I was getting out the Christmas decorations. I came upon the oversized dog bone “stocking” that my mother had made for our beloved black Lab, Shadow. It hung for years from the mantel alongside the children’s stockings.

But it wouldn’t be up there anymore. Shadow had died. Bone cancer. Age 12.

We had left the urn with her ashes up on that mantel for months, with her trademark red collar encircling it . . . the way her faithfulness had encircled our lives.

Shadow was a meek, mild, sweet, loving dog. She had wonderful bloodlines as a hunting dog, but was gun-shy. So she was sold to us as a pet.

As I held that stocking, tears flooded my eyes and memories flooded my heart:

Shadow was a “horse” when our daughter, at 3, decided to be a naked Lady Godiva as the neighbor boys hooted next door.

Shadow was a “reindeer” for one of our Christmas cards, patiently wearing felt antlers, silver bells and a red plastic nose.

Shadow was “Dolly Parton” one Halloween in a tangled blonde wig.

She was dubbed “The Black Sausage” when she got a little chubby later on – like Mother, like “dog-ter.”

She was “Shadow the Wonder Dog” in honor of the time she swam a quarter of a mile after a canoe load of family members in a northern Minnesota lake. She was avidly barking to persuade us of the “danger” that only she could see. We had no choice but to turn back and let her lead us heroically back to the dock with her steady dog paddle.

She was “Shadow the Card Shark” once when someone rang the doorbell while we were playing cards. She arrived at the door with a fanned-out hand of cards arranged perfectly in her mouth, delicately taken from the edge of the table.

She never barked at visitors, but always retrieved a “gift” for them: a toy or a sock or, in this case, a solid gin hand.

She was a reminder of how we all should be: steady, loving, giving, accepting, at peace.

Shadow never chewed up anything, never scratched, never bit. As a retriever, she was bred to be “soft-mouthed” so that she wouldn’t ruin a bird as she brought it back to the hunter.

Sigh: if only humans could be “soft-mouthed,” too.

One other lesson stands out:

It was the morning of Christmas Eve. I had been on my traditional Christmas toot and was exhausted. I had stayed up the night before, wrapping, ‘til after 2. I had a ton of things to do that day, including a quick trip to a nearby town to visit a lonely, old, shut-in relative.

When the alarm went off, I ignored it and turned over. I wasn’t aware of Shadow on the floor at the foot of the bed.

Mmmm . . . this bed is so cozy . . . I’m so tired . . . why don’t I just skip that visit today? I could sleep for another two hours . . . and just go see that old person next week . . . it’s too bad he has to be alone for Christmas, but it would be OK . . . .

I was about to drift back asleep when all of a sudden, Shadow’s tail thumped loudly:

Thump, thump, thump!

Thump, thump, thump!

Thump, thump, thummmmmp, thump, thump!

“Jingle Bells”!?!

Shadow’s tail had played “Jingle Bells”!!!

My eyes flipped open. I grinned, and threw off the covers.

“What am I THINKING? This is Christmas Eve! It’s the best day of the year! That old guy needs some Christmas cheer! Let’s get this show on the road!”

Shadow looked up at me, her big, brown eyes sparkling, her long, pink tongue curled up like a bow, her collar tags jingling . . .

. . . and I heard the rhythm of Christmas in each merry thump of her tail.

Thank you, Spiritual Guide Dog. You gave us your heart, and earned ours 10 times back. You were greatly loved. You are greatly missed.

But we hear your collar tags in the bells at Christmastime. We see the sparkle from your eyes in the tree lights. We know you’re up there retrieving harps for the angels, and thumping your tail to their songs of joy.

We’ll see you again someday, Shadow the Wonder Dog. Wherever the light of love shines, it always leaves a shadow . . . a true and faithful friend.

Howleluia!

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

                                                                                    — Matthew 25:21

Excerpted from the new book, Radiant Beams, available on www.amazon.com


By Susan Darst Williams Ÿ www.TheDailySusan.com Ÿ Radiant Beams Ÿ © 2016