Fireflies

A friend recently told me about taking a group of Texas teens to Nashville for a mission trip. As they sat outside at an evening devotional, the group became fascinated when one by one fireflies emerged from the grass and shrubbery to soar around the darkening sky. The majority of the mission team had never seen fireflies before. My friend showed them how to catch the insects without harming them and how to capture them in empty water bottles (from which they eventually released them). She told me that one of the girls in the group began to cry. The beauty of these tiny insects overwhelmed the Texas teen who’d never witnessed their brilliant dancing in her hot, dry hometown.

 

As someone who has spent each and every summer in places where fireflies are common, I was amazed at their reaction. For me, it is a case of the extraordinary becoming ordinary through repetition and the assumption that it will always be there.

 

Later that day, after I had told my family about my Texas friend’s story, my daughter was standing outside with a group of friends. Prompted by my friend’s experience, my daughter asked a guy who had just come to Middle Tennessee from another country if he had ever seen fireflies before. They were outside, so she pointed to the flying dots of light.

 

“No,” he said. “I’ve never seen them before.”

 

“Aren’t they awesome?” she asked.

 

He shrugged, unimpressed.

 

His reaction surprised me. Is he so accustomed to seeing strange insects that this particular species failed to astonish him? Is he so well-read about the cold light of bioluminescence that seeing this energy produced right in front of him left him unmoved? Whatever may be the reason for his indifference, it’s a cautionary tale for me. I don’t want to be a person who loses the wonder. I don’t want awesometo turn into boredom.

 

And if you’re thinking that it can’t happen to you, beware. The Israelites had seen amazing things in the land of Egypt: the Nile turned to blood, three days of total darkness, a river that was split for them to march through just in the nick of time. And yet, they complained that the manna—their food which fell from the sky—just wasn’t tasty enough. “We don’t want to sound ungrateful or anything, but this bread that we’ve been gathering every day just isn’t cutting it anymore. We know that all we have to do is pick it up from the ground and eat it, and don’t get us wrong—it was great…at first—but we could really go for a hamburger. Actually, a cheeseburger would be even better.”

 

How could they have lost the wonder so quickly? Who has the nerve to complain to a God who had produced these miracles?

 

I wish I could say that I’m always in the “Awe Zone,” but it isn’t true. I forget to be grateful, forget to see how far He’s carried me, forget how I didn’t get here on my own, just forget.

 

So when I look at those fireflies, at least for this summer, I’ll remember the wonder.

Surprise ending

I rarely watch a movie or read a book more than once. There’s a part of me that says, “I already know how this ends, so I’m not really interested in going through all of it again.” I mostly prefer the excitement of finding out what happens more than moving step-by-step through the plot. Still, there are times when I will get so engrossed in an already familiar story that either I forget what will happen or I hope it will turn out differently this time (pointless, I know).

 

The beauty of hearing a story for the first time, with no spoilers or hints of the final outcome, is that you are evenly informed with the protagonist. You, the spectator, know as much as the main character. There are some stories I’ve known from infancy that I wish I could hear as an adult but for the first time.

 

One of those stories is the account from the Book of Genesis about Joseph. Here’s a quick summary: Jacob, Joseph’s father, gives Joseph—his favorite son of his favorite wife—a special coat. This gift along with Joseph’s penchant for telling his dreams which feature his brothers bowing down to him gets Joseph thrown in a pit by his scheming brothers and eventually sold as a slave to a wealthy Egyptian named Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to our boy Joseph and when he thwarts her advances, he gets put in prison. While in prison, Joseph interprets the dream of a baker and a butler. The dreams come true: the baker is killed and the butler is released from prison. After which, the butler tells dream-vexed Pharaoh about Joseph and his ability to explain dreams. Pharaoh tells Joseph his dream and Joseph replies, “I can’t explain it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” Joseph explains that Pharaoh’s dreams mean that the land would have 7 years of good crops followed by 7 years of famine. So Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s right hand man. Joseph puts his plan into action, saving up good grain for those bad years. Eventually, Joseph’s brothers back in Canaan become desperate for food. Ten of his brothers (all except the youngest—Benjamin) go to Egypt to collect the grain. Joseph plays some crazy mind games with them because they don’t recognize him, the brother they long ago assumed had died. Joseph calls them spies and thieves. He even puts them in prison, all a ruse to get his youngest brother Benjamin to come to Egypt. (And maybe exact a little sibling revenge?) Finally, after Joseph runs out of tricks, he reveals his identity. He weeps as he holds his brothers who tremble at thought of their persecuted brother now holding their lives in his hands.

 

It’s a wild ride. There are soap operas with fewer twists. But, in the end, this is what Joseph tells his brothers in Genesis 45: “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you!” (NLT)

 

When young Joseph was sitting at the bottom of that dark and dirty hole, listening to the whispered voices of his big brothers above who argued over how to punish him, he wouldn’t have thought in a million years that the hole was a part of a bigger plan to rescue those same jealous brothers from starvation. And when he sat in chains in the prison of a foreign land for a crime he didn’t commit, Joseph couldn’t have known he would eventually be sitting next to the throne of the most powerful man in the world, advising Pharaoh and ordering servants to obey Joseph’s every command.

 

This is a reminder to me that when things aren’t working out the way I’d hope and I can’t figure out why it’s so difficult, it’s best to rest in God’s faithfulness. Four times in Genesis 39, we read “The Lord was with Joseph.” Joseph knew he wasn’t alone in the hole or in prison. The Lord was right there with him, crafting a surprise ending to Joseph’s tumultuous story.

When there’s no instructions…

When my twin daughters were 3-years old, I walked in the dining room (though we called it the “yellow room” because, obviously, it was painted yellow and seeing as how there were no table or chairs, there was also no dining happening in there) and found them standing by the low, open windows taking turns punching through the mesh of the window screen.

 

After I pulled their tiny fists out, my next move was to say, “Why are you doing that?!”

 

Their response was: “You never told us not to.”

 

That’s when I knew I was in trouble. How could I ever think ahead enough to give them the rules and guidelines for every situation before they come up? It was an impossible task. I had never dreamed that it would be necessary to sit my sweet cherubs down and say, “Listen up, girls. It’s a beautiful day so mommy wants to open the windows. This metal screen is here to keep the bugs out. No matter how fun it might seem, don’t start punching it. Got it? Great.”

 

Now that I’ve been a mother a bit longer I see that specifics aren’t always required. My girls have been with me for nearly 15 years, so even though we don’t have rules for every scenario, they know my basic feelings and they can speculate what I might say or think or feel on the matter. Over time, they have discovered the essence of my parenting just as I have learned so much of their strengths and predilections.

 

When all else fails, the whole idea of “When in doubt, don’t” comes to mind in these instances or at least “When in doubt, ask mom or dad.”

 

Of course, that’s not to say they always do just as I would have them do. They aren’t robots. But I am fairly certain that they have a twinge of guilt when they do something that doesn’t line up with our family philosophies. At that moment, I want them to pay attention to that slight to painful spasm so it doesn’t become commonplace and calloused.

 

This is how I feel about reading ancient texts from God’s Word. I wish God gave Moses “Ten Commandments for Your Teen and Her Cell Phone” along with the other Ten. I wish God had inspired Paul to write a postscript to his letter to the Ephesians stating exactly what to do when the only people running for political office are yahoos you wouldn’t hire as a babysitter. I wish we had specific rules for when these specific issues arise, but that would make the Bible so large and cumbersome to study that no one would be able to get through it all. Let’s face it, it’s hard enough to get through ONE book of Leviticus.

 

In place of step-by-step instructions, I want to humbly learn the character of God. What does it mean that God is love while at the same time He is a consuming fire? He is unchanging yet we can come to Him looking for mercy. He is perfect and just and faithful.

 

Even when I don’t know for sure what to do, I can look at God’s reputation and His preference for righteousness. I can listen to that soft voice of the Holy Spirit whispering to me of God’s direction for my life. I can hear it saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”