He couldn’t help himself.
The tempting wintry snowfall beckoned adventure in the frigid air; the nearby Big Blue River’s flow silent, paused by a deepening freeze. For a 12-year-old boy and his dog, it was a perfect day to explore the wooded trails that followed the river bank.
“I always wanted to be like Huckleberry Finn,” said Robert Filip about growing up in the Blue River Valley near Crete, Nebraska. “I was a loner and loved nature, and I loved the silence where I’d talk to God.”
This feeling of being close to God wasn’t because young Robert had been raised to attend church every Sunday. Quite the contrary. His father often joked that a “church key” was all that was needed. Instead, a pocket-size Gideon New Testament found its way into the little boy’s hands, words that would shape his faith.
“Someone told me, ‘If you want to know more about Jesus, it’s written in red,’” Robert said, remembering how he especially relished reading the biblical parables; Jesus’ words emphasized in red print.
With his little Bible and an occasional ride to church with friends, Robert learned that God was present in his life, and “I could ask him for anything,” said the retired manufacturing engineer from Council Bluffs, Iowa.
But back in 1959, what this lonely child couldn’t know was just how close God would be on a carefree afternoon, and how his simple prayer would be answered.
Dressed in a heavy coat to protect against the below zero weather, a hat snug on his head, the young boy’s warm boots kept pace behind his dachshund-terrier, kicking up snow in its wake. A hare’s scent had little “Tuffy” racing in between tall oak trees, the trail straight ahead.
Suddenly, without notice, his pet raced down the rugged 10-foot embankment that led to the frozen river’s edge. Its feet slipping on the icy surface, the pup zig zagged its way to the middle of the river—a distance of about half a block, Robert said.
“I was calling for him, ‘No, no, no! Get back here!’ But he got close to the edge and fell in,” Robert said, thinking back to how his dog had leaned in for a drink and tumbled into open water.
Struggling in the brutally cold river, the wind chill a negative 50 degrees, Tuffy tried desperately to get back onto the ice, but its tiny paws couldn’t hold. As Robert ran down the river’s bank, his love for Tuffy drove him to take a risk. Lying flat on his stomach, he inched forward on the frozen surface. But the closer he got to his dog—and the farther Robert was from the shore—the sound of ice cracking beneath him filled the air.
That’s when the school boy shouted a prayer.
“Lord, help me get my dog back. I really do love him!” Robert said, recalling how he could see the flailing dog getting weaker and about to go under.
As the young boy lunged forward—a dangerous move that could cause the thinning ice beneath him to break—Tuffy disappeared.
“I reached under the ice—he was already underneath it—and I managed to grab him. And if I’d have missed him, it would have been over,“ Robert’s voice trailed, thinking back on that frightening moment.
With his shivering dog held close, Robert carefully crawled back to the shoreline, the ice snapping with each movement. He thought how he’d told his mom that he was going for a hike, but with no one nearby he knew if he and his pet fell into the frigid river, no one would know what had happened.
“I made it to the bank and I said, ‘Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus, for helping me save him!’ I know we would have both been lost because as soon as we started up the bank, the whole thing caved in,” Robert said, vividly recalling the split second when the ice where he and Tuffy had been, was now gone.
To this day, Robert counts this experience as a miracle, “I don’t think we’d have made it back otherwise.”
An unforgettable moment when out of love for his dog, a little boy’s cry for help was clearly heard.
Lucy Luginbill is a syndicated Tri-City Herald columnist, religion editor and career public television producer and host. Her popular Light Notes column reflects inspirational and faith-focused stories. She’s been working in journalism for more than 30 years. @LucyLuginbill, email@example.com
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