He Waits For Me
… and other ways my dog reminds me of God
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. …blessed are all those who wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18
I grew up in the great state of Texas and dreamed of being either a cowboy or a country-western singer. Instead I became an Anglican priest. It’s been more fun than a barrel of communion wine! For 10 years, I was blessed to live in paradise, on the “garden island” of Kauai in Hawaii. I dreamed of being a surfer or a hula dancer. Instead, I got a dog.
He was better than all the big waves and lyrical moves anyone could master. Considering my roots and my new home, I recalled the famous musician, Willie Nelson, and the harbor in my new Hawaiian home, Nawiliwili Harbor. Thus, my critter, found “on the road again,” like his musical namesake, was christened “Nawiliwili Nelson.”
From the moment I met Wili, when my veterinarian, who was visiting from Texas, toured the Kauai Humane Society (a Five-Paw-Resort to the local critters) and pronounced him “mentally and physically healthy, not to mention full of life and joy,” I knew we were destined for a meaningful relationship. He was the dog you wanted to introduce to your parents. In fact, you wanted to take him everywhere and introduce him to everyone. He has been pretty much the ideal creature—patient, affectionate, joyful, appreciative, forgiving, affirming. He’s had some peculiar habits, like bolting out the door of the church office to run over to the school next door to greet the children, and he has always liked to eat the faces off his stuffed animals, not to mention the leftover food of neighbor-dogs (cats and fish, too, if he were able). He takes up way more than his share of room on the bed, and likes to sprawl directly on top of you until you cannot breathe. But all of these unusual ways are more endearing than disruptive.
One night, back in November of 2016, when I returned home from a delicious meal in my new hometown of New Orleans (one of the great blessings of living here), I noticed something very unusual. Wili would not eat. Nor would he move. I knew something was terribly wrong. We visited a 24-hour veterinary clinic, and the next day, the doctor called me to break the sad news. I sobbed openly when he told me that Wili had a serious cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes. The doctor told me that, even with surgery, he could have as few as 3 months to live. I decided that Wili was worth whatever it would take to give him (and me) more time. He had the surgery, and even some chemotherapy. I have a natural veterinarian in my congregation who prescribed Chinese herbs and acupuncture, and put him on a healthy diet. Wili protested: “You brought me to New Orleans to eat broccoli?!” But, he began to feel much better, wrestling alligators right down into the swamp (okay, perhaps just the neighbor’s decorative pond, and maybe the gator was of the stuffed-variety). He returned to his usual, joyful, appreciative, inquisitive, lively self, and I began to give thanks for every day he was with me on this earth.
This past summer, to celebrate Wili’s longer-than-expected life, I decided that he and I would go “on the road again” one last time. We would drive 5,000 miles roundtrip, a “Last Howlelujah Tour,” from New Orleans to Las Vegas. Just the two of us, enjoying each other’s company, meeting nice, new people and their critters, and sharing some delicious food along the way. When we put out the word about what we were doing, we began to receive countless invitations to come, speak, and share Wili’s story, as well as that of Sam, my first dog, who survived a house fire as a puppy, lost his ears, and became known throughout the world as “the fearless, earless Airedale!” We partnered with animal welfare organizations along the way to benefit at our appearances. Over the course of eighteen days, Wili and I spoke (and barked!) at twenty-four events in sixteen different cities, and raised more than $13,000 dollars for our animal-friends. Wili was featured on the front page of newspapers and in various publications all over the United States—people drove for three hours, in some cases, just to meet Wili!
While I made my observations about how God communicates profound truth and unconditional love through dogs— “God’s best work,” I told them—Wili illustrated my words with his deeds. Wherever we went, Wili would work the crowd, greeting each and every person in the entire room. He would show affection to those who might need it the most, and he would pay particular attention to children and those getting along in age, bringing joy and laughter wherever he went. But my favorite times on the trip were those when just the two of us got to be together, taking walks in unfamiliar places to sniff out hidden truths, sharing a delicious local delicacy, graciously given by our hosts, playing tug-of-war with a new toy back in the hotel room, and even Wili’s bed-hogging (some things never change).
We have been home now for several months. Our local community sponsored a “Welcome Home Wili” weekend during which he raised even more funds for animals. Local school children came out to see him at a nearby bookstore, and the whole church wore cowboy hats and bandanas his first Sunday back, as he accompanied his priest down the center aisle for all four services. He has recently been named King of the upcoming “Howl-O-Ween Costume Contest Fundraiser” for our local Humane Society.
But my favorite moment of every day? It happens just at the end, when all 3 of my dogs realize they are being allowed to head to the bedroom. My newest rescue, a Pitbull named Mahalia Jackson Queen Liliuokalani (she’s half New Orleanian and half Hawaiian), and Sinbad (appropriately named for a priest, so why change it), run at full-speed toward the bedroom. But not Wili. He always waits for me. Only when I, too, head that direction, will he follow. It reminds me of how Sam, even when he was old and could barely move, would always stand when I arrived home. It also reminds me of something more—something extraordinary, something pure, something spiritual. Something—I dare say—even divine.
William Miller is an Episcopal priest and author who lives near New Orleans in the United States. He is the author of two popular books: The Gospel According to Sam: Animal Stories for the Soul, and The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God: The Whole and Holy Truth About Lager, Loving and Living. Find out more at www.fatherbill.net or facebook.com/williammillerauthor.