Nearly four years ago, I adopted my dog, Maggie, from the Orange County animal shelter.
Some people would say I rescued her from potential death, but like so many other adopted-pet owners, I know the truth: She rescued me.
As a single woman, even one with a full and busy life, I felt lonely coming home to an empty home. But once Maggie moved in, it felt like my whole home lit up. Her tail-wagging and ecstatic greetings when I walk in the door are the physical embodiment of God's love and unequaled hospitality.
Every time I come home, regardless of how long it's been since I left, she joyfully welcomes me with kisses and overwhelms me with her happiness at my presence. And each night, whether it's warm out or a cool California evening, she cuddles up close, and I fall asleep to her steady breathing.
I know it might sound hyperbolic, but Maggie's presence in my life has dramatically changed it for the better. She is a living, breathing symbol of God constantly reminding me that I am loved, wanted and missed when I'm not present. What a gift.
I think sometimes we, or others, underestimate the value of our pets. It is not fully acceptable to reference them as part of our family, even though many pet owners do, recognizing their importance in our lives.
Time and time again, I have comforted grieving people who feel embarrassed that they're mourning the loss of their dog or cat. But the truth is, these are losses of family members, and of course, we are pained. Of course, we grieve.
After all, our pets are not just part of our family — they're part of God's family! We're all God's creatures, fish, human, butterfly or elephant. Of course, I'm particularly fond of beagles, but each of us who has known and loved an animal knows that they are soul-filled, personality-packed and fully capable of communicating with us.
So this Sunday at Fairview Community Church, we're acknowledging our extended family and inviting dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, fish, snakes, geckos and even flying squirrels to church for our special Blessing of the Animals service. During that time, we'll also acknowledge pets who've died but who live on in our hearts.
So bring to church — at 10 a.m. Sunday — your furry or feathered friend, or pictures or mementos of the pets who've touched your life. Blessings abound!
THE REV. SARAH HALVERSON is the pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa.