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Little Miss Liberty
    Steven O'Dell
The Christmas Dog
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Barnaby and the Zilligong
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The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever
    Steven O'Dell

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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 59 I Hate Christmas
The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by Steven ODell on 2 January 2013 - 3:42am. |

The Christmas Dog
--Steven G. O'Dell 2012

Few things in life leave you totally speechless and on the verge of humble, happy tears as this experience does for our family. The kids are all fairly grown now, but even the one who was a toddler at the time will wipe a tear when we recount the tale. But then again, the dog that performed this miracle was ever-so-much her dog and now lies at her feet for perhaps his last Christmas. Let me tell you the story.


We still don't know what possessed us to get a dog just before Christmas that year, but we did it anyway. Lydia and I already had three kids to contend with, one still a toddler and the oldest only seven, all three girls. I guess it was only right that our dog be male so we might have somewhat a balance in the household.

This dog was possibly two years old when we got him, fluffy and furry as a dog can get be and had the sweetest disposition ever. He would actually sidle up to you and lean against you as if giving a hug. You couldn't help but love him and you just knew he was saying he loved you, too. There was only one time anyone in the family ever raised a voice to him and thank God he didn't listen. He had at least three names and answered to every one of them, oddly enough. Our second daugthter picked up on the idea that he was a gift from Santa Claus, so she called him Santa Dog,' eventually shortening it to 'Santa.' I called him 'the Christmas dog' once and our toddler, with her adorable twist on the idea, called him 'Kiss-mas,' eventually being shortened to 'Kiss' for her. I simply referred to him as 'Fuzzball' most of the time. As I said, it didn't matter what he was called. He answered to all of them, knowing instinctively each name was reserved for him by different family members.

One Christmas Eve as I came home from work, I was met at the door by my wife and she shushed me and hurried me into the house and to the hallway, not allowing me time to remove my snowy shoes or heavy coat. With me in tow, thoroughly puzzled,
she firmly led me to where I beheld the dog standing and looking down the hall intently, his head cocking back and forth now and then, and finally sitting back on his haunches as if listening to someone. This went on several minutes before he stood up, tongue out and smiling as dogs do, and turning to us for a scratch behind the ears and a welcome home to me. Something made me keep looking down the hall as he had, hoping to get a clue as to what he had seen, if lucky enough to be allowed the same supernatural insight. Maybe I should have been creeped out by it, but the thought never occurred to me.

"What was that all about, Hon?" I asked my wife.

"No idea," she explained, "but he's been doing that for a few days now. In fact,

I saw this a few times a day myself. Who knows how many times it's happened when I wasn't in the room with him...."

"Well, if that's as odd as he gets, I'm okay with it," I laughed.

That Christmas came and went with little difference from any other, except for our hyper-attentive dog listening in on the spirit world, or whatever he was doing. As soon as Christmas was past, he was back to normal and we soon forgot all about the strange behavior. But it didn't end there as we suspected. The next
year just before Christmas he began doing the same thing. It wasn't limited to the hall this time. He might be caught watching and listening intently to some invisible presence in the living room, the kitchen or the bedroom at any time,
cocking his head and sitting as if paying close attention to something of utmost importance. We began to take this more seriously now, seeing more than coincidence in the pattern. For two Christmases now the dog had done this. And again the season passed and he behaved normally for the rest of the year. When the third Christmas neared, we watched closely for any evidence that he would again repeat his actions. We were not disappointed. Surprised, yes, but not disappointed. We now had deep discussions over the meaning of it. What purpose did it serve? If only he could talk to us. This Christmas was different in one way, though. It was the last time he behaved this way and we were soon to know why.

It was the day before Christmas and my wife went to the door as usual to get the newspaper. When she opened the door and stooped to take the paper, Kiss literally jumped over her and ran into the yard and down the street almost before she was
aware of it. No amount of calling him back had the desired effect. Normally the obedient dog, it was entirely unlike him to leave the yard or ignore us when we called. Now he was bounding down the street and soon rounding the corner and out
of sight as my wife called after him in her loudest voice and then stood in mute shock at what had transpired. It was the only time a voice was ever raised at him and it had done no good.

When I arrived home to have my holiday off with my family, I was greeted with the news that our loving dog, now as much a family member as anyone else, had suddenly fled and there was no possible way to track him, as it had begun again
to snow heavily just after he left the house. The girls were devastated and my wife was not far from tears herself. I admit to being taken aback and close to crying myself. I had learned to love that silly dog unconditionally, because that is how he gave love to us in return. I had seen him instinctively take the street side on walks with the kids, as if to protect them from possible harm by traffic. I had seen him stand between the girls and strangers, on full alert to any threat that might arise. Everything about the animal spoke love. And now he was gone. It was nearly destroying my girls and it was my responsibility to find him and return him home.

I drove for what must have been two and a half hours, now and then answering the cell phone to report my lack of success. I frankly had not a clue as to where he may have gone and why it was so urgent for him to do so. There was no precedent
to this. When I returned home, the girls were at the door already, waiting, having heard the car arrive and the door slam. They could tell by my expression that I had not succeeded in my search and the tears began flowing like a waterfall. They were positively inconsolable.

Dinner was the quietest I recall in my entire married life. Four females in the house and hardly a word from any of them. It was otherworldly in nature. We tried to tell the girls that he would find his way back and that he must have heard something that set him off. We tried to calm their nerves and give some peace of
mind, but the truth was that we had none ourselves and I think they knew it. By bedtime there was still no word as to what had happened to Kiss. He wasn't home and calls to neighbors produced no new information. I was sure that not only the girls would be crying themselves to sleep that night.

Christmas morning arrived and it was a somber event without our loving dog Kiss. We passed gifts to the family and opened them with muted pleasure. The past two seasons Kiss had been there and barked approvingly with each squeal of delight from the girls, his tail wagging furiously in anticipation as each package was torn opened. He was fully as excited as they were. And now he was missing, along with a piece of our hearts.

At sundown, we still had no clue as to where he might be, despite my trolling the streets again for an additional three hours. I had all but given up, knowing that now we could only place an ad in the paper and post pictures in the local stores.

When I awoke early the day following Christmas, I called to leave a message at work that I would be late that day and I spent the time designing a flyer with a picture of Kiss on it and printed out fifty copies. I left them on the counter
with a handwritten note and left for work with a heavy heart.

Lydia called during the day to say they were going out to post the flyers and to put an ad in the paper and would call to let me know if they had any other ideas. I didn't expect much. I was out of ideas myself and couldn't see how it would do any good to do more than hope and pray, except perhaps to check the animal shelters in the event that he had been picked up. But he had a tag and it should have been easy for anyone to make the call to let us know where he was. He was friendly enough with others so long as he was not concerned with protecting his
family members.

The arrival home bore nothing new in the way of details and we simply did what we could to distract the girls from their worries. It was while I was in the kitchen helping to grate cheese and dice onions that I heard our eldest scream at the top of her lungs. Even having three girls in the house did not prepare me for the
level of emotion contained in that one scream and I dropped everything and ran to her, almost without touching the floor, it seemed. I found her, mouth open and staring at the television, pointing and now wordless in shock. And when I saw the reason for her actions, I also mirrored her reaction, as did my wife and remaining two daughters.

The news was on just before my girl's favorite prime time show and the human interest story was being covered.

"And tonight we still have no idea who the dog belongs to or why it should have done such an amazing thing. One can only call this a true Christmas miracle. As you may have already heard in our broadcasts earlier today and last night, the
baby that was left on the doorstep of the St. Michael's church would have frozen to death had it not been for the loving care of this big shaggy dog that lay over the baby and kept him warm with his thick fur and body heat. The dog himself was
covered with matted chunks of ice from snow that had obviously thawed and re-frozen on him. That would seem to indicate that he had been there quite some time, keeping the baby warm. The local animal shelter says he has lost his tag, which somehow was torn off during perhaps an attempt to go under a fence or
through a gate. The baby is being cared for as well, having some signs of dehydration. Here in the studio, this reminds us of the animals who attended the Christ child lying in the manger so long ago. The same loving care was shown here by this big fluffy dog who saved the life of a helpless infant. If any of our
listeners have information as to the identity of the baby or the owners of this wonderful dog, please call the number that you see at the bottom of the screen. We want to make certain that each of these Christmas mysteries is completely
resolved. And that's our news for tonight...."

"Dad, it's Kiss! He saved a baby! We have to go get him!"

If the three of them could have said this in perfect unison, it would not have been more intense and heartfelt. And I knew they were right -- we had to go get him and bring him home. I called the number and we all packed into the car and
headed for the animal shelter that held him, after making certain it would be open.

That walk down the hall to the cage which held Kiss was one of the longest we ever took as a family...and one of the happiest ever. I recall being only slightly happier when each of my girls was born. Kiss meant that much to me...to us. And apparently we meant that much to him, for as soon as he heard the familiar squeals of my girls, he jumped against the wire enclosure and began to bark excitedly. The girls now sped ahead of the attendant and pasted themselves to the door of the cage, as did Kiss from his side of the wire.

"I guess that is pretty solid evidence that he is your dog," the attendant said, laughing pleasantly. "We have a few details to take care of and then we can release him to you."

The paperwork filled out and the small fee for his care paid, I ordered another ID tag for him and herded him to the car, followed by another herd of joyful girls who never stopped talking and laughing for a moment all the way home. Something told me they wouldn't be able to sleep that night, so we made it a night of popcorn and cocoa and staying up late. Kiss got a very special treat that night, too, although I had the distinct impression that all he really wanted
was to be back home with those he loved.


Kiss now lies at Katelyn's feet and is quite old. Katelyn is no longer the toddler she once was. Christmas is drawing near again and we are not sure he will live long enough to see it with us, but his tail still wags, albeit a lot more slowly now, when he hears a familiar voice or feels
an affectionate scratch behind his ear. As I sit and think back on those three Christmas seasons with a dog that was acting so strangely, I now think I have an inkling of what was happening then. I think he was being trained for a mission he
had to perform for one very special Christmas that was yet to come. And I reflect back, too, on that night so long ago when a small boy child lay in a hay-filled manger, with his parents near and the soft lowing of the animals that kept the room warmer for him. And when I think on these things, a lump develops in my
throat and my eyes cloud up and I thank God that I was blessed enough to have known such an incredible animal as Kiss. He is nothing, if not love incarnate. He is certainly one of God's most precious creatures.

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 January 2010 - 2:03am. | | | | | | |

Dec. 24, 2009 -- While saying my prayers last night, I reflected on how I needed to write a Christmas-oriented story for the collection of short stories I am currently writing. The answer, a gift to me, and now to you, came in a flash of insight. "Why not share your own conversion story and the best winter and best Christmas present you ever had?" I knew instantly that was the right answer. There are a few liberties with details, like the meeting with a stranger at the bus stop and the locale being in Michigan, but the rest of the story, regarding my friend Daniel and myself, is completely accurate, and even more amazing than the few details I shared here. The writing was done in one morning, this morning. God is amazing, isn't He? Here is His, and my, Christmas gift to you, before it comes out in the book The Visitor.

The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever

Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2009

"Greater love hath no man than this...."

'I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.'

Those were the words the old man used. A few years have passed since he and I sat and talked, but I now understand the words and the look in his eye as he spoke.
It was a day about like any other winter day in our area – cold, windy and generally miserable. I wouldn't even have been out in it, had it not been necessary to get a last minute Christmas gift. The last thing I wanted was to die of exposure to the weather in a Michigan winter. And yet, here I was, sitting at a bus stop in the frigid, unfriendly conditions that any sane individual would be avoiding like the plague. That's when he approached and sat on the bench next to me. He was of average height, weight and appearance, but there was a sense of happiness that was disarming in a strange way.

"Hello, young man, how are you this fine day?" He offered his hand, wrapped as it was in glove. A bit surprised, I offered mine in return before I had even processed the thought.
"As good as anyone can be on such a nasty day, I guess." I went back to looking for the bus and wondering if I would need to be thawed before I could get on it.

"Nasty? No, sir. It's a wonderful day to be alive. Any day this side of dirt is a good one."
I have to admit that I thought he might have been a bit addled to be so enthusiastic about such inclement weather conditions, but the world is full of all kinds, after all. We can't all be sane and well-adjusted. Yet, he continued.

"I take it you don't share my enthusiasm." His smile did not fade in the least.
"Well, no, I have never been one to enjoy winter that much. I would rather be inside with a hot cocoa and a good movie or book right now. Instead, I need to get a gift for my niece, if there are even any left when I get there." I snorted and huffed in disgust at the thought of the shelves being picked over or empty.

"I once felt as you do. Not anymore, though." He clapped his gloved hands together and looked about himself as if he were sitting on a park bench in the middle of new spring flowers. There was an unmistakable joy in his gaze and countenance. It made me wish I could share it, yet I could not even understand it. "It all changed one winter, just like this one. That winter was like a gift to me."
"Gifts...." I sniffed. "Well, this winter is no gift to me, that's for sure. I don't expect my last minute search will pay off, so I will have been out in the cold for nothing and my niece will still have no present of any real value."

"Value is in the eye of the beholder, son."
"Well, that may be, but the fact remains that I would rather be inside where it's warm. Why Jesus chose to be born in the middle of winter is beyond me."

At that the old man began to laugh. It was warm and infectious and somehow chased away the cranky feelings I had been expressing so openly to a stranger.
"Well, there is some debate as to the time of year he was born, but let me share a story with you while we wait...if that's alright with you?" He raised his eyebrows in anticipation of my answer.

"Sure, why not. I have nothing else to do until the bus comes." I was being polite. Pleasant or not, I wasn't convinced his story was going to make me feel any better.
"Alright, then. I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly and settled back on the bench as he began to weave his tale. It took only a moment to know that the story was real to him and I was drawn in, like an observer unseen and sitting in the darkness of a theatrical presentation. His words were heartfelt as he continued.

"As I said, it was a winter just like this one – the winter of 1971, as a matter of fact. I was an irresponsible, young rascal of the highest order." He snickered softly and you could sense that he saw again in his mind the scenes of that day. "I was wrapped up in sex, drugs and rock and roll. And I was on the path to eventual destruction, I am sure. And I was not alone in my drive to oblivion, either. Several friends, so-called, were sharing the view with me along that road. We were partiers, all of us. Hard partiers."
Suddenly, it was as if only he and I existed in the world at that moment. There was an utter and complete stillness that enveloped us. No traffic noises, no sounds at all, but for the voice of this one old man. Even my chattering teeth and heavy breathing had ceased to be noticable. I hung on every word this man spoke, unable to pry my attention from him.

"...so there we were, Dan and I, sitting at the kitchen table, high on LSD and rambling about some inane thing that we must have thought to be very clever and insightful at the time. That's when it happened...." He paused in a far-away gaze and sat silent with the hint of a smile on his face.
"What? What happened?" My voice seemed like a noisy intruder in the quiet that surrounded us.

"The Holy Ghost, son. Suddenly we were not alone anymore. We both knew it, too. There was no denying it for either of us. One moment we were just two stoned idiots sitting there talking and the next we had our minds blown totally by the presence of God." He chuckled again. "LSD is a powerful drug, but this...oh, this...this was something neither of us had ever experienced in our short and impetuous lives. It was every bit like a Klieg light in total darkness. It was as if someone had snapped on a switch and suddenly we were in a different realm, you know?"
Of course I didn't. There was no way I could, but I nodded and he continued. The strange thing is, I no longer thought him crazy. I should have, with a tale such as he was relating to me at the moment, but he was genuine in his belief that it had happened and, for some unknown and unexplainable reason, I could not disbelieve it either.

"God never takes away your personal moral agency, son. The question implied that night was, 'is it revelation or is it hallucination?' We both knew the answer to that one immediately. There was no denying that we both were experiencing the same event. No drug, no matter how powerful, does that. And this.....this was so much more powerful than the drug ever could have been. It eclipsed any drug-induced experience I or any man had ever had in the history of the world, I assure you. The feeling of pure and utter love was tangible, so thick you could cut it with a knife. It was like a big hug from someone you have a mutual love with." He stared off into space for a moment in private reverie before proceeding.
"The next several hours were spent in receiving revelation. If you have never felt pure intelligence pour into you, you have no concept of the exhilaration and joy that it brings. It was as if we were plugged into the great cosmic switchboard and suddenly knew things we had never even conceived of before. Just suddenly knew them to be true. And later they proved to be so, too."

He went on to relate how he and his friend, Dan, had sat there at that same table for hours more, each being alternately used by the Holy Ghost as a mouthpiece to teach these principles to one another. Things they never knew were being taught to them even as they spoke the words. I have to admit that if anyone but this man had been telling me the story, that is all I would have thought it to be -- a fanciful story, and nothing more. But this was not your average story, nor, it seemed, your average man.
"We then took a walk, as we were unable to sleep after such an event, as you can imagine. We saw the world in an entirely new and unique way that night. The snow on the ground and the ice that we stepped on. It was like the world was one huge ball of crystal and mankind was scratching and chipping it with his every step and movement...desecrating this Urim and Thummim the Lord had formed for our use."

The terms were unfamiliar to me, but I did not interrupt. I would look them up later. Surely, they had to be in the Bible or a dictionary. He proceeded.
"And then we were led back to the apartment we had so recently departed from. That was when the most amazing thing happened."

More amazing than anything yet? I did not interrupt this time. I didn't want to hear my own voice intruding in the midst of such a wondrous tale as I was hearing.
"We had been listening to many LP records when we visited that apartment. Some we had heard many times, but I have to tell you, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, things can take on a totally different meaning than you think them to be. And that is what happened that night to Dan and I. The LP was by a group called FREE and the title was Fire And Water. Do you see the analogy in that? The sense of humor God has?"

He waited but a second for my reply and I nodded my agreement.
"Oh, yes, he has a wonderful sense of humor, but he loves his children, too, and he showed us that night the error of our ways and the right path. We were instructed to place the needle on the record...you knew that they didn't always have CD's, right?" He grinned as I smiled back at the thought.

"The song was Heavy Load. It had this plodding, sad and heavy piano back-beat that was for all the world reminiscent of a man under the weight of sin and grief, dragging himself along a lonely and dismal road, with no companion but God, to whom he makes his complaint that he can go no further down, recognizing he has taken the wrong road in his life. As the song opens, Dan and I are suddenly pressed down under the unseen weight of our own sins and find ourselves lieing on the floor, sobbing with great, heaving gasps. As the last strains die out, the weight lifts and we are again free of that crushing pressure. We are allowed a short time to discuss the experience and are instructed to again repeat the song, with the same result. And a third time we are told to do the same thing. Each time it is the same. The same crushing weight of sin, the same crying in desperation and sorrow for our shortcomings. The same grief over our choices in life."
That this was not your average story was more than apparent now. It was the most engaging and intriguing story I had ever heard in my life. I could not help but believe it, regardless of how improbable and far-fetched it was. The man told it as any man would after living it personally. There was no denying the truth of it, even as a listener.

"I went from being missing from home a week or more at a time, to being home every night and reading the Bible. You can imagine how perplexed my parents must have been." Again he grinned and chuckled. "There had been a miraculous change in Dan and I. One minute neither of us knew if there was a God and the next minute we couldn't deny it. No, sir. Not for one second since that time. Personally, I believe God saved my life that night."
I was suddenly aware that I was no longer shivering from the cold. It was as if a warm blanket, fresh from the dryer, had been laid over me.

"Son, I learned that winter that there were more important things about Christmas than getting stoned and 'oooh-ing and ahhh-ing' over the pretty lights or laughing about silly and un-fulfilling frivolities. I learned that the greatest gift of all was given by God himself. He knew we had to have a way to get back to him, that we were in a fallen and unworthy state, but he loves us so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice. His own son paid a price that only a God could pay -- to buy us back from death and sin, if we would only accept the payment in our behalf and then live right." At this point, the old man turned to me and looked into my eyes with an intensity that almost burned.
"How would you feel if you knew someone had given his own life to save yours?"

The question hit like a ton of bricks. I was speechless at the thought. If I had done something so wrong and so heinous as to be punishable by death, or if I were in such perils as to need rescuing, how would I feel if my rescuer lost his life in saving mine? I would be devastated, thinking that another family was altered forever because of me. I would want to reach out and take care of their every need, in gratitude, in a feeling of indebtedness for the gift I had been given of my own life. How could I waste it from then on in selfish pursuits? And that's when it hit me; the true meaning of what the old man meant by his question. And that's also when I began to cry, with that same sobbing he had spoken of – that sense of despair and feeling of unworthiness, knowing that the Son of God had been given as a sacrifice for me, for my measly and insignificant life. For my self-centered, egotistical and so far meaningless existence.

The old man put a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. I was still crying like a baby, face in hands. It seemed forever until I could regather my composure. And when I looked at him again, dusk had passed, the street lights had come on and there was what appeared to be a halo around the man. To this day, I would not doubt he was an angel. Maybe not in the supernatural sense, but a messenger from God, nonetheless.

"Here's your bus, son. God bless you and have the best Christmas you ever had, alright?"

"Aren't you waiting for the bus, too?"

"Nope. I was waiting for you. That's my Christmas present."

I didn't know if he meant this had been his present to me or if sharing with me was like a present to him. It didn't matter. I thanked him and made as if to shake his hand when, without warning, he gave me a big bear hug and said, "God bless you, son. I love you and your Father in Heaven loves you." I swear I knew at that moment that this total stranger truly loved me for who I was. I knew it was a pure love, even as God has for me – for all his children.

'I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.'

I find myself saying these same words to my children and grandchildren, even to total strangers, to this day. And I always smile when I think of the man who said them first to me. I know that God sent that man out on that cold winter night to fix a heart that was twisted and broken; to set a lost wanderer onto the right road again. I have been led by that same Spirit many times myself since then. It never ceases to amaze me or to bring joy to my heart when I follow those promptings and see the miraculous change in others, for I know that I am helping God to bring peace to the world, one person at a time – one child of God, one brother or sister of mine that I never knew before then. There is no greater love than that which Christ gave for mankind those two millenia ago; no greater sacrifice. It is indeed the greatest Christmas gift ever.
God bless you all and may this Christmas be filled with the true meaning for you and your loved ones, that you may speak of it for years to come, as do I.

Here is a link to the song referred to in the story. Yes, it is a real song and it really was used by God to change my life. I hope you understand the message of it. I was like the prodigal son and so is the man in the song, except we never know if he is able to return from the choices he has made in life. Thanks to divine intervention, I was able to return to a Father who loves me.

Submitted by Melanie Goldmund on 14 December 2006 - 2:29am. | |

This is a story that I originally wrote for the Christmas party in my ward in the year 2004. It was supposed to be read out loud while people called spontaneously out of the audience acted it out in silence. I've made it less choppy and more literary.

This is a work of fiction. It is meant to be light-hearted entertainment. It is not meant to be a true or accurate representation of the pre-existence or any angel. Any resemblance to the real pre-existence or real angels is purely coincidental.

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