Thursday, February 19, 2009

Higher Ground

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.

8 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post!

    And I think that Snuggie card is a sign that you are destined to own one.

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  2. Matt & I were watching the news last night and saw that and we both looked at each other with mix feelings too. My first reaction was sadness and then anger and then confusion, but a desperate mother is capable of unheard things, that's for sure.

    Did you hear the 5 year old was hiding a bag of drugs under his seat????!!!! Makes me want to cry!

    Tough times are here and we'll see more and more of this kind of desperate moments :(

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  3. Lovely post, big sister, and an excellent message.

    When I grow up I want to write like you. :)

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  4. That was such a beautiful post. And deliciously written. Ponderously pregnant. I loved it all.

    Those poor kids! What an awful situation.

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  5. On the Monday night that Hurricane Georges thrashed Puerto Rico, we sat in our dark concrete storage room and had FHE. It was so great to hear that terrible storm raging outside, and be able to assure our kids that we were safe inside because we were prepared and protected. And then we compared that to the safety of our faith, and our covenants, and our testimonies. Those stormy times are such wonderful opportunities for teaching. Interesting, isn't it?

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  6. ...and p.s.
    This was indeed a beautifully written post. You have a gift, my dear.

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  7. I have had the same experience in my mailbox. I didn't know what it was when I opened it and I told Jon about it and when he looked they weren't there. It has happened a couple of times, so he has seen it himself now. (Verifying that I am of sound mind) I also saw the news story and agree with the most poignant detail of the story, she wanted peanut butter sandwiches. I think she could have gotten them from a soup kitchen and not traded drugs, but the entire situation is very sad. I pray for all of us that we can keep our families on higher ground during these difficult times.

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  8. I would just like to echo what everyone else has already said....beautiful post!!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts in such a powerful way.

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Sock it to me!