Lessons From the Praying Mantis

 

Gary and I had been out in the yard on Saturday.  It was time to go in for lunch, so we called to Aaron and then headed for the house.  My new mums on the front porch were vibrant with the colors of fall, and bees buzzed around lazily between the mums and my still-blooming Crepe Myrtles.  It was such a beautiful day! 

 

Just as we were ready to walk inside the garage, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.  I stopped to take a closer look, not moving from where I was standing.  I saw that the thing catching my attention was long and green and was perched atop my pretty Crepe Myrtle blooms, partially hidden by the growth around him.  A grasshopper!  An unwelcome intruder in my flower bed!  I didn’t appreciate him chowing down on my Crepe Myrtle leaves, or any of my other bushes or flowers.   

 

I told Gary about the grasshopper as I stepped around to the front of the bush for better aim.  I was ready to shoo that trespasser away!  That’s when I realized my mistake, thankfully before I rattled the poor creature’s nerves and forced him to fly off.  There sat a cute, medium-sized praying mantis.  Yes, I think a praying mantis is a cute creature.  Not only are they cute, but they are so very helpful in the garden.  They eat the garden’s enemies and they eat some of my enemies in various bug forms, so a praying mantis is very welcome in my flower bed.  I was so glad that I realized my mistake before I made him leave.  Gary and I showed our praying mantis to Aaron before going on inside and leaving our little guest in peace.

 

I’ve had similar times in my life…………….times when I’m enjoying the beauty around me in my life……….when things are bright and nice and going well.  But there out of the corner of my eye I see a perceived intruder.  Maybe it’s an unexpected event that is less than inviting, is even uncomfortable or causes me to struggle when I least expect it.  I recently had an accident that has resulted in a shoulder injury.  This injury is not only painful, but is just downright annoying as it slows me down and interrupts my sleep.  Because of this injury, I have had to schedule doctor visits, an MRI, and who knows what else still to come.  To top it off, we may not be able to take a special trip home that we have planned.  Yet I know that God is in control of even this minor situation.  This is an opportunity for me to see God’s good in the midst of my pain and disappointment…………to realize that I don’t have a destructive grasshopper perched on this branch of my life but a helpful praying mantis. 

 

We all have varying situations that are occurring………or will occur………..in our lives.  Sometimes it’s not an occurrence at all, but a person who comes into our life that we really don’t want to have there at all, if we were honest.  Whether it’s an event, though, or a person, let’s not be so quick to shoo it all away and be done with it.  If we stop to look closely and to let God work, we may find that this is exactly what God has given us in order to teach us some important lessons.  As believers, we know along with Moses that we can say, “The Rock!  His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” 

 

God doesn’t send destructive grasshoppers into our lives, even when we wonder about the things that we’re going through.  With God, His works are perfect.  He desires to teach us and to help us, just like my praying mantis was there to help me in my flower bed.  Lord, help me to take time to look at Your lessons and Your methods of teaching me before I rush in with arms flying, trying to brush off Your way of working in me.  May I look with clear eyes and see these times as helpful and learning times, not times to be done away with and hurried through.  Keep me still and quiet, observing Your miracles all around me and Your unusual ways of leading me. 

 

And thanks for the lesson You have taught me through this cute little praying mantis!

Count Your………Our………..MY Blessings!

It’s been one of those mornings.  You know……..one of THOSE mornings.  I went to bed bothered by worrisome issues that I should not go to bed being bothered by……….those worrisome issues.  Can’t end that sentence in a preposition.  🙂    I went to my new location in Andrea’s old room that I’ve set up for myself……..a new desk and an alone place to have my quiet time.  The new location didn’t seem to help.  I felt stifled and ineffective in my time with the Lord this morning.  Distracted…….and thinking that I needed to dodge my prayers that were bouncing off the ceiling, going no where.  Is Satan unhappy about my desire for a more intimate time with the Lord?  Perhaps.

Later, I looked at the weather forecast and the upcoming week of temps above 100 and no rain only increased my weariness.  Our scratchy dog with allergies; laundry waiting to be washed or put away; dishes to take care of; even a Supreme Court ruling and an election in Egypt that I don’t agree with were piling up in my mind.  Talk about taking on the cares of the world.  Come on, Patty.  This is really ridiculous!

After my shower, I heard good old Aaron in the hall.  “Mom?”  I told him that I would be out in a minute.  I could tell that I would have very little patience with him today………shame on me.  He thumped downstairs to take his pills and thumped back up to see if we could now talk.  I again told him to wait……….and when I did open my door, he was in his room and promptly told me to come look at his finger.  He held it up for me as I walked in, and there it was………….his index finger, all wrapped up in a bloody band-aid.

My patience was even less now.  “Mom, last night I had some loose skin and so I used my knife to cut it off.” Oh Aaron.  We’ve heard this story before and I knew what was coming………..and it did.   He wanted to know if he should have used his little pocket knife to cut off the skin; why not?; what would I use?; that he couldn’t help it that the knife slipped, etc., and etc.  I removed the band-aid and saw the raw wound where he had cut or pulled off his loose skin.  I could feel my irritation increasing.  I told him to go shower…………his whole body, by the way, not just his finger!  I know how he thinks.

Aaron showered and then came to my bathroom, where I further cleaned and medicated and dressed his wound.  He could sense my mood and so he scurried on downstairs, deciding to get his own coffee and carry it to his room himself without bothering his moody mom.  Soon I heard, “Mom, I spilled some coffee but I’ll clean it up.”  Oh goodness, Aaron!  Where did you spill coffee?  “On the stairs.  I’ll clean it up!”  No, Aaron…….I’ll get it.  All the while, I was muttering under my breath about how this is the last thing I needed and why did he have to carry the coffee up himself when he’s so shaky and of all mornings…………

Then I saw the spill, which looked more like a gushing of coffee.  It was splattered on several stairs, but one stair in particular was soaked with coffee.  Oh Aaron!  Look at this mess!  Next I saw coffee on the living room floor, so got the Swiffer and mopped that section.  I headed for the soppy stairs, with Aaron saying, “I’ll clean it up, Mom!”  But I grabbed towels and began the clean-up, while Aaron then said, “Here, I’ll help.”  He proceeded to carry a wad of paper towels from the kitchen into the living room and instead of heading for the stairs where I was, he started wiping off the piano.  WHAT??!!  Sure enough, some coffee had splattered onto the piano and Aaron was working to clean up the brown spots…………….while he stood on the still-wet floor.  I went from unhappy to unhappier, all the while muttering about how my nerves couldn’t take much more and of all mornings and please, Aaron, don’t talk right now………..

I continued my shallow thinking as I realized that I would indeed have a bad hair day, no matter what I did to try to improve the mess on my head.  The clothes I chose to wear today didn’t help any, nor did the sandals.  No time to change all that now.  Of all days for me to have a doctor appointment, I moaned to myself.  Little annoyances for the remainder of the morning reminded me of my misery.  Aaron and I hurried out the door, stopping at the grocery store on our way to meet his group.  I had promised him a Cheddar Pasta Salad to take to his group.  Of all mornings to need to leave early, I grumbled.

At the deli counter, as we waited to be served, Aaron began to notice all the dishes.  He leaned over and oohed and aahed over the Deviled Egg Potato Salad, The Layered Salad, the Fruit Salad, the German sandwiches, the Spaghetti Salad…………and his joy over simple food began to silence my distasteful attitude.  He had moved beyond spilled coffee, bad hair, wounded finger, scratchy dog, and hot temps.  He noticed the good things before him.  As we walked out with not only his Cheddar Pasta Salad, but also a bottle of flavored water and some Skittles, he chattered happily about anything and everything.  If I wasn’t listening, I would have missed his observation that the entrance sidewalk at the Warren Theater is, in his words, “…….twinkle stone.  Does it have jewelry in it, Mom?”

I had to pause in my heart and smile.  As we drove to meet his group, I told him that I was sorry about my attitude that morning.  He didn’t say a word, but I  know he filed that apology in his mind.  I needed to say it and he needed to hear it from his grouchy mother this morning.  Later, at Sassy Nails, I sat across from a stranger – another mom – while our toes dried.  We talked and she shared how her sister had died of cancer, and how through it all she had blessings to be thankful for.  This woman, this mom, this sister, had no idea about how much I needed to hear those words.  How easy it is to let the slight troubles of my life ruin my disposition and take my mind off the Lord!

So I have counted my blessings for the rest of the day:
1.  The spilled coffee matches the carpet, especially in the dim light.
2.  A coffee smell on the stairs beats a dog smell any day.
3.  The living room needed to be mopped anyway.
4.  My new pink toes hopefully took the doctor’s eyes away from my bad hair.
5.  I do have hair.
6.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but we have working AC inside.
7.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but I don’t have to be outside working.
8.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but we have water for our thirsty garden.
9.  Our neighbors have to  move for various hard reasons, and the man taking pics of their house this morning wasn’t taking pics of our house.
10.  I have a faithful God; loving husband and children; and Aaron to remind me of what’s important.

And I have forgiveness – God’s forgiveness – and even Aaron’s forgiveness……..unspoken but there none the less.

Psalm 46

Today on the radio I heard David Jeremiah talking about those times that we come to God with such heavy hearts that we don’t really even know what to say, and so we just ask Him to speak to us in a special way.  I guess hearing him say that has caused me to think today about one of the most meaningful times that I did just that.

In May of 2000, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He went through months of grueling chemotherapy and radiation, and was doing very well.  After four years we were all resting easier about his condition, praising God for His healing hand on Dad.

I’ll never forget the day in early November of 2004 when our phone rang.  It was my mom and dad calling me from West Virginia.  Some routine blood work that had been done a few weeks earlier had shown that some of his levels weren’t quite right.  On the phone that day, he and mom broke the news to me that a liver scan had shown that Dad had liver cancer.  It was inoperable, but chemo was once again an option.  However, we knew that this was very serious and possibly terminal.

None of our family was expecting this news.  We were all devastated, of course, and so sad on many levels.  The next morning after receiving this awful news, I sat at the table with my coffee and my Bible.  I was trying to find the motivation to work on a Bible study I was doing, but my heart wasn’t in that.  Finally, I just called out to God and said, “Oh God, You know that I am so sad and so hurt over Dad.  Please, Lord, I need to hear from You right now.  Please speak to me.”

I opened my Bible randomly.  I had nothing marked, nothing stuck in the pages of my Bible that would have caused it to open where it did.  I looked down to where I had opened it and saw Psalm 46.  This was a special Psalm to my extended family.  Verse one says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Beside that verse I had written, “‘Dad, cancer: 2000.”  Then verse 10 is my mother’s verse: “Be still and know that I am God.”  I had her name written beside that verse.

It was a very special time of worship for me that morning.  I said, “Oh, thank you Lord, for reminding me of Who You were to all of us during Dad’s cancer in 2000 and of Who You still are today!”  And so I added the date of 2004 to that verse as a reminder of this wonderful word once again from God.

It was a Friday morning and I knew that back in West Virginia, Dad was at the Men’s Prayer Breakfast that he always attended.  That meant that Mom would be alone, and so she and I could really talk.  I called her and for a few minutes we talked and cried together.  Then I said, “Mom, God did the most amazing thing this morning.  I asked Him to speak to me and so I opened my Bible……………”   But Mom interrupted me before I could say anything else.

She said, “Wait!  Don’t tell me!  Was it Psalm 46?”

And I replied, “Well, yes, but how did you know that?”

And she said, “Yesterday when we got home from the doctor, your dad went back into the bedroom and stayed there a long time.  When he came out I asked what he was doing, and he told me that he was reading Psalm 46.”

Oh wow!  God was reaching down to us, so many miles apart, and showing us that He was there…….that He was aware of our need and of our hurt……..that He hadn’t forgotten us…………..that He truly was a PRESENT help in our trouble.

God gave us four more wonderful years with Dad.  We would often say to each other, “Remember Psalm 46!”

What a faithful and awesome God we serve!

Lessons From the Stray Flower

It’s the time of year to call it quits – as far as my flower gardens, that is. My beds of beauty at this point on the calendar are mostly dead or dying beds of brownness. I had noticed for days that I really needed to buckle down and get it over with. All the areas that had once provided color and beauty were now dull and ugly. My flowers had done as well as they could during our history-making summer of stifling heat and drought. Now most of them looked spent. Not only tired and exhausted, but many of them positively dead. The garden would be lovelier without the dead growth, and our eyes would be pleased to look upon beds that were bare rather than beds that were full but wasted.

I gathered the tools that I needed for the job. Small pruning shears, large pruning shears, garden gloves, rake, broom, and my trash container. I walked out back to the two flower beds at our patio and got to work. I bent over and began clipping with the small pruners, being careful not to pull the perennials up by their roots. Hopefully next spring these once beautiful flowers will grow again if I leave their roots intact. I worked among the Black Eyed Susans, the Shasta Daisies, and the Garden Phlox first, snipping and cutting. The trash container was filling up fast, so I emptied it into the large trash can and came back to continue the cleaning. When I came to the Tiger Lilies, I grabbed the large shears and began whacking away at the tall, tough stalks. They fell over the area where once they had stood tall and regal in their bright orange blooms. I’d scoop them up, toss them in the container, and begin again with the pruning. Death was all around me. Everything that was once full of beauty was now only brown and crisp. Dust was puffing up around me, getting on my clothes and in my hair. It was a place of dryness, of has-beens and what used-to-be.

And then I saw it. The little pink blooms laying on the ground caught my eye in an instant as I cut some dead stalks away. They seemed so out of place amidst the drab decay all around them. I paused and looked at them laying there so sweet and still. They were small but their beauty was enormous next to the ugliness all around them. They made me pause and catch my breath as I drank in their beauty and enjoyed the message that they gave to me. I smiled, refreshed in a special way, and then continued with my task at hand as I kept them in my sight. I tried not to disturb their blooms that reminded me of the beauty of the past and promised me of more beauty yet to come in the spring.

 

I have had times of great joy and beauty in my life. I thank the Lord for the memories of those times, and for the daily blessings and moments of happiness that still occur in my life every single day. But as is true with every one of us, I have had times of bleakness. Times when all around me things appear to be full of sadness, heaviness, and pain. The chopping and the tearing away take such a toll on me. I get so tired. The dust swirls around me and I long for clean air and a refreshing touch. That’s when God bends down and speaks to me the clearest. There in the midst of the uncertainty and the heartache I hear His voice. His still, small voice speaks to me in sharp contrast to the darkness all around me. Through His Word, as I read and meditate on what He says, I am refreshed and encouraged. I remember His promises and His blessings of the past, and I know that He will be faithful yet in my future. God is like that little stray, blooming flower – catching my attention with His beauty and soothing me with His presence. Oh Lord, may I, like David, say: “Why are you in despair, oh my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”

The Legacy

We just went on a very special trip to visit my mother. Actually, it was a surprise for her 85th birthday. And was she ever shocked when she walked into that banquet room at the steak house and saw all of her five children there, as well as many grandchildren and great-grands! The look on her face was priceless; the tears, hers and ours, were genuine; and the love shared was a treasure. I’m so thankful that all of her children were there for her and that we got to rally around her at this very important time. You see, it wasn’t only her birthday. She has also just moved into an assisted living center and so we were able to visit her beautiful new home, help her with a little of the settling-in process, and get a close-up look at her lovely surroundings and amazing staff.

One other thing we kids did while we were there was to meet at the home she just vacated. This home isn’t the place where she and Dad raised us five children. They sold our family home in 1996 in order to downsize and make their lives simpler as they aged. Through Dad’s two cancers, and two more moves, they continued to downsize a little more with each change. Now as I walked into the garage where many of her smaller items were sitting in boxes or on shelves, perched on chairs, or leaning against the walls, I was determined to approach this as objectively as possible. Even in the kitchen and the living room I was able to remain composed. However, when I walked into the bedroom and began to help take clothes out of her closet, I was overcome with emotion. This was the last home that she and Dad had shared together. This was where I had spent the last month of his life as I helped Mom care for him. Memories of that month, especially, washed over me. Mom is now living in a place that Dad never got to share with her. The change in her life is striking, and the end of one chapter is really the beginning of the last chapter of her life.

It would be easy to look at the “stuff” in the garage and scattered throughout the house and think, “Is this all there is now?” As we children divide the casserole dishes and Tupperware that she’ll never use again, or discuss what will become of the larger items later on, is there something of more value to my parent’s lives than just “stuff?” Eventually, Mom will perhaps have to downsize even further if she moves into the nursing care section. Bit by bit, her life is being sifted of all earthly belongings. Eventually, she’ll be left with absolutely nothing. On the day that her body ceases to live and her soul is in heaven, she will not take even one little spoon or one little memento with her. And what will matter on that day?

What will matter the most is that my mother knows Jesus Christ as her Savior. She has the confidence, as do her family, that she will join Jesus and my Dad in heaven. And we, her children, have the legacy of a godly heritage left to us by parents who dearly loved the Lord and dearly loved their family. While earthly items are divided, our godly heritage is safe in each of our hearts and homes. Now this heritage, this legacy, is being multiplied as we have tried to raise our children to know and love the Lord. There is no earthly value that could ever be placed on such a spiritual treasure! No executor of an estate ever oversaw a will that held anything more important than this God-honoring example that our parents have left to us. This legacy isn’t an item that will be put on a shelf in our homes to later be divided among our children, but is carried in our hearts and hopefully lived by our example and passed to our children each day of our lives. Thank you, Mom and Dad. You have left us rich indeed.