Buzz…. Buzz…. Buzz..
I answered the phone.
Chelsea’s voice, filled with betrayal, bellowed out, “Ruger just bit Naomi in the face!”
“What?!” I replied. Naomi was screaming hysterically in the background.
“Ruger mauled Naomi in the kitchen, and there is blood all over.” A thousand pounds of dread sank through my soul.
Chelsea and Naomi had gone to the store; Ruger, as usual, accompanied them on the trip. Upon their return, Chelsea set Naomi down in the middle of the kitchen so she could watch her unload the groceries. Ruger howled in pain getting out of the trunk of the car; his hip was getting unbearable now. Inside the house, Ruger had gotten a drink of water and then went into the living room. Soon he went back into the kitchen, and before Chelsea knew what was happening, he was snarling and biting Naomi in the face, knocking her down onto the floor. Chelsea stepped in immediately as Ruger backed off and ran into the other room. Blood started pouring off Naomi’s face as Chelsea snatched her off the floor. Soon her training as a nurse kicked in as she triaged the wounds. That is when she called me.
Chelsea did her best to clean and treat the wounds. The strength of my wife shone through what was the most traumatic experience of her life. She was able to get the wounds patched up and see that they could over time heal on their own. Soon we started applying Organic Spore Powder and natural vitamin E directly to the wounds and saw what a difference they made for her swelling, and they also reduced scarring. Once the injuries were finally addressed, Chelsea and I sat down and debriefed what had happened.
The horrors of seeing your child get hurt are bad enough, but when the creature you’ve loved like a child is the inflictor of those wounds, it tears out your heart. Chelsea and I wept together that night on the couch, knowing we had to do something none of us wanted to do. I promised her 24 hours, and within 24 hours if I couldn’t find him an appropriate home, I would make sure he was never back in the house.
Chelsea wrestled with her heart-wrenching agony at home, her fears for Naomi, and her sorrow over the marking of her once flawless flesh. In a moment, The Father showed her a glimpse of the future of Naomi standing as a teenager. In this vision, the sky was filled with rumblings of dangers. Blackened smoke wafted in the air as a city burned in the distance. Naomi gazed out, her eyes fixed upon her surroundings. Her jaw was set like flint. She was immeasurably strong, a warrior made ready for the days of chaos unleashing themselves. Naomi was a warrior, and every warrior carries their scars. The faintest of white lines stitched itself across the bridge of her nose, the mark from a dog she may never remember. The mark came from a dog who helped her mother overcome her fears and helped her father find the courage to face down Death.
Chelsea saw the glimpse and knew these wounds and scars will not define her; they will be a part of her as we each carry our own scars. Naomi was not born for peace but for war. Chelsea may have grown up insulated from the chaos, but now it was rumbling in her heart. She chose not to run but to stand upon The Rock of Redemption. Chelsea was being made into a humble and wise woman who can raise her daughter up and prepare her to stand firm when the winds of terror blow.
I loved Ruger; I loved him more than pretty much all humans I’d ever known. He’d never lied to me, manipulated me, or made do evil. He’d never betrayed my trust until he did. I couldn’t trust him anymore: not around my child, not around strangers, or around another owner’s pets. I did my best to find him a new home in that twenty-four hours, but once a dog bites a child, it is a zero-tolerance policy with most adoption agencies. I was not willing to give Ruger with his ravaged hip to someone else so he could do more harm. I knew what needed to be done, but I had no idea if I could do it.
We kept him in the kennel that night, and I could tell from the look on his face that he knew life was never going to be the same. The next day I headed up north to meet with a client, and on the way there I wept, praying for wisdom to know what to do. Nobody wants to do what came next. There was no personality in my soul that wanted to end the life of the dog that had saved mine. I called friends and asked them if they would help me put down my dog, but they too had grown close to Ruger on our hikes in the mountains and didn’t want to carry the burden of death. I didn’t want to drag him into a veterinarian’s office reeking of fear and suffering; he hated those places. I couldn’t bear to see him have to be shackled to a table while they stab him with needles. It was just too much.
Oh God, I didn’t want to take another life, let alone that of one I loved so much. Every other life I had taken had been because of manipulation, control, and the following of Orders. I had never freely chosen to do what came next. I had killed so many in my life, and I know so few will understand this but killing dogs had been some of the worst things I’d ever been made to do. It had broken pieces of my soul loose that were still rattling around: The Names and The List came back to me during that day of death. I was weeping and weeping, “My God, I can’t do this.” The tears still flow just writing about it.
But I wasn’t writing that day; I was living it. I was breathing in the familiar taste of death on the sunset’s red horizon. It was then that He, The Good Shepherd, the overseer of my weary and ravaged soul, spoke to me. He told me,
“Nathan, it is time you bring The Names up the mountain, and The Lists too. It’s time you bring me your death and you entrust them with Me; you need to give Me your death if you want to be free.”
Even as He spoke, I saw them. I saw the faces, those death masks before they passed from this world to the next. So many people had perished in my midst. Too many to bear. Their names came flooding through one after the next: Jeremiah, Andrew, Sam, Joshua, Elizabeth, Zach, Elliot, and on and on they went. I could see them piling up this weight upon my shoulders, a burden I’d carried all my life, a load I’d tried to surrender hundreds of times.
How do you let go of the faces of death? How do you let go of the orphans and widows who don’t know your name? The first one in the pit, an ax and a fist, the seventh one a cord around carotid arteries weakening fingers grasping against my skin. How do you carry the endless agony of killing your best friend?
The words of My Redeemer echoed through the chambers of my soul. On those whispers came winds of courage and strength. It was not mine but His; a great exchange of His life for more death. He’d done it before, and I knew He would do it again. Just then my phone rang and Chelsea was on the other line.
“Nathan, I need to tell you what just happened. I was driving out of our neighborhood, and I saw in the middle of the road the biggest hawk I’d ever seen. It was just sitting there, and as I got closer, it tried to fly away but fell back down. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I saw its claw was stuck in the carcass of this dead rabbit. It kept trying to fly away and be free but it couldn’t. By the time I pulled up, he suddenly shifted his body and took off, leaving the rabbit behind.”
The Father’s words echoed through my soul,
“You need to bring me your death if you want to be free.”
I knew then that this was what I needed to do. We took Ruger for his last hike as a family, snapping pictures and filming tiny snippets along the way. We cried together as we pushed Naomi in the stroller while Ruger trotted on up ahead. A final snapshot of our family together marked the end of our walks with the dog we called Chicken Wing.
Chelsea said goodbye to Ruger as I loaded him into my car. I threw on my boonie hat and loaded up our packs. I drove him far into the mountains, to the place where we’d taken one of our first hikes together. Walking up the mountain with my dog, I said their Names and prayed for them all, their families who I didn’t know and the ones who I never knew. I prayed for forgiveness for the thousandth time. I surrendered the hatred I had for those who killed them, the ones who at times made me do it: at the times I felt like I deserved the bullet, not the man holding the ledger of secrets or the wrong place wrong time loose ends. I carried on my shoulders the burdens of death. I took up with me a lifetime of wounds, bloodshed, and tears.
My best friend walked up the mountain, and he helped to carry the load. His pack held a list of their Names, and he brought it all the way to the top. I unloaded his burden as I found just the right spot, one that would give him a good view of the mountains stretching on for hundreds of miles. We shared his favorite snack together of homemade organic jerky as I told him how thankful I was for all that he’d done. I thanked him for helping me survive the heartache, bitterness, and pain at night. I told him he was a good boy and I was sorry for what I had to do. I filmed a final moment as a thunderstorm rolled over the top of us. I held my dog for one last time before I put him down for his final sleep.
I screamed and screamed and screamed some more. I screamed out at the top of my lungs until something in my soul tore loose and scattered into the winds now blowing with fury. I screamed until the thunder drowned me out and exploded across the darkening mountainside. I knew then my Elohim screamed too. He thundered out His reply. He had heard me and accepted this dead man’s cry.
While the sky rent open and the waters fell from above, The Burden Bearer came and took my death and gave me life instead. He bought my misery and sorrows and gave me hope. I laughed with Him, knowing He would make it matter. Somehow He would take this once cursed life of mine and use it for blessings. At that moment on the side of a mountain, a dying restless man of murder found peace and life.
Some of you are carrying those burdens no soul can bear. Some of you are holding on to the names or faces of monsters who took from you innocence, virginity, sons or daughters lost in the pink mist. Some of you are holding on to anger at our Creator, blaming Him for the things He never did. Others are carrying insecurities from the lies spoken over you when you were just kids. Every one of you reading this has your list, your burdens which are breaking your back and keeping you from freedom, purpose, and truth. Are you ready to surrender the shackles and chains? It’s time you face down the guilt, lust, and shame. It is time you find that The Burden Bearer is waiting at the top of the mountain where you can leave it all behind.
Yahweh entrusted Ruger to us for four years. He only had enough joint in that hip to get him through it and to the top of that mountain. It was just the right amount for him to fulfill his purpose in my life. Without him, I think I’d still be that hawk with claws stuck in death, trying desperately to get free. Without him, I would still be wondering what I could be. He helped me hike up that mountain and changed me forever.
It is time we find out whose burdens we were made to help carry. Someone woke up today who needs you to hold their hands and pray with them. Someone woke up feeling depressed and miserable and needs you to tell them they still matter no matter what they’ve been through. A man is staring in the mirror looking at a stranger needing to be told there is healing for even internal brokenness. There are veterans of life, war, and misery who are shoving needles in their arms, desperate to escape the nightmares, who need you to show them you still care for them. A child is screaming out in the night and needs someone who will not sell them for another trick but instead make sure they sleep soundly.
Some of you may be limping, barely holding on, but the healing you are crying out for is waiting when you bandage someone else’s wounds instead of worrying about your own. The bitterness you’re holding on to is what’s keeping you in prison, not the one who hurt you. The keys to forgiveness are in the hands of The Healer who will restore what they took. Come and see that His goodness is forever and His mercy is endless. He will make right the wrongs of this world. He will bring justice that will be perfect and relentless. Come to Him now while there is still time.
Come to Him, who holds the hands of the hurting and gives them relief. Come to The One who knit you together no matter what kind of a womb you came from, whose offspring you were made by; He knows your innermost parts. Come to The Redeemer of bitter men and wounded women. Come to The Guardian of Eternities Hope and see that He has reserved a place for you.