A tiny masked bandit stole my heart.
He fit in the palm of my hand. A ball of fur, with cuts on his face and a mask across his closed eyes. My husband and I found him in a puddle by the roadside. A baby raccoon, lost or abandoned. I cradled him in my shirt, and we drove to the vet's office instead of out to lunch as we'd planned.
"He's only two or three weeks old," the doctor said. "A rehabilitator will care for him until he can go back to the woods." Something inside me was stirring. I couldn't resist. "Can we do it?"
"I don't see why not," the vet said. "But you have to promise to release him when the time comes. I'd say in about three months or so."
I looked at my husband. "It's a deal," Steve said.
The vet gave us careful instructions, and I put the newborn in my lap for the ride home. The little guy needs a mother, I thought. Just like I needed a baby to love.
Steve and I lived in Rochester, New York. We had a wonderful son, Christopher, who was ready to leave home to make his own life. For years I had longed to have another child, but it never happened. Why? I had asked again and again. Somehow I felt my prayers were answered when we found the baby raccoon.
He was almost helpless. He slept with Steve and me, wrapped in a blanket. We fed him with an eyedropper. In a few days his eyes opened. Before long I mixed baby cereal, formula and honey, and my raccoon graduated to a baby bottle. We called him Coonie. The little guy crawled in my lap and held on tight as I fed him.
I did chores around the house with him in my apron pocket. We made a pen for him as he grew. One afternoon I came in the door after running some errands, and a trill from Coonie's pen filled the room. "He hears his mama coming," Steve said, grinning. Thank you, Jesus, for answering my prayer. I was as proud as any new mother could be.
Our cat and dog made friends with Coonie, and soon he was allowed to walk around the house. He had his own litter box. One morning as I was putting laundry away, he crawled into the bottom drawer of my dresser. I took my clothes out, put his toys in, and voilà! He had his own place. "Steve!" I called. Our little one lay on his back, feet up, twirling his toys like an acrobat in a circus. I hugged my husband. What joy!
Three months passed faster than I'd ever imagined. The tiny creature I'd held in my hand had grown strong. The vet advised us on how to return him to the woods, as we'd promised. But everything in me rebelled. My heart overflowed with love. How could God take him away from me? "I can't let him go," I said to Steve one night in tears.
"Even his raccoon mother would push him out," Steve said, "to live the life God gave him."
The words hit me. My son, Christopher, would take my love and my blessing with him into the world. Should it be any different for my baby raccoon? I could entrust this creature to his creator. Finally I could say the confident goodbye of a mother who'd done her best.
I've discovered my capacity for a mother's love is unlimited. In the years since, my life has been filled with children. Christopher married Anissa, who has five young brothers and a sister. Their family became ours. And today Steve and I are blessed with four grandchildren. There's even more to our family. My niece, who feels like our own daughter, has five children.
A furry creature I once held in my hand opened my heart to love as never before. The Bible says every beast of the forest is God's. His love is greatest of all.
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