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A Dog Named Blue Taught Her a Valuable Lesson at Christmas

While home for Christmas break, a stressed-out college student receives a lesson in faithful living from a senior gentleman and his beloved black Labrador.

A black Labrador; photo by Mary Wandler via iStock/Getty Images Plus
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Lectures. Term papers. Finals. Grades. College was nothing but pressure on top of pressure. I was carrying a full course load at Bauder in Arlington, Texas, the fall semester of my sophomore year and feeling like I had a weight the size of the Lone Star State on my shoulders. The fact that it was Friday didn’t matter one bit. I was looking at a weekend of studying. I wondered where I would find time even for church on Sunday.

I drove my usual route home to my parents and hoped the familiar sights along the way would ease my stress. But the big old weeping willow I’d watched grow from a skinny sapling, my high school alma mater, the garland-wrapped streetlights downtown—that day they didn’t do a thing for me.

I turned onto North Center Street and drove by the lawn with the big plastic Nativity figures. The crib was empty, and the light in the cow had burned out. I slowed the car while some tall boys moved their football game out of the street.

Up ahead was the weather-beaten two-story house that always stuck in my mind. The paint was chipped and peeling, the steps to the front porch sagged, and I imagined big empty rooms inside. The frail old man who lived there was sitting out front, as usual, his black Lab lying lazily in the tall grass at his feet.

He’s got his Bible out again, I noted. Once I’d heard him reciting passages to the dog! A couple times I’d felt the urge to stop and say hi, just talk to him for a few minutes, see if he was all right, but I was always too busy. I glanced in my rearview mirror. “Reading the Bible to a dog,” I murmured, hitting the brakes. “How lonely can a person get?”

In the next open driveway I turned the car around, breaking up the boys’ ball game again. I parked in front of the run-down house and got out of my car. “Hi,” I called to the old man, suddenly feeling awkward. “Nice day, isn’t it?”

“Come on and sit a while,” he said, scooting over on the steps to make room for me. “I’m Diggs,” he said, “and that’s my dog, Blue.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Diggs. Everybody calls me Misty.” We shook hands, and I took a seat. Up close the man didn’t seem so frail. His eyes were soft and content. “I’ve often seen you out here reading,” I said, reaching to pat Blue’s head.

Mr. Diggs smiled. “Mostly I read the Bible. I have plenty of time for reading these days.”

“You live alone?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t put it that way exactly,” Mr. Diggs said. “My wife and most of my friends are gone from this world, but I’m never alone. Not as long as I have my faith.” Blue let loose an expressive whine and nosed Mr. Diggs’s shoe. “Yes, yes, boy,” he laughed, “and I’ve got you too. But that goes without saying.” He leaned over to rub Blue’s back, and I saw how much he loved him.

“Blue likes to listen to me read,” Mr. Diggs said. “You have time for a story, Misty?”

“Maybe just one,” I said, getting a little nervous about everything I had to do.

The old man turned to the story of the first Christmas in Luke. I hope this doesn’t take too long, I thought. Blue rested his chin on his crossed paws as if pleased to sit and listen all day. I scratched my knee and tried to sneak a peek at my watch.

‘Behold,'” Mr. Diggs read, slowing down as he repeated the angel’s holy announcement, ‘I bring you good tidings of great joy . . . ‘”

Christmas had always been a joyful time for me too, but that year it had taken a backseat to school. Everything had. I stayed quiet, though, till Mr. Diggs finished. When he had, part of me was sorry. He had a way about him that was calming, and while he was reading, his voice a little like a good preacher’s, I’d almost forgotten my worries.

“I’d better get going,” I said. “My parents will be holding dinner, and I have loads of schoolwork.”

Mr. Diggs invited me back anytime. “Old Blue and I will be here. You can count on that.”

I said I’d stop by again, but pretty quick I fell back into my routine of studying, studying and more studying, and worrying about studying in between. On the day before school let out for Christmas break, I drove down North Center Street again. Mr. Diggs was there on the porch, head in his hands.

Something was wrong. I stretched my neck to look into the tall grass. Blue! He was gone! No way could I stop. What would I say? I sped by. At home I threw myself onto my bed, feeling guilty.

When I refused my mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes, she figured I had a flu bug. I knew different. I was sick of myself. It was time to get my nose out of my books and do something that wasn’t about me.

On Christmas Eve I drove the familiar route toward school. I didn’t have class; Mom had said I could invite Mr. Diggs over for Christmas dinner. I turned down North Center Street, passed the big Nativity scene and parked in front of the old house. Why isn’t he outside on a nice day like this? I wondered, walking up to the porch.

I knocked hard on the door and heard shuffling footsteps inside. Mr. Diggs pulled open the door and smiled. “Come on in, Misty,” he said. “What a surprise.”

I stepped inside, and when he closed the door, the house fell quiet. Blue was nowhere to be seen, except in pictures scattered all around the den. There were other pictures too, of Mr. Diggs and his wife, waving from a ship, sharing a beach umbrella, sitting at a tiny table in a fancy restaurant. But mostly there were pictures of Blue.

Mr. Diggs saw me staring at the one of Blue swimming with a big stick in his mouth. “He played fetch in the gulf for two solid hours that day,” he remembered. “There was a bit of an undertow, but Blue was a mighty strong swimmer.”

Was? I looked at Mr. Diggs.

“Blue’s disappeared,” he said, his voice shaky. “I can’t hardly sit out on the porch these days. It makes me miss him all the more.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Diggs. Really I am. Your wife, your friends . . . now Blue.” I began to cry. He’d lost everything.

Mr. Diggs handed me his hankie. “Don’t forget, Misty, I’ve got my faith. That’s the constant in my life. Hard as they may be, the rough patches pass. I’ve prayed for Blue to come home, and now it’s up to the Lord.”

I sniffled. “But what if Blue doesn’t come back . . . ever?”

“He’s in the Lord’s capable hands. So am I. So are you too, Misty.”

I was amazed that even now he was ready to accept whatever God had in store.

“Do you believe in Christmas?” Mr. Diggs asked. “In the promise of Jesus’ birth? God never leaves us. No matter what else may be happening in our lives, happy or sad, Christmas is coming. And Christmas always comes, Misty. You can count on that.”

I dried my eyes. “That’s why I stopped by, actually. To invite you to spend tomorrow with my family.” Mr. Diggs accepted, and I raced home to tell Mom to set the extra place at our table.

When I arrived on Christmas Day to pick him up, Mr. Diggs was wearing an old gray suit and a tad too much aftershave. He offered his arm and escorted me to my car. As he held open my door I noticed something in the distance: a parade of children coming up the street.

I recognized the tall boys whose football game I’d disrupted. Younger kids led the pack. A black spot next to one of the kids started to take shape as they moved toward us. Could it be?

“Blue!” Mr. Diggs shouted, and his friend came running. The kids caught up and gathered around us, telling how they’d seen the dog several blocks away and knew he belonged on North Center Street. We all petted Blue and welcomed him home.

“How ’bout taking a nap till I get back?” Mr. Diggs said. Blue circled a few times, then lay down in his spot in the tall grass. The neighborhood kids promised to keep an eye on him while they played outside with their new bikes and roller skates.

Mr. Diggs waved to them as we drove down North Center Street past the lawn with the big Nativity. The baby lay in the manger, and the light in the cow had been replaced. “See what I told you, Misty?” Mr. Diggs said. “Christmas always comes.”

We enjoyed our day together, and when I brought Mr. Diggs home, Blue was there waiting.

Driving to school the first day classes resumed, I saw the old man at his usual post. This time, though, Blue wasn’t the sole audience for his Bible reading. At Mr. Diggs’ feet were 9 or 10 kids from the neighborhood. I honked and waved. College wasn’t going to get any easier, but the rough patches would pass. And after all, Christmas was only a few hundred days away.

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