We picked Brandy out from a litter of squirming black Lab pups, battling over a dented metal pan of dog food. Right away she was different from the others. Instead of fighting over kibble, she wandered to the enclosure to see my husband, and I knew she was the one for us. Lyrics from the song “Brandy” went through my mind.
The sailors say “Brandy, you’re a fine girl”
“What a good wife you would be”
“Yeah your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea”
Brandy had Ghirardelli Chocolate eyes filled with trust. Indeed, she was a fine girl.
Early on we discovered Christmas was Brandy’s favorite time of year. Every year we hung unwrapped candy canes on our tree as part of our decorations. One evening we found Brandy circling the tree, alert, nose snuffling loudly. She searched the branches until she spotted a candy cane, gently pulled it off the tree and crunched away with pleasure. It became our Christmas ritual. The first day we decorated the tree we hid Brandy in another room. When the candy was hung on the tree we’d spring the door open and Brandy would bound joyfully into the room and head straight to the tree. She knew where we hid the good stuff.
Last Christmas there was no candy cane hunting. Brandy passed away from cancer the day after Thanksgiving. She hunted canes for fourteen years.
The day she died my husband and I wandered the aisles of our local Target store.Bright Christmas lights seemed out of place. The aisles were clogged with happy shoppers and Christmas tunes played over the speakers, but in my heart I was looking for that black wagging tail and goofy Lab grin. What I spotted instead was a box of candy canes. My chest tightened and sobs burned their way up my throat. I had to do something, anything to make something good come from the loss of our sweet puppy.
That was when I remembered a conversation I’d had with my sister. She’s a nurse for a juvenile detention center. She loves those girls like they are her own. We had been discussing how many of “her” girls had never experienced Christmas. Their holiday memories were full of physical and emotional abuse. What better way to give meaning to Brandy’s death than to honor her on her favorite holiday?
I got on the phone with my sister and between the two of us figured out one gift the girls would be permitted by the institution would be socks. My husband and I immediately headed to a Christmas bin overflowing with multicolored socks. Sadness turned to joy as we dug through piles of socks, trying to find the prettiest patterns, wondering if the girls would like them. Thirty pair of reindeer socks, dotted socks and red and green ornament socks later, our shopping cart was filled.
By this time the cloud lifted. I could almost feel Brandy’s slobbery kiss of approval.
Along with her pair of socks, each girl received a card stamped with the message: “You are Inscribed on the palm of his hand… Isaiah 49:16”
Brandy signed each card with a paw-print stamp.
When the socks arrived my sister gathered the girls together and told them Brandy’s story.
She said when something bad happened in your life, one way to defeat sad thoughts was to go out and do something good.
Weeks later we received many thank you cards from the girls.
The first card said: “Thank you for the socks. I’m gonna start doing what you do when I do something wrong I do something good. I did something wrong so when I get out I like to do something good so thank you for teaching me a good way to help people and get the guilt away. Samantha”
The second card I opened said “Thank you for the sock and I hope you feel good and I’m sorry about your dog. Love Alexis”
When I was reading the thank you cards my sister called. Before she distributed the packages that day, she told a short story about Christ and how He was the ultimate gift. One girl in particular hung back, did not want to participate. When the gifts were finally handed out, she waited until the crowd thinned, then handed her socks to my sister. “I don’t need socks, but can I keep this card?”
The message in the card meant more to her than a new pair of socks.
You see, these girls have experienced the most raw parts of life, they have seen and heard things that no young woman should see or experience. Some of them are cutters, mutilating themselves to try to get some relief from the pain of their lives. That is why when the greatest gift ever given, God who came down as a baby, says He has them inscribed on the palms of His hands, well, they know exactly how that could be. They know He took their pain upon Himself.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands…” Isaiah 49:15-16
This Advent Season let’s celebrate the greatest Gift of all, from the One who knows us, even from the womb.