Published in the Rains County Leader on November 17, 2020:
David and I visited with our dog friend Spike this weekend while his people took a break from raising cattle. Spike was unusually subdued, maybe feeling the pressure of 2020 like the rest of us. More likely, though, his calm attitude is because of the strict restraints he’s under to keep him from chasing several new calves. Instead of having the run of the ranch, he stays in the barn, the house, or tethered on the patio, and he walks on a leash. He’s a country dog living a city life, but he doesn’t seem to mind as long as there are plenty of treats and an occasional session of petting.
Sunday morning I woke up a little before 6:00 am. I thought I might catch a few more winks, but I must have stirred around too much because Spike appeared at the bedroom door and did his I-need-to-go-out dance. I knew more sleep was probably out of the question, so I dressed and took him for a quick turn around the yard. He did his duty and we came back inside for a treat and a cup of coffee – his treat and my coffee. He had his breakfast while I had my quiet time, and once the sun was up enough to take the chill off the air, we took another walk to the gate and back, about a quarter of a mile round trip. He ambled along at my pace, sniffed a few bushes, and barked at a passing car. On the return trip I noticed a splash of color in the grass between the gravel driveway and the fence. It was a single Indian Paintbrush waving happily in the breeze, unaware that it was completely alone and out of season. It was a hopeful sight, a promise of Spring in the midst of bare branches and fallen leaves.
When our walk was done, it was time for Spike to take a nap and for me to
shower and dress for church. Because of the increase in new COVID cases in the county, the schedule had been changed – no Sunday School and two worship services to allow more space for social distancing. The parking lot was half full when I pulled in, and the Sanctuary was sparsely populated. Still, people were visiting – within the recommended guidelines concerning distance and contact but still eager for contact with friends. Then it was time for the service to start, so people took their seats as Pastor Jason moved to the pulpit. He began with an announcement that brought complete silence to the room – Paul McMerrell, a beloved friend and brother in Christ – had passed away early that morning.
I tried not to cry because I’m not like the movie stars who can look beautiful as a single tear rolls down one cheek – I cry ugly. I did, however, managed to maintain some control as the announcements continued, and I thought about the story of King David we have been going through in ladies’ Bible study on Wednesday mornings. When David and Bathsheba’s son was ill, David lay on the ground praying for seven days. After the child died, he rose from the ground, cleaned himself up, worshipped the Lord, and had dinner. When asked about it, he said that while the child was alive there was a chance God would have mercy and heal him, but now that the child was dead, David knew God had made His decision. I struggled with that thought as Pastor Jason led us in prayer, but I finally got my emotions mostly under control. It just took me a little longer to get up off the ground than it did David.
The message was a comforting one from Psalm 121, but my thoughts drifted from time to time to Paul and his sweet wife Deb. I first met them when they joined Believers’ Baptist several years ago. Our friendship was centered around the church and its activities – they were always there when we were, and Deb’s hug and Paul’s happy greeting put a smile on my face. Before I stepped down as church secretary, I also enjoyed his frequent visits during the week. He would walk in the front door with his characteristic grin and a tool belt strapped around his waist. Sometimes he came to work on a project for Pastor Jason and sometimes he came with a project of his own like the beautiful hand-crafted hat rack he made for those like himself who thought that a Sunday outfit should include a hat. Other times he’d come in, lean on the pass-through window to my office, and say, “Anything need fixing?”
“Sure,” I’d say. “The door to the first classroom down the hall doesn’t latch.”
“I’ll fix it,” he’d reply – and he would.
I really did listen to the sermon, and even though I had a soggy tissue wadded up in my hand, my tears had dried. As I drove back to the ranch, I thought about that Indian Paintbrush and its promise of new life in the Spring. I also thought about what else David had said about his child.
“Can I bring him back again? I am going to him, but he will not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:23b
I know that Paul will not be coming back to Believers’ Baptist, but I believe I will one day follow the same path he took Sunday morning. And I know when that day comes, that at some point I’ll hear a cheerful voice say, “Hey, Miss Linda!” and there he’ll be, probably with a tool belt strapped around his waist.