Losing Nakiska, but not the lessons he taught me


Nakiska taught me many lessons about God, liberty, and freedom.

We have been a little out of the routine around here this week. The reason is because I’m losing my buddy, Nakiska, to a long battle with cancer.

Back in October, 2013, I posted a tribute to my baby girl, Sitka, after  I had to have her euthanized due to a sudden and untimely attack from a brain tumor. The lessons I learned from having her in my life inspired me to wonder why politicians in Washington couldn’t be more like her. To say I miss her would be an understatement. Now comes this week, when I am forced to make the same decision for Sitka’s litter mate and brother, Nakiska. He possessed the same sweet spirit held by his sister, and his life has been just as impactful.

One of the greatest lessons I ever learned from Nakiska happened when I nearly lost him on a hike in the Colorado mountains when he was just about one-year-old. It’s a spiritual lesson as well as a lesson for America.

I had been working with Nakiska—his name is derived from the mountain where the downhill racing events took place in the 1988 Winter Olympics—on voice commands prior to this adventure together and felt pretty comfortable with the level of control I had with him off-leash. Malamutes are runners by nature, so making sure of his obedience training in this area was vital for his safety, as well as ensuring that I would never lose him.

After we had been on our hike for about an hour, I decided it was time to go off-leash. He went along quite fine for awhile, but suddenly and without warning he bolted off into the woods. I called for him to come back to me, but he disappeared into the thick brush without a trace. I continued to call for him, hoping he would return as he had so many times in our training sessions, but to no avail. A few minutes turned into fifteen as I continued to call for him. Fearing that I had lost him forever, I began to weep.

In that moment, I felt I heard the voice of God speaking to me, “Now you know how I feel.” Confused, I listened as he continued to speak to me, “You allowed Nakiska to experience liberty and freedom when you let him off his leash. I have given you liberty and freedom as well. Just as you released Nakiska from the bonds of his leash, so I have released you from the bonds of this world. You trusted Nakiska to heed your voice, and I have trusted you for the same reason. Yet, even as Nakiska ignored your training and ran from your voice, so have you ignored my training and run from my voice. And just as you wept at the thought of never seeing Nakiska again, I also weep at the thought of not having you by my side.”

At that moment, Nakiska returned to me from the thick, black forest. Needless to say, I was quite relieved and happy. Almost immediately, I believe I heard God speaking to me again, “You weren’t angry when Nakiska returned, instead, you felt great joy. In the same manner, I am never angry when you return to me. I always feel great joy when you return to my side.”

We continued on our hike, with Nakiska back on his leash. With the sun beginning to set behind the mountains, my buddy and I began the trek back to our cabin. Feeling like things were settling down, I felt free to work with Nakiska off-leash again.

As we approached the place where he had previously run away, he suddenly broke off into the woods as before, refusing to return to me as I repeatedly called for him. I feared that I had once again lost my companion. Yet it was in this moment that I felt I was hearing God speak to me once again.

“Have no fear. Nakiska will return to you. I want to show you more about your relationship with me. With the previous incident in the past, you allowed him to experience the same liberty and freedom you gave him the first time he ran away. I am the same way with you. I will always give you the freedom to make whatever choices you want. When Nakiska ran from you the second time, he returned to the place where he last ran from you. In the same manner, you often run from my voice, returning to the places I have called you from.”

At that moment, Nakiska emerged from the woods and ran into my arms.

In his goodness, God used the unique relationship I had with Nakiska to show me that He loves me and always wants me by his side, following his voice and doing his will. He showed me that I break his heart when I don’t heed his voice, and how I often will return to the things of the past when doing so. He also showed me how our precious liberty can only survive when we remember that it comes from Him. As we read in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I’m losing my buddy, and as a result, I’m losing one of the greatest teachers of God’s love for me and our great country. Liberty and freedom are a gift from God. We can use that liberty to be closer to Him, or we can use it to walk away. It’s our choice.

I will be out of pocket for the next few days in order to deal with Nakiska’s final needs, so I may not be posting any new content. But not to worry, our liberty is too important to stay away too long. And what greater honor can I pay my buddy than to share the lessons he has taught me.

Rest in peace, Buddy. Thank you for all you’ve taught me.