Hail Frieda, Full of Grace

Four years ago this month, I finally followed the advice of several people whose opinions I respect and began this blog. Almost 100,000 visits from 160+ countries later, writing here regularly has provided me with more joy and opportunities for growth than I could have possibly imagined. Thanks so much to my regular and occasional readers–your support and comments keep me going! As is my annual custom, today I am marking my blog’s birthday by reposting my very first post from August 2012–enjoy!

I have unexpectedly fallen in love with a real bitch. She’s cute, with dark brown eyes and medium brown hair. Although I generally prefer long hair on a female, she wears her hair extremely short and it works. She tends to bite me when she gets overexcited while we’re playing, but I still find her pearly white teeth very attractive. Although she’s willing to allow a ménage à trois when my wife is home, she prefers it being just the two of us in bed. Her name is Frieda.

This is a new experience for me. No one has ever looked at me with a gaze that says “you were put on earth just for me.” No female has ever marked me as a love interest and dared me not to love her back. This is the first time I’ve been chosen before I knew I was even being considered. And it’s not as if Frieda doesn’t have lots of options for love interests. Everybody loves Frieda—she’s extroverted and assertive, yet can be warm, demure, and submissive. She can take over a room just by walking into it, yet is happy to spend hours being quiet doing whatever you’re doing. She is fluent in both English and German. Her profile would be a killer on eharmony.com.

I never thought I’d fall in love with a dog. I’ve always been a cat person; there’s been at least one cat in my life consistently ever since I was ten years old. A cat is a perfect pet for an introvert; they clearly would prefer to be left alone most of the time and will only socialize when it is their idea. There’s something edgy about even the most domesticated of cats, as if it just crossed the line from its wild ancestors and might cross back at a moment’s notice. It takes time and effort to get to know a cat—time and effort on the human’s part, that is. The cat couldn’t care less. Self-reliance, independence, confidence, a sense of mystery and aloofness—I find much to admire in a cat.

Dogs are a different story; not so much to admire. Dogs are so obsequious, as if canine completeness requires human approval.. But Frieda didn’t and doesn’t need me—she chose me, out of the blue. Frieda is part of the four animal menagerie who arrived when my son and daughter-in-law moved in, joining the two geriatric animals already in the house; she decided early on that I was going to be hers. I’ve seen animals attach themselves to a single human before (usually my wife, a dog person). Not to me, though. So the “click click click” of toenails behind me everywhere I go, an enthusiasm when I come home so over the top that I worry about her health, having a canine jammed in next to me everywhere I sit, a 10 ½ pound dachshund trying to spoon with me in bed—these are new and sometimes disconcerting experiences.

I once saw a bumper sticker that said “I want to be the person that my dog thinks I am.” Not me—that’s too much pressure. No human being could possibly deserve the rapturous upside-down look Frieda occasionally gives me when she’s laying next to me or on my lap, just making sure that I’m still there. Of course such reverence is easy for Frieda—she doesn’t know about all the ways in which I am unworthy of unconditional love. That’s one of my great fears—what if they (my wife, my sons, my friends, my students—anybody) knew the truth about me? Frieda doesn’t know the truth about me, and that’s why she’s attached to me at the hip. She doesn’t know any better.

I learned as a kid in Sunday School that grace is “unmerited favor.” Divine grace is something I don’t deserve, a gift I cannot earn, bestowed simply “because.” Over the years, grace has evolved for me into “God knows that you’re a shit and a loser, but chooses to forgive you and to love you anyway.” Today I’m thinking that grace is more like Frieda. The miracle of grace is not that “you are unworthy but I choose to treat you as if you are worthy,” but “you are worthy.” Not “I love you in spite of,” or “I love you because of,” but “I love you.” If there is, somewhere in the universe, a transcendent grace and love like that, I am in awe.  That’s something worth believing and having faith in. That’s a thread of possibility that should be followed in order to see where it leads. Of course, Frieda’s just a simple dog and doesn’t realize that her standards are ridiculously low. But as Leonard Bernstein wrote in Mass, “Sing like you like to sing/God loves all simple things/For God is the simplest of all.”

16 thoughts on “Hail Frieda, Full of Grace

  1. David Kennedy

    Loved it! Ann Landers once said, “Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful!” And Mark Twain once said, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that’s the principle difference between a dog and a man.”

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  2. Sarah Young (@nena_nieve)

    Finally catching up on your blog! I know exactly the bumper-sticker you mean, and the impossible expectations it embodies. I think the cat-person version works perfectly, for at least my cat and me, though: I’m pretty sure I’m just about exactly the person my cat thinks I am. Sometimes wonderful, sometimes easy to dismiss. Keeps me in my place. 🙂

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  3. David Kennedy

    Congrats on your fiftieth! All truly wonderful but must say this one is the best one for me. If there are no dogs in heaven, then I want to go where they went. I often wonder if other dogs think poodles are a member of a weird religious cult! And finally, dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

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  4. vancemorgan

    Exactly one year ago today, I started my blog with some trepidation, telling myself that “I’ll only do it until it becomes just another damn thing I have to do.” 12,500+ views, 550 followers, and visits from 110 different countries later, I find it to be more and more of a joy with each post. Thanks to all who read “Freelance Christianity” regularly or occasionally–you keep me writing! In celebration of my blog’s first birthday, here is my first blog post ever–it’s about the second most important female in my life. Enjoy “Hail Frieda, Full of Grace,” have a great Thursday, and thanks again!

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  5. Colleen Burg

    This is wonderful Vance – such an interesting perspective. The canine world is special; so special that the words to describle their contribution don’t come easily! Keep up the great work! 😉

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  6. The Rev. Marsue Harris

    Freida may bite the person in charge of scheduling Altar Servers if she does not get to read scripture at the October 5 Blessing of the Animals service, so I am herein reminded to list her on the calendar for that day. This will be her 4th consecutive appearance. I hope she is pleased and our other canine residents not given to jealousy.

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  8. Colleen

    Congrats Vance; always a good read. Freida’s spin is far less troublesome than ours; how refreshing… Something to be learned from our canine companions…sigh…

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  9. Chris Colwell

    Thanks for sharing this, Vance. It is awesome! I am very much enjoying following your blog. Also, I just had the pleasure of meeting your niece, Lauren, at Valley View Restaurant in Lyndonville this past weekend. Jim Jardine introduced us. My husband, Dave, and I know her boss well, and we had met her several times as a server there, but we did not know till last weekend that she is your niece. We shared some unique memories of you father. 🙂

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  11. David Kennedy

    Here you are; standing there; bright and beautiful with your new “fixture”. Next it’s “organ pipes” on the right shoulder! Finally – whole body! Oh, my! Such courage to get it – but so worthwhile! Congrats, the pain was worth it! Thanks for sharing! Cheers!

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