Our family has a new obsession: snakes, cockroaches, rodents, raccoons, alligators, and wasps. Weird? Yes, but nothing less than cool when they are removed and relocated by the nicest punk biker dude in Louisiana. Billy the Exterminator (on A&E) has been visiting our family room every evening for a few weeks now. My girls just love to watch him catch icky critters. Bryan hates snakes, but he also has a strange attraction to being scared by them on TV. I can play along, as long as I don’t have a need to call Billy to MY house.
Wouldn’t you know that last week I started hearing suspicious scratching and scampering noises in the attic over my bedroom! The first time I heard it, I nudged Bryan, “Do you hear that?!” I asked. He snored on, largely ignoring me. I thought to myself, “I have got to quit watching that show.” Then, again the next night, I heard the same sounds. This time, I made sure to wake Bryan up for the action. Yep. Definitely something up there. We began to imagine what kind of awesome creature might have found its way into our house. Maybe a possum? A raccoon? We decided we needed to investigate. Bryan texted me the next day, “Billy is out killing roaches in a mobile home. Do you have the number to another exterminator?” We coped with humor until we found out that our visitors were not so cool. We have rats. Come on friends (who make a little fun of me for keeping my house so clean) (you know who you are), laugh it up. I am the neatest neat nick on the planet, and I have rats. Yuck!
Maybe I would have kept laughing, despite being grossed out, if the next day had not added more trouble. I swear, when it rains, it pours. November is already a hard time for us, as we face the anniversary of Audrey’s death on the 14th. So, when we found ourselves responding to my eight-year-old Caroline’s severe abdominal pain with a trip to the ER, you can imagine where our minds went. We suspected that the antibiotic we had given her may have been making her tummy hurt, but we were surprised by the crocodile tears that preceded vomit and pain so great it made her yell, “Oh, God, let me die! Somebody help me!” Those are words that would break any mother’s heart and buckle her knees. Caroline looked pretty sick, and my mind went all kinds of places it shouldn’t have gone. As I watched her lying on the x-ray table, her face a pale shade of gray and her eyes rolling back in her head, I fought the fear of losing her, too. It was excruciating. Thank God for my strong husband who was also struggling but who helped to hold me up. With raised eyebrows, he firmly encouraged me to “keep it together.” By the grace of God, a little IV fluid and some anti-nausea drugs seemed to get things under control. After I knew the real danger had passed and Caroline was acting like herself again, I began to ponder how much one person can take. God, how much can one person take?
When we got home, Caroline was feeling great, but I collapsed on the couch. We had just picked up Mary Claire from a friend’s house, and she was anxious to tell us about her school day. She had been the “star student of the week.” On Monday, she took a poster full of pictures to school and shared about her family, friends, and interests. Then, at the end of the week, her teacher directed her classmates each to write her a personal letter. Bryan, Caroline, and I all lay on the couch like battle-weary soldiers while Mary Claire, grinning from ear to ear, sat on our fireplace hearth reading the letters to us one by one.
I could not believe the fearless way these children expressed themselves. Whether they were discussing common interests (“I am a Longhorn fan, too. They really need to do better.”), lavishing compliments (“I like your hair. You do make people laugh. You have a good voice in music. You rock me out!”), expressing sympathy (“I am so sorry that your sister is at Heaven. Do you miss her?”), or providing encouragement (“You spread joy in the class. I like that in you. Keep it up!”), they did it with abandon. The simple purity of these children’s soft hearts broke my heart, increasingly hardened by the day’s events. As I listened, I wept, and God’s Spirit began the work of mending the damage incurred.
During the next few days, I found myself still feeling traumatized by the trip to the ER. Then, the exterminators showed up with traps. Oh, yeah…on with the business of getting rid of the rats. As my mother said, “Off with their heads!” I asked the professional rodent trapper, “Will I hear the traps shutting?” He said, “Probably not. But, one man did hear it and then the rat flopped around for a while.” Are you serious? I was going to be sleeping in a house of horrors. I was totally disgusted. And, again, I was asking God, “REALLY?????” To top that off, the exterminator said to me on the way out of the door, “You should probably call a plumber today. Your hot water heater is leaking.” Sure it is.
Weeks like this make me want to crawl in a hole. Pull the covers up over my head. Wave the white flag. Cut my losses. In short, they make me lose heart. But, I consider the precious letters written by Mary Claire’s classmates and I am reminded that at one time my heart was purer, more hopeful, more willing to risk, more free. And, I see this whole thing for what it really is: a strategic, sustained assault on my heart. I have often been called a “Pollyanna”. Indeed, I am most inclined to look on the bright side of things. But, instead of that being a quality that people admire, it has often been criticized. I have been told to “manage my expectations” and have been called naive. From the beginning, there has been a steady assault on my heart. To this day, Satan is trying hard to squash what God created in me. The enemy wants me to give up, quit hoping, quit believing God. At the very least, he wants me to be so afraid to try anything or take a risk that he can keep me at bay. Well, I’m onto him. “Nice try, Satan,” as Joyce Meyer says.
I’ve talked before about Satan’s goal for those of us who are already saved. If he cannot win our souls for eternity, then while we are here he wishes to render us useless. He wants to take us out of the game. Essentially, he wants to kill us while we are still alive. How does he go about accomplishing that? He assaults our hearts. The Bible says to “guard your heart, for it is the source of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Did you catch that? The source of life. The enemy wants to crush the very LIFE that God intends for us. Jesus said he came that “we might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) We have lost the ability to experience abundant life when we have lost heart.
Some may ask, as I have, “Why should I keep trying to guard my heart when there is a constant barrage of difficult circumstances that I cannot control?” Some may lament, as Bryan did this week, “It feels like I am fighting a war with a cardboard box for a shield.” But, I am encouraged by Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) We may feel like we are hanging on by a thread, but if we can see Satan’s schemes for what they are and if we can refute the lies we hear, we can keep our hearts pure. We can continue to believe the truth and to hope and to risk. And, then we can count on the glorious reward promised to us: We will see God. I think that is as much a promise for the present day as it is for our future in Heaven. If we can ward off the assault of the enemy, we can see God, even in the midst of the most challenging circumstances. And, He is beautiful.
So, call me Pollyanna, but I am going to recount the story of my week from a different perspective. I am really grateful that we have the money to pay the exterminator and that there is somebody out there crazy enough to catch rats for a living. The ER doctors and nurses were absolutely wonderful with Caroline and gave us everything we needed. Despite all of the complaints, we still have access to excellent medical care in this country. I may not like the governmental ideology of “redistribution of wealth”, but if God decides to help out the urgent care center, the hospital, the pest control company, and the water heater company in one week with our money, who am I to complain? He gave the money to us anyway. And, I am overwhelmed by thankfulness for our church family who responded immediately to my request for prayer while Caroline was sick. They have been tremendously encouraging, knowing that we are facing the anniversary of a tragic death and battling many fears.
Yes, my heart is under attack. But, I can see it for what it is. And, I know I have to fight with all that is in me. I heard Sarah Palin speak at the Women of Joy conference in October, and she said, “Overcomers keep a soft heart in a tough world.” This kind of attitude is not for the weak. But, I want to be an overcomer, not a victim. God is calling me personally to a life marked by a deeper thankfulness and a closer walk with Him. He is calling me to prayer. Not the kind I already know how to do, but the kind that is disciplined, fervent, and recorded for the purpose of watching for results. God is aware of the assault on my heart, and yet he is drawing me under His wing, asking me to let Him keep it pure so that I can see Him. How about you?
(We would all do well to remember a time when our hearts were not sin-free, but soft. I have included the following letters from Mary Claire’s classmates because if I don’t repeat them in their entirety, I cannot do them justice. I hope that reading them will bless your heart, maybe make you shed a tear like they did me, and make you wonder why we don’t talk to each other like this every day. Guard your heart! Blessings to you.)
Dear Mary Claire,
I did not know that you like animals. I am so, so, so, so, so sorry that your sister Audrey passed away. I have a baby cousin, too. You bring joy to us! I love the picture that you drew.
Dear Mary Claire,
I did not know that you like cats. You are a nice friend. You do your best work. I like dogs and cats, too. Do you like rabbits? Do you want to come to my house? Do you like the beach? I do like the beach. I like the picture of the kitten.
Dear Mary Claire,
I am sorry about your baby sister. She is so cute! I learned you like dogs and cats. Do you like dolphins, too? You are very helpful and a good friend. You are also compassionate, pretty, and joyful. I love art, too! Do you want me to make a self-portrait of you when I get home today? I like the picture of your dad and your sister.
Dear Mary Claire,
You like kittens. Why? You are helpful and sweet. We are Longhorn fans. They have got to do better! I like the firework picture!!!!!!! I like your hair!
Dear Mary Claire,
You spread joy around the world! What flip were you learning in gymnastics? You are the best reading buddy in the whole world! Your drawing is the best! Did you like the Washington Monument?
Dear Mary Claire,
I did not know that you had gymnastics lessons. What is it like there? I think that Audrey was very sweet. You are very funny. I cannot believe we both went to Washington, D.C.! My favorite picture was the fireworks behind the monument.