In honor of Memorial Day, this post is dedicated to the men and women who bravely served our country, yet never got to come home. Perhaps someone will read this post today and say, “Come home,” to someone who has been waiting to hear those words. Tomorrow may not allow the same opportunity.
Whether you like dogs or not, it does not matter.
Whether you have witnessed a tornado or you haven’t, it does not matter.
This story is about a dog and a tornado, but there is more to it than that.
There is much more to it than that.
This story is about coming home. And there is not one person in the entire world that does not need to hear these words at least one time in his or her life.
If you find yourself here today, there is a reason.
I invite you to seek that reason within the words that I write today.
*Out of respect for these individuals, names have been changed.
I have been heavily focused on the incredible survivors of the April 27th tornados that left a wake of destruction and suffering in the state in which I reside.
I can’t stop the tears when I see the indescribable damage and loss in my community that will take years and years to repair, and may still never be the same.
I can’t stop the tears when I hear the astonishing stories of survival that people miraculously lived to tell.
And for some reason the story of Shelby The Dog has left a lasting impression on me.
This is Shelby’s story, yet it is more than a dog story, and it is more than a tornado story. It is a story we all need to hear…
In the wake of the destructive tornado on April 27th, my husband, Scott, chose to be trained as a leader of an UMCOR Early Response Team. His UMCOR team was among the first to assist tornado survivors at the location of their home, or in some cases, where their home used to be.
Before his team could help clear debris and sift through the wreckage to find valuable family mementos, the team was required to obtain permission from the homeowner.
Through this initial conversation with the owner, my husband was granted an invitation into the most painful, horrific, and miraculous stories of survival and faith.
I will never forget the night my husband came home and told me the story of Mr. Frank*.
Mr. Frank lived in a remote, rural area north of Tuscaloosa. He lived on a meandering country road that held five long-standing homes. All the homeowners were related to each other, except for Frank and his wife, Betty*.
In preparation of the EF5 tornado predicted for his area, Mr. Frank and Betty went to a designated tornado shelter. This decision undoubtedly saved their lives, as all five houses on their road were leveled by the mile-wide tornado. Tragically, the lives of several of his beloved neighbors were taken.
Mr. Frank had not been able to take his dogs with him to the shelter. Thus, the first thing he did upon return to his demolished home was look for his two dogs.
He immediately found one that did not survive the storm. His other dog, Shelby, could not be located.
Mr. Frank and his wife returned to the site of their desecrated home each day. Despite being in a state of shock, they were forced to comb through the massive heap of rubble in an attempt to recover a mere shred of something valuable from their past.
But there was just one thing Mr. Frank was desperate to find. He wanted to find Shelby, dead or alive; he just wanted to know where she was.
Then one morning, five days after the dog had been carried away by the storm, Mr. Frank got down on his knees and prayed for the return of his dog. He was willing to accept if the dog was dead; he just wanted his dog back.
A few hours later, a small black dot appeared just on top of the hill that overlooked Mr. Frank’s house.
It was Shelby.
With an unbelievable amount of strength after the trauma she had endured, she came running down the hill into her master’s open arms.
Mr. Frank was not able to tell my husband that story without crying. He surmised that Shelby had ridden the storm for miles and miles. Wherever that storm took her required at least a five-day journey to return home.
She was now more than simply “Shelby The Dog.” She was now famously known as “Shelby The Miracle Dog.”
As Mr. Frank lovingly held Shelby in his arms against the background of mass destruction that surrounded him, you could easily see he was holding much more than simply a dog he loved.
Mr. Frank was holding his living, breathing, tangible sign of hope. Despite all odds, Shelby was alive; Shelby came home.
If you are like me, you have tears in your eyes right now. For some reason, this story causes me to become very emotional every single time I think about it.
I do like animals, but it’s not like I am a huge dog lover. For several weeks, I tried to figure out why this story meant so much to me. These questions haunted me:
Why did you write, “Dog flying in tornado came home” in your writing notebook and circle it in red pen?
Why have you been waking up at night feeling the need to tell the world about Shelby?
Why does this story mean so much?
I did not know the answer…until yesterday.
Yesterday I had a vivid flashback to my senior year in high school. I was sitting on my bed and my mom came in the room to talk to me.
(Keep in mind, I was not the easiest teenager. I was in the stage where I only allowed my parents minimal interaction with me, was not overly friendly, and appeared annoyed by anything they had to say.)
Yet, despite the fact that I was a self-centered, difficult brat, I was not so self-absorbed to realize what my mom was saying to me was huge.
I can still hear her voice, her inflection, as she said these monumental words: “Rachel, I want you to know that no matter what you do, your dad and I will always love you. No matter what happens, you can always come home.”
I nodded and said, “O.K.,” pretty much acting like it was no big deal.
But I knew it was a big deal.
It was a big deal because she meant it. She meant every word like it was her heart and soul.
I was her heart and soul…that is what she was telling me.
I now knew that even if I got myself into a mess of trouble…drug addition, unwanted pregnancy, educational failure, it would not be the end.
I now knew that even if I made a horrible, stupid, costly mistake, I would not be discarded, unwanted, and abandoned like trash.
In the breath of two mere sentences, I became fully aware of just how much my parents loved me. And suddenly my doubts and fears about being “good enough” or “perfect” were put to rest.
My parents loved me because of who I was, not because of what I did or didn’t do.
What a gift I was given… the gift of an open door. No matter what, I can always come home.
And now, I long for the day when I can speak the same two sentences to my own daughters.
And I know exactly how I will tell them.
I will share the story of Shelby The Miracle Dog. Then I will say this:
No matter how tattered and torn you are, no matter how many wrong turns you have taken, no matter how far off the beaten path you have gone…you will never be lost. My precious daughters, I will never stop loving you. No matter what happens, you can always come home; I will always be waiting for you with open arms.
I am simply the messenger on this journey to grasp what really matters. It is by the grace of God, Mr. Frank and Shelby the dog that I have this message to give. And today’s message, which has been placed upon my heart for someone who is reading these words today, is this:
Even if you think you are not good enough,
Even if you think you have made too many mistakes.
Even if you think you are a lost cause,
Even if you think you burned too many bridges,
Even if you think you do not measure up,
Even if think you have used up all your chances,
Even if you think it’s too late,
I have news for you.
It’s not too late to come home.
It’s not too late to come to that place of loving forgiveness and acceptance. Whether that place is in your own heart or in the heart of someone you loved and lost, it’s never too late to open your arms and let the healing begin.
You may be tattered and torn.
You may have walked some very painful miles.
But you won’t know what is waiting for you…or who is waiting for you…until you make your way home.
*If you are reading this today and have a child or a teenager, give them the gift of the open door. Don’t wait to tell him or her that you will love them always, no matter what. Tell them today.
*If you are reading this and have been estranged from someone you love, there’s a chance that…
Someone may be waiting to hear your voice.
Someone may be waiting to hold you in her arms.
Someone may be waiting to say, “I’m sorry.”
Take the first step. Walk toward that person with whom you have been estranged. Reach out your hand and ask him or her to come home.
*If you are reading this and have deprived yourself of full and complete happiness and love because you have not felt “good enough” or worthy enough, isn’t it time to come home?
To everyone reading this: Life is too short to fold your arms. Open them like Mr. Frank did when he saw Shelby run down the hill and collapse into his arms. It’s never too late to find that place of loving forgiveness and acceptance; it’s never too late to come home.
If you feel this is a worthy message, please share it.