The Christmas Dog

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.
– excerpt from Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientist by Karen Molenaar Terrell
 

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A New Christmas

Endings that are new to me
this Christmas.
Beginnings that are new to me, too.
I miss Moz. I grin as I watch Sparky
the new kitty scamper around
the Christmas tree, chasing
his big sister, Clara – experiencing
his first Christmas. I decide
to make cookies, open up my recipe
book, find the recipe for boiled
cookies and see it written in Moz’s
handwriting. I’d forgotten
she’d given me that recipe.
Moz never got to meet Sparky.
He never got to meet Moz.
But they both celebrate Christmas
in this house  – one in the past,
one in the present.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Sparky's First Christmas

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…

Adventures of the Madcap Christian Scientist

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…

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Address Book at Christmas

Flipping through my address book – 
getting my Christmas cards ready to send – 
your name pops out, and it gives me a jolt.
You died last month, but your name
lives on in black ink on a lined page
in my address book. And I want to send
you something – but you’re not there
to receive your mail. 
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

The Pressure to Feel Merry

(Excerpt from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Christmas Book)

It has been a challenging month for a lot of people. Yesterday when I was running around, doing last minute Christmas shopping, I ran into three friends who teared-up when I asked them how they were doing – one had lost a husband not long ago, the second had lost her mom, the third her dad.  The husband of a fourth friend is going through medical treatment for cancer. And then there is the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.

It just might be that some of us are not inclined to feel all jolly-cheery right now.

And I’m here to tell you, if you are one of those folks – it is alright. It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.  There’s no need or reason to judge your feelings, or to try to force them to be what they’re not. That’s just silly.

At Christmas there’s a lot of pressure on people to feel “The Christmas Spirit.” No one wants to be the Christmas Scrooge.  I think we all want to share in the spirit of joy and generosity and hope.  But pressuring ourselves to be happy, trying to force ourselves to be jolly, is maybe not the best way to get there.  Then it becomes a battle, rather than a natural unfolding.

Here’s the good news: There’s no law that says we can’t feel the Christmas spirit on December 26th, or December 27th, or March 1st – we‘re not limited to feeling joy, generosity, and hope on this one day a year.  So even if, this year, we just can’t seem to get there on December 25th, we still have the opportunity to feel the spirit whenever or wherever it unfolds for us.

And here’s another bit of good news that I’ve discovered in my own adventures with sadness and grief: I have found that it is possible to be happy even when you’re sad. Which. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? But it’s true!

May joy settle upon you gently, moment by moment – may you catch it in the playful grin on a child’s face, in the uplift that comes from Beethoven’s Joy, in the smell of something good baking in the oven, in the hug from a friend – may you relax and enjoy those moments for what they are, and what they give you.  And may any pressure you feel to somehow make those moments bigger, or brighter, or louder ease and lift from you.

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An Ode to Boxing Day

Ode to Boxing Day

It’s a humble holiday, tucked in between
Christmas and New Year’s, but it’s really keen.
Things look a little bedraggled, it’s true
The tree’s a little droopy and no longer new

The movies and music of the Christmas season
Are getting on our nerves now, and we’re seeing no reason
To eat even one more sugary oversweet sweet
It’s time for broccoli and carrots (maybe hold on the beets)

The pressure for perfection comes off on this day,
the toys have been opened, and it’s come time to play.
And if before we were wearing faux holiday cheer
to blend in with the others and not Scroogey appear

It’s time now to be genuine, and honest and real.
The food banks are empty, people still need a warm meal.
The homeless and hungry and jobless and alone
still need love and care, still need a home.

So maybe we can celebrate the day after Christmas
by keeping the spirit of hope alive,
we might make that our business.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell, from *A Poem Lives on My Windowsill*