Thursday, March 11, 2010

What my rabbit is teaching me about love...Part 2

I've learned so much about rabbits since Pippin came to live with us.  They are interesting, social creatures with a definite role to play in the dynamics of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, that role seems to mostly involve feeding other animals.  Rabbits are essentially food. Owning a free-range rabbit makes this abundantly clear.  One of my pet names for Pippin, as twisted as this might sound, is "Plump Morsel".  Aside from the cute factor, which incidentally will NOT work on coyotes and birds of prey, he has very little going for him in the way of self-defense.  He is a little ball of meat and bones in an unspeakably sweet fur coat.  Even those large, luminous eyes are all but useless, being planted on either side of his head.  He can't see what's right in front of him. His face is in the way. He can't see anything coming at him from above, for essentially the same reason.  Rabbits are notoriously fragile.  Every one of the rabbit care sites I visited on-line warned me to be careful how I handle him, because one wrong move and I could break his back.  Add to that the fact that rabbits can literally be frightened to death. In fact, wolves occasionally will just sit and stare at a rabbit until it drops dead from fear.  Easiest snack in the forest.  Their little hearts can just stop if they are too stressed.  It is not unheard of for farmers who keep rabbits in outdoor cages to find them dead in the morning behind locked doors, probably because a coyote walked by and sniffed the cage.

The one thing rabbits do have going for them is speed, and the ability to suddenly change direction while hopping away from danger, making them difficult to keep up with for most predators.  But while on the run, rabbits can become so frightened that they lose control and careen into trees, rocks, even off cliffs.  They are able to see movement easily, because the main self-defense tool a rabbit has is fear of everything that moves.  They know that they are the snack food of the animal kingdom.  This keeps them alert and on guard all the time.  They are timid little beings, quick to react, quick to run, and slow to take risks.

Except for Pippin.  Pippin, as I have already mentioned, is in love with my dog, Mini.  His love language, though, is not the same as that of a dog, and Mini is often irritated to the point of distraction by his amorous efforts.  She has lost her temper with him a few times, even to the point of growling and snapping at him, grabbing him by the back of the neck in a snarling version of "Will you LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY??"  And still, he keeps going back.  Of course, after a shakedown he lays low for a while, but he inevitable heads  back onto Mini's trail, undaunted.  When they are outside and Mini is in a playful mood, Pip plays with her,  even though he knows that her method of play involves running him over, stepping on him, and slapping her paws down on him. He freezes and tries to shrink into himself when he sees her coming, and when it gets to be too much for him, he'll hide under things, but he doesn't stay hidden for long.  He can't. He's in love.

When Mini hears coyotes howling at night, she often asks to be let her out to bark at them.  Many times, she'll race out into the darkness, determined to keep them at bay. Pippin follows her.  Into the darkness.  I stand at the door and worry, because it looks for the life of me as if Mini is bringing her own snack to the party.  Does Pip not know what coyotes are? He must. He has thousands of years of genetic fear factor at work in his little brain.  If the howling and yelping weren't enough, Mini's forcefully protective efforts should be a clue.  He isn't clueless, as I first suspected.  Pippin knows that he is a rabbit.  He understands the danger.  But he's in love. 

It is clear to me that it is love that has caused this funny little guy to over-look an entire species worth of fear and anxiety in order to do the things that he does.  He'll hop out into the darkness towards the coyotes if that's where his love is headed.  He'll allow himself to be run over, stepped on, and growled at, if it means being close to his love.  He'll ignore his nocturnal instincts and stay up all day if that's when his love is up.  He'll follow her anywhere, even if it means disappearing with a "poof!" into fluffy, deep snow with every hop in her direction.  Because he loves her.

I've watched him for months now, and have learned to admire him.  I love his spunk and determination.  I love his cute little face and the way his wiggles his puff of a tail when he's happy. I love watching him clean his ears. And I love his courage.  I struggle with fear a lot.  I think most people do.  Even people who seem fearless often fear appearing afraid.  After God has repeatedly promised to care for me, proven His love for me, met my every need and then some, I still fear. I fear rejection, failure, betrayal, disappointing my loved ones...the list goes on.   God keeps asking me to love and trust Him, and to be brave because He loves me, and His love in me for others will give me courage. 

1John 4:18 says this, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear."  Love creates a sweet, determined, humble courage that just is.  It doesn't announce itself. It doesn't ask for praise. It doesn't fear not being.  It is the hero who shrugs and maintains that he or she didn't do anything anyone else wouldn't have done...and means it.  It says, "I'm scared", and with a shaky hand and tremulous voice, does the scary thing.  Love isn't foolish or blind. It acknowledges vulnerabilities, weaknesses and danger. I have loved and have been hurt.  I have also been loved and hurt others, which is another post altogether.  But I know that this world is perilous.  The greatest peril, though, is to try to protect myself by refusing to risk loving.  Especially when it is the loving that brings courage.  I pray daily for love, for God and for others.  This truth is not new to me, but it is  kind of God to give me this living illustration of arguably the one of the most timid animal species alive behaving in extravagantly brave ways, all because of his love for another. 

Mini is a reluctant lover.  But a lover she is.  There is no doubt that Pip makes her crazy at times.  But recently, when he went missing for a few days, Mini spent hours outside at night barking at the coyotes, warning them away with a fervor that she doesn't usually show.  She wouldn't come in until we forced her to at bedtime.  She knew that he was out there somewhere. It bothered her that the coyotes were out there as well.  How could she protect him if she didn't know where he was?  How much more will God, who is far from a reluctant lover, care for us? 

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but s spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 2Timothy 1:7

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