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As a child, faith was something I took for granted, a prayer on bended knees, palms pressed together. Unshakeable in its simplicity, there was comfort in knowing there was a greater power that would catch you when you fell. Someone you could trust with the moments when you wrestled with now and forever, and what the best choice was. Someone who could shoulder your doubts and fears, your dismays and desires. Like a flower follows the sun, I knew that so long as I followed God, I would flourish. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).

The still-center in an ever-moving world, I never imagined I would lose my faith when I lost my health. There was life and there was death, there was healthy and there was sick, but there was also that space where their edges touch. At the threshold of adulthood, physically disabling chronic illness was completely foreign to me, and I couldn’t understand how it was possible to be young and alive but always unwell. To be a stranger in your own body, striving but never reaching for mobility you’d never get back.

Whittled down to my barest self, even the most basic of human dignities stripped away, I’ve never felt such a slow unraveling of everything I thought I knew. Bones too large, skin too tight, I wanted to fit back into the life that lingered in the memory of my dreams, something taken from me before I even had the chance to will it into being. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, there are forces completely outside of our control.

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I discovered, with sudden and brutal honesty, how being different means being treated differentlymy physical disability dictating the lines where human decency lies. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, how far people can go into their own hatred and how easily they throw their humanity away simply because you’re vulnerable. A yawning emptiness rose inside me, for why had God abandoned me to such senseless cruelty? I told myself if He was listening, there would be a sign. And there was.

“God is love” (1 John 4:9, NIV) and “love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NIV)it’s that very kindness that inspired a community of people to raise, train, and place working dogs like my Golden Retriever service dog guide Mai. They gave me the best thing that ever happened to me.

A dog with a job, her fire-engine red uniform a blazing point of pride, Mai was more than just my furry mobility aid. The sweetest soul I have ever known, she was my miracle, taking care of me with a selfless devotion that taught me that disability does not have to be a barrier, and if you care enough to try, anything is possible so long as you work together.

Mobility a shared feat, we moved together like one soul stretched between two bodies, seamless in the same space, the same air, the same heart. Head tilted, senses on high alert as though her body curved into mine, Mai was perpetually aware of my fluctuating mobility needs. When my body failed me, succumbing to the riptide of physically disabling chronic illness, touch was our silent language. A promise sworn without words, Mai would press her paw to my palm as if making our lifelines kiss until the paths of them traveled down the same road together.

But a dog’s life is a race against time, a challenge of numbered moments that unfold as a string of todays that quickly become yesterdays. Small but mighty, Mai was born with a purpose, destined to leave this world better than when she entered it. And she did.

RELATED: So God Gave Us Dogs

On a pitch-dark night, autumn leaves blowing in the wind, the universe called a very bright light up to Heaven . . . much too soon. In a tangle of hurting and loss, I held Mai through the rising of the moon, into deep night, into eternal sleep.

Mai meant everything to me. I loved her through all the shades of her life, young and healthy, older and sick, limp and dying. When you love someone unconditionallythe way God loves each one of usyou don’t just love them when times are good and it’s easy. You love them even when times are hard and it hurts, their pain every bit your own. And I know, with every aching part of me, that Mai loved me too.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Mai comes to me in dreams, in that liminal space between awake and dreaming. Sun gleaming, fur billowing in the wind, I feel the heat of her body next to mine. Always running back to me, pawprints in the snow, Mai was the greatest gift for she lit the flame of faith in me again.

Love everlasting, the difference she made will never be forgotten. Across the farthest reaches, beyond space and time, is the echo of her heartbeat. Death is not our final parting, for “if we love one another, God lives in us” (1 John 4:12, NIV), and wherever love blooms, Mai’s spirit lives on, too, legacy undimmed by time.

For Mai, beloved Service Dog Guide (2012-2021)

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Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee is a biology graduate of Queen’s University, a published children’s book author (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BTS9G365), and disability (https://themighty.com/u/rebecca-lee-2/) and service dog advocate (Mai Ottawa Purina Walk for Dog Guides Video aired at 1:07 mark on CTV News Ottawa Morning https://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=957763&binId=1.1164511&playlistPageNum=1#_gus&_gucid=&_gup=Facebook&_gsc=mpV434W).  A lifelong Catholic, “My Service Dog Was The Greatest Gift, For She Lit The Flame Of Faith In Me Again” was written in loving memory of her Golden Retriever Service Dog Guide Mai (www.servicedogtales.wordpress.com).

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