Oh sure, I do the usual mumbling under my breath when someone cuts me off in traffic or takes the parking spot I was signaling for. But true offenses, like being lied to or stolen from, haven't typically evoked a deep need for vengeance in me.
Until recently, that is. It started sometime in September when I planted a pot full of fall lettuce. After taking into consideration the predicted weather, the decreasing daylight, and the hardiness of my seed, I determined that I had just enough time for another crop. After an easy planting and the perfect germination weather, my crop was off to a good start. Until one day, I noticed that most of the seedlings had been dug up and strewn across the patio.
A quick investigation revealed the several of my other planters had evidence of digging, as well, and the only culprit could be one of the many squirrels that have been loping around my yard. I was mad; I'll admit it. But I didn't wish harm to the squirrels. At least not at that point. So, I rearranged pots, added some twirling yard art and flowing streamers where I could to try to create the illusion of unpredictability. As skiddish as squirrels are, I figured they would be deterred.
And they were for a while, until I showed up with a fresh pot of mums and a home grown pumpkin from my dad's garden. Within a day or two, there was evidence of more digging, and a hole in my pumpkin with the slightest hint of squirrel-sized teeth marks.
But the real offense came a few days later when I brought home another pumpkin, this one with beautifully carved bats in the front. In just a day or two, the squirrel had eaten enough of the bats that they were now just sagging orange strips. And the original pumpkin, the one my dad had grown with his own hands, was beginning to look like it was carved from swiss cheese. Now I was ready for revenge. The next day, I sprinkled cayenne pepper all over the pumpkin, especially in the chewed up pock marks where I knew the squirrel would start again the next time he came. I wasn't sure what might happen to the furry little guy if he got a mouthful of fire, but by this time I didn't care.
The plan worked for a few days until the rain washed away all the pepper, and once again it was eating season for my pumpkin. Eventually, I gave up. The squirrels won. I carried the pumpkin out next to the tree as a final act of surrender. "Enough, already. You can HAVE the pumpkin," I thought, with vengeance still in my heart.
A few days later, as I was raking my front yard, I found the remains of a dead little squirrel nestled among the fallen leaves. At first I was horrified, then disgusted, then shameful. Was this my enemy, mortally wounded by my peppery weapon? Whoever said, "Vengeance is sweet," has never had to remove the remains of their enemy with a shovel and garbage bag. In vengeance, nobody wins. When God says, "Vengeance is mine," he's not just protecting our enemy. He's protecting us from the shame and defeat that follows.
I don't know for sure that my cayenne killed the squirrel, but I do know that my vengeful words and actions bring a slow death to both me and my human enemies when I seek to repay evil with evil. From now on, God can have the vengeance. It should have been His, anyway.
Saturday was my birthday. Though throughout that day I celebrated 39 years of life, this whole month has been a celebration to me. I am a two-year cancer survivor.
It felt more tragic at the time to be diagnosed with cancer so close to my birthday. I remember October 2007 as a month of flowers and greeting cards. There were piles and piles of Get Well AND birthday cards, and my house looked like a florist shop with bouquets and baskets of roses, hydrangeas, and mums: some celebrating the life I've had, some wishing me more life.
Last year, I morphed my cancer anniversary and 38th birthday into a celebration of life: my own, as well as those of the people who helped me through a year of illness. It felt important to do it big last year, to rejoice with lots of people over what God had done in our lives together because of cancer.
This year, there were no parties, only a few quiet meals with friends and family, a handful of cards and calls, just a couple of flower arrangements. And that felt exactly right for now. Cancer is still part of my everyday life (at least in my thoughts), but it's not all my life is about. I have taken this month to reflect and be thankful. Jesus has also given me some more dreams back, and I continue to imagine a future again. A future BEFORE heaven, that is.
My future life IN heaven continues to be the greatest gift, however. And I pray that this coming year finds me more and more in love with Jesus.
A few days before my birthday, I was at my friend Kelly's house for dinner. When I arrived, her two sons popped out of their bedroom with a gift and shouts of "surprise"! After dinner, we had chocolate cheesecake in honor of my special day; I got to blow out the candle AND have the first bite, though my four-year-old and six-year-old buddies could hardly resist the dessert on their plates.
Later, I even got to pick which Wii game to play, and Jensen insists that my victory in boxing (his specialty) was a gift as well. (Even if I DID when fair and square, I'm not sure I should brag about beating a four-year-old in boxing!)
The whole evening was special and fun, but one bit I will carry with me for a while. The gift I opened was Alex's idea. When Kelly asked the boys what they should get me, he immediately said, "I think we should get her a dress." And with no other thoughts prevailing, that's what I got.
The dress itself was certainly nice; I wore it on Sunday to church. But the whole time I was wearing it, the greater gift was that a six-year-old would look at my life and see reason enough to celebrate with a new dress. A perspective I can learn a lot from, especially on the days when the memory of cancer seems a little too close.
Speaking of the memory of cancer, I will have my three-month blood tests in early November. If you think of it, will you pray that I would walk closely with the Lord as I anticipate both the test and the results?
I recently gave my mom the perfect set up for an "I told you so." (She was gracious and didn't take it, by the way.)
It started when the sink in my bathroom was suddenly clogged, and each time I washed my hands or brushed my teeth, the water would back up. Gross.
I am no plumbing professional, but after taking care of a few drain clogs in the bathtub over the last couple of years, I thought I knew how to handle it. My mom suggested it was probably just a hair ball in the trap that could be remedied with a small plunger, but that seemed WAY too obvious. My mind was traveling to far more exotic solutions.
First, I tried the plumbing snake I had recently purchased.
When that failed, I decided to resort to a relatively "safe" drain cleaner I found during my last bathtub clog incident. But when I could no longer find it at the hardware, I opted for another safe (READ "ineffective") enzyme product.
One round of the enzymes had no effect on the situation. So I decided to try again the next day. When I got home, turned on the water, and still found no improvement, I was just about to give in and buy the really powerful cleaner that came with its own protective gear.
But in the back of my mind, I heard my mom suggesting the plunger again. I only have one size of plunger, and it's on the large side. But I was feeling desperate. So, I covered the ventilation hole, plunged twice, and immediately the drain released. My joy lasted only a minute until I realized I could have saved myself time and money by just trying the obvious solution first.
The philosophical community would likely recognize a classic Occam's Razor in my clog dilemma: when multiple explanations are available for a phenomenon, the simplest version is preferred. (Likewise, the simplest remedy would be in order). In the medical community, this is acknowledged through the axiom, “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras."
For some reason, keeping life simple seems really hard in these early years of the 21st century. For one, my schedule becomes so complicated as I layer activities on top of activities and rush from one event to the next. Also, social media and communication technology makes relationships more, not less, complicated as I can be interacting with multiple people at the same time. And then there's all the information and entertainment and products and ideas and services all just waiting for me 24 hours a day if I just lay down a little time and money.
But it's not just the 21st century that creates complexity. It's my heart, always wanting more, more, more. More stuff, more friends, more information, more recognition, more tools, more projects, just more. And never being satisfied with the simple.
Simplicity comes in and out of vogue. Leonardo da Vinci apparently saw simplicity as the ultimate sophisication. And the past couple of years, especially during this recession, seem to be an especially GOOD time for simplicity; there's even a magazine called Real Simple (which is ironically full of adverts for all kinds of things none of us really need!).
But real simplicity, the biblical kind that encompasses contentment and gratitude and generosity, isn't just a passing fad. In fact, it's a hard discipline that Christians have been "practicing" at for years. It's about looking at our lives, our relationships, our stuff and coming up with the simplest version possible. Not making assumptions or creating too many possibilities, though not taking short cuts or doing it the easy way, either.
Mostly, keeping it simple means taking each breath, doing the next thing, and loving my neighbor one at a time with the strength God gives me.
And it never hurts to have a plunger on hand, either.