Life with Earl


Shrimp. Pedicures. Tomatoes. Massages. Dogs. You might think this is a list of my favorite things. Quite the opposite, however. While some may drool over the plate of shrimp cocktail, count the days until their next pedicure or massage, or welcome the start of summer with its promise of juicy tomatoes, these are all things I can happily live without.

Shrimp and tomatoes? A texture thing. The thought of biting into a cold, thick, veiny curled-up item that used to make its way through the ocean makes my stomach lurch. Each layer of the tomato turns me right off: the skin, the mushy insides, the seeds — I want no part of that beloved fruit. Pedicures and massages? Well, that requires a stranger’s hands on me and that, in my functional OCD life, is just a “no thank you.”

Dogs? Ah, yes, dogs have always been on my list of “can happily live without” (did you feel the air sucked out of the atmosphere with that collective gasp?). I understand I just made a slew of enemies with that simple statement, but let me explain. I’ve never had a dog in my life. I didn’t grow up with one and have simply never been exposed to this “man’s best friend” bond that so many people identify with.

Without that experience, the “not so great” parts of living with a dog have always trumped the good in my brain. There’s the slobber, shedding, licking, jumping — all by an animal that licks its own underside. And while we’re there, I may as well divulge the number one detractor from welcoming a dog into my life. Poop. I don’t want it in my yard, nor do I care to have it tied neatly in a bag swaying in rhythm to my step as I walk its owner down the street.

I get it. Anyone who has ever loved a dog is rolling their eyes and most likely thinking me shallow and unfeeling. Before you throw me to the wolves however, take a look at who just moved in.

"Life with Earl" by Nicole Johnson (

Copyright 2019 Nicole Johnson. All rights reserved.

Yup. That’s a dog. His name is Earl. And that is me holding Earl, snuggling up to his little furry body, my cold heart slowly thawing under the warmth of his softness. For someone who never wanted a dog, I’ve been devoted to this guy for the past five days now as if he were the fulfillment of some lifelong dream. For five nights I’ve slept on the couch next to his crate so he could smell someone near and be comforted knowing he isn’t alone. I’ve held an umbrella over his little body at 12:30 AM in the pitch black as I kindly coaxed him to “go potty” so we could go back inside. I’ve rolled up all the rugs in his space and rearranged the furniture to accommodate his immature bladder and his huge metal crate that serves as his safe escape from well-intentioned fans. I’m “all in” here.

You know the cool thing? Earl was “all in” from the moment I chose him. He’s like this fur ball literally created to love and prove his devotion to you. I left him for about ninety seconds to run to the bathroom, and when I came back, you would think I’d been gone for months by his joyful greeting. I can’t take much more than four steps away from him before he dutifully gets up and follows me and then lays at my feet as if to cement me to his location.

As my husband and I prepared to bring Earl home, I had more moments of anxiety and questioning than excitement. Sitting with my fears, I realized the similarity of my inexperience with a furry friend to those raised in a home without faith. Quite simply, if God has never been part of the conversation, why would anyone choose to invite Him in? According to a generalized worldview, the not-so-great parts can easily overshadow the good, providing ample reason to forge ahead without Him, if, for nothing else, to avoid having a weekly commitment on Sunday morning. There’s a whole list of rules and a need to come outside oneself that is not in line with the current way the pendulum is swinging in today’s world. It’s human instinct to build an argument against what makes us uncomfortable and threatens to stretch us. With the constant focus on the misconstrued exclusionary and judgmental side of faith, Christians are floundering to exemplify the incredible beauty held within a relationship with the one guy who desires to be our number one faithful and loyal companion.

Forgive the analogy and please understand I haven’t gone from “I don’t need a dog” to loving this guy enough to compare him to God. The comparison lay only in the pure, non-judgmental, do-anything-for-you-no-matter-what kind of love. These past few days have certainly been a roller coaster. There have been many moments of “oh, you’re so cute I could eat you” and then before I know it, I’m careening down the other side of the tracks wondering what I’ve done as I frantically search for the return policy.

And through it all? This guy loves me; he’s unabashedly, wholeheartedly committed, and willing to prove it over and over again with each new day. There is much to be said for the reward of opening our hearts to being loved. Once we allow God in, there’s nothing He wouldn’t do for us. He won’t force Himself on us, however. He’ll wait patiently outside the gate until we decide to come through. And then when we do, He will greet us with such pure enthusiasm and joy that suddenly all our fears and anxieties melt away and we realize His heart and love come without the harsh judgments the more popular worldview speaks of.

Everyone who is a dog lover assures me I’ll reach a point where I can’t imagine life without this guy. I could certainly say the same for the gift of faith. Once you open it, as much work and sacrifice as it can be, you are forever changed and can’t imagine life without the truest companion of all time.

I’m reading a book about puppy training called The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete. Their experience in raising puppies speaks to me.

It may seem surprising to associate faith with our bond with a dog, but truly it’s an essential component. Faith helps us believe in what is possible, in how deep we can go with the relationship.

I truly never felt it would be possible for me to open my heart to a dog, but Earl has won me over. I do believe he’s here for a reason and look forward to the bond he will form with our kids. I appreciate the many ways he has stretched me just within the few days I’ve known him and the gentle way he exemplifies the wisdom of Abba Xanthias with his simple proclamation, “A dog is better than I am, for he has love and does not judge.”

"Life with Earl" by Nicole Johnson (

Copyright 2019 Nicole Johnson. All rights reserved.

(Author’s note: shrimp, tomatoes, and massages are still a no.)

Copyright 2019 Nicole Johnson


About Author

Nicole and her husband of twenty years have been blessed with three children. Introduced to the world of early intervention with the adoption of their daughter who has Down Syndrome, Nicole now works part time raising funds and marketing the mission of the local non-profit that provides early therapies for children diagnosed with developmental delays. She also serves with her husband on the board for the New England chapter of Bethany Christian Services, the national adoption agency that brought their daughter home eight years ago now. Nicole's family works to advocate for life, adoption and embracing children with special needs. Read more of Nicole’s story and her understanding of faith by visiting her blog, Joy in the Journey, at

1 Comment

  1. Beautiful! And, I’m with you – I won’t eat shrimp and I did now grow up with a dog either, but have had many different doges as an adult. They truly are our forever friends; however, they are only with us for about ten or so years and believe me, when they pass away, it is so hard, but they are worth it. I remember my previous Pastor (Father Mike) always had a dog as a pet. He said that DOG is spelled “G.O.D.” backwards and how enlightening that was. So true. They always love us, they sense danger, they protect us, and they seem to know things before us as God does, Thank you for this thoughtful, true realization of how important our dogs are and how they can remind us of our Lord in so many wonderful ways, and how important it is to allow HIM into our lives!

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