Whenever I come back from being away from home, (whether it’s hours or days doesn’t matter) Cassie has to give me the one over with her nose, gathering up all the scents from where I’ve been. Usually it’s a quick sniff because I haven’t been gone too long. And of course anything that comes in the house with me needs to be sniffed out as well. Sometimes I’ll take an old toy with me and put it in my purse so she can sniff it out and be reunited with an old friend.

She’ll be doing her sniffing routine and suddenly smell something that she knows, without a doubt, belongs to her. There’s such joy for her those moments. She races to her rug with little yips of excitement and then waits, tail wagging like crazy, for me to give her the toy. Once she has it, whatever it is, she runs off to the library to toss it in the air a few times then pounce on it, pinning it to the ground with her paws.

I have something that belongs to her and she wants it back. She doesn’t wonder if it is hers. She KNOWS. And once she has that toy back she gives it all of her attention, lavishes it with loving enthusiasm and then, once that reconnection is confirmed, she gives a loud sigh of contentment, dropping her head to the floor to rest upon the toy.

I just got home from a few days away at an informal writing retreat with a group of woman that have had a tremendous impact on my life. Some of that impact was apparent right away. Other pieces will make themselves known over time. And that’s as it should be. Not all gold is mined from veins close to the surface. Sometimes you have to put in the effort to dig it out.

When I came home I had a plush toy waiting to be “reunited” with Cassie. I tucked in the pocket of my sweatshirt before I got out of the car. My husband let Cassie out front to meet me and she did her normal Cassie inspection, sniffing me up and down and all around. Then suddenly, she found the toy in my pocket. When I told her she could have it she gently tugged it free and then carried it back toward the house, her tail held high with pride, as if she had just scored a great kill in the forest.

And I guess she had.

By the time I got into the house she was contentedly resting in the library, one paw over the stuffed toy, the other tucked under her chin. She raised her head as I came in the room and then, in that way that big dogs do, she smiled her thanks to me.

Over the years, pieces of me have gone missing. Confidence has faded around the edges of my dreams. Chunks of self-esteem have been lost on the road to survival. My sense of self has been buried under a mountain of “would-ofs,” “could-ofs,” and “should-ofs.”

I want these pieces of myself back.

But I can’t expect to pull them out of my pocket unless I promise that I will accept these pieces of me, (however battered they might be,) with joy, that I will lavish them with love and kindness, that I will believe again, in my right to claim what’s mine.

I want to smooth the jagged edges and polish them until they shine. That’s where the real joy comes from – taking something not so pretty and believing in it enough that suddenly, it transforms right before your eyes, into a thing of beauty.