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.”
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.