From a tiny entry point at the tip of my little finger, an army of nasties breached the defenses of my skin. Their goal was to reach my heart and shut it down — forever.
The tingling caught my attention. Unlike the “pins and needles” associated with a sleeping limb in the process of waking up, this feeling worked in reverse. The tingling didn’t lessen, it moved; slowly and inexorably across the hand, then marched past the wrist and up my arm.
I’d been in a neighbour’s garden admiring the flowers. Exotic places come complete with exotic bugs and the caterpillar I disturbed looked the part, dressed in elegant black and yellow stripes. If I had known it had been napping underneath the leaf, I wouldn’t have touch the flower. But I innocently fingered the flower and the caterpillar “fingered” me. Before I could apologize for the intrusion, the little critter bit me on the pinky.
There wasn’t anyone around that afternoon. The resident nurse was away and I was too ignorant to panic. I simply went home, curious about the odd reaction I was having to a caterpillar bite. At the time, the incident looked like just another missionary adventure that would make good telling when sanctified by the appropriate embellishments.
The invaders marched on, fighting to gain the high ground of my shoulder. Homeland Security responded to the threat as a new band of warriors appeared from the citadel somewhere near my heart. What they caused during their advance wasn’t exactly pain, but I was definitely feeling the need to pay attention as the drama unfolded within me.
These new soldiers trekked across my chest in direction of the left shoulder. Collision with the intruders was imminent. I actually expected to see my skin pop as the battle was engaged.
The armies met. Slowly, my gallant troops pushed back the foreigners. Down the arm, across the wrist, back down to the end of my finger they poured in full retreat, leaving nothing behind but normal sensation.
I called the nurse that evening and described the incident in the garden.
“How long ago were you bitten?”
“And you have no other symptoms?”
“How do you feel?”
“Good. Then it looks like you are going to live.”
I thought she was joking, poking a little fun at me for making such a big story out of a little bite. She wasn’t kidding.
I had been bitten by a gusano de pollo, a Spanish word which basically boils down to “chicken killer”. It seems that chickens don’t have the necessary antibodies to fight off the poison from these pretty, but nasty, little caterpillars.
While I stood in my living room stupidly exulting in yet another interesting story to tell, death had been marching up my arm. Happily for me, the alarm bells rang in the barracks of my self-defense force, and my antibodies responded by launching themselves into the fray. They literally raced across my body and met the enemy head on, forcing the poison to retreat the way it had come, destroying it with the same vigor with which it was bent on destroying me.
Some people don’t have natural antibodies which can fight off poisons in the body. Happily for me, mine were alive and well.
The garden of life has many “chicken killers” lying in wait for the unsuspecting. Surrounded by the beauty of experiences and experiments, we don’t always see the dark underbelly to the leaves of our desires. The bites of evil that nip us may even seem harmless — at first. But without adequate defenses to fight off the poison of a temptation yielded to, or a test failed and the lesson unlearned, our momentary defeat could easily become a monumental disaster. It pays to know that we have a supply of antibodies before the enemy bites.
The battle in the garden of life is won in another garden, one where caterpillars aren’t welcome and the antibody armies can clean their weapons in preparation for the next assault. Here we renew the resources that help us keep our fingers to ourselves and our encounters with killer caterpillars to a minimum. It’s a quiet place where only God’s voice is heard*, a beautiful place where Jesus once faced His greatest test, and where He waits for us today**. They call it the Garden named Prayer.
*I Come To The Garden Alone, C. Austin Miles, 1912
**The Beautiful Garden of Prayer, Eleanor Schroll, 1920
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