Even from a young age I have enjoyed the simple wonders of nature. In elementary school I learned to identify many of the local songbirds, the scrub jays and red-tailed hawks that could be observed in our neighborhood on a daily basis. I gleaned a special joy from an occasional sighting of deer, raccoons and squirrels that might be spotted in nearby fields yet to be cleared.
But for some reason jackrabbits have always held a special place in my heart. Perhaps because of their elusive nature, it felt like no small reward when I would catch a glimpse of one dashing swiftly and almost silently through the tall summer wildflowers. And since those days, those creatures have come to mean much more. So with this as background, I share this odd little story.
Not long after I filed for divorce from my verbally abusive husband, he decided there was no reward to be had for being nice. So he looked for ways to harass and torment me day and night, calling me at all hours, leaving angry messages on our answering machine, and showering upon me a steady stream of threats, personal attacks and cruel accusations. Of course, I tried to limit my contact with him and to ignore the effects his attacks and lies had on my heart. But there were nights when I would lay awake into the darkest hours, crying and praying and wondering why.
During the day, I did my best to hold myself together, working feverishly at my desk and trying to prove to the world and to myself that I was fine. But one searing hot Sacramento summer evening, scrunched in a seat in a crowded commuter train on my way home, I leaned my head against the window, gazing at the familiar landmarks and the fields as they flew by. As much as I wished to, I couldn’t keep the tears from falling. And though there were people at arm’s length in every direction, I felt like I was all alone in the world. And I just needed to know that I wasn’t.
It was in my shell of silence and with what little mental energy I had left that I offered up the simplest of prayers. “Lord, if You are still there, can you please show me? If you are willing, I’d really like to see a jackrabbit.” I added a humble disclaimer, noting that, even if He chose not to answer, I would still love and trust Him. It was not my intent to test Him. I was just hoping for a little reassurance, the smallest sign.
My eyes remained fixed out the window as the train covered mile after mile of track, and I waffled between hope and the foolishness of my prayer. We were rounding the final bend toward my stop, and at this point I was fully prepared to forfeit my wish when, coming upon the very last parcel of open space, seated among the high weeds, I saw him.
My jackrabbit was maybe 30 feet from the train, sitting tall in the bright, hot sun with his black-tipped ears perfectly erect and looking directly at the train as it passed. No on one else even seemed to notice him, but he took my breath away. And my heart was filled with pure delight and gratitude as once again my tears began to fall.
It was almost humorous to me. I could imagine the poor creature lying in the cool shade of his underground burrow when something unseen forced him to his feet. There was no good reason to go above ground, but the compulsion was so great he had no choice but to venture out into the scorching heat. He must have wondered what in the world had come over him for those few seconds. But his brief appearance was all I needed to remind me that I was not alone. My circumstances had not changed, but my heart would never be the same.
And if that isn’t strange enough, the story doesn’t end there. But we must fast forward a few years. You see, after my divorce was final, I needed some time to heal and get my bearings and come to a place where I could accept that not all men are abusive. I had cautiously re-entered the dating world and begun a relationship with a man who quickly swept me off my feet. The summer was lovely and promising. But as the leaves began their autumn transformation and the rooftops glistened silver in the early morning light, my new love unexpectedly broke things off. I was confused and heartsick.
In earlier years, on Thanksgiving Day, my kids and I would spend the morning hiking at a local nature center, on the lookout for deer grazing among the thickets. There were times we would spot woodpeckers or red-winged blackbirds, and we would often trek down to the fast-moving river where salmon could still be seen rising to the surface. But, this year my kids were going to spend the morning with their father. Not only did I feel alone, I felt interminably unlovable and rejected.
I went to the park anyway. By myself. And as I walked the beaten paths beneath the ancient oaks and picked my way across the river rocks I poured my heart out to my Father. I cried and spoke aloud to Him. I even prayed that maybe next Thanksgiving I might be here with my family and the man I love.
Even as I prayed, I would stop occasionally to watch the river flowing swiftly under gray skies toward the sea, as it has done for a thousand years, feeling suddenly very small and unimportant. Returning to the trail, rounding a bend, the path rose before me. It was there, on the crest of a hill that I saw him. A jackrabbit. Not 20 feet away, seated at the very apex of the hill, I froze in my tracks to take him in, doubting my eyes. His ears were erect, his brown eyes looking straight at me, unflinching. He too took my breath away.
When, after a few long seconds he ventured into the deep grass and out of sight, I trudged uphill to where he had stood and accepted the welcome of a rustic bench not far from the site of his visit, where I laid my hands in my lap and wept for all the right reasons.
I was not forgotten. I was not alone.
I would never have imagined that, one year later, on Thanksgiving Day, I was walking the same paths of our favorite park with my kids and the man I loved – but not the man I thought I wanted to be with. Five months later, Doug and I were married.
On the rare occasion when I catch a glimpse of a jackrabbit, I am reminded that God hears the simple cries of our hearts. Our hearts may break, but He is not the One who does the breaking. And I know that He leaves little love gifts and faithful reminders of His love and faithfulness for us along our paths if we will only see them.
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