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Carmen Victoria Elmendorf: A love story that God wrote

I loved her the moment I saw her picture. I accepted her unconditionally the more I read about her, after all, we have a lot in common. How could I reject her? If I saw myself through her eyes, or at least I saw we share some of the same limitations, would I not only be rejecting myself by rejecting her? Achy, stiff bones; slow walk; maybe depressed; certainly sad and certainly a senior. This was a match made on Facebook. This was love at first sight!

I was warned by others about the temperament of this breed, so I hesitated at first adopting a German Shepherd and considered a gentler breed. The admonishment against adopting a German was that it would be too much for me to handle at my age, but I always wanted one. They are beautiful to look upon, yet intimidating. German Shepherds are strong, yet graceful, independent, yet loyal. Surely, I reasoned, an older dog would be calm enough for me to care for. So, when I saw her picture on an out-of-state animal shelter website, I knew in my heart this adoption could work.

I began the adoption process and filled out the online application. I took pictures of my home and yard. I asked for and received the necessary references from a local animal group I fostered dogs for; and I emailed the required veterinary history of pets I currently had. I had an advantage in this out-of-state adoption -- a daughter employed by a major airline would literally be my ticket to bring my new fur-friend from Texas to West Virginia.

Suddenly, before I could finalize the adoption, the shelter in Texas posted an urgent plea on Facebook: (My dog) was on doggie-death row and, somehow, she was put on a list to be euthanized within three days! I was desperate, but at the same time I desired discernment. Past decisions made on impulse had taught me to wait upon the LORD. I anchored my emotions on Proverbs 3:5 and 6: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your steps." If this was not meant to be, I resolved to accept it if God shut doors along the way.

For too many decades I had lived in fear -- of everything! I feared people's opinions, I feared traveling and accidents and anything new and unknown. I was determined not to live in fear anymore, and yet I knew better than to test God and I knew not to force my own agenda, then ask God to bless my plans. "Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desires. Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you." (Psalm 37:4, 5)

I placed my dog, her adoption requirements, the flight availability (as a free-stand-by passenger), the weather -- every detail on either side of the process was placed at the feet of God, for him to act according to his word and will. "Put your hope in the LORD. Travel steadily along his path." (Psalm 37:14)

At every turn, every flight, through every person I encountered along this journey -- I saw the favor and love of God, his blessing and provision as a sign of his approval of my adopting a (seemingly) throw-away, old, senior dog on death-row in a far-away animal shelter. And, for any skeptics who may be reading this, I will describe one such "sign" of Divine intervention.

I arrived two hours early at Yeager Airport, for my stand-by flight from Charleston, W.Va., to Dallas, Texas. Except for a handful of passengers, the boarding area was empty. I had managed to engage conversation with a lady of Hispanic heritage, like myself, and I was well distracted for nearly an hour. We both noticed the boarding process had begun and I looked around to see a room full of eager passengers, suddenly and overwhelming in numbers! Concerned about my ability to find a free seat (stand-by is a limited, sometimes elusive opportunity at best) I called my daughter who works for the Dallas-Ft. Worth-based airline. She reviewed my itinerary and said, "Mom, there were plenty of seats earlier, but now there are only three seats and," she continued, "There are three people ahead of you." I was still on the phone with my daughter when the agent announced the name of a passenger. My daughter saw the list and told me he was a paid passenger. I felt a wave of panic rising up in my mind! I dismissed the thought of never going to Texas and considered that rescheduling was always an option. The agent repeated the call for the man to claim his seat, again and again, but he was a no-show!

Finally, everyone had boarded, including two of the three stand-by passengers ahead of me; one remained. Her uniform mirrored a qualified airline employee. "Are you the pilot for this flight?" I asked her. No, it turned out she was the third stand-by passenger. As my heart beat faster, the strangest thing happened -- the boarding agent called my name and told me, "This passenger has priority over you. If she cannot be seated in a jumper-seat, you will have to give up your seat!"

I reacted with motley emotions and was filled with a desire to see God's hand in this venture, as confirmation of his approval of my plans. I gave the stand-by woman a hug and hopefully proclaimed my intent to adopt a senior dog out-of-state. The next few minutes were the longest of the entire morning as the professionally dressed woman disappeared, and I stood near the exit door at the front of that plane waiting -- waiting for the last seat on that plane to be claimed.

"Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles." (Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT)

And soar I did on that flight, and during the entire trip thereafter -- for God was in every detail, in the eyes of new acquaintances, and in every smile. And, yes, I see God when I look at my new canine companion. "Your faithful love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. You care for people and animals alike, O LORD." (Psalm 36:5; 6b NLT)


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