UNEARTHLY THING◽ ENCOURAGEMENT
“What is that?” I asked, my heart pounding in fear as I gawked at a creature I could not identify, which appeared to be alive. And moving.
My husband, Tim, and I stood huddled over this mysterious organism in our backyard for a good ten minutes, mystified, on a sweltering Austin, Texas Sunday afternoon in late August.
Barely bigger than my thumb, hairless and pink, with no eyes, this tiny unidentifiable animal lay injured under a massive old oak tree in our backyard. Dark purple bruises lined one side of its body. Slowly, it pulled its tiny forearms (or legs?) up closer to its face.
In this new position, I could see that this little unknown beastie strongly resembled a squirrel. Eureka! It was a newborn squirrel with its umbilical cord still attached.
He (we could clearly biologically identify it as a “he”) must have fallen out of the nest about twenty-five feet above us, which swayed precariously in the top branches of the oak tree. My heart began to break for this little one.
Being an extreme lover of all God’s creatures, well, except snakes (it may be an “Eve” thing, but I’m not a fan), I knew there was only one thing to do. We had to try to rescue the poor little guy, and do everything in our power to try to nurse him back to health.
I couldn’t bring myself to touch the weird hairless pink skin, so I did what any woman would do, I asked my husband to pick him up off the ground. Tim placed him in his make-shift shelter made out of an empty 12-pack Diet Coke box, furnished with soft cloths and leaves from the oak tree.
We brought him inside our home, and immediately jumped on the internet to research baby squirrels and how to best care for them. We spent the afternoon bookmarking websites and making lists of things we would need to get from the store for him.
We refrained from naming our tiny guest, both of us silently resolved to not get too attached to him, just in case he didn’t survive his terrible fall.
Following the instructions we had studied online, we fed him a few drops of water from an eye-dropper every few hours. The instructions also said to keep the baby warm, so we wrapped activated hand-warming packets in a wash cloth, and placed them in his box. And we prayed.
The next morning, hoping and praying he was still alive, I carefully peeked into the box I had kept next to my bed all night. Tiny arms wriggled and wrapped around my pinky finger. My heart melted instantly.
By now, I was completely comfortable with his soft smooth skin, so I picked him up and carried him close to my heart to the kitchen. I prepared his special meal of scalded whole milk with a little Vitamin D oil mixed in it, something I would do every day for the next two months. Just a couple drops of milk, and he was full. Every four hours. He appeared to grow stronger and a little more active by that evening.
The next day, he opened his little toothless mouth and hungrily suckled the eyedropper filled with his milk meal. We were slowly growing enamored with this tiny trooper. And we kept praying for him.
By the third day of eating like a champ, it seemed he was going to live, so we decided it was time to give this sweet baby squirrel a proper name. We held him up, gazing at his tiny face, dark orbs where eyes were forming under a layer of skin. A faint shadow of fine brown hair had begun to cover his body.
Our son Kyle proposed the name “Spartacus.” A fine name we thought. Little did we know at the time, this warrior name foreshadowed the feisty survivor he would become as an adult squirrel. “Spartacus” seemed a little grand for such a tiny being, so we nicknamed him Sparky.
Sparky grew, and our love for him grew along with him. He was part of the family now. He accompanied us on various family functions and holiday celebrations. He journeyed in the back seat of our car tucked into one of his homes all the way to Dripping Springs, Texas, and even as far as Houston. He was one well-traveled squirrel.
We created a “public figure” Facebook page for Sparky, so our family and friends could enjoy watching him grow through pictures and videos we posted regularly -- sometimes daily. He has fans all over the world admiring his poses and antics. He was always a topic of conversation at our church. Friends asked us every Sunday how Sparky was doing, and we would joyfully reply, “Great! He’s so nutty!”
Sparky’s eyes finally opened when he was about a month old. Looking into his large inky brown, almond-shaped eyes was like meeting him for the first time. To say we loved him was an understatement.
Sparky would regularly spend his afternoons napping as he laid on the back of my neck under my hair, or curled up in the tiny front pocket of my T-shirt. We purchased several new homes for him to accommodate his growth and activity level. We started with a hamster “bubble,” and gradually progressed to a five-foot-tall cage in which any ferret would feel at home.
One morning, as I opened his ferret cage to let him have breakfast on my desk while I wrote, I notice a dark line that ran down his abdomen. By the end of the day, his “man-berries” had dropped. He had nutted-up and hit puberty. And he was so feisty, way more than usual.
The next day, when I took him for his daily venture to the outside world, he climbed up the oak tree and ascended out of sight. But this time, he didn’t return.
I was completely heartbroken. And worried sick. Could he survive in the outside world?
Tim and I had to trust God that He would take care of little Sparky. We prayed fervently for our little buddy. Two agonizing days later, he popped up in the lowest “Y” of the oak tree. He ran down my arm and burrowed himself into the front pocket of my hoodie sweatshirt where he would always find the raw shelled pecans I kept for him. It was as though he had never left. My heart soared! We praised God all day long.
Now we got to watch Sparky acclimate to the great outdoors. We watched him do things we know only his instincts inspired him to do. It was amazing. We marveled at how God created and encoded these little creatures for life in their environments.
Sparky figured out how to build the tightly-woven nests that tree squirrels constructed out of carefully chosen fresh branches. The squirrels bite off the branches, bring them to their nests, and then weave the branches together with their tiny hands. When the branches and leaves dry, they’ve created a sort of sealed upside-down basket, in the tallest of the tree tops.
Day after day, we watched Sparky eat some of the nuts we gave him, and then decide at some point to bury the others. It was such fun to watch him dig a hole, plant the nut, cover it over with dirt, and then pat it down several times. He was very thorough. Of course we never taught him to do this. How did he know how to bury nuts? It was amazing to watch his God-given instincts in action.
When I would sit out on our back porch reading my Bible, I would look up in the oak tree, and spot Sparky sprawled out on a tree branch closest to the porch roof. His limbs dangled down and his eyes were half-closed as he rested in the gentle swaying of the breeze. It reminded me that I should have that kind of trust in God. There is a time to build and a time to gather food, but there is also a time to rest--to rest in the shadow of the Almighty, as Psalm 91 says.
God taught us so many lessons through raising Sparky. We learned about trust, provision, and most of all, His immense encompassing and ever-present love.
One day, I was washing my hands at the kitchen sink, watching Sparky out in the yard burying the almonds I had just given him. I somewhat felt like I was watching my child at play. I was thinking about how much I deeply cared for and loved this little critter, how every morning I looked forward to him running down the tree toward me to get his breakfast. I just loved his very presence so much. I loved him as if he was my adopted bushy-tailed son.
Then I heard the unmistakable self-authenticating voice of God say in my spirit, “How much you love that little being is only a fraction of how much I love you.” I froze. Those words permeated my heart and reverberated through my entire being like the echoes of a gong. They still do, even now as I write about them.
I needed to hear that. I needed to be reminded of God’s great love for me. I was still grieving the loss of my beloved Golden Retriever Caleb, who had passed away four months previously at the young age of five. And we had been experiencing some financial hard times. Times were just rough and tough all over causing a great deal of wear and tear on my faith.
But God used Sparky to reach down through my despair to paint a clear picture of His unfailing and all-encompassing love for me. For me, personally. God’s grace fell upon me full-force through my love for Sparky, my adorable tree-dwelling pal.
We saw Sparky just about every day for over a year, and every day I reflected on some aspect of how God loves me, and how He cared and provided for me. I saw how I need to just rest in Him daily, trusting Him fully like Sparky--with my limbs dangling down and my eyes half closed, just swaying in the breezes of life.
And most of all, I realized how God saw this newborn squirrel that needed to be saved. With all that is going on in the world and in the universe, God arranged for his rescue. He provided Sparky with a safe home and abundant love, just like how God saw that I needed saving and saved me through His Son’s redemptive work on the Cross.
And He saw that I needed a timely reminder of His great love for me, which He provided through the very least of these-- a tiny Texas Fox Squirrel, named Sparky.
Angela Dolbear is the author of contemporary Christian novels, such as THE GARDEN KEY Series, and THE TORMENTOR’S TALE, all available in paperback, Kindle and audiobook formats on Amazon. Angela writes real, relevant, relatable, and reverent fiction, with an aim toward spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, while inspiring readers to laugh, cry, and crave certain genres of food. She loves reading, writing and leading worship music with her husband Tim at their church in Nashville, Tennessee. Please drop by and sing-up for news and free goodies at http://www.angeladolbear.com/subscribe.htm. Blessings to you!