Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pass The Poisonberry Syrup, Please

“It is familiarity with life that makes time speed quickly. When every day is a step in the unknown, as for children, the days are long with gathering of experience . . .”
George R. Gissing

                Yesterday I ate a waffle with boysenberry syrup on it. I asked my daughter if she remembered that she used to call it “poisonberry syrup”.  Miffed, she said, “Well, I had never heard of ‘boysenberry’, Mom!”  It’s true; she never had. Ally, because of her central auditory processing difficulty, is known for the Malapropism. To this day, if she mishears something, she simply translates it into something remotely understandable to her and goes from there. But she is not the only one of my children to make these blunders and what they do not fathom is that I still laugh about them because they are such fond memories.

                For instance, there is the infamous Muu Muu Incident. Tony has always been an eavesdropper, but unfortunately he would often hear parts of separate discussions and somehow merge them in his head. One chilly Saturday morning my husband was making biscuits.He told me that he was making them and that he was also making sausage and gravy, and that we could have either gravy or jam on them, and then he asked me about the muu-muus he had bought for me to wear around the house. “Oh, they’re wonderful,” I said. “Very warm.”

                Tony had only heard fragments of what we were saying. “Hey, Dad,” he asked, “are the muu-muus for us kids too, or just you and Mom?”


                “The muu-muus. Are they for us, too?”


                Exasperated, he asked a third time. “The MUU-MUUS.The ones that are warm in the oven. Are they for us too?”

                Freddie chuckled. “Son, what do you think muu-muus ARE?”


                To this day, muu-muus are another name for biscuits and vice versa. The incident sparked a series of jokes about Muu-Muu Man and his sidekick, Biscuit Boy, who fight evil armed only with spatulas and butter. Tony finds it much funnier now than he did then. At the time, he became incensed when, after he said he was tired and we asked from what, Ally piped up, “Saving the WORLD!” in a singsong voice.

                But Ally has done and said her share. Unfamilar with the concept of a port-o-potty , she asked if “the potties in the porters ever overfloat.” My husband promptly made up a song called “The Potty in the Porter” to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell.” It was suitably gross and the children, who were five, eight, and eleven at the time, shrieked with mirth and later drew a series of illustrations to go with it. Ally used to draw things and then decide what they were. My favorite was “a duck thinking about France”. It turned out that she thought France was a kind of food.Once, when asked at our adoption support group to illustrate “trauma”, she drew a flower under which she wrote, “I AM VARRY HAPPYE.” I explained to her that trauma is not a flower nor a happy thing. She replied that she knew that, but she wasn’t sad or traumatized so she just drew what she wanted. Raina had drawn a little girl crying. “Now, before you jump to any conclusions, Mother,” she said, “I just drew that because I knew they wanted some sad weepy picture. I’m not actually traumatized.” So much for psychology.

                My kids hate being analyzed. If they do something dumb they don’t want us to try to figure out why they did it, because sometimes people just do and say dumb things. There was no deep psychological reason why they thought it would be a good idea to tie the wagon to Tony’s bike, put Ally and the dog in it, and then try to ride the bike downhill in violation of all the laws of physics. It didn’t end well, but like many things I didn’t know about it until years later. The older two paid Ally off with candy to not tell.

                I don’t know why I didn’t notice when Ally shaved off her eyebrows and drew some on with marker, but I really didn’t. I guess I was too busy worrying about why Tony popped the head off a Barbie doll, drew a face on the tiny little ball that remained, and posed it naked on the edge of the bathtub. Or maybe it was because I was slowly going mad thinking we had poltergeists, since things would go missing and then reappear in different places and NOBODY did it. Or maybe I was distracted by my husband’s incoherent ramblings about mermaid hair in his soap and the action figure stuck in the drain. These days it is bobby pins and hair ties that get stuck in the drain, and the paint that used to get spilled on the carpet has been replaced by nail polish that is impossible to get rid of.

                Who can comprehend the mind of a child? Raina thought those things that you plug things into were “shock-its” which actually makes sense, but she also liked “corn critters”. I’m not sure what she thought was in the corn fritters. Ally believed that the Statue of Delivery had a pizza box in her hand, and that some Native American had been working on the railroad, “all the WIGWAM day.”  She is still the Lyric Butcher. If she doesn’t know the words, she just makes them up-or HUMS. A lot.

                Often during a day’s play in the backyard there would be odd occurrences and people would come in to get strange things. I decided that some things were best unknown and were maybe not my business, but I did get upset when the girls threw CD cases into the fan and destroyed them while “playing secret agent”.  I never did figure that one out, any more than I have been able to figure out Ally’s cryptic answer to the question of whether her socks matched: “Well, one of them doesn’t.” At least they don’t talk backward anymore. I have to admit, that really did drive me nuts, and they knew it.They also knew that I hated the idea of wasting food, which was why they threw the pimento cheese sandwiches into the far back of the yard and then watched them decay and get eaten by ants over time. Fascinating nature study.

                One day Ally came in to get a broom and my curiosity got the best of me. “Why do you need a broom?”

                “To sweep up the broken glass in the shed.”

                “Broken glass from what?”

                “The broken aquarium.”

                “There’s no broken aquarium in the shed.”

                “There is now.” BAZINGA.

                It turned out that Raina had been trying to get something out of a keeper that was on top of a very tall stack of keepers. She decided that it would be a good idea to stand on the old aquarium in order to reach it. Putting ninety-five pounds of pressure on an item made entirely of glass will cause it to shatter, a scientific discovery Raina made all by herself. Kids have to learn these things. They also have to eventually learn to put on their own Band-Aids, which Raina did that day-she sneaked in and did it herself because she didn’t want us to know that she had once again done something kind of dumb.

                Another time, Tony came running in yelling that a tree had fallen on Raina. My husband was not home at the time. I ran screaming into the yard, expecting to find my daughter dead and smashed beneath a fallen oak. Instead, I found her lying on the ground yowling like a scalded cat with a very small tree limb across her leg. I asked Tony why he exaggerated, and he said, “Well, from the way she was yelling, I just assumed it was a whole tree.” 

                Ah, childhood. A time of innocence. A time of magic. A time when your brother and sister throw your toy into a tree, make you climb up to get it, refuse to help you down, and laugh at you when you pee your pants. Poor Ally. Although she was REALLY annoying, the way she would take everything Tony said and make it into a song and sing it back to him, or lean over to whisper something to Raina and then lick her ear. It’s a good thing that when the social worker, unable to deny Tony’s issues, assured us that the girls were “no trouble at all”, we took it with a grain of salt. There is no such thing as a child who is “no trouble at all” except in books.

                Nowadays we look back and laugh. Memories are wonderful things, and we have more to come. Just the other day, Tony hit a traffic cone with his car and it flipped up and smashed his side mirror. Weird things just HAPPEN to that boy. If he gets the job he’s interviewing for today, at the Hush Puppy store, we will probably call him Shoe Boy or something. Teasing each other is how we show affection. That’s how we roll. Alyssa still often falls for Freddie’s ridiculous “facts” that he tells with a straight face and so does Tony. Raina is a little more savvy and she will just shake her head and say “No, it’s not.”  But he gets her every now and then and is delighted when it happens. When the kids were younger, if I saw them doing something dangerous, I would say, “I had a friend who did that. Know what happened? He DIED.” After awhile, though, they realized that I would have had no friends left if this had been true every time, so now when I start that they just say, “Yeah, yeah. We know. He ate too many potato chips and he DIED.” Oh, these cynical, coffee-drinking, music-obsessed teenagers of mine. Where did those three cute little kids go? I think they have a very bad case…of growing up. It’s sad, but it happens to everybody. I kind of miss the  muu-muu days, complete with a rabbit in a tutu stuffed down into a doll stroller next to an angry but resigned Pekingese in a onesie. Those were the days, indeed. Now please pass the poisonberry syrup.

“Then they do
And that's how it is
It's just quiet in the morning
Can't believe
How much you miss
All they do
And all they did
You want all the dreams
They dreamed of
To come true
Then they do.”

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Great Escape

Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.”
Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

                I don’t really remember when I first knew I could read printed words. I’m not even certain that there was one such moment for me. I was very young, probably three, when I began reading. My mother says that she assumed for a long time that I simply had all of my books memorized, but then when she gave me a new one and I opened it and started reading aloud, she realized that Something had happened. I do recall a day when I was four and I picked up a Reader’s Digest that was on the sofa and flipped to a page with a picture of an animal on it. I had read three or four sentences about the wolf when it dawned on me that this was a magazine for Grownups. It was not one of my “little kid” books. After that, I all but abandoned my picture books in pursuit of Real Stories. Still, from time to time I would return to the four puppies who were sad when the seasons changed, the gloomy camel who found purpose in having his hair used to make a sweater for a little girl, the ill-behaved Cat in the Hat,  the Giant Golden Book version of Doctor Doolittle with the two-page spread of the good doctor with all of his animals, and, of course, Max and his “wild things”.

                Books were, for me, friends and companions. I would peruse the encyclopedia, the world atlas, the dictionary, and the Big Book of Nature for hours on end. The Big Book of Nature had pictures of nearly every animal, plant, and rock that my young brain could comprehend. The picture of the gila monster frightened me terribly but I nevertheless felt compelled to turn to that page every time I looked at the book. I imagined the gila monster to be huge and fierce, something on the order of a fire-breathing dragon. The book was lost in the fire, but to this day I can close my eyes and see that gila monster with its yellow eyes, ready to leap from the page and attack. As I browsed through the book I learned a considerable amount about animals, flowers, trees, and rocks. When the patience of those around me had grown thin because I just had to share, constantly, the facts I had learned, I would slip outside and find the nearest pet . The dog, cat, or pony would then receive the benefit of my knowledge.

                I ran into some trouble when I entered school already literate. Like the young Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, I was an object of suspicion. My mother earnestly explained to the teacher that I had somehow learned to read. I remember her saying, “I don’t know HOW it HAPPENED” in an apologetic tone. I wondered exactly what it was I had done wrong. My schoolteacher aunt had already chastised my mother for my ability, saying that I could not possibly have learned to read “the right way.” Since in those days phonics had been discarded, for the most part, in favor of the Look-Say Method and Whole Language instruction, I had in fact learned in precisely the way the schools were teaching. I had simply done it rather early and by osmosis rather than intentional reading “lessons”. Thus kindergarten and first grade were an endless bore. I was relegated, during reading instruction, to the library, where the librarian was made to understand that I should be allowed to choose books from the Junior section rather than the Beginners. Since I had already begun, at home, to read fascinating stories from my sister’s high school literature books, this didn’t really help very much. Furthermore, I still had to complete what was required by the Great State of Indiana, so I zipped through the Getting Ready to Read workbook in one evening at home, then tore into the books and workbooks that centered around the dog Tip, the kitten Mitten who, disturbingly, never aged over the course of three primers and two hardback readers, and Jack and Janet, who spent a lot of time flying kites and pulling their pets in a wagon.  I finished all of this nonsense in record time and then was allowed to pursue my own pleasures.

                Unwittingly, I had already begun the process of a slow but inevitable social suicide. By the age of seven, I was firmly convinced that something must be terribly wrong with me. I had friends but they didn’t seem to understand a word I said. I was consoled by being permitted to help some of the slower students  with their work. One little boy named Stephen wanted to read so badly, and I desperately wanted the same for him. I tried everything I could think of, but at seven one’s resources are a bit limited. Still, he did eventually learn to read the first two primers. Sort of. I think he actually mostly had them memorized, but he was happy and proud and that made me feel good. I did not know then that God was already working to prepare me for a future career as a teacher. I just knew that Stephen was sad when other kids told him he was stupid, and that he felt stupid, and I sympathized because I felt…weird.

                I continued to feel weird throughout my school years. Okay, in some ways I WAS weird. I was very shy, to the point where I did not talk at all some days during my first couple of years in school. I more than made up for it at home, where I seldom shut up. The older I got, the more of a handicap my shyness became. When I was in third grade we moved to Texas, where my best friend on the school campus was a tree. The school had a great library, though, and I won a prize for reading the most books in my grade that year-over a hundred. I also won the  third-grade spelling bee. These accomplishments served only to secure my place as the School Nerd and I never really shook that image. As hard as I tried to become a Bad Girl during my high school years, my love for books did not diminish and the school library remained my sanctuary. You can’t really be a total Bad Girl if you are seen reading Les Miserables  for fun. My image of myself became completely distorted, but reading was my constant refuge which made me a big hit with my English teachers.

                I discovered recently that there is a name for the “condition” I had as a child. It is called “hyperlexia” and is characterized by precocious early reading with precocious comprehension abilities. It just figures that the experts would slap a label on it. I have always felt that God made me that way to make up for the fact that the part of my brain that should be able to do higher math is either damaged or missing. For whatever reason, He did make me that way.  The gifts I have received from books far outweigh what I had to endure. Last night my husband commented on the fact that, with the daily downloading of twenty or more books to my Kindle, he has at last found a way to keep ahead of me. I can read three or four books a day during the summer. I love my Kindle. But I will never give up real books.

                There is a smell and feel to books. There is something special about turning the pages. I like to revisit my childhood favorites from time to time, and I relish the thrill I get when I open a book. A few years ago, my husband  found the Windy Foot books for me on Ebay. Of all the horse books I devoured in my youth, the Windy Foot stories were my favorites. The ones he got me were discarded from libraries so they have the same bindings and covers that I remember.The stories are warm and sweet, if a bit cheesy. No matter. They are comfortable. Last night I read Lad:A Dog, which is about as sentimental and melodramatic as a book can possibly get. I cried anyway, just as I did when I was eight years old. I go to book sales and find copies of favorites that were lost in the fire, like Stuart Little and The Phantom Tollbooth, and I feel as if I am at a family reunion. Books connect me with places and people and animals and things I loved. I cannot read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn without thinking of my father, who introduced me to the book and loved it as I do. I think of my fourth-grade teacher when I read Watership Down, and each visit to Pooh Corner takes me back to a bedroom strewn with stuffed toys where I sat in rapt wonder and listened to a recording of Sebastian Cabot reading In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place. I rather adore that Bear of Very Little Brain.

                There is no substitute for the wonder and the magic of reading. I only wish that I could get every student to understand that. I wish that they all could have heard my dad read A Christmas Carol . I try to duplicate his Scrooge, but I just don’t measure up. I wish that they could understand what a gift it is to be able to read, to be transported to faraway places and Places That Never Were, and see the impossible made possible.  Even if I cannot make them love reading as I do, I wish that I could at least make them see its importance. A few do. Even fewer of them love it, maybe one or two in every class, but that small handful makes my time worthwhile. And among the many who aren’t readers, there still will sometimes come that moment when they do connect with a particular book, and say to their own surprise, “Hey, I really liked that book.” And my heart sings. For just a moment, a soul has been touched, and a student feels the way I feel about reading. These glimpses assure me of the goodness of God, and of my Purpose. It is He who gave us the gift of words and language. He made me This Way. Call me “hyperlexic”,  a “bookworm” a “bibliophile” or even a “freak”. It doesn’t matter. No one else need understand it, really. It is just a part of the way I am designed-designed by God.

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”  -Scout Finch

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Things We've Handed Down

Don't know much about you
Don't know who you are
We've been doing fine without you
But, we could only go so far
Don't know why you chose us
Were you watching from above
Is there someone there that knows us
Said we'd give you all our love..

                As Father’s Day approaches, I think about our adoption journey and how we arrived where we are now. I think about my struggle with infertility, the elation over two blue lines, and the crushing blow three days later when the doctor said I was not pregnant. The truth is that I probably had been, maybe just a few days along, but for whatever reason it just didn’t happen. Once we had gone as far with fertility treatments as we were able and willing to go, the talk turned to adoption. I have two adopted siblings and I always figured that I would adopt at some point, even if I was able to have a child. My husband wasn’t quite there yet. Then one day, we got a call from my doctor, who, along with his wife, often works to help unwed mothers place their babies. A baby had become available, but we would have to act right away, for within 24 hours the child would be given over to foster care. At the last minute, the mother had decided she didn’t want him.

                Now we were faced with an on-the-spot decision. At that time, we were living in a tiny one-bedroom cottage. I was teaching and I had to continue teaching because we needed the money. Where would we put a baby? What would we do about child care? Furthermore, my husband wasn’t even sure he was ready for this step. We hadn’t talked about it much. We hadn’t prayed about it. But in the car on his way home that day, my husband did pray, and he very clearly heard God’s voice. The words were very simple. “I adopted you.” Now it was obvious-we were supposed to adopt. The question of whether or not this was our baby still remained. We went down on our knees  and asked God to give us some sign. Within five minutes, the phone rang. It was my doctor, and he said that another couple who had been waiting for a baby for three years had said they wanted the baby. They were all prepared for him and everything was in order, but he still wanted us to have first choice since he had contacted us first. We looked at each other. That was our sign-this was not our child and not our time. So, with tears, we told Dr.M. to let the other couple have the baby.

                The purpose in all of this was not difficult to see. Even though this was someone else’s baby, it had brought my husband to his epiphany regarding adoption, and after that we began pursuing it more earnestly. In the time between, we were able to buy a house and I got a job making more money. Things began falling into place, although it took an additional four years. We began to see that a baby was not God’s plan for us. Of all the insane things, we came to realize that God probably wanted us to adopt, not only older children, but several at once- a sibling group. This excited the social workers and caused raised eyebrows in some other people. I was actually told that I must be crazy. Then when we had our home study, the social worker commented that our house was big enough for six or eight kids, which freaked me out a little. Ultimately, we were approved for up to four.

                I remember so well the first day that they arrived, and I cannot explain in any logical way how we knew these were our kids the minute they walked in the door. After two weekend visits, my husband called the social worker and said we had had enough back and forth-we needed them and they needed us and we wanted to take them permanently. And so they came to stay on a Friday afternoon. On Saturday we went to buy clothes and school supplies. It was raining, just a light drizzle, and we were all very quiet. We were all stunned, I think, by the momentous thing that was happening. I had stuck a tape in the car stereo. It was called “Hand in Hand” and was a selection of songs about parenthood. Mark Cohn’s “The Things We’ve Handed Down” came on and I started crying.

“Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man
Will some things skip a generation
Like I've heard they often can
Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we've handed down...”

                I thought about how long and how hard we had prayed for God to give us children, and there they were. We knew very little about them then; we only knew they were ours. Over time we began to see exactly how perfectly God had designed our family. Not only did they look like us (except for their striking blue eyes which I say they got from my father), they were like us. Their quirky sense of humor, their love for animals, their appreciation of music and art and literature, their out-of-the-box way of thinking. They had had to take the long way around, but they were finally home.

                My husband stepped into the father role as easily as though he had been doing it for years. I was less confident about my abilities as a mother and was especially nervous about balancing motherhood and work. I had a few guilt moments and meltdowns, but really, I need not have worried. Our kids had no desire for a helicopter mom; they wanted to learn the skills that would make them independent, even at the ages of eleven, eight, and five. They began helping with chores right away, with great enthusiasm (which has, I might add, waned over the years, but they still do what they are asked to do.) They each took responsibility for and bonded with a pet, and we added to our menagerie over the ensuing months and years. As the children matured, they became some of the most fun people to hang out with. We had a blast. We still do.

                We also have tough times and we are not model parents by any means. There are a lot of arguments because we all think we must have the last word or die trying. But we enjoy each other’s company and we talk about many things. Now that Ally is thirteen, she can watch most of the movies the rest of us watch and we can all read the same books and discuss them. My husband never misses an opportunity to teach something, but he does it in the most natural way. I, too, am always seizing those teachable moments, but somehow it seems more annoying when I do it. Still ,when filling out a survey in Bible class, my older daughter Raina listed me as her “life coach”, so something must be working. All three children have given testimony at various times regarding how God worked in their lives to put them in just the right family, and about how good it feels to know they were chosen.

                My husband has assured me many times that he is very fulfilled. I had a moment right before my hysterectomy six years ago , and he leaned down and whispered,  “I have everything I could want. Everything. I am very blessed.” The moment passed. He is an awesome husband and father. Our family is exactly the way God wanted it to be. It is as if we have had our children always. A lot of people don’t even know they are adopted until it comes up in conversation. Invariably, the response is, “Wow, they look just like you! I never would have known!” Perhaps God redesigned their DNA; I don’t know. But by His grace, we have handed things down after all.

“And these things that we have given you
They are not so easily found
But you can thank us later
For the things we've handed down.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Angel By Your Side

“I’ll be the angel by your side
I will get you through the night
I’ll be the strength you can’t provide on your own
‘Cause when you’re down and out of time
And you think you’ve lost the fight
Let me be the angel
The angel by your side...”

                It’s been an interesting week. Interesting...and sad. We suffered a loss in our horse “family” on Friday, when Legend’s pasturemate Gallant fell ill with sand colic. He declined so quickly that the vet was unable to save him.  The death of this beautiful, gentle black gelding has affected all of us. He was not actually our horse, but we have watched our friend Kara grieve the loss deeply. Besides, we had grown to love him, too. The kids affectionately called him “Emo Horse” because of one large strand of mane that was always in his eyes. When we would arrive at the pasture, Gallant was always standing by the fence, a small distance from the other horses, just watching. Silently protective, he was the leader of the herd. Now he is gone, and there is a hole in Kara’s life.

                In my son’s college biology class, life forms are reduced to atoms and molecules and strands of DNA. Breaking it all down like this shows both the simplicity and complexity of life. But DNA cannot account for so many things that are present within human beings, or even within animals. What causes a horse to be able to know and bond with its owner? How can a horse or dog know when we are feeling sad and lonely? How do they know do give comfort to a friend in need? All of the scientific studies in the world cannot truly explain the connection that human beings have to their pets-or, indeed, to one another. If Darwin’s theory were followed to its logical conclusion, life forms at their peak of evolutionary perfection would be similar to the monster in Alien- living machines that kill and destroy with no thought, no reason, just an instinct to survive. Yet we are not that way, nor we were ever intended to be.

                We were not designed to deal with death. In the beginning, everything was perfect, and human beings and animals were all meant to live forever. Then sin entered the world, and...well, you know the rest of the story. With sin came death and disease and sorrow. The biggest flaw in the evolutionary theory for the Christian is that, in order for evolution to be achieved, millions of organisms would have to die. Even if you believe in the long-day theory or the gap theory, death would still have had to happen before the Fall. Thus, it makes no sense. But there is, for me, another flaw. We are made up of beautiful things far too complicated to be accidental. Scientific theory doesn’t truly explain acts of heroism, self-sacrifice, and love. It does not really explain human emotion. I mean, after all, a pet dog or cat or horse is an awful lot of trouble. Why would we be bothered with such trivialities in the absence of Something greater? Why would we keep animals around us that don’t do one thing but provide companionship and aren’t going to be a food source? The answer is that our need for companionship was put into us by the Creator, and He created animals like the dog and the horse to answer some of that need.

                In my lifetime I have owned many pets of all kinds. Kara has described her Gallant as a friend and companion, something far more to her than “just a horse”. Whether he was acutely aware of her feelings or whether she simply projected this onto him is truly irrelevant. The point is that God put him there in her life to be an angel of sorts. An angel by her side. I have had quite a few of those. When I was young, my dog Misty was the angel by my side. I could talk to her and she would listen when no one else would. What I realize now is that my “conversations” with my dog at the age of seven or eight were often heart cries to God. As I grew older I never stopped talking to my animals, and my experiences with God’s Creation were a way of relating to Him. I had a beagle, Sam, who I know was a gift from above. In the absence of my father, Sam helped fill a void. Oh, he didn’t fill it completely. No one and nothing ever could. But he certainly helped.

                I cannot explain the love I have for my children. The scientific theory of natural instinct is blown out of the water in my case, because I did not give birth to them and they were far past the stage of being tiny and helpless when they came into my life. And certainly the love that continues to exist between couples well past the time for procreation defies anything “scientific”.  We are fearfully and wonderfully made, with atoms and molecules, amino acids and RNA, perfectly designed, in a sense-but none of us are perfect. Yet we love one another in spite of imperfections. That is the God part of us. That spark of the Divine enables us to think, dream, communicate, and love. God loves us unconditionally, and in Him we can love one another in the same way. In fact, we can even love a goldfish. I was once very attached to a goldfish named Pisky. I had had her for almost two years when Hurricane Ivan came and knocked our power out for eight days. I tried desperately to keep Pisky alive, but she died on the fifth day, and I cried. Why? It was only a fish. But I felt Something. There is absolutely no scientific explanation for loving a goldfish. She certainly was not capable of loving me. I was simply The Giant Hand that fed her every day and The Giant Eyeballs that watched her swim around in her tank. As far as I know, she felt no affection for me. It occurs to me that maybe we treat God the same way at times. He is the Giant Hand that doles out pleasure and pain, the Giant Eye that’s always watching, waiting for us to mess up. That’s what we think, sometimes, but it’s not true.

                If God didn’t love us, He wouldn’t be bothered in any way with us. I think those who resort to deism or atheism often do it because they are afraid. First of all, they don’t believe it can be that simple. Secondly, if they really understand that God’s grace is extended despite our wickedness, then it puts them in an awkward situation. You see, if God’s grace is unearned, if we don’t have to work for it, then we have a dilemma when something bad happens. We have to accept it despite our questions and our anger and our sorrow, because we never had anything to bargain with. God gives us everything, and we must then, like Job, learn that He is not required to explain anything to us-because He is God. Of course we get mad at Him and we do question and scream at the unfairness of it all, but fortunately He is big enough to take it. Were I saying this from a position of someone whose life had been relatively without suffering, maybe I could be dismissed with, “Yeah, easy for YOU to say.” Actually, it is not easy for me to say at all. It took a long time for me to get here, and I often go back, because I am human and I don’t like to lose people I love, or have financial problems, or be betrayed by those I trusted, or have physical sickness and pain. I don’t have to like it. I just have to trust that I am too small and limited to see The Big Picture, but that God is in control.

                There was never a promise, ever, that the Christian life would be easy and trouble-free. What the Bible says is, “In this world you WILL have trouble-but take heart; I have overcome the world.”  When Kara said to me, “I hate death,” I could only echo the sentiment. I could not disagree with her. Most of us hate death. We don’t understand it and we don’t want to deal with it when it comes. God is good, and so when bad things happen, He is there to hold us. He sends angels to be by our side, and some of my angels wear fur. I dread the day when I will have to face the loss of Miney, who I am convinced is God’s emissary in the form of a small brown dog. I have said harder goodbyes than that, but each loss brings to mind all of the other losses. For Kara, Gallant was connected with seven years of memories, and so his death represents much more than simply a pet horse. I pray that God will send another angel to be by her side. I feel certain He will. He always, always does.

“There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of one small candle.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

As it Seems

 Well in this life you must find something to live for
Cause when the darkness comes a callin'
You'll go back to where you were before
Cause this life is as
Fragile as a dream, and
Nothing's ever really
As it seems...

                I have a lot to muse on of late.  My son’s graduation. Getting lost and getting found again. Sunflowers. Elderberry jam .The Biblical hero Samson. Growing up and growing old and dying. Figuring out who we are and why we are here and what is really important in life. Realizing that nothing is really ever as it seems, but also knowing that the important stuff lies beneath the surface. Only ten percent of an iceberg is visible above the water; ninety percent is beneath, where no one can see. That ninety percent cost 1500 lives on the Titanic. And it wasn’t because of one long gash in her side; it was because of a series of small gashes. Greek and Shakespearean tragedies are made up of men with single tragic flaws, but in reality we all have many small ones, some more obvious than others.

                I watch the show Toddlers and Tiaras. Yes, I admit it. I am morbidly fascinated by the entire concept. The fact that it is shown without any commentary so that one can draw his own conclusions notwithstanding, the editing is cleverly contrived to show people at their worst. Take, for example, the mom who said, “I live vicariously through my four-year-old daughter.” Gotta give her credit for her honesty. Some episodes make me smile, some make me cringe, and I have cried over several. I have felt outrage and horror, but mainly what I feel is pity. The irony of this “reality” show is that these people live in a world that is utterly unreal. It is plastic, it is counterfeit, it is as shallow as it gets. How sad. These mothers truly don’t realize what they are doing to their daughters. They make their lives all about appearances and about winning. They are not concerned, by and large, with character, although there are a few exceptions. They dress their cute little girls in skimpy clothing and paint their faces with makeup. And, let’s face it-how many really gorgeous children grow up to be stunning adults? Not many. Most people just look ordinary. What will happen to these girls when they hit their teens?  I shudder to think of it.

                The Biblical hero Samson was strong and brave. He was also lustful. He wanted to marry a Philistine girl because of her looks. He allowed his flesh to rule him continually, despite the vows he had made to God. In the end, it brought about his destruction. When we abandon good character in favor of what appears wonderful, we often end up in a place we didn’t really want to go. It was true in the Garden of Eden and it is true now. So many times the things we go after turn out to be meaningless, and the enemy is a master of that kind of deception. We put our trust in the things of this world-looks, popularity, money, gadgets. We think if we can just have that one Thing, we will be happy. In reality, there is Something that is eternal and abiding, but we miss it in pursuit of the stuff that is fragile as a dream. The stuff of earth. We worship it instead of its Creator, Who made everything good. Who makes everything beautiful in His time. I am reminded of The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  Those little “divas” on Toddlers and Tiaras have not been taught that “pretty is as pretty does”. I am not impressed by anyone who is merely a pretty face-child or adult. The most beautiful people, to me, are the ones whose goodness of heart is apparent in their eyes. The ones with a light.

                Elderberry jam is a delicious thing. I just ate some for the first time on Friday evening. However, from what I have read about elderberries, they just don’t taste that good on their own, with no sugar added. They are bitter. People are pretty much the same way. Left to their own devices, we do not tend to always do what is right or kind. Were we to act on instinct alone, we quite possibly could have a society resembling the island in Lord of the Flies. That’s why we need law and order. It’s also why God has put into us a basic sense of decency that hopefully overrules our baser impulses, but until our spirits are regenerated it cannot come to full fruition. Children must be taught to be selfless and obedient, despite what some people may say. Yes, we are all born with a basic personality, and some people may be naturally more compliant, more gentle, more kind than others, but those qualities still must be nurtured and encouraged. We are all born with a sin nature, even though very young children cannot sin on a conscious level. All one has to do is watch Toddlers and Tiaras, or the dreadful Supernanny, to see what happens to children who always get their own way and are never corrected or disciplined.

                My daughter’s horse, Legend, is scheduled to be gelded this week. Hopefully, it will make him easier to control. He is a sweet-natured creature but he is also a victim, right now, of his own hormones. Some days he willingly takes the bit; some days he runs away. He doesn’t want to be made to do anything that wasn’t his own idea. Neither do we, really. We become frustrated when things don’t go exactly as planned. On our way home from the beach the other day, after stopping at Sweet Home Farm to buy jam and cheese, we made a wrong turn and ended up taking the “scenic route” home. It was annoying, but then we passed an amazing field of sunflowers which we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. And, as our kids pointed out, maybe we would have gotten into a wreck if we had gone the usual way. Perhaps so. Only God knows. We must trust that His way is best. We cannot always look at things as they appear on the surface; there is nearly always Something that is deeper, bigger, and greater.

                So, what do we live for? How do we fight off the darkness that comes with disappointment, disaster, loss, failure, and death?  We just have to understand that, if nothing is as it seems, then God must be working even in situations that appear awful. If what we think of as “good”, like physical attractiveness, is really not all that important, then quite possibly our answers lie in the things that are small, or unexpected, or unlovely. God makes all kinds of people into heroes. He uses small and weak things, unforeseen events, and tragedies to mold and shape us into who we are supposed to be. Taking the road less traveled enables us to see so much more than if we simply try to remain status quo. If you open up an ugly brown geode that resembles a mudball, you will find on the inside a glittering treasure. Nothing is as it seems.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”