She flew out the door with her friend at dusk on Friday night before Christmas. They had places to go, things to do.
Two hours later, I began to worry. Darkness had enveloped the farm but they hadn’t come home. No sign of them. I whistled and called. Nothing. A silent night. I could feel my heart thumping hard in my chest.
Where ARE they? Are they alright? Did they run into a coyote—or a wolf?
Anna and Zach saw a wolf cross the road right in front of them the night before, just north of our farm.
My head throbbed from worrying, wondering. Plus, the snowstorm had begun just as the Weather Service warned. Stiff winds blew icy snow that stung my skin as I stood on the front porch looking, hoping. Snow was accumulating quick and thick.
Where ARE they? Please God! Bring them home!
These two I call “the dynamic duo”—our five-year-old Rose, a yellow lab and our one-year-old Baker, a Yorkshire Terrier—prone to wander, sniffing out rabbits and voles.
Where ARE they? Are they stuck in a snow drift? Did they fall through the pond’s surface ice and drown?
The various scenarios flashed through my mind, increasing my worry. I retrieved my megaphone—the one I use to call animals, kids and even husband when far out on our acreage where unamplified human voice cannot carry.
The wind howled. The snow deepened.
I prayed again and again. I confess I even thought God would allow my dogs to die, stripping me of something else I love since it seems I’ve been in a stripping season for some time. I kind of resigned myself—gave into my melancholy self—probably to buffer myself, preparing for the worst possible scenario. I have a habit of doing this. I figure that if I can entertain and accept the worst possible situation in my head, whatever turns out that’s not quite so bad is a call for massive celebration.
I call again and again through the megaphone . . .
“Rose? Baker? Come get a cookie! Cookie! COOKIE!!!”
Oh Jesus! You know where they are! Please send them home! Don’t let us lose them before Christmas. Please?
I look through the glass door and see Baker, the Yorkie, standing there shivering and soaking wet, his eyes pleading for me to open the door and welcome him home. Beyond relieved, I did exactly that and more. I got a warm fuzzy towel from the linen closet, wrapped him, picked him up in my arms and pulled him close to my chest, my face nuzzling into his neck, sighing relief and gratitude. My dog who was lost in the storm with the coyotes and a wolf and deep snow drifts and water under frozen ice was HOME, safe in my arms! I couldn’t be angry, so relieved I was that he had found his way back!
But he was alone.
No sign of Rose.
As if the Baker could talk or something, I asked . . .
“Where’s your sister?” (That would be Rose, the yellow lab.)
No answer. (Sometimes I just HATE it that dogs don’t speak English!) He just pointed his black button-nose up toward my face, his shiny eyes looking into mine.
“You’re no help,” I tell him. I flip the switch of my megaphone again and step out onto the front porch. First I point toward the north ravine . . .
“Rose? ROSE! Cookie! COOKIE!”
Then I point the megaphone to the southern 44 acres and shout the same appeal.
Another hour slips by.
My heart is literally hurting by now. We’re going to go to bed soon. There’s no sign of our Rose and the snow storm is fierce and the winds are wicked and what if she’s lost—or injured—or DEAD?
Still, no sign of Rose. One last megaphone cry from the front porch and I decide to stop calling for the night. Wherever she is, she’s on her own now. Gone. Alone. In the dark. In the cold. In the storm.
I had a fitful sleep, if you can call it that. Actually, I slept one whole hour the whole night. My mind raced, even though I kept praying, trying to trust. But I know from much experience that things in life don’t always turn out the way you pray and that God doesn’t always give you what you want. I’ve learned from a whole lot of loss that loss is something that’s part of life and, though God brings good from loss, loss is still mighty painful in the moment. And I’d really prefer not to lose a beloved family pet the day before Christmas.
Dawn doesn’t come quickly enough. I wait. And I wait some more. Todd wakes right before the sun slips up from the horizon.
“I’m going to ski our trails and try to find her,” he says. “Why don’t you drive around. If she’s lost, she might try to find a road.”
We go our separate ways, Todd skiing, me driving. We have our cell phones. If one of us finds her, we’ll call the other right away.
An hour later, neither cell phone rings. I drive back up our gravel drive, discouraged and crying.
Could she really be gone for good? The day before Christmas? The greatest celebratory day of the year? Really, God?
I pull my knee-hi farm boots over my polar fleece tights and head for the ravine, stepping into drifted snow banks up to my knees.
Rose? Rose? Come here Rose!
The stillness of the forest was both comforting and haunting, a strange mix of knowing God’s goodness alongside the brokenness that is a real part of our existence here on Earth until Jesus comes again making all things new. I come out of the forest, my legs covered in tiny burrs but no sign of Rose.
I strap on my skis. Across the frozen hayfield I trek, calling. Nothing.
I stop on the highest point of our property and stand still. Finally, I just stand there and cry. I pull out my cell and call my neighbor. I tell her what happened.
“Oh no! I’ll get the ATV go looking for her. I’ll take Baretta. Maybe she’ll hear Baretta and come.”
Grateful for a kind neighbor willing to search for our lost dog, I hold a bit of hope she might call my cell with good news. I continue to ski, calling Rose, pleading.
My cell rings. Sherri’s name come up on caller ID. What will she say? I press the green button.
“She’s here! I found her in our chicken coup! She got in through a hole in the wire but couldn’t get out. She’s shaking scared and cold and it took a bit for her to come to me but she did. I helped her out and have her on a leash. She’s got some cuts on her chest and front leg from the wire but I think she’s ok otherwise. Just scared.”
“Oh thank you, Sherri! THANK YOU! I’ll be right over!”
I ski back to our house, switch from skis to boots, grab my keys, call Todd and the two of us drive next door. Sherri lets Rose off the lead and she comes running to us, wagging her tail, grateful after a long, cold, windy, stormy, dark, frightening night she wandered away far from home, left to fend for herself in the cold, dark and stormy night.
I stoop down, hug her neck, kiss her head. She hops in the car and rides home, excited to see her friend Baker all warm and dry by the lights of the Christmas tree.
And another reminder of how the One who made us LOVES us so much that he sent His one and only Son to come find us wherever we’ve wandered—alone, cold, dark, scared, facing storms too frightening for us—and never, ever stopping until He finds us and invites us, whole-hearted, open-armed—back home.
This is gospel truth. This is very good news. This is the kind of news we all need to hear in one fresh form after another at the beginning and all through this New Year.