The other night I had a dream, and it wasn’t a great one, frankly. My whole family had died…and I’ll spare you the morbid details, but it woke me up in the middle of the night. No parent wants to have dreams like that, but every parent has them.
Sometimes I can’t go back to sleep after dreams like that, and I just lie there in bed wishing I could shut my brain off for hours on end until the sun comes up. I hate nights like that. But the other night, when this happened, a thought came to me. I don’t know where it came from, and I don’t know why it intrigued me, but I asked myself, “What would I keep if my family died?”
I’ve got 5 kids and a wife who I love to death. I’d do anything, anything within a reasonable moral framework, for those kids. And if they died, part of me would die to. What in the world would it be like to sort that out? I mean, we don’t have a big house, but we’ve got enough stuff to fill four more houses just like it. I wouldn’t keep all of my wife’s clothes. I wouldn’t keep all of the kids’ toys and stuff. I wouldn’t need to keep a fraction of the stuff I owned.
But as I laid there, thinking about what it would be like to go through all that stuff, that’s when I wondered, “What would I keep?” What would be the things that were just too precious to part with?
And, God help me, I hope I never have to make those decisions, but I can tell you right now three things I’d keep. I’d keep an “Ellie”, a “Bonzo”, and an unnamed teddy bear that’s been hanging around for 18 years. I’m telling you now, without a hint of uncertainty, there’s no way I could ever part with those.
Ellie, as he/she is called, is my three-year-old’s stuffed elephant. We’re not very consistent with the gender. I’ve always called it a “he”, but my toddler goes with “she”. We’re fairly inclusive with stuffed animals, I guess. I should yield to the preference of the owner – “she”, it is.
She’s not a very clean elephant, even as elephants go. I’d imagine that the wilderness of
Africa is more sterile than most of the places she’s been. She gets hauled to the bathroom, the bedroom, the dinner table, and every car ride we take. She soaks up the tears in the arms of my little girl in those first moments after the daily traumas of toddlerhood. Every night she’s tucked in, and every morning Ellie’s still locked in her little elbows when I wake her up.
I couldn’t part with Ellie.
Or Bonzo, the little yellow teddy-bear I gave my oldest daughter a dozen years ago. I get the credit for naming that little fella’, who’s definitely male by the way. Ronald Reagan did a highly mocked movie in the olden days titled, Bedtime for Bonzo. In the movie, Bonzo is a monkey, but in our first home with our first child, Bonzo was the bear that went to bed with her. We would say, “Bedtime for Bonzo,” and she’d grab that yellow bear, clutch him close to those baby cheeks and march off to her room with him hidden behind long locks of curly red hair.
That curly red hair is gone, lost in the transformation that takes a child and remakes her into something nearly adult. But Bonzo’s still around and still affectionately embraced from time to time. He’s earned a permanent place in the top bunk, the good and faithful servant that he’s been, a rare remnant of childhood that she seems more proud of than embarrassed by.
No, there would be no “goodwill box” for that stained, fluffed-out little bear were something to happen to his owner.
Nor would there be any goodbye for a little brown bear, unnamed but well-known by all in our household. This little fellow belonged to my wife. He went to college with her, and in the long-passed days of teenage drama, when she was taken away from me for several months, this little bear was her secret parting gift for me to remember her by during that awful time. Far too old for stuffed animals by that age, I’m sure he looked rather strange in my bedroom to any friends, siblings, or parents who wandered by. But I kept him around, and he favored more attention from me in those months than any of the Michael Jordan posters on the walls.
Now my kids have adopted him, and there’s no goodbye in sight.
So I can safely say that for all the cleaning-out I’d have to do if some awful tragedy befell our family, I know of at least a few things that I’d save: the stuffed animals.
Something about this seemed strange, perhaps even inexplicable to me the more I thought about it. These aren’t expensive items that would be costly to replace, though they are undoubtedly irreplaceable. They aren’t all gifts from me or gifts for me. Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep the pictures they’d colored or the medals or trophies they’d worked so hard for?
But then it dawned on me. There’s only one reason for me to feel such a strong attachment to these stuffed toys, and here it is: my children (even my wife) loved them.
They loved them more deeply than they love video games. They loved them more dearly than their arts and crafts. If a fire was burning down our house, they’d leave all the other stuff in the drawers and reach back to grab them on their way out the door.
I see my children love these things, and I cannot help but feel a certain sort of love for them, myself.
Every so often I hear people kind of balk at the idea that God cares about sports. They sort of mock and deride the guy who’s kneeling on the sideline in prayer before a game. I’m sure the same people would think it’s crazy to see me and my family praying over the events of our life. We pray over cross country and track races. We pray over food. We pray over bedtimes and car rides. We pray over day trips and quizzes and afternoons at the mall.
And I can hear the people saying the same thing I’ve heard them say on the radio and write on the internet, “Look at these people praying over that! Do they really think God cares about this? Do they really think God is spending an ounce of his energy on this? Surely God has bigger things to do than watch that sports team play!”
There are two flaws there. The first one doesn’t really pertain to anything I’ve written here, but it’s just so obvious that I can’t help but rebuttal with it. Here it is:
To say that God has better things to do than to pay attention to something seemingly insignificant on the earth is to misunderstand him. God has an unlimited capacity to pay attention to things. He has an unlimited attention span. It is no more difficult for him to observe a million things going on at ounce than for him to see merely one. You and I are mortals, and we have to focus on a limited number of things at a time. If we try to take in too much, we get overloaded and make mistakes. Thus, it’s perfectly reasonable for me to say, “I don’t have time for a football game right now.” God is not so limited.
There’s not a sparrow that dies in Israel that escape his attention. There’s not a mackerel in the ocean that gets swallowed up by something bigger without God taking note. So to say that God has bigger things on his plate than whatever we’ve prayed about is silly. His plate is big enough to handle all the “bigger things” of a billion worlds like ours, and all the smaller things, too.
But here’s the other flaw. I am important to God. I’m his child. I’m his son. And sure, that brown, leather ball may be fairly insignificant, but it’s not insignificant to God if it’s in my hands.
Every parent who has sat on the sideline of some freezing-cold soccer game knows what I’m talking about. Why are we out there in the wind and the snowflakes, our hands going numb as we fumble with the Tylenol bottle because we’re shivering so much that we feel a tension headache coming on? And it’s only the first half…
Are we out there because we just LOVE youth sports? Are we out there because we just LOVE soccer? Of course not. Have you ever seen six-year-olds play soccer? It’s like a mass of pigeons attacking a piece of bread that’s thrown at them in the park! It’s practically unwatchable!
But there we are, watching it! And why? Because those are our children. And we love them. And we pay attention to the things that matter to them.
And sure, on the one hand, it seems silly that God would care about the little comings-and-goings of our lives. He is God! And we are small people in this world…people of no great significance. Surely his time would be better spent on kings and queens, right? Why would he care about our trip to the store? That’s absurd, isn’t it?
It’s no more absurd than a middle-aged man with a strong affection for three shoddy-looking stuffed animals. If God truly loves us as his children, than he will be present in all that we do. He will be leading us in all that we love. He will be helping or redirecting us in all of our paths, because we are His, and He is ours.
That’s not so strange to me.