Lately, it felt like my prayers were being returned to sender—unopened; I thought as I sat in a chair under our red patio umbrella writing in my prayer journal while our Great Pyrenees Scarlett O’Hara lounged at my feet.
The sound of chattering birds filled the morning air. It was only 8:30 am, and it was already 75 degrees.
When my stepson Ryan died, my prayer journal became the place where I shared the pleas of my heart as I struggled with my grief. Looking back at those journals now I can see God heard every prayer—met every need.
But now I felt unheard. I started walking out my prayers, focusing on my conversations with the Lord while circling the perimeter of our house. But answers didn’t come.
“Scarlett,” her head popped up, “are you ready?” She stood wagging her tail. I grabbed her leash and started off around our circa 1800s country farmhouse, praying for family members and church members struggling with health challenges.
By our seventh lap, I could feel sweat beneath my ponytail and I knew Scarlett was ready for a drink of water. I picked up my pace, swinging my arms as I made the last lap I prayed as I often did, Dear God, please use my grief for Your Glory, Amen.
As I rounded the corner of the house, a white minivan pulled into our driveway and parked. I stopped, standing between the breezeway and the deck, watching as a man got out.
“Excuse me,” the man called as I started toward our back door.
I waved. “I’ll be with you in just a minute,” I pointed to the dog, “I need to get her some water.” My mind swirled with questions about our visitor as I took off Scarlett’s harness.
Back outside, the man was waiting for me on our front walk. I made my way over to where he stood. He wore a pair of jeans and a blue and white polo shirt. A mostly gray beard edged up his cheeks to meet a thick crop of white hair covered by a black ball cap. “I was wondering about your dog,” he said as I approached. “What kind is it?”
“Oh, she’s a Great Pyrenees,” I smiled at him. So, this was about the dog. Truth be told, encounters like this aren’t all that rare. Scarlett weighs over one hundred and twenty pounds with a white flowing coat—she’s an attention grabber. People are constantly asking about her and taking her picture, but this is the first time anyone has stopped by the house.
“She’s gorgeous. My wife and I have seen her for years sitting in the yard watching the cars go by. Even in the snow.”
“Oh, well, this is our second Great Pyrenees,” I said, my mind tracking back to images of our first Pyr Huckleberry Finn with his head completely buried in the snow. “Huck, the one we had before, was the one who liked to sit in the yard.”
“How old is this one?” He pointed to Scarlett, who was watching us through the glass of the back door.
“That’s Scarlett O’Hara, she’s one and a half.”
“Well, since I saw you in the yard, I thought I’d stop. What happened to Huck?”
“Huck escaped from our yard and was hit by a car,” I said, my voice thick with emotion, “Just three months after our son was killed.” The last part slipped out. “We got Scarlett that Christmas. She’s brought joy back into our house.” I smiled, trying to hide the tears glittering in my eyes.
“We lost our daughter in January,” he gazed out across the cornfield edging our house. “She was 46.”
My heart skipped a beat, sensing this visit wasn’t just about the dog. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “How are you doing?”
“I’m doing okay. Better than my wife. She still cries every day.” He fidgeted, placing his weight on one foot and then the other.
“What was your daughter’s name?”
“April.” He looked away from me toward his van. “She fought that disease for nine years,” he said, his voice shaking as he spoke, his hands fisted by his sides.
“I’m sorry. It must have been so difficult to see her struggle.” April was stolen from them bit by bit while death took Ryan in a flash. “It gets easier,” I offered, trying to comfort this stranger.
He nods, then turns to look at me. “But you never get over it.”
It’s a statement, but his eyes are questioning. I hesitated. The answer to my often-repeated prayer of “use my grief” was right here in my own front yard. Now was my opportunity to share my hope, and I had no idea what to say.
Please God, guide my words.
“Come up here for a minute,” I said, climbing the steps to the wooden porch lined with wicker furniture. “That’s Ryan.” I pointed through the window at the poster-sized picture centered on an easel. In it, Ryan is sitting barefoot on the beach, the sunset blazing behind him. “After Ry’s death, it was over a year before I could look at that picture,” I said. “But now, two years later, looking at it makes me smile. Ryan was an amazing gift,”
“April, too,” there were tears in his eyes, “she was strong, at the end, telling her brothers and sisters to take care of her mom and me.” He stopped, quiet, staring out across the field again.
I put my hand on his shoulder. “She sounds like a remarkable woman.”
He turned back, looking directly at me, as a small smile formed on his lips, “She was.”
We stood silently, my hand on his shoulder. “I was just praying when you stopped, walking and talking to God. The fresh air helps me concentrate, I guess.”
“I’m in my van, driving all the time. I used to talk to God then, but…”
I know what the but is. He stopped praying when April died.
“Well, I’ve got a lot of driving to do,” he turned. “I’m Dave, by the way,” he extended his hand, and I shook it.
We’d talked about the death of our children, our grief, and we hadn’t even introduced ourselves.
“I’m glad you stopped by, Dave. I’m Amy,” I said as we walked down the steps of the porch, stopping on the sidewalk near his vehicle. “Come by again soon, and I’ll introduce you to Scarlett.” He got into his van and I turned, waving as I walked to the house, praying I’d helped to ease his pain in some small way.
Once inside, I picked up my prayer journal from the kitchen island, walked over, and plopped down in my chair, clutching it, my mind replaying my conversation with Dave. I’d just gotten an unexpected answer to a prayer. He said they’d seen our dog for years, but he’d never stopped—until today.
I reached down to pet Scarlett, who was fast asleep at my feet. God had used a dog, two dogs, to make it happen.
But it wasn’t about the dog.