Picture with me a snowy, blustery Christmas Eve. The carolers have gone to their homes. Scrumptious meals send aromas wafting out chimneys. Shouts of joy for happily-met hopes pour from the voices of children while opening their presents. For some, their dreams have been answered. Church bells cut through the darkness, welcoming worshippers to the services.

The Animal Hospital on Main Street, adorned with brightly-colored lights, is finally closing. It has been a long day for the weary and dedicated staff. Gathering up leftover sugar cookies from today’s party, many exit the back door. “Merry Christmas!” “You, too!” Jennifer, a staff assistant, thinking she is the last to leave, moves toward the front door to latch it, just as it slowly opens. Standing in the swirling snow is a bedraggled young man, holding a puppy shivering against his greasy, grimy coat. With a quivering voice, he utters, “I hope you can help me. My dog is so sick.” Jennifer opens the door wider. “Come in.” She takes her coat off, and moves purposefully behind a desk. “What is your dog’s name?” “His name is, um, his name is Knucklehead.” “And, what is your name?” “My name is Lonnie. I work at the junkyard outside of town. Knucklehead keeps me company. I sure hope you can help him.” Quiet desperation fills the empty room that had been so alive not long ago with yelping sounds and dangling leashes.

Jennifer took Knucklehead from Lonnie’s loving grasp and went into the examination room. To her surprise one of the doctors was still finishing his paperwork. Together they began an impromptu examination of their limp, sickly companion. Lonnie waited, hungry, tired and alone. He stared at the floor, prayerfully. Church bells continued to accompany his reverie. Twenty minutes later Jennifer took a seat next to Lonnie. She softly said, “We believe Knucklehead has parvovirus, a disease of the intestines. I invite you not to worry–we’ll take good care of him. We’ll give him lots of fluids and also antibiotics. He needs to stay with us for at least a week.” Lonnie rubbed his forehead. He could not look up. He mumbled, “I don’t have much money, and…” Jennifer interrupted. “Don’t worry about the money. We will talk about that later. Please come back in one week. You can also call me to see how Knucklehead is doing. Here’s my card with my name and telephone number on it.”

During that week Lonnie pawned his old pickup truck to pay for the Animal Hospital bill. One week, to the day, Lonnie returned. The Christmas lights surrounding the doorframe were still blinking. “Knucklehead is much better,” said Jennifer. “Here are some medications with instructions on how you must give them to him.” Lonnie fumbled in his old, shaggy jeans pocket for the money from the sale of his pickup. Jennifer placed her hand on his and said once again, “We can talk about money later.”

Lonnie was so overwhelmed with gratitude, and with a belief that Christmastime is full of miracles, he went to the local newspaper and told them his story: how he had gone to the Animal Hospital unannounced, five minutes before closing on Christmas Eve, and how they had cured his puppy. He cried when he told them. The newspaper printed his story with a picture of Lonnie and Knucklehead on the front page.

Folks began calling the Animal Hospital and the newspaper to donate clothing and money for Lonnie, and give praise to the clinic. One man read about the story on an animal website. A five-year-old girl, with a gentle spirit, came by the Hospital to give three dollars for Knucklehead’s bill. It was money she had received for Christmas. Another man searched endlessly to find Lonnie’s pawned pickup truck, and repurchased it for him. Two exciting days later, Jennifer called Lonnie. “You had better come to the hospital. We have lots of stuff for you!”

Upon arriving at the Hospital, he was led to a back room full of blankets, clothes and an ample amount of money. Jennifer looked compassionately at Lonnie. “All this is yours. It is for you.” Silence filled the room. Lonnie could barely find words or sound. “Well, I could use a blanket or two, and…I guess…some clothes. I want you to keep the money and give it to someone who can’t pay their bill.”

Each Christmas I picture Lonnie kneeling at the stable, holding a healthy puppy close to his grimy coat, grateful for another miracle.

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