Lessons From the Fire Ants


We just returned from a trip to Houston to see our daughter, Andrea, with a side trip to Dallas to see our son, Andrew, in an NHRA race there.   Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention that we also enjoyed seeing our Granddogs, Darcy and Oakley.  Hey, it’s the closest I have to grandkids right now, so humor me.  In fact, the story I’m about to share involves these cute little doggies, in a way.

On our first evening there we headed right away to the dog park with Andrea so that Darcy and Oakley could have some outdoor play time before the park closed for the night.  Darcy and Oakley ran and jumped and rolled, and spent lots of time romping and splashing in the water.  They were so much fun to watch.  Soon we meandered off the gravel path and stood in the cool thick grass, talking to another dog owner and enjoying the happy dogs.  I had worn sandals instead of tennis shoes, and the grass felt damp and pleasant on my feet in the humid air.

 

As we stood there talking, I noticed a faint stinging on my feet……especially my left foot.  I moved my foot a little, but the stinging persisted.  I thought that this grass must be pricklier than it seemed at first.  Before long, the stinging was increasing.  I again wondered why, but couldn’t see a reason as I looked down at my foot buried in the thick grass.  Finally, I was uncomfortable enough to raise my left foot up out of the grass……..and to my surprise, I saw tiny little ants crawling all over my foot.  The same was true of my right foot, though not as many ants had found their way to that side.
Fire ants!  The stinging wasn’t coming from irritating grass, but from tiny fire ants.  I shook as many off as I could, and then went to the path, where I took my sandals off and continued to brush little ants off as quickly as I could.  They were between my toes, going up my legs, and caught in the folds and crevices of my sandals, as well.  Yuck!!!  When I was convinced that I had rid my feet and sandals of these attackers, I put my sandals back on and we continued to walk around the park.  Yet every now and then I would feel another sting, and would look down to find one miniature ant still on my foot.
It was hard to believe that those sharp stings could come from such little creatures, but those tiny guys can pack a wallop.  I hadn’t been stung by fire ants since we lived in southern Alabama, when Gary was in flight school at Fort Rucker, over 30 years ago.   It was a memory I was wishing not to re-live.  However, soon the stinging sensation was gone, and other than a very few little dots on my feet, I was none the worse for the experience.
Or so I thought……and hoped.  Over the next few days, my foot has increasingly shown the effects of those small prickly bites.  The little dots on my feet have turned into larger and larger bumps.  They sometimes itch.  They sometimes sting.  And they look very large and ugly today…….like pimples on my feet and even between my toes.  I just thought I was escaping that experience largely unscathed, but not so.  I am reminded of those fire ants and their damage, both in the discomfort I feel and the unpleasant sight I see every time I look down at my feet.
Isn’t this just how sin is in our lives?  We set out on a path that is safe and protected as we follow God and obey His commands.  Soon, though, it’s so easy to veer off that path into a life that isn’t what He desires.  It feels good, though, just like that cool grass felt good to my feet.  What could be so wrong about this little diversion?  Isn’t everyone else doing this?  Come on!  Lighten up!  Don’t be so serious and intolerant.
Then we feel the first little sting, but we ignore it.  A few more stings…..and maybe we look around a little to see what’s causing that feeling, but we choose to disregard it.  Nothing appears very alarming, anyway.  Over time, though, the little stings become increasingly painful and more of our life is affected by the discomfort caused by our decisions.  And hopefully, we run……we run away as fast as we can from our sin.  We change our direction, we confess to the Lord our wrong, and we set out on the right path once more.
Yet sadly, even though we are forgiven, we often will bear the consequences of our sin……sometimes for the rest of our lives.  At first it may not seem like our sin is any big deal, but it is.  Like Moses told the people of Israel in Numbers 32:23, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”  In other words, you will suffer for your sin.  Sorry.  I didn’t say that.  God did.  The longer we stand in that grass and let the ants crawl on us, the more we will bear the results of our choices.  Days, months, even years later, the choices we made yesterday can……and often do……greatly affect us and those we love.
Thank God for His grace, and His redemption, and His forgiveness.  Thank God that He doesn’t hold our sin over our heads and beat us up with it every day.  Thank God for His love, and for His patience in directing us back to the right path.
Yet what if I hadn’t gone off into the grass in the beginning?  What if I had worn the right shoes?  What if I had run away quickly when I felt the first sting?  Then today I wouldn’t be looking down at these painful, ugly bumps on my feet.  My story today would have been very different……much less harmful to me, for sure.
Don’t veer off God’s path for your life by walking into what feels good and looks great.  Don’t be wearing the wrong shoes.  Flee temptation, as Paul said to do.  Put on your running shoes!  Don’t linger in sin, enjoying the moment until they become many moments.  Don’t ignore God’s conviction in your heart.  Don’t let the stings of long-term sin leave you with irreparable damage.  God will forgive, but He won’t necessarily take away the natural consequences of our willful actions.
Painful lessons.  May we all use wisdom in where we walk.

Lessons From the Icicles

 

It’s been another very mild and very dry winter here in Kansas.  It’s felt and even looked more like spring than winter this year.  While it’s been nice not to find ourselves maneuvering over slick roads, we do need some moisture.  And boy, did we get it!  A huge storm plowed into Kansas this week, leaving us in our part of the state with at least 14 inches of beautiful snow.  We woke up to a world of glimmer as the sun shone brightly on the newly fallen snow.  The ground is encased in a sparkly white wrap, fresh and mostly untouched in our big back yard. 
 
I also noticed another result of our massive snow storm as I looked out of our upstairs windows.  There hang long rows of icicles.  They have their own unique beauty, all clear and shiny like hanging crystals.  No two seem to be the same shape as the once dripping water has frozen into various forms and sizes.  Icicles are fascinating to observe and can be very pretty when the sun is shining on them, causing them to gleam in the light.  But icicles also have another aspect.  They can be sharp and dangerous as well. 
  
This morning I saw that the icicles hanging on the front of our house were starting to drip.  They were melting because they were facing east, where the morning sun was beating down upon them.  There was not a cloud in the sky and even though the temperature was cold, the warmth of the sun was still able to reach into their icy coverings and begin the melting process. 
Soon I walked into another bedroom on the west side of our house, where the sun was not yet reaching.  There hung another long row of icicles, still firm and cold in the shadow of the morning.  The sun had not yet touched these frozen fingers of ice, so they were still solid and stiff.  They didn’t really even appear as shiny and beautiful as the icicles that were being touched by the sun.  These hanging jabs of ice seemed colder, even more harsh, than the icicles in the front that were warming in the sun.
 
These icicles reminded me of some of the lingering results of personal storms in my  life…….especially times that have involved the hurt inflicted by others.  I imagine that you have had those hurts as well.  We all experience that pain at some point in our lives.  If we’re not careful, those wounds can develop into icy slivers of bitterness in our hearts.  Where there was once the flowing warmth of relationship there is now the frozen stab of disappointment that has pierced our heart.  Sometimes the situation is private and no one knows about it but us.  Other times the hurt is very public and embarrassing, misunderstood and whispered about by others.  The results are the same, though.  The pain created by these wounds is still very intense regardless of how they occur.
 
Solomon wrote about these matters.  In Proverbs 14:10 he said, “The heart knows its own bitterness…..”  No one but us knows what is in our hearts.  We may appear to be fine and normal to others, but those icy shards of bitterness have frozen our hearts.  We dwell on the situation and rehash the hurtful words and scenarios over and over again.  Our heart knows its bitterness, so very well, and we become numb in our pain……….and numb to the other Person who also knows what is in our heart.  God knows…..and He does care very much about that chill that has encased us and frozen us. 
 
In Ephesians 4:31-32, there are several sins that God tells us to put away.  The first one listed is bitterness.  Then God says to “……be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other…..”  So how can I be kind and tender and forgiving to those that have hurt me so deeply?  How can my heart be warmed again when it is so frozen with injustice and pain?   Well, it’s not easy, but God tells us here that the first way to start is to remember that we are to forgive “……..just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”     How can I be unforgiving when I have been SO forgiven by God?  I am forgiven……..and I must be forgiving to others. 
 
When I take this first step and realize my position in Christ, then His light will begin to thaw that immobile, cold heart of mine.  Forgiveness here carries the idea of releasing.  I need to constantly release to God the people and the situations that have so chilled my heart.  Let Him bear my pain and let Him warm my cold heart.  And if those people are still present in my life, then I am to show kindness and tenderness.  Look for ways to serve, to be kind, and to be tender hearted……..not hard hearted with a frozen heart but to be tender and loving.  It’s not easy, but God will enable and give grace to do what is the most difficult. 
 
Soon l will hear a dripping noise and realize that my once solid, icy heart is thawing out under the warmth of God’s love and His enabling.  He won’t force me to allow His light to shine in my inner being, but if I open that door and allow Him in, then the melting will begin.  Slowly but surely the damaging icicles will dissolve as I focus, not on the other person or on the pain that they have caused, but as I focus on the light of God’s forgiveness and love in my once cold heart.

 

 
Shine Your light in my heart, O God, and let the melting begin!

Forgiveness

This morning did not go as I had planned.  Maybe it’s because I feel so tired.  I haven’t slept well for several nights and don’t know why.  We all do that at times.  And you know how those long nights are, when every little issue in life is magnified.  Nothing is horribly wrong, but even my to-do list seems overwhelming at one in the morning!  But all of this is an excuse, really, and I know it.

Aaron had a dental appointment this morning.  I looked forward to this being a morning of Aaron being in a compliant, happy mood because he would be looking forward to lunch and maybe a Wal-Mart trip.  Instead, I found Aaron down on my computer, looking up cheat codes for a game.  I fussed at him and he got off, but came up to my room wanting to know if I would print off some cheat codes for him.  He was carrying a large sheaf of stapled-together codes that he said a staff member at Paradigm had printed off for him.  It was very large – the number on the last sheet was 77!  And Aaron wanted me to print it off again………at least that’s what he said……….and so began the very frustrating process of trying to figure out the why and the what of Aaron’s request.

Aaron couldn’t explain to me exactly what it was he wanted me to print, even as I explained to him that I was not printing 77 pages – that he already had!  He began to escalate, and then hit my dresser with his fist as he walked out.  Thus ensued the fight – not physically, but verbally.  I was trying to understand what he wanted and at the same time calm him down, all the while feeling my tiredness and my exasperation mounting.  Soon I was yelling……..and Aaron was yelling……..and I yelled louder………and Aaron responded likewise.  It was a lose-lose situation all the way around.  I backed off and walked away, taking a few minutes to calm down and then approaching Aaron again as he headed toward my room.  We came to an agreement……….more of a stalemate……..and soon left for the dentist.  Both of us were quiet and rather depleted.  And I was feeling very guilty.

Aaron waited for me in the van as I put something in the mailbox, picked up the newspaper, and got the empty trash cans ready to roll back to the house.  I took a step or two and then saw it……….a weed growing up between a crack in our driveway.  What would have been an ugly weed, except for one thing.  Growing on that weed were such delicate little violet blooms that I had to stop in my tracks and stare down at it.  Those little blooms transformed that otherwise annoying weed into a soft spot of beauty on our driveway.  Instantly my heart was pricked.  My behavior with Aaron not an hour earlier was ugly and hateful.  I let my tiredness and my selfishness call the shots instead of letting the Holy Spirit empower me to respond to Aaron with love and kindness.

Out of my nasty behavior, I needed something soft and pretty to grow……..something that only Christ could enable to bloom.  Forgiveness.  In particular, to BE forgiven by Aaron.  I’ve read and studied a lot about forgiveness over the past few years.  In fact, I just listened to some on-line lessons last week on this very subject.  I know quite a bit about the anatomy of extending forgiveness and being forgiven.  Could I practice this today?  With my child?  With Aaron?

I know that asking for true forgiveness means naming the sin you have committed, without making excuses for your behavior, and asking to be forgiven.  As Aaron and I ate lunch, I waited for him to pause in his monologue of the moment and then I said, “Aaron, I’m very sorry that I got so angry this morning.  I’m sorry I yelled and acted hateful to you.”   Aaron looked at me, gave a little grunt, and stuffed more pizza into his mouth.  I continued, “So Aaron, will you forgive me?”  Another grunt.  And I repeated, “Will you forgive me?”  And he said, “Yeah.  Hey, did you know that I woke up at 8:33 but I stayed in bed, and then got up at 9:04?”

I chuckled.  This is as good as it will get with Aaron in the forgiveness department.  Oh, he heard me loud and clear………..and he registered every word that I said.  He may still call me weird, as he did earlier…….or maybe not.  He knows, though, that I am sorry.  He knows that I love him.  He knows that I am human……..and weird sometimes.

And I know that a little flower began to bloom in my guilt-ridden heart.  For I had also asked God to forgive me and He did more than grunt.  He has given me assurances all over His Word that He is there, waiting with open arms to forgive………..and to forget!  I can’t forget my behavior, but I pray that I will once again learn from my failure and grow in this issue of forgiveness.   Grow and bloom………beauty from ashes, God says.

Just like my little driveway weed.

Throw ON the Towel!

Here we go again.  I heard it from upstairs…….the sound of the plastic containers full of coffee hitting the floor and then the thump.  My heart sank as I hurried downstairs to check on Aaron.  He was fine, although sprawled on the floor with spilled coffee all around him.   He jerked and dropped his coffee yet again………lukewarm coffee, thankfully.  And thankfully he didn’t throw his coffee containers as he has been known to do when he’s in a rage. This was a true accident, but messy and discouraging none the less.

I was frustrated with Aaron this morning over a couple things already and this didn’t help, believe me.  My compassion for him still hasn’t quite kicked in yet.  He has cleaned up and showered, and seems to be fine.  I hope he’s not bruised.

I just stood and looked at this mess………coffee all over the floor, the cabinets, on and under the frig.  UGH!  And I thought of how many times I’ve just felt like throwing in the towel.  We all do, don’t we, whether we are parents or not.  But we can’t quit.  God doesn’t and we can’t.  Especially as parents……….these children are given to us by God and He wants us to hang in there despite how tough it sometimes is.

So instead of throwing IN the towel, we throw ON a towel.  We clean the messes up step by step, bit by bit. We’ll see progress one day, even if it’s slow to come…………even when we just stand there and don’t know where to start.  God gives patience; and God gives us the same grace toward our children or others that He has extended to us.  We clean up the messes, whatever they may be, and we push forward.

The rest of the day is before us.  It’s up to me now not to mess up my reactions and my attitudes.  I’ll need to grab another towel if I’m not careful!

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.