Depression, a Dog and a Difficult Grace

View More: I was gardening recently, our dog raced by me in her typical Secretariat sort-of way.  As the blades of grass bent in her wake, I smiled that we ended up with this amazing, energetic pup. Her name is Grace and she is the result of my daughter’s search for a “big mellow dog” to comfort her as she struggled with anxiety and depression as a teenager.  Ha!  Grace is a medium-sized, super-active lab/border collie mix who does not meet criteria as an ideal “therapy dog”. However, despite her father’s skepticism, Madeline heard God’s voice correctly that a dog would help her heal–and that this chocolate colored puppy was “the one”.

The “one” is happy, athletic, and needs an active job (preferably involving balls or swimming). The first six months with Grace almost overwhelmed our family. Madeline had puppy exhaustion on top of her chronic fatigue. As we stumbled through days with a brown puppy biting our heels and leaping over our furniture, we thought perhaps we had made a mistake. However, over the last two years Grace has miraculously shaped our daughter into a responsible, loving, disciplined and thoughtful young adult.  Madeline has joined two dog clubs (dock jumping and fly ball) to fulfill Grace’s needs. No longer severely anxious or depressed, the process of loving her dog fiercely has guided our daughter into going places and doing things that seemed impossible during that season.

As Grace sped by me in the yard that day, her energy reminded me that God gave Madeline what she needed instead of what she wanted.  Madeline wanted peace and comfort.  God offered responsibility and sacrifice.  Madeline wanted a cuddly pup.  God gave her an intense, active one. Often that’s the way He works.


“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:31).


God often allows challenges in our lives because He intimately knows the benefits we reap through sacrificial love and responsibility. Out of His own fierce love, God took on the responsibility of the whole world and offered the sacrifice of His son for our benefit.  He understands our parental pain because He has been through it. Think on the reality of that for a moment.

What grace (favor) has God bestowed on you—perhaps disguised in the form of your child with difficulties? If you are struggling with a particular difficult energy or trait of your child, I challenge you to look for God’s gift hidden beneath the trial. It often comes to us against a background of struggle, so at first glance we may not recognize it–but it’s there.  God’s grace was in the challenges my children brought into my life (I have a daughter with autism, as well) but I couldn’t see it for a long time as the struggle clouded my vision.  I wanted ease and satisfaction. God’s grace offered me challenge and humility.

Now I see that this “difficult grace” taught me to engage in the essential things of life (love and service) and leave some less important (career) goals behind.  I also learned how much I need God on a day-to-day and moment-to-moment basis.  Most of the self-sufficiency that previously blinded my view of God’s priorities were stamped out in those doctor’s offices, IEP meetings, home-schooling adventures and in the routines of daily life.

As you think about your life and situation, consider the following:

  • What situation or person in your life requires sacrifice?
  • What difficult responsibilities are strengthening you to fully trust God’s provision?
  • Whom do you love so fiercely that you would stretch beyond your comfort zone to meet his/her needs?

Who and what are these people and situations? They are God’s covert messengers, intended to bring good into your life.  Be thankful for this amazing, difficult grace.


“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved…” (John Newton, 1779)

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