Last summer while I was trying to make a piece of art every day, I began a series with Little Red Riding Hood in the setting of Psalm 23. I realize some people thought I was losing my spirituality by mixing the revered and sacred Psalm 23 with a fairy tale. If they thought this, they probably haven’t read why I use Little Red for a symbol of all who were used and abused in the name of love.
Little Red is every ACON* and abused child. When the Psalmist wrote the 23rd, I fully believe he had all of us in mind. Little Red, by invitation from the Shepherd has every right to the benefits of the Psalm regardless of where she has been or how others view her. If you have ever felt like Little Red, them welcome, Psalm 23rd is your invitation to thrive!
I’ll admit as a child growing up with a religious instruction, I memorized the 23rd Psalm and recited it like a chant, but I never applied it to my own situation. Why? I am not sure. For one thing, much of my religious instruction was about defending my denominational faith so I wasn’t encouraged to focus on a relationship with God as much as I was taught to prove the neighbors wrong. All I can say today is such proof-texting might be helpful in a seminary, but for me as a child, it was the antithesis to knowing God.
And when I did try to apply the 23rd in relationship terms, I imagined it was about David. This is because there was one telltale verse that made it NOT about me. I was a girl and everyone knew girls could NOT be pastors and it says in verse five, “You anoint my head with oil.” The only person not nearly dead that I had ever heard of being anointed was a pastor. I imagined the context of this verse was about David being anointed to be king and well that left me out almost as much as being a pastor–except I knew I was a child of the King–it says so in the hymn.
Also as a child who was not encouraged to discuss poverty or our homeless state, I had no hope of the Shepherd supplying my needs. My experience was when I even earned my own money, it would be taken away because my parents needed it for groceries or the next move. No, I was pretty sure Psalm 23 didn’t apply to me.
It wasn’t until I was grown up and destitute and feeling unworthy that I began to realize this Psalm was for me. It happened after my husband graduated from college. We had very little money and barely made it across the country to his first job. We had no one to help us. Our parents were not able to help at all. We had no savings and we landed in a town where no one knew us. We were not part of the regular churchy crowd, so it was humiliating to think we would have to go begging to the church to help us make it to my husband’s first paycheck. Even worse, we had just enough money to stay in the hotel where we were for two more weeks then we would be homeless. As a girl growing up living out of tents and trailers and cabins without running water, I began to panic.
We finally found a house to rent with a kind landlord who was willing to wait on the deposit until my husband’s first check, but to stay in the house we were expected to pay the first month’s rent. If we paid the rent we would have a roof over our heads for the next month, but it would leave us with only twenty dollars for food and gas and without any food to put in the cupboards until the first paycheck in three weeks. We decided living in a house with nothing was better than sleeping on the street with food, but once the landlord pulled out of the driveway we sat there for a couple of hours trying to figure out what to do.
Finally we decided to pray. After we prayed I felt thirsty. I wanted grape juice. My husband thought I was crazy. He said I could drink water because it was free. I agreed in my mind, but in my mouth I could almost taste the grape juice. We prayed again–this time for me to be satisfied, but I only craved it more. I said what I really wanted was Welch’s. My husband found this incredulous. He said if we even considered buying some grape juice, then it would have to be the cheapest brand we could find. I argued what difference would a few cents make if all we had was twenty dollars? Then we both fell silent, wondering how we got ourselves into this desperate situation.
Finally my husband told me I could get some grape juice because twenty dollars wasn’t going to cut it anyway and we would have to beg the church for help. At the mention of this I started to cry. I had moved so many times and I knew the best foot forward was not begging for money or food, but what could we do? I asked if we could pray again before we went to the store.
In the store, we split up. My husband went to look for the cheap brand, while I went straight for the Welch’s. We were going to compare prices. I will never forget that moment for as long as I live. My heavy heart, my tear swollen eyes, the florescent flicker of the lights and the hum of the freezer case as I looked down into the frozen juices. Then my heart stopped for a second. There lying on top of the frozen Welch’s were two neatly rolled up $100 bills. I looked around the empty store and put that money on my pocket.
As we met in the middle of the store, I held out the Welch’s frozen grape juice to my husband and told him to buy it. Then I opened my hand so he could see what I had found. His eyes grew huge. We told the cashier we had found some money and where we were staying, but we never said how much because as a former cashier I knew the amount is part of the identity of the cash. No one ever claimed that money, but it got us through the next three weeks until we had a paycheck.
That night, for the first time in my life, I felt loved by God. I felt like anything was possible as long as I trusted the Shepherd because now I realized He really did want to supply my needs. I don’t find money in stores or anywhere else these days, but then I am not in financial need like I was that day.
What I have learned since that day twenty years ago, is how the Shepherd supplies ALL of my needs–my needs for strength through pain and disappointment, my needs through love when I am rejected by people I love, my needs for refreshment when life seems dry and rough and hard and my need for meaning through all the trials of my life. Yes, even the anointing is mine to claim–and it’s just as true for you!