Our traditional Sabbath day family connection is a hike somewhere—anywhere on a trail through nature. It’s our ritual. Our comfort. The holy tie that binds.
This past Sunday was one of those near-fall afternoons where temperatures slipped. Long sleeves and sweatshirts replaced the T-shirts of summer for the first time since June. Breezes blew stiff. Moody clouds threatened wet, assuring no sight of sun. Prairie bowed down from wind with wisps of Canada rye, seed begging for picking and spreading next spring. We obliged.
Bright purple liatris stood tall, stiff, intermixed with yellow black-eyed Susan swaying in the wind. Big bluestem and lavender monarda danced an elegant pas de deux.
We tiptoed into duck blinds beside the second pond, having scared off the first flock with our hiking-boot thumping of ground.
This one . . .
Just three turtles on a log, necks stretched as if begging the appearance of sun.
How they knew we were present, so far away, mystified me. One by one, they slipped off their little log island and into the watery depths upon spotting us.
What lives beneath the dark surfaces we see? Down in those murky places?
What causes us to shrink back, to slip down, afraid of a few coming too close—of being seen and maybe even touched?
How much of us goes unnoticed, unappreciated, unloved because we slip away so soon, never letting anyone get within a few feet?
Is this why we plunge into our protective places? How long will we wait before surfacing again?
How long can we stay down and hidden before suffocating from fear?
We left that pond, me having become a philosopher of turtle behavior applied to humankind, speaking out loud my thoughts while some eyes rolled straight back into their sockets.
I smiled as we wandered on. And I watched them from behind, gathering seed, hugging, laughing, talking.
Seems like yesterday when they were 8, 6 and 19 months. They are now 23, 21 and 17 years.
Trekking along in this season’s end, prairie plants taller than they hugging left and right of the paths, I gave thanks for the paths God has led us on, walked with us on, hugging us with grace in our journey together was family brought together by him. We’ve come a long way through a tangle of pain to a point of acceptance.
I couldn’t have felt more joy in that moment. Because of all the layering, holding one moment in time while superimposing images—memories—present and past—dark and bright—sorrow-FULL and joy-FULL—the whole mix of our lives—always complex and rich, even when painted with grief. This is the life I want to embrace as one, not dissect and segregate.
I don’t want perfect. I want real. The whole mess of it all. And I don’t want to miss one minute of joy—of laughter spontaneous.
She picked a clover and held it to her nose, noting the sweet fragrance. There’s always something sweet in season, no matter how small.
Ask. Seek. Knock.
Enjoy. Give thanks.
He held that striped caterpillar roaming along the edge of its life-giving leaf, crawling onward transformation. All in due time, little one. All in due time. Take note, you who are worth more to God than a caterpillar. All in due time. Keep going, though you may feel you’re just crawling.
He spoke sweetly, calling him Alfred.
“Hi Alfred! Where are you crawling? Are you looking for a place to build your pupa?”
“Alfred?” I asked. “Why did you name him Alfred? Why did you name him at all?”
Matter-of-factly, our youngest instructed his mother.
“All God’s creatures need a name so when they go to heaven they can greet each other. We all need names. Like when Alfred goes to heaven, he might run into Jim and it just wouldn’t be right to say “hi” without using a name.”
Honestly, I never thought of that. Never thought caterpillars thought of such things either. Not quite sure of the theological soundness of these thoughts, but hey, it’s Sunday, and I’m here to hear our kids and enjoy some lightness, some laughter.
Catching up with the others, I asked Nick a logical question within earshot of the others.
“So, if Arthur dies as a caterpillar, how does he end up in heaven? A caterpillar? A pupa? A butterfly?”
They all laughed at me. Like really. Who thinks up these questions except a weird, dangerously overeducated, philosophical mother with a brain on a hamster wheel in perpetual motion?
Without hesitation, while puffing on his stick stogie, Nick responded confidently, knowing all about heaven, of course, at his ripe age of 17.
“As they die, that’s how they go. They die a caterpillar, they go to the caterpillar section. They die a pupa, they go to the pupa section. They die a butterfly, they go to the butterfly section.”
We just about tripped over our feet from laughing at his logic.
Then, our inquiring 22 year-old son asked, “So what section will I end up in?”
His quick-witted brother promptly replied, rather loudly . . .
“You’ll be in the special needs section!”
Can someone die from hysterical laughter?
Maybe. If you aspirate your own spit, which I did.
We all laughed loud and long.
In our family, we’ve come to understand and accept—even give thanks—for the fact that we ALL have “special needs”. We can even laugh without making fun of, without pick on.
Like when our youngest isn’t listening and I ask, “Are you DEAF or something!?” And he replies, “Well, actually, yes, I AM half-deaf! REMEMBER my left ear?!”
And when the Attention Deficit Disorder causes sentences to seldom finish because the brain flits like a bee flying flower to flower and I say, “Hey! Can you just stay on one sentence until it’s finished before moving on to the next?”
And when Mom melts down and has to put herself on her own time-out and the youngest says, “You need a chill pill”, and he’s RIGHT! In fact, I do, sometimes!
And when Dad forgets that the dining room is not the board room and we need to gently remind him that we’re his family and not his corporation (though of course we have made him VERY rich!).
And when our daughter with a short-term memory like a bucket with holes asks for the fourth time within ten minutes, “So how was your day?” And you tell her that her brain is leaking again and she laughs.
Yep. We all have our issues.
Bottom line . . .
Who ISN’T “special needs”? Who DOESN’T have something broken or spotted or leaking or melted?
Around here—here on the farm—here in our home—we all accept our equal footing before God. We don’t one-up. We don’t try to box and make anyone “less-than”. Because Jesus never did. Never does. Branch, leaves, berries–we’re all connected to the same trunk of the tree from where—from whom—we draw our life.
But we don’t ignore either. We don’t pretend. We’re not ashamed to admit our issues, our weaknesses, our disabilities. We deal. We try to compensate. And sometimes we even have fun with our foibles. We’re learning more and more about the goodness of God in allowing all our “thorns in the flesh” because the less we try to be more than we are, the freer we are to accept all God has to give. There’s freedom and peace in knowing that in our worst weakness, God shows us his greatest strength.
All are equal in God’s sight. But some are more blessed because they know they need help . . .
Blessed are the poor in spirit. . .
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn . . .
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek . . .
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . .
For they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful . . .
For they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart . . .
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers . . .
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake . . .
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account . . .
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
God’s economy is upside-down and downside-up. And when we’re hanging by a twig instead of a strong branch, it’s good to know God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purposes. (Romans 8:28) He is our Father who always knows best and hopes we won’t settle for less than His best.
I look at those kids in front of me, two now grown and one nearly there. I think of the life verse we gave all three . . .
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Indeed, He has kept his promise to us all. He is fulfilling His plan not only in our three kids with a myriad of special needs but also in their parents who have come to know their own “special needs” as a result of living with broken, by being broken, and experiencing the great blessing of relying on God in all.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
He is—always and forever—our greatest blessing.
What a joy to give Him thanks for who He is and how he loves us all so perfectly!