I’ll tell you upfront: this is going to be one of those heartwarming holiday stories about a family dog---but this one is true. It involves a dog, a dentist, my kids, an accident, a Christmas show, and so much more! If you're tired of fake Christmas miracle stories---this one's for you!
The dog’s name wasn’t actually St. Nickolas; it was Sir Nickolas. The pup was knighted shortly after birth, I believe, by its 20-something owner. The dog came through our doors unexpectedly. I did not ask for this dog. I did not want a dog. Maybe later, but now I had four rowdy babes, one just a few weeks old, and the others older, and louder and always up to mischief. After my son's birth, I had no idea how I could care for four little humans. And then came the dog. Surprise!
My husband was rescuing him, the story went. Or rather, rescuing a young man. It was the strange-but-true case of a friend of a friend who was getting married, but his bride loved her dog (St. Nickolas) more than her groom. Friends staged an intervention shortly before the wedding, and I got the dog.
How can children resist a fluffy new playmate, especially one that looked like a miniature version of Lassie? (He was a Sheltie). Quite easily, it turns out. Sir Nickolas wasn’t interested in my children, unless they were moving about, which was most of the time. Their movement---running, playing, throwing balls and household items---signaled his movement: running in circles around them barking. Barking. And that was it. Otherwise he ignored them, as he ignored me. Ignoring an entire household can keep a dog busy, but Nickolas had time for lots more. He repeatedly peed on my bed, ruined my levelor blinds, and escaped often to play in traffic, which assured regular phone calls from furious neighbors and big money to spring him from the pound. But this was not his worst offense.
Picture a middle-aged woman with a daughter and three boys, ages 2 months to 7 years old. Picture twice-a-night feedings, undereye circles, the daily schedule of a CEO. One thing kept her going----afternoon naps. As soon as she got the 3 year old and 5 year old safely in bed and then the baby snuggled in his crib, she ran to her bed and collapsed, breathing thanks-be-to-God in anticipation of a few moments of sleep. Now enter the not so saintly saint nick (whose name I refuse to capitalize at this point in the story.)
Naptimes were his favorite moments to exercise his one great gift: barking. I tried everything to make him happy and silent, but nothing worked. Nor was Duncan moveable. He liked the dog and wouldn’t consider giving him away. Desperate, I spent “naptimes” devising (humane) ways to get this dog out of my life. Then not-so-humane. Until finally, two months later, near Christmas, utterly sleepless, I fell into imprecatory psalms and fervent, though guilty, prayers. I had never before prayed for the disappearance of any living thing.
A week went by. This night was our school’s Christmas program. The elder two were in it, one had a speaking part. We couldn't miss! We scurried around excitedly getting ready, but Duncan took sick. He remained in bed upstairs, knocked out with a stomach bug. Luckily I had help: a friend was visiting for the whole week, and this night, he was wrestling on the floor with Noah, 5, while I put dinner away. Suddenly I heard “Owwwww!” Ron was now flat on the carpeted floor, holding his jaw painfully. I ran to his side, helped him up. He shuffled to the couch, sat down, all the while holding his jaw.
“What happened?” I asked, alarmed.
“My jaw. Noah hit it. It’s out of place,” he spoke, muffled, through his hand.
Ron was holding his jaw in pain; overhead, Duncan was noisily throwing up, the baby was crying and we were supposed to be at the Christmas program in 15 minutes. I stood paralyzed.
Then, the doorbell rang. What? Who could it be?
I swung the door wide, then, incredulous, “Jim! What are you doing here?” It was our friend who lived in Anchorage, a plane ride away. But we hadn’t seen Jim for 5 years. Suddenly he’s on our doorstep, tonight?
“I’m in Kodiak to go deer hunting. I thought I’d stop by and surprise you!” he smiled.
The best thing about Jim at that moment was not just that he was here at my door, but-----Jim was a dentist.
“Come in, quick! A friend just got his jaw knocked out of its socket. Can you help?”
He strode into the room, placed his hands on suffering Ron’s face, made a few subtle movements, and soon Ron was sighing with relief.
I turned to Jim, astounded, when the doorbell rang again. What was going on here tonight? I never had visitors.
It was my neighbor, Gretchen. Gretchen had two labs who terrorized me and my car every time I came and went. But something was wrong. Her face was white, her eyes pinched and red. “Leslie!” she said ominously, struggling for control.
“What? What happened?”
“I’m . . . I’m afraid it’s Nick.” She bit her lip.
My heart leapt with hope. “Nick?” I said, my voice rising.
“Yes. I’m afraid he was . …. he was hit by a car. I’m sorry. He’s gone.” She sucked in her breath, looking carefully at my face to make sure I was okay.
“Ohhhhhh, that’s terrible, “ I lied.
“He’s . .. ummm, lying right near the turnout. I don't think he suffered.” She sniffed and wiped her nose.
My heart burst with shock and wonder. But I arranged my face into a mask of sorrow. “Thank you so much for letting me know, “ I said slowly. I looked meaningfully into her teary eyes, shook my head as though grieving, thanked her again and softly closed the door behind me.
Jim looked at me with deep concern. Our dog had just been killed. I didn’t want to scare him. I acted sad. But I was genuinely confused. I have a house guest, a vomiting husband, a crying baby, a recovering friend, and now a dead dog on my hands just minutes before the Christmas program started.
But I wanted to dance. I wanted to shout the doxology then and there. My prayers!
And---what about the kids? The kids didn’t care a figgy pudding about Nick, but I decided not to stir the night up any further. I would wait and tell them after the program. But what now?
Jim put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ve got this, Leslie. You go on to church and I’ll find the body and take care of him,” he said kindly.
I blinked with wonder yet again. I could have cried. Could this be so? In a few minutes we would go to our church to celebrate a God who came down as a babe to deliver his people. God-in-the-flesh who became God-on-the-cross to deliver us from sin, from death. And does God deliver his people from errant dogs? Does God deliver his people from broken jaws? He DOES!
The miracle is this. The dog did NOT come back to life, but I did. In a dark season of my life God heard the prayers of an exhauasted mother and came near, on a Christmas night, in a barreling car, in a wandering dog, in the nick of time, in an angel of a man sent to a faraway door to heal the sick and bury the dead.
God came that near. God came that far.
Is there anyone He cannot find?
(If this made you smile---would you share this post of hope with others? Thank you!)
P.S. Just so you know, I have always loved dogs. Just not that one, and not then. When my 6 kids were mostly grown, Sophie joined our family. She is our delight and goes with me everywhere!