Saturday, February 12, 2011

Adventures in Pukenag

Most of us probably have a treasured memory of a period from our childhood that was akin to magical. It could be characterized by any number of different elements that make it seem so special in retrospect, and it could have been a decade or just an afternoon, but it is a source of never ending joy to revisit that time in the theater of our minds.

During the summer before the Over and Out episode, my best friend and I had really begun developing our sense of collaborative adventure. Neither of us was worth a wad of spit as far as bravery or creativity on our own was concerned, but when we were together we formed a brand new person with creative inertia that would have scared the willies out of my parents had they known. One of our idols was Huckleberry Finn, the carefree, I-can-do-it-myself, disdainer of childish things with an appetite for exploration and avoiding responsibility. We dreamed of a thousand different ways we could emulate this Mark Twain character whose lifestyle seemed completely within our grasp if we could just break it into pieces and work out one part at a time.

It so happened that the year we were most enthralled with our boy Huck, Kathy was living in another town, no more than a few hundred yards from a river. If there is one primary ingredient necessary to becoming a Huck Finn, it is having access to a river. And to make that river even more appealing to us, there was a lovely neglected acre of woods between the river and the quiet neighorhood road that ran past her house. Because Kathy lived in a different town than I did that year, our summer overnights were more along the line of overweeks. My mother was glad to unload a kid from the herd that constantly stampeded through her house, and Kathy's mother was happy to import a friend for her only daughter who languished in a house dominated by boys. So it was a win-win-win-win situation. Both mothers and both daughters were happy with the arrangement, and tended to exploit those opportunities for all they were worth. And to these 9-year-olds, they were worth a lot!

Nearly every waking minute of those overweek days were spent in our special woods, which we delicately dubbed Pukenag. We would swing on vines for hours, perfecting our signature moves that best exhibited our skills at leaping and clinging with style. We bounced with screeching delight on strong flexible branches that would nearly rocket us upward into the forest canopy if we weren't careful. We rearranged the generous supply of fallen limbs endlessly, creating houses, forts, playgrounds, tunnels, monuments, and our favorite: bathrooms. How risque it felt to go to the bathroom outside in plain sight of my friend's house, yet adequately concealed from any eyes that might turn in our direction. This may have been common fare for boys, but girls simply did not do their business in the out of doors if they cared not to be viewed as pigs! And all the while we were swinging, and bouncing, and building, and peeing, that river was right there beckoning to us.

The lure was too strong to resist. From the day we first set foot in Pukenag, it was inevitable that the river would eventually draw us in. From our high perches in our favorite climbing trees we talked out our plan. There was plenty of available lumber right below our feet. All we had to do was figure out how to lash it together so we would have a raft that was river worthy, and then we would float on down to wherever Old Man River took us. Kathy knew that her father owned a hammer, and she was pretty sure she knew where he kept it. The nails she was less certain about, but if there were any they should be with the hammer. And if there weren't any nails we could always tie the tree limbs together with string and/or rubber bands. One way or another we were going to build our Huck Finn raft and push off to the adventure of a lifetime.

It was no easy feat getting those supplies from the house to Pukenag without getting caught. While Kathy's mother was not one to supervise her children's activities too closely, she couldn't be blamed for looking up from her book whenever someone passed through the house, and there was only one way through from the door to the back storage room and back out again. So we had to hide supplies in our pockets or however we could hide them in multiple trips with lame excuses for why we kept returning to the house. We weren't very good liars, so I fully expected that our stories would raise suspicion and lead to a parental investigation. However, the mother on duty was apparently too engrossed in her book at that time to be bothered with an inconvenient inquiry into our childish shenanigans, if indeed she had any suspicions at all. So we secreted a hammer, a few nails, and lots of twine and clothesline to our raft building headquarters. In addition to the handful of new nails that we swiped from her father's tool kit, we also found a jackpot of rusty nails in a pile of abandoned lumber which we were more than happy to pound out and put to good use. They may have been a little bent, but with our hammering skills they would have been bent by the time we were finished with them anyway, so what did it matter.

The next two days were filled with single-minded perseverance. We labored in the summer heat as if our lives depended on the success of this construction project, not realizing that in fact our lives might very well be in jeopardy due to the sheer foolishness of our plan. All we could think about and talk about and dream about was the ride of our lives down the river on our raft, and how proud we would feel when local residents would wave to us from the banks and wish us good luck. Every potentially useful dead limb and discarded 2x4 was scavenged, evaluated, and either incorporated into our vessel or tossed aside where it would not crowd our work space. The only breaks we took from our labor were to pay visits to our fabulous stick-wall outdoor bathroom, or to run to the house and straight back to Pukenag with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Kathy's mother could see how deliriously happy we were each time we appeared, and if we were happy she was happy. Happy, happy, happy, everybody was happy!

Our excessive excitement, however, drew the unwanted attention of one of the older brothers. In typical snoopy big brother fashion, he was determined to find out what we were so blasted happy about, and no amount of distractions, whining or threats would shake him off. Ultimately we decided that we would never be able to see our dream come to fruition unless we welcomed The Brother into our plan because he would expose us out of spite if we continued to deny him what he wanted. So we made him promise with a blood oath that he would not tell anyone, and within minutes he was close behind us as we made a mad dash through the cover of brush and fallen limbs to the secret place in the middle of Pukenag where our proud vessel waited for its maiden voyage.

With a mixture of excitement, doubt, envy and condescension The Brother peppered us with annoying questions, but we weren't in the mood to be bothered with irritating queries like, "Can you swim?" We had worked hard and were ready to push off on our clandestine journey with our hobo sticks tied and packed with enough rations to last at least half a day.

Being of reasonably good will in spite of his doubts and his attitude of superiority, The Brother agreed to help us transport our gorgeous raft to the water's edge. Once we made it through the obstacle course that is the floor of an overgrown and undertended miniature scrub forest, we eased ourselves down the bank until one end of our floating cruiser was actually in the water. We watched it bob and sway for a few moments while we drew out our exhilaration with fast shallow breaths in preparation for the moment of launching and boarding. Our strategy was that the raft would be eased all the way into the water, after which we would climb aboard and then The Brother would hand us our hobo sticks with our survival rations safely wrapped in an old handkerchief. The first part worked out exactly as planned. The raft was eased completely into the water. The second part was made a little trickier than anticipated by the fact that the current of the river tried to pull the raft out of our grip before we had a chance to climb on. But with three of us holding tight to some handy sticks poking out one side, we managed to steady it enough that I was able to maneuver my scrawny body onto the surface and lie there on my belly until I calmed my pounding heart and was ready to sit up and make room for my partner in this grand adventure. The part where my partner was supposed to join me never happened, because the moment I put my knee down to shift into a sitting position our glorious raft instantly disassembled itself and I found myself surrounded on every side by murky water. Only then did I have the conscious thought, "I can't swim!" The part where I was dragged out by the condescending Brother who had sense enough to keep his feet on land and grab my leg before I was swept away remains unclear in my memory. Maybe because my lungs were filling with water at that moment, or my mind was filling with fear, or my best friend was screaming, or The Brother was calling me a name I'd rather not recall. Whatever the reason, my recollection of being rescued from sure death is vague. The only thing I'm absolutely sure of is that I was rescued, with the added realization that if The Brother had not obnoxiously wormed his way into our secret plan I probably wouldn't be here writing this blog. I guess that's why parents pray for their kids, which reminds me that I have some grandkids that need praying for right now.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Over and Out

It is trendy these days among the baby boomer crowd, of which I am a certified member, to blow the dust off their old Super 8 home movie reels and pack them off to some high tech digital world where the memories can be rescued from oblivion and mysteriously transformed into dvd's which then have the potential to make their grandchildren howl with laughter. This is all good family fun which I wholeheartedly endorse, although I myself haven't yet braved the depths of the storage closets where such dusty reels of youthful memories may be found.

In spite of the clarity that a dvd will suddenly bring to the hazy memories of childhood birthday parties, babies' first steps, and Junior sharing his ice cream cone with Fido, some of the best memories are those that were never captured on film of any kind. Those are the spontaneous moments that burst from our creative youthful psyches, demanding their release in some form, often referred to as foolishness by the parents. I can't speak for what others do with such memories, but I find myself playing them over and over with great delight in the halting, cloudy, imperfect manner in which they were originally stored in the gray matter file labeled "Life was Good". Since it is rare that anyone besides myself will ever view these files, it is of little consequence that some scenes are blurred and most of the sound track has gone missing. What matters is the warm feelings that are evoked when the worn tape is run again, taking me back to a time when the biggest concern of a summer day was whether to spend my dime on a popsicle or save it until next week when I would have two dimes and could purchase an ice cream sandwich.

On one such day, of which there seemed to be no end until suddenly they were over, my best friend had invited me for a sleepover. My mother seemed to be as excited as I was whenever I got such an invitation. Perhaps it was her shared joy in my happiness, but more likely it was her secret relief to have one less child under her roof fighting over whether to watch Bugs Bunny or Lassie on the one television set shared by eight of us. Grabbing a paper grocery bag and quickly stuffing it with a few things a ten year old tomboy would consider necessities, I raced out the door, jumped on my bike, and after five minutes of pedaling through the village I was there. Really there. Overnights with Kathy were the open doors of my childhood when anything was possible, and I threw myself into these opportunities with the careless abandon that adults rarely experience and barely remember.

In typical fashion, we sat among the clutter on the floor of her fabulously untidy bedroom, petting her cats, rearranging the rocks and twigs in our woolly bear aquarium, smoothing and braiding the colorful hair of her troll dolls, and squishing the occasional flea we picked off our legs. And, predictably, a plan began to hatch for an adventure.

Being normal kids, our adventures generally broke some rules of social conduct or personal safety, but we were not being rebellious, just allowing our childish dreams and fantasies to be our guide to fun. On this particular evening we thought it would be great fun to play outside after dark. The obvious obstacle, however, was the parents. How to get around that obstacle? That was the challenge to be solved, and solve it we did. Kathy's family lived in an old clapboard house with three bedrooms downstairs and one very large bedroom and huge closet upstairs. Since she was the only girl in the family, she was given the coveted upstairs bedroom as her personal kingdom, and rarely did anyone venture up the stairs other than Kathy and her best friend. If we could just figure out a way to reach the ground safely from the porch roof we would be golden.

In the next several adrenaline driven minutes we stripped the bunk beds of sheets and proceeded to tie the ends together with big clumsy knots. Two sheets from each bed produced enough length to reach from the window, across the roof, and over the edge to within five feet of the ground. Perfect! We were both good climbers on the ropes in our school gym class, so we were confident we could climb down the sheet rope and easily drop to the ground. I volunteered to go first while Kathy stood on the roof watching the window to make sure it didn't slide up and let loose of the knot that would be holding my life in its grip. In mere moments I was on the ground whooping a silent victory cheer while gradually becoming aware of a deep insecurity rising up within me as I gaped into that vast sea of darkness. My urgent whispered pleadings for my friend to hurry down and join me were finally rewarded, and together we jumped around and celebrated our success, confident in the security that each provided the other.

So there we were. Two little girls in their pajamas standing in a once familiar backyard in the dark, not sure what to do next. These were the days when children in small towns were allowed to roam freely during the day. Parents didn't concern themselves about a child's absence for hours, because the whole village was a playground and when they got hungry they would come home. We were familiar with every street in the village, and our curiosity to experience our well-known world in its darker version propelled us out of the backyard and down the block. Wow. Everything looked so different. It was like looking at negatives of photographs, where the normally dark colors were light and the light colors were dark. Windows that were dark during the day were lit up, many uncovered, revealing bits of private lives that we knew we were not entitled to gaze upon so boldly. But with a defiance we believed the darkness would hide, we gazed and gazed. There was a fascination with seeing a man move across a room toward a television, or a woman standing with her face to the window in what appeared to be a posture of dishwashing, knowing that these individuals had no idea they were being watched. It was the naughtiest thing we had ever done in our lives and we crept through the town looking for uncovered windows to gawk into until we began to get cold. We had had our fun and we were ready to call it a night.

Not until we stepped back into Kathy's backyard and saw that white sheet rope dangling five feet above the ground did it occur to us that we couldn't reach it to climb back up. As panic threatened to devour us we held each other, shivering, and devised a new plan. We would simply have to wait it out. There was no habit of door locking in those days. What was the need for locking a door when crime in our village was almost unheard of? So we figured if we could just be patient we would be able to enter the house through the back door once her parents had gone to bed and they would never be the wise. For the next hour we did what our exhausted bodies could do in an effort to keep ourselves warm in the damp, rapidly cooling night air. We were rewarded with the amusing scene of her teenage brother staring at his reflection in the kitchen window, apparently admiring what he saw. But for the most part the wait was long, cold, boring, and a little frightening as silence magnified the night sounds of unidentified creatures.

The house had been completely dark for some time and we decided this was our chance to sneak back in, creep up the stairs, pull the knotted sheets back in through the window, and snooze the rest of the night away in the guilty pleasure of a successful adventure. The factor we hadn't taken into consideration was that an old house has more creaky spots than our grandmothers' arthritic knees. From the first step inside the door our presence was announced loudly by the tattletale floor boards. Before we had made it halfway across the kitchen our deception was exposed by a flood of light when her father, unashamed in his underwear, flipped the wall switch. Busted.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just a Bird

Two days ago Sherry and I were in New Bern, NC for a wedding. We took advantage of the trip and turned it into a lovely, much needed weekend vacation. One of the best things about the weekend was staying at the Howard House, a victorian Bed & Breakfast right in the heart of the historic district. We were able to walk everywhere, which was a real treat. One of the places we enjoyed and returned to was the riverwalk along the Neuse River just a block from our B&B. On Saturday evening after all the wedding festivities were over, we changed back into comfortable clothes, grabbed our current books, and headed back to the riverwalk to relax on a bench and enjoy reading by the water with the sound of the moving water in the background. We had a particular bench in mind, at the farthest end of the path, but were shocked when we saw what awaited us at that very spot. On the seawall right next to the bench was sprawled a soaking wet bird - possibly a sea gull or a tern, we're not sure. It's large wings were extended, hanging over the two sides of the wall. It appeared at first to be dead, but then I noticed its head move slightly, followed by the distinct heaving of its body taking a breath. It was a disturbing sight. The bird was obviously very weak and we couldn't imagine how it had ended up on that wall. It was thoroughly soaked as if it had been underwater. Had someone rescued the bird from the water and placed it there on the wall to dry out? As I looked more closely I saw that it had a fish in its mouth. The fish was hanging partly out, but there was also a large bulge on the side of the bird's neck which I guessed was the fish stuck in its throat. Why did it not swallow the fish down? Feeling very sorry for this poor bird, I couldn't simply sit down on the bench and read my book, pretending it wasn't there; and I couldn't walk away without making some kind of effort to help, even though I didn't know what the problem was other than it was water logged and had a fish stuck in its throat. It occurred to me that if the bird made any attempts to move it would very likely fall over the edge of the narrow wall into the river, so the first thing I needed to do was move it to a safer spot to dry out. I gently lifted the bird off the wall and set it on the sidewalk. Although it moved its head a bit, it put up no struggle or resistance of any kind. This bird was clearly exhausted. I couldn't imagine how it could have gotten itself out of the water and onto the wall. This bird was a mystery.

After watching it for a few more minutes I decided to pick it up and do a closer examination. When I did so I was horrified to discover that this beautiful bird was hopelessly entangled in fishing line. It was wrapped around and around its legs, up through its tail feathers and around its body. No wonder it was in trouble! Without a tool of some sort there was no way to remove all that tangled, twisted, knotted nylon line, so Sherry offered to walk back to our B&B and get a small pair of scissors he had packed. While he was gone I picked up the bird again to examine it a little more, especially the head with that fish hanging partly out its mouth. What was going on here? Why couldn't the bird get the fish down its throat when it was obviously alert and aware of what was going on? Then I saw the fishing line wrapped around its neck. Oh, dear God, the bird was being strangled by the nylon! I attempted to loosen the death string around its neck but it was impossible. There were too many tangles. This totally explained why the fish was stuck in its throat. There was no way for the bird's throat to expand for the fish to pass through. Finally, after about fifteen minutes, Sherry returned with the scissors. I began by very carefully clipping and removing the string from around the bird's neck while Sherry held it up for easier access. It was extremely challenging since the string was colorless and difficult to see, in addition to being tangled among the base of its feathers tightly against its skin, but I managed to free the bird's neck and hoped that he would soon be able to swallow his fish.

Then I started working on the legs, but this was turning out to be a harder task than I had expected. While I was working at gently clipping and removing pieces of killer string, a young woman walked over and asked if she could help. With her caring assitance, we slowly removed every piece of string that was wrapped around the bird's body and tangled through its feathers. It really was easier with two of us working on removing the string while Sherry held the bird up at eye level for us to have the best possible view in the declining daylight.

We set the bird back on the sidewalk and it took a few faltering steps, but soon tumbled forward and just lay there sprawled again with its wings limp and extended. I gently lifted its head and massaged its throat just a little and it made efforts to swallow. The fish was completely inside its mouth now but was still bulging on the side of its neck. I took a picture of the bird with my camera phone and sent it to Sarah, knowing she would be interested in an animal rescue. She promptly named him Earl, and somehow it seemed to fit. As Earl was beginning to dry out I again became concerned that he was too close to the water. If he made attempts to fly, his spastic flapping could quickly launch him over the low sea wall straight into the deep river and there would be no way for us to get him out. I gently carried him up to an area that put more distance between him and death by drowning, and he continued to be quite alert. Occasionally Earl would make attempts to walk a few steps, but he always fell forward from exhaustion. This bird was clearly traumatized, but I kept hoping that if we could keep him safe from the river and safe from predators that he might regain enough strength to fly away. Eventually I noticed that the bulge on his neck was gone, so he had successfully swallowed his fish.

It was beginning to get dark and we knew we were going to have to leave soon. Earl was by now completely dry except for his under belly that hadn't gotten enough exposure to the air. He still seemed very alert, often moving his head as if he were keeping an eye on his surroundings, and this alertness gave me hope that he was going to make it if he could pull out of the shock of the trauma he had suffered from becoming so hopelessly entangled in all that fishing line. From the way it was twisted and knotted all around his body it was obvious he had struggled furiously to get free. We needed a safer spot to leave him before nightfall, so I carried him a couple hundred yards to a big open field where earlier people had been flying kites. He wouldn't be protected from predators, but he wasn't likely to end up in the river from weak flapping in an attempt to fly before he was strong enough. I carried Earl with his body pointed straight ahead and his wings almost fully extended out to the sides. It seemed to me that it must have felt good to this creature of the air to feel the wind under his wings for a few minutes. He rested in my hands while his gorgeous wings caught the breeze, and the entire way as we moved along the riverwalk he had his head turned to the side with his black eyes upon the river. I couldn't help thinking that Earl had spent his whole life looking down into that water in search of fish, and now he was gazing longingly from his position of helplessness.

We got to the field that was by now vacant, chose a spot that seemed best, and placed him gently on the grass. It was hard to walk away, but darkness was upon us and we needed to be going. As we left I took note of some nearby landmarks so I would be able to use them as coordinates to find this spot again if I chose to return in the morning. My outlook was genuinely optomistic for Earl. Unless he had swallowed a fish hook, which didn't appear to be likely, I believed his biggest hurdle was psychic trauma, and I genuinely hoped that a few hours of rest would enable him to overcome the shock.

The next morning I knew that I had to know the outcome. Although I wasn't sure the night before whether I would want to return and check on him, in the morning it was clear to me that I needed resolution. I would rather know than always wonder. So I walked down by myself to where I had placed Earl twelve hours earlier, and there was his still body in exactly the position we had left him. I lifted him a little to confirm what I was seeing, and felt the cold weight of his lifeless body. Honestly, that was not what I had been expecting to find, but I couldn't change what was, and so I walked along the river and cried. What was I to do now? Should I dispose of his body or just leave him there? For about ten minutes I walked and cried, and then I made my decision. The worst thing Icould imagine would be for a dog to find Earl and tear him up, or for a father to kick him out of the way so his kids could play in that space. A trash can seemed way too disrespectful for the remains of this beautiful creature who had struggled so hard for survival against the entrapment brought about by a human's carelessness. So I returned to where he lay, lifted him the same way I had when he was still alert and there was still hope, folded his wings in as much as possible, carried him over to the river and dropped him into the water. Let the river take him.

So why have I still not been able to speak of this experience? Why has the death of a wild bird affected me so deeply? By attempting to rescue the bird I developed an emotional attachment to it. If I had simply come across a dead bird, as has happened many times, I would have passed by unaffected. Where there is no investment there is no stirring of the heart.

I believe God orchestrated this experience to show me something. It was no coincidence that this drenched bird all tangled in nylon string was lying across the wall next to the very bench we were headed to at the very time we arrived. Earl was so wet when we found him that he had to have somehow come to be in that place just moments before we arrived. However he got there, God put him there for me. I had just been reading a section in Radical, by David Platt, about what God says in the Bible about giving to the poor. The author suggested that our hearts are not moved by the many children who die every day of starvation or from easily preventable or curable diseases, primarily because we can't see them. As long as they are someplace else, out of our sight, we can pretend they don't exist and we can continue to justify our indulgences. But God sees them, and He cares about their suffering, and He wants me to let go of some of my material blessings for the sake of the desperately poor of the world. Birds die all the time and I am not affected, but when I am the one in the role of trying to save a bird's life, the investment changes me. It shakes me up, even if for just a little while. I think God is trying to shake me up, and not just for a little while, to move me to invest in the poor of the world whether I ever see them in person or not. Meeting Earl was surely a divine appointment.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Where does all the pain go? Does God have some kind of cosmic vacuum cleaner that sucks up all the pain from the earth and dumps it into an incinerator of some kind? Or maybe he dumps it into hell for the eternal suffering of those who have rejected Him. There's probably no theological argument that could be made for such a notion, but human logic that includes the God of the Bible in its equations might make sense of it.

This week I am feeling as though I relate to a teeny tiny fraction of a sliver of a small part of God's experience in his relationships with humans. That is, although God is aware of all the pain and suffering of humans, and loves each one very much, He does not internalize our pain in a way that weakens or diminishes Him in any way. But this has nothing to do with caring or not caring. He cares more than any human can care, and yet He is fully involved and separated at the same time.

God has entrusted some big pain to me recently. For a change it is the pain of others and not my own. He has brought four women to me, each distinct and separate from the others, none of them connected to any of the others in any way. And yet God has put each of these women into my life and moved my heart to come alongside them in their pain. It is a faith-building experience, to say the least.

For nearly six decades I have bumbled and stumbled my way through my life, and I have accepted the fact that, since I have no script, that is the best I will probably ever do. But it's one thing to bumble and stumble my way through my own life, and quite another to bumble and stumble through someone else's! If I don't hear God clearly when I ask Him for direction or wisdom concerning an issue in my own life, well, I will probably learn something from my mistake. But I don't want someone else who is depending on me for godly wisdom to have to learn from my mistake!

So the first thing I'm learning from being so involved in the excruciating pain of other women's lives is that it is a very humbling role to be in. What if I get it wrong when they ask for my counsel? What if I give a wrong interpretation while trying to help them untangle the knots of a complicated situation? What if I draw a wrong conclusion about some confusing circumstances? What if I inadvertently, though with good motives, console when I should be challenging? What if I inadvertently, though with good motives, challenge when I should be consoling? Such motivation for abiding in Christ and staying tightly attached to the Vine there has never been! The only hope I have for getting anything right when dealing with someone else's pain is to be so closely aligned with Christ that I can be reasonably sure, by faith, that He will put His thoughts into my brain when I need to speak words of counsel. There is no room for excuses in my own walk of faith. If I give a foothold to the devil which leads to some type of deception in my own life, that's bad enough. But God forbid that I give a foothold to the devil and thereby lead someone else into deception!

The second thing I'm learning is that there is no room for internalizing the pain of others. It is debilitating. It will prevent me from seeing clearly. It will hinder my ability to walk by another person's side on their path of pain without becoming weakened as they are. And it can easily lead to the deception that I have some kind of responsibility to reach into that person and remove the agony from her heart. Since it is obviously impossible for me to do that since only God can heal a broken heart, to take on such a role would elevate myself in my own mind to a presumptuous level where only God has the right to reside. Self-exaltation. Bondage, pure and simple. No, I cannot carry the searing pain of another human being without it destroying me as it is threatening to destroy her. And then what good would I be to her? I have to entrust her pain to the Lord, knowing that it is in good hands and He will do what needs to be done to strengthen her through this fiery trial in her life, and ultimately heal her heart. I have to get out of God's way so He can work.

What a relief it is to know that I do not have to be God. I only have to be a friend. I only have to love, and be faithful, and be willing to give of whatever I have to give. God will do a fine job of being Himself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


If there is one thing in the world that stirs up righteous anger in me it is seeing an innocent person victimized. There are victims, and then there are innocent victims. A victim is anyone who gets hurt by someone else's bad choice or behavior. An innocent victim is anyone who had no level of responsibility whatsoever for being in the place or circumstance that resulted in becoming a victim. A woman may get hurt by her husband's bad behavior, but even though that is despicable and she probably didn't deserve it, there is still a chain of consequence that can be traced back to the fact that she chose to marry him. (At least that is the case most of the time in our culture. For a Middle Eastern woman it's a different story altogether.)

But what rationalization can possibly be contrived for hurting a child? Could a seven year old child have any level of responsibility whatsoever for an adult taking advantage of her and leaving her scarred for life? What about ten years old? Fourteen? Jesus had some pretty scary comments on child abuse. As I read it, He said that anyone who causes a child to sin would be better off being thrown into the depths of the sea with a millstone around his neck. I've seen a few millstones. It sounds like a one way ride to me. Let the creatures that clean the filth from the bottom of the sea take care of the scum.

If only it were that simple. I think my anger is justified and can be supported biblically, but at some point the anger must intersect with forgiveness. My own sin sent Jesus to the cross. It cost Him his life. And Jesus was more innocent than anyone who ever lived, including the infant who just took his first breath of air. But, in spite of his innocence, He willingly (and even gladly) forgave me of every sin I have ever committed simply because I asked him to and put my trust in him for gaining access to God and heaven and a worthy life on this earth. He did nothing to deserve that ugly death, and I did nothing to deserve his forgiveness. Quite a conundrum.

I've done a lot of thinking about forgiveness in the past few months. The concept is simple enough, and the reasons are compelling. Forgiveness involves letting go of my right to be angry or vindictive toward my offender or the offender of someone I love. I need to do this for my own well-being, lest bitterness take control of my soul and I become someone I never wanted to be. Whether or not the offender benefits from my forgiveness is a separate issue and has to be considered apart from the benefits to me. But forgiveness is not optional if I am to obey my Lord and if I am to avoid a hardening of my soul, but sometimes the path to forgiveness is filled with potholes and boulders. Right now I'm crawling out of a pothole and facing a boulder. I know there is forgiveness at the end of this path, but I'm not sure how I'm going to get there. One thing for certain, it will be only by God's grace.

One of the imponderables is that, although I am stumbling along this path toward forgiveness of someone for victimizing a child I love, I am not the child, nor am I the child's mother. Each of them has a totally different course to follow in finding their way to that necessary end if they are to escape becoming hardened and bitter. The irony is that the child has the advantage. The very one who was victimized and was utterly innocent is the one who has the greatest capacity to forgive with the least amount of struggle, providing she is given timely and godly counsel. In the same place where Jesus spoke about what the child abuser deserves, He said that we all need to humble ourselves and become like little children. A child loves without an agenda. What kind of love could be closer to the love of Jesus than that? No wonder she is held up as the role model for us to follow.

And what about the offender? He desperately needs forgiveness, though he may or may not even recognize that need yet. What hope does he have of ever being trusted by anyone again? What kind of miracle is required for him to have a life worth living from this day forward? What kind of hellish course does his sorry carcass have to travel before he finds the true value of his soul and the forgiveness that will set him free from the complexities of his deserved condemnation?

I'm glad I'm not God.

And next there's the issue of trust to contend with. {sigh}

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pets, Pets, Pets

Why must some of us be so ridiculously attached to animals? There are a thousand ways that life would be simpler if we didn't have to spend our lives dragging around pet baggage. I don't mean those silly little purses for pocket-sized dogs, or collapsible water bowls that hang from the waistband of a jogger and his pit bull. I'm talking about the blasted inconveniences that complicate and aggravate and have the potential to derail any otherwise pleasant day. It's a wonderful thing to climb out of bed in the morning and be greeted by a grinning, tail-wagging canine who appears convinced the moon was hung by you alone. But after those loving pats and the first-morning scratch behind the ears, it is all quickly forgotten when you walk around the corner and find the contents of a trash can strewn about the floor, complete with gum stuck on the rug and a big smear that looks like vomit that has been licked up.

The adoring eyes of that dog that worships the ground you walk on bring such warm fuzzies to your heart so that you can't pass by without giving a quick rub and a sweet greeting, until you enter the bathroom and discover that once again that inconsiderate, theiving interloper has managed to relieve you of another roll of toilet paper. Twelve thousand bits of evidence make it perfectly clear what has happened, and you finally resolve that for the remainder of this vandal's life the toilet paper will have to sit inconveniently on a shelf above snout reach. That cute little dispenser built into the wall next to the toilet might possibly be useful for hanging a sock to dry. But, no, the sock would become a chew toy the second it was discovered.

So much pleasure is derived from watching the beloved pets romp in the backyard, communing with nature, bonding with the smells that tell a story you can't read. Standing at the window, your heart bubbles with thankfulness for the blessing of a dozen years of sharing life with such beautiful creatures. You open the door to welcome them in where you are waiting with every intention of showering them with the affection they deserve. Their whole bodies seem to wag in their delight of simply being alive, and you begin giving hugs and throwing out words of endearment until you notice that the entire kitchen is covered in brown doggy paw prints. How did that happen? It was a perfectly sunny day outside! You run for a towel and manage to grab one old girl and wipe her feet clean, but the other is so filled with excitement that she escapes into the next room while you are occupied, so that by the time you reach her there are muddy prints all the way through the house. Was it one hour ago that you mopped the floor, or maybe two?

Dogs, cats and rabbits, oh my! Guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils, big sigh! Lizards, birds and fish, bye bye! Chickens and mice, like a poke in the eye! We're phasing out. Down to three dogs. Down to a mere few hundred dollars a month to maintain them in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. Down to a manageable ankle depth of hair clouds to vacuum up a few times a week. Down to a half dozen or so bones to kick our bare feet into. Down to a single water bowl that needs filling but three times a day. Down to only twelve doggy feet and a mere 54 nails to clip every few weeks. Down to an unknown, rapidly decreasing number of belly rubs, cuddles on the floor, silky neck strokes, and nights of peaceful snoring coming from the corner of the bedroom.

Sometimes I envy those who don't need pets in their lives.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Conversation with Aiden

I was emptying the dishwasher at Rebekah's house while 3-yr. old Aiden watched. He looked into an open drawer, reached in and carefully lifted out a plastic stirring spoon and said, "This is for spanking." "Ohhhh," I replied with the utmost seriousness. "Does it ever spank you?" His eyes and chin fell toward the floor as he quietly said, "Yes." "Does it spank anyone else?" "Yes," he said, more brightly. "It spanks Kyla, and Connor and Tyler." I stopped working in order to give him the full attention this conversation deserved. "Wow. This spoon spanks a lot of people," I said, meeting his eyes. "No! They're not people," he retorted with the gravity that only a 3-yr. old who knows what he knows can muster. I decided to have a little fun with him, taking care not to let him catch on that I was teasing, so as not to embarrass him. "Aren't you a people?" I asked. "No." "Oh. Is Kyla a people?" "No." "What is she?" After just a slight hesitation and a quick look across the room as if he were checking in with someone for accuracy, he replied, "She's a sister." "Oh. Is Connor a people?" "No." "What is he?" Another little hesitation, and a slight stumble as if he weren't one hundred percent sure he was about to give the correct answer, but determined enough to stand by his opinion whether or not it was correct. "He's a brother." "Oh. Is Tyler a people?" "No." "Oh. What is he?" "He's a brother. And I'm a brother." "Oh. I see. So there are 3 brothers and one sister who live here. Is that right?" "Yes." "And no people?" "No." "What about Mommy & Daddy? Are they people?" "No." "Daddy's not a people?" "No." "Then what is he?" There was a shadow of uncertainty behind the eyes, and then a shy, "He's a daddy." "Oh. Is Mommy a people?" "No." "Really? Then what is she?" "A mommy." "Oh. I see. So there are no people living in this house?" "No." "Oh. Well I'm glad I know who everybody is now. Thanks for helping me understand." And we went back to emptying the dishwasher.

On the short list of simple pleasures in life, conversations with a 3-yr. old absolutely must be included.