Ever since we moved into this house, I've become enamored with nature. Eden and I have named the trees in our front yard, we've discussed the ancient legends of dryads because of a twisted maple that looks like she at one point might have been a dancing human. I've spent hours, literally, in a hammock strung between two trees just looking up at the leaves and watching nimble-bodied squirrels make terrifying leaps from branch to branch, and my children and I have squatted low to spot tentative chipmunks, examined empty carcasses of cicadas, caught lightening bugs in a ball jar, and of course, gathered too many earthworms than is right or reasonable after a rainstorm.
I've locked eyes with a bandit-faced baby raccoon, and watched at midnight while one attempted to use MY rocking chair as a hoist to get back onto my roof. I've had an encounter I don't want to repeat with some sort of fishing spider the size of my hand, and we have a groundhog that visits our backyard when he thinks we are away. But of all the critters we keep, my very favorite makes an almost daily appearance. She is never comfortable with us watching her, but by now she only glances back at us for a few moments before she continues doing whatever it is she came to do. I've found such courage from observing her. Cade sits in front of my bedroom window as long as I'll let him when she comes, and he thinks she is always happy to see him. His muted hello's through the windowpane don't do much to bother her, but she always turns around and looks him square in the eyes.
I can't really process deer hunters after having encountered her so many times. She is so graceful, so agile, so precious, and I know it sounds ridiculous but she seems like she is a real live person. Maybe that's just because Eden and I have been immersed in the pages of Narnia for the past few weeks, but I really wouldn't be surprised if she started speaking. If she were a human, she'd be an author of self-help books and an inspirational speaker. But she's a deer, so really I'm not sure if anyone but myself has the chance to celebrate her beating the odds. I saw her for the first time last year when we first moved in, and I was mesmerized watching her.
Either she was caught in a trap at one point or attacked by a predator, and she now only has three hooves. Her fourth leg is missing at least six or seven inches, but when she runs its impossible to tell. Even her walking limp is something like "poetry in motion". I could watch her forever, just because its so amazing. Last fall I saw her with three baby does, their picturesque little bodies covered in downy fur and spotted with snowball white spots. That was one of my first sightings of her, and she watched me defiantly while they snacked on some sort of overgrowth in our backyard. She was measuring me, letting me know that she was aware I was there, and clearly communicating that she wouldn't let me near her babies unless it was over her dead body. I remember my husband speculating that she probably wouldn't make it through the snowy winter, with her disability. Knowing so many hunters who love to hunt in neighborhoods like ours, where lots are nearly an acre of dense woods, I couldn't help but agree with him. I felt a sense of sadness for her, like I wished I could invite her and her babies to live under our deck for the winter.
I forgot about her until early this year, somewhere around February, when she came sprinting back into our lives. Several full grown deer stood around her, and she stared back at me through the kitchen window, her breath puffing out in circles around her as if to say, "I survive." I felt a new respect for this courageous animal. And when in June, new baby does were tracking her heels, I made the whole family come and watch. She has led those little ones who are growing in lightening fast speed, much like my own children, all summer long back and forth across our lawn. And anytime I spy her, she looks right back at me. I'm so glad she made it. And was fruitful.
One of the many catchphrases in our house that I always put into use when we've got a new baby around, is that I want us to "thrive, not just survive." It's so tempting to let the chaos of life swallow us and let the daily grind of disciplines and chores squelch our ability to be grateful and live with so much joy in the moment. Parenting is such a gift, but its the kind of gift that requires constant work and attention. The more kids we're blessed with, the more I realize that parenting is no longer a side job, it is my full time, full blown, around the clock job. It's the best thing I can invest in right now.
But so often, in parenting, I feel like I've got a bit of a handicap. Its a different handicap depending on the season, sometimes its just a lack of patience, of a constant feeling exhaustion, or relational discord taxing my compassion and storehouse of wisdom; sometimes its morning sickness from another pregnancy, or the demands of life outside of our home. I feel like I'm hobbling around, and my little ones are trailing behind me, looking up to me like I'm their biggest hero. And it's so humbling.
When I spotted my deer-friend this morning out front, we all were eating at the table and so we crowded around the front windows and just watched her. She had a friend with her and between the two, they had five children following them. Her tell-tale limp sets her apart, and so I always know which is which. And for some reason, when I was watching her today, I felt so encouraged. I don't know a mom that doesn't feel like they are walking without a limp- and I know some AMAZING moms. Whether they're dealing with a deployed husband, or a husband who travels several nights a week, whether they've moved across the country and are isolated in their homes loving on little ones with a heart as homesick as ever, or they are walking through divorce and remarriage and step-parenting, or they've got to juggle jobs and motherhood, or walk the always courageous and never simple life of single motherhood- I know amazing moms who don't always get to choose the handicap they're dealing with, if ever. Something in our lives causes us to feel "not-enough" no matter the season of motherhood. But this fierce deer momma always has her limp, and yet she always has her children behind her. I want to be like her- and despite whatever handicap I feel like I've got, I want to thrive. I want to love my kids in the middle of it.
That's the invitation of God. Despite the issue, the working out our salvation, the beating back of all the flesh we've got, the struggle to not be bitter or jaded or disheartened, to still lead our young. To still love. To still be fruitful. What if my deer friend had just decided to quit after she was first injured? What if she had laid down in the forest somewhere and just fallen asleep, given up, realized her handicap would always make her limp and figured it was better to just NOT try? We have the option. We can let our handicap become our identity and let it bleed over into every bit of healthy thing in our lives. Or we can keep moving forward, keep loving, keep producing, keep dreaming, keep pouring out. Yes, we might walk with a limp and it might even be noticeable to people around us. But, when we run, when we get momentum on a gifting or a dream or an area to pour out, its no longer decipherable.
"but we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
" 2 Corinthians 4:7-11