Imagine a child who has her heart set on a piece of hard candy. She can taste that sugar on her tongue, the fruity flavor, and has a good idea about the delight it’s going to give her melting in her mouth.
Yet she’s six years old. Not a cent to her name. Can’t even reach the tall shelf where she thinks the magic candy exists – basically a different dimension of sweet goodness that is privy to the adults and not her.
Being a child whose faith in her daddy’s kindness knows no bounds, she steals a glance at him talking to her mother and some other friends in front of the table in the kitchen. His hands are clasped in front of him and she just knows he’s got her favorite candy hidden in his large, gentle palms.
Running at him full tilt, she thuds against his legs and leans into him. “Daddy! I want a piece of candy!”
He smiles at her, but keeps talking. Is that a maybe?
Okay, she’ll ask again in a few minutes.
She continues this process over and over again until she loses count. “Daddy! I want a candy!” She pulls at his interlaced fingers with her own tiny ones. Each time he smiles but doesn’t unclasp his hands. Sometimes a handful of the guests needle her father along with them, going, “Hey, give her the candy.” But he merely shakes his head. No answer yet.
Finally, after the gazillionth time, in front of all the guests, he addresses her. Opening his hands, he says, “No candy for you right now. I never had any.”
Devastation hits her gut. Giant wails burst out of her lungs, tears drowning her eyes. No candy? How is that possible?
And then warmth hits her face – icky, queasy embarrassment. She glances around at all the guests, their faces belaying sympathy, some glancing away in discomfort, others’ eyes glistening with tears for her. A couple here and there are frowning and muttering under their breath. All those eyes, all those opinions. Everyone watching her weep. Everyone having seen her ask her father for the candy over and over again, only to watch her shame when it was never meant to be after all. Some had been rooting for her success, even, and she can see the confused surprise mirrored in their own expressions. She can see bits of distrust on one woman’s face as she glances at her father with a hardened glare.
“You made me feel like a fool,” the little girl whispers. “You could have said no the first time. Why did you let me ask over and over again if you never had the candy – if you never ever meant to give me candy?”
Five weeks and six days ago, I was that little girl.
After waiting years for the right timing and putting almost as many months into research, our family put down a down payment on our very first pet. My three little girls – aged 8, almost 7, and 2, were so ready. Cats and dogs were off the list due to hyper-dangerous allergy levels, and I had said no to anything caged or in a tank. I wanted something we could play with and cuddle, not a prisoner in a corner of our home. Test results had shown that not a single member of the family was allergic to rabbits, and I had spent hours figuring out that the adorable little things could be litter-trained, free roam in your home, and socialized from birth to be friendly and calm.
We settled on English Lops. They came highly recommended, a sweet young woman bred and socialized them in our area, and – I mean, come on. Look at those glorious ears!
The sweet young breeder and her champion rabbits have twice as many likes on her business page than I do as an author(!), and a couple different rabbitries credit her good stock getting them started. While I know there are shelter rabbits that need homes – and this isn’t the point of this article – this first time around, I really wanted to know what I was getting. I wanted to start with a newly-weaned baby, I wanted him handled from birth, I wanted someone to pick out the perfect personality… I wanted the perfect experience for my family. The previous year and a half had been HARD, and I looked forward to this hopeful new chapter. Basically, I pinned a lot of my joy on this bunny being a delight in my family’s life.
For five weeks until he was weaned, I emailed back and forth with the breeder, and we got to know each other beyond just rabbit care. Every other day she sent us pictures and videos of little Pigeon (Oh yes, the name was my idea. Ha!) and we grew completely attached. We bought supplies, built a cage for nighttime, ordered hay, gathered safe sticks from our neighborhood and made chew toys, and cut fleece blankets.
I was euphoric. It had been ages since I could remember being that happy. Possibly since my miracle third daughter was born. I read books on rabbit care cover to cover, taught my kids to identify all the breeds by sight, and cleared my schedule for the day when he would come home.
And then, one by one, his litter got sick. Unprecedented deaths like never before for the breeder. Three days before we were to take Pigeon home, on Easter morning, he fought his last battle with the debilitating gut disease and passed away at seven weeks old.
The night before he died, the breeder kissed his head one last time for me and sent me one last picture.
We spent Easter morning opening baskets with stuffed rabbits I had bought weeks before, my daughter sobbing, “Why would God do this?”
That night, I cried for two hours to my husband. “Their experience is ruined! The joy they were supposed to have getting their first pet was snatched away before we even got him! All our hopes for the future! Now it’s just smeared with death. How could this happen?”
Bereaved, distraught, and sympathetic, our sweet breeder offered us one of the two remaining babies of the litter –a black little boy with otter marking. She wanted him to go before her vacation, and to get out of the barn as soon as possible. He had been treated with antibiotics just in case, and was thriving.
Sitting there staring at the picture of this little guy on my phone was like looking at a stranger. No, I didn’t want him. I wanted Pigeon. When he had been sick, hundreds of people online had prayed for our Pidgey. We had seen him grow from two weeks old – where he could fit in her hand – to almost the day he became ours. Who was this other rabbit? And we needed to get over our grief and take him in a mere three days? It was like whiplash.
“He was my personal favorite and has a great personality,” the breeder pleaded. “Please love him and be happy for him.”
Like a mental slap to my soul, I straightened my tear-stained shirt and said yes. We’ll take him. I had no idea what I was doing, but I wasn’t going to say no to a rabbit that needed us, to a breeder’s plea from the heart, and I secretly wondered if this was the “story twist” one would expect. “Family thinks it’s getting Pigeon but God mysteriously provides Penguin instead. And he’s actually the perfect bunny. And they all live happily ever after. The End.”
My bunny-loving sister-in-law encouraged me with the same on the phone. “Maybe this was the one you were always supposed to have. This is your dream pet.”
Yet, secretly, down in my Calvinistic heart, that didn’t fully make sense. If he was, why didn’t God point the breeder toward offering Penguin to begin with? It’s not like God went, “Rats. She already picked Pigeon. I was too slow. Well, gotta kill him off so I can give them the right rabbit.”
That’s not how God works.
No, we were supposed to have gone through this – to have looked forward to Pigeon, the first bunny, and watch him grow. But why?
Growth? Character? Life lessons?
Rebelliously, down deep in my soul, I thought it felt a little harsh. Kill an innocent little animal to teach us a lesson? That didn’t seem very loving-Father-like.
And then I remembered all the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament – the animals that died for people’s sins frequently. Jesus, Himself, the spotless Lamb who died for me.
And so I stopped moaning what happened, and embraced Penguin, our new rabbit, with my whole heart.
He. Was. Perfect.
The puppy dog of rabbits, he’d jump up on my lap on the couch and say hi. He’d come running for food and leap up on his hind legs to paw at our pants. He had a taste for books and chewed off a couple corners of Nancy Drews and Wally McDoogles with his itty bitty teeth. He’d sun in the light that filtered into our livingroom window, make dashes for the open door to the upstairs playroom and romp among the kid toys, and take long naps behind the curtain near where the girls played piano for him. He’d zoomie through the family room at lightning speed, ducking under the TV cabinet with limbo-like ease.
There wasn’t a better rabbit in existence, and I can’t write this without stopping every single sentence to sob.
Because there was no fairytale ending. There was no candy in daddy’s hand. There was never any candy. The answer was always going to be no.
He had a weak heart or maybe an allergy to the sedative. He was on the small side and maybe there had been a defect in the litter. We’ll never know because I refused the post-mortem and had the vet let us bring his stiff, cold body home as soon as possible so we could wail over his body before burying him in the ivy in our backyard.
After halfway through month three brought a rush of hormones, our sweet boy had become a bit of a troublemaker. Spraying pee up to my hair, escaping constantly, and new skittish behavior convinced us he should be neutered. We were promised by all the rabbit people that it was a cure-all for teenage male behavior. Our well-trained rabbit was now soiling everything in sight and had more energy than we could keep up with. He never bit or was aggressive, but he couldn’t stay gated in the kitchen, contained and unhappy because of his new naughty behavior. Neutering really seemed our only option.
He died on the table before they even got the anesthesia in. A sedative and pain med sparked a heart attack that killed him instantly.
They still worked on him for twenty minutes while I sobbed, “Jesus, save him!” on the other end of the telephone line.
I had sung “Baby Mine” from Dumbo to him as I stroked his head in his carrier when I dropped him off that morning. I had almost missed the drop-off time due to traffic. I will never look at traffic the same way again. A little more congestion might have preserved his life for a few more days.
He had been ours for merely two and a half months yet had stolen our hearts completely. Our little Penguin the Hop, as the toddler affectionately called him. He was four months and eight days old. And gone in an instant.
This is not the fairy tale story I expected and longed for. If I wrote this book – “Family follows one baby rabbit’s life for five weeks and he dies on Easter Sunday three days before they get him” – it’d be labeled sad and contrived, but the readers who get a kick out of my morose stories would root for the new bunny and accept the crazy plot device. But then if my novel killed the new rabbit a mere months later in a bizarre fluke way the vet had never seen in her entire career? – I’d be labeled the cruel author and mocked out of any pitching sessions with publishers. Just WHAT?
But God is that author. And this is His best story?!
I struggled. I struggled hard.
Those of you who know my secondary infertility story know that I’ve struggled before. And I hated myself for struggling again. Like aren’t I godly enough at this point to purely grieve and do the whole, “I feel God’s warm presence right now and His arms around me. I trust Him. He’s still good. It’s a pet. We’ll rebuild, folks”?
Nope. Not me. I’m “Frail Heart” over here. Much-Afraid and I can do the Hinds Feet on High Places together as the team of pathetic weaklings, crippled, limp, and faltering. Learning lessons over and over again because we don’t get it the first… or fifth time. Because our hearts give freely and bleed easily.
I wailed with all my might, and my daughters bawled with me. There was no comfort to be had. I felt no “arms.” I made phone calls, I held onto my crying husband. We asked why. How could we not ask why? How could anyone not ask why?
I’m here five weeks and six days later.
And I still don’t have answers on why.
We have a new bunny now. He’s a Mini Lop – a heartier, longer-living, smaller breed – and we spent a fortune getting him checked out by the vet before we committed to him. We went with the same vet, who was one of the few people to really get it and cry with us at length. We went with the same breeder, who this time had only healthy litters and tried to give him to us for free, and we’ve become fast friends.
Little three-pound Starling is only ten weeks old, and he’s nothing like Penguin. He submissively sits still in our laps, but he doesn’t come running to greet us and he’s not feisty or greedy. He’s shy and quiet, a mouse to Penguin’s puppy-dog behaviors. But he’s sweet, soft, and super cuddly. Will literally sit still in your arms for an hour. And we love him too. He doesn’t replace Penguin, and never will, but we’re getting back up on the horse and trying again. This time our joy quieter, our hearts a little bit more sedate, occasionally still shedding tears together about the little hopping feet we miss. We will continue to love Starling with all our hearts because we still have all that future love sitting there waiting to be given out, but the “perfect experience” can never be. At this point, we’ve lost two little furry creatures that we cared about.
And I struggled. For weeks, I struggled.
I took my girls to a biblical counselor who talked to them about God’s love for His children and His heart for His creation. About how in this world there will be death because our perfect home is in heaven. The younger daughter asked a lot of questions. The older one sat very quietly and thought.
The toddler asked about him constantly for the first two weeks, wondering where “Boy” was, telling us with an emotional intelligence that surprised me that “Boy die. I sad.”
Most days, all I could do, worship or prayer-wise for myself, was play “Maybe It’s Ok” by We Are Messengers over and over again, trusting that it was okay to struggle. To give myself grace to experience the emotion, the theology-shaking questions, and the crumbling, dry heart.
Meanwhile, all this year, because the girls had felt stagnant and bored during our morning prayer time on our knees, I had been reading them the book “Alone with God” by John MacArthur on The Lord’s Prayer. As we come to the last two chapters now, it struck me that perhaps I’ve been looking at prayer wrong.
A terrifying allergy experience with my oldest daughter this week, as well as two illnesses while family was in town, cemented my thoughts.
Maybe I’m praying for the wrong things?
Now PLEASE don’t get me wrong. We can talk to God about ANYTHING.
Me running up to Him and asking for candy wasn’t wrong. I prayed every day for a month that Penguin would be safe through his neutering surgery. I saw all your sympathetic tear-stained faces, some of your judgmental looks, and most of your sweet, confused, and brokenhearted compassion when God suddenly opened his palms and said, “I was never planning on saying yes to that.” Some of you had been praying with me for the little guy’s safety. I’m sure you were shocked and stunned too. So I’m hoping that you made it this far through this unpleasant, long article with me, and maybe I can impart this new idea in the correct way.
We can (and should) talk to God about anything. We can say, “Please keep us healthy next week on vacation. Please let Penguin come out of surgery okay. Please let my child be well-behaved at the event tomorrow. Please heal my relative’s cancer and shrink her tumor,” etc. etc. I’m not saying we can’t pray these things. I’m not saying we can’t have that one-on-one bestie/child-father relationship with God where we say, “Hey God, I really, really don’t want to have this stomach bug right now – or ever. Please take this away. Please!” Talk to God about EVERYTHING. Just TALK to Him. Like anyone else.
But I was getting SO many “no” answers, I started to doubt God loved me all that much at all. Like maybe He didn’t care about my prayers. Maybe they were bouncing off His clenched hands as He looked over my head and ignored me.
Blasphemous, I know, but hold the stones. I’m not done.
What if that little girl who kept begging for candy didn’t realize all the guests were there for Thanksgiving dinner? That her dad was leaning against the table and an entire Thanksgiving feast was behind him? What if he looked at her and said, “Candy would spoil your dinner. I had this feast planned and I’d like for you to learn to ask for that. Regardless, I’m going to give it to you because I love you. I know you can only imagine the taste of candy, but can you trust me and try the turkey and stuffing? Pour some gravy over your mashed potatoes. This is going to be good!”
I’ve spent SO. MUCH. TIME. praying for physical comforts. Health, prosperity, kids to behave, things to go right. And like I said, that’s okay. But I almost never bathe my heart attitudes in prayer as well. Chanting, “Please don’t let us get sick, please don’t let us get sick, please don’t let us get sick” only goes so far if there was never any candy anyway. If God’s best story – which may not look like any of the formulaic approved novels on our shelves – involves pets dying one after another this year, how do I not know it’s going to be a public feast at the end? Yes, it hurts like anything. Yes, I will grieve. No one can stop me or shorten that process. I defy them to try. But what if my witness is now? This article? The breeder, the vet, the Facebook friends, the Instagram followers, my church body, my husband, my kiddos? What if this is what throws us at God’s feet and makes us love Him? What if this teaches us compassion, humility, love, empathy, and truth about God?
It seems backwards and strange. My tongue has only been primed for candy. I’m a little six-year-old girl that likes bright colored sweets and isn’t sure she’s a meat-eater yet. The table looks so brown and drab. What the heck is gravy? Why would I trust You when I desperately begged for my dessert?
So I thought, what if I started expecting suffering and trials in this life, and submitting my will to Him? What if I prayed, “God, my Father, I really don’t want to catch this stomach bug and get sick again, BUT if we do, will you use it to grow me? Will you use it to bring about good conversations that glorify You? Will You use it to teach me patience and give me more time with You? Will you use it to make me more Christlike and sanctify me? Will you give me courage to face it? Will you give me a good attitude and strengthen my Frail Heart?”
These are not prayers I often pray.
And that’s going to change. Because these are prayers God promises yes to. He doesn’t promise perfect health. He doesn’t promise a healthy bunny without birth defects. He doesn’t promise long life, prosperity, and no suffering. When I ONLY ever beg for the candy, I will starve, malnourished and diabetic.
And God isn’t like that earthly father either. He isn’t ignoring us. He isn’t being neglective. Even the wait to hear the “no” is valuable and planned for our sanctification.
Maybe I can start submitting and being open to the turkey too, as scary as that is – as much chewing as it takes. Maybe I can start prepping my heart and my kids’ hearts by praying ahead of time for the things God’s promised – our sanctification, our character, and our growth in Christ as Christians.
At the end of the John MacArthur book, there is a list of things we can be praying for our hearts. Intangible things that maybe we don’t often think about.
What other things could you add?