The song that comes on the radio at the perfect time. The text from a friend when you feel disconnected from the human race. The conversation you never expected. I don’t know if other people notice these little things in life, but I feel like I learn so much from them, it forces me to pay attention. After I had taken my dog Cooper out to, well, you know, do what dogs do outside before bedtime, it happened.
I had been so distracted by this, that, and a million other tasks, that it wasn’t until I crawled into bed nearly thirty minutes later when I noticed Cooper standing in an unusual spot. Instead of doing the usual crawl into his bed and curl up into a ball, he stood still, looking at me like I was forgetting something. For a brief moment I wondered what he wanted. But then I noticed he was standing in front of the pantry doors in the kitchen right outside my bedroom. His treat! That’s where his treats are stored. I had completely forgotten to give him his potty treat. But he hadn’t forgotten. So there he stood, quietly, patiently reminding me. No whining, no sense of urgency. Just a gentle reminder by his mere position in the room that his master had forgotten something. And instead of thinking to himself, oh, forget it, I’m sure she has forgotten my treat and walking away, he stood there waiting. For 30 minutes! He had faith in me, his owner, to eventually get my head screwed on straight and remember to give him his treat.
Intrigued by this behavior, I researched the short term memory of dogs. It’s not good, from all that I read. Their brain can only keep short term memories for a couple of minutes. This is why Cooper’s behavior of waiting for a treat for 30 minutes was so compelling. He has demonstrated remarkable patience and ability to wait in other situations as well. I recall several times when he has been stuck in my office when the door to the room accidentally closed. He has such faith that his owner will find him, when other dogs might whine or bark, Cooper stands behind the door silently wagging his tail. It was the shadow of his tail wagging cutting into the splotch of sunshine streaming in through the office window visible in the thin crack under the closed door that alerted me that Cooper was trapped. He has done this his whole life, sometimes trapped for up to an hour with no one in the family noticing until we notice the silence and absence of camaraderie and then finally ask each other, where’s Cooper?
As my kids can attest, I’m rarely impressed by the behaviors of humans or animals. But Cooper’s behavior, when I really consider it, blows me away that he has so much faith in me in his owner, that he will quietly wait for me to come attend to his needs without a single whine or bark. I think about my own impatience when there is something I am in desperate need of (like a treatment for a medical diagnosis), or when I feel trapped in a difficult life’s circumstance with no hope in sight. And I can assure you, God is not impressed with my lack of faith in His ability to extricate me from painful predicaments.
I’ve heard several references just this week about the nation of Israel roaming around in the wilderness for decades, waiting for God’s Promised Land. I recall even as a child being incredulous that they would question the sovereignty of God and His will for their futures, inevitably demonstrating bitterness, impatience, bickering, and eventually leading to worshipping a new god or idol in place of God as a result. The Old Testament is filled with these examples of humans who had lost their faith in the only one who is truly faithful. As a child I would ask, why don’t they ever learn to trust God?
So it was this thought in my head that helped me respond when someone asked me this week, “What is your biggest fear?” You see, not unlike the Israelites in the wilderness, I’ve been here before. Many times now. Now I’ve certainly had embarrassingly bad days when just like the Israelites, the shock of a sudden change in circumstances and the sheer difficulty of living life each day catches me off guard and overwhelms me. My human nature conjures images of being stuck in sinking mud, and just like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, I throw up my hands and beg for immediate rescue from my pit of despair. As a natural planner and doer, nothing is more challenging to me than to sit still and wait, as a mudslide halts my progress forward in life and the thick fog of the unknown shrouds the road ahead.
When asked that question, I took a 5-second temperature of the thoughts stored in my brain, and at that moment, not one appeared to be labeled “fear.” You see, for me to let fear rule my thoughts would be succumbing to the lies of the devil. I know that God is still writing the end of my story, because I can trust His actions that I have witnessed first-hand, time and time again, which have proven that He is faithful even when no hope remains. This means trusting that God knows the number of pages in my book of life, and I’m okay with the most powerful Person who happens to be the Creator of the Universe determining my future. In fact, I couldn’t think of a better person to which I could entrust my life.
So while upcoming doctors’ appointments may loom large and consequential, I am choosing to have faith like Cooper, that my Master has my best interest at heart. That He hasn’t forgotten me, because He has never failed me. So I am waiting like Cooper, in hopeful anticipation on the other side of the door, for my Savior to take my hand and lead me on the path He has uniquely and specially designed for my good. This is what it means to live by faith.
Jill Murphy is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and founder of MotionWorks Physical Therapy and an advocate for patient-centered care. A Christian mom of three, she survived a seven year journey through the broken American healthcare system in search for an answer to a heart arrhythmia that appeared during pregnancy. A stroke, open heart surgery for constrictive pericarditis, and several other surgeries later, Jill is telling her story of unfailing resilience in her upcoming book, Doctor Heal Thyself.
Having grown up on a dairy farm 40 minutes from Lambeau Field, Jill is an avid Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers fan, and is up for any activity with her three children, including walking, biking, throwing the football around, hiking in scenic locales, gardening, playing piano, singing, and coaching a middle school basketball game or two.