises up anger, guilt, fear and shame.

He went on to ask me for my blessing on his idea to forgo terminating the dog and putting it into therapy.

Obviously, I made it sincerely clear that I thought that was a irresponsible idea. Then I hung up the phone, and really let my husband know just how irresponsible and selfish I thought it was!

Over the course of the next few months I really processed all that had happened. I couldn't believe that that guy would value his dog's life over my face, the safety of his neighbors and wife, and all rational thought. That dog could've easily killed one of my children! Thank God it attacked me and not them! But, still, he did value that dog so much more than human life and health! To my knowledge that dog is still alive today. It did help that their home owners insurance (as well as the laws of Ohio) didn't agree that the attack was my fault! And, God did use this to his glory when we were compensated for the attack and able to pay off adoption debt.

However, there was another lesson in it that came to mind again the other day when I was reading in Colossians.

'But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation." Colossians 1:22

I was thinking about what a tremendous gift this is. Christ suffered so much on our behalf, took our punishment for our sins and then just simply forgave us. For those of us that recognize the gift, it is the most wonderful thing. Similar in some ways to how I suffered through the dog attack, taking the brunt of the dog's aggression because of the owner's incompetence in dog behavior, training and handling. Then I forgave him -- something that should've been so freeing to him, and truly given by me as a valuable gift.

But just like the dog owner, there are people who don't recognize the gift. I forgave him. I'm glad I did. I'm glad that I chose to do what Christ wanted me to -- even though it fell on deaf ears. His actions showed that. My forgiveness didn't matter because he was certain that he (or his dog) had done nothing wrong. So, he threw it back in my face, almost to the point of trying to manipulate me with it.

I realized how much that is a picture of how people reject Christ. They take his forgiveness and throw it out. There is no gratitude for the blood that was shed, there is no sensitivity to the losses he faced, and there is no real acceptance of the forgiveness because they believe that they have done nothing wrong. Through this dog attack, I was able to have a tiny understanding of how Jesus feels at this rejection.

That perspective is another way that God redeemed it. Now when I look at the thin scar running across the top of my lip, or when I feel how my left nostril is blocked with scar tissue, it isn't a reminder of how I suffered. It's a reminder of the gift that Christ gave me when He took the punishment for my sin.

I also now understand that nothing, not even all the money an insurance company can throw at you, can replace the lost relationship that happens (even with a mere acquaintance) when a person refuses to accept forgiveness because they refuse to acknowledge the wrong that they've done.

I've wrestled with the question of whether or not I have truly forgiven him. Up until the night of the phone call, I felt that I had. But that phone call was so difficult to get past, that I do still question it. I can honestly say that I don't harass the guy, I don't gossip about him, I haven't made any mean websites about him, I pray for him and his family (especially their safety since they still have the dog), and I don't think mean thoughts about him. I actually don't think about him much at all. I still trust that God can redeem his way of thinking, and that God will righteously judge this incident as He will all others. So, from my human perspective I think I've come as close to forgiveness as I can, and my prayer is that I will continue to live in forgiveness towards him in whatever God calls me to.

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