Early in November, my wife Jan and I took a vacation to a remote part of Mexico. At least, we tried to. The truck we were using and were depending upon to cross the desert needed new tires, so we stopped at a Costco to purchase new ones. While we were shopping for supplies and waiting for our tires to be installed, ‘Miguel’ from the tire center called me on my cell phone. He said, “Mr. Tomás, we have a problem. Please come quickly.”
When I arrived, Miguel was holding up a broken lug wrench and pointing to my rear passenger-side tire. When I suggested that he try using the wrench we kept in the back of our truck, he confessed that he had already broken two of his own, and that he didn’t want to break ours as well.
Apparently, the lug nuts had been installed with so much force they could not be removed with manual tools. When we asked what we should do, he gave us the address of a Michelin dealer across town. He said they would have the proper equipment to remove the wheels from their mounts, and if we hurried, we could get there before they closed.
The Dog Whisperer
Well, this story isn’t about how the sun had already set, or how we got rear-ended on the way to the dealership in an unfamiliar part of town, or even how the mechanics stayed late at their shop to help us. It also isn’t about the other mechanical problems that arose, rendering it unsafe to cross the desert in our truck.
It is, however, about a gift.
As I was loading supplies into a rental car late the next day, I saw Jan walking across the parking lot with her right arm stretched out behind her, as if she was dropping feathers from her hand. I couldn’t see what was following her because it was hidden behind a parked car, but then I saw its head appear. It was a bone-skinny, stray dog. Mange covered half its face.
I thought to myself, “This is going to get ugly real quick.” You see, I was in a hurry to get on the road, knowing how dangerous it was to cross the desert by night. Whatever Jan was thinking, I could predict by the excitement in her eyes that she was thinking about something I didn’t want to hear. We had already spent two days dealing with car problems, and the last thing I wanted was another complication. I braced myself. She knew I was bracing myself. And yet she blurted it out anyway, “I found our new dog.”
Well, there are a couple of things you need to know about Jan before I move on. She is a dog whisperer. An animal whisper, really. She is the nurturer of nurturers. She takes broken things and makes them whole. At one point, we had 21 birds, a dog, six cats, hamsters and a bunny living in our house. Needless to say, we were the talk of the neighborhood, but we were also the home to which all our neighbors’ children ran so they could play with members of our menagerie. It was like a mini petting zoo.
But 16 years ago, all that changed. Jan began to have difficulty keeping her food down and absorbing nutrients. She almost wasted away to nothing before our internist discovered what was wrong. She had been living with an autoimmune disorder that makes one highly intolerant to gluten. Tragically, that was only the first of many debilitating medical conditions that took over her life, including Fibromyalgia, hypothyroid, and unremitting daily migraine headaches. The last of these has been paralyzing beyond words, rendering her bedridden on most days. As a result, the ‘dog whisperer’ didn’t have a dog of her own, fearing that she wouldn’t be able to give it the care it deserved.
An Angel from Nowhere
But then came this angel from nowhere, prancing behind Jan with the kindest eyes you can imagine, and, in spite of its malnutrition, filled with a loving energy that overcame Jan’s doubts about herself. It was as if this creature had been waiting for ‘her person’ to arrive, and when Jan did, both their hearts were filled with joy and hope.
It’s not that Jan’s chronic migraines or fibromyalgia have disappeared since bringing ‘Khaleesi’ home from Mexico, but like the character in “Game of Thrones,” after whom Khaleesi is named, God is using this new friend to break Jan’s chains of despair. She is back to doing what she was made for. And each day that she opens the sliding door to our back yard to play with Khaleesi, and feels the sun on her face, she knows something has changed. I know it too.
The Bible says trials are sometimes like fire, that they have the potential of purifying us when we pass through them with faith. They burn away hungers and ambitions that don’t belong in a God-centered life; they render our idols to ashes. Perhaps this chapter of Jan’s and my life has been such a trial for us.
But I wonder if it is also something else. Through all the suffering, we are learning the secrets of faith. Whenever we are tempted to panic or give up, or worse yet, turn our fears on each other, we are becoming increasingly able to put our trust in God, the one who is infinitely able to lift up the brokenhearted, free the oppressed, and sustain the weary in the times of trouble. Indeed, our God will even send a skinny, mange-faced stray dog to save people in a grocery store parking lot if it comes to that.
As we celebrate this season of infinite grace, reminding us that our God dwells among us and seeks the best for all people, we give thanks for the ultimate ‘breaker of chains,’ and all those ‘Khaleeses’ of the world who do God’s bidding for those who suffer and need hope. We pray that we might join them with courage and confidence to that end.
Grace, peace, and joy to you this Christmas,
Watch the video version 50 Years: The Voices of Los Ranchos “Breaker of Chains”