I hit my dog once. I hit the poor, little, Benji-type creature so hard that he actually cowered away from me.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love him; I thought he was the sweetest little thing in the world, and he was such a loving companion. But I was a child who was angry and bitter because I was different, and the other children didn’t like me. The only friend I had was my dog, and sometimes it infuriated me to think that he might be the only friend I would ever know. I resented him for all of ten seconds, but it was enough to cause pain.
I felt horror and guilt the moment I did it. I was just old enough to realize the cruelty and the wrongness of my actions. And for years, I questioned myself: if I could actually hit an innocent dog — a gentle little being who never hurt a soul — what did that say about me as a human being? Would I grow up to be abusive? It was on that day that I began to tell my family I didn’t want children.
It wasn’t that I went out of my way to put myself first over the years; in fact I did the opposite, giving everything to others and leaving nothing for me. I lived with the guilt of being a selfish child and later a disobedient, heartless teenager, and in my misguided view of God’s path for me, I sacrificed my own needs and desires to an alarming degree. I believed that I needed to make everyone else happy in order to do His work, and to hell with me. I believed that I had done so wrong over the years, from that moment with dog (who forgave me instantly as dogs do) to all of my other mistakes, that I could never be forgiven if I so much as bought myself a latte and enjoyed it, just because I wanted to.
I didn’t understand then that in order to do as God willed, I needed to forgive myself, love myself, and yes, take care of myself. And if that meant that once in a while I brought home flowers or bought a new dress just because I felt like it, or I said a prayer for myself as well as others, then that was alright. I wasn’t sinning against God or anyone else.
I was, however, doing wrong to my own soul, allowing my spirit to wither away and eventually found myself further from God (or so it felt, for God is never far from us) and those I loved.
Going away on my own and taking the time to once and for all truly be alone, taught me to embrace a whole new reality. I traveled to Connecticut and Montreal, deviating from my original plans and going out to do things because I had the freedom to do so. I bought a few small souvenirs, but mostly came home with amazing memories. And even when a toxic person in my life accused me of being self-centred for taking the time to just be, I ignored them and listened to God as He directed me to a whole new level of living.
God gave me Grace when I didn’t believe I could ever deserve it, and that Grace has only multiplied since. I am still not entirely certain I deserve such a gift, yet here I am, married with the most beautiful daughter and another child on the way. I never became the dark, ugly person I feared; the woman I could have been if I had continued down my destructive path and remained in the company of toxic individuals. I am by no means perfect, but I am a woman who is blessed.
Even when I reflect on that terrible day with my little dog, which was surely the beginning of my own transformation even though I didn’t know it then, I realize that Grace can be given and received by anyone, if only they allow themselves to recognize God’s intentions for their lives. And that is a truth more beautiful than words can ever describe.