Gift of Outdoors
If she could, my sister Vickie would spend most of her time outdoors.
She’s an animal lover and a tree-hugger! If you have spent much time with her you might conclude she’s a sun-worshipper, too!
Oh, don’t mistake her for a pagan (whatever that even means)! My sister has a better handle on faith and nature than most able-bodied theologians I know!
She keeps a lookout on the weather majestically rolling across the open plains of Nebraska, just as did generations of indigenous peoples before our German ancestors settled there.
With an eye on the horizon, and rapt attention to the weather forecast Vickie experiences what too many of us are too busy to appreciate: Heaven touching Earth.
Before I downloaded the weather app on my phone, I would often ask her for the weather forecast. She is usually more accurate than the app! Even today, she called to let me know the Nebraska farmers were celebrating some much-needed rain. Nothing upsets her more than waiting for the gray, winter months to pass in anticipation of sunny, warmer days.
As soon as it is possible she’s in shorts and sleeveless tops sitting out in the sun or strolling in her power chair to visit nearby neighbors – the call-button attached to the arm of her chair always ready if she found herself in a treacherous predicament. I can’t remember her ever having a sunburn, but I do remember envying her beautiful, bronze tan!
If you asked her why she loves animals, trees, birds, the sun and the soil, she’d set you straight: These are the good gifts in life to enjoy because God made them!
Gift of Baby Animals
Nothing brings her more joy than baby animals – except perhaps gardening.
Now, at the age of seventy, she still remembers the day watching puppies born out in the ‘car-house‘ as she called it. It took me a few guesses to figure what she meant – obviously, car-house = garage.
She shared a memory of years gone by when kittens were born in the bedroom we shared. Since I’m not a fan of animals in the house, and have had too many mishaps with cats, I most likely blocked this from my memory!
But, her memory was vividly recalled. While lying on her belly she lifted up onto her elbows and crawled, inching her body to the edge of the bed, rigid legs in tow, in order to get a clear view of the mama cat birthing a litter of kittens in a box in our bedroom.
Somewhere in the corners of my mind I have a faint memory of the moment.
For Vickie, birthing – of infants, of all sorts of animals, and even of plants pushing through the soil – is a profound and miraculous event!
She may not say it this way, but I’m convinced she knows that God’s care for the smallest of God’s creatures – means that she – as one injured at birth – can confidently place her own body in God’s hands!
Vickie exudes a trust few of us have. She embodies Jesus’s words from the Mount. She knows her worth!
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither so nor reap or gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”Matthew 6:26
Gift of Mice?
There were plenty of animals on the farm to keep her entertained – pigs, a few lambs, chickens, several cats, numerous dogs, a couple of work horses, and plenty of cows!
Many childhood days were spent in her wheelchair out by the water tank beneath the creaking windmill. Time seemed to stand still waiting for the cows slowly lumbering in for their afternoon drinks.
Other days she gathered eggs from the chicken coop with mom or enjoyed time in the barn at milking time.
The other day I asked which of these animals were her favorite. Her answer surprised me.
I was sure I mis-heard. I asked her to repeat herself.
“Mice,” she reiterated!
“Mice?” I have no memory of our family every having a mouse or any rodent for a pet. But she sure did! She told this short story with so much confidence that I was compelled to believe her.
“In box on porch!”
“Boy and girl mice!”
“One, two, three, four, five, six,” she counted, taking a breath between each number. She appeared to be imagining the scene so not to miscount.
After a deep breath, she concluded, “Seven!”
“Are you telling me that SEVEN mice were born in the house?”
“Yessss!” I could tell she was bit perturbed that I doubted her. In these types of situations she deliberately draws out her words – slowly, emphatically – as if to give my dense mind time take them in!
“Yes, Brenda! In box, on porch!”
“Why were they your favorite,” I asked. “Did you ever hold them?”
“No. Me watch [them] wiggle ’round!”
“Well, what happened to them?”
“All died!” She reported, unemotionally. I assumed dad had gotten rid of them.
“No,” she stated in a matter-of-fact manner, “[too] cold on porch! Froze! All died!”
Gift of a Personal Pet
She also had indoor pets – a darling, but expensive, yellow canary that everyone adored (whose story is for another time). But most memorable was Tootie, a Chihuahua Vickie inherited when our maternal grandmother died.
Tootie was a pet who terrorized the rest of the family. She was loyal only to Vickie, and adored and protected her. She’d jump up into Vickie’s lap, settling in just like a queen on her throne, daring us peons to come near!
Tootie barked ferociously, baring those sharp teeth, nipping at the feet of anyone who tried to tease Vickie – which most often was dad who liked to kick at Vickie’s legs whenever he walked past her wheelchair! Somehow Tootie always knew foe from friend!
On one unfortunate evening when our parents were away I approached Vickie to prepare her for bed. Tootie would have none of it. She kept barking and biting at my feet.
How could such a small little thing cause me so much fear.
I had to get out of her way so I jumped up onto a chair in the room. I missed landing squarely on the seat. The chair fell over knocking me to the floor. When the wooden chair fell over its legs caught the leg to a stand upon which sat an enormous aquarian that contained special fish given to Vickie from an aunt.
Yes, as you can imagine, it too, came crashing to the floor. In my mind tons of water poured all over the hard-wood floor. Priceless fish were flopping for air! Tootie went nuts!
I ran! What else could I do? I ran out the door. I ran down the driveway all the way out to the quonset, then hid out by the rusty farm equipment stored near the alfalfa field. I stayed there until dark, fearing for my life. I returned long after the whole mess was cleaned up!
Vickie and animals had a remarkable relationship.
Except for one!!
If you asked her if there was an animal or any of God’s animal creatures that she didn’t like, she’d be quick to tell you of the day she was terrorized by – THE ROOSTER!!
On this particular sunny afternoon Vickie was outdoors sitting in the front yard enjoying a bit of solitude. I on the other hand, was in the house fiddling with something, I don’t remember – probably reading a book.
All of a sudden I heard the most awful screeching and screaming.
I raced to the porch, ran out of doors, the green screen door slamming shut behind me, worried my inattention led to something tragic.
With my heart pounding in my chest, several scenarios flashed through my mind.
“Was her wheelchair tipped over and she was sprawled upon the ground?”
“Had hornets come out of a nearby hive and and attacked just like they had in Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Men?”
“Was there a snake winding its way up her wheelchair, ready to strike?”
It was none of these!
Instead, our rooster was perched upon her shoulders!
Talons dug deep into Vickie’s flesh! His angry beak, pecked fiercely and repeatedly onto her head. He snatched her hair, tossing it this way and that!!
I raced back into the house, grabbing the kitchen broom. I came out with anger in my eyes!
“Oh no you don’t” I screamed!
“How dare you,” I screeched!! I kept yelling at the monster while trying to beat that bird off of her shoulders without causing more injury to Vickie!
The rooster turned his beady eyes towards me. Losing interest in Vickie, he leapt to the ground. With wings still spread apart, he lunged towards me. Thankfully, a few carefully planted blows from the broom humbled him sufficiently.
Panting from relief, the two of us, now crying, watched as the Rooster strutted away in shame leaving a few feathers in his wake!
Recovering from this nasty fright, I brought her back into the house, lifting the wheelchair up the five steps into the porch. Safely situated away from the rooster and now back in the kitchen, we applied rubbing alcohol and anti-bacterial cream to her injuries.
I don’t remember what happened to the rooster. But the day she had a run-in with the rooster was a story she enjoyed retelling!
God’s Gift of Nature
A few weeks ago, I asked Vickie a question.
“Why did you like to be out with the animals?”
Her response was quick, “Nice outside!”
I wanted more, so I continued, “What is so nice about being outside?”
Whoa. No hesitation. When asked what she enjoys about being outdoors with the animals, the trees, the sun, and in her garden, she gave me a one word answer – God!
I continued, “Where is God?”
I kept on, “What do you mean, all over? Can we keep God in a box?”
An emphatic response, to what she knew was a stupid question, “No! Up high! In sky! In heaven!”
“What is God doing up there,” I continued?
I sensed her impatience with my prodding, knowing that treading into things of the spiritual could easily elicit tears and deep emotional responses. Yet I continued.
“Looking down. On us. On me! All over!”
I don’t know about you, but there’s no better way to express God’s providential care, is there?
Yet, I pushed it a bit further.
This time I lowered my voice and whispered, “When sitting outdoors with the animals is God with you?”
A resounding, “Yes!!”
“Does God care for the animals?”
“Vickie, how do you know that? Do you know that in your heart or in your head?”
“In head, in heart,” she said with immense confidence!
And then I asked one last question, pretty sure of her answer, “Do you [we] have to go to church to talk to God?”
“No! Me talk [with] God all day!”
Ah, she may not have sat in catechism classes nor had she been confirmed. She had never heard of the cosmological argument. But alas, she knew the answers! And I loved her for it!
Apostle Paul’s words from the first chapter in the book of Romans comes to mind. Somehow I think Paul would be very pleased with Vickie’s responses, for she is a testament that his words are true.
“Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made.”Romans 1:20
The Gift of Vocation
Rereading this essay in preparation to post it publicly I came to a realization that God has called Vickie to this vocation. This is her work, her calling!
The notion that time outdoors in nature, among God’s creatures for Vickie, in particular as a disabled person who enjoys hours and hours observing God’s creation – is nothing more than entertainment or is an activity to relieve her boredom – is a grave mistake on my part!
There’s so much to explore and flesh-out on the concept of vocation and what it means to be called to work for the Lord.
But for now, I am content that Vickie is fulfilling a vocation that brings herself and God pleasure. That, my friends is a life well-lived!
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host! Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!Psalm 148
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