It's all too easy in today's world of flicking back and forth between blogs and lives and pretty pictures and cute stories and funny quips, to believe that life really is as cute and presentable and...containable... as it appears to be in the flat, pixilated screens through which we view these lives. Many of the blogs we read are operated like online journals - as much for the mom's sake as for the public eye - and many others exist simply to provide a creative outlet that might also generate some income for the author. Whatever the case, we should never forget that real lives exist behind these facades. People whose issues or struggles don't photograph well or transmit easily to the blog pages we like to read.
As I go about my daily life right now, I feel caught in an onslaught of sadness, bad news, tragedy.
I'm standing on a shore and every wave that rolls up carries something bad. If not directly for me, then for someone close to me or someone I love.
Yes, these days are also punctuated by funny moments and sweetness and joy and light and laughter, but for some reason, this particular time in my life (and the lives of those around me) is saturated with what seems to be an unusual amount of sadness.
Within the past few weeks, I have been made aware of old high school classmates battling cancer...co-workers dealing with one life disaster after another...death and more death from tragic circumstances like drunk drivers, strange diseases....unexpected health issues resulting in hospitalizations....on top of which one of my best friends in the world suddenly found out she has a brain tumor.
Yesterday, I felt like my phone was burning up with bad news.
This may seem strange, but with so much catastrophe around me, I keep waiting for my bad news. It seems inevitable somehow. I struggle to maintain a positive attitude and not to become a hypochondriac, over-analyzing every little thing that could potentially be something more.
I know life is not always like this. Things ebb and flow and this is, for some odd reason, just where God has me positioned. But I feel helpless and powerless. And I think this is a good thing.
Not an easy thing. Especially not for a control freak like me.
The older I get, the more children I have, the more people I have to look out for, the more I realize that being a control freak only makes you that much more vulnerable to fears and anxiety. It makes me painfully aware of my frailty as a woman and a human being. In all these things, God is there reminding me that I have never been in control. Not ever.
This afternoon during school, I was talking to the kids about something and out of the blue, the following string of questions poured out of the mouth of my daughter, Brooklyn. She sometimes wondered why God wanted us all to worship Him. Why was He the only God we were supposed to follow? What made him different from all the kings we'd studied who felt so important and did all these bad things? Why was God different? Why did he keep changing Pharoah's heart just so God could show off his abilities through the plagues? Why didn't he just let the Israelites go at the beginning? Why would God act like that?
Let me tell you - hearing those questions roll off her mouth made me sit up straight and take that moment extremely seriously. For starters, WOW. What huge thoughts. And what GREAT thoughts.
How many people wonder those same things and get to be adults without ever having voiced the question? They pretend they go along with the whole Christianity thing, but deep in their hearts, they really do wonder why God gets to be God.
The other remarkable thing about her question was the timing.
Here I am, struggling with some of the most basic things a person can struggle with - the seeming injustice of life and death and how it all plays out - but at the core of what I'm working through on a grown-up level is the same basic question.
So I had to think about my response to her, because this was a big moment. For both of us.
Her question about the ongoing plagues sounded a lot like the ongoing struggles I'm watching my friends go through, and I too, wonder why it has to be taken to the lengths it is. Why doesn't God intervene right now?
In an attempt to address Brooklyn's questions as best I could, here's what I said (bear in mind, as I write this, I'm talking to myself some here. I didn't say all this to her quite in this way).
One of the things that makes our God completely unique is that He doesn't have a beginning and He will also never have an end. (August inserted here - "yeah, people will die, but God never will." Well said.)
Our God is the inventor of all things - and He didn't have to make us at all.
But He did. And not only did He make us, but He made us to be a lot like Him in many ways. And He made us so He could be friends with us and teach us to trust Him and learn about Him. He made us to love Him. And even more than that, because He can see everything all at the same time, from Earth's start to Earth's finish, He can see all the different pieces and how they fit together and why they fit together. He wrote the Bible so we can see just how He connects things over time, and to show us how messed up we are and how He can fix that with Jesus. He left clues all throughout history that don't make sense if you just look at that one piece.
For instance, you're wondering why God made Pharoah's heart keep hardening and all the plagues keep happening. It was to show God's power, yes, but not because God was just feeling like a show-off. It also wasn't just for Pharoah - the Israelites, more than the Egyptians - needed to understand the power God had. To really see for themselves what He could do, especially because they did have lots of other gods around them who might seem to be equally powerful. If God was going to rescue them and have them be His people, then they needed to KNOW He was better than the other gods. And he kept doing the plagues because as He did, he proved He was more powerful than their gods. And He also kept going because He knew that He was leading up to a huge clue that would not only be a clue for the Israelites, but for everyone after who would read the Bible and see God's story unfold. He had to get to that last night, the plague where he killed all the firstborn sons, so He could create the Passover. That was so He could show the Israelites (and all the rest of the people who'd read the Bible someday), that the death we deserve is passed over because someone else died instead. It was a clue about Jesus coming in the future.
Throughout history, other gods have tried to compete with our God. And every time one of them tried to challenge God - like with Elijah and the prophets of Baal and Ashorah - or the Philistines and their gods - God blew the other gods away. God can claim to be the most important God because He's proven it.
He has proven that only He is worthy of our worship. Because He made us to worship. And He proves over and over in so many different ways, all throughout time, that He alone deserves our complete trust and worship. He has a story that He has written in the world, over time, that is still unfolding. And all throughout it the little pieces of it, when you look at them individually, may not seem fair or may not make sense, but they all tell the story of how He is worthy. How He takes us, a messed up, sinning bunch of people, and transforms us into something that shines with His glory. We are His story. Our faith when things don't look good. Our trust when things don't make sense. Our belief when we can't see. They are the words that form the sentences that write the paragraphs that tell the story of who our God is and why He alone is God of all.
He is different from the kings we've studied who got too self important and destroyed kingdoms and people. He is different because they thought they were the most important thing ever, the most powerful person ever - but they were wrong. They were just a man God let be in power for a time. So that we could understand how much better it is to serve our God who rewards our faithfulness with His own faithfulness. He protects and defends and takes care of us, rather than constantly taking and taking and taking like kings do.
The thing about God is that He has reasons for doings things. For the way things happen. And those reasons are not always easy to see or something that even make sense right at this time. They make sense in the overall picture that only God fully sees. We get a glimpse of that throughout the Bible, and it gives us a clue about what He's doing today...
Life is hard at times. Our fear and anxiety reflect a fear of the unknown. A fear of a plan that isn't ours. A fear that if something happens to us, nothing will work out the way it was supposed to.
This is my fear.
This is what makes me lose sleep at night.
And then I hear a quiet voice, the Holy Spirit, remind me that the only plan that matters is His. And that from the beginning of time, before my own personal time began, my days were all mapped out, and all taken into His plan. Somehow that plan takes into account my individual choices and I believe the plan fluctuates and undulates and isn't something that makes any sense to me as I look at it now. But His plan is broader and deeper and more amazing and just plain BETTER than mine. Someday, when I'm on the other side of the plan and I see what's been unfolding, it will be more beautiful and magnificent than anything I could have ever imagined. And it will reveal in yet another way the truly unique glory of the God of all.
Until then, I go back to the words in the Bible and take comfort in the stories that have unfolded and that mimic my pain and fears. I revel in the countless testimonies of God's faithfulness and I trust that.
I take advantage of His promise to hear my prayers and I never stop talking to Him.
I remember who God is and why He says to trust Him in all things.
I am happy to say that I have an update on the situation with our cat, Aesop.
All was quiet on the cat front Monday and most of Tuesday, despite the fact that Kyle had called the other family and hoped to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Meanwhile, Aesop continued to appear at our house at his usual intervals, eating his food, lounging in the flowerbed, saying hi and getting petted...which made my kids feel much better.
I was able to have a conversation with Brooklyn about the possibility of getting a new cat.
That did not go over well.
I mean, the prospect of her getting ANOTHER cat was fine with her, but she sobbed for over an hour at the thought of having to actually relinquish ownership of Aesop. Understandable.
Late Tuesday evening, Kyle told me he received a call from the other family's husband.
While it was obvious the guy didn't want to give up Aesop completely either, he also was very understanding and apologetic about making assumptions regarding him. He understood the importance of Aesop to our children. Kyle said you could tell the guy really did like our cat.
Kyle played the diplomat perfectly, agreeing to continue our current arrangement as is - with two conditions.
Aesop can be Nero to them and sleep at their house at night, so long as they 1) leave off the collar and 2) never keep him in the house during the day (which would prevent my kids from ever seeing him).
They agreed to this. My kids agreed to this. Kyle and I agree to this.
And throughout the day, Aesop has come and gone and eaten his food and lounged and gotten petted and generally fared rather well through it all.
Cats (unlike my chickens...see previous post on egg box curtains), really are quite smart.
Today during school, we had a little visitor (Story Mae) whose mom, Holly, had a birth to attend. She's about a year younger than Dorien and the two of them had a great time making castles and towers while the older kids finished their school work. And when it was time to pick up the school stuff, I asked Dorien for some help. His method of picking up pencils was so original and hilarious, I captured it for posterity.
A solid black, smallish cat whom we've had since my Grandma Barbara gave him to us about a year and a half ago. Since we got him as a kitten, he was an indoor cat for about 3 months until we discovered that he was very loud, particularly at 4:30 in the morning. He also got very eager to go outside, so we let him.
He never strayed far - usually snoozing under our lorapetalum bushes in the front yard.
We've always considered him Brooklyn's cat, and she is the one who takes responsibility for feeding and watering him. And usually, doling out the love for him too.
He occasionally comes inside to hang out, but mostly stays outside.
He loves to wrestle with Singer, and when the chickens are in the yard scratching, he stalks them.
There were a few days this winter when it was really really cold that we worried about him, because we called and called to bring him in at night, and he never came. We hoped and figured he must have a warm spot somewhere in the woods nearby.
Which brings me to the point of this tale....
Yesterday afternoon, Aesop meandered up to one of our French doors, like he usually does, to get our attention. And Brooklyn noticed immediately that he was wearing a collar. And it was not something WE had put on him. We all ran outside to see what in the world was going on. She was quite righteously indignant.
Snug around his little black neck, there was indeed a collar with a current rabies vaccination tag dangling from it, courtesy of a local vet. And scratched on the back of the tag was the name, "Nero".
There's no easy way to fully describe the onslaught of emotions felt by us all at that moment.
It suddenly became crystal clear that someone else thought OUR cat was THEIR cat.
I felt sick to my stomach. Brooklyn was distraught. August was stunned. Kyle was bothered, but not nearly to the degree I was. I felt betrayed, angry, upset. I was itching to get to the bottom of it all.
It's like finding out your spouse has another family in another town. Or right across the street.
That's how I felt.
Not to mention outraged that they would consider naming our cat after Rome's most vicious, crazy, bloody emperor. Are they completely ignorant of history??
I pulled off the collar, and first thing this morning, I called the vet on the tag and explained that a huge misunderstanding had occurred. The lady on the other end of the phone was stunned, and said that the cat had been brought in twice - once to be neutered (!!!!) and another time when we would have been in Chicago.
That made me feel even more upset. I was given the name and phone number of the "owners" in question and the street they lived on (DIRECTLY behind our street).
Knowing that I would be completely unable to maintain even a hint of diplomacy in such a conversation, I had Kyle call them. Before he did, he was able to determine the exact house they lived in which is literally directly behind our house. My kids have accidentally kicked soccer balls in their yard before. So it's not like Aesop had really been roaming. He'd simply jumped a fence.
Anyway, the woman on the other end of the phone when Kyle explained the situation was truly and utterly floored. She said this cat had been living with them (at nights) for a year now - sleeping on their bed!
(this made me feel even more weirded out and sick in the pit of my stomach)
She had NO idea it was anyone else's cat. She was clearly upset and told Kyle she really needed to talk to her husband about it. She said she'd call us back.
I feel more than ever like a woman who's found out her husband has another family.
Except that it's really only a cat who's been playing two sides of the fence to their most fullest advantage.
Which leads us to our next step. What in the world do we do? Where do we go from here?
We're all invested. My kids on a deep emotional level, Kyle and I on a financial level and the neighbors across the fence on an emotional and also financial level. And the thing is, cats just do their own thing regardless of what you want. Unless you lock them in as a strict inside cat - which Aesop was not having. They roam. They don't view fences as boundaries. They visit whomever they wish, whenever they wish. It's their nature.
Kyle said he intends to go talk to the other couple tonight and return the collar to them. Figure out a plan.
Odds are, had they not put that collar on Aesop's neck, we'd have all been oblivious forever.
But now, as the saying goes, the cat's out of the bag.
Do we let things go on as they are? Do we let them "have" him? Just stop putting out food on our end?
Brooklyn, at the thought of someone else having her cat, has been sobbing in her room for over an hour.
Kyle and I wondered if we should get another kitten and make it be an inside cat and hope that fills the sad spot in my daughter's heart. As of right now, this extremely bizarre story is unfinished.
I will write it for you as it writes itself.
In the meantime, for all you outside cat owners, let this be a lesson for you.
Hey there. I'm Ashley - wife of Kyle, mother of 5: Brooklyn, August, Dorien, Wyeth and Wilder. New residents of Chicago, my favorite city in the world. We live in an old 1893 home that you'll hear all about as we fix it up and make it home. We are Christ followers, home-schoolers, adventure seekers, fun lovers, DIYers, creative souls and this blog is about our lives.