You know the saying that dog is God spelled backwards? Well, it’s true. Okay, my theological mind can have trouble with this. I’d probably could write a theological article about how this is incompatible with Scripture and how ridiculous this is. Some might even call it heresy.
But I won’t go go there. I just can’t. I have seen God used dogs in my life the past 28 years, and I know my life wouldn’t be the same without them. With all the tools God could have and did use to get me where I’m at today, it was man’s best friend that has helped me the most.
The Lord has always been leading the way when it came to my service dogs. I’m still amazed that back in 1987, when I first heard about Canine Companions for Independence, He was already at work. I was so excited about the possibility of having a canine companion with me 24/7, I begged my parents to let me apply for a service dog. They said I was too young and I should wait. If they did put me on the waiting list and if I moved up, I’d have been up for a dog in 1989.
Guess what? I got my first dog in 1989! Nouveau was born June 29, 1987, just a few months after I first learned about CCI. The story of how it all came together is told in my first book, My Exodus. I learned independence from Nouveau, graduated from high school, started college, and moved out on my own.
God’s plans can’t be interrupted.
Seven years later, Nouveau had to retire because of some behavioral problems. I was heartbroken, but once again, God was there. 1996 was a growing up year for me in many ways, and I found myself training with my next dog, Lanzner, at the end of the year.
Lanzner and I were a team for thirteen years. She helped me establish a career, a home, and was there when God called me to disability ministry. Lanzner was with me while I learned much of my theology, the Bible, and God’s vision for my life. She was there when I made some of my lifetime friends, found my church home, and started my ministry.
When Lanzner was too old to work, I applied for another dog. I was on the waiting list when the trainer emailed a proposal. A recent graduate had died and her service dog was too young to retire. He needed a new partner. I was already thinking about how I’d travel to the training center for a third time, but once again God had it planned out. Since Santana and I both were in the same state, the trainer flew out to make sure we were a good match.
Once again God was faithful to providing me what I need when I needed it. He used Santana to continue what he started with Nouveau and Lanzner…to make me into the man he wanted me to be. I’m established in ministry, attend a good church, and am enjoying life. Above all, God made another dream come true when he gave me my wife, Kelly.
Why recall these things now? Well, Santana is getting older, and I find myself leaving him home more and more. It’s just easier to “do life” without him, and I wonder what my life would be like without a service dog. I have Kelly now, and life is different than it was thirty years ago.
At this time, I am not getting another dog. Life is full, and I frankly don’t want the responsibility of a dog right now. I try to be sad about not having a canine by my side to the point of forcing myself to feel something that is not there. There will be time to grieve when Santana passes.
Then I remember the beginning of this story. It’s actually the beginning of all stories. “In the beginning, God.”
In the beginning, God created me to have a disability. God saw that I would need help along the way, so he sent dogs to be my friends and teachers. He knew my dogs before I ever realized I needed them. He knew I needed Nouveau to make it through high school and to learn how to be independent.
He sent Lanzner at a time when I questioned God’s love for me and why I have a disability. I discovered my calling because of that. And he used Santana to help me understand myself in a deeper way and how to express my emotions in appropriate ways. I was able to marry Kelly because of that.
A successor dog for Santana might not be in the immediate future for me, but that’s okay. This same God who orchestrated my first service dog twenty eight years ago is the same God who will take care of me in the future.
By the way. About that heresy issue I mentioned. The heresy would be worshiping my dogs as if they were gods. Maybe even believing that the incarnation of God is a dog instead of man. (Run that through your theological wheelhouse for a minute!)
But that’s far from the case here. No, my story is about a God who loves me so deeply that he provided me three dogs over the years to help me become the man I am today. This is my God, the Lord over all creation who is worthy to be worshiped.