By Jenna Ebener
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3: 5-6). As I reflect on how I ended up at my school in Colorado, I am filled with awe at how God works. I see many of the ways God prepared me for this profession. I grew up with a mother who is a teacher, thus sparking my interest in education. As a teenager, I often baby-sat, which fostered my joy in helping children. I was a lifeguard for seven years, which prepared me for responding to crises. Throughout college, I volunteered and interned at facilities for individuals with disabilities. All of these experiences and more shaped me for my future. Yet, God solidified my biggest life decisions in distinct ways.
There are three moments I will always remember. First, the sudden realization I had as a senior in high school that I was meant to be a social worker instead of a zoologist. Three years later, I saw a picture of a therapy dog and instinctively knew that God was showing me a path to connect my passions for social work and animals. Two years later as I prepared to graduate with my master’s degree, I knew that I was looking for a school whose students have intense needs. Those three moments are ingrained in my head and heart as direct conversations with God. I could not have reached those three vital decisions on my own.
I am still amazed at the school in which God has placed me. Through reflection, I can clearly see my passion for animals, children and individuals with disabilities. Yet, I will never be able to fully explain the intense draw I felt to find a school whose students have the most intense needs. I had some experience working with individuals with disabilities, but most of the disabilities were mild to moderate in intensity. Yet, when I was job searching, I knew what population was meant for me.
After working for two years with students who are mostly nonverbal, I am recognizing why God placed me with these unique students. I can connect with my students in a way I would not be able to with students who are typically developing. I have always been one to communicate more effectively through writing than through words. I am a processer who does not have quick responses; I adore the peace found in silences and I am generally a content person. These qualities, I have found, are ideal for working with my population.
My students do not need long responses. There is something wonderful to me about working on skills that are so basic, yet equally complex, such as finding a way to ask for help. Especially when my students are escalated, they cannot process many words and understand gestures and nonverbal body language much quicker. Therefore, my responses are more instinctual and take off the pressure of what I am saying. My students do not require long descriptions, but rather a person who can be patient, wait in silence and provide cues as needed. Even though I did not know at the time precisely why I said yes to working with these amazing students, God did, and that was what truly mattered.
I know I am blessed to be able to recall those moments of saying yes to God with clarity and purpose. From deep within, I knew that I was feeling God pulling me to where he wanted me to go. Even if it meant derailing my plans of zoology or going to school in Colorado, I knew that if I trusted God, he would not lead me astray.
(Editor’s note: Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)