I spend a lot of my life and ministry now speaking into the lives of student pastors and ministries. One of the truths I am honored to talk about often is that we all live a legacy. I want to pull back the curtain a moment and let you into something personal that happened in my life recently. It affects my life, my ministry, and my legacy.
The picture above—that’s Murphy—my great dog of the last 9+ years. He was every bit a golden retriever. This past Saturday morning I had to have him put to sleep; he had a massive cancerous tumor that ultimately took its toll.
In my almost two decades of ministry, I have helped many families and friends walk through tough times. I’ve shared tears and tragedy with countless people. Yet even though I’ve known awhile that Murph’s time was coming, when it arrived, it was still one of the toughest things I’ve ever faced. Honestly, I have cried more in the last few days than most of my adult life put together. That dog—he had so much personality and has been a huge part of my life. As prepared as I was, it’s still emotional.
I adopted Murphy when he was seven weeks old. He literally fit on my arm on our drive home. (As an adult dog, he took up most of the backseat.) He was a puppy with huge paws—a sign of things to come—and was an absolute tornado from the start. I read books on golden puppies. I took him to a class. He was a “slow learner” on a few things. Housebreaking took awhile, and my carpet suffered.
Somehow we made it through puppyhood, and Murphy grew to be a huge character—a hundred pounds worth! He never met a stranger, and I often said his tail could power a third-world country. Just like in the commercials, he loved car rides, especially with his head out the window.
I once spoke at an event where a sweet, little old lady gave me a pound cake as a gift. I took the cake home, placed it on the kitchen counter, and prepared for an evening with my high school guys to come over and play cards. I noticed I hadn’t seen Murph in a while, which was usually not a good thing since he was usually wherever people were. I walked in the kitchen and found that goober had stolen the cake off the counter and had eaten the whole thing. I can still see him—lying on his back, paws up in the air, and plastic wrap next to his head. He looked so happy it was hard to get mad at him. (I found a way!)
When I had small groups at my house, he was always a part of the story. We had what we called “Murphy Tourettes,” which meant in the middle of saying something, you would interject “no” as he tried to lick your hand. And then you just continued talking. I usually had to grab him during prayer time—prime time to walk up and lick someone. His tail would knock over drinks or whatever was in his way. And it was awesome.
He loved to chew on things. Anything. Rocks. Trees. The wall of the house. If it could get in his mouth, it was pretty much fair game. Rawhide bones became a great investment. I don’t know how many I bought over the years, but hundreds would be an easy guess. That dog chewed up more sticks and pinecones than imaginable. Since I spend a lot of time on the back-porch with friends, we’ve seen lots of Murph shrapnel all over the back-porch from his chewing sessions. He loved it.
Murphy was a part of my life during some great seasons. I got him when I was still on staff with Campus Crusade/Student Venture. He was with me when I was on staff at North Point and now with Legacy Now. Generations of small groups, roommates, friends, and others. So many stories. I’ve used Murphy in so many talks over the years—which I love. His impact was profound… for a dog!
I wrote a chapter about Murph in my first book, and to this day I still get feedback on that one. In fact, I still use that story in talks.
Murphy was a dog; I get it. But he was my dog, and I know a gift from God for the last season. God has taught me SO many things because of Murphy. It’s weird, but after almost ten years, I didn’t realize the rhythm I had. I’m still getting use to not letting him out first thing in the morning or filling the water bowl—great reminders of how important he was to me.
One of the most important things is this: I took responsibility for him. You see, I went and paid a price for him. I then took responsibility for his care and well being. I made sure he had what he needed and even at times didn’t let him do things that I knew would hurt him. I did that because I took responsibility for his life. The moment I handed the check over, he was mine.
In the same way that’s true for the Lord and me. He paid a steep price for me and has taken responsibility for me. He calls me His son. He cares for and provides for me. He opens doors and closes doors because He knows what is right and what is not. He continues to love me when I often put myself in a place for Him to give up on me. He never does. Much like Murphy was always excited for me to come home, the Lord is ready for me to come to Him. His arms are open wider than I can imagine.
I hope as you read this post you know how this season has driven me to consider in a new way God’s never-ending, relentless love for me. The same is true for you. His love for you is beyond anything you can imagine.
I love that God gives us emotions. He created us and gave them to us. He feels for us way more than we could ever feel for a pet and even another person. I hope you have that kind of personal relationship with God.
Murphy will always be a part of my story and my legacy, and I’ll always be grateful for that. The last few days have been really emotional. At the same time, it’s cool to see how attached we can get to something like a dog. I’ve loved all the cool stories people have shared. I’ve been humbled by all the kind thoughts and words from so many. More than anything, I know that God allows us to experience emotion so that we can understand Him more.
And that’s worth wagging your tail about.