Beware of Swamp Bears!

Very early on a Sunday morning on a remote Florida highway, my husband and I noticed a road sign we’d never seen close to the coast before. It was a yellow, diamond-shaped caution sign with the silhouette of a bear in the center.

 

I was already on edge—it was hours before daybreak and the black waters of St. George Sound splashed ominously at my right as I hugged the coastline. The last thing I wanted to add to my anxiety was the threat that a giant black bear might come lumbering out into the road. (Although I guess you could argue it’s the bear you’re not looking for that you should worry about!)

 

We had dropped off three of our four kids at a beach house with relatives so we could continue to drive further inland in the direction of the soccer fields where our older son would be playing in Jacksonville, just shy of the Atlantic. It seemed like the sun would never come up, and we fought the fatigue we felt from the 10-hour drive we had made the day before. Attack of the Swamp Bear loomed large in my exhausted imagination.

 

There are seasons of life when you know what dangers lie ahead—the terrible twos of parenting a toddler or the unwelcome weight gain of middle age. Though these probable and assumed complications can be difficult to manage, they are steps in a natural series of events. You see them coming and expecting them sometimes makes them easier to survive. But what about those curveballs zooming in at 100 miles an hour out of the clear blue? The serious illnesses or relationship trauma? The Swamp Bears who attack before courteously putting out a warning sign first?

 

These are the moments when I’m reminded how little I can control. I pretend that I’m driving the whole thing—making decisions, making plans, making my case for my decisions and plans. In reality, the warning signs are actually inconsequential to the final outcome. Just having the information ahead of time doesn’t exempt us from trouble and surprises.

 

These deep thoughts were my morning ponderings as I watched the eastern sky go from black to charcoal. Clouds began to materialize as the sun lit them from its perch just below the horizon. Slowly the sky lightened to a cobalt blue and I could see more clearly. I shifted in my seat behind the wheel of our minivan, feeling a little more alert and grateful for constants, like a good, old-fashioned sunrise, that I can always count on.

 

“Thank you,” I whispered. I silently prayed for wisdom and patience in all of the burdens I’ve been lugging around with me for the last few months. The heavy ones that are old and should’ve been forgotten long ago, and the new ones I’ve picked up in the form of worry and doubt. I asked the Lord to protect us from these dangers that I know, the ones I’m currently aware of. Then I asked Him to save me from the Swamp Bears that I’ll never see coming.

My God is so big

I have the great blessing of leading the preschoolers at my church in praise time on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. We bring out our “Little Christian Light” and we get “wrapped up, tied up, tangled up in God.” We sing about having a joy down in our hearts and building our houses on rock, not sand. The songs are upbeat, action-packed and repetitive.

 

One of my standard, go-to songs is “My God is So Big.” To explain just how big God is, the kids will spread out their arms and show me their muscles. To show that He’s the God of everything, they get to place the tips of their fingers together to create a mountain and push them down into a valley. Then they wiggle their fingers in the air to convey the effect of blinking stars.

 

Oftentimes, after the song we’ll discuss how God is bigger than whatever they’re scared of. This declaration is a great reminder for myself, too, the grown-up in the room who should know better but still sometimes forgets that God can handle all of my worries.

 

When those times of doubts come and, instead of believing in God’s mighty powers I start singing “My God is Too Small,” I wish I could be a fly on the wall for the story that we can read in 2 Kings 6.

 

Elisha, God’s prophet from the Old Testament, has been giving the king of Israel insider information and guidance for his army which is completely baffling and infuriating the king of Aram, Israel’s enemy. Elisha offers military strategies which generals and spies couldn’t predict. His intel comes from God, the God Who’s So Big who can be everywhere and see everything all the time.

 

The king of Aram finds out where Israel is getting this information which keeps spoiling his invasions. He sends soldiers, horses and chariots to the town where Elisha lives. They surround the city during the night, all to capture one man.

 

Early the next morning, Elisha’s servant woke up and started his day. He was probably whistling a carefree tune, thinking about the chores he needed to complete. Then he saw them—an enemy army circling their little town. No doubt he dropped his water jar and ran to Elisha, crying out to him in fear and desperation.

 

But here’s what Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

 

Elisha prayed and asked God to open the servant’s eyes. Then he was given a gift, a supernatural sight. That humble servant could suddenly see something extraordinary. The hills beyond the enemy’s army were filled with horses and chariots of fire. A greater army was at the ready.

My God is so big!

Light-up shoes

When my daughter was around 4-years old, I got her a pair of light-up shoes. They were brown leather Mary-Janes with Velcro straps and pink stitching. Hidden lights embedded in the rubbed soles would flash each time her foot made contact with the floor. She loved them but, over time, I noticed that she never wore them.

One day, I asked her, “Why aren’t you wearing your new shoes?” as I pointed to the shoes on the floor of her closet.

“I don’t want to run down the battery,” she answered.

I told her, “Oh, honey, I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

But my words didn’t seem to make a difference. She still wouldn’t put them on. I was too busy running after her twin sister and baby brother to remind her to wear them so the inevitable happened—she outgrew the shoes.

I’m fairly certain that Jesus never had to teach about the perils of buying light-up shoes for slightly OCD 4-year olds, but he did preach this:

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.” (NLT)

Though I’m trying to do better, I confess that I am a frequent worrier. You could probably even call me a Worrier Warrior. When Jesus goes on to say: “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’” I am convicted of my weakness in this area but I’m also a bit defensive.

I want to ask Jesus, “If I don’t worry about it, then who will?” When my husband and I divide up the duties for our family, it falls to me to be sure we have food to eat and clean clothes to wear. It’s my job to take care of this, right?

To back up my defense, I scan my memory for an instance when Jesus seemed worried or stressed-out. Others around Him might have lost their cool, but He seemed to stay focused on His mission and on the present moment.

When He was in the garden just hours before His arrest and eventual crucifixion, Jesus had plenty of reasons to be stressed out. Instead, He took His concerns to His Father. He asked if it was possible to prevent the imminent suffering and death but was willing to follow His Father’s Master Plan, regardless. Then came the betrayer and the crowds and the soldiers. Jesus calmly followed.

So here’s my new plan: Take it to the Garden. Lay it out. Pray it out. Ask, seek, knock. Then calmly follow God’s Will.

I won’t always follow my own advice—in fact I know I’ll frequently forget the plan—but I’ll attempt to have faith that all of the pieces will fall into place. I’ll try to heed Jesus’ advice: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Because it’s possible that all of that worrying will make me miss out on something fantastic, like the coolest light-up shoes ever.