We had only been in North Africa a matter of weeks when I brought home my first animal. The boy holding it spotted me shopping in the market – a wide-eyed, clueless, childless foreigner, and he must have laughed out loud and thanked God for his ridiculous good fortune. Because, sure enough, I took one look at that tiny dikdik folded and trembling in his outstretched arms and it never even occurred to me to keep my melty feelings to myself or think through logistical implications of carrying home an orphaned wild animal. In a matter of minutes, a small amount of money and small amount of animal had changed hands and the elated boy disappeared into the market throng while I sheepishly turned to show my husband my infant miniature deer.
We were still living in a tent on a barren plot of undeveloped land at that point, and over the following couple of months, in between language lessons and getting to know neighbors, I would crouch on the ground in a long skirt, bottle feeding this tiny mammal with enormous eyes, rabbit’s body and toothpick horns. She was absurdly cute springing daintily around the rocky flat space we called a yard and following me cautiously down the path from the tent to the front gate throughout the day. In a season marked by intense excitement, homesickness, insecurity, and uncertainty, she brought a large measure of joy to my day.
As time went on I began to develop a creeping anxiety that something bad was going to happen to this dikdik. It felt irrational and disproportional even at the time. But with every day I felt a new trickle of concern, not so much that the dikdik was going to die, but that she was going to suffer and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.
One night that is exactly what happened. The story of the landmine lying undetected for years in the place we were planning on building our kitchen is a story worthy of more attention than it gets in a blog about a deer. But suffice it to say, there was a landmine. Quiet and deadly and peeking up at me one morning from under a thin veil of earth with false modesty after a hard rain.
The UN came to detonate it and swept the premises for good measure. But when they did, their demining rig left a gap in our rickety bamboo fence. And through that gap a wild dog slipped in silently one night. With one clean bite he snapped the dikdik’s spine and then loped off into the night again without a sound. When we found her, she hardly had a mark on her soft fur, but she was paralyzed from her midsection down and was struggling to breath.
I remember digging a shallow hole in the dirt by moonlight and crying as my poor Georgia-boy husband whose childhood pets drank filtered ice-water bravely worked up the courage to put her out of her misery.
Why couldn’t she just have been eaten? I remember thinking. At least then she would have been back in the food chain.
I am digging a deer grave by moonlight and am more miserable than I have been in a long time. What are we even doing here?!
And most of all, I am ugly crying about an animal I have gotten attached to in a few weeks. How many of my neighbors have buried their own children?That night felt spiritually heavy, like a teasing slap in the face from darkness that I wanted to shrug off as minor given the context. But couldn’t quite.
A couple days later I got an email from a woman named Ruth. Ruth was the member care person for our organization at the time. She was good at sending little care packages and birthday notes, relational shoulder squeezes from far away. When I saw the title of her email “So sorry” I dreaded what was coming. I knew this was going to be a dramatic condolence message from an American animal lover out of touch with the realities of the world.
Or worse, a well-meant but still-hurtful guilt trip about missionaries who cry over animals in a war zone.
Her words were simple. She wrote: I’m praying for you today as you grieve the brokenness of the world. I join you in eagerly awaiting the new heaven and the new earth when all of God’s creation will live in peace. Remember, someday the wolf will lie down with the lamb.
I read Ruth’s words sitting in the hot shade of my tent, my computer charging off of our engorged solar batteries. And as they settled onto my heart I felt a very real wave of peace wash over me. A release from feeling guilty for grieving a world that isn’t as it was made to be. And a gentle reminder to not lose hope. Because some day it will be.
Someday the wolf will lie down with the lamb.
Because as much as I loved that sweet dumb deer, my tears were not for her. As animals and creation so often do for us in this life, she became a place to pin unformed thoughts and questions about God, the world, and my place in it. The anxiety I placed on her was simply my growing awareness of horrific suffering in the world. And the knowledge that despite my greatest delusions of control, I could do little to prevent that suffering. For her, or for myself, or for anyone else.
Dogs and landmines and oppressed people and war and suffering and my place and purpose in it all were all tangled up together around the tiny broken body of that animal that we buried in the ground that night. And I think Ruth somehow knew that. So her words were a call to keep my eyes on the world the Old Testament poets have always promised us is coming. A world where death becomes untrue. And where even the weakest and least in God’s creation live at peace and in wholeness.
The call to imagine a world where even dikdiks and wild dogs live in peace together was a gift. Because once I could imagine that, how much more I could then see for each of us who are made in the very image of God.
If God will restore the broken relationships of the weakest and the most reviled of his creation, how much more will he restore us, his own children?
We walk through broken places in this life. We live with hurting people. But we do so with hope. Because we know that a new heaven and a new earth is coming.
And when it does the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all….Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. – Isaiah 11:6,9