He was gruff, serious, and never talked. The neighbors always commented to me that they were scared of him. I knew there was a story here, and I prayed for him everyday as I ran by his house on my morning runs. I would see this man out mowing his lawn, never looking up, seeming very focused on the job at hand. He seemed sad.
One day as Holly and I ran by his house he was walking to his mailbox, and I stopped to say hello. I saw one of the neighbors watching as if they were horrified something bad would happen. His name was Bob. Bob immediately took up with Holly, who was my running buddy. Holly loved Bob! It was like she knew his story way before I did. Dogs are a great judge of character!
Turns out Bob was retired. He was then 65 years old and had served in the military almost all of his life. He seemed lonely, and made the comment “I think people are scared of me, and I don’t have the energy to let them know I won’t bite.” Holly was a God-send on this visit. As he pet her, he began talking about stories in his life. And man did he have stories! War stories, childhood stories...my mouth was open in awe. People just didn’t know Bob! He was one of the most caring, interesting people I had met in a long time! He had saved lives, and fought for our country in incredible ways! In fact as we talked one day some fighter jets flew over us. He saluted with tears running down his face and said “that is music to my ears.” He flew one....He saved lives and he had his life saved. Thank you God for our military. Do we thank them enough? I feel like we should express our appreciation to them daily! I thanked Bob. He said it had been a very long time since anyone recognized his service in the military. Wow.
His stories always led back to how much he loved dogs. I suggested he get one! Why not adopt a dog? He looked at me with surprise. I knew he was interested when I saw that sparkle in his eye. I told him about some places to adopt some great dogs, and a big smile creeped on his serious, focused face. I do believe Bob had a very soft heart....and that softness was beginning to show!
I didn’t see Bob for a few weeks, but as I ran by one day I saw him walking to his mailbox again. Following him was a big beautiful tan lab. He had adopted a dog and named him Max. Max had been trained quite well. His owner died suddenly and Bob came to the rescue...just in time! Bob’s whole countenance had changed. Max sat by his side, and it was a match made in heaven. He said to me “I think Max was the one that did the rescuing. He rescued me, not the other way around.”
Over the years Max and Bob became the neighborhood favorites. Bob trained Max to get the papers off the curb and take them to the door. Several times Holly joined Max. Max was one of the most obedient dogs I have ever seen. He always sported a bright collar or bandana, and Bob shined when he was with Max. It was such a blessing to see a hard shell come off of Bob, and see him set free. Bob often talked to me about God. I know these converstions were sent from the Lord. It was amazing. Bob got involved in a wonderful local church where he met his current girlfriend. Whoever says you can’t have a girlfriend at 70 is wrong. They are so cute together!
I saw Bob this week....he flagged me down as I was running down the street. He had tears in his eyes, and my heart began to race. What happened? He began telling me about Max. Max had suddenly died. I was in shock. It was so fast that he literally fell into Bob’s arms, gave one last tail wag and was gone. He had suffered a heart attack. At this point we were both crying. As the tears dried, Bob thanked me. He said the day I came to talk to him and suggested he adopt a dog, was the day his life changed. He was now engaged to his girlfriend, involved in a wonderful church, was involved in the community, and happier than he had ever been. He said Max was his angel here on earth. I could not agree more.
I have reflected on Bob and Max so much this week. I learned many things from this encounter. I learned that under the hardest of shells, there are people longing to be set free, loved and appreciated. Love wins. All the time, love wins. God uses that love to set people free. He even uses the love of a dog! I often think of what would have happened had I listened to the neighbors to “stay away from the scary man!” Bob was not scary. In fact he is a hero. A hero I am so thankful for. How many unsung heros are out there wishing someone would listen to their stories? How many are hungry for just a simple “Hello?” Several years ago I set out to get to know my neighbors. I asked the Lord to help me. He did. He opens doors in ways I cannot. I thought this journey to get to know my neighbors would be a difficult and scary one. It has been one of the most fulfilling journeys of my life.
It is my prayer that we can all take a minute to listen, love, and be a friend to someone hurting. If you don’t know how to start....just ask God. He will show you. He will open the doors. You will see it is a life changing journey, and yours is the life that will be changed the most! When I started thanking God for Bob’s story....I instantly heard Him say to my heart....”you prayed for him every time you passed his house. I heard every one of those prayers.” Why was I surprised? God knew just how to reach Bob’s heart......and it started with a simple prayer and the love of a dog named Max.
Love wins. Always.