When we returned to the States for home service, I did not realize how weary and burned-out I was. We had just finished our second term as church planters in the Tokyo area. When I went to our family doctor for my physical check-up, he diagnosed me as having depression and started me on medication. The following months were a time of getting used to the medication, recovering, and reflecting on the last eight years in Japan.
God used a variety of instruments to build me up: His living and active Word, a walk-in closet converted into a prayer closet where I would go to be still and quiet and listen to God, dear Christian brothers and sisters who did not judge me but encouraged me, a Christian counselor, and fellow missionaries. There was one particular instrument that was a bit unconventional, though: a homeless dog named Nyack.
My family and I really missed our dog Sneakers, whom we had to leave back in Japan with friends. When I found out that there was a pet-adoption place called Pets, Inc. that needed “foster parents” to keep a dog until it got adopted, we jumped on the opportunity.
One afternoon, after our most recent “foster dog” had been adopted, my husband and I went to pick out a new dog. As we looked around the big room filled with all kinds and sizes of dogs, I noticed one pretty blonde shepherd who was in the far corner, lying down. She was watching all the people; as soon as someone came too close, she would slink over to the opposite corner, ears flat down, tail between her legs, and then lie down again.
I asked about her, and the worker said, “Oh, that is Nyack. She is a sweetie, but she is so scared; we think she was abused as a pup. She really needs a lot of love. Here in this loud, busy place she is just terrified. It would be great if she could stay with one family a while; maybe then she would become less fearful.”
My heart went out to her immediately. As I put her on the leash, she followed obediently, head down, never looking at me. I opened the door to the back seat of the car; she got in, went to the far side of the seat, sat down, and never moved or looked around during the whole 20-minute ride home. I sat beside her, constantly stroking her and talking softly to her: “It’s okay, girl. No one’s going to hurt you; you’re all right now.”
She never looked up at me or sniffed my hand or looked out the window. We got to our apartment, and as I watched her going in, I remembered the first times we had brought in all the other dogs we had fostered. They had run all over the apartment, sniffing every inch, going in and out of every room, full of curiosity. Not Nyack. She cowered as she walked, went straight to a blanket I had put out for her in the corner, and lay down.
My daughter went to her and patted her, speaking softly to her. Soon she said, “Mom, I’ve never seen a dog who as just given up on life like she has.”
I cupped Nyack’s head in my hands and pulled her face up to look at me; her eyes were absolutely expressionless. Her spirit was indeed broken. She was tired—not sleepy, but tired in her spirit. She was submissive and obedient, but purely out of fear.
How can I help her, reach her? I wondered. She had been beaten down by life, by people. Fear ruled her life. She had no natural curiosity, no joy. She had the run of the whole house but she stayed on her blanket, afraid to venture out. She was safe and secure now, with all her needs taken care of, but she did not know it! She could not enjoy her new surroundings because she did not trust our family. She did not know that I loved her, would take good care of her, and would see to all her needs. I had so much to give her, but she could not yet receive it. I needed to woo her, prove myself over time, and earn her trust. I wanted so much to see her relax in my love. I wanted to see her blossom, and come to life—to be a normal dog, with curiosity and energy. I wanted her to be excited about life, freely loving her master as only a dog can do. I wanted her to become all God created her to be. I hoped that over time my love would slowly heal the wounds of her past.
The next weeks were amazing as we watched the little changes in her. Each day, like a flower, she slowly opened up, a little at a time. Sometimes it was an ever-so-little wag of the tail. Sometimes she actually looked up at me for a moment before looking away. She still did not stay in the same room with us; she would go in the back bedroom, to a far corner. She could not sleep soundly; any little noise, and she was up with a start. She was starting to eat more slowly; at first, she would gulp down huge bites of food, as quickly as possible—I guess she never knew when she would be able to eat next, or if someone might hit her while she was eating. Slowly, ever so slowly, her broken spirit showed signs of being mended. It seemed she was beginning to enjoy little things like going out for a walk, hearing our words of praise, or having her head rubbed.
I will never forget the morning we had started out on our regular walk in the grass around the lake when Nyack suddenly stopped, turned toward me, and went into the “let’s play” stance. Her rear end was up in the air with her front end bowing down. She started jumping around like a young colt let out of the barn. She lay down in the grass, basking in the warm winter sunshine, and rolled on her back, kicking her legs up in the air. Then, suddenly, she barked! Just barked! Not at someone, or at another dog; she just let out a whoop of joy. I stood watching Nyack, my own heart full of joy and gratitude, and I sensed God speaking to me:
Barbara, you are like Nyack. You have been beaten down by life—hard circumstances on the mission field, difficult choices, painful relationships. You are alive, but you are lifeless. You have been beaten down by people and their expectations of you; you have been so addicted to their approval, instead of caring most of all whether or not I approve. Yes, you have continued to function, doing all the doings, but you are so tired, aren’t you?
I made you in My image. I gave you creativity, imagination, curiosity, emotions, a mind, a will. Just as Nyack has done with you, learn to rest in My love. Have I not proved Myself enough over the years of your life? Did I not prove My love for you once and for all at the cross? I have given you the run of My whole house, but you stay on your blanket in the corner, fearful and anxious. I have so much to give you, but you have not been able to receive it. I have promised to supply all your needs, yet you are constantly anxious for tomorrow. You are My child; you are free to run and play in every room of My palace, to come directly into the throne room to see Me whenever you want.
I know the world is very hard, but I have overcome the world. I know you fail and sin often; what grieves Me is that you obviously believe that those sins of yours are so great and awful that My Son’s death on the cross was not enough to handle them. I want you to know who you are, and to know whom I made you to be, so you can be set free…free like Nyack…free to enjoy life, free to love Me, free to love others in My Name. I have a plan for you, Barbara, a high calling. You are My precious child, created by Me and for Me. Now live in Me! Run! Kick up your heels! Nothing and no one can separate you from My love—ever!
I hated the thought of being separated from Nyack and having to take her back to the large shelter to be adopted. I decided to try to find someone around the apartment complex who could take her. I put posters up in various places, and I finally received one phone call. A young lady named Mary fell in love with Nyack and adopted her. Since she lived in the same complex, I could see Nyack whenever Mary took her for a walk. Every time Nyack saw me, she would burst out in wiggles and tail waggings.
Several weeks later, I got a phone call from Mary, asking me if I could come over for a cup of coffee. She said she wanted to ask me a favor but would wait to ask me when I got there. I thought she probably wanted to ask me to keep Nyack while she went out of town, but I wondered why she could not ask me that over the phone. At the suggestion of some friends, I had written up the story of how had God ministered to me through Nyack, so I decided I would give a copy of that to Mary when I went over to see her. I did not know her well, but I thought she would like to have it, since she owned Nyack now.
When I got to her apartment, Mary seemed a little nervous. She seemed hesitant to say what was on her mind. To put her at ease, I said, “I brought a little something I wrote about Nyack. Would you mind if I read it to you?” She seemed relieved to have something else to fill the quiet. I started reading about my depression and how God had taught me about grace and His unconditional love through seeing Nyack blossom in my love. When I finished, I looked up to see Mary crying.
She said, “The reason I asked you over is to tell you that I am being treated for severe depression, and I do not think I can keep Nyack any longer.” We both just sat there, stunned.
She continued, “I come from a very religious family. When I was in my early teens I received Christ as my Savior, but these past years I have turned away from Him and have done things which I know my family is ashamed of. What I want to know now is, is just receiving Christ really enough to get to heaven? Even after all I have done, will He still receive me? Does He still love me?”
I smiled at her and looked down at Nyack who was lying down beside me. I said, “I think God has already answered that question. Just look at what He has done through this dog! He used Nyack to remind me of His love and care, and then He brought Nyack and me into your life to be the messengers of His love and care for you. I did not know you; I had no idea you were struggling with depression. Do you see what God has done here? I am sitting here amazed at His orchestrating this whole thing! He does love you, and He will not forsake you; He is waiting for you to return to Him.”
As I walked home, with Nyack, I praised God for what He was doing, and I prayed for Mary. Now we had Nyack again, along with the problem of who would adopt her. Somehow, I knew He had someone for this special dog; He would certainly provide.
A few days later my pastor’s wife dropped by our place. She saw Nyack and exclaimed, “So this is the famous Nyack!” She talked quietly to the dog, and I noticed that she started wiping tears from her eyes.
“Thirteen years ago I took in a homeless dog that was dumped in our front yard and nursed him back to health. Last year he died, and there has been an empty space in my heart ever since. I cannot believe it, but Nyack looks just like him!” she said.
After discussing it with her family, she adopted Nyack. When the morning came for me to take Nyack to her new home, I took her for one last walk. I cried as I said good-bye to her, but I also felt awed at what God had done and how He had done it. This time when I held Nyack’s head in my hands, she did not look away in fear. Instead, her dark brown eyes, full of life, stared right back into my eyes, and she listened intently to every word I spoke. We both were becoming what we were created to be.
© 2012 Women of the Harvest.