By K.J. Houtman
It was Westin’s 10th birthday. First, a youth football game in the morning. Afterwards, his parents asked him to pick where he’d like to go for lunch.
“McDonald’s,” he replied.
Mom moaned. But they had asked. “Okay. Let’s go.”
So Mom and Dad loaded up the three kids, Westin’s younger sister age seven and little brother, just two. They didn’t drive to the usual McDonald’s near the football field. They kept driving and kept driving. The older kids exchanged looks from the back of the mini-van.
“Where are we going?” Westin finally asked. More than a half-an-hour later they arrived in due course at a distant McDonald’s and had their lunch.
Without indicating a surprise was around the corner, the family hopped in the van after lunch and proceeded to drive for ten more minutes. But try as they might to act nonchalant, the adults were trying to follow difficult winding, turning directions to get them around Lake Minnetonka.
Then a bridge lay ahead of them. The directions indicated to proceed straight ahead even though the orange and white barricade read, “No Thru Traffic.”
“Why are we driving home this way?” Westin asked from his seat in the back, but a moment later, they pulled into a scenic driveway as the leaves were falling from the trees and accumulating in a thick blanket on the driveway.
I stood there waiting for them with Mo on a leash.
Mo is a one-year-old Springer Spaniel. Our nephew, Colton, just before he became a high school senior, brought Mo home from a youth mission trip to Alaska. Somehow, an entire litter was on that bus ride back to Wisconsin!
Downside, at least for our nephew? The parents didn’t know anything about it—and wouldn’t approve. Colton’s mom is into horses. Lots of horses. His dad had just drawn the line: no more animals! Besides, cute as he was, both parents travel a lot and wouldn’t be around for all the work of training a new puppy. And an 18-year-old isn’t home enough to manage a young puppy’s training or bladder habits. At least that’s what we saw at Christmas when we were there for a visit a few weeks later. That’s when we stepped in.
As devout dog lovers, especially hunting dogs, and folks that loved our nephew and brother and sister-in-law a ton, we offered a deal. Since I work from a home office, I would work on housebreaking and training this pup. When Colton graduated from high school in June and got his own place to live, he could have his dog back.
While the nephew was a little sad about the deal, he realized he just wasn’t giving the little guy enough time and it was the right thing to do. The brother and sister-in-law were THRILLED.
Several months go by. The dog, Mo, does just fine on his training. While he might not be the brightest bulb on the tree (okay, we sometimes nicknamed him “Slow Mo”), he was absolutely the sweetest dog in the world. His love quotient made up for his lack of intellectual quotient. Most of his training was progressing nicely, save “come” which was probably the most important and still quite illusive. However, Mo showed one trait that could pose a problem. Mo really wanted to be with people. Like … attached at the hip kind of with. How would he do with a 19-year-old going to college and working full-time and living in a small apartment? Time would tell. But I brought it up for Colton to think about.
“This dog has a tender heart, Colton, and he loves kids,” I told him. “I hope you’re planning to get married young and have kids in the near future. This dog was meant to take care of a family.”
June came and so did his high school graduation. Because Colton received an offer to back-pack through Europe with a friend for a month or two, that pushed back taking Mo from June to August. Then followed a decision to work with an orphanage in Haiti for three months. Can’t take a puppy there. So with a sad heart, for he truly loved his little Mo, our nephew realized he was not in a place or stage in life that he could do right by Mo. It was time to let him go. I knew Mo would be happiest with a family with children. Mo just loved kids. We are empty-nesters, but anytime a friend’s grandkids were along or we were camping at a campground, Mo was thrilled when he was touched and petted by the kids. There wasn’t an aggressive bone in this dog’s body. He would watch longingly as the kids rode their bikes past. He just wanted to be with them. The kids felt his magnet pull, too, as many of them would stop by and ask to pet our dog. They wanted to be with Mo just as much as he wanted to be with them.
So I started putting out the word we needed a home for Mo. Randy, a Lake Minnetonka dockworker, was my first call.
I’ve known Randy over the years as the guy that takes our neighbor’s dock in and out. We do our own dock work, but if I needed a dock guy, Randy would be a good one. Usually, Randy had two Springer Spaniels in tow, but the previous year one had passed. That left him with Carly, a lovely Springer female, and Randy was eying this young pup in my care.
“New dog?” he asked as Carly and Mo were making friends by the lake.
“No, my nephew’s,” I told him.
Randy petted Mo and watched him play with Carly. He called him over and smiled as Mo sat waiting for more attention from this dog-lover. “Keep me posted on what happens with this dog,” he told me. “He’s sure a nice dog and would be a great companion for Carly.”
I was hesitant. Randy didn’t have kids. I just knew that Mo would be happiest in a family.
Even so, I called Randy once Colton’s decision was made. “We need a forever home for Mo,” I told him.
Soon after, he stopped by for more dock work next door and said that he’d been chatting about Mo with a business acquaintance. Seems the friend said he and his wife were ready to look for a dog. Their golden retriever had died two years ago and that was about the time the third baby was born. It was kind of a hectic time to add a puppy into the mix, so they decided to wait a little bit. Now the baby was two and the older kids seven and ten. And Westin’s birthday was coming up. They were contemplating a dog for his birthday surprise.
When the family piled out of the mini-van and said hello, the dad turned to his oldest son and said, “That’s your dog, Westin.”
I’ll never forget the look on that 10-year-old’s face. It was of complete and utter joy. He was thrilled—and it showed in every pore—every ounce of his being.
“Happy Birthday!” Mom and Dad added.
“Really? For me?” Westin answered. “Oh my goodness. I don’t need anything else. Anything at all.”
I’ll admit that I cried a few tears that afternoon as they pulled away. I’d grown rather fond of that little guy and since it had taken several weeks of networking for this family to emerge, I had toyed with the idea that we would keep Mo ourselves. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye, but Colton and I both learned a lesson. Sometimes doing the right thing for someone else means leaving a little hole in your own heart. If that’s what it takes to give sheer joy and happiness to this family—I’m glad to have done my part.
When I think on how Westin and Mo paired up as boy and dog, it reminds me of the creativity our Heavenly Father. Isn’t it amazing how he puts people in the right places at the right times to accomplish his good pleasure? From Alaska to Wisconsin to our house to Randy the dock guy to Westin’s dad to Westin. It may have been a circuitous route, but I can’t think there was anything but God’s divine plan in uniting this family with this dog. When I checked in with the family a few weeks later to see how everything was going, the Dad informed me Westin was going to take his Firearms Safety Training and he was going to get back into hunting. Hadn’t been since he was a teenager. But with a sweet bird dog like Mo in their family—and hunting being something he could do together with his son—it was the perfect time to pick it back up.
As I contemplate Mo’s story I realize that nothing is too hard for our Heavenly Father. He can capitalize on opportunity or be flexible. He is the ultimate provider of plan-Bs or plan-Cs. The ultimate paradox. He has a firm plan for all of us in the gift of Grace from our Savior. And yet, he gives plenty of plan-Bs or plan-Cs if we miss a trail marker or two along the way.
Like when the angel came to Mary and asked if she would be the one. She said yes, according to your will. And Joseph, too, was willing to do as God had asked. I think of the circuitous route from Galilee to Bethlehem to Jerusalem to Egypt and then back again. He will surely lead us on a circuitous route for us to find our way to Him. It’s called a lifetime. And if we follow the allow ourselves to be guided by his directions the ultimate reward awaits at its end.
I want my days to be in-sync with God’s good purpose and according to His will. Help me Lord to see your plan and your purpose today. Help me listen to you and follow your way.
K.J. Houtman is the author and publisher of Fish On Kids Books—chapter books for kids who enjoy fishing, camping and hunting. If you’d like to enjoy more of Houtman’s work, visit the Fish On Kids Books site at: http://fishonkidsbooks.com/ChapterBooksKidsFishHunt.html.