From a January 30th, 2016 Facebook Note…  See Parts 1, 2, & 3 for the backstory…


Its funny what you remember from your childhood. Take this picture above… I have always hated that picture… It might be because of that haircut… which I didn’t get to change until high school. Or it might be because it reminds me of how much hair I used to have. Or maybe its because this picture MUST have been given out with free Tide samples at JC’s Grocery, because every friend, relative, & acquaintance from my hometown seems to have landed a copy of it somehow. I have worked DILIGENTLY to keep this picture off of Facebook. It was easy in the early years of FB, but increasingly harder as more & more relatives, friends, and elementary school teachers migrated onto this platform.

I also remember that the house I grew up in was approximately 25 yards from the edge of Highway 158 when I was a wee lad. Then the state decided to put in a turn lane and 25 yards turned into 10 yards somewhere around the late Elementary School years.

conway-house

I remember that distance really well because it made pets EXTREMELY problematic.  You see, we did not do indoor pets in my house. That was just a thing… Pets, unless they swam in a bowl or a tank, were for outdoors. And really… fish are more decoration than pet. So, I cannot really remember how many dogs we attempted to have growing up, probably because each experience ended up the same way… with that dog dead in the middle of Highway 158. We had better luck with cats… Not with all of them mind you, but enough to be statistically significant.

But I do have one very vivid memory of the last dog we had while I was growing up. He was a mixed breed (see my last post), but if I had to name it… I’d say he was a Yellow LabraBeagle… I don’t remember his name. In fact, I don’t remember the names of most of my pets growing up. That’s not a small detail btw… But anyway, this memory is etched permanently in my brain…

It was the summer of ‘79… I say that because I’m pretty sure I was younger than 10 and I was definitely wearing shorts… and I really like that Bryan Adams song… In truth, it could’ve been ‘80 or ‘81… (my sister later confirmed it was 1980)

I do not remember what I was doing at the time. I was outside my house, playing I think… and my dog was nowhere around. I heard an extremely loud YELP and my big ears pinpointed it to my left and at least two neighbor’s yards away… And it was definitely my dog… I took off in a full sprint and arrived in one of our neighbor’s yards… My dog was under the rear wheel of a mammoth car I did not recognize. He was alive, but he was not moving. A lady I did not recognize started apologizing… At least, I think she was apologizing… But I’m pretty sure she was also the voice actor for that school teacher in all the Charlie Brown cartoons.

They say that wounded animals can act in unpredictable ways and frequently bite people that are trying to help them. I did not know this at the time and it totally would not have mattered. I was moving to pick up the dog out of complete reflex… He did not bite me though. I scooped him up in my arms and ran for home. I remember that one of his hind legs was drooping very badly (it was broken)… And I distinctly remember his blood running down my right leg as I ran…


Let’s pause here & acknowledge something… My dad came from a completely different era than most of my readers can imagine. He was a man’s man that grew up on a farm in central NC… And when animals got hurt on a farm in the mid-20th century, they did not take them to fancy hospitals to be patched up while you sipped complimentary lattes… There was no money for that sort of thing… That animal usually got put down, depending on the nature & severity of the injury.

Now I did not know any of that at the time I arrived in my yard. All I did know was my dog was hurt badly and needed help. I’m standing there with this dog in my arms, his leg broken, his blood all over me, pleading without words… PLEASE DO SOMETHING!!!

And my dad did what a REAL man’s man does… He came through for me & we took that dog to the local vet. Doc Brown patched him up & he wore a little makeshift cast on that leg for awhile. He healed up pretty good… just a minor limp to show for it… And then one day not too far removed from that day in the summer of ‘79… ’80, he must’ve gotten interested in some vehicle that was going down Highway 158 and…


Now flash forward about 35 years to Sunday and I’m standing there holding Baxter’s body in almost exactly the same way as I did the other dog in 1980. He’s wrapped in a towel that was completely soaked in his blood. My coat that I’m wearing is now also covered in his blood. I am not running like before… Instead, I’m watching R run… Down the hill towards home… Completely hysterical… Tears streaming… But she is not running home to get help like I did… Doc Brown was a VERY gifted Vet, but there was nothing he could’ve done to help Baxter that day.

I watched R run down that hill… I turn to the right & see my wife talking with the other family… She is BARELY holding it together… And I think… “DEAR GOD… HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO COME THROUGH IN THIS?”… There is no voice from Heaven that responds. Something else does happen though, but its for another entry… Maybe tomorrow’s…

Come through?… You cannot be serious… Its all I can do to not stand in the street & cry like a toddler. I can see R made it into the house… And I can see my wife is winding down whatever conversation is happening off to the right… And I’m still standing there, holding Baxter… My only thought at this point is, “I can’t let either one of them see him like this.” So I walk slowly down that hill… Its still pretty icy… Somewhere in between, I realize I’ve got to bury him and it cannot wait… I carry him around to the back yard and set him down… I’m returning to the garage to get the shovel and see that my wife has made it back now… That’s good… R won’t be alone…

She says, “We need to take pictures…” My heart stops… I know she’s right, we don’t know how this thing will play out… And that means I have to take the pictures…


>>>STOP… I’ve left most of the details of the other family ambiguous intentionally up until this point because there’s a whole other entry I need to make there. That’s unfortunately left a lot of gaps in the story for people to fill in on their own and I need to clear this up for the moment. That other family is CRUSHED!… They not only had to see the whole thing play out in front of them on their front lawn… They also had to make the decision to put those two dogs down. They have made this thing as right as they can for now, I promise… and my heart breaks for theirs as much as it breaks for my own family’s.


Pictures… right… I have to take pictures… So there I am, unwrapping Baxter in the snow to take pictures. I want to throw up now… Not because of what I’m seeing in front of me, but because the weight of it ALL is starting to settle in… I turn Baxter one direction & then the other… And it is HELL!… There are so many wounds that I cannot tell where the killing blow landed. There is a very large hole in his jugular though, so I’m guessing that was it. Based on what R later tells us, we believe this was the first blow, so at least he didn’t suffer long… Finally… all the pictures are done…

Now, where to bury him?… Well, live in a typical subdivision, so the options are a bit limited, but I settle on a spot just behind our yard through the woods a little bit. The ground was hard and covered in ice & snow. It took awhile to dig that hole, probably because I had to stop frequently to wipe snot & tears off of my face. I laid him as carefully as I could in the hole, paused and spoke words of truth over him. I’ve buried lots of animals over the years… never felt compelled to do that before. I covered him up gently and took a step back.

I need to make a cross or something to mark his grave. I’ve NEVER done that before… I find some old pallet wood I had left over from some wine racks my wife asked me to make for Christmas the year before. I cut a short piece from a longer piece, then nail them together in the shape of a cross. I wrote Baxter across it with one of those fat Sharpie’s I found in the garage. And then I take it back to his grave & drive it into the ground.

My wife shows up about this time… I tell her its done and then she points out the bloody towel laying in the snow. I hear R coming… I manage to fold that towel faster than any other laundry in my life and somehow, manage to find a section of it without much blood on it to leave folded out. R is almost there & I decide to take no chances so I toss the towel behind a tree where she can’t see it. Now we’re all there, standing around Baxter’s grave… We had an informal burial ceremony right then & there. It was mostly blubbering & crying… Later on, we added a wreath that had been made from the clippings of a Christmas tree. It had hung on our front door through the Christmas season. We picked it up the same day we got our tree. Baxter had gone with us that day to pick out out the tree… He had an awesome day & was the superstar/VIP of that very busy tree farm… It had been a perfect day…


A tragic thing happens to most of us as we grow up… We tend to lose little pieces of ourselves along the way to adulthood. Sometimes its in large chunks… And sometimes its 1,000 paper cuts… Sometimes the pieces are taken from us… And sometimes we willingly give them away… But worst of all is that many times… we don’t even know that it has happened.

For instance… I willingly gave us musical training when I was in the 6th grade… Because I thought playing piano was for sissies… Then I bought my first electric guitar when I was 19 & fell in love… Now I wonder what my musicianship would look like if I hadn’t given up on it… Or would I have found my love of guitar sooner?…

I also gave up Singing in public when I was about 5 or 6 years old… Must’ve been something traumatic, right?… No, not really… I just couldn’t stand how uncomfortable it made me. So I told myself, I couldn’t really sing all that well. Even worse… I convinced myself I sang quite badly… Trying to sing out of the Methodist Hymnal helped reinforce that too… Those hymns are theoretically written in keys to fit the “average person”. But I was constantly having to switch octaves mid-song because it either went too high or too low. Pretty soon I just mouthed the words like the older men did. I bought that lie that I couldn’t sing for about 30 years. God eventually pulled it out of me kicking & screaming. Now I LOVE to harmonize and I’ve got a good ear for it. I lead songs at church every so often and I love that too. But every time, that fear & discomfort are still loud & present. I just choose to feel the fear & do it anyway… God takes care of the rest…

And then there’s writing… I NEVER EVEN GAVE WRITING A CHANCE!… I figured out pretty quickly that I could absolutely crush it in Math & Science and that was enough to get me by. We humans tend to glam onto things that work for us and Math & Science were my B-’s… So Writing never stood a chance… Who knows how that could’ve turned out differently?… Maybe that’ll be my retirement plan…

Gave up on Jesus too!… For about 12 years or so… I couldn’t reconcile the faith I grew up with to the world I lived in. How could God allow ____fill in the blank___? At the time, I didn’t truly understand that Evil I talked about a few days ago. Didn’t get that spiritual warfare was happening all around me. I was literally Neo in The Matrix before he took the red pill… (pause to give credit to John Eldredge on that analogy)… I found my way back eventually, but it was touch & go for awhile there.

Back to Baxter… I realize now that at some point in my childhood, I gave up on pets too. Now, we continued to have pets after that Yellow LabraBeagle died. And we’ve had plenty of pets over our married years too. And I loved them all to some degree… but always at a distance… Always with something held back… I realize now that at some level, I was expecting that they’d inevitably end up in the middle of Highway 158.

But Baxter was having none of that… Without even knowing it, I did try to hold back at first. But it didn’t last long. He wouldn’t allow it. Eventually, I loved him deeply and I held nothing back. And I didn’t realize that either until he was gone.

God had a design in mind for each of us. And we usually manage to screw that up… giving away what isn’t taken from us… Or life does it for us in chunks & papercuts… But “the Glory of God is man fully alive!” ~ St. Irenaeus.  So we must fight to get those chunks back… We must work out our salvation with fear & trembling. ~ Philippians 2:12… We must commit to being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory ~ 2Corinthians 3:18…

Baxter reminded me of this in the most beautiful & tragic way possible. And that’s really when I realized what I had to do for R. For while this would forever be a defining moment for her… I refuse to allow it to be a RE-defining moment for her. God defined her perfectly and I will fight like hell to help her hold onto that as long as I have breath in my lungs. That is how I come through…

So dear reader… What chunks have you lost, or had taken away over the years? What papercuts became so relentless, that you just gave in & bled out? What have you willingly given up & now regret? Jesus can heal all of these wounds if you invite him to. And even if you don’t, he’ll keep pursuing you… Its what he does… Beauty from Ashes…


Continue on to Part 5 here

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