Worms: The Sequel

“But emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:7-8

With no inherent sense of direction, I am terrible at reading maps.  I still struggle with the basic kindergarten skill of knowing my left from my right.  Often, you’ll see my hands by my side making an “L” to verify the direction I should be going.  Last summer, after hiking in a nature preserve, my GPS was not picking up any signal, so I turned right (or was it left?).  By the time I picked up a satellite signal, I was going in the completely wrong direction, driving about 45 minutes of out my way.  Although I was lost, I genuinely enjoyed the drive, looking at old farmhouses, seeing a new apple orchard, and driving through a new town.

When writing for my blog, I often get lost in my research, running down rabbit trails to places I never expected.  My husband often helps me focus my thoughts, both verbally and through editing, just like he does when relying on my navigational skills (GPS technology has tremendously blessed our marriage).  In my last post, I started researching the lifecycle of worms.  I admit part of my fascination with worms stems from finishing the book The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.  The book is the memoir of a woman who was incapacitated by a neurological disorder and spent hours watching a snail in a terrarium by her bedside.  Her observations inspired me to be more attentive to nature and the creatures around me.  Snails are cuter than worms, but God did not inspire me with a shriveled snail, so I researched worms instead.

A picture of the scarlet grub found in Israel.

My research led me to a fascinating scripture in Psalms 22.  This psalm, written by David, is considered a prophetic psalm since Jesus spoke the exact words found in verse 1 while hanging on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  David later makes a strong statement in verse 6, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by people.”  It is natural to conclude that both David and Jesus are metaphorically referring to themselves as worms, conveying the importance of humility.  Most people, except for fishermen and gardeners, pay little attention to the simple worm.  These invertebrates get little news in the press for being an essential worker.  But after studying the verse more deeply, I discovered some amazing information that has led to this blog, “Worms: The Sequel”.

The Hebrew word “towla”, translated as “worm” in Psalm 22:6, is specifically referring to the coccus ilicis worm, sometimes known as the scarlet worm, found in the Middle East.  This is not the ordinary humble earthworm.  Instead, David purposely referred to this specific worm, or grub, which has some interesting characteristics.  To start with, the red dye excreted from this grub was used for the outer tents of the wilderness tabernacle.  It is also likely the same dye used for the scarlet thread stitching in the veil separating the Holy of Holies.  The symbolic implications seem obvious thus far, but we have only scratched the surface!

When the female worm is ready to lay her eggs, she climbs up a tree or fence and attaches herself to the wood by forming a hard crimson shell.  The shellac she uses to attach herself is so strong one would have to actively scrape her off the wood, killing her in the process.  She then lays her eggs underneath the protective shell of her body.  After the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the living body of the mother for three days until she dies.  In her death, she secretes a crimson dye that permanently stains her offspring.  Her final act is to pull up her tail onto her head, forming a heart-shaped body that is no longer crimson, but has turned into a snow-white waxy shell attached to the wood.  It flakes off, dropping to the ground like snow, while her offspring leave their place of birth to start their new life.

The implications of “I am a worm” are so profound, even a great writer could not have so thoroughly connected the details of Jesus’ life to the life of this worm.  Jesus, like the mother worm, willingly attached Himself to the cross.  Throughout the whole ordeal, Jesus did not struggle against the beatings or the act of the crucifixion.  Instead, He knew that the cross was they only way to redeem a lost world.  Like the mother worm, Jesus sacrificed his life, including every drop of blood, for our sins.  The internal crushing of the mother’s body causes her crimson dye to be secreted on to her offspring just as Jesus “was bruised for our iniquities”, leaving a mark on our lives.  Even as the white flakes of the dead worm fall to the ground, scripture declares in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool.”  Our sins are made clean!  As the death of the worm signifies new life for her offspring, Jesus’ death and resurrection signifies new life for us and hope for eternity!

Today, scientists have discovered some new purposes for this insignificant worm that parallel the life of Jesus.  For example, the crushed worm has been used in medicines that help regulate the heart.  We often come to Jesus with brokenness and use phrases like “broken-hearted” to describe our pain.  Scripture declares in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in Spirit.”  Jesus’ death was not just for our redemption from sin, but also to heal those who were broken.  Also, the white wax shell has been used in making shellac to preserve wood.  Through the infilling of His spirit, we have a natural protection from anything that would harm us!  This does not mean we will not experience pain, hurt, betrayal or sin.  It just means, our hope Is not of this world!

Sometimes, we follow rabbit trails that lead to nothing, but my “worm” trail has reinvigorated my love for scripture.  I find myself opening my Bible and anticipating new discoveries that verify the authenticity of the inspired word of God!  I would love to hear about some “worm” trails you have found in scripture.  Please feel free to share in the comments below!  Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog.

Daffodils and Worms

“For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.” Song of Songs 2:11-12 ESV

This past week, I have been thoroughly enjoying spring in Pennsylvania.  Flanked by flowering dogwoods and daffodils waving hello, the warm sun puts a bounce in my step while walking in the neighborhood.  The birds chirp happy songs making me want to click my heels in the air like Dick Van Dyke.  Our little Jane Magnolia tree is blooming its blush velvet blossoms while the trees are budding out providing me with all kinds of creative inspiration.  It is the season of new beginnings and fresh starts!  But the circle of life dictates that for new life to continue, something must also die.

I suppose I should give myself photo credit for this less than stellar picture.

Just a few months ago, on a warmer-than-average February day, I was walking in one of my favorite parks praying about some situations weighing heavily on my mind.  As I passed a wet spot on the pavement, I glanced down to see a dead earthworm.  Barely registering the worm, I continued my walk when I felt God prompt me to go back and take a picture.  I knew this had to be a heaven-sent thought for two reason.  First, I am a terrible photographer, always ending up with blurry images.  Second, if I am going to attempt to take a photo of something, it would be something a little more interesting, like a groundhog or a squirrel.  As I was taking the picture, I heard a still small voice speak to me, “This worm is a reminder that winter is still here, but spring is coming.  For spring to arrive, some things have to die for new life to be birthed and new ideas to bloom.”

For the past few days, I have been pondering about this dead earthworm, investigating its life cycle and attributes.  This slimy invertebrate is a gardener’s favorite pet.  Active in warm weather, an earthworm recycles organic material in the soil into nutrients.  Her tunnel-making skills improve the soil structure, creating room for air, water, and plant roots.  As temperatures cool, she will burrow beneath the frost line for the winter.  Curling up into ball, she secretes a mucus to protect herself, before entering a hibernation state.  Scientists have discovered that the protective mucus is full of nitrogen, making the soil around it fertile for plants.  Likely, the warm temperatures in February awakened an instinct in this worm, causing her to peep above surface to begin her summer duties.  Unfortunately, she probably got caught moving across the pavement during the night when the temperatures dropped again, dying a quick death.  Despite her death, somewhere beneath the surface of the soil, she left behind eggs that will hatch in spring, carrying on her life-giving duties through future generations.  In addition, as her body decomposes, it provides nutrients to the soil, where future plants can grow and thrive.

I have been transparent in previous posts that these past few years of my life have been tough.  At times, I felt like I was being buried by various situations all stemming from areas of brokenness within me and those around me.  I, like the earthworm, crawled beneath the surface of life to hibernate from the harshness of the bitter winter surrounding me.  This hibernation led to isolation and depression.  Fortunately, God is good, prompting me to spend time memorizing scripture in the heat of the trials.  One year, during the toughest moments, I purposed in my heart to memorize 420 scriptures filled with truth.  I would spend about an hour a day writing scripture on note cards, quoting the words, and studying the meanings.  These anointed words of God created a protection around me, insulating me from the darts of the enemy manifested by shame, loneliness, and despair.

My spiritual winter has ended, just as it has on my calendar.  But like the dead February earthworm, some things in my life need to die, including pride, bitterness, need for resolutions and control, and constant replaying of some trauma-inducing situations.  Just like the living earthworm recycles in life, God used these tough situations to bring to surface areas in my life where I was relying on my own ability and strength.  As the earthworm makes tunnels, my submission to the work God is doing in my life has created room for his Word and spirit to do a transformation in me.  This, along with being a part of a life-affirming community rich in authenticity and truth, is allowing me to give birth to humility, wholeness, healing, empathy, and restoration!

In the Bible, Jonah left the city of Nineveh angry with God.  Yet, God still had compassion on Jonah, providing him with a plant to shade him from the hot desert sun.  The story gets interesting when the next morning, the Bible states In Jonah 4, “God prepared a worm that damaged the plant that it withered.”  God did not stop there, but also created a strong wind “and the sun beat on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint.”  Jonah responded by exclaiming, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  God then stepped in to address some areas in Jonah’s life, including his self-righteous attitude.

 God allows the worm-like situations in our lives, not to destroy us, but to draw us closer to Him.  What Jonah had determined to be a terrible situation, preaching to Nineveh, was salvation for over 120,000 people!  Although my situations were tough, I believe that, in time, the testimonies of God’s mercy can provide hope for other people around me.

Today, in full-blown spring weather, I took a walk again in my favorite park.  It had stormed the night before leaving the pavement wet, again.  This time, I noticed fat, long earthworms everywhere, slipping and sliding across the sidewalk.  The presence of the earthworms is an indication that the ground is ready to produce.  Although I didn’t take any pictures, I did thank God for what He continues to do in my life, and the new life He is producing!

Happy 100th Birthday!

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Proverbs 22:1a NKJV

My children fondly remember the never-ending ice cream bowl at my grandfather’s.  After sharing a meal together, my grandfather, with a glint in his eyes, would say, “How about some ice cream?”  Ethan and Maggie would nod their heads with huge smiles as he scooped Schwan’s Chocolate Marshmallow Ripple into tiny pastel-colored melamine bowls.  Just as the kids were about to scrape the bottom of their bowl, he would offer them another scoop, filling it again to the brim.  This continued a few more times, until both were completely full.  I debated internally whether I should put a stop to this, but my grandfather and my children seemed to be enjoying blissful moments in an ice cream haze.  Besides, how does one say “no” to an octogenarian?

This month, my grandfather would have celebrated his 100th birthday.  He died six years ago in March, just before his 94th birthday.  I could discuss all the life events he has missed, including his youngest grandchildren’s’ graduations, marriages, and the births of his first great grandsons to carry on the Walter family name.  I am sure he would have had an opinion about the Trump presidency, although, with his libertarian views, I have no idea in what camp he would have landed.  He also would have experienced the pandemic and, sadly, the untimely death of his youngest son.  Although I am sad about the things he missed, he lived a long life, and he lived it well.  However, upon reflection, I am choosing to share a few lessons I have gleaned from his life.

First, you can lead a simple life and still have a big impact on others.  My grandfather lived in only two houses his whole life, the farmhouse he was born in, and the house in town he died in.  As far as I know, He held only two jobs: a farmer and a factory worker.  He did not dress in high end clothing, buy expensive cars, or hold any political office.  Instead, he lived within his means, dressed for the occasion, maintained his vehicles, and voted regularly.  He impacted his family by making them important in his life.  Whenever a child or a grandchild stopped by, he insisted on making a meal, usually grilled steak.  He never hesitated to attend his grandchildren’s events, including baseball and football games, drama performances and birthday parties.  He played Monopoly, scooped ice cream, and wrote out Christmas cards.  He took some of his grandchildren hunting.  I think all my cousins would affirm that they felt loved and cherished by their grandfather.  Despite his stature, being 5’6” at his tallest, my grandfather was definitely the patriarch of the family!

My grandpa at his old barn. Photo credit by Deardre Walter.

Secondly, he set an example of how to love well, without reservation.  My grandfather met my grandmother at a dance and was instantly smitten.  He expressed his desire to marry her rather quickly, but my grandmother thought she was too young.  He patiently waited for her to walk down the aisle a few years later.  Despite the wait, he was able to celebrate sixty-one years of marriage to her.  The last few years of my grandmother’s life, she developed some debilitating health problems.  My grandfather took over all the household responsibilities, including learning how to make Rice Krispies treats for company.  He took her to every appointment without fail.  We have no idea how much he was doing for her towards the end of her life, because he did whatever it took without comment or complaint.  He even passed up a dream trip to Alaska because he did not want to leave his beloved wife home alone.  During her last days, he spent most of his waking hours with her at the hospital, holding her hand as she took her last breath.

Thirdly, traveling helps you appreciate the beauty that God created.  My grandparents made it to all forty-eight contiguous states, starting off with their honeymoon in Niagara Falls.  Although my grandmother loved to tour the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island and Wall Drug Store in South Dakota, my grandfather particularly loved National Parks.  They traveled to the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains and the Redwood Forest.  His eyes lit up when he would talk about seeing Old Faithful and the Grand Tetons.  I once asked him why he never traveled to Europe.  His reply was that the United States was rich in beauty and his goal in life was to capture the beauty in his own backyard!

This is an original postcard from my grandparent’s honeymoon, along with a photograph they took. Photo credit by Margaret Collins. .

Next, real whole foods add to the longevity of your life.  My grandfather never liked fast food, frozen meals, or prepared box dinners.  If you woke up early, most mornings, you could find him at the kitchen counter with a paring knife peeling whatever seasonable fruit was available.  He also enjoyed the occasional bowl of Grape Nuts cereal with whole milk and sweetened with honey.  His meals consisted of lean meats, vegetables, and potatoes.  He snacked on hickory nuts and fruit.  His one splurge in life was ice cream, yet he would even balance out that indulgence with handpicked, crushed strawberries as a topping.

Finally, my grandfather loved to learn.  His formal education was cut short by his father’s poor health, forcing him to take over the responsibilities of the family farm.  Yet, he continued learning throughout his life, whether it was about hunting, new farming techniques, automobiles, or world politics.  He demonstrated to me that learning is a lifelong journey, not just a destination with letters behind your name.

All too often, we memorialize a person after they die, putting them on a pedestal that maybe was not deserved.  By no means am I saying my grandfather was a perfect man.  He had his faults and idiosyncrasies like all of us.  Yet, if you weighed his life on a balance, you would find the positive he contributed to his family and community outweighed any of his flawed humanity.  In Proverbs 22:1, Solomon emphasizes the importance of having a good name by saying, “it is to be chosen rather than great riches.”  I am proud of my Walter heritage because Jerome Sylvester Walter made it a good name by living an honorable life!

Coffee and Chocolate Snobbery

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” I Corinthians 6:12 ESV

Last fall, Terry and I visited Asheville, North Carolina for a long weekend.  Although the rain hindered any opportunity to hike, we spent some time touring French Broad Chocolate, a local bean-to-bar chocolatier.  The tour guide explained how chocolate takes on the flavor profile of the region where it grows and explained how the beans are harvested, roasted, and made into a delicious treat.  Learning more about the chocolate-making process made the bars, cake and liquid truffles even more exquisite.  I remarked to my husband, “I’ll never be satisfied with Dove Promises again!”

Recently, I had a similar experience with coffee.  I discovered that fair trade brands roasted in small batches have better flavor profiles.  I love when the coffee bag notes the secondary flavors such as citrus and dark chocolate.  In addition, I tend to prefer local coffee shops over chains.  In the last year, I found myself buying more specialty brands of coffee.  As I grew more accustomed to the better coffee, I started to disdain a basic cup of Joe!

This became a slight issue in our home.  Terry can appreciate fine chocolate and great coffee but honestly, he enjoys a simple cup of coffee that tastes like coffee.  He is not always looking for secondary notes and still enjoys ordinary chocolate like Hershey miniatures.  I decided to break out the second coffee pot and we began to brew two pots to satisfy our different tastes.

This continued until I heard something interesting on the podcast A Drink with a Friend.  The weekly podcasters, Seth Haines and Tsh Oxenreider, discuss living sacramentally while sharing what they are drinking.  Seth lives near Onyx Coffee Lab, a popular coffee roaster in Bentonville, Arkansas which has the motto “Never Settle for Good Enough” and often shares his favorite blend of coffee on the show.  In one episode, he was drinking a blend of coffee from Aldi.  He did not really love this cup of coffee, but the ordinariness of it made him appreciate the good coffee.  It led to a discussion between Seth and Tsh wondering that if you always have the best, can you lose your appreciation for the best?

I have been contemplating this question.  I have relished the fact that I have cultivated a taste for good coffee and good chocolate.  But if I juxtapose that constant diet of great stuff with the possibility of losing the wow factor, it causes me to pause.  In addition, should I really spend my resources on the best all the time?  Most importantly, what does God have to say about this?

In examining the principles of God, we know that He has created in us a desire for good things.  He set his creation in the perfect garden with every available fruit and vegetable.  He created the beans of both the coffee plant and the cacao tree, and man has discovered how to use them to make an incredible drink and a delicious food.  He also instructed the Israelites to observe certain holidays and to celebrate them with food.  In addition, the early church modeled hospitality by sharing meals together while growing in their faith.

Photo credit Margaret Collins

The problem comes when we fixate on coffee and chocolate more than we fixate on God!  In several places, the Bible clearly states that we need to be careful not to be overly concerned with what we are eating and drinking.  Jesus also warns us in Matthew 24:38 that we will know His return is imminent when people are “eating and drinking” as in the days of Noah.  This “eating and drinking’ is not our need for caloric intake to survive.  Instead, it is referring to the pleasure-seeking mentality of the people in Noah’s day.  Matthew Henry proclaims in his commentary, “they were unreasonable in it, inordinate and entire in the pursuit of the delights of their senses.”  They spent a lot of time fixating on their food and drink, paying close attention to how it affected their senses to the point that they were ignoring the destruction of the world around them!

Jesus would be interested in the amount of money I could spend to maintain my high-end coffee and chocolate habits.  He illustrated truths to his disciples using parables, often related to finances.  He emphasized the importance of being a good steward and making good use of our resources for the kingdom of God.  I need to be responsible with my financial resources, and carefully use them to bless my church, the mission field, and my community.  I do not think the occasional French Broad Chocolate treat is wrong, but it needs to be an occasional budget expense rather than a constant indulgence!

Finally, the scriptures admonish us as to be moderate in how we live our lives.  In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul says, “All things are lawful for me but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.”  I can enjoy the secondary notes of a good cup of coffee, but if I get to a point where I cannot enjoy an ordinary cup of coffee at a friend’s house, I have become enslaved by my coffee habit.  I need to fight against my propensity to be pretentious, and instead, remain humble in all areas of my life.

I decided to put my second coffee pot away.  (Why I have a second coffee pot is another story!)  Some days we indulge in great coffee, but most days, I have an ordinary cup of coffee.  I still eat Dove Promises, but occasionally splurge on a good truffle.  I am choosing to live by the words of Epicurus, a Greek philosopher, who said, “Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.”