Column: She let her Christmas go to the dog

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.
Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

For me, Christmas is a time for stories. Each year, of course, we hear the great story of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. Our families, too, retell memorable stories as we gather to celebrate.

Since I consider Leaven readers a part of my extended family, here’s a Christmas tale for you to enjoy. It was originally told by Pastor Bob Russell:

It looked like Stella Thornhope would be alone at Christmas. Her husband had died of cancer a few months before. Now, a couple of days before Christmas, she was snowed in, with her children unable to travel to her. She decided not to bother with decorating the house. Time seemed to drag by.

Late in the afternoon, the doorbell rang. It was a delivery boy carrying a box. He asked her to sign for the package.

After she did, she asked, “What’s in the box?”

With a smile and a flourish, the young man opened the box. Inside was a little puppy, a golden Labrador retriever. The delivery boy picked up the squirming pup and said, “This is for you, ma’am. He’s six weeks old, completely housebroken.”

“Who sent this?” Stella asked.

The young man set the animal back down and gave her a book, “How to Care for Your Labrador Retriever.” He then handed her an envelope and said, “It’s all explained in here, ma’am. The dog was bought last July while its mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a Christmas gift to you.”

As the young man turned to leave, Stella asked again, “But who sent this puppy?”

“It was your husband, ma’am,” he replied. “Merry Christmas!”

With shaking hands, Stella opened the letter. It was, indeed, from her husband, written three weeks before he died. He’d left it with the kennel owners to be delivered with the puppy at Christmas. Her husband encouraged her to be strong and said he was eagerly waiting for the day when she would join him. He had sent her this young animal, he wrote, to keep her company until then.

Smiling, Stella picked up the golden furry ball and held it up to her neck. Then she looked out the window at the twinkling lights that outlined the neighbor’s house. Suddenly, she felt the most amazing sensation of peace. Her heart felt a wonder greater than the grief and loneliness.

“Hey, little fella,” she said to the puppy, “it’s just you and me. But you know what? There’s a box down in the basement that’s got a little Christmas tree in it and some decorations and some lights that are going to impress the heck out of you. And there’s even a manger scene down there. Let’s go get them!”

As the puppy romped around and Stella set up the Nativity, she realized that God has a way of sending unexpected signals to remind us that life is stronger than death, and light more powerful than darkness. All we have to do is open the box and believe. (Adapted from “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, general editors.)

Open the box and believe. Who could imagine that that simple box would have such a profound effect on this woman?

Christmas Day, I think, is meant to do the same for us. It’s not the end of a season, but only its beginning. Most folks don’t understand this. They spend loads of time and energy (and money) rushing around to prepare for Christmas Day. Then, when Dec. 25 is over, people are ready to throw the Baby out with the shedding Christmas tree.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be for us Christians. Christmas Day is the box that we open to a season of celebration, from Dec. 25 until the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 11 this year. Shoot, even the Twelve Days of Christmas aren’t enough for God’s people; we add on five more!

Why not make this the year that you keep Christmas as it’s meant to be. Celebrate all through this entire special season: Don’t stop playing your Christmas music, leave your lights burning, present some small gifts to one another, feast and laugh with family and friends.

It really is possible to do. You just have to open the box and believe.

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