A Christmas Miracle: When Love Wins, Against All Odds

girl and dog

On Christmas Eve, I was listening to my teacher and mentor Rachel Naomi Remen reading her book Kitchen Table Wisdom with my husband Olivier and daughter Siena. The whole rest of the day, I found myself reflecting on miracles—not the shock and awe Jesus kind of miracles or the mysterious, unexplainable healing miracles of Lourdes, but the everyday miracles, when love wins, against all odds. I’d like to tell you a Christmas miracle, a story that is just this kind of everyday miracle, and if it evokes a memory of a miracle story of your own, I’d really love it if you’d share your story in the comments.

Once upon a time, a little girl fell in love with a puppy named Grendel. It was her first true love, so she fell all the way into the abyss of love, unguarded, with none of the protections around her heart that older people tend to erect. Her heart was so wide open, so squishy and gooey and pouring over with the honey nectar of her love that when Grendel unexpectedly crashed into heart failure and died in the pet ICU within 48 hours of her first symptom, the little girl wailed in the waiting room with such agony that everyone else in the waiting room cried with her. The trembling woman, who was waiting for news about her very sick cat, said to all the rest of us in the waiting room, “The little girl is the only one of us brave enough to express what all the rest of us are actually feeling.” Her words rang true. The little girl’s grief was pure, deep, and untamed, a wild grief that moved as swiftly, fiercely, and unexpectedly as a tsunami.

But the little girl’s grief was also healing. While her mother’s grief lingered on and on, six months later, the little girl said to her mother, “Mama, I’m ready to give another puppy permission to break my heart again.”

The mama wasn’t as ready, her heartbreak still fresh and hurting, her tears still quick and overwhelming when she opened the front door after a journey into the world and Grendel did not greet her at the door. But the mama, who wanted to encourage her child’s courageous heart opening, bullied her own tender grieving part and nailed up slats of wood to protect her still healing heart from another hurricane of heartbreak.

The nana, who knew the mama wasn’t quite ready, helped them find a puppy in need of a home. The little girl dove into love as agilely as she did with Grendel, who had been with her since she was in her mama’s womb. They brought the new puppy Bezoar home, and slowly, the mama started un-nailing the boards around her heart, daring to expose some of the raw, freshly healing wound.

Then tragedy struck. When the puppy was only six months old, one quick dash onto California’s historic Highway 1 left one innocent man who had been driving his car on a holiday brokenhearted. The tear-laden man, overflowing with “I’m sorry’s,” tenderly handed the mama the shattered body of the new puppy. The little girl wept and howled. The mama boarded up the wooden slats again, the pain being too excruciating to feel all the way when a little girl needed her strength.

The years that followed were not easy on the little girl and her mama. The mama and the little girl’s daddy got divorced. Then the single mama fell in love with someone who wasn’t the daddy, but their love was star-crossed and doomed. He left the mama’s freshly-opened heart throbbing. The little girl got older, and the child who had been her best friend since they were the tiny ones at school decided the little girl wasn’t as cool as the other girls at school. The little girl pretended not to care.

Then cancer came like a swift wind and ferreted their beloved nana off to another shore. The mama and the little girl were there until the end, singing the nana to her new home through an ocean of tears. The nana said she would come back as a butterfly, so the little girl and her mama spent a year counting monarch encounters.

This may not sound like a miracle story yet, but be patient. It is. Time passed and the mama dared to fall in love and get married to her new beloved. It all happened very quickly. Too quickly, perhaps, for the little girl to wrap herself around so much change. The little girl was a flower girl at the wedding ceremony, but after a dozen people asked her how she felt about the mama getting married, she burst into tears and said to the mama, “I wish everyone would stop asking me that.” The daddy was invited to the wedding, but he asked the mama for permission to skip it. “We had our day,” he said. The mama understood.

Here’s the real miracle part, the part where love wins. After four and a half years of healing and recovery, the little girl says to the mama and the new stepdad, “I’m ready to give another puppy permission to break my heart.” But the mama travels a lot and has a new book coming out, and puppies need a lot of care. So the mama asks the daddy if he would be willing to watch the puppy when the mama and stepdad travel, so the little girl could finally give another puppy permission to break her heart again. The daddy said yes.

So the stepdad finds the little girl a puppy named Gaia. On the third night, the little girl is swept with a raw terror. She weeps on the mama’s lap and confesses that she is terrified that the puppy is going to die and she won’t survive it this time. The mama feels her own tears well up. She is scared too—scared the puppy will die, scared the lover will leave, scared something terrible could happen to the little girl. They hold each other and feel the crushing tenderness of each other’s fear and courage, riding shotgun with each other.

The next day, the puppy gets a clean bill of health from the vet, and the little girl says, “Mama, I’m going to go all the way again,” and the mama says, “Me too.” And then, holding hands, they dove into the field of love, where the bad news is that you feel like you’ll never stop falling and the good news is that the free fall is endless, with no ground to go “splat” upon.

And now it is Christmas, and the little girl is holding the puppy on her lap, and the stepdad is holding the mama in his arms, and the daddy joins them under the tree, bearing presents and a fresh acceptance of all the changes life inevitably brings. The daddy cracks jokes. The stepdad tries to ease the awkwardness. The mama serves a feast and tries to cover up the remains of the heartbreak with the treats the nana would have prepared if she were still here. And the little girl bursts as she gives the puppy her stocking, full of chew toys and doggie nibbles and the kind of abundant, generous, overflowing love only a little girl who keeps letting her heart heal can dare to feel.

Would Your Share Your Miracle Story? 

I would really love to hear your everyday miracle story if you feel moved to share it.

May your holidays be filled with the miracle of the love that beats all odds,

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