Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Monkeys are out of the Barrel

 In my childhood, i played often with a "Barrel of Monkeys". They were well-behaved, plastic monkeys of red, blue, green, and yellow. Stringing them together, linking their long curved arms --- they would hang from chairs and drape from doorknobs, what fun those days were. But friends, now i know for sure, the monkeys are out of the barrel.

Walking across the lawn of the seminary where we teach in Kenya, the monkey business going on in the trees beside me wouldn't be ignored. Focused on my task, I was hesitant to pause and take notice of them. I needed to get to the duka, the small store on campus, to get copies made for the mid-term exam we'd be giving the next morning.
The commotion in the trees let me know the vervet monkeys were in an uproar about something, but what? That's always a mystery when it comes to monkeys. As long as i wasn't under them, i should be fine. (Monkeys sometimes do the nastiest things with what comes from just under their long fury tales.)
Intent on my objective, i walked with purpose.

Then the stone came flying near me, bouncing across the grass. So i stopped. Turned and looked up, as if i might have a talk with these fellas. Ha. Their grey fur could barely be seen as they frolicked 40 feet up in the green leaves and high branches. They wouldn't show their faces, they were hiding.
In that moment, i traveled back in time, to my college days. Many moons back, sitting under trees on the other side of the world, the squirrels and i would wrestle in a similar way. Me with my lunch and a book, trying to squeeze a few more needed facts into my overstuffed head, i'd study as i ate, waiting for class to begin. Whether it was the same squirrel or a family of them that took turns going to war with me, i never knew for sure. But each day we'd “engage” in a silent battle, each wanting to claim the bench under me. It was my favorite spot on campus. No one passed that way often, the shade was cool and the breeze in the leaves made the perfect soothing sound for an over-active mind. The view was long and peace-filled, and i loved that quiet granite bench. It was almost like a silent friend, always waiting for me, never late and never angry if i was. But... the squirrel fought me daily, it too counted that bench as a friend perhaps. For all the many times he threw those hundreds of acorns at me, only two or three times was he successful. Persistent he was, a marksman he was not. And while it stung a bit the few times he was accurate, it only made me laugh. He was a tiny squirrel, throwing a tiny acorn, and for me it felt more like play than war.

But rocks from a monkey are much more serious.
Life gets more serious as we grow older doesn't it...

Pausing long enough to remember, and smile to myself, i turned and walked more quickly, there was work to be done. No time for monkeying around today. I stayed focused, the monkey failed.

Just seven days earlier, we'd had a different, much more serious encounter with monkeys of another sort. It happened in Nakuru Game Park. Since the park is only a short drive from our home, we'd made a plan to take a day of “rest” there. We arrived early morning, planned to safari all day, and leave in time to be home before dark. Here, it's best to be home before dark.
Bearly inside the gates, driving along the dirt road surrounded by tall acacia trees and green, scrub bushes, we encountered our first troop of baboons. Baboons are common in and outside parks here, so rather than being excited to see them, instead we pause to tuck away our snacks, baboons will invade your space at the mere notion of a cracker. On this morning though, thieving was not their priority. They were grooming one another and oblivious to our arrival. One particularly large male caused us to slow the car, he was massive, we paused for a gander at him. But seconds after we'd stopped a commotion erupted from the bush just beyond him. A heart-rending scream came from the heavy green cover, and movement of leaves revealed another equally large baboon. As i held my breath, knowing something was suffering just out of sight, my everything froze. Then, in a violent show of aggression, the big arm of the male, flung a tiny baby from the bush and into the ditch just inches from our car. It was a newborn. Helpless, it screamed, but too quickly he was upon it again. He did not care that we could see his ruthlessness, he was intent on not just killing the helpless babe, he was going to “play” it to death. Throwing it, biting it, jerking it mercilessly, flinging it hard. It's tiny pink side was ripped open, i knew it was only the beginning of its end.
Screaming inside our Lori-car, i drowned out the babies screeches with my own. Beating the side of the car with my arm, yelling to try and distract the cruel baboon, he would not be deterred. So i opened by car door, just 3-4 feet from him. My son and husband reacted quickly, fearing i was about to emerge from the car and take on the fight bare-handed. I was not. But instead, i opened and slammed the car door over and over again trying desperately to distract and gain his attention. It worked for a split second, as he turned he face full towards me, snarled his horrible teeth at me, and never releasing the baby, he let me know, he would do the same with me if i gave him a chance. Heart-breaking...
To see something helpless dying before your eyes and knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop the pain. It's not something easily passed through.
As we drove away, we were surprised when several female baboons began chasing our car. It was their show of aggression. And i was infuriated even more. They would not stand together to defend the baby one of them had given birth to --- but instead they would act in defense of the cruel “leader” of the troop.

It's most likely that the huge male had just become the new patriarch of the troop, and his first act of office was to clear the “debris” of the previous male's offspring. But, there was a warped enjoyment as he killed that helpless baby, and i longed for Heaven. In Heaven there will be no murdering of babes.

Last night we enjoyed dinner with friends. It doesn't happen often here for us. Missionary life for us doesn't allow us to indulge in that sort of normal too very often. But as we talked over dinner, yet another monkey story was shared. And i silently thought to myself, “Ok Lord, i'm listening.” Since usually if a matter keeps coming before me, i've lived long enough to know, there's something i can learn or glean from the pieces.
Our friend shared about an incident with a vervet monkey in Milimani, the area where we use to live in Kitale. Our dinner companion had a friend who witnessed this event, and shared.
While she was walking along the road, a small group of vervet monkeys came down from the trees and walked across the dirt road. A mother monkey among the group, walked as her baby held on underneath her. This is the common way small babies travel, holding on tight to their mother's chest. But as the mother rushed across the road to avoid being hit by an oncoming picki (motorcycle), the babe lost its grip and fell to the ground right in front of the picki driver who ran over it. Instantly the baby monkey died. The mother monkey rushed back to it, trying to awaken it, stir it back to life, and get it to grab hold of her chest again. When she finally realized her little one was dead, she sat beside it on the roadway and w-a-i-l-e-d. Crying out in loud mourning sounds, the monkeys around her, high in the trees, joined her in her grief, they wailed and moaned with agonizing sounds.
They cared.
They remained with the grieving mother monkey.
They mourned with her.

So tonight, as sleep slipped away. Counting sheep did no good, monkeys kept getting in the way.

Pondering..., rock throwing monkeys, wailing monkeys, and killing monkeys, i prayed.

It's just always the best response.

What are we to do in a world where rocks are thrown --- not just by monkeys, but by people too?
Just on the other side of the wall from the monkeys in the trees, children were throwing rocks at the monkeys, who were then turning and throwing rocks at me. They were only giving out what was being dealt to them. And it's likely it was all just a game to them. But, rocks can hurt, they are not little acorns.
We people do the same things don't we? We take on hurts inflicted by others, and if we are not intentional with our hearts and minds, we end up turning and tossing hurts onto those around us. It's not playful, it's painful.
Today i sat with a lady who has been wounded often. And in her pain, she must be careful to not deliver to others what has been handed to her. How? How could she keep from doing that very thing? Because, we've got a place to put our pains, it's best left at the foot of the Cross. We don't have to pick up rocks and throw them at others. We are not made to act like monkeys, we were created in the image of our Abba. He knew in this world we would have trouble... He tells us not to be afraid when trouble comes... to remember that He has overcome it... He did that at the Cross. It's where all our “rocks” should be laid down. We forget sometimes. We all forget sometimes, even those who might act like they don't --- they do. But, it's good to pause and remember. The hurts that come to us in this broken world, have a place to rest, we need to lay them down. Monkeys and children throw rocks... we grown ups know better.

Then there's the two monkeys, both holding a dead infant in their hands (baby monkeys are technically called infants).
One grieved over the death;
the other caused the death.
One wailed with companion monkeys who cared deeply.
The murdering monkey was surrounded by others who made not response to stop the murder or violence.

And i'm reminded, it really matters who we surround ourselves with.
Who lives up close to us?
We are called to love everyone --- that's a hard calling when there are rock-throwers.
But, being called to love our enemies does not mean we have to let the pain-inflicters live up close and personal in our lives.
We must hold ourselves apart from those who deal in the ways of “death”. Whether it's death of body or mind or spirit or heart. We must choose carefully who we “do life” with.
The killer monkey was surrounded by other monkeys who were numbed to the violence and pain. To them, it was normal, likely an everyday occurrence. They thought little of it. They knew nothing else.

But the wailing mother monkey, she was surrounded by others who cared for her and her lose. She did not mourn alone.

As i spoke with a the lady today, she needed to be reminded, that her response to others reflects her choosing of which kind of person she is. A rock-thrower? A person who is numb to pain and lacking the heart to care for others? Or a person who cares deeply, grieves with, and stays near by to the broken-hearted?

In this place, as in many places around the world, there is so much pain. Rocks come... pickis hit and kill... brutality erupts... innocence is attacked.
Not one person will escape this spinning ball without suffering some sort of pain. How we respond to that very pain either equips us to love others through theirs or it numbs us from even noticing their wounds.

People are not monkeys -----
Monkeys can't help acting like the small brained mammals they are.
But people --- we were made with the capacity to do good --- always ---- we have it within us to do the good that is so desperately needed in this world.

The fruits of the Spirit are --- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
We people, made in the image of the Creator , these good fruits, can flow through us. The world needs them to flow through us. No matter how the world around us acts --- whether monkeys or people, we are called to
put our rocks where they belong,
choose carefully who we do life with
so we are better able to do it right
--- even towards the ones who are busy throwing rocks.

Psalms 37 ------ says it so well...

"Don’t worry about the wicked
    or envy those who do wrong. For like grass, they soon fade away.
    Like spring flowers, they soon wither.
 Trust in the Lord and do good.
    Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. 
 Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you your heart’s desires.

 Commit everything you do to the Lord.
    Trust him, and
 he will help you. 
 He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
    and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

 Be still in the presence of the Lord,
    and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
    or fret about their wicked schemes.

 Stop being angry!
    Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
    it only leads to harm.
 For the wicked will be destroyed,
    but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.

 Soon the wicked will disappear.
    Though you look for them, they will be gone. 
 The lowly will possess the land
    and will live in peace and prosperity.

 The wicked plot against the godly;
    they snarl at them in defiance. 
 But the Lord just laughs,
    for he sees their day of judgment coming.

 The wicked draw their swords
    and string their bows
to kill the poor and the oppressed,
    to slaughter those who do right. 
 But their swords will stab their own hearts,
    and their bows will be broken.

 It is better to be godly and have little
    than to be evil and rich. 
 For the strength of the wicked will be shattered,
    but the Lord takes care of the godly.

 Day by day the Lord takes care of the innocent,
    and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever. 
 They will not be disgraced in hard times;
    even in famine they will have more than enough.

 But the wicked will die.
    The Lord’s enemies are like flowers in a field—
    they will disappear like smoke.

 The wicked borrow and never repay,
    but the godly are generous givers. 
 Those the Lord blesses will possess the land,
    but those he curses will die.

 The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
 Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand.

 Once I was young, and now I am old.
    Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned
    or their children begging for bread. 
 The godly always give generous loans to others,
    and their children are a blessing.

 Turn from evil and do good,
    and you will live in the land forever. 
 For the Lord loves justice,
    and he will never abandon the godly.
He will keep them safe forever,
    but the children of the wicked will die. 
 The godly will possess the land
    and will live there forever.

The godly offer good counsel;
    they teach right from wrong.
They have made God’s law their own,
    so they will never slip from his path.

 The wicked wait in ambush for the godly,
    looking for an excuse to kill them. 
 But the Lord will not let the wicked succeed
    or let the godly be condemned when they are put on trial.

 Put your hope in the Lord.
    Travel steadily along his path.

He will honor you by giving you the land.
    You will see the wicked destroyed.

I have seen wicked and ruthless people
    flourishing like a tree in its native soil.
But when I looked again, they were gone!
    Though I searched for them, I could not find them!

 Look at those who are honest and good,
    for a wonderful future awaits those who love peace.
But the rebellious will be destroyed;
    they have no future.

 The Lord rescues the godly;
    he is their fortress in times of trouble. 
 The Lord helps them,
    rescuing them from the wicked.
He saves them,
    and they
 find shelter in him." (NLT)

©2015 Donna Taylor Reaching for the Robe