Speaking of my birthday, last Friday was not exactly all joy and bliss. Instead of spending the day thinking of fun and exciting ways to celebrate with Hadley and Adrienne, we took a couple-hour detour at the Vet’s office with one of our cats. We started with a litter of six outside barn kitties, worked really hard to tame them, lost one to a car, one to a mysterious illness a month or so ago, and woke up Friday morning to another one exhibiting the same symptoms of said mysterious illness. Now I will write another day about the joys of pet ownership 🙂 and also our belief that animals are animals and not people. We don’t believe in taking drastic measures for pets, but we also love and enjoy them and wanted to get to the bottom of the problem in hopes of preventing further pet tragedies. So. We ended up with a birthday visit to the vet.
Poor Shadow was beyond repair, and the doctor recommended putting him down. She went on to recommend sending him off for rabies testing.
I’ve seen Old Yeller. And that episode of House where that lady goes crazy and eventually dies of rabies. Rabies is a completely unacceptable diagnosis. Try again, please.
The vet and technicians were not panicked and so I calmly consented and left to resume my celebratory birthday day. But I couldn’t resist the urge and so I sat down at my computer and did the foolish thing that any normal person would do. I googled.
Fear upon fear came rushing as I learned of the human health risk associated with rabies, not to mention the fact that any unvaccinated animals who had come into contact would have to be put down. (“Hi, neighbor? Yeah, that beloved pet of yours will need to be euthanized. Thanks. Still want to be friends?”) I wallowed in anxiety for awhile and then tried to bury it.
When Jordan came home from work, he had done his share of googling. As we headed off for our date, we discussed the terrifying possibilities. But then we both agreed that there was nothing we could do but wait. So I took comfort in the fact that every website assured me that rabies could not be contracted by simply petting, and that the symptoms of our cats more closely resembled that they had found some rat poison lying around somewhere.
That night, Jordan and I came home and watched the movie, “We Bought a Zoo.” It tells the story of a dad with two kids who has to resume life after losing his wife to sickness. Such a sweet story. But as it ended, I burst into tears and clung to Jordan. “Don’t ever die!” I wailed, rather dramatically, I admit. Through the whole movie I imagined the terror of having to ever do life without this wonderful man. And so I sat there and sobbed and held him tight and tried so very hard to stop imagining horrible “what if” scenarios.
The weekend proceeded normally, and we came to church on Sunday in good spirits. But after a brief conversation with a friend who happened to work in the vet’s office and who expressed concern for our children’s exposure to the supposed rabies, my anxiety came back in full force. I sat there fighting the urge to cry, and had to slip away to the bathroom to just let it out. I wept at the thought of my sweet little girls succumbing to any sickness or disease or accident or whatever. I wept at the fear of losing my husband. It sounds so silly, but it felt so heavy. And scary. It wasn’t just the possibility of rabies, it was the possibility of anything. The same fear that so often keeps me awake imagining a tornado or a fire and planning my rescue-and-escape routes; the fear that creeps in whenever Jordan is a minute or two late getting home from work; the fear that compels me to sneak in and check on our sleeping girls just to make sure they’re still breathing. Fear that paralyzes – that imagines “what if” and then cowers at the endless tragic possibilities.
(I feel like maybe I should jump ahead in the story and reveal that there is no rabies in the Dahl household. We’re keeping our eye out for rat poison that was maybe left behind by previous owners, we’re going to vaccinate the remaining cats in anticipation of our foster care licensure, and I’m getting use to the life-and-death reality of outside pets.)
So after many tears and many prayers, I returned to church in time for the sermon on the inevitability of death. Seriously. (There was even a mention of rabies. Not kidding.)
As I sort of listened while still fighting off my anxiety, it was like another sermon emerged in my heart. I thought of this talk Jordan and I watched the other night, where David Platt stated this theological truth:
We serve a God who holds the world in the palm of his hand.
The implications of that beautiful reality are far-reaching, but one that he pointed out was this:
Nothing can happen to you that is outside of God’s sovereign will.
As I reflected on those two truths, I continued to entertain the “what ifs.” What if something tragic happened? What if God decided that now was the time to take Hadley, or Adrienne, or Jordan? Would He still be good? Could I still trust Him? Could I believe that His purposes are bigger than me, that He’s not cruel, that in fact He is loving?
My thoughts went further. Am I holding my people too tightly? Are they little idols I am clinging to, demanding that they are mine, that life is no life at all without them? I thought of some sweet advice Rachel Jankovic blogged awhile back:
About worry. I’m sure every mother remembers the first baby worry. Little burbles in the night, squeaks, choking while nursing, etc. Just remember that your baby is a gift, not a statistic. God created and sustained that life inside you. He gave you this child, open your hands to Him, and trust Him to protect what He has given you. I can remember specific times when I had to think, “Do not cling to this baby like it belongs to you. Open your hands to God, and trust Him to protect and preserve this little life.” Your protective instincts are good, but don’t let them rule over your heart.
Here is where the beauty of memorizing Scripture kicks in. When I was mourning our miscarriage last year, Jesus met me in the midst of my grief with this passage, and it came to mind as I wrestled with all of these fears:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
(1 Peter 5:6-10 ESV)
Do you SEE all the good stuff in there? I think there is a call to humility because anxiety is a form of pride – rather than seeing God’s mighty hand and believing that he cares for us, we worry about all the what-ifs and think we know better. And then we let our guard down and instead of taking our thoughts captive, we allow them to run wild and leave room for the enemy to heap lie upon lie. BUT. The truth of the matter is this: the God of all grace will HIMSELF restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. No matter what happens.
So it’s got me thinking and I’ve decided to share all the embarrassing anxiety because I don’t think I’m alone with the crazy Mom (and wife) fears. I’m sure men have things to worry about, but I think we women take the cake on this one. Perhaps it’s my deeply ingrained desire to control…everything. Or maybe it’s the ease with which I allow my people to become my everything. And don’t get me wrong – I pray constantly that God would spare us that pain which I fear the most, and man are we praising God around here for the absence of rabies! But it has been sweet for Him to challenge me in the midst of all of these worries.
He holds the world in the palm of His hand.
and nothing can happen that is outside of His sovereign will.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.