… because today we blink and she turns an impossible 11…
When we buy her two pygmy goats for her birthday, who knew how big faith could get?
We bring them home in June in a mini-van with no air-conditioning.
Two miniature goats neighing back and forth — on the laps of two boys making jokes about something warm running down their legs.
“We do need to name them,” the birthday girl announces.
She strokes one goat’s speckled stretch of neck, flakes of whiteness falling down a throat of silky night….
“Nanny is the whiter one.” She grips Nanny’s inverted skunk neck, ridge of black running down her spine. “And you… “ she turns to the smaller goat in Joshua’s lap, “You are Ninny —- the darker one.”
Ninny — shadow of Nanny…
We aren’t the owners of 2 pygmy goats for 24 hours when Shalom flies in the backdoor, flings herself on the couch.
The kitchen sink’s a mama’s watchtower and I dry off my hands. “Shalom? You okay.”
“Mama,” she sits up, brushes her mess of curls from her face.
“Mama –“ her chin’s quivering “—do you think goats make good dinners for coyotes?”
My eyebrows arch.
Her dam breaks. “Because Nanny’s gone, Mama — Nanny ran away.”
She’s a heap again on the couch, shoulders shuddering.
Kai throws open the back door, “Shalom?”
He says her name like Shome, all the letters running together, the way you can make peace out of whatever you run into.
“Shome? Caleb’s looked all through the field. And back through the bush. And he can’t find Nanny anywhere.” He’s standing in the kitchen with his hands on his hips, telling me how it is.
“Mr. Shannon, he’s had all those sheep, and he told Caleb to leave Ninny at the back door of the barn and she’ll cry for Nanny — ” he looks around to find Shalom ” — and then Nanny will come home, Shome.” He makes her name sound like home, and Peace is always our Home — because Peace is a Person, not a place, and He always says come dwell in me. Shalom can’t hear him for her weeping.
He goes to the couch, kneels down beside her, tries to find her under that mopsy mess of blonde.
“Remember Nanny’s wearing a collar, Shome? And the collar’s got our telephone number on it.” He whispers it close to her, rubs her back.
“Someone will call us, okay?”
“Only if coyotes read phone numbers before they just dive into a little goat dinner,” Levi mumbles it from the kitchen.
Before I can say anything, he pushes himself, all the hurt in his chest, right out the back door.
After dinner, after the stories about searching through the woods three miles to the east and three miles to the west….
After recalling again how skittish and scared Nanny is, after the glaring down of a son who suddenly needs to discuss the current state of coyote populations…
After wiping cheeks again, all still hopeful, after the lights are out, Shalom, she prays.
“God, you say that you hear us before we cry and I’ve cried a lot today, and I just know you are catching all our tears in that bottle of Yours and maybe that bottle sometimes sound like rain? God — please don’t let the coyotes hear our Nanny crying. And please — bring my Nanny home.”
Standing in the dark, looking out to the light, the hallway light, I don’t know how God answers all the begging prayers.
The begging prayers of the grieving and the aching and the broken and the impossibly hurting.
The begging prayers of mothers who’d like to wring death’s thin neck and make that child well.
I don’t know how God hears the wail of the woman howling raw for that one man to come love her right. The ache of the daughter rejected by the icy parent. The choking breath of the man crushed hard by a weight of debt.
There is this thrumming everywhere — the tears falling, a hard rain into His bottle and He has to hear. Shalom holds me tight, our hearts beating harder against each other in the dark.
She whispers it, “God does loves us, doesn’t He, Mama?”
And I nod and this is always the question and maybe this is all our faith really is — Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here. Unwavering trust all the time though I don’t understand all the time.
God is always good and we are always loved.
Loved enough to be shaped into goodness of Christ Himself.
Shalom buries her head into my shoulder and I run my hands through her hair, this slow untangling of everything, and I can hear His thrum.
Nanny isn’t at the barn in the morning.
Breakfast is quiet, heads bent over bowls.
“Think she’s somewhere in Martin’s woods still, Dad?” Shalom wiggles her chair closer to the table.
The Farmer reaches over, squeezes her hand, murmurs it hardly, “Let’s read, okay?”
He turns to the only place we can turn and he opens his Bible onto the table and Peace is a Person and we enter in the place of His Person. We listen to Him, Presence everywhere, and He can be our walls and our roof and the peace that makes us breathe relief and deep.
I do remember to breathe. The Farmer runs his hand across the thin Scripture page, this making ink of truth into the skin of his life. How do we walk our six breaking heart kids into faith in the Unseen Heart?
How can we give them what we are only slowly coming to hold: God’s purposes are not for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is.
Shalom prays hard that night. We don’t know where Nanny is under the stars. Maybe the hardest praying are the prayers that let go. We all exhale into sleep. The Farmer tells me in the dark of morning that the chances of that 8 week old goat surviving two nights in woods….
The third night I stand at the window and say nothing, only looking out into the unknown that is known. I can hear the baying howls of the packs, bleating hearts turned towards the moon.
Joshua says it behind me in the shadows at the top of the stairs and says what no one is saying anymore.
“I know God is going to bring Nanny home.”
And now I am terrified.
God is no genie and when He took the nails He said He was no puppet on a string and I don’t turn from the window, but say it to the night, to Joshua somewhere behind me —
“And what if He doesn’t?”
What if He doesn’t — what if He doesn’t do what we plea, what we pray, what we believe He can and will do and should do?
Even if He doesn’t do what we beg, we are still His beloved.
Even if He doesn’t, He still is.
Even if He doesn’t do what we will, His will is still right and His heart is still good and the people of God will not waver.
Real prayer has eyes on Christ, not the crisis.
Even if He doesn’t – He does give enough — Himself.
Even if He doesn’t – He does still love us.
“If He doesn’t — I will still believe. Still believe — in Him.” In the dark, Joshua finds words to a life creed.
I put my forehead to the window, Nanny out there somewhere – or not. Maybe Joshua who is the one coming Home? And I half smile: That which we fear might happen to us — might be the thing to produce deep faith in us.Why be afraid of anything — when He’s using everything?
God is answering all our prayers: No one enters into the real joy of the Lord in spite of the hard times —- but squarely through the door of the hard times.
When I turn to brave Joshua’s eyes, he’s already opened up the door to of his room — gone and stepped in….
It’s the fourth night without Nanny when the Farmer drives a pickup full of kids home through the countryside all slow.
They all look off into fields and they all talk of crops but it’s Nanny they’re all looking for and not speaking of.
The sky grows green, sickened and grey, just to the north, and then rips open black.
When they walk in the back door, it’s raining hard just across the highway. “Now that storm’s crazy close,” the Farmer says it at the sink. “Pouring hard in the next mile and quarter – but the laneway’s dry here.”
The phone rings.
“Listen!” Malakai stops everyone with his holler, hands up, waiting for the voice to leave a message on the machine.
“Who is it?” Shalom whispers too loud, patting the Farmer’s arm.
“Mr. Wideman?…. “ He steps towards the study and the voice of the Mennonite farmer from 3 miles north of us crackling on the machine… Everyone listens…
“Did you hear him?” Shalom spins around.
The Farmer shakes his head, confused, reaches for the phone, “Mr. Wideman?”
“No… no, it’s not raining here — but we can see it’s dark back your way.”
Kai rubs his hands giddy and Shalom keeps looking up at the Farmer, waiting for more, and Joshua, he’s still and ready in the doorframe. The Farmer turns on speaker phone so Mr. Wideman speaks to the whole bated breath room.
“No rain there? Well, it’s sheeting hard here – and it looks like, from the number on the collar here, we’ve got your goat. ” Shalom’s all white lightning, that smile.
Levi cocks his head, grinning — “Did the coyotes have takeout this week?” Kai laughs.
“Yes – we did lose a goat the beginning of the week. But—“ the Farmer puts his hand on Shalom’s head and the Father touches the daughter and she flashes all joy.
“But — how did you catch the goat to get our phone number off her collar?”
“Looks like the rain drove her up under the eave – “ Mr. Wideman speaks in a slow thick Mennonite accent.
“And she jumped right up here on the kitchen windowsill to keep from getting wet.” Kai’s eyes grow big, catching all light.
“We just had to look out the window. And there was your phone number — right there on her collar.”
Shalom’s happiest thunder clapping.
Joshua stuffs his hands down into his pocket — but nothing can stuff that smile.
And God allows a goat to run away and He lets the coyotes howl outside the back door and He drives in a storm three miles to the north of us to drive one Nanny goat up to a kitchen windowsill up under an eave, so a Mennonite neighbor can read our phone number right there off her collar so he can call us, and God uses everything to call us out of apathy.
It might have looked different.
It was supposed to, it could have, and it may next time — yet even if He doesn’t.
When Ninny and Nanny are home and together, ruminating under the pines, Joshua, he’s the one who points it out to me.
How right there, when she bends, you can see it, etched into Nanny’s one pygmy dark forehead—
Big and blooming — this one white heart.
Pure Love branded right into all of our prayers and all of us led back to the togetherness of home….