October 20, 2017

The Resurrection of Hope

Two days ago one of our angora goats had twin kids.  It was a cold day, below freezing.  The babies were wet and small and frail.  We left them alone for a little while, to let the mother take care of them, but when we returned to check on them they were sprawled, limp and unconscious, on the cold shed floor.

My daughter Jenny had stayed home from school to keep an eye on the goats, and she jumped into action.  We got a hairdryer and rags.  We dried them and rubbed them, but we couldn’t seem to warm them up.  We called the vet, then we moved the babies into the house.

We keep the house pretty cool, and we hadn’t ever tried to push the furnace up to eighty degrees.  But we did then.  We took turns roasting our legs over the heat register in the floor, holding the floppy babies in a kind of rag hammock over our laps while warm air blew on them from underneath.  Plastic bottles filled with warm tap water banked them in on either side.

An ear twitched.  One eye opened briefly.  It was working; but was it going to be enough?

When the vet arrived, the babies were still so cold that he couldn’t get their temperatures to register on his thermometer.  He gave them a cortisone shot and a fifty-fifty chance of pulling through – fifty-fifty for the stronger one, less for the other.  “You have to get their temperatures up,” he told us.  Jenny ran upstairs and got the family thermometer – erstwhile family thermometer – and we took temperatures every half hour.

Time seemed alternately to drag and fly.  All that morning and afternoon we took turns holding the kids.

One of them raised her head!  Then the other did.  Faint mews emerged from the curly bundles.  Finally they started to butt their heads into us and try to suck on anything warm.

The pace picked up.  We gave them warm water mixed with molasses in a little shot syringe – molasses cures everything in goats.  The strong one’s – Heidi’s – temperature reached 100, and we rejoiced.  Almost an hour later little Hope’s temperature did the same.  We bundled them together in a box over the register, then moved their large and anxious mother into the entryway of the house.  At that point the dog and three cats also got anxious.

It is not much fun to milk a skittish angora goat with a sore, swollen udder, who has six-inch horns that seem always to be at the eye level of the milker.  It took both of us, and we didn’t get much, but the babies drank it up.  All that afternoon we followed the same routine, clambering over the old child gate to get to the nanny goat, wrestling her into a corner, milking her while trying to keep her hoofs out of the little bucket, getting covered in everything one associates with barnyards.  My other children got home from school and helped.  Finally my husband arrived with formula and rubber nipples.  The babies filled their stomachs and fell asleep.

Taking turns sleeping downstairs, trying not too successfully to keep the rest of the house clean, helping the flippy-floppy babies as they slip on the linoleum in their desperate quest for mother’s milk – this is how our time has been spent.  Today Hope and Heidi are walking, nursing, staggering back into their cardboard box to curl up together and sleep – even showing some curiosity about the tiny world of the entryway.  Hope’s hind legs still splay a bit, but she’s got a fierce will and will get right back up if she falls down.  They will live.

I would probably have given up.  Jenny was the one who named the kid Hope.  I never seem to have much hope that things will turn out well.  Hoping is painful, because it always implies uncertainty.  If we knew everything was going to be all right, we wouldn’t have to hope.  I find it hard to embrace uncertainty, to live with sorrow and worry and pity.  In my heart of hearts I thought that it would be better if the kids died quickly.  That way I could mourn and move on, keeping my heart hard and whole and protecting myself from having to care.

Caring is exhausting and reminds me of my helplessness.  Many times there isn’t a happy outcome to things you care about.  I don’t think I was born with a hard heart, but over the years I’ve offered up desperate prayers that were not answered – not that I could see, anyway.  People I loved killing themselves with alcoholism; friends in poor countries dying of diseases that should have been curable.  Babies wasting away with hunger; women abused by their husbands, who are themselves desperate; dogs stoned by uncaring children who have nothing better to do.  I see these things, and I’m helpless.  The terrible things go on happening.  We love the story of Lazarus, but not every brother who dies is miraculously restored to his loving sisters.  It’s better not to indulge hope.

But today, for once at least, Hope is up and wobbling around the entryway, staggering to her mother, and nursing while her little helicopter tail goes round and round in ecstasy.  I must keep this answer to prayer alive in my mind, next to all the seeming silences and refusals of God.  Why he answers as he answers is a mystery.  My job is to accept and trust, and, as my daughter showed me, to nurture Hope.

Comments

  1. This article made me thankful … that I live in a city, in a warm-weather state, where the only goat I ever encounter is the mascot of a Mexican football team. You and your family are doing yeoman work, Damaris — work that would likely kill me in a week.

    Glad to hear that Hope (and Heidi) is alive — and that hope is alive.

  2. This was beautiful

  3. Amazing story…”nuture hope”…LOVE that! Thanks for sharing. It is SO hard to keep going sometimes when it does seem like life is lost or prayers are unanswered. Good reminder to trust…I needed to hear this.

  4. I really needed this today. Thanks for posting this encouraging story.

  5. “Caring is exhausting and reminds me of my helplessness. Many times there isn’t a happy outcome to things you care about. I don’t think I was born with a hard heart, but over the years I’ve offered up desperate prayers that were not answered – not that I could see, anyway.”

    Oh Damaris, thank you for putting into words what I often feel. This is a beautiful essay and exactly what I need to be considering just now.

    By the way, we also kept a tiny kid in our home for a while — fed her a bottle and rocked her to sleep. Someone gave her to us from out-of-state and she wasn’t ready to be weaned. Her name was Maude.

  6. Damaris, I understand what you’re saying, and life is full of disappointments and heartaches, but I think a Christian’s hope — and especially our Blessed Hope — is not uncertain. To me, Hope is the future tense of Faith, and our Faith is not uncertain either. Or maybe I am just mouthing platitudes…. I do know that we walk by faith and not by sight, that there remain three things: faith, hope, and love; and that the greatest of these is love.

    • True enough, Bob. The occasional encouragement makes it easier to remember.

      • Thanks, Damaris, for your honesty, and Bob for your reminder of the certain hope we have in Christ. It’s good to have both!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Yet all too often “the certain hope we have in Christ” is presented as a glib Party Line — Five Fast Praise-the-LORDs, Proof-text quotes, Parsed-to-the-Letter Theological Doctrines.

          And when you’re really hurting, in the midst of “disappointments and heartaches”, the last thing you need to hear is glib recitations of The Party Line.

    • > I think a Christian’s hope — and especially our Blessed Hope — is not uncertain. <

      Your statement is right Bob, as far as salvation and glorification goes. Those are assured. But they aren't the only things Christians ought to hope for. You say "the greatest of these is love," but if that is more than a platitude it needs to be fleshed out the way Dostoevsky's Father Zossima does in The Brothers Karamazov:

      “Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble it, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent. Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you–alas, it is true of almost every one of us!”

      Certainly God’s majesty and His power to save would not have been diminshed if those two baby goats had died. But I think their tiny and inconsequential lives are a fit matter for Christians’ concern.

      (Full disclosure: I’ve never read Karamazov. I’ve tried and I think it’s rotten. But that passage came to my attention from some other source years ago and I’ve thought many times how apt it is.)

  7. Charles Fines says:

    What a welcome break from arguments over doctrine into rare proclamation of Good News! Superb story!! A lamb named Jesus applauds!!!

  8. The last two paragraphs brought tears to my eyes, Damaris. I needed to hear this — thank you!

  9. Very, very timely for me personally; it sounds cliche, but “an apple of gold in settings of silver….” comes to mind.

    Keep writing from your heart… easy for me to say, eh ???

    GregR

  10. Brendan H says:

    Made this wavering semi-christian tear up.

  11. Riley Allen says:

    I really resonated with your “hardness”. In my view, and certainly in my life, it is not that my heart is hard, but that my heart is afraid. I am so afraid to hope and risk being hurt that I have found myself in that place of saying “better that they die and then it will be over” rather than risking hope that things will get better. My glass seems to be always half empty rather than half full. Bob Brague is correct in his theology in his comment but I’m very glad he closed his comment the way he did, with humbleness and uncertainty. While I know I should be certain and unafraid, I am still me, hiding in the dark hoping to dodge the hurt rather than embracing my LORD and trusting HIM to bear me up.
    Riley

    • I hear you, Riley.

      • And thanks to both of you for putting this into words. I have no difficulty trusting in the ultimate goodness of God and the peace and joy of heaven…..it is the messy stuff on planet earth that tears at the rough edges of my soul.

        I am a nurse, and see the best and the worst, the miracles and the all-too-early deaths, the stoic who should have come in last month and the pathetic addict back for the third time this week with another made-up malady. The good DO die young in this fallen world, andother families subject 92 year olds to weeks of painful, invasive and humiliating procedures rather than allowing them to take the hand of Christ and go Home.

        I struggle daily with becoming more and more cynical, and it is a poison. Then, if in the midst of this someone lays down the guanlet of “How does your ‘loving God’ allow this to happen?” I am tongue tied and angry. How can I explain my faith that somehow this fits into God;s plan when sin and disease seem to winning?

        I am soothed by knowing I am not alone in being a “protective pessimist”…….If you don’t hope for wonderful outcomes here in this life, then it is harder to be disappointed when the happy ending isn’t. But I really don’t want to live like this, and need to find a way to translate my total faith in the ultimate triumph of God’s grace and goodness to seeing examples of grace here more clearly.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I am so afraid to hope and risk being hurt that I have found myself in that place of saying “better that they die and then it will be over” rather than risking hope that things will get better. My glass seems to be always half empty rather than half full.

      THAT is someone who’s been hammered so hard and so often, had any hope snatched away with a laugh time and time again, that you’ve just hunkered down because any action will just hammer you again. If you never attempt anything, you can’t screw it up. If you never hope, you’ll never have that hope snatched away.

      I’ve been there. A LOT.

    • @riley: dude, it’s ok to be uncertain, hiding in the dark and dodging. God is not at all surprised or caught off guard by it!

      i think what a fellow commenter named suzanne wrote yesterday, quoting rilke, might be very applicable to you:

      ‘ Or, in the words of Rilke:

      God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
      then walks with us silently out of the night.

      These are the words we dimly hear:

      You, sent out beyond your recall,
      go to the limits of your longing.
      Embody me.

      Flare up like flame
      and make big shadows I can move in.

      Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
      Just keep going. No feeling is final.
      Don’t let yourself lose me.

      Nearby is the country they call life.
      You will know by its seriousness.

      Give me your hand.

      (From Book of Hours, I, 59) ‘

  12. Thanks for the reminder that our hope is not only some otherwordly thing (though it is that, too) but also something that reaches down into the pulse and grit of our earthly and earthy lives and gives them an embodied sacredness if only we are open to it.

  13. I love what you wrote, that you can name this: “Hoping is painful, because it always implies uncertainty. If we knew everything was going to be all right, we wouldn’t have to hope. I find it hard to embrace uncertainty, to live with sorrow and worry and pity.” Oh, Thank-You. Caring for my husband for years, praying for health, kinda messes with me. This came to mind: “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life”, Or better yet, from the Message: “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.” I am not a bible thumper, but I appreciate this verse because: My hope has been delayed and I am affirmed in being heartsick, even as the carrot in the proverb is dangled before me, that things will (might) turn around.

  14. Damaris, this is lovely and so appropriate for Lent. The messiness, the fear, the struggles, the hope. Like spring itself. Like birth, and life, and death itself.

    We need more stories from this earthy perspective. Thanks for sharing yours.

  15. Denise Spencer says:

    Hope is something I have wrestled with over the past year and continue to have trouble with sometimes. Thank you, Damaris.