I graduated from college at the height of the 2008 economic crisis. Like many others my age, I struggled to find a job for a long time. I sent hundreds of applications. At the beginning, most of these were for jobs in my field—but since my field was Recreation Management and people suddenly didn’t have much discretionary income to spend on leisure, I very quickly adjusted my strategy to applying for every job I was even remotely qualified for.
And through it all, my dad would send me emails with potential job leads. But these weren’t just any jobs. They weren’t practical or pragmatic—a surprise coming from my practical and pragmatic father. They might not earn me the highest salary or the best benefits, but they were jobs that he knew I would enjoy. Jobs outside. Jobs working with animals. Jobs with an element of adventure.
It made me feel seen, understood, and loved.
Fast forward a few years and I faced a new crisis: my mental health. My anxiety spiraled out of control and panic attacks started happening with alarming frequency. I experienced deep, prolonged depression for the first time in my life. I found it hard to focus on work, engage in activities I enjoy, or keep in touch with friends and loved ones. I had sought treatment in the form of counseling and a take-as-needed medication for my anxiety, but things got worse, not better. Earlier this year, they reached a tipping point. (If you’ve noticed my absence on the blog, that’s why.)
So I visited with a new doctor who gave me new prescriptions. Among them was a prescription for a dog, whose calming influence could help regulate my anxiety and ease my depression.
We brought Maisie home from the shelter a week before we left on a 3,000 mile road trip.
After watching our local shelter’s list of adoptable animals for weeks and praying for a dog that would be a good fit for both my anxiety and our little family of two, I decided it probably wasn’t practical or pragmatic to adopt a dog until we returned from said trip. I successfully avoided Petfinder’s adoption page until one day, I woke up with an image of a dog in my mind. I knew without a doubt that it was THE dog. The urge to check Petfinder persisted all day, and despite my efforts to resist, I finally succumbed that evening. And there at the very top of the page was a black and tan dog with the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen. I knew she was meant to be ours.
And in the weeks since we adopted her, I’ve become more and more convinced that she was hand picked for us by a loving Heavenly Father. To our mortal understanding, the timing was far from perfect, but God knew she was the perfect dog to bring us joy.
I felt seen, understood, and loved.
An Unexpected Message
But that’s not the end of the story.
Long before Brett and I adopted Maisie, we discovered the amazing story of Christina Hunger, a speech therapist who taught her dog Stella to talk using the same adaptive technologies she uses with her human clients. By recording words onto buttons Stella can press with her paw, Christina gave her pup the ability to express not just her needs and wants, but her unique observations of her world. We decided that when we did get a dog someday, we wanted to teach them how to use buttons, too.
A week after we returned from our trip, we got a set of four buttons and recorded them with the words “outside,” “play,” “eat,” and “water.” Maisie quickly took to using “play” and “outside,” and we knew that the others would soon follow.
And then I had a panic attack. It seemed to come out of nowhere: we’d had a great day, and I was happy and relaxed. But suddenly, I felt the cold grip of dread come slinking in from the edges of my mind like an uninvited party guest. My breathing became labored. My bloodpressure spiked. My face grew numb and I could not stop crying. Brett gave me one of my fast-acting anxiety pills and a priesthood blessing.
Maisie sat next to me while the blessing was administered, happy to let me bury my fingers in her ruff. But then she walked away, and I heard her press her “water” button for the first time ever. I worried that my inability to respond right away might negatively affect her future use of the button, but I felt the peaceful assurance of the Spirit that she wasn’t actually asking for water. A few seconds later, she pressed the “play” button. As soon as the blessing concluded, I glanced over at her water bowl and saw that it was full. Maisie sat nearby with her ball, patiently waiting for us to play with her. I knew then that our sweet, sweet dog had understood the meaning of the “water” on my face and knew that playing would help me feel better.
I also knew without a doubt that God saw my distress and sent an envoy who could speak—this time quite literally—to my heart.
A Father's Love
Looking back, many of the times in my life when I have felt the most seen, understood, and loved by God have involved the animals I adore so much. Like my earthly father, my Heavenly Father knows what brings me joy, and He sends messages filled with opportunities to see it and feel it in my life. These messages don’t always make sense through the lens of mortal understanding and customs, but they are always, always, filled with the love that only a Father can have for His child.
The way God helps you feel loved likely looks different than the way He helps me feel loved. The glorious and wonderful thing about Heavenly Father is that He knows each one of us personally and intimately. He sees both our individual struggles and our triumphs, the things that make us weary and the things that make our hearts sing. He loves to comfort, encourage, inspire, and guide us to good things, even when the path is a little unconventional, and his expressions of love are tailored to meet our unique needs, desires, and circumstances.
I am grateful for both my earthly father and my Heavenly Father, and for their continued efforts to help me feel seen, understood, and loved.
Make Space for Joy
President Nelson recently asked us to pay attention to how we hear God speaking to us personally. Take time to reflect on the times you have felt seen, understood, and loved by God. If that doesn’t come easily, think about the things that bring you joy and consider times when you’ve experienced that joy in unusual or unexpected ways. Pray to understand how the Lord was speaking to you through those experiences. As always, make a record of your thoughts and impressions, and over time, you will learn to #HearHim.
You could also record how and when you feel loved by your earthly father. Does he know how you feel? Too often, Father’s Day is the only time we think to thank our dads. Be intentional about recognizing and expressing gratitude for the things your father does because he loves you.
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