200 acres of secluded bliss. No place on earth felt more like home to me than the Dimple-C ranch. Whenever I could find the time, I made the journey to Duffau, Texas just to hear the brambles scuff across my boots and the grasshoppers flutter as I wandered its chalky, limestone hills. The cicadas buzzing in the August air always made it seem hotter to me, but I didn’t mind. This was the real Texas, and the Dimple-C always welcomed me like a mother’s embrace.
Of course, the ranch was nothing without my Uncle R.B.. Some of my fondest memories come from the days I spent playing outdoors with old “Red Beans” and his fishing buddy, Bud Stringer. (I kid you not; his actual name.) Several times each summer, from the time I was 12 ‘til at least 20, the old coots loaded up the farm truck and drove me through thicket and brush to a tributary known only to Bud. In seventy years, he never lived more than 10 miles from the spot of his birth, and no place existed within a hundred he didn’t know intimately.
We’d seine for minnows, then wade down some river time forgot in old jeans and cheap tennis shoes with a minnow bucket tied to one belt loop and a stringer of fish tugging at the other. At times we’d be up to our armpits, casting and reeling, trying slip our hooks under the opposite bank where the big ones hide. The water was quiet and cool, but R.B. and Bud made no effort to keep quiet. They didn’t come for the fish. The river banks echoed the sounds of casting, reeling, laughing, and two old men shamelessly spinning lies. They picked on me mercilessly, which I loved, of course. Bud insisted that I needed an Indian name and called me “Ol’ Mud-in-the-Face” well into my thirties.
For all the pranking and goofing off, I learned a great deal about life from R.B. and Bud. These men had seen the Great Depression, lived through WWII and the Korean War, and lost sons in Vietnam. Cancer claimed loved ones and grief nearly took them as well. They wore tanned, weathered faces, creased with lines, yet not from anger or worry. Happy lines radiated from the corners of their eyes, and curved around the corners of their mouths. Tears and hardship punctuated their optimism, but their smiles always returned. These master theologians knew little more than the essentials: God loved them, cared for them, sent His Son to die for them, and eagerly waited for them to join Him. But they lived these basic truths to the hilt and rested in the surety of His gracious acceptance. That, I believe, gave them the strength to stand taller than their difficulties.
I confess that, at times, I wonder if God still likes me. Oh, I know He loves me. He has to; He’s God. But when circumstances threaten to crush me like a bug, I wonder if He cares about how much I’m hurting, if He hears my cries. I confess, to my shame, that I wonder if I continue to struggle against adversity because He really doesn’t want to rescue me.
The problem is, I know too much. Too much philosophy. Too much theology. For all my schoolin’, I would do better to learn the less-is-more approach to life that worked so well for R.B. and Bud. Of course, all their sorrows lie behind them now. Their simple trust has been replaced by perfect knowledge of God and His ways. And someday, I will know what they knew all along. Despite the distorted perspective of adversity, God loves us, cares for us, sent His Son to die for us, and eagerly waits for us to join Him. Which is to say, He’s definitely for us, not against us.
Man, are they gonna rib me about this.