Summertime usually brings rain in our part of the world. Nearly every day, the clouds build on drafts of warm air, tension increasing exponentially with the heat of the day, until the air is so ponderously pregnant with unreleased moisture that the humidity becomes almost unbearable. Finally, the cumulus clouds burst, accompanied by brief but violent claps of thunder and the occasional lightning-struck power outage. Tension is released, damp heat is eased, and active children take a breather from strenuous outside play time.
I've lived here most of my life, with a brief hiatus from southern mountain living to attend college in Utah and to accompany my husband to graduate school in Memphis and it's requisite internships in east Tennessee, South Carolina and Charlotte, NC. These summer storms were an integral part of my experience growing up, and I missed them when I was gone. Now, I'm disappointed when some natural fluke of circumstance keeps our storms at bay. I need that excuse to sit and snuggle on the couch with my kids, to have a contemplative moment, to listen for an instant to the great evidence of God's love that is rain.
We moved into our house on May 14, just before the daily thundershower ritual gets into full swing. Our house was new, and we had to take care of all the new house things: install blinds, get a lawnmower, put in a mailbox.
Shortly after we moved in, I came home just as one of these wonderful summer storms burst forth. As I drove up to the mailbox, I noticed some movement on the ground, but attributed it to the swiftly falling raindrops that were quickly soaking the interior of my car, my left arm, and my hair. I reached out to open the mailbox and immediately recoiled from a sight I could not believe.
Our mailman had placed a small adhesive plastic sleeve on the inside of the mailbox door, into which he inserted a small business-card sized piece of paper inscribed with our last name. The plastic sleeve was bulging with hundreds, maybe thousands, of ant eggs. Tiny sugar ants streamed too and from my mailbox, marching up and down the post in perfectly precise military formation.
I left the mail and slammed the door to the mailbox, racing inside, eerily shaken by a bunch of insects a tiny fraction of my size.
Later, after the sun came out and turned the fallen rain into a steamy mist rising from the pavement of my driveway, I decided the ants could not have my mail. I purposefully strode outside, and when I opened the mailbox I nearly accused myself of having an acid trip right there in my driveway, because no evidence remained of either the ants or their eggs.
It took me a moment to realize what had happened: as soon as the storm dried up, they took their babies home and left my mailbox alone. I suddenly understood what they were doing. When it rains a bunch in a short period of time, their home gets flooded. And so they took their most precious and defenseless family members to the highest, driest place they could find: the little plastic sleeve in my mailbox.
That summer, I avoided my mailbox whenever it rained. I knew it would be in use by some pretty fierce mamas. I admired their tenacity from a distance -- it took an awesome group effort to preserve their progeny, but when faced with adversity, they did what they had to to survive.
We heard on the news last night of a woman who was arrested for trying to trade drugs for food. She took her two small children to a local barbecue restaurant, ordered them some peanut butter sandwiches, and then, since she had no money, tried to bribe the cashier with two Xanax pills. My heart nearly broke. She didn't order multiple racks of ribs and whole cherry pies. She ordered peanut butter sandwiches. I mourn for the lost innocence of her little ones -- but I understand what she was doing. If I can't feed them, I'll do what I have to do to help them.
Can you imagine the circumstances that must exist for her to have access to Xanax pills, but not peanut butter and jelly? Some awful combination of poor choices and bad circumstances are depriving her unaccountable children of the life that every kid deserves. I can't decide whether to be sad or angry. Maybe both.
We are all faced with difficult circumstances, especially in this unfavorable economic climate. We may have to do things we never thought we'd have to to take care of our families. I think of those ants carrying their eggs to my mailbox, and I envision my house surrounded by flood waters -- literal and figurative. I hope that I am strong enough to continually find higher ground to protect my babies from the encroaching tide of drowning, devastating filth that seeks to weaken and infiltrate the insulation from the world I seek to establish in my home. I hope I can always find a dry, cozy spot where the warmth and comfort of the Gospel will get us through the toughest of times. And I hope I never reach the point of desperation required to attempt a drug trade to feed my family.