Have you ever had someone make a snap judgment about you without getting to know you? Or reduced your worth to only what matters to them and not to you? Have you ever felt the pain of not being seen or valued?
In May 2022, we acquired a three-year-old rescue dog. Her name is Chance, a Belgian Malinois. She’s about two thirds the size of a German shepherd, highly intelligent with razor-sharp focus, and one incredible sense of smell.
Here’s what we know about Chance’s past: A woman obtained her as a puppy, likely for breeding as she’s had at least one litter. The owner found Chance too troublesome, so she gave her to her brother. Chance apparently experienced abuse under their care. She bears marks from being struck with objects and was shot in her rear leg with a BB gun – an X-ray showed the BB is still there. Then someone released her into the woods.
About three mornings later, a veterinarian noticed Chance while walking her own dog in the Oakland hills. She saw her again that afternoon and realized something was off, that she must have been abandoned, so she set out to find her. We know all this due to Chance’s implanted microchip, which led the vet to the previous owner.
Although rescue dogs and cats were part of my world growing up, I wasn’t necessarily looking to revisit that experience. My husband had expressed his wishes for a dog, but I held off for about two years as I was concerned about the required time and expense. One of our dog-lover friends knew we had been discussing this and shared a photo of Chance with us. We fell in love with her through that photo.
After learning as much as we could about her breed, and some waffling on the decision, we invited Chance into our home. It was difficult at first. She barked whenever we entered her presence the first few days, which was a bit scary. There were a few accidents. Then Chance began constantly following me around the house, to the point where I could barely escape her by going to the bathroom.
At that point, I asked the vet if another home could be found for Chance. As patiently as she could, the vet explained that after all the trauma and instability Chance had endured, it would be best to work through the behavioral issues instead of adding further trauma by changing her environment again. With reluctant resignation, I realized I could not increase this dog’s trauma and anxiety, even though I didn’t feel up to the task.
Although I didn’t realize it then, what Chance needed was a deeper look, a little compassion and understanding. Chance needed to be “seen.”
Seeing Chance: What we’ve learned
One day, we accidentally locked Chance out in the backyard for about an hour. As soon as I realized and opened the back door to let her in, she entered and peed on one of our rugs. Instead of getting upset, I realized for the first time that she likely spent many hours outside in her previous living situation. I reassured her, then dealt with the rug. It hasn’t happened since.
I understand why Chance follows me around the house. She was left outside a lot and, ultimately, abandoned. When she hears me walk down the stairs, she’ll stop whatever she’s doing and rapidly run down to join me, almost in a panic. When I first started walking her, she would constantly look back over her shoulder as if to ask, “Are you still there?” She seems to need significant reassurance of not only physical presence, but also love.
Isn’t it the same for us and for the people around us?
But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
Of the four Greek words for love in the Bible, agapé creates value in the one loved. So, how do we ascribe value to a person we love? This verse gives us four things to consider:
- Don’t fear.
Surely, reverence for God is important, but fear? Scripture repeatedly reminds us to “fear not.” John 16:33 encourages us that what God has told us is intended to give peace. In this world we will have trouble, but we can take heart, for He has overcome the world. Having experienced two recent brain surgeries for a life-threatening aneurysm, I have endured bouts with fear, and sometimes I still do. But we can choose to anchor ourselves in the peace God provides and invite Him into those places that we fear.
- We have been redeemed.
Redemption is buying or winning back. It’s being freed from distress, harm, or captivity. It’s changing for the better. It’s repairing and restoring, making an exchange for something of value. The value of your existence comes from the fact that God designed you, created you, formed you, knit you together in your mother’s womb. It was His joy to do it and He delights in your uniqueness.
- He calls us by name.
Calling someone by their name is a way of valuing them. When I encounter someone asking me for money on the street and I speak to them, if I remember to do so, I ask their name. Suddenly, there seems to be a palpable shift in our short conversation. It would appear in that moment they go from being unseen to seen. This also helps me see them too, as I now call them by name and engage on a deeper level.
- You belong.
We all want to belong to a family or community. In her former life, Chance’s only purpose was to produce. She is now part of a family that loves her, considers her, delights in her, recognizes what’s important to her. It’s not dissimilar to our entry into God’s family. Your family relationships may have left you feeling unwanted, but that is not ever the case with God. Immediately, He calls you His own.
I’ve learned so much from watching this “rescue dog” move from fear to trust. Chance has begun approaching people in the park to pet her and throw her ball for her, often to their delight. Sometimes she’ll lose sight of me for a moment. But when I call her name, she’ll come running, wagging her tail all the way back. People sometimes comment, “Now that is one happy dog!”
I wish her former owners had seen Chance as something more than a means to an end. I wish they had known the joy I experience with her in our lives. When I see Chance catch her ball in mid-air, get excited to go on a walk, enthusiastically greet me when I return home, or simply say “hello” in the morning, I feel joy. It’s the joy of knowing she now has a life that she loves, that there is grace for her mistakes, and compassionate understanding as she releases the trauma of her past.
Chance has been redeemed. And she is seen.