The Christmas Dog

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It is time, once again, for the telling of “The Christmas Dog” –

Christmas Eve, 1988. I was in a funk. I couldn’t see that I was making much progress in my life. My teaching career seemed to be frozen, and I was beginning to think my husband and I would never own our own home or have children. The world seemed a very bleak and unhappy place to me. No matter how many batches of fudge I whipped up or how many times I heard Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” I couldn’t seem to find the Christmas spirit.

I was washing the breakfast dishes, thinking my unhappy thoughts, when I heard gunshots coming from the pasture behind our house. I thought it was the neighbor boys shooting at the seagulls again and, all full of teacherly harrumph, decided to take it upon myself to go out and “have a word with them.”

But after I’d marched outside I realized that it wasn’t the neighbor boys at all. John, the dairy farmer who lived on the adjoining property, was walking away with a rifle, and an animal (a calf, I thought) was struggling to get up in the field behind our house. Every time it would push up on its legs it would immediately collapse back to the ground.

I wondered if maybe John had made a mistake and accidentally shot the animal, so I ran out to investigate and found that the animal was a dog. It had foam and blood around its muzzle. She was vulnerable and helpless – had just been shot, after all – but instead of lashing out at me or growling as I’d expect an injured animal to do, she was looking up at me with an expression of trust and seemed to be expecting me to take care of her.

“John!” I yelled, running after the farmer. He turned around, surprised to see me. “John, what happened?” I asked, pointing back towards the dog.

A look of remorse came into his eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry you saw that, Karen. The dog is a stray and it’s been chasing my cows. I had to kill it.”

“But John, it’s not dead yet.”

John looked back at the dog and grimaced. “Oh man,” he said. “I’m really sorry. I’ll go finish the job. Put it out of its misery.”

By this time another dog had joined the dog that had been shot. It was running around its friend, barking encouragement, trying to get its buddy to rise up and escape. The sight of the one dog trying to help his comrade broke my heart. I made a quick decision. “Let me and my husband take care of it.”

“Are you sure?”

I nodded and he agreed to let me do what I could for the animal.

Unbeknownst to me, as soon as I ran out of the house my husband, knowing that something was wrong, had gotten out his binoculars and was watching my progress in the field. He saw the look on my face as I ran back. By the time I reached our house he was ready to do whatever he needed to do to help me. I explained the situation to him, we put together a box full of towels, and he called the vet.

As we drove his truck around to where the dog lay in the field, I noticed that, while the dog’s canine companion had finally left the scene (never to be seen again), John had gone to the dog and was kneeling down next to her. He was petting her, using soothing words to comfort her, and the dog was looking up at John with that look of trust she’d given me. John helped my husband load her in the back of the truck and we began our drive to the vet’s.

I rode in the back of the truck with the dog as my husband drove, and sang hymns to her. As I sang words from one of my favorite hymns from the Christian Science Hymnal– “Everlasting arms of Love are beneathe, around, above” – the dog leaned against my shoulder and looked up at me with an expression of pure love in her blue eyes.

Once we reached the animal clinic, the veterinarian came out to take a look at her. After checking her over he told us that apparently a bullet had gone through her head, that he’d take care of her over the holiday weekend – keep her warm and hydrated – but that he wasn’t going to give her any medical treatment. I got the distinct impression that he didn’t think the dog was going to make it.

My husband and I went to my parents’ home for the Christmas weekend, both of us praying that the dog would still be alive when we returned. For me, praying for her really meant trying to see the dog as God sees her. I tried to realize the wholeness and completeness of her as an expression of God, an idea of God. I reasoned that all the dog could experience was the goodness of God – all she could feel is what Love feels, all she could know is what Truth knows, all she could be is the perfect reflection of God. I tried to recognize the reality of these things for me, too, and for all of God’s creation.

She made it through the weekend, but when we went to pick her up the vet told us that she wasn’t “out of the woods, yet.” He told us that if she couldn’t eat, drink, or walk on her own in the next few days, we’d need to bring her back and he’d need to put her to sleep.

We brought her home and put her in a big box in our living room, with a bowl of water and soft dog food by her side. I continued to pray. In the middle of the night I got up and went out to where she lay in her box. Impulsively, I bent down and scooped some water from the dish into her mouth. She swallowed it, and then leaned over and drank a little from the bowl. I was elated! Inspired by her reaction to the water, I bent over and grabbed a glob of dog food and threw a little onto her tongue. She smacked her mouth together, swallowed the food, and leaned over to eat a bit more. Now I was beyond elated! She’d accomplished two of the three requirements the vet had made for her!

The next day I took her out for a walk. She’d take a few steps and then lean against me. Then she’d take a few more steps and lean. But she was walking! We would not be taking her back to the veterinarian.

In the next two weeks her progress was amazing. By the end of that period she was not only walking, but running and jumping and chasing balls. Her appetite was healthy. She was having no problems drinking or eating.

But one of the most amazing parts of this whole Christmas blessing was the relationship that developed between this dog and the man who had shot her. They became good friends. The dog, in fact, became the neighborhood mascot. (And she never again chased anyone’s cows.)

What the dog brought to me, who had, if you recall, been in a deep funk when she entered our lives, was a sense of the true spirit of Christmas – the Christly spirit of forgiveness, hope, faith, love. She brought me the recognition that nothing, absolutely nothing, is impossible to God.

We named our new dog Christmas because that is what she brought us that year.

Within a few years all those things that I had wondered if I would ever have as part of my life came to me – a teaching job, children, and a home of our own. It is my belief that our Christmas Dog prepared my heart to be ready for all of those things to enter my life.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell, from *Blessings: Adventures of the Madcap Christian Scientist*

via The Christmas Dog

How can I help?

I see friends struggling, hurting, in pain, vulnerable, scared.
And I want to help.
So I ask myself: How can I do that? – how can I help?
And the answer comes to me – quick and clear.
See my friends as they really are – confident, strong,
healthy, whole, fearless, full of life and joy.
And see myself that way, too.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

T’was Two Weeks Afore Christmas

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T’was Two Weeks Afore Christmas

T’was two weeks afore Christmas and all through Eff Bee
not a creature was stirring – not a she, he, or me
We were prostrate and spent from the holiday bustle
not a twitch could be seen from the teeniest muscle.

We lay all unblinking in our respective beds
while visions of gift-wrapping swirled through our heads
And clad in our jammies and our way cool madcaps
we had the vague hopeful hope our bodies would take naps.

Holiday jangles and jingles pinged through our brains –
Presley, Crosby, and Mathis taking us down memory lanes –
and would we remember every member to be gifted?
We mentally went through our lists, hoping none were omitted

There were homes to be decorated and cards to be sent
parties, caroling, and cookie-making, and we hadn’t made a dent.
But with a collective sigh we remembered there and then
that it’s really about good will to all creatures, women, and men.

And so our thoughts finally settled and our bodies relaxed
as we thought of those we love and a world festooned in pax.
With our hearts wrapped in kindness and the world as our ‘hood
We’re all brethren and sistren – and verily, It’s all good!
– Karen Molenaar Terrell, from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Christmas Book

via T’was Two Weeks Afore Christmas 

christmas tree 2015

Christmas Lights

“Trust.”

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Revisiting this one from 2016. This experience I had on the night of the presidential election has kept me going for the last three years…

Trust

Taking the dog for a walk,
the shooting star got my
attention when it flew across
the heavens on the evening
of November eighth. I stopped
in my tracks, looking skyward,
alert now, and the voice said,
“Trust. Everything is happening
as it needs to happen.
Don’t be afraid. Trust.”

And crap. I knew then. I knew
who’d won the election – why
else would I need to be reassured?

I went inside. And saw my fears
confirmed. And felt weirdly
stilled inside. Holding on
to that message: “Trust.”

The voice didn’t say what was to come
would be easy, or without struggle
or challenge. It didn’t provide
details of how, where, when or why.
It just said, “Don’t be afraid. Trust.”

And the earth rises now.
Thirsty for Truth. Joining in Love.
Crying for justice.
In the streets. From the rooftops.
Through the wires of computers
across the world.

“Everything is happening
as it needs to happen.
Trust,” said the voice of Love.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

 

via “Trust.”

Feedback from Writer’s Digest for *Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad*

I received feedback from “Writer’s Digest” today for my book, Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad. The feedback meant a lot to me and was encouraging. In an effort to be honest, I’m going to post everything here – all the ratings, and all of the judge’s commentary – with nothing omitted. I think the judge gave me some useful feedback.

From Judge #34, 27th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards:
***
Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5
Production Quality and Cover Design: 5
Plot and Story Appeal: 5
Character Appeal and Development: 4
Voice and Writing Style: 5

Judge’s Commentary:

What a lovely story about your dad. I enjoyed how much of a hero he was to you. I also liked how you ended your narratives with you and your dad expressing your love for each other. That was very heartwarming and rang true. You set your book up almost as though you were writing poems to him, reflecting how much he meant to you. Through your compassionate writing, you showed how important it was to keep that poetry going as he began to lose his mental faculties.

Having said that, because you brought me into your story and into your relationship with your father, I would have liked a small paragraph at the end of the book letting me know whether he’s still alive, if he’s passed, how he’s doing. You could preface it by saying, ‘At the time of this writing…’ I make this suggestion because, in the previous pages, you’d allowed me to be a part of your family and witness the deep love you had for each other. That’s why it’s important to let me (and future readers) know what happened at the end of your story. It’s a fitting close to a sweet book and an equally sweet relationship.

*Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad* can be ordered through your favorite book store or ordered online through Amazon.

Dad and I and a Flock of Snow Geese

When I arrive at Dad’s house he’s still in bed and looks to be sleeping. I lean over and kiss his forehead and his eyes flutter open. He squints up at me.
Dad: Is it time to eat?
Karen: Yeah. Are you hungry?
Dad: Yeah. I’ll get up.
Karen: Okay.

I let Amanda know that Dad’s ready to get up. I ask her if she thinks he’d be up for a drive today and she tells me she thinks he’d like that. She says he gets bored staying at home all day. It’s harder now because he needs to use a wheelchair – but Amanda tells me she and Dietrick will help me get him in the car.

Before long Dad appears from his room, sitting in the wheelchair – he looks kind of majestic – like a king on his throne. He’s dressed and shod and is wearing his alpine hat. Dietrick and Amanda roll him down the ramp and out to my car, and, together, manage to get him in the seat. I buckle him in and we’re good to go.

As we’re driving out of town and onto Chuckanut…
Dad: I haven’t had breakfast, yet.
Karen: Let’s get you a breakfast sandwich. (I head down Chuckanut Drive for Sisters Espresso. On the way, Dad says something that I can’t quite hear. I lean over and ask him what he said…)
Dad: I love you.
Karen: Oh Daddy! I love you, too!
(We arrive at Sisters Espresso and I order Dad a cocoa and a sandwich. I hand him his breakfast and we get back on the road.)

There are no volcanoes visible today, but I figure Dad will just like cruising through the countryside for a while. As I’m driving along Field Road I spot some waves of snow geese taking off and landing – it looks like they might be off Sunset Road – so I head that direction. Sure enough! Soon we come upon a lively flock of snow geese doing snow geese stuff. I pull over to the side of the road and roll down Dad’s window so he can hear them and watch them performing their flight maneuvers, and I grab my camera and take some photos. Then it’s back on the road again – heading for Dad’s home.

When we get to his home I wheel the wheelchair over to Dad – I’m going to try to get him in the chair without bothering Amanda – I know she’s having a busy morning. I have some trepidation about this, but Dad seems to understand what we need to do together, and I know I have a good partner in him. I hold out my hand to give him something to leverage himself on and he manages to turn himself in the seat a little. I gently grab one foot and help him lift it over the car’s side and onto the ground. I know it’s his other leg that gives him some trouble – so I am especially gentle as I help him lift the other foot over the side of the car. He winces and groans a little. I look up at him anxiously and touch his cheek with my hand. He holds my eyes with his and says, reassuringly, with quiet conviction, “I’m fine.” I know he doesn’t want me to feel bad. I have learned some tricks for lifting him up in the last few years and, together, we manage to get Dad standing and then sitting in the wheelchair. I feel inordinately proud of us.

I wheel him around the house to the ramp, tilt him back, and push him up the ramp and into the house. We settle down in front of the TV – I’m sitting on a chair behind Dad, rubbing his shoulders. He reaches up and grabs my hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. When Amanda comes out to take Dad into the bathroom I know it is time for me to leave.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.

The Day After the Feast

The day after the feast –
everyone’s gone now –
on the way back to their homes
and here we are –
left with a turkey carcass,
empty pie plates, the energy
sucked out the front door
with a hug and a wave
and a smile. It’s still and quiet.
The cat has curled up in
the newly-emptied comfy
chair – still warm from the last
human to sit in it. The dog
is stretched out on the sofa.
They look drowsy and content.
I have a sudden memory of my
mother standing at the door
of the old homestead as we
drove away those past
Thanksgivings – her eyes
straining for a last glimpse
of us as we turned onto the
highway. I understand now.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell