By Jenna Ebener
“We have a few dogs in mind for the team training in May,” the caller said. Although I felt joy, my initial response to these words also included shock and dismay as I thought, “how can I possibly make that work?”
For seven years, I knew animal-assisted interventions were the way I could bridge my lifelong passion for animals with my passions for social work and children. For the past four years, I have been actively working to get a facility dog team established at my school whose students have a combination of medical, cognitive and behavioral disabilities. I had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity that the phone call presented.
While things had been going along at a snail’s pace, all of a sudden, they were happening at hyper speed and it was hard to believe. In a span of three weeks, I went from trusting God that it was going to happen but not knowing how or when to suddenly being told it was going to happen in five weeks.
That phone call meant I was invited to California for two weeks to train with a potential facility dog. After an extensive application process, the agency I wanted to partner with had a few assistance dogs in mind that might be a good fit for our school. They were around 2 years old, had been trained from the moment they opened their eyes and knew over 40 commands.
I had spent years deciding what agency to go through, what type of dog our school needed, and getting the approval to make it happen. I was faced with a huge decision: do I go to California now and leave for two weeks while school is in session or do I wait and hope that they will have a dog in mind for me during the training this summer?
The answer to everyone else seemed common sense — go now! I, however, was wracked with anxiety. With so much going on, I felt overwhelmed. The past two months had been insanely chaotic, and that is saying something, considering my field of work with children with special needs. I was exhausted and did not feel in a positive enough state of mind to make such a big decision.
Coincidentally, I had planned on calling the agency that weekend to make sure that I would not be considered for a match until the summer training. God, however, had another plan and I could not be more thankful.
Being forced to make a decision and not take the easy way out, I did the only thing I could think of that would help: I prayed. I spent hours in adoration that weekend pouring my heart out to God. I listed pros and cons, read the Bible more than I had in years and tried to simply listen. I finally came to peace with thinking that I would likely say no, and wait until the next opportunity opened up.
Again, God had another plan for me. As I shared my thoughts with a deacon at my church, he helped me realize that the biggest emotion I was feeling was fear. While either decision had pros and cons, I saw that I was afraid of having to add so much stress to my plate by missing two weeks of work. Again, I became wracked with doubt, so I returned to adoration. Finally, I got to the point where I was at peace with either decision. I ignored the fear and said yes! “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). (Story to be continued.)
(Jenna Ebener, who has a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with disabilities.)