Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Little Red Hen

Sunday, our minister told the delightful story of "The Little Red Hen". This Russian folktale is meant to remind the reader of the importance of hard work, and that in life, you can't get something for nothing. I understand that. Generally, I love fairy tales and folk tales. In my classroom, I often use them as teaching tools. So, I understood exactly the message she was conveying in her sermon...

However, my brain rebels. My spirit rebels. My very emotional nature cries out in rebellion, "SCREW YOU, LITTLE RED HEN! You found the grains of wheat! You decided that you wanted to plant it! So, you live with it and do it yourself. Don't try to suck me into your plans!" This all goes back to my latest spiritual struggle with the concept of "one more thing". I think I have actually blogged about it before... I really hate for people, or the universe, or circumstances to assign me "one more thing" to do.

I mean, I can relate to the "lazy cat". What if the cat isn't really lazy? The Little Red Hen, after all, is a known busy body who thinks she knows what is best for everyone. She looks around, sees the cat stretching and lying down to take a nap, simply assuming that the cat is a lazy do-nothing. What if the cat is running around the barnyard to keep the rodent infested place free of disease? The cat, then, only takes a nap out of sheer exhaustion after a morning of chasing mice, trapping mice and catching mice... Mice! With their nasty little whiskers and scratchy little claws clamoring all over the barnyard nibbling holes into those tasty bags of corn that The Little Red Hen just takes for granted will be scattered daily for her and her chicks to enjoy. Mice pooping all over everything, spreading bacteria and filth and disease all over the barnyard! Maybe the "lazy" cat meowed exhaustedly, "Not I" when asked to help out of a feeling of being overwhelmed and purely exhausted.

And, what of the dog? Isn't he out herding sheep all day? He is running around like crazy keeping the sheep from straying too far into the meadow. I even heard that he came face to face with an insanely criminal wolf who had dressed himself in sheep's clothing. The dog is thinking, "I didn't realize I had to be an undercover agent for this job!" But, he rose to the occasion. He sniffed out that wolf, despite his clever disguise, and chased him off so that those sheep might live another day. He had only just wandered back into the yard when that prissy Little Red Hen was all over him, "Who will help me reap the wheat?"

"Reap the wheat? Reap the wheat? I didn't ask you plant the damned wheat in the first place! Reap it yourself!" is probably exactly what our extremely weary friend was thinking. Haven't you ever heard the phrase, "Dog-tired"?

And, finally, the duck... Why couldn't she help? I mean, they are both birds. Surely they could have forged some sort of partnership based on their fowl status alone... I probably shouldn't share this, but I think under these circumstances, it is necessary. The duck has serious emotional and mental problems. The duck, had a nest to sit upon each and every day. However, she also believed wholeheartedly that it was her duty to paddle around the pond each day, working hard to present an image of perfection and serenity to all who gazed upon her. While she floated gracefully along atop the water, people were unable to see all the paddling she was having to do beneath the surface. You see, although no one told her, the duck felt it was her job to present an image of peace and harmony to all who visited the farm. No one guessed how hard her poor little webbed feet were working beneath the surface just to keep herself afloat. Thus, each day, after working hard to present this picture of perfection, she returned to her nest to sit, nurturing her eggs and waiting for her precious little ducklings to hatch.

One day, she came back to her nest to find an extra egg there. It was absolutely huge! She had no idea where the egg had come from, but she knew that the life inside could not survive without her ministrations. Well, you know what happened from here... Her ducklings hatched and she proceeded to rear her precious ducklings as best she could. (Most people don't know this, but her husband had run off with that terrible Goosey Loosey, so she was on her own with the ducklings.) She was also doing her best with the large, gangly gray adopted duckling who didn't fit in with any of his siblings. Most days, the duck dragged herself to the fence line where she received free counseling from the kind cow. These talks were the only thing really helping to hold herself together since the stresses of single motherhood, rearing a whole brood of children (along with one adopted one), and doing all of her duties while trying to maintain an air of peace and serenity for onlookers nearly drove her to the brink of insanity!

So, when The Little Red Hen approached her, her eyes welled-up with tears and she hung her head in shame. She felt that she should be able to help, but she just didn't have another ounce of anything to offer to anyone... She was emotionally, physically and spiritually drained.

These are the thoughts that ran through my mind in church on Sunday as my minister spoke. Obviously, they had nothing to do with the intent of the lesson. But, they provide a basis for understanding my own personal spiritual struggle as of late. And, as much as I can justify why the cat, the dog and the duck couldn't help and how demanding The Little Red Hen was being, there is a lesson in here about humility for me, personally. If I believe that God works through people, then I have to believe that God manifested in the form of the Bitchy Little Red Hen, too. The cat, the dog and the duck, (all me), even though they have numerous good reasons for not wanting to help, are still exhibiting behaviors steeped in selfishness and self-centeredness. Only in being willing to join in with God's other people to do "extra" assignments He presents daily, am I able to experience true peace and serenity that comes with the humility of being willing to rise to whatever occasion with which God is presenting me.

Spending so much time in mental or emotional rebellion is more exhausting than doing "one more thing". If I can learn this... If I can really "get" this idea about trusting God to give me the strength and abilities I need to do the things that cross my path daily, with an attitude of gratitude and loving service, I will be so much more peaceful and serene... Some days, I'm there... Some days, I'm just faking it, like the duck. Which, I guess, is O.K. too.

All of that being said, I know I also have a tendency to take on too much at times. Thus, being compassionate to my cat, dog and duck selves is important, as well. There are times when I need to say, "Not I". However, that means that I don't get to eat any of the bread when all is said and done.

But, the really amazing thing is when I have true moments of greatness. There are times when I can be like The Little Red Hen, only at the end of it all I can say, "I know you didn't help me plant or sow or reap this wheat. I know you didn't help me grind the wheat into flour. I know you didn't help me bake the bread... But, please, join me anyway... I would love to share my bounty with you because I am so terribly grateful that you are all here. Thanks for taking care of the mice, Lazy Cat. Thanks for herding sheep and scaring away wolves, Lazy Dog. Thanks for rearing your ducklings and working hard to mother a duckling that isn't even yours biologically, Lazy Duck. You all enrich my life. For that, I am grateful. Come rest your weary bones with me and have some bread."

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Today is the day that I have become the mother of two teenagers. Dan has been a teenager for a while, but Sarah embarks on her journey today, as she turns 13. She is already well on her way... In fact, in some ways, Sar dived headlong into all things "teen-agery" even more than her sister.

Sarah isn't my easy child... She is the child who evokes a response... She is the child who forces me to flex my parenting muscles. She is the child who brings me closer into my relationship with God because I never know for sure that I am doing anything "right" with regard to her.

But, Sarah is also the child who needs me... Not because she is dependent, but because something about me is able to soothe her soul. And, amazingly, something about Sarah speaks to my heart like no one else can.

When I cleaned Sarah's room when she was a little girl, it was always a fascinating experience. I would find plastic containers full of magical potions (mixtures of shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, glue and finger paint). I would also find purses full of treasures like sweet gum balls and pine needles. She always had tons of notes folded up everywhere that gave insight into the workings of her mind... Little lists: 1. Call Kevin. 2. Pet Susie. 3. Play in the red dirt pile. I could never decide if I was horrified at the level of mess, (although there was always a strange, systematic order to Sarah's mess), or if I was completely in awe of stepping into her giant, child-sized mind for a while. Maybe it was a little of both.

This past year was one of worry and fear for me as far as Sarah was concerned. She seemed to get sick around every bend. We spent a lot of time in the hospital and even more time doing I.V. meds. She wouldn't eat... She wouldn't drink Ensure... Rebellion dogged her every step. Nothing I did or didn't do seemed to help. I developed an understanding that while, as a parent, I have a responsibility to lead, my children have no responsibility to follow. Further, sometimes maybe facing their own consequences is exactly what they are supposed to do. The problem that pervaded my mind daily was the fact that Cystic Fibrosis has startling and lasting consequences.

And, now, with the onset of summer, her weight is up and her lung functions are better. She is doing the things she needs to do to be well and healthy. She has also been a tremendous help to me during my pregnancy. It's as if the sun came out, and we can see the path more clearly.

Certainly, I feel relieved... But, as I reflect on Sarah on this special day, I more fully understand that she is on her own spiritual journey. She is certainly a part of mine, but as she grows older, hopefully the lessons will become more her own. Or, maybe the lessons have always been hers and I have just taken them too much to heart.

So, Happy Birthday, Sarah! I'm so grateful you came into my life 13 years ago.