Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Coyote for Christmas

Norma Joyce McClanahan CarmonI wrote this a few years ago as I was remembering one of the best Christmas gifts I ever gave to my mother before she passed away - and who really deserved the credit for thinking of it.

peace
justice

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A Coyote for Christmas
When I was 15, I loved in a terrible co-dependent way my hometown of Southaven, Mississippi. To be fair, it was all I knew, and I didn't want to leave. But then my dad was able to use his seniority to land a job in Laredo, Texas and there - years before the rest of the United States would sample this fine cuisine - I was to discover the delectable taste of fajitas. Fajitas that had been marinated for hours and slow-cooked over mesquite wood. Yumm!

So we moved. From the land south of Elvis to the land south of El Paso.

I hated the very idea. I even used the Lord's name in vain. He didn't mind. He moved me anyway.

There my mom, my dad and I had to live in an apartment. I had a swimming pool, no yard to mow and was within walking distance to my school. Also that year: mom and dad had their 25th wedding anniversary, I made about a dozen friends, and I got a tan for the first time in my life. Life was good.

So score another point for Jesus. (I guess now is as good a time as any to say I'm sorry: Sorry, Jesus!)

But still, my mother was unhappy. She was a stranger in a strange place. I saw that. I would listen about her struggle to understand this non-egalitarian culture and how much she missed the green grass of Graceland (nee North Mississippi). The long shrubby grasslands of south Texas were certainly not very comforting to a woman accustomed to verdant scenery.

She was more homesick than either of us. But soon she found someone who lived in the arid climate whom she could relate to: a Mr. Wylie Coyote. Yes. You heard me right. The crafty cartoon canid who managed to screw up every single plan he ever conceived –and usually paid the price for his folly by a long fall ending unceremoniously on the hard desert floor.
[ youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hz65AOjabtM ]



It was ridiculous, this teen and his mother religiously watching something so absurd every Saturday morning. Together we howled at his unquenched desire for the Road Runner, his intricate plans going inescapably awry. The sound no faithful follower can ever forget was the slow whistle of Wylie falling from some great height, once again so stupefied by the turn of events he wouldn’t utter a single sound before he hit the ground with a resounding thud. Wheeeeeeewwwww - POW!

You don't see that kind of quality entertainment anymore. Too violent, they say.
We didn't care. We liked the violence. We understood. He'd be all right. We'd see him again next week. So we laughed and laughed until tears came down our faces, week after week. We enjoyed Wylie. He was our friend.

So when it came time to get my mother a Christmas present that year in Texas, I decided to get her something memorable: I bought her a coyote. A stuffed Wylie Coyote. I wrapped it and placed it under the tree nervously, not sure if she would think it was too childish.

Later, I paced my room. I argued with myself about getting such a silly gift. More than once I thought I should've gotten perfume, even cheap perfume.

Morning came. As we stood around in our robes, I gingerly handed my present to her. "Here, uh, mom, I hope you like it." I held my breath. She opened the box curiously, carefully laying aside the wrapping paper.

Then my mother, a former business professional, portrait artist and vocal supporter of the Civil Rights movement squealed out loud. Note that word: squealed. Like a little girl.

"You like it?" I asked, dumbfounded.

"Oh, honey! It's wonderful!" She cuddled the coyote. She kissed me on the cheek. She held him at arm’s length. She laughed. "Look at those eyes! Those crazy ears! Oh, thank you honey!"

I was amazed. I was expecting a tolerant laugh, but this was way above and beyond. If it had been a Tiffany diamond, I could not have gotten a better reaction.

There was some strange magic at work here, and I knew it wasn't just me getting lucky. I'm smarter than that. Something weird was going on. No way a 49 year old woman should be so excited over a stuffed animal. Uh-uh.

But Jesus knew what He was doing.

You see, we didn't know it at the time, but my mother had cancer. In less than three months, mere weeks after her 50th birthday, she would have to have a mastectomy.

That sounds bad, doesn't it? It was.

As we went to visit my mother in the hospital after her surgery, she had one firm request: "Please bring me my Wylie!" We obeyed. There she sat, this wild Irish woman, propped up by her pillows, brushing her coyote's ears and laughing.
I’ve thought about that a lot.

And I believe as she sat there laughing, God was filling her heart so she could run the terrible race before her. The proof of this was in her asking not for a legal will, nor last rites, but simply for the coyote she got for Christmas. From me. From Jesus.

He would sit beside her in that antiseptic hospital room, accepting Norma as she was, not as she wanted to be. With all her flaws and missing parts, loving her with an unspeakable love no man could understand. He would be fuzzy just for her. He would be silly just for her. He would let her hold him as closely as she needed to when she wept alone at night.

I'm not into heresy, but I think a part of Jesus was in that coyote. Maybe a small part, but a part nonetheless.

For it is impossible for a sixteen year old boy to get so perfect a gift in his own wisdom. No. No, it was Jesus I tell you. It was too timely, too perfect. I didn’t know Him, but He knew Norma Joyce. Jesus used me.

And a coyote for Christmas.

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Amen.

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