By Galen Dalrymple
Some years ago, when special guests came to visit us in California, we took them to all of our favorite places. They were from Pennsylvania, a mother and her two boys. The boys reminded me of my own boys when they were young, and their mother is a dear friend of mine. We took them to San Francisco, where the boys were strapped up with bungee cords and bounced on a trampoline. They saw Alcatraz and ate at the Rain Forest Cafe, saw the Sea Lions by Fisherman's Wharf, and shopped at Pier 39. We took them to an old gold-mining town in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains, and then to the extraordinary peaks and waterfalls of Yosemite National Park.
The boys saw things they scarcely could have imagined before, like the mountain of granite that is El Capitan, and Half Dome, and all the staggering beauty of the Yosemite valley.
Yet when one of the boys spoke on the phone with his father back home, and he was asked for his favorite part of the trip so far, he answered: "When Ramses laid his head on my lap."
Those of you who have been reading this series will recognize the name of Ramses the Great, Lord of the Nile. He was a Boxer of ours, and a far wiser and better being than I was (and am). He taught me a lot. I know that he really was something special.
But was that really the best part of a trip that included trampolines and prison islands and barking seals and mountains of stone and waterfalls that plunge out of the very sky itself? Really?
Really. I was, on the one hand, dumbfounded. On the other hand, I knew exactly what the young boy meant. He was not referring to the great honor that it is to be treated so well by the Lord of the Nile, the Pharaoh of Egypt. He was referring to the simple love and affection that one receives from a dog. Who among us does not want to be loved and adored without qualification? Who among us does not want to be liked just for who we are, not because of what we have accomplished or might accomplish someday?
That's what Ramses the Great gave this boy: unconditional love, just because.
The finest of God's mountain carving could not impress this boy as much as the love and friendship of a dog he had only met a few days prior.
I need to remember that. I need to remember it when I am trying to be a friend to someone who needs a friend. I should remember that my achievements and my skills, what little wisdom and ability I might have gained in this life, all that I might be able to "do" for other people do not matter nearly as much as simply loving them. Being there, being with them, loving them for who they are. Expressing my affection and my trust and my joy in who they are. (Sort of like the way that Christ loves me.)
Waterfalls are beautiful. Sheer granite walls take your breath away. But Ramses the Great once again reminded me of a simple yet profound truth: that love is the best thing there is.
As 1 Peter 4:8 says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."
Further installments in the "Lessons My Dog Taught Me" series appear each Monday at the Evangelical Portal.
Galen Dalrymple pastors Vineyard Hills Christian Church, a non-denominational Evangelical church in the wine country of California. His daily meditations, Daybreaks, are received by readers all over the country.