At the End of the Iron Rod


And when temptation’s pow’r is nigh, Our pathway clouded o’er, … The iron rod is the word of God; ‘Twill safely guide us through (Hymns, no. 274).

At the End of the Iron Rod

I didn’t think I’d ever want another dog after Lady. She was a beautiful black cocker spaniel with a happy smile. She went with me everywhere, following me to the bus stop in the morning and waiting there for me after school.

Then one day Lady wasn’t there. As soon as I burst into the kitchen and saw the look on Mom’s face, I knew. As gently as she could, she told me how Lady had been hit by a car. Dad helped me bury her. I left that little mound in the meadow with a huge, hard hurt in my chest.

Maybe it was harder for me to lose my dog than for some people, because I lived out of town on a little farm. I didn’t get to play basketball or Little League. I had too many chores. But no matter what chores I had, Lady was always with me.

After Lady was killed, I didn’t want another dog. Every night before I went to bed and every morning when I rolled off my mattress, I prayed that the terrible hurt would go away and that I could be happy again. I did that for two weeks straight, but the hurt was still there.

Then one afternoon as I was bringing the cows in from the meadow, she was there, lying under a tree, her tongue hanging out, her ears pricked up.

I looked around, expecting to see her owner. But there was nobody—just that dog, the cows, and me. “What’s your name, dog?”

She started thumping her tail on the ground, just begging me to pet her. I patted her on the head, then scratched her ears. You’d have thought I’d given her ten pounds of steak the way she carried on.

From then on I couldn’t go anyplace without her tagging along. “She’s just like a second shadow,” my little sister, Stephanie, said.

I smiled. “Stephanie, you just named my dog for me—Shadow!”

“What kind of dog do you think she is?” I asked Dad that first evening.

He studied Shadow. “I can’t be sure. I’d guess she’s a German shepherd-collie mix.”

“Daniel,” Mom said, “you shouldn’t get too attached to Shadow. She belongs to someone.”

“Someone just let her loose,” I argued. “People from town do that sometimes. And she didn’t have a collar or anything.”

“Maybe so, but she’s too good a dog to have just been turned loose. She’s been well fed and groomed. Somebody’s probably looking for her.”

“She’s mine,” I said stubbornly. “You’ve told me all along I ought to pray for things.”

“Did you pray for another dog?” Dad asked.

“Not exactly,” I said slowly. “But ever since Lady was killed, I’ve prayed that the hurt would go away. Well, it’s gone, Dad. As soon as I saw Shadow, I didn’t hurt anymore. I didn’t pray for a dog, but I guess Heavenly Father thinks I need one.”

“I still think you’d better try to find the owner,” Mom said. “Then if no one claims her, she’s yours.”

I didn’t want to, but I made some handwritten signs and hung them along the highway in front of our house. But no one ever came.

Shadow was the greatest! When I got up in the morning, she was waiting for me. It didn’t matter if I was milking the cows, weeding, or hauling hay. She swam with me in the creek and lay beside me on the big gray boulder as we dried off.

I could talk to her, and she’d look right into my eyes as if she understood every word I said. Every day I thanked Heavenly Father for her.

One afternoon I went with Mom to the supermarket. While she shopped, I studied the notices on the bulletin board. People were selling beds, washers, dryers, and a bunch of other stuff.

I spotted the corner of a pink flyer—and wished I’d never gotten close to that old bulletin board. “Lost in the Sanderson Park area,” the flyer proclaimed in big, black letters, “a light brown and white dog, German shepherd-collie mix. Answers to the name Trina. $20.00 reward.”

I didn’t want to believe that Shadow was that lost dog. I tore the flyer down, stuffed it into my pants pocket, and headed for the car. All the way home, I tried to tell myself that Shadow wasn’t the missing dog. Sanderson Park was clear on the west side of town. We lived over two miles north of town. How could a dog get way over there?

That evening as I finished feeding the calves, Shadow was at the end of the manger. “Come here, Trina,” I called softly. Shadow’s ears perked up. She gave me a puzzled stare, then looked about as though searching for someone. “Come here, Trina,” I repeated dully. She bounded toward me and began looking around again. A horrible hurt exploded inside me.

“They can’t have her,” I raged out loud. “I found her. I fed her and looked after her. She’d probably be dead now if I hadn’t come along. She’s mine!”

As hard as I argued with myself that I was the rightful owner, I couldn’t convince myself. The hurt that I’d felt when Lady was killed didn’t seem nearly as sharp and painful as what tore at me now.

I hardly touched Mom’s mashed potatoes, gravy, fried chicken, and hot rolls at dinner. “Are you feeling all right, Daniel?” she asked.

“I guess I’m just not hungry. May I be excused?”

I went to my room and lay on the bed, blinking back the tears that kept welling up in my eyes. Slowly I pulled the pink flyer from my pocket. Whoever lost Shadow has probably already given up hope, I argued with my conscience. It’s been weeks since she showed up here. They probably think she’s dead by now.

It was late when I dragged down the hall to the kitchen, where Dad was thumbing through a stack of bills. I pushed the pink flyer in front of him. He glanced at me, then read the flyer. “Do you think Shadow’s this missing dog?” he asked.

“Maybe she was, but she’s mine now. You can’t make me take her back.”

“Daniel, I’m not going to make you take Shadow back. That’s your decision.”

“Why would Heavenly Father take back what He gave me?” I choked out. “She was the answer to my prayers.”

“I believe she was,” Dad agreed. “But,” he added gently, “she might not be the answer you think she is. Do you remember the story of Nephi and the brass plates? When Nephi returned to Jerusalem to get the plates from Laban, he didn’t know how hard it was going to be. He didn’t know he’d have to give up his gold and his silver. He didn’t know his brothers would attack him. He didn’t know he’d have to kill Laban. Those were all things he would rather not have done. Why do you suppose he did them?”

“He was doing what the Lord commanded him,” I mumbled.

“That’s right. He had grasped the iron rod his father, Lehi, later saw in a vision. The iron rod is the word of God. In other words, it’s the things the Lord commands or asks us to do. No matter where that iron rod took him, Nephi was going to follow it because that was what the Lord wanted him to do. When you found Shadow, she was an answer to your prayer, but Heavenly Father might have thought you needed something more than you needed another dog.”

“Like what?” I protested. “What did I need more than Shadow?”

“Maybe the Lord wanted to see if you’d be like Nephi, choosing the right when it was the hardest thing to do. He answered your prayer, Daniel. Now you have to be willing to accept His answer. And maybe you’re the answer to someone else’s prayer. Maybe some other people are praying that Shadow will return to them. How their prayer is answered might depend on what you choose to do.”

I didn’t sleep very well. Most of the night I kept telling myself that no matter what happened, I was going to keep Shadow. But by morning I knew better. “I’m taking Shadow back,” I announced quietly at breakfast.

“I’ll drive you over,” Dad offered.

“I’d like to take her alone,” I answered. “I’ll ride my bike.”

It was all I could do to ride away from the house, with Shadow tagging along. The address on the flyer was for a house at the end of a dirt lane. As I started down it, Shadow yapped twice and darted ahead. Two girls playing in front of the house spotted Shadow. “Trina! Trina’s back!”

A man and a lady came out of the house on the run. The whole family gathered around Shadow, hugging her and burying their faces in her shiny coat. No one even noticed me standing there. Then Shadow dashed over and rubbed against my leg. She was as happy as any dog could be.

“I guess you’re the one who brought Trina back?” the man said, smiling. After I nodded, he said warmly, “We sure appreciate that, Son. We were afraid that she was gone for good.”

I held out the pink flyer. “I saw this down at the store.” I felt a lump form in my throat. “I found Shadow—I mean Trina—a few weeks ago.” I told how I’d put up signs looking for the owner.

“Well, we appreciate your bringing her back.”

“Give him the reward, Dad,” one of the girls called out.

“That’s right!” The man reached for his wallet, pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and handed it to me. I didn’t take it. He pulled out a second twenty-dollar bill. “This is for taking care of her.”

“I didn’t bring her back for the money,” I said softly. “I didn’t want to give her up. I hope you’ll take really good care of her.” I turned and started pushing my bike down the lane to the main road.

“Son,” the man called after me. I stopped and turned. “I know how you feel, giving up a dog that you love.” He glanced down at Shadow. “It won’t be long before Trina’s old enough to be a mom. If you’re interested in a dog, you can have your pick of her pups. That’s a promise.”

There was still a big hurt inside, knowing I was leaving Shadow behind, but I was glad that I’d followed the iron rod Dad had talked about. And I suddenly realized that even though the answer to my prayer was different from what I’d expected, Heavenly Father had known what I needed. “I’d like that, Mister,” I said, my voice cracking a little. “I’d like that a whole lot.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson