My husband and I were traveling for Christmas last year, so we put up our Christmas tree a few days into the new year, right around this time. After several weeks of enjoying my first ever real tree, I was surprised to find a belated Christmas gift hatching from within.
A family of forty or fifty perched on the needles and ventured out from the tree. Our walls and ceiling were covered in these little leaping insects. I was horrified at first. I enjoy the intricacies of insects, but swarms of them in my living room pushed me to the edge. However, after an evening away from the apartment (thanks to Josiah and Laura for hosting), I came to appreciate the fascinating little creatures.
I liked watching them swivel their tiny triangular heads and I escorted them to our potted plants so they could watch for tiny bugs in the soil. I loved how they wiggled the back of their bodies before jumping unreasonable distances.
Despite my efforts to feed and water the little ones, only one praying mantis survived. I named him Leap.
I spent time with Leap every day. I helped him find flies and I watched him hop around our basil plant. The miracle of this little mantis was apparent. He turned his head to look at me every time I approached. I giggled.
I was particularly fascinated with his molting. He could form a new body inside his old body and step out of the old shell when he needed to grow. Incredible! Leap became a window for me to see deeper into Jesus’ playful, caring heart. But after a couple months of friendship, I was devastated when Leap died after an unsuccessful molt. I felt confused and sad at first that my little friend would be allowed to die.
Fast forward with me now to the morning of June 21. I was out for a run in Freer Field (a park near our old home in Ashland) in one of my favorite sections of trail: the meadow. In summer, the meadow is filled with wildflowers, small trees and interesting plants and is usually coated in glowing-golden sunlight when I come through in the mornings.
Several monarch caterpillars had recently made their appearance and beckoned me to sit with them a while. Their white plump, hairless and striped bodies stuck to the milkweed plants. It was their favorite snack to munch. I looked for them excitedly the day after their first appearance, but disappointment soon touched my anticipation. They were gone. I could only find them in the meadow that one day.
I paused after searching for the wormy, nibbling creatures. I thought of the God-sent worm who ate Jonah’s God-sent shade plant. Jonah was angry about it. After all, it was hot out there! I felt like Jonah. I wanted back the 'good-in-my-eyes' gift that God had given. I waited, wanting my feelings to line up with truth. “Jesus gave me a gift yesterday,” I told myself, “but it doesn’t mean I get to have it again.” My feelings didn’t listen. I liked the caterpillars and wanted to see them again. That was that. I ran on, hoping to exhaust my disappointment.
But I stopped a few steps further along the trail. I had caught sight of a rather large insect on the leaf of a tall plant just to my right. I paused, drew closer and laughed out loud to have encountered a praying mantis!
This one was much larger than my friend Leap. It was the size of my pinkie finger and turned its triangle head toward me as I approached. I love that about praying mantises! I hear they are the only insect that can turn their heads from side to side. When I got right up next to the mantis it jumped miraculously from its little perch on the leaf to the underside of a lower leaf. Marvelous!
The mantis was silhouetted by the rising sun across the meadow. Tall leafy plants, small trees and flowers of white and red and yellow rose up intermittently across the landscape in the distance. The sun wrapped warm over my face, arms and legs as well as around the little mantis’ bowed body and folded arms. I rested there in that moment for a long time with my head kinked at an odd angle to better see the upside-down mantis.
I wasn’t waiting on anything. I wasn’t wanting anything or even thinking of anything. I had an awareness of God with me and I rested in the moment He had perfectly given. The sun, the plants, the mantis. I felt His love, His being with me, and I just simply was. I held an awareness of temporary gifts. Leap was a gift for a month or two. The caterpillars, a gift for one morning. This mantis, a gift for now. When it was time, I continued my run. I sensed Jesus inviting me to linger there with Him again soon and I knew it had been a form of prayer.