Sadie has now become an official "pet owner" with the addition to her room of a 2 1/2 gallon fish tank (in hot pink, thank you very much). And, into that tank we have placed some fish -- four neon tetras that she named Molly and Molly and Fred and Fred. Just about everything in Sadie's life right now, over which she has naming rights, is called either Molly or Fred. Of course, we have teased her about this without mercy, but she stalwartly holds to those names despite our amusement. She's a stubborn little thing.
Two days after we got the fab four of fishdom, I saw that one of the Mollies was floating up at the top of her tank, resting on her side -- her pitiful little gills expanding and contracting with what seemed to me concentrated effort. Oh dear. Here was one of those inevitable moments of parenting for which no one can adequately prepare. Sadie was at my side, gazing in upon her wards.
"Mama! What's wrong with Molly? Is she dead?" Sadie's dark eyes looked startled.
"Oh Sweetie," I lamented, "I think that Molly is very sick. She may not be with us much longer."
Then, the tears flowed forth.
Sadie has never been shy about death. Maybe it was because since she could talk we've spoken about her Grandma Emilie who is living with the Lord. Since she's been cultivating memories, my father's cat, Rumpy, has died, and she has seen me cry over the passing of the noble Barbaro. We've spoken, of course, about Jesus and His death on the cross and the eternal life that He has promised us, despite the death of our earthly vessels. She has unsettled me with her matter-of-fact promises about how much she'll miss me and remember me when she's grown up and I die. Thanks, Sadie. Parents just love those sympathetic reminders of their mortality.
I guess that this staring of death in the face was a bit much for her to handle, though. She collapsed on her bed. I knelt down beside her and the conversation started.
"Why is Molly going to die? (Everything dies at some time, Sweetie.) Did you feed her too much, Mama? (No.) Did we have too many fish in the tank? (No.) Why does she have to die now? I just got her!"
With what I thought was an inspired moment for sharing some of the gospel, I remembered the sparrows.
"Do you know what, Sadie?" I asked. "Jesus made us a promise about the littlest creatures and how important they are to God. He said that all the little brown birds that we see -- the birds that are too numerous to count -- are known by the Father. He said that not one little bird dies that the Father does not see it. That's true for fishes, too. God is seeing Molly right now, and He knows that you love her and want her to live and swim here on earth. But He also makes the little fishes to come and swim up in heaven. Maybe now He is getting Molly prepared to swim in a river up in His kingdom."
I have no idea if there are streams in heaven with the beloved fish of the earth swimming in them, but I see no reason why there would not be.
Sadie eyed me incredulously through her tears. "There aren't any rivers in heaven," she said. "How could there be one up there in the clouds?" She pointed out her window.
Where do you think the rain comes from, huh? I almost said that, but I remembered in time that heaven really is not "up there," but is rather "out there" -- out of time and space and scarcely comprehensible, even in man's wildest imagination. So, I replied, "Heaven is far beyond the clouds and stars. I am certain that the Lord put the most lovely of streams and ponds and lakes and oceans into His kingdom. Where would He put the little fishes if there were not any water there?"
"Could I see Molly up in heaven some day?" Sadie has every confidence that she will be there, and, at times, she perturbs her mother's heart by longing a little too much to go there immediately.
"I do not see why you could not. Maybe she'll stick her head out of the water and tell you how lovely it is and invite you in for a swim." Okay, sometimes my imagination runs away from me a bit.
"Fish don't talk, Mama," Sadie reproached me.
"Maybe they will in heaven," I shot back.
Then, Sadie had an idea. "Mama, can we pray for Molly? Will you pray for her right now?"
And this is one of the things I love most about children -- their utter belief in and reliance upon prayer. Now I, blinded adult that I am, would never have thought to pray for Molly. There's a part of me that still believes that I need to save up my beseeching prayers for the "big stuff." My daily prayers tend toward thanks-giving and praise, but they leave out the "smaller" tribulations of life. I feel, somehow, that if I bother God with countless little things, He won't have time or energy left for me when I really need Him. Of course, children know so much better that, to God, there are no "little things" in prayer -- that every prayer is treasured by the One who holds the balance of the universe in His palm.
So, we held hands and prayed for Molly the neon tetra floating on her side in a hot pink fish tank:
"Heavenly Father, You made Molly and You love the things and people You have made. You see her now, and You know how long she will live with us and when You will take her to Your kingdom. Lord, if it is in Your will, please heal Molly and give her many more days to swim and play with her friends, Molly and Fred and Fred. But, Lord, if You will that she should die today, please keep her from pain. Please be with Sadie, too, as she learns the joys and heartaches of having pets. We love You, Lord, and we are grateful for the beautiful tropical fish You have made. In Jesus's name, amen."
After that, I looked at Molly again, and she was still ailing. I wondered whether it would be more cruel to leave her floating there until she died, or to flush her down the toilet, half-alive. I did not have the heart to see her pathetic death throes in the toilet, so I decided to leave her there for the time being. After all, with these little fish, death never prolongs his beckoning for many hours. It would all be over by that evening, I thought. We'll get Sadie a new "Molly" tomorrow.
Well, that night, when I went to feed the fish (and, no, I do not overfeed fish!), Molly roused herself upright to gulp a few flakes. Hmm, I thought, that's interesting. She still looked unhappy -- yes, fish can look unhappy! -- but she was eating.
The next morning, she was swimming about, slowly and startingly, but she was swimming. She ate enthusiastically again. Last night was the same, as well as this morning.
It has been two days since the almost-flushed Molly has been off her side, and I cannot help but think it a minor miracle. The Lord has always had a special spot for the prayers of children, and I think He may be answering Sadie's in the least expected way. He certainly delights in surprising us and turning our preconceptions on their heads. I do not know if Molly's out of the woods yet, and her recovery may prove temporary, after all. But, Sadie is pretty certain that God has found Himself able to put off having our tiny fish in His heavenly streams for a little bit, and who is to say she's wrong?
His eye is on the sparrow. It is on the tetra, too.