Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lessons from a Possum

In which I panic upon discovering a mother possum has made a den beneath my screen porch. After which I decide it is a good idea to catch and release her and her large family during a severe weather outbreak with widespread flooding. Concluding with a happy ending, as all—human and animal alike—live to tell the tale. Details are available for the curious. 

Don't get me wrong, I like our wildlife—it's one of the reasons we moved where we did. I enjoy watching it do its thing, but I want it to do its thing and then go home...somewhere far, far away from me and mine. Yes, I admit I am a city girl playing at country living. Possums may be beneficial creatures, but I want to enjoy the benefit from behind my windows, not up close and personal. 

In the aftermath of my Turn-around-Don't-Drown-Possum Adventure(!) I have had several thoughts about that mama possum. Over the past five years I've caught a variety of critters in my live trap.* Rabbits freeze in terror. Squirrels frenetically jump around the cage, ceaselessly looking for escape. Pack rats restlessly pace and chew the wire, and neighborhood cats look annoyed. The possum was different. Not exactly broke out with brains, she was ridiculously easy to catch. When I checked the trap right before I went to bed, she calmly considered me through the wire. Her babies—cute as they could be—crawled over her, unconcerned by their confinement. 

I don't want to anthropomorphize a wild animal, and I understand that 'my' possum may not be illustrative of all possums. Still, my encounter with her made an impression. And if God can speak through a donkey, why not a possum? Lesson number one: the mama possum's calm demeanor during what was in wildlife terms, a catastrophe, spoke to me. Anyone who has known me for even a little while knows that I am a nervous creature. I've been dismayed to find that I grow more anxious as I grow older. She was in tight surroundings with no way of escape, no place to hide, no ability to hunt and provide for her babies. She had no idea of my intentions, yet she was placid as she awaited her fate. Of course her knowledge and experience of the world is bounded by the fact that she is a creature of instinct. She lacks the capacity to worry or think things through. I am supposed to be smarter, yet a day doesn't pass without my indulging in pointless speculation and worry about the future. 

Luke 12:24 says, "Consider the ravens [and possums too]: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds![and possums too!]" God watches over them; He opens His hand and feeds them. I am are much more valuable, yet I am always thinking anxiously about what's happening and what it means and what's coming down the highway. I carry on my back a burden far too big and heavy for me, which God never intended. To take what comes as it comes is a blessing the possum is born with. I am still learning to rest in the knowledge that God has a plan. I am still learning to believe that I am valued and loved, when all around me nature declares that its Maker is good and cares for His own.

Lesson number two: while possums look like rodents of unusual size, they aren't. Possums are marsupials. Females have a pouch and keep their babies close, but only until they are old enough to handle life on their own. As they outgrow her pouch, they cling to her back for a few more weeks. At that time, they simply fall off the mother's back and go their own way. Possum mamas don't run around trying to fix things. They do their part and then it's up to the kids to figure it out for themselves. As a card-carrying helicopter Mom, that certainly speaks to me! As my youngest approaches adulthood and (hopefully) independent living, I am striving to let him find his own way, without having a nervous fit over every choice he makes on his path. 

When I released mama possum, she didn't hiss or growl or in any way complain about her imprisonment. She just waddled, pouch stuffed full to bursting, out of the cage and into the adjacent field. Granted, it was in the midst of a spectacular thunderstorm, but still. She did not stop and did not—even once—look back. I am musing on her example. I am learning to rest (with less hissing and growling) while God carries my future and my children in His capable arms. 

And I am learning how to get along with my animal neighbors

*I release the animals I catch, except the rats. Sorry if it offends the more sensitive-minded,
 but in my world, rats that interfere in my living space must die. That's all there is to it.

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