A Dark and Fearful Place


Suddenly, John did the bravest thing I’ve ever seen a kid do. He crawled into the most terrifying place on earth.

I grew up in Redondo Beach, California, and had two older brothers, Bill and Dave, and a younger brother, John. The four of us hung around with each other a lot, and because we stuck together, there wasn’t much for us to be afraid of—except the crawl space beneath the house.

In southern California, houses do not have basements; they just have crawl spaces, a two-foot high area under the house where repairmen can crawl if they have to fix the plumbing or something. The four of us tried to make a hideout there once, but it was dark, damp, and dirty. There were big rusty nails sticking down and huge spiders in every corner. Our hideout lasted about ten minutes. From then on, if we were playing ball and the ball accidentally rolled into the crawl space, it was history. No one dared go in to retrieve it.

One day Dad brought home a surprise, the cutest little wavy-haired puppy we’d ever seen. He was mostly white, with a little black spot on his tail, as though someone had dipped the tip of it in black paint. Because of that, we named him Tippy.

Tippy was a boy’s dream dog. He was small, but he always managed to follow us and keep up with us wherever we’d go. He was always waiting for us when we got home from school. When we were lucky enough to get a snack after school, we’d sit on the back porch and eat while Tippy would face us, cocking his head first to one side, then to the other, patiently waiting to see which of us would share first. He didn’t really belong to any of us in particular. He was just everyone’s pal, the family dog.

Then one day a pack of big dogs came to the neighborhood. These were big dogs, the kind made mostly of teeth and meanness. As soon as they saw Tippy, they went after him. They chased him across the street and into our backyard, where he escaped into the crawl space. The big dogs didn’t follow him in, but they spent a few minutes barking and growling in front of the opening. They eventually left, but the experience frightened Tippy so much he lay curled up and shivering in the far corner of the crawl space, afraid to come out.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the opening of the crawl space telling him the big dogs had gone, but Tippy wouldn’t move. We tried everything to coax him out—we even held out one of Mom’s cookies—but nothing worked. At times he even seemed afraid of us and would move farther away. After a time, we thought if we left him alone he might come out on his own. But the next day when we came home from school he still hadn’t moved.

Suddenly John did the bravest thing I’ve ever seen a kid do. He crawled right into the crawl space, the most terrifying place on earth! He slowly made his way to Tippy, talking very softly and calmly. When he finally got close enough, he took hold of Tippy. He held him close with one arm and carefully crawled back to safety.

When they finally came out into the light, John dusted the cobwebs and dirt from his clothes and hair. Tippy was overjoyed and showed his appreciation by licking John’s face and furiously wagging his tail.

From that time on, Tippy was no longer our dog, he was John’s dog. John had made a sacrifice worthy of declaring ownership. We knew it, and so did Tippy. Tippy was devoted to John. He followed him no matter where he went and slept at the foot of his bed. John took responsibility for Tippy’s care and feeding.

As a result of the hurtful actions of others or our own transgressions, we sometimes find ourselves like Tippy, fearful and driven into a dark and dangerous place. We sometimes hear, “Give up; you’re no good,” “You’re too wicked to be forgiven,” or “How dare you pray to a God you’ve sinned against?”

And because of our fear, we may even be suspicious of those who care and try to help us. But there is One—the Savior—who, in a sense, like John, entered a dark and fearful place and made a sacrifice sufficient to save us if we allow ourselves to be carried back to the light.

[illustration] Illustration by Keith Larson