Strange Means of Grace

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In 1995, the late Walt Wangerin Jr. was traveling in the west African nation of Cameroon.

He came upon an appalling sight:  Two black birds were perched atop a donkey, pecking at an open wound. 

The African driver of his car, sickened by the scene, said aloud that he wished he had a gun so he could put the poor animal out of its misery.

Three days later, Wangerin and his driver came down the same road.  As his friend Philip Yancey recently reported in CT Weekly, “They saw the donkey lying on the ground, now with five birds, their beaks bloody red, pecking away at muscle tissue.  Walt despised those birds and pitied the poor donkey.”

But there was more to the story. 

Wangerin later found out the birds were oxpeckers.  They are born with crimson beaks.  Oxpeckers don’t graze on vegetation or on the ground.  They hitchhike on the haunches of rhinos, zebras, antelopes, wildebeests, and even elephants, harvesting the ticks and other bugs they find in abundance.

Far from hurting the donkey, they were cleansing its wound of the maggots breeding there.  They were actually saving the creature’s life.

Yancey concludes, “A few days later the donkey was standing again, scarred but alive.”

Sometimes we misread and misunderstand the means by which healing comes into our lives.  In his grace, God sends people and circumstances that somehow manage to open up our deepest wounds and make us feel vulnerable.  It seems they are only making things worse.  But in reality they are being used to help save us. 

Thank God for the oxpeckers in your life.

You may not know them by name.  Then again, one of them may be just a few steps away from you right now. 

One may be a supervisor who has the irritating habit of holding you accountable.  Or a teacher who compels you to do your best work.  Or a friend who refuses to let you quit.  Or a family member who calls you to take the high road in relationships, when all you really want to do is scream. 

Those are the special people God is using to help heal your soul.

In the end, through God’s mercy, they’ll help ensure that you’ll be standing – scarred but alive.