Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Groundhog

When I worked in Baltimore, we took our clients on a white-water rafting outing. As preparation for the trip, we purchased large sub sandwiches and a cooler full of beer and sodas, loaded them in the back of my car and drove to Harper’s Ferry. When we got there, we were confronted with a large number of very hung-over clients who were happy to spend the day without the benefit of further alcohol. As a result, I returned to Baltimore with a full cooler of beer in my trunk. The next morning, my boss, Lana, said that she was having a party that weekend, and she’d like to take the beer off of my hands. “Of course” I said – and we went out to put the cooler in her car.

“Is that a cat under your car?” she asked.

“I don’t think so…maybe it’s a rabbit?” As we looked closer, I saw that it was a small groundhog. I figured it would run away when we opened the trunk, but it just stayed hunched up beside the front tire. At lunch, we went out in Lana’s car, and the groundhog was still there.

“Maybe it’s hurt or sick” I mused. I had visions of a rabid baby groundhog attacking me as I got in my car that afternoon, so I called animal control.

We had a conference call that afternoon – a really important conference call – and we all gathered in Lana’s office around the speaker phone to take it.

One of the wonders of modern technology is the invention of the mutable speaker phone. We could un-mute the phone if we needed to answer a question – otherwise, we usually had the phone on mute and joked around among ourselves. About 10 minutes into the call the animal control guy showed up so I ran out to show him where the rodent was – still hunched up by the tire. The AC guy – I’ll call him “Bubba” – got one of those poles with a loop on the end out of his truck, kneeled down beside my car and poked the groundhog with the pole. Now, Bubba had apparently forgotten to wear a belt that day, and we were treated to an alarming view of what I believe is commonly known as “the plumber syndrome”. Our friend the groundhog, however, was not happy with the poking and ran to the other side of the car – hunkering down beside the opposite tire. Bubba stood up, pulled up his jeans, walked to the other side of the car and began to poke again. Lil’ GH, again annoyed by the intrusion, ran back to his original position. Bubba stood up again, hiked his pants, stomped to the other side and poked. Lil’ GH moved. Hike pants, poke. Move. This went on for what seemed an eternity, and those of us in Lana’s office were now laughing so hysterically that we were all in tears. Finally, the groundhog got tired of this little game and ran out from under my car towards the next row of cars. Bubba looked under the car, looked again, stood up, hiked up his pants, and I guess assuming another job well done, drove away.

One of the women I work with had a fit saying “the groundhog ran under my car!”

“No it didn’t Lynn” I said, “Go back to work”.

An hour later, Lynn came into my office and said “I’m really sure that groundhog ran under my car. Will you go out with me to check?”

I rolled my eyes – “Sure I’ll go out with you – just to show you that darn thing isn’t under your car!” We walked out to her car – me thinking what a pain she was being and continuing to roll my eyes to show my annoyance – and looked under the car. Of course, the groundhog wasn’t there.

“Maybe it climbed in somehow” Lynn whined.

“How could it have climbed in your car?” I said “Get a grip on yourself!”

When she wouldn’t let up, I sighed and told her to open the door and see for herself.

Lynn gingerly unlocked the door and opened it – expecting, I’m sure, for the crazed groundhog to jump out and attack us. Of course, nothing was there.

“Maybe it’s under the hood?”

“For the love of Pete! Just pop the hood, Lynn!” I was really put out now.

Lynn popped the hood and I opened it, screamed and dropped it again with a bang. There was our friend the groundhog sitting on her engine block – probably finally happy that he could rest somewhere where people wouldn’t be poking him with a metal stick. Gingerly, I opened the hood again, hoping that I hadn’t smushed the poor thing into oblivion.

Now, while we were doing this outside, we had apparently attracted the attention of more than a few people in our office building with windows that looked over the back parking lot. Jim, the office maintenance man, came outside – laughing – and asked us what we were going to do now.

“I have no idea,” I said.

After some discussion, we decided that I should go inside and find something to entice/force the groundhog out of Lynn’s car. I went in, and came back outside with Lana for reinforcement. Between us we had a pitcher of water, a broom and a Little Debbie cupcake. The first idea was to put the Little Debbie down so the groundhog would know there was food about, and hopefully it would be so hungry that it would rush out of the engine. Unfortunately, groundhogs apparently have a more (or less?) sophisticated palate that we expected.

Next, we poured the pitcher of water onto the groundhog, but he just glared at us – as if to say “thanks for the bath – I’m not leaving!” Finally, we poked it with the broom, and he reluctantly climbed out of the engine. I shut the hood, and Lynn started stressing about how she would keep the thing from climbing in again.

“Just move your car,” I suggested. Lynn started her car and moved forward, very, VERY slowly. The groundhog, seeing that his shelter was in motion, started walking forward at about the same speed that Lynn was driving, and therefore, stayed under the car.

“Go faster, Lynn!” I yelled, and she punched the accelerator, squealing the tires, and leaving the poor little guy out in the open. He looked around for a minute, then turned, ran to the next line of cars and settled under yet another vehicle. This vehicle didn’t belong to anyone I knew, however, so I didn’t feel any responsibility to deal with the problem further. Sometime later that afternoon, I saw the poor thing running towards the woods – hopefully to find his mother and some food.

Isn’t life like that sometimes? All we’re looking for is a little quiet time in a safe place, and Bubba comes around and pokes at us with a broom handle. What the groundhog didn’t know was that the place he had chosen wasn’t really the safe place he had expected. The only true safe place for him was probably back in his hole, or wherever baby groundhogs live, with his mother to take care of him.

The only true safe place we have is in God’s care. We’re out in the great big world, making our way as best as we can, and we’re disappointed when things don’t turn out to be as great or as safe as we expected. Of course, this is bound to happen. But God’s love is a never-ending place of solace, if we are able to “let go and let God.” It’s had to relinquish control of our lives – and it’s hard for me to know sometimes what is the right kind of letting go and what is avoiding responsibility. So I keep plugging away, trying to “let go and let God” while trying to take care of the gifts He’s given me to take care of – my kids, my marriage, my job, just to name a few. Hopefully I will remember to run back to my safe place – in God’s care – when Bubba comes around.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Do I Believe?

These first few postings are things I've written in the past few years.

A good friend asked me once why I believe in God. It was a hard question to answer –harder than I would have expected to verbalize my reasons for belief to someone who didn’t believe that God is real. At the time, I hadn’t really had any life-changing events that I could detail, except for the miracle of my oldest daughter’s birth. After struggling to put my feelings into words, I finally sort of gave up. I said “you know, it would be a lot easier to explain if God would come down, right here and now, and sit with us in your living room and answer the question for Himself. For me, it’s a matter of faith – I believe, even though He isn’t visibly sitting with me.” It was a poor explanation, I admit, and we went on to some other topic of conversation.

These days, I can detail specific instances where God has changed my life, and when people ask me, I can give these examples that point me to the truth that He’s here. This still isn’t actually sufficient, I realize, but it’s the best I can do. My belief in God is sometimes incredibly strong, sometimes seemingly a matter of hedging my bets, sometimes incredibly weak. I hope that we all have these moments of weakness – I’d really feel inadequate if I was the only one in our community that doubted.

However strong or weak my belief is, I keep plodding away – trying to develop my spirituality, trying to teach my children to honor God, trying to honor God myself. And through this plodding, I continue to have moments of clarity when I can say “wow – God really is here – look at what He showed me today.” When I’ve been weak, God has given me someone strong to lead me. When I’ve been strong, God has given me someone to lead myself. When I pray, I have a hard time asking for things for myself. But, amazingly, the times that I’ve prayed most fervently for someone else I’ve gotten a gift myself. One time, I inadvertently betrayed the confidence of a dear friend, and although I desperately wanted my friend to forgive me, I prayed only that my betrayal to not lead to further hardship for her. When I went to my friend, told her what I had done (a very difficult thing to do I might add!), she forgave me in the most gracious of ways – telling me that she loved me and that she knew that I loved her – enough said.

It is extremely easy to lose sight of faith during weak times. I try to keep in mind those times when God has shown me His love in specific ways, so that I have something to get me through those weak days – those days in the balcony when the distractions are too numerous, or irritation or sadness are so overwhelming that I can’t see anything else.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Living in the balcony

When we started going to our church, my kids were both pretty young – 3 and 7. Our church has a balcony, and most of the people who sat up there were families like us – with young children who were restless during the long service. There is a children’s service that takes the kids out from the beginning of the service until after the sermon, but not all kids went. We also have these coloring packets for children that have a coloring page, crayons and two pipe cleaners – either for poking siblings, or for the parents to make flowers or crosses out of, depending on the mood of the child. Many times, the restlessness and accompanying noise made it hard to pay attention to the service – especially to the sermon. One day, in a fleeting moment of clarity, I realized that my whole life was “in the balcony”. Listening to God’s word was hard enough at church, but in the real word, it was even harder. There is always something to distract me from that small voice in my head – wrestling the kids out of bed, trying to force some nutrition into them before taking them wherever they had to go, homework, getting dinner on the table, baths, bedtime, late night calls for water or company. I actually probably heard more when we were sitting in the balcony because I really had to work at it.

I realized that I’d have to try harder to focus on that voice, and have had some success. But even though we’ve graduated out of the balcony to the front row of the church (my youngest daughter’s choice for seating), I still find that I allow myself to be too distracted, and don’t take enough time to just be still. My prayer time is limited to quick, if heartfelt, lines like “please make sure Hannah is safe on the road today” or “please let Sara not have strep throat again” or “please don’t let a tree fall on my house in the storm tonight.” Only once in a while do I actually stop and realize that I need to take more time to grow in my spirituality. And once I realize this, I generally get distracted by some other need, my own or my family’s, and so it goes.

But in spite of my seeming lack of attention, God still works in my life. It continues to amaze me that regardless of where I am at any given moment, God is right there whether or not I see Him. He certainly deserves more attention that I give Him, but He doesn’t sigh and give up, He still waits – and patiently at that. If I had to wait like that for my kids to pay attention to me, I’d probably throttle them, but God just waits. Every now and again, when I get a glimpse, it’s almost like He smiles and waves as if to say “yep, I’m still here…” and then, unfortunately, I allow the image to fade again.

As I write in this blog, I hope to allow myself to focus a bit more, and to see, in the day to day workings of my life, that God is working and present, and that He loves me regardless of my shortcomings. I may also write about things unrelated to spirituality, but ultimately, doesn’t it all come back to the blessings I have?