Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Winner

“What’dya want for your birthday?” he asked me last spring.

“A new dog,” I answered.

“What else would you like?” he said, hedging the inevitable.

We sent our exotic-eyed, playful girl, Sydney, home to Jesus in February. It was time. It was painful—for us. She was the lucky one, though, bounding across heaven and chasing birds with my Best Friend while we missed her like crazy and forgot every night when we went to bed that we didn’t have to let her in and out the back door anymore.

“What’dya want for our anniversary?” he asked in the fall.

“A new dog,” I answered.

“Isn’t that what you wanted for your birthday?” he asked with a smile.

“I’m a woman with limited imagination,” I told him.

But we had a big cruise to Alaska planned to celebrate our 40th anniversary and we didn’t book the doggie suite.

“Whatd’ya want for Christmas?” he never asked this winter. He just quietly went shopping, wrapped some presents too small to be a puppy, and watched while I opened a bright red envelope perched in our decorated tree on Christmas morning.

I began to cry.

It’s time to go find you a new best friend,” the card read, with a photo of somebody else’s Labrador taped inside. I practically kissed Rob’s face off.

Two days later, we wandered the noisy, smelly halls where they keep the fortunate and unfortunate strays and castoffs at the animal shelter, looking for the one gentle hearted animal who would stop us in our tracks. We weren’t sure what he’d look like. Rob thought he’d be dark, with brown fur that would blend in with the floor. He also thought he’d come in a portable, lapdog size.

We zoomed in on a six-month-old cream colored yellow lab who was bigger than our four-year-old grandson and only half grown.

“You would fall in love with another big, white dog,” Rob teased.

I wasn’t the only one. Five other families wanted to own this sweet guy, happy to sweep up his white sheddings from their floors every day.

“There’ll be a raffle for him if anyone besides you wants the Lab,” the weary desk attendant told us. “Be here promptly at eleven tomorrow morning if you want a chance at getting him. Don’t leave the lobby, not even to go to the bathroom, or you’ll miss out on winning the raffle.”

We got there at a quarter of eleven and stood our ground in the swelling crowd—all waiting for one particular dog, apparently. 

“Did you see the yellow Lab?” I heard again and again behind me. “I’m trying for the Lab. I think everyone here wants to take him home.”

My heart sank. I’m not lucky. I never win anything. One time my name was printed in the newspaper announcing that I’d won a free pie at Marie Callendar’s. When I called to claim it, they checked my address and I learned that I was one of two Eula Marie McLeods who lived in the Phoenix area. Saddled with what I thought was the most unique name on earth, I discovered—pieless—that I was the wrong Eula McLeod.

“Praying you win,” our daughter texted us as we waited in the shelter’s lobby, shoulder to shoulder with our competition. “Have Dad enter the raffle. He wins everything, right?”
It’s usually true. Rob has a lucky streak the size of the Vegas Strip. I, on the other hand, can’t even win when the odds are one out of two. Rob, representing our family, stepped up to the counter with five other people, dropped his name in a bag with theirs, and waited while a stranger pulled out the winner.

I watched from the back wall, struggling to hold back tears. There was no way on earth it would be us. Despite all the providential hutzpah my husband is made of, the sad truth is he’s married to a doubter with all the confidence of Murphy’s Law. He doesn’t even bother buying lottery tickets anymore—my dogma runs over his karma every time.

This was hopeless.

A winner was announced, a group of women rushed the counter, and I slipped outside to cry in private. One out of six. That poor puppy. Convinced that he was about to be adopted by some family who already owned eight other dogs and destined to spend the rest of his life fighting for leftover scraps, I blew my nose and accepted our mutual fate. Then I went back inside.

Rob still stood at the counter. What was he doing? Was he the alternate? I mean, who cared who the alternate was. Everyone knew the winner would be taking home the Yellow Lab and the alternate would be asking me for a spare Kleenex. I watched in confusion as Rob stood glued to his spot in the crowd. I waved at him as he turned, searching the room for me.

“Come on,” he mouthed, heading for an inside door. I walked over to meet him, uncertainty painted across my face.

“What’s going on?” I asked him, as he held open the door to the hallway for me.

“We won,” he said simply.

“We won?!! We won the dog? The Yellow Lab?  We won?!!” 
I couldn’t believe it. It was as though I could actually hear Jesus laughing with delight in my ear.

“That’ll teach you to trust in luck,” He whispered to my shocked heart.

Two days later we brought him home. I bought a dog tag with his new name on it—Buddy. Because he’s my buddy. Today I’m buying him another dog tag with his real name on it—Brody. Because we changed his name to Brody. I may have named him too fast. We call our grandson “Buddy” more than we use his real name but we never call him Brody. So the boy remains “Buddy” and the dog is going to be “Brody.” Hopefully. So far I’ve called him Body, Brady, and Buddy. I may have to get a tattoo on my hand so I’ll remember what I named him.

I probably should have stuck with “Yellow Lab.”

Our floors will be shadowed by white fur once more. The carpet has already been baptized by puppy pee. And the new legal pad of paper I paid too much for at the Mailbox store has a corner chewed off now.

And we have a buddy named Brody to keep us company and lick our faces and wait for us at the back door. He’s my favorite Christmas present of all time.

“Leave it to Dad to win the raffle for you when it counts!” our daughter said. 

She was right. That man who wanted a tiny dog and fought for the big one is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

I must be luckier than I thought.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Collision

We have a beautiful Christmas tree next to our new fireplace, both of them all lit up with lights and flames and sparkles. The tree is fake, the lights and fireplace are electric, and the ornaments are made of plastic.

It’s all about safety around here.

We don’t want a dried out tree burning down this firefighter’s house.


Nobody puts burning candles on household trees anymore, either.


Nor will the EPA let us have a wood burning fireplace in our desert home, and since there’s no gas coming into our neighborhood, there will never be gas-fed flames near our hearth. Still, our pseudo fireplace is more fun than the ambiance we got from our old crackling fire DVD. And it’s been a while since I stepped on a glass shard from a shattered ornament.

I love the whole illusion of Christmases Past, but sometimes I wonder what’s real. And what do we miss out on by staying so safe?

Think about the first Christmas for a minute. Remember those three wise men? Those guys were astrologers. Star studiers who, as astronomers, understood the science in the sky. They weren’t into zodiac symbolism, but they paid attention one night to a radical new star, and the next day they set out in their camel caravan on a journey that took one or two years until they landed at the front door of a toddler Messiah’s home.

I can’t think of anywhere I’d want to go that would take me two years to get there, can you? Especially, if I had to do it on foot across a desert. It just doesn’t sound safe.

And what about the toddler’s mother, Mary? Terrified by the surprising announcement from a freaky angel two years earlier, she probably could have declined to be involved in God’s whole salvation scheme and saved herself a lot of anguish.

“Hi, there, lucky girl!” God’s messenger, Gabriel, began. “You’ve found favor with God. And listen! You’re going to become pregnant and will give birth to a baby boy, and you’re going to name him Jesus. By the way, He’ll be called the Son of God.”

You don’t even need street smarts to know that didn’t sound safe. Mary saw the significance of the situation from God’s point of view and decided not to fight it. But she wasn’t stupid. Being favored by Him meant people would misunderstand her pregnancy. No one, including Joseph for a little while, would believe her insistence that she was still a virgin even though she was definitely pregnant. It was a high risk scenario and she knew it. According to the laws where she lived at the time, she could have been killed for being an unwed mother.

Talk about courage. I don’t think I’ve ever needed to be that brave.

Then there’s her boyfriend, Joseph. He got a personal visit from the Lord Himself in a dream. You’ve probably figured this out by now, but I’ll mention it here anyway—I don’t like freaky dreams any more than Joseph did. I like happy, silly dreams that don’t make me wake up in a sweat, wondering why I ate so many enchiladas for dinner last night.

“Hey, Joe,” the Lord began, “don’t be afraid to marry Mary.” Cute. “She hasn’t done anything wrong. Her pregnancy is miraculous, just like she said. The baby is My Son, and I want you to take care of them both. This kid is important,” the Lord continued. “He’s going to save His people from their sins; that is, He’s going to prevent them from missing the true scope of life, which is Me.”

Wow. That’s a heavy load to put on the shoulders of a young man who’s never even spent an afternoon with a hormonal woman trying to figure out why she’s crying for no apparent reason. It really doesn’t sound safe.

Three ordinary stargazers. One ordinary man and woman in love. A helpless baby. One elaborate plan to change the world. Joseph, Mary, and the wise men were audience members cast into lead roles for an unbelievable drama they never auditioned for.

By the time the curtains came down and the final bows were taken, the only safe place left was in the arms of the One who gave up His own safety for them. And us.

Dreams. Angels. Stars. Visitors. Prophecies.

People and things were not what they seemed. They were neither ordinary nor insignificant. Lives were interrupted as the unseen world revealed itself to the seen, and suddenly people understood that what they saw was the real illusion and what they could not see was reality.

It was a collision, perfectly timed, between humanity’s self-reliance and the Trinity’s intervention. No matter how hard we tried, we could not save ourselves. We needed Someone to keep us from missing the true reason for life, which is God.

Even if we burn real logs in a real fireplace next to a sappy tree covered in fragile ornaments, the dazzling lights can easily lead me to think that I know what’s real and what isn’t. On other days when the decorations are packed safely away and I’m not thinking about a baby in a manger, it’s easy to imagine that I don’t need a savior. That I am in control.

But that’s not really safety.

This Christmas I wish for you and me and all those we love a collision with the One Who invaded our world to save us from ourselves. Even if believing Someone we can’t see doesn’t seem safe.

“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Merry Christmas.