April 20, 2009

Praying Thank Yous

When Brianna was 3 or 4 years old, she had a pet fish. At that same time my brother, whom the girls called U.F. (for Uncle Frank) lived with us. I don't remember the name of the fish. I will never forget one particular Sunday night when we returned from Church, though.

We walked in the door and U.F. told Brianna her fish had died. The little curly-haired girl looked up at him with her enormous brown eyes and asked him what he'd done with it. He said he had flushed him down the toilet. Brianna, burst out in tears of despair for, we thought, her dead pet.

When we moved into our house there was a fifty gallon fish tank built into the wall of our family room. We knew nothing about fish keeping but thought it would look beautiful to have some fish in there and envisioned ourselves sitting around watching them for endless hours of relaxation.

The reality was a little different. Instead of sitting around on lazy Saturday afternoons lowering our blood pressure by watching the gentle movements of tropical fish, we spent half of each Saturday testing water, scrubbing the tank and doing water changes with bottled water of a better quality than what we drank ourselves.

No tap water would be good enough for our little aquatic friends.
It wasn't long before all the fish started to die as we abandoned the tedious, time consuming and expensive care instructions for an aquarium of our size. We quickly calculated that it was quicker and cheaper to go to Walmart once a week to buy new fish.

Our kids saw many a good fish give his life in the tank of death we called an aquarium. Never once in her four years of life had Brianna showed any signs of distress at the loss of the little swimming martyrs. That is why we were at a complete loss to explain her sudden bout of mourning.

When she finally calmed down enough to pose a question, we asked her why she was so upset. The reply was so shocking and yet we immediately burst into tears of laughter at the words coming out of her pouty little mouth. "I wanted to flush him."

Since that time many critters and pets have come and gone My husband lovingly calls the children's terrarium "The Cage of Death." In the name of home schooling, we have killed 50 or more African Tree Frogs in one fell swoop.

We raised tadpoles one year. Of the 6 we started with only 1 was released to the wild. Of course, we have seen our share of carnival fish come and go.

There were once salamanders named Buddy and Sally. They escaped TheCofD by faking their own demise. When we dumped the soil out to clean the tank they crawled away healthy as can be. Word spreads quick and the terror of a painful demise at the hands of the Wachter's struck fear into any creature that passed through our door. My brother's Pleco was found dead on the playroom floor one morning as if he were trying to make a getaway in the night.

One night, taking pity on the poor thing, U.F. and Allen released our pet pray mantis into the wild after the children went to bed. There was also my brother's pet Oscar (a fish) who, in a desperate attempt to get away, committed suicide by jumping out of his tank and landing into the cat dish below. And speaking of cats...our cat who we bottle fed from two days old, disappeared one day and never came home.

None of those losses bothered us. It was part of the whole experience. What we did over the years was perfect the pet funeral business. Our neighbors know that if the kids are gathered by the cross near the back corner of the shed, another has bit the dust. Kaitlin is the funeral director. Emma is the resident mourner. Nathaniel reads scripture and preaches the sermon. Brianna is the grave digger. Aedan the music leader (and yes, Amazing Grace is always on the list.) Samuel and Elisabeth are the beloved next of kin. The grave yard is adorned with cross tombstones cut from trees in our woods and artificial flowers from the dollar store. Critter funerals are quite an event and almost fun at the Wachter estate.

Yesterday was different, though. I mentioned Saturday that our lizard, Flo, had been injured and was in distress and likely dying. I also, mentioned that Saturday was Aedan's sixth birthday and Flo had been our gift to him on his 5th birthday. The prospect of losing her was painful to all of us and on his birthday even more so. We prayed for her to live at least until the next day so that his 6th birthday would not always be the day his pet died.

God did answer this prayer. All through the day we took turns checking on her and giving updates all around. We comforted her in the only way we knew how by spritzing her with water and speaking soothing words into her home. We were relieved when we tucked Aedan in bed Saturday night and she was still moving about, although, weakly.

Sunday morning I was excited that she was still alive and after church when I checked on her I began to have hope that she would live. I sat down and began writing about it. Thirty minutes later I got up to take a picture to show you all how cute she was and found her dead.

My heart really sunk. We called Aedan in from the yard and told him the news. I really believe, that in great part, children will react based on how we share things with them. So, I was trying to be so positive. God answered our prayers and let Flo live for your birthday and isn't it great that she got to be with us for a year? He took it really well at first. I was so impressed by his stoicism when I wanted to cry myself. Another minute passed, though, and his lip began to quiver and then the tears started. Not all loud and emotional...just sad little tears running down his fat little cheeks. It broke my heart.

He and I began to prepare an Altoids tin for her burial and Allen told the other children. I figured Aedan might be upset but was completely shocked at the response of 3 year old Samuel. At first he seemed OK. Then he started to ask questions.

(As he starts to cry)Why did she die? Well, Sam because of sin everyone dies.

But why? Some people grow old. Some people get sick. Some people have accidents but everyone dies. We must die to get a new body and go to heaven with Jesus.

But I don't want to die. But, Samuel, if you believe when you die you can go to the wonderful Heaven God has for you.

That's why Jesus died for my sins? Yes, Samuel it is.

But what about Flo? Well, Samuel when animals die, they just die. When you die you go right to heaven, though. Isn't that wonderful?

In his very excited three year old voice now: I know Mama! Jesus will make her alive again. Let's pray right now and ask him. First I will pray and then you mama.

Dear Jesus, thank you for Flo and thank you for making her alive again. (Now I am crying.)

Those simple words were a tough act to follow. They reminded me of how children pray. Why Jesus said we should be like them. How we should all pray. When Samuel is praying for a request...he so much believes that God can and will answer his prayer that he doesn't waste time asking for it...he just thanks God believing that it will be done. Even what we, as "mature Christians", consider impossible or unworthy of prayer-liking bringing a little lizard back to life.

Not knowing what to say next, I suggested a picture of Aedan with his friend. We agreed to bury her, not in the graveyard, but under the peach tree Aedan and his Pa planted a few weeks ago.

Kaitlin added a balloon for good measure.

Aedan chose a beautiful rock from his collection to be the marker.

And everyone gathered flowers from our gardens to decorate her resting place.

In the end, memories were made. Lessons were learned. Heartstrings were tied. All for the love of one of the smallest of His creatures. A red letter day in the life of this family.


  1. I loved this post! We have had our share of pet funerals. I love how your kids all play parts. And isn't it so nice that God cares about our pets and answers prayers regarding them.
    I just found your blog and an enjoying reading about your family. God Bless.

  2. This was my favorite post so far. What a testimony it is to have that extra day on the "tombstone"!

  3. That is such a sweet story! Especially seeing little Samuel's faith.