We started our little excursion with great expectations. We were eagerly anticipating the excited exclamations over all the new experiences to come.
My wife and I were given the opportunity to take our then 11 month old granddaughter Kaya to the zoo for the first time. We thought that the variety of the animals would consume all of her attention, and that she would thrill to the sites of all the exotic places represented in the confines of the zoo.
We were wrong.
At our house she is fascinated by the dog and the cat.
I think it’s probably fair to say the fascination is not necessarily mutual. While our dog seemingly can’t get enough of her, the cat tends to quietly walk (or run) the other way when she approaches her. There at the zoo she saw animals like the giraffe, the tiger, monkeys, snakes, flamingoes, and even the rear paw of a lion who was wisely lounging in the shade of a rock in the 103 degree heat. They used to have a hippo, which was kind of fun to watch when they fed it, but I think it died several years ago and they haven’t put anything else in its pen. How do you tell when a hippo is dead anyway? Does it actually go belly up like a goldfish, or does it just float there like it does when it’s alive? Something to ponder. Anyway, I suppose the heat had something to do with Kaya’s lack of appreciation as well; it certainly sapped a lot of our enthusiasm.
Instead, when she was given the opportunity to choose her own object of interest, she sat down on the ground and picked up a dried leaf. She stared at it in fascination for a few moments and then proceeded to bring it toward her mouth for a taste test. I’m relatively confident that she has a discerning enough palate that she would have grimaced and spit it out, but you never really know at that age so my wife deftly intercepted it before she reached her goal.
In retrospect I suppose we should have expected this. She was at a stage in her development where she was more acutely concerned with what was immediately within her reach. The dog and the cat are within her reach; the giraffe and the screaming monkey were not.
It seems as though we often have an appreciation of simple things only when we first discover them, or when know we are about to lose them forever.
The beginning or the end.
The first flush of passion in a relationship puts our entire life plan in a new light. By the same token, the end of that relationship will often cause us to make terribly unwise decisions that we only recognize as unwise in hindsight.
When we find ourselves in a situation that we dislike our tendency is to berate ourselves (or someone else depending on how well we accept personal responsibility) for the actions we took that put us there instead of dealing with the situation as it is.
Over the years as Kaya has grown I have watched her develop in ways that I knew would eventually happen, but astound me even though I expect them. When she was two she had a different point of view.
On a typical drive home for my daughter Jennifer, and Kaya they were just driving along talking about whatever came to Kaya’s mind. She was talking about some trees. Jennifer asked, “How big were they?”
Holding her hands up above her head as high as she could Kaya replied,
“They were THIS big!”
And then, with her hands still in the air, she looked to the side and asked,
“Do trees have armpits?”
Jennifer laughed, and I laughed when she told me about it. But then I started to think about it a little.
Do trees have armpits?
My immediate and automatic response is “no”, but how do I know this? Just because I never thought to ask the question doesn’t automatically mean it’s not so. I can’t recall anytime in my life in which I’ve heard the words “trees” and “armpits” in the same sentence.
So who am I to say “no” definitively?
So I did some research.
We have a sycamore tree in our front yard that I planted several years ago. It has grown well and quickly, but I’m going to have to cut it down and plant another one. I didn’t plant it correctly and now I have a lot of surface roots, and surface roots on a tree that can grow to 30-40 feet tall right in front of my house is not a good thing. Anyway, it has a lot of low branches that are perfect for just this kind of research. I went out to the front yard, at night, after looking around carefully to make sure no one was watching, and I sniffed the tree right where the branch joins the trunk. It smelled like I would expect a tree to smell; kind of green, and woody. Definitely woody.
I smelled another part of the tree at the trunk. It was the same.
Next I went to that source of information that everyone knows is absolutely ironclad in its accuracy: the internet.
I actually found several references to the armpits of trees, but they were used figuratively by artists in their description of a tree. No one really identified a tree armpit as an actual thing.
Regardless, I don’t think I will ever look at the point where the branch of a tree meets the trunk in the same way ever again.
Kaya is now three and a half, and her dialogue has taken another turn.
In another discussion with her mother she stated,
“I think when God made me it was like a puzzle for Him.”
“What do you mean?” asked her mother.
“I mean that when God put me together it was like putting a puzzle together.”
I’m pretty sure when I was three and a half I NEVER got philosophical about the process of my creation.
It occurs to me when she says something new that she is in the process of discovery. She sees it all with new eyes. No matter how many times she sees something, or how much she actually knows about it, she seems to sense that there is still something about it that is new to her. There is still some mystery left in everything, but I, in my adult “wisdom”, have chosen to focus only on what I know instead of pursuing what I don’t know. In doing so I have remained safely rooted on the “solid” ground of my own knowledge. I have effectively clipped my own wings. I have bound myself to man’s earth and denied myself the heavens.
Jesus said, “Behold I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5). This is the same line that we Christians only read occasionally and rarely ever apply. It takes a crisis of major proportion to bring us to the point where we see the old as new, and the sunrise as original as the sunset. My granddaughter is fascinated with dried leaves, and yet it takes space probes to Mars and beyond to hold my attention. I cannot make a leaf or a blade of grass, and yet the process of its growth only concerns me as far as my need to rake it up or mow it down. Even closer to home is my own body. I abuse it regularly, but I take little heed from my doctor when he tells me what I need to do to care for it properly, and it is such an incredible wonder of creation!
And I can’t be the only one to realize at moments like this that in the end I really have no ability to create anything at all. The only skill man has is to manipulate what has already been created. We certainly have the ability to warp and abuse this creation, and we do so regularly to our shame, but really create? No. The simple fact that we exist as created beings means that we cannot create something out of nothing, because we ourselves are created. The title of Creator can only be applied to the one who was there first, and that is God alone; the First and Last, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
We are only stewards of what is.
There are things to wonder at all around us, but our preoccupation with “progress” and “forward” thinking causes all of them to be ignored, left to lie haphazardly in our destructive wake, and leaves us in a related state of ignorance.
Once discovered, how can I ignore the reality of what He sets before me?
It may seem as though this indicates some special divine attention to my life, but that is not so. He gives the same attention to each of us, and I am loved by Him no more than anyone else, but just as certainly no less. He loves each of us with His whole being; for when we are told “God is Love” it means that He is Love. He is the only source of it. It is who He is.
It is when my pursuit of His presence takes an active note in my life that I begin to see things more clearly, because a relationship with Him requires my active participation, just as He has actively put me in this world. It is my responsibility to move in this life rather than sit and wait for my inevitable death. I cannot sit and do nothing while I am pinned beneath the boulder of my doubts. What holds me back must be let go, done away with, cut off. Amputation is never pretty whether it’s done in the wilderness or on the surgeon’s table, but it is often necessary for survival. The truth of the matter is that a relationship with Christ is a transaction: You give Him all of you, and He gives you more than you could ever be on your own, and more than you ever even thought to want.
The process of discovery, as I recognize all that He puts in front of me, is His method of showing me His active, daily presence.
This is where I discover the gap in my life.
This is a gap that even the love of God will not cross.
It is the gap of my own choice.
That choice is the most important thing that Christ has given me. It is the only thing that allows grace to save me from His wrath, for while God is love He is also just, and in His justice He demands that all debts be paid by me, or by Him.
And I myself am wholly incapable of settling that debt.
And so the process of discovery, while usually worked out at the beginning or the end, really should be a continuous practice that starts at the beginning and never has an end. It has eternal potential depending on our choice.
Christmas is the offer, Good Friday is the payment, Easter is the redemption, and His flowing blood is the currency of my survival.
My choice of Him seals the transaction in my favor.
The Choice, beloved (for you are His beloved), is yours.
©2008 Dan Bode