How cruel is it that diamond mounds turn into ravenous ant hills?
We grew up going to the same country church our ancestors built for the gathering of community in worship and service of our Lord Jesus. We sat still, sang hymns, and gleaned much from older generations. I especially remember the ladies, especially the grandmotherly ones (some widows), teaching us spiritual formation by example.
Mrs. Hilda, always smiling from deep within her soul, sent birthday cards in the mail to everyone. Mrs. Susie played the piano with precision. And Mrs. Sherry, the young pastor’s wife, loved the babies in the nursery. And our Grandma Phyllis, mostly sang and billowed her delight in the choir. No matter the size of choir or quartet, her voice inflated the room. She exuded joy most of the time, but most especially when she sang songs.
Grandma Phyllis volunteered to teach our Sunday School class one year. How easy she thought it might be – knowing Jamie and me and just a couple other children our age. The endeavor proved to be a real stretch for her, but resulted in our memorizing the 23rd Psalm.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
Psalms 23:1-6 KJV
Somehow… “The Lord is my Shepherd” came easily to us. We’d witnessed neighboring ranchers care for their herds with profound, diligent responsibility. We’d seen horses come running at the shake-shake of a grain bucket. Sheep naturally follow-the-leader, and we’d seen that, too.
“I shall not want…” maybe not so easily. Often, I found myself wanting… everything Jamie had. (Sadly, I even envied his birthday coming before mine every year. Our Great-Grandparents celebrated Jamie’s August birthday before traveling south for the winter, but they always missed my October birthday.
“…valley of the shadow of death…” how utterly foreign! Some point along the way, death silenced some older men in our congregation. I remember an older cowboy gentleman I called Grandpa Claude (although he was not blood relation) and Uncle Reuben both died. Their weathered skin, distinguished glasses, and stiffened gate indicated life’s naturally slowing pace. Somehow their deaths followed a predictable, expected cycle. One I didn’t question. Sadness seeped in for a time, yes. I remember Aunt Ruth climbing the church steps alone and sitting alone in her pew. Yet, I found I liked remembering people’s lives in the whole – the lives we often hear about only in the funeral/memorial service setting.
But somehow, the dissolving diamond mound and the erupting ant hill introduced me to tentacles of the shadow of death as I heard the lies pelting us, “You’re alone!” “You won’t make it back!” “This pain is all your fault! If you hadn’t suggested, even pressed for, adventure, Jamie would be fine.” Subtle stabs… venturing off the homestead unleashed hopes, dreams, plans, failures, and fears like I had never encountered before that day.
Once we returned and the rattle rested. Jamie-bathed and balmed- assured me he was fine, sore and tired, but fine. He firmly noted we should never play in ant hills again. In the calm, I finally remembered we failed to even get the mail. He tried to reassure me someone else probably already did that job. And he was probably right. But, disappointment and discouragement fueled frustration and fatigue.
Someone quieted us with a snack. However, a haunting, an unsettling, a soul-stirring churned within me. This big, beautiful, bountiful world reflects our Creator. We already knew this from our Sunday School classes, and we’d seen plenty of His systems. We’d seen barren fields embrace seeds and grow crops. We’d “worked” sprinklers, rode along tractor runs and combine courses, and “took care” of badger invasions. We’d witnessed the hardy efforts bring in the harvest. Big men. Hat hair. Dusty jeans. Worn boots. Calloused hands. We’d tasted the joy of a profitable season- both in Grandpa Ken’s study as he worked figures as well as around the dining table where we gathered to feast and give thanks.
But, the ant hill incident opened my eyes to an evil I previously relegated to a time long ago, a snake in a garden far, far away. Ant armies illustrated the slithering, organized approach of evil’s shadowy tentacles…
Shiny things… horizons and mining mounds…
Biting pain… numbing, dimming soul… sure, we made it home.
A fact quickly forgotten. Only to focus on failure…and deadening hopes.
“…the challenges looming on the horizon would test every comfortable assumption of Empire and every fiber of personal faith and courage.”
Stephen Mansfield Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill p. 31
written by Heidi L. Paulec