Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Personal God

I love it when God shows how personal He is.

A few Fridays ago, Cami and I tried out a homeschool group. It’s a small gathering that uses a literature-based curriculum as their central focus. A friend invited us, and we agreed to try it out.

Now, if you know my daughter, you know that some days are better days than others. That’s true for all of us, but for Cami, not-so-great days tend to be volatile. She has many struggles and challenges socially and educationally---all reasons we homeschool. My point is that many times, I can’t predict how a social event is going to pan out.

We went to this group’s meeting, and met our friends outside as we all arrived at the same time. Cami and I had agreed on a signal to each other and a graceful exit strategy in case either one of us started to feel uncomfortable.

We ended up exiting early, neither gracefully nor quietly, through no fault of the group’s. It was just a not-so-great Cami day, and it wasn’t a comfortable fit in personalities. After she spent most of the meeting in the corner hiding behind the couch, the group moved upstairs to do art. The meltdown came when Cami’s art wasn’t perfect in Cami’s eyes. Screaming and wailing commenced, and she ended up under the dining-room table.

Now, I need to back up and tell you that we had been given another invitation that week to join a Girl Scout troop. I’d been considering it, and had looked at the Try-It book, and had been assured that we could come for a few weeks without committing to anything, just to see how it would go. I’d been praying about it, asking God to give me wisdom. I mean, I have nothing against Girl Scouts. Or homeschool groups. But Cami is Cami, and not all group dynamics work to her edification. Sometimes it causes more angst than health. The question I try to use in my decision-making is “Does this activity bring life to our family?” (Thank you, Ellen via Betsy!) It’s always nicer when I can know the answer to that question BEFORE a meltdown in a stranger’s house.

However, I am learning that meltdowns in strangers’ houses are just part of Cami’s childhood. The real issue is how I help her gather herself and leave a meltdown situation without hurting or offending those around us. (She’s too big now for me to just scoop her up and run for the door!)

So this day, I crawled under the table and literally pulled Cami out by her arm. (Not graceful, not quiet, no signal.) We went in the bathroom (she was still wailing and flouncing) and calmed down enough to make our exit in a civilized manner. It was on the drive home that God showed His personal side.

This meeting took place at a home out in the “horse” part of our county. The next-door neighbors had a horse whose pasture came right up to the driveway where our van was. Cami could see the horse through the open window of the barn about 40 yards away. So, of course, as we got into our van to leave, she was lamenting how we don’t have a backyard big enough to have a horse. Cami doesn’t make a statement just once, you know. No, she keeps repeating her thought in varied sentence structures until I either adequately assuage her lament or I mentally check out and find a happy place in my head.

We drove off with this stream of lamentations going in the back seat. Sometimes, I try to counter her all-the-things-she-wishes-she-has-but-doesn’t diatribes by reminding her of all the things she does have. (“Count your many blessings; name them one by one. . .”) On this particular day, I was still trying to pull myself together inside after the huge meltdown and the decidedly unacceptable-socially way we left the meeting. I didn’t have the energy to verbally counter Cami’s lamentations.

We came to a place in the road where I saw a sign that I thought led to the road that would lead to the main road. (Now you see why we got lost!)

You got it: not the right road. But definitely a divine appointment.

As soon as I turned down the road, I knew we hadn’t been that way before. The two-laned country road was lined on one side by thick woods. The other side was marked every so often by small dirt roads in between the fenced-in pastures. It was a beautiful day, warm for a Virginia winter, not a cloud in the sky. I didn’t mind so much that we’d taken a wrong turn.

Cami had grown quiet in the back seat. I think I had asked her to think of positive things to say, instead of recounting all the things we didn’t have that she wanted. She had just finished saying how much she wished she had her own horse when we passed a pasture with three horses sunning themselves out in the middle of the field. “Look at that, Cami!” I was so grateful for the distraction.

The field was fenced in with those wooden fences that will detract a horse or a cow, but not my terrier. Where the fence turned the corner, a double-rutted gravel lane wound back up into the land where a barn was barely visible through the trees. We drove past it, and I thought, “Now, if Michael was driving, he’d turn down that private road and let Cami get out to stand at the fence.”

I kept driving.

At the next private road, I did a three-point turn and went back to the gravel lane.

“What are you doing?” Alarm in Cami’s voice told me this endeavor might backfire.

I kept going.

“Mommy, where are we going?” The pitch of her voice rose with every question. “Are we lost?”

“Cami, do you trust me?” I ask my child that question a lot lately.

“Ye-e-ess. . .” her words said, but the tone of her voice said “Maybe not.”

“Just wait.” Inside my heart, I realized that something extremely spiritual was about to happen.

I turned onto the private drive and went about 30 yards down, past a bush that blocked our view of the sunning horses. I went ahead and turned the van around so we were facing toward the main road. (“Know where your exits are” and how quickly it will take to get to them.) When I turned off the van’s engine, I could hear Cami breathing in the silence.

“What now?” she asked quietly.

“Look over there.” I pointed at the horses out in the field. She breathed in with a sharp “Ohhhh,” and praise for Jesus took over my heart.

“Mommy, can I get out?” For the first time that day, I heard the usual hope and wonder in my daughter’s voice. She sped along her words, afraid I would deny her request, even as I was saying yes. “I’ll stay by the van. I promise I’ll obey what you say.”

I opened my door and walked around to open hers. As much as she wanted to see the horses, to hear them and touch them, suddenly, she was reticent. “Come on, Honeybear. It’s all right.” I held out my hand to her. She got out of the van, and we approached the fence together.

Now I just have to say: I don’t know much about horses. I’ve never been a big fan of them (not that I dislike them either). I’m a dog person. I read doggie body language very well. My friend Betsy is the horse person. When we visited her a few summers ago, she took Cami to the barn where she keeps her horse, and Cami was able to ride Cobalt. That visit is my only lesson in horse body language. I know that they breathe on each other and on people to say hello. I know they can be skittish animals who think you’re a threat to them.

I know how to offer my hand to a dog I’m just meeting: palm down, let the dog approach you, use a soft voice and only pet them after they’ve sniffed you and all the body cues are friendly.

I have no idea how to meet a horse.

When I first stopped the van, the horses looked over. As we got out, the beautiful sorrel got up and approached the fence. I thought, “I could learn to be a horse lover.” She just breathed on us, over and over. I said softly, “Hello there. My, you’re beautiful.” I held my hand out, palm down, and this beautiful creature breathed on it. I reached up and stroked her nose. “Hello.”

Beside me, Cami had taken a step back. “It’s all right, Cami Girl. See? She’s telling you hello.”

The horse breathed again.

“I don’t want to touch her.”

“Okay, you don’t have to. But you can talk to her if you want.”

As Cami started making little crooning noises, telling the sorrel horse hello and how she wished she had an apple to give her, the dark chestnut got up out of the pasture and headed over to us. These were beautiful animals, and God was using them to soothe my daughter’s heart in a way that I couldn’t.

However, for this horse-etiquette-ignorant mom, with her 7-year-old at a strange pasture’s fence meeting horses without their owner present, two horses at the fence at one time was a bit overwhelming. This time, I took a step back, too.

“Can I feed them some grass?” Cami had plucked a piece from the place we were standing.

This point in the story is where Michael’s influence was drowned out by Candi’s “How wise is this really?” voice.

“You know, Honey, I’m not sure how wise that is. I thought we could just stand at the fence and look at them. I didn’t expect the horses to come over to us.”

The gray-and-white dappled horse had spent all this time rolling on her back in the middle of the pasture. (Was she wanting attention? Trying to show she didn’t need people to notice her, she’d be just fine with the grass, thank you very much?) Now, the dappled horse decided to grace us with her presence at the fence.

The sorrel had moved on to nibble at the bush. The chestnut was still breathing and snuffling at us. And here came Miss Horse-Thang.

It was amazing the difference in attitude of this last horse. She came over prancing and whinnying, and the other two horses moved away down pasture. The dappled horse approached the fence and stood there shaking her head back and forth, kind of cockeyed, then did a Mr. Ed impression, with the teeth bared and making that motorboat sound that I can never make with my lips. (Betsy, is there a word for that sound?) Along with these head movements and sounds, she was stamping her foot a little, and I started to feel really uncomfortable.

“Okay, Cami, let’s see if we can find our way back to the main road, okay?”

“Okay, Mommy.” We told the horses bye, waved, and scooted back to the safety of our van.

Cami was so excited as we left, jabbering about how pretty the horses were, and recounting in detail all her up-close-and-personal encounters with horses in her young life. (This experience was Encounter Number Three.) Much easier to listen to than all the things she wants but doesn’t have.

We did find our way home. (Thanks, Melisa, for Map Quest via cell phone!) We spent the afternoon running errands and other stuff. We finally drove up in our parking lot just after dusk. We had already talked about how God had sent the horses to cheer up Cami’s heart, and how He loves us so much and knows exactly what we need, giving it to us when we need it.

This particular day, He went above and beyond in His meeting my daughter’s needs. When we pulled into our parking lot, the only parking space I could find was near the end of the street (not usually where we park). I was still riding the high from seeing “Jesus in Action” through the horses, so it was easy to check my grumbling spirit. As I pulled into the parking place, the van headlights showed a rabbit on the common lawn. After the rabbit encounter in December, I just knew here Jesus was, doing exceedingly abundantly beyond all we could ask or imagine.

“Cami, look.” She opened the door quietly and snuck close to the rabbit. I sat in the van for the next 20 minutes and watched as Jesus hugged my daughter again that day, up close and personal.


Anonymous said...

I am amazed how God teaches me through my daughter and granddaughter. Are we ever too old to learn???

betsygarmon said...

there are days when I am wailing and flouncing on the inside when I think it would be easier to be Cami and just wail and flounce on the outside. :)

My hope is that as I mature, I will wail and flounce with more grace. There are places in the book of Psalm that are full of David's wailing and flouncing. As the focus moves from lament to declarative truth about God's character, I find hope. Same with Cami's story. I really enjoy seeing how you guide your daughter into making that shift. It is often inspired and usually pretty bold.

I think that sometimes I am slow to point to rabbits and horses. Frequently, I take on the responsibility of controlling my own wailing and flouncing. But the "unfiltered Cami" is a reminder to me that at the end of the day, we desperately need the Holy Spirit to shift our focus. I'm reminded again, that community matters when it comes to taking our thoughts captive. Thanks for boldly turning Cami toward Jesus. (And for being willing to share your journey with us.)

Randy said...

Great story. You actually read the horses very well. The first two very acting very friendly, the first being a very curious horse. The third was the dominant horse because in horse circles, the horse that can move others is the leader. So the grey horse not only moved the other horses, it detected it's dominance over you and moved you and Cami as well! They are very perceptive.

My horse studies have been a great stretch for me because the paradigm is so different from mine. On numerous occasions my horse behavior discoveries have helped me understand Betsy's perspective more. I can be such a typical predator sometimes and often Betsy responds to life like a prey animal. It's an excellent exercise for getting outside of myself.

I'm so glad that God met you in the pasture that way. He never ceases to amaze me with His spot-on tenderness and timing. Thanks for sharing.

Brittany said...

Thank you for sharing these life moments God has given you. I'm encouraged and find God speaking His truths to me through them, and through Cami, when she doesn't even know it. I'm reminded of the grumbling of the Israelites, because it sounds a lot like me. Instead of talking to God, most of the time I just whine and grumble. God is SO wonderful! Thank you for reminding me of that today!