Speed bump

It has been a long time since I have written a new blog entry. I have been ill since the end of May. Many days, I am in too much pain to sit upright for longer than 5 minutes at a time.This illness has kept me from doing so many things I had planned to do. I had hoped to take my daughter to the zoo this summer, to reorganize my study, and to prepare to lead a group of Daisy Scouts… and I had planned to devote many hours to writing. Instead, it has been difficult simply to keep up with my correspondence. Impossible really, when you consider that often it takes me an hour to write an e-mail, and I have been receiving 10 or more personal e-mails a week.

What we thought was a minor problem that would soon pass has consumed the summer. It appears that I am going to need surgery, but because of my health history, scheduling surgery is taking some time. So I wait.

It is easy, when I am lying on the sofa (yet again) for my vision to extend no further than my own body. Pain relief, distraction from pain, food, water. When I lift up my eyes, I often don’t lift them very far: my daughter, my husband, the accumulation of e-mails waiting for a reply.

But this illness is not constant. There are good days. And I am learning to take advantage of the good days.

Two weeks ago, I was feeling well enough to drive my daughter to camp at the NC Museum of Life and Science. And after dropping her off at her classroom, I was feeling well enough to stay there and take a walk on the grounds! It had been a long time since I had been able to take a walk alone with God, with no place to get to and no time to be there.

There are so few people at the museum at 9:00 am, and the air was not yet hot enough to be uncomfortable. I was walking, remembering times taking my daughter to the museum when she was younger, and thinking of all the families that visit there every day, when I saw what looked like splotches of mud crossing the asphalt trail.

The words formed in my mind, “Stop. Look closer.” So I did. The trail wasn’t dirty – these were racoon tracks – crossing from the quarry pond to the undergrowth adjacent to the bear enclosure.

My vision zoomed out all at once, dramatically – while I had been in bed the night before, racoons had been gathering and washing their food, turtle eggs were incubating, owls were silently gliding through the sky. Truck drivers were driving, nurses were tending patients at the hospital, mothers and fathers were changing diapers and rocking restless babies back to sleep. As they slept, trees and teenagers were growing taller, and people of all ages were assimilating all they had learned that day. And that was just in Durham! In other parts of the world, my night was not night at all, but day. As I laid down to sleep on the East Coast of the U.S., people in Japan were starting their day: some to work, some to learn, some to play — and some to wait in frustration, ill and unable to do any of these things, just as I had been the week before.

There was so much more to the world than I could see, but as I bent over the raccoon tracks, I was reassured that God sees it all, God holds it all, God knows and loves it all! “Thank you,” I whispered.

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Today is not shaping up to be a low pain day. I wrote part of this with the aid of dictation software, which I am using here for the first time. And I wrote part of it sitting up, which I am really beginning to feel! But I am grateful for the light shining through the leaves of the trees outside my window, reminding me of God’s providential care for all creation – for “all things, seen and unseen.”

 

O, Hamsters, let’s go down – down to the river to pray

My daughter was slow to engage with hymn singing tonight, so my husband began playing Down to the River to Pray (United Methodist readers can find an arrangement in Worship and Song, #3164) They had sung it during communion on Sunday morning, and she had been disappointed that they stopped after five verses – she was wanting to add, “O Grandmas, let’s go down.” For starters.

So my husband played it long enough for her to sing verses inviting grandmas, grandpas, great-grandmas, great-grandpas, preachers, and then, with a self-conscious giggle, hamsters. (Public service announcement / disclaimer: hamsters are not meant to get wet. Please do not take your hamster down to a river, whether to pray or for any other reason.)

The self-consciousness is new. A couple of years ago, my daughter would have naturally turned to invite the animals to pray without any embarrassment. Perhaps she has come to realize that most people don’t consider animals in the same way that she does. Myself, I consider her love for non-human animal creatures to be a spiritual gift. Certainly, her love of animals has been a spiritual beacon to me – life with her has been a daily reminder that God’s providential care is not limited to human beings. I say “reminder” and not “lesson” because I learned this truth long before she came into my life – it is written all over the Bible.

The last couple of chapters of Job are the most obvious example of this. Job wants to know if God is paying attention, and God says yes – God is paying attention to Job, but not just to Job. God cares for every creature, and observes their every secret moment. Not just human creatures, but ostriches, hawks, and mountain goats (see especially Job 39). But if this is an obvious place to find God’s providential care for animals in the Bible, this is not the only place. The last verse of Jonah is curious. Jonah is angry that the Ninevites (who were Assyrians – enemies of Israel) were spared God’s wrath, and God is given the last word, asking, “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11, NRSV, emphasis mine)

Of course there is the matter of God going to the trouble (or calling Noah to the trouble, depending upon how you look at it) of rescuing so many animals from the flood. Granted, this is a dodgier example, as these were only representative animals, and the story necessarily implies that a lot more were drowned. But still. Every preschooler knows there were not just people on that boat.

One of my favorite scriptures on this theme is Deuteronomy 25:4. Tucked between a rule on whipping as punishment and an explanation of Levirate marriage, this verse seems almost a non sequitur: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” (NRSV) This rule takes “do unto others” to the animal kingdom – you get hungry on the job, right? So does an ox.

In spite of all of this (and so many more), before my daughter was born, I had a tendency to devalue the animal kingdom, relatively. Surely people mattered most of all. For example, I might give to environmental groups, but only because the environment mattered insofar as it mattered to human survival. But her gentle (and continuing) insistence that animals were worthy of a lifetime of focused attention was convicting – my anthropocentric thinking meant that I was putting people at the center – but only God belongs at the center! Some things – most things! (maybe even all things?) – were not created for the benefit of human beings. Animals and all other created things have value not because of their usefulness to humans, but because God made them and called them good.

Recently, the local chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers held a yard sale to raise money for continuing education for the member animal keepers. I did something I would never have done eight years ago – I filled up the back of the station wagon and headed to the Duke Lemur Center to donate a bunch of items for their sale. Taking my daughter around to the Museum of Life and Science and the Lemur Center and Carolina Tiger Rescue, I’ve met a lot of folks who are caring for God’s creatures with integrity. That’s important work. Not because failing to care for abandoned animals would be an affront to human nobility. Not because lemurs are cute or tigers are awe-inspiring. No, it’s important because these animals are God’s beloved creatures. And if I love God, then I cannot draw the line at caring about animals, plants, and places that are not demonstrably useful to human beings.

I love my job!

All three humans in the McGiverin household are sick at the moment, each with a different bug of the respiratory variety.  I had envisioned a very different week for myself than sick at home with a sick kindergartener!  But it has been a wonderful time, in many ways.  As I was snuggling my daughter on the sofa, watching Dinosaur Train while collaborating with a friend in England via text message on his plans for that evening’s Advent study, I was filled with gratitude that I was doing what I was made to do.  I texted my husband later in the day, “I love my job!”

How many of my hours each day are spent “doing what I was made to do?”  And how many are spent in willful or inadvertent turning away from doing what I was made to do?

To clarify, as per the Westminster Shorter Catechism, where is the balance of my money, time and effort found, in relation to the goal of glorifying and enjoying God?

When we remember that we are, each and every one of us, God’s own beloved children, then we are empowered to be who we were made to be, and do what we were made to do.  We are empowered to love and serve the Lord – and all creation.

For the flip side – for my thoughts on what happens when we forget we are loved, and fear that we are unlovable – see my most recent Advent reflection at the Art of Living Your Faith blog of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Durham, NC.