FIRST-PERSON: Final walks with Willy

Tags: dogsdeath

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP) -- We adopted our dog Willy as a scraggly shelter puppy eight years ago. Our veterinarian looked him over during his first visit and said, "This little guy looks like he was made out of spare parts."

Willy was never very coordinated, and one eye didn't work very well, if at all. At 17 months, when his other eye suffered a detached retina, he became completely blind.

I admitted many times that my first thought was to look for a money-back guarantee from the shelter. I wasn't sure we wanted a dog that couldn't see a ball, much less catch one.

But I married a tenderhearted, compassionate wife who immediately declared that Willy needed us. Her grace gave him value, and he continued to be a sweet and obedient companion to our family from that day on. He was my wife's prayerwalking partner. He was her conversation starter and relationship builder with our neighbors. And occasionally, he was even a sermon illustration for me.

The vet told us several months ago that Willy was in his last days. After that, each time Beth or I headed out the door with him, we knew it was one of our final walks.

But Willy didn't seem to have a clue about his mortality. Though his appetite and energy were fading, he slowly rose and followed us wherever we were in the house. He walked as well as he could when we took him outside. He asked for attention with his paw when he needed something. And he seemed completely content just to be with us.

Death is a sobering thing to think about, at least for those who don't feel they're nearing it yet.

I remember as a young boy accompanying my dad to a nursing home each Sunday afternoon. I was learning to play the piano, and our church had a portable keyboard that I thought was cool. So I would play songs for the residents to sing, and then my dad would share a brief devotional.

At the time, I guess I wondered why we bothered to go, or why the people there bothered to come and listen.

Some of them didn't sing. Some didn't seem to be able to walk, or even talk. They just smiled at me while I played, or closed their eyes and nodded their heads. Many were eager to speak to me before we left each week and thank me for coming, maybe even more than they thanked my dad. But he didn't seem to mind. He told me most of them didn't have little boys that could visit very often.

Willy taught or reminded me of many spiritual truths during his brief life that ended a few weeks ago. Though he was extremely limited in what he could offer in return for our care, he loved us and wanted to be near us. He was obedient and sweet-spirited. He followed very close to us, wherever we went and whatever we asked him to do.

As we went on our final walks with Willy, he caused me to remember the anonymous, sweet, devoted saints from my boyhood. Though they too were very limited physically, they still lived each day knowing and loving their Master, wanting to be near Him and to obey Him, and smiling at the little boys He sent who were learning to play the piano.

I hope that during my own final, frail walks with my Master I will be able to love and serve Him with the devotion of the faithful elderly saints I have known throughout my life. I will be grateful if I can simply imitate the devotion of a blind dog named Willy, who somehow understood he was rescued by grace and therefore walked faithfully with his master.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. This column first appeared in the association's newspaper, Illinois Baptist (illinoisbaptist.org).
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