From Prison to Freedom

Last week Molly, Teddy, and I rolled up the long drive that lead to a complex surrounded in razor wire and strong metal bars. This was the same prison we rolled up to 2 1/2 years before to pick up one special creature. Teddy.

The first time we entered this place, we truly did not know what to expect. When Molly saw Teddy for the first time, she thought he was ugly. He had been shaved to the skin and looked more like a goat than a dog, so it was safe to say, he was not looking his best. She didn’t even pick him even though it was very evident that he had chosen her. He chose to be her guardian for the rest of his life that day but we didn’t know.

Circumstances changed and Molly was given Teddy because the other dog was not responding to her blood sugars like he was. It was clear that God had picked for her. We went to the graduation those years ago where we began to learn how to work with Teddy. The men who trained him, were teary eyed and had a bittersweet goodbye to this dog they loved since he was a puppy.

When we said goodbye to the two men that raised Teddy, I began to cry because I knew the love they had for him and the hope they put into his journey to be a faithful servant to our daughter. Caught up in a life that caused pain and devastation on one end, these men had this opportunity to cause something quite the opposite—freedom. Not their freedom, but ours.

Walking into those same barred doors and waiting until you heard the last jolting lock behind us, we walked toward the same men these years later who were looking for Teddy like one looks for a long lost friend. Teddy perked up his ears and eyes and his nose smelled them from across the room. He knew them. They quietly, but excitedly, made their way to Teddy and then it was like fireworks went off for all three of them in that moment. Teddy leaped into their arms and they had smiles over their worn faces like I had never seen before. It was truly amazing that Teddy could be away that long and have such a divine connection to his trainers as though he never left.

Molly and I had the honor of being asked to speak at this years Retrieving Independence Service Dog graduation. There was a line of tables going all the way around the prison cafeteria. One row of chairs was for the new recipients which we met one particular family. They knew us but we never met them in our lives. After getting a bit more acquainted, we found out that this family had been watching our family grow up. They watched the homesteading videos we made when our oldest child was barely 7 years old. Molly was only 6 at the time.

Molly had gotten diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes while we were putting in our first garden on that video. Their daughter also had Type 1 and as they watched and read about our journey getting Teddy, they followed on that path to get their daughter a service dog. Strangely enough, the same trainers also trained her beautiful dog. Looking in their eyes, I knew that they would also be so touched by this ministry.

Another row of chairs had the inmates who were the dog trainers, the next was the volunteers, and the leaders of the program took the row that was around the podium for the speakers. Soon everything went quiet and they started asking people to come up to say a few words about the program. There was three strong men who trained the service dogs who went before us.

The words that came out of their mouths were so touching. I don’t think there was a dry eye in that place. Seeing these men who bonded and loved a creature as much as they were and to know with all your heart that they were proud to give these dogs off to help save lives, was nothing short of a miracle. The miracle was in how these men could pour themselves into such a worthy endeavor that would make such a difference in someone’s life, like it did for ours.

Molly and I dried our tears and made our way up to the podium to give our speech. We did not have anything prepared. We just spoke from our hearts. I started off telling the crowd about how thankful we were for this program which is 100% volunteer, non profit. All the many people that give so much to make this possible. I nearly bawled my eyes out when Molly said, “The thing I love most about Teddy is that he is stubborn. Sometimes I like to forget about being a diabetic, but he never lets me. He will bark and alert or get others to help me when I want to ignore my diabetes. He will not leave us alone until I take care of myself and for that I am so thankful. I might not be here if it weren’t for him protecting me like he does.” Then she looked over at the two men who trained him and said, “Thank you for giving me my best friend.”

We are so thankful for all those people who joined with us in prayer and others who helped financially to make this possible for my daughter.  Now we are taking this miracle and beginning to pay it forward.  Molly just signed up as a volunteer in their program to help train the puppies on furlough weekends.  She will be picking a puppy up and helping socialize them.  Teddy will also be able to help train the younger pups just by his example.  I volunteered to go to the prison and help talk to the ladies and the women’s prison if I am needed to encourage them in this precious endeavor.  God is good!

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