What an honor for me to host Addie Zierman here today. Not only is she my friend, she is also one of my favorite voices in the blogosphere right now. No one tells a story like Addie. Her words always bring the truth of my heart to the surface. And I love that I get to share her with you today.
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The first critter of the year was a long, thick-bodied salamander that my husband found trapped in the window-well one drizzly March morning.
He brought it to the front door: Dane. What’s this? And my 3-year-old went wild-eyed with the wonder of it, clamoring into his shoes and jacket to go out and hold it.
This boy, he is my tactile one, my one-toy-in-each-hand one. He is my blonde-haired, blue-eyed first born, stubborn and sweet. He wants to hold everything. He wants to keep it clenched tight in his hands and feel it against his skin.
With the salamander that morning, Dane is pink-cheeked and grinning. He holds it for a while, feels the smooth weight of it, examines its copper spots. And then he watches it scoot, sleek and quick through the grass before picking it up again.
He is Three Year Old Boy at its purest best with a lizard in hand, hair damp with drizzle, and I want him to have this feeling forever. So at naptime I go to Walmart and pick out a heavy plastic aquarium. We fill it up with sand and leaves and a bowl of water, and for a few days, the salamander lives on Dane’s dresser.
But, of course, when a salamander moves in, he moves way in, buries himself so deep into the sand that you never even see him. We drop freeze-dried crickets into the aquarium at night and find them untouched in the morning.
Every now and then, my husband digs the salamander out and takes him outside so that Dane can hold him, but he is getting slower, diminishing in his captivity.
Finally one day, I watch them trek down to our backyard pond: salamander in my husband’s hand, blonde boy in tow. They crouch at the edge of the pond and do lots of talking. And finally, they let him go.
And it makes sense that this boy who is so like his Mama would have this inborn need to hold things tight in his hands. I have struggled all of my life with this idea of giving it to Jesus, with casting my cares upon him, with Let go, let God.
My dreams and my fears and my hopes and my anxieties get all knotted up in my hands, and I say to God, I give these things to you, but I don’t really. I keep picking at the mess of it, trying to untangle it myself. I am worrying and clutching tight, simultaneously comforted and agitated by the feel of all of this weight in my hands.
All summer, we catch and we release.
The weeds grow up tall in the pond, and the painted turtles are easier to spot from the paddleboat, simple to scoop with my husband’s long-handled net. Dane likes the tiny ones, learns not to put his fingers near their mouths when he holds them in his palm.
The frogs hide underneath the paddleboat, and every morning I lift it up so Dane can scoop one up with his dollar store net. He learns how to hold the frogs at the tops of their legs so that they don’t escape or get squished. He likes to put them into our baby pool and watch them swim, propelling themselves forward with strong legs. He likes to dip his net into the pool and catch them all over again.
Fifteen minutes with each critter is about all that we give him. He is trying his best to be gentle, but after all, he is a three-year-old boy. It doesn’t take long for the creatures to grow slow and weary under his “care.” We give him warnings. 5 more minutes. 3 more minutes. 1 more minute.
At the edge of the pond he cries and rages. He wants to keep it. To play just one more minute. We sit at the end of the dock. The frog needs to go back to his home. I say. He’s tired. He nods. He’s reluctant. It takes him two or three tries to finally let it go and hurry to the edge of the dock to watch it swim away.
Every day we practice bringing of our treasures back to the source and opening our hands. Goodbye frog! Goodbye turtle! Every day it’s hard to let go. We have to say them out loud, the reasons to let go. We have to kind of talk ourselves into it.
But the pond is so full of life. There is so much we don’t see under the surface, ready and waiting, good things for us to hold. Trying to cage the living, breathing wild only serves to diminish it. And, after all, half the fun is catching it again – that rush you feel as reach for something new.
And the other, unexpected part of its beauty comes with the release. In the trusting that God is good, that the world is rich with good things, that giving up this one thing does not mean giving up.
I am teaching him these things day after day; I am teaching them to myself.
Every day for an entire summer, Dane and I stand at the dock, watching the creatures swim away. Dane, teary faced and spent, leans against me and sighs. We’ll find another frog tomorrow, he assures us.
Yes, I say. We’ll sure try.
Every day, we practice the surrender of opening our hands, the hard trust of letting go.