A Soldier’s Angel – Part 2

(If you missed Part 1, here’s the link: Part 1)

Twenty eight year old William Patrick Cosgrove had been one of six handpicked for sniper training in the 4th brigade combat team, then qualified into the elite hundred for the entire 82nd Airborne Division. He had been twice decorated for heroism before that fateful September day in 2012. He was leading the team as they patrolled an area known to be heavily rigged with IEDs. With them was a beagle that never left his side.

“She ran into camp from over the hill, and made a bee-line directly to Will, and jumped up and down, barking and whining, as if she’d been looking for him and was so happy to find him. It was the damnedest thing,” recalled a friend of Cosgrove. “Then she’d never leave his side, and he named her ‘Angel’ – we assumed because he thought she was his guardian angel. In fact, Will placed the angel medallion from his necklace on her collar.  Only later did we learn the real reason, or at least the ‘rest’ of the story.”

Angel had clearly been trained in explosives detection. She’d warned them countless times of traps, and would literally go berserk at the hint of acetone peroxide. She was drawn to him and they bonded immediately, likely saving him and many team-members, dozens of times.

But that day there was no acetone peroxide , and no one suspected the cart full of sticks had so much dynamite underneath.  But they recognized the words shouted as the teenager pulling the cart waved to the approaching soldiers.

*****

Specialist Cosgrove’s wife Katie had just returned from T-ball practice with her sons Billy and Brian, and she scrambled to get the big dinner fixed before people started arriving. Her daughter Lindsey turned 6 today and the in-laws would join them after they picked her up from gymnastics. It had been such a hectic week.

Katie had grown so close to Will’s parents who had been such a big help, with him off on his second tour. They ran errands, helped cook, watched the kids, and had even taken their dog to the vet last year for a check-up and shots.

That had been such a horrible day for everyone.  Since William Sr. had also been military, his base privileges included vet services, so he had taken Angel over to Ft. Bragg.  Katie was so well trained, she was almost never on leash.  After the exam, William Sr. opened the door, and as he fumbled with his cane, she bolted out as if she had seen a ghost.  The dog took off running and never even looked back.  They all assumed she had seen a uniform in the distance and ran off towards who she thought was Will.

Katie knew William would be devastated to find his dog gone, but after 6 months, they’d just about given up hope.  Angel looked like every other pitbull and although nobody said it, everyone knew she’d been euthanized in some shelter between Goldston and Ft. Bragg.  As bad as they all felt, William Sr. was simply devastated.

God, how she missed that dog – Katie used to talk to her as if she was Will. Something about her was Will, the way she looked up at her, the way she was always there when Katie or one of the kids needed a hug, she just seemed to sense their emotions.

As Katie looked down at the empty corner where she always lay, she smiled and said wistfully, “You’re the worst dog ever!” But then she felt guilty, even though he used to always say that. Because she wasn’t, she was the best dog ever. Maternal misgivings about having a pit-bull around the kids were quickly forgotten, and everyone in the family considered her their best friend. William was going to be be so upset. As she turned the frying chicken, Katie drifted off to the day they adopted her.

Their oldest child had just turned 9 when William decided a dog would fit into their family. He had always had dogs as a child and so wanted the kids to grow up with them. Katie hated the thought – jumping up and scratching everyone’s legs, shedding on the floor, and demanding to be walked, and so she resisted as long as she could. The family had planned a wonderful weekend at the beach, and drove the two hours from Goldston to the Outer Banks the Friday before his first tour to Afghanistan. William had the whole thing planned, they were staying at a condo his high school friend offered, and he knew exactly where the Humane Society was, just outside Raleigh. She rolled her eyes as he pulled into the parking lot, with really no objection. She had been expecting it for such a long time.

But Katie had been expecting a Beagle puppy, not an adult Pit Bull. As the gate to the kennel run opened, the dog actually jumped into Lindsey’s tiny lap, whining and crying as if they were long-lost friends. The boys agreed, the decision had been made. No-one  was surprised when William announced her name, ‘Angel.’ ”  He pulled out his necklace and kissed the two medallions, a crucifix and an angel.  I’ll be gone a while, its just perfect; She’ll be your ‘guardian,’ your protector.”

*****

The knock at the door startled her. Katie assumed it was the in-laws and Lindsey. Suddenly she realized that she hadn’t wrapped Lindsey’s present.

“Come on in!” she shouted from the kitchen, stashing the unwrapped gift under the counter, but not wanting to leave the frying pan on the stove. At the second knock, she dashed towards the door, but froze at the sight through the living room window. Katie fell to her knees at the sight of the two dress uniforms standing on her front porch.

“No! No!” she screamed on the floor of the foyer.

As the chaplain heard this, he considered opening the door, and then saw Groves parents pull into the driveway. Tears trekked down the face of William Senior realizing immediately the news these men must bear. The woman in the passenger seat wept uncontrollably as the confused child in the back seat kept asking her what was wrong.

*****

I suppose we’ll never know how or why Angel made the 700 mile, 2 year journey from Ft. Bragg.  Or the pain surrounding her filed off canine teeth.  Or how or why His divine Providence directs so much of our lives.  But I’m quite certain that He does.  The bittersweet joy at their reunion would be surreal.  But these “gifts left behind” give us great comfort.  When I say, “Thank God” for something, I really mean it.

And some things we do know.  But we all know why William Patrick Cosgrove Sr. was in his car and drove all night to Orlando.  When my clients met us here early that morning with Angel, we unraveled the whole story together.  When Will’s father shared the part about the medallion, two faces drained of color as the boy reached from his pocket.  “This was around her neck when we picked her up off the street,” he said as he opened his hand.

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ed. note:  The names in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.  Also, when Angel and William Sr. arrived back in NC, although Katie was stunned by the co-incidences and symbolism, she said the medallion Angel wears (still) is not the same one her husband wore around his neck.

Perhaps they looked different, but I’m not convinced.

Much Love.

A Soldier’s Angel – Part 1

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The poor dog should have weighed about 55 or 60 pounds, but was just shy of 40 and looked pitifully up at me with a hesitant tail-tap against the exam table. I could see her ribs, her backbone, and the large mass on her breast. The only thing missing was Sara MacLaughlin singing in the background.

My client and her son had been driving through a “rough” part of Orlando, just off OBT where the “social workers” regularly walk in the evenings. They had just cleaned an office-building and were on the way home when they saw her dodging the early morning traffic.

“Be careful!” she shouted to her son as he darted out the car door to see if she wanted a ride, or if she would run away, or even try to bite when he approached. Apparently he didn’t even need to catch her – when she saw his door open, she swaggered over to him and just paused, too weak to even jump into the car. She sat in his lap as they drove off, incessantly whining and licking his face.

I typically don’t charge for these office calls, I do a cursory exam and relieve suffering, whatever I can do that doesn’t cost me too much. So the exam and check for worms was pro bono – if they could be such Good Samaritans, it was the least I could do. They paid for the heartworm test (negative result was shocking), and the deworming, when I determined she was full of roundworms and hookworms (not shocking).

The son was explaining to his mom that based on the condition and number of scars on this poor dog, she had undoubtedly  been used as a “baiting” dog.  In the lovely parts of our culture where dogfights are popular, dogs such as this are used as “bait” dogs.  She was very sweet, and as such, certainly wouldn’t be a fighter.  Dogs like this would be thrown into the practice ring to be destroyed by the others, developing their bloodlust.  I was horrified when I parted her gums to discover that, indeed, her canine teeth had been filed off flat, to render her unable to defend herself or injure one of the valued champion fighters.  He was probably right – she had indeed been a bait dog, and somehow escaped to the streets.

We always run the microchip scanner on new adult and found pets, and (this is a surprise) – She HAS a microchip!

You can imagine my mixed emotions when the the reader displayed an identification number.  This pet was brought in by someone willing to step up and take care of this poor, abused, suffering creature, but historically, I’ve always done my best to contact the registered owner.

But sometimes there is no registered owner, or current address.  When someone has me chip their pet, I am EMPHATIC that they immediately call the chip registry and do this.  A chip is just a number, and is completely worthless if it doesn’t point back to the owner.

And such was the case.  We called the chip registry who could only inform us that this numbers was one of a lot provided to the Veterinary Clinic at Ft. Bragg, in North Carolina.  This dog had belonged to one of our soldiers!

As our nation’s birthday celebration neared, this story was beginning to take on an air that nobody could have imagined.  My finger trembled a bit as I called the army base clinic number I had found on the internet.  The rollercoaster paused as the staff-sergeant explained that this soldier had only come in once, in 2010, and they didn’t even know if he was active duty anymore.  They only showed vaccinations, a microchip ID, and that her name was, “Angel.”

There were so many possibilities.  Had the dog been lost or stolen, and used in fighting, while he was stationed somewhere else?  Is he in Afghanistan or Iraq?  Had he been injured or killed?

Or was she lost and roaming the streets at all?  Could she have just been on the street next to the house she thinks is home?  All soldiers aren’t heroes.  Did he even lose this dog?  Worse yet, is he involved in dog fighting?  How could we even know?  Michael Vick seemed respectable enough before that evidence came out.

I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Besides, her name was “Angel,” and it would make a beautiful reunion if he had lost her.  As horrified and nauseous as I was at the alternative possibility, I pursued some connections.  I had filled in for a year as a civilian Air Force Veterinarian at Patrick AFB and knew a few people, so I called to see if someone there could locate him and reach out.

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Angel and her foster family left me that day so anxious and curious, I was a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t be working on the 4th, and so had to wait.

On the fifth of July, my friends on the base called back with the news.  I could never have anticipated what I would discover over the next few weeks.

 

A Good Day, Profiles in Virtue #1

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I never thought I’d see Dean again, or at least for quite a while.  I’d diagnosed osteosarcoma bone cancer in his beloved bloodhound’s leg about a month ago, and after we said goodbye to her, he floated off in a sea of tears.  I’m always touched by a man who feels comfortable sharing emotion while dealing with life’s difficult decisions.  Dean had carried some of his own medical issues, and had lost an eye on that journey.  So I was so very happy to see his face when I entered the exam room last Tuesday, embracing a new dog.  He shared his story.

“Doc, you know I was pretty tore up about ol’ Dolly.  I swore I could never get another dog again.  It just hurts so  much when you have to say goodbye.”

I nodded because I know that feeling well.  Clearly I didn’t need to share my wisdom about love and loss.

“Dolly had been such a good friend to me, through such tough times, the surgery and everything.  She just seemed to know when I needed someone to hug.”

“The good years we shared, and the unconditional love she showed me, that was so much bigger than my pain when I had to put her down.”

“I woke up one morning with a big ol’ smile on my face, and I went down to the shelter.  I told them I wanted to adopt an old dog, one that was sweet, but would probably never get adopted, because they weren’t cute.”

“When she saw me, she ran over to the front of the cage, jumped up and down, turned around and around, and whined and barked, like the army guy returning home from deployment, and his dog sees him and does all this; it was like it was Dolly, so glad to see me again.”

“The family who walked into the shelter when I did, saw all the commotion,  and changed their mind.  They didn’t want a puppy anymore.  They asked to see an older dog too”

My “brother” Dean had adopted this dog on what was to be her last day.  She was to be euthanized at 5:00.  This dog appeared to be “nothing special.”  She was 8 years old, Dolly’s age, and just a plain, regular, old dog.  She was not a cute puppy.  This dog would never have been adopted.

Indeed, she had been saved.  Likely a mutual arrangement.

I could see my technician looking at me, knowing how I loved stories like this.  I realized that I hadn’t said anything in minutes, and was smiling from ear to ear.  I reached out my hand.  “Dean, you’re my hero today.  Thanks for ending my day like this.  Thanks for being you.”  I left the room doing the Snoopy “happy dance.”

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People don’t suck.  I am truly humbled by people on days like these.  People are awesome, and this is just another example of why we were put here.

So what makes a good day anyway?  The bank teller or bagger at the grocery story says, “Have a good day.”

What, exactly, does that mean?

I’ve always told my children that a day is completely wasted if we haven’t learned something, positively influenced someone, or been positively influenced by someone.  These things truly change the world.

Think of this.  Such a simple action.  Such an act of love.  We have no idea how many people we touch every day.  Clearly, this dog’s life was impacted, but what about us?  What about the family next to Dean who decided to get a different, likely un-adoptable, older dog.  What about the shelter girl, who cried as she wrote up the paperwork?  How did she know this dog likes to chase tennis balls? IMG_8563[1]

What about my employees, and the ten other clients in my waiting room.  What about those reading this blog post?  When we think no one else is looking, the entire world probably is.

What about the man looking at Dean in the mirror at the end of the day?  What about someone else, looking down and smiling.  Our actions always matter.

Yes, this was a good day.

Much Love.

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What I learned about my father from a Jewish Girl

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I look back at college days at Mizzou and think I was a pretty typical frat boy.  But I was never really that typical.  Once, when everybody else was trying to get the hookup talking about classes and what they do for fun, I distinctly remember talking to Diane Bau about theology.  I suppose it’s not a surprise to any of you that this was never an area I considered taboo, even with a Jewish girl.

So we were about four beers into our TGIF mixer, and I vividly recall her astonished look when she repeated what I had just revealed to her.  “Seriously? You think you should be good because you don’t want to go to hell?  That’s why you try to avoid sin?”  I thought it was a good thing.  And admirable.  And I was apparently proud that I was considered myself “religious.”  And considered myself pretty righteous, in the midst of all these jerks that just wanted to get laid.  I was better than that.  Haha, right.  I puffed my chest out and was a hypocritical Pharisee.  I’ll leave that alone for now, because at 19, of course I wanted that also.

Anyway, she was simply incredulous, and genuinely fascinated that this was a Christian’s philosophy.  I asked her why that was so surprising.  I was proud that I believed in God and hell, and therefore wanted to do what was right.  She looked at me with deep, dark olive eyes and said, “So the reason you try to be good is because of fear?  Why not be good out of lovebecause God is your Father and He loves you, and that’s why you love Him?”  I don’t remember whether I was surprised, or embarrassed, or oblivious, but I do remember that conversation like it was yesterday.

So here’s the funny part of the story.  I dated Diane Bau for weeks before I learned that she had an identical twin (and I do mean identical!).  I did think she was pretty moody sometimes, and really, really acted differently on some dates, but I pretty much wrote that off because she was just drop-dead gorgeous in an exotic, ethnic kind-of way.  Anyway, about the time I really started digging her (them), she (they) informed me that she (they) was kind-of into me also, so she (they) really should stop going out because I wasn’t a Jewish guy.  I was kind-of (really) insulted.  This was my first experience of being discriminated against because of my professed religion.

But here’s the deal.. The girl was right.  I was catechized by a Jewish Girl.  Truly this is the essence of our relationship with our heavenly Father.  And since today is Father’s Day, it does seem like a pretty cool day to remember this story.

This is also “Trinity” Sunday, and I imagine the three of them looking down at Earth, and the Father saying with such disappointment, “They still don’t get it.  They simply don’t understand how much we love them.  He looked over at His Son and motioned down to us and said,  “One more time.  This time let’s not just tell them about our how we want them to live, lets show them how to live, how to love.  Let’s show them what love is.  Our Father motioned over to Jesus and explained, “You go down and love them.  Show them how much I love them, what love is.”

Diane was right.  It never would have worked out.  Her “father” would not have approved of me.  Although I was surrounded by it all of my life, I realized it, what love “is” much later in life.  I never really knew my father when I was growing up.  Either of them.  I do now.  And how much he loved me, they both love me, in ways I only now can understand.

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Pentecost with Cullen – Speaking in Tongues in Haiti

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Yesterday was Pentecost, which will always remind me of this story:
The next morning found us walking a hot dusty road to the school that served the entire area. Hundreds of children wore blue plaid uniforms that were crisp and clean. Amazing. They take great pride, we were told, in sending their children to school clean and well put together, as a form of family pride. The children were all over us, but especially Noah and Cullen. I doubt they had ever seen white children before, and everyone wanted to hold hands and touch their strait hair. We arrived as they were beginning religion class, and were asked if we wanted to read to them out of our bibles; Pastor Beau and Kirby would interpret, line at a time. I was a bit embarrassed to realize that I didn’t know an appropriate passage to look up and read. I remembered the time Jesus was inundated with children, and the disciples were upset with them, sending them away, to which Jesus replied, “Let the children come.” How I wished I could remember where that was, because it seemed so appropriate now, as we were each about 50 deep with these beautiful children. So I blindly opened the book, initially disappointed to not have the Holy Spirit guide me to that very verse. Beau was interpreting each phrase, with the animation that would have looked like he was using sign language.

Soon my voice cracked as I read aloud the passage that I had turned to, Mark 9:36

36 And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Not exactly the verse I was looking for, but even better – I’m pretty sure my opening the book here was no accident. (By the way the “Let the little children come” verse was actually amazingly close to where I had opened to (Mark 10:13)

Life is sometimes funny, and humility is so much more beautiful than pride.

I turned from my exuberant group, all jumping up and down and shouting for me to notice them, to the other side of the room to tell Cullen what a cool “coincidence” it was for me to “find” that verse, and I was stunned. Cullen’s group were all silent, staring intently at him, captivated by something. I moved through dozens of children to get closer. Instead of interpreting every his every line, Kirby was standing staring at Cullen also. I have no idea what verses he was reading, but one thing was clear. My son was reading out of his English bible, but the words that came out of his mouth were in Haitian Creole. My eyes then met Kirby’s, as we both mouthed the same word, “Wow.”

From then on I got it. I’ll never be the same.

(This is a shortened repost of a two part Recollection from last year of time spent on mission in Haiti. For the full version, click here).

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 15 Remembering the Greatest in France

Originally posted on Not Alone on my Camino:

French folks have quite a reputation for being rude.  Last year, I noticed the Spanish so obliging that I felt humbled.  If they didn’t speak another’s language, they did what they could to communicate and be so very helpful.

Now, reputation aside, what I have discovered here is an extremely friendly France.  No one has uttered an unkind or rude comment (not that I would know!), and frankly, I’ve felt quite welcome here, especially by the older folks in the country.  I even noticed a kind of excitement when they heard my accent.  The expression, “A Yank!” or “Yaunkey!” wasn’t with disdain, as a pejorative, but rather a bit of “Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here.”

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But how could this be so?  Clearly, it wasn’t because of the money I’ve been dropping here.  The pilgrim travels in an austere fashion, often sleeping in an alberge for 12€ a night.  Could…

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Join my 2014 Camino – La Voie du Marie

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Follow my 2014 Camino to Lourdes at http://www.caminowithcullen.wordpress.com

Originally posted on Not Alone on my Camino:

Fourteen year old Bernadette Soubirous was the poorest of the poor.  Her father was unemployed, having been pushed out of his job as modern advances made his profession obsolete.  The entire family of six existed in the single room that had years ago been abandoned as unfit for the village’s jailhouse.  The stench of the town’s overflowing sewage was overpowering, but the family was literally destitute, and at least had a room together where they could huddle around the fireplace.  Bernadette had been sick much of her entire life, with her asthma resulting in chronic respiratory disease.  Malnutrition, the cold weather, and lack of medical care was taking its daily toll on her.  She had missed more days of school than she had attended, and as such could barely read, the homely girl was labeled “simple” by her teachers, and teased as “stupid” by her classmates.  She was poor white trash of her day.

The story would feel uncomfortably…

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