Tag Archives: Spiritual Journey

7 Life Lessons from Bugs of Fire and Light

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A few years ago, Robby and I had the pleasure of joining our friends Paul and Mary in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was during the month of May, and I was thrilled to experience something that had been on my bucket list for years: to see the fireflies. Since I’m from the South, I’m quite familiar with fireflies (aka lightning bugs), but I had read that these amazing insects would gather by the thousands in certain areas in the mountains. Not only would they signal to one another by flashing on and off, but they would actually blink in unison. I could only imagine what a field looked like with thousands of lightning bugs blinking on and off throughout the night.

So when Paul and Mary asked us if we wanted to share their cabin for a few days and join them in watching the lightning bugs, we jumped at the opportunity!

Now, the park in which the fireflies congregate has worked out quite a system. You have to park a couple miles away, take a shuttle to a designated area, and then walk about half a mile to the clearing where the fireflies perform their nightly ritual. The tours were well-organized…and advertised. By the time we tried to purchase our tickets, all of the tours were booked. And since the lightning bugs only perform their dance for a few weeks out of the year, it looked like we were going to miss them entirely.

We were so close and yet so far from those illusive fireflies.

Not to be outdone, though, Paul and Mary asked around. The locals told them about a different, lesser-known spot, on the other side of the mountain where the official tours took place. We just had to drive there and walk up the mountain a bit. No big deal.

I should mention that Paul and Mary were in their 70s, and Paul had hurt his knee earlier that week. I was a bit concerned for them when I heard we had to do some walking, but they assured me they’d be fine.

With restrained excitement, we drove to the park’s back entrance right before sunset. As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw something else on my bucket list: a big black bear. I’d wanted to see one in the wild since I was a kid, and this one was lumbering through the picnic area only a couple hundred yards away. I was thrilled to see him so close, but it reminded me that bears called this mountainside home. And we were about to walk right through that home…in the dark. Sure, we had flashlights, but we couldn’t see the fireflies with our lights on, so we’d be feeling our way up the mountain road.

I was slightly disconcerted, but we were not to be dissuaded. So up we went. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. And still we walked. Paul and Mary did fine, but my knees were starting to feel the strain. And it was dark…really dark…on the side of that mountain. My imagination ran wild as I wondered if every sound was a bear poking its nose through the trees to get a better look at us. Although the locals supposedly knew about this place, no one else was around save for a handful of intrepid climbers. I began to wonder if someone had played a trick on us…or sent us into a trap. And yet we continued to hike—for now it felt like a full-on hike.

The humble lightning bug by day.

To make matters worse, we only saw a few lightning bugs here and there. They were nice, but there was hardly enough to create the blinking-in-unison effect I was looking for. There had been rumors that more fireflies were higher up the mountain, though, so we continued to climb, and I prayed that our adventure wouldn’t end in disappointment.

Finally, at the site of an old abandoned cemetery, we saw what appeared to be lightning bugs, but they behaved differently than the ones I was used to. Instead of flying around in the air, blinking on and off, they stayed “lit” for a long time and hovered just a couple inches above the ground. Their light was a soft glow, slightly green in color. As they circled around the brush and crumbling tomb stones, I imagined so many miniature creatures, going about their evening tasks holding tiny lanterns to illumine the way. Although this wasn’t what I had longed to see, the site was surreal and lovely, and I was glad we had made the trip.

Finally, we started the long trek down the mountain. As we turned a bend, suddenly the sky lit up with hundreds of little white fireworks, each a cluster of dozens of fireflies. They danced above us in the trees. They floated down the side of the mountain, which dropped precipitously into a creek below us, once invisible but now seen in the crackling light of the lightning bugs. They even flew up to us, curious about the visitors who dared the night to join them in their dance.

I looked down at my feet and saw the same greenish lights I had seen in the cemetery. They crawled along the grass and played along a short wooden bridge that connected the path.

Solid green lights below us and brilliant flashes all around us. It was if we were floating in the darkness of night, surrounded by living stars that danced to a song only they could hear. This was more than “blinking-in-unison.” This was better than seeing fireflies from a distance. This was more than we could have hoped for or imagined.

We were speechless as we stood in awe of the magic of it all.

Since then, I’ve thought about researching the types of fireflies to learn more about the ones we saw that night. But it seems that knowledge would only detract from the mystery of the experience. So now, I like to think of the ones with the greenish light as fireflies and the ones that blinked with such enthusiasm as lightning bugs. I feel honored to be able to make such a distinction.

Not only did I have a memorable adventure, and I crossed off an item on my bucket list, but I also learned a lot that night.

  1. Make sure you have friends who are older and more stubborn and adventurous than you. They’ll encourage you to shoot for your dreams when you would otherwise give up.
  2. Life is still beautiful and breath-taking, but sometimes you have to seek it out.
  3. The most amazing experiences are often just around the bend, but you have to make the effort to get there.
  4. When life is the darkest, a single light is all the more brilliant and inspiring.
  5. If a little bug can light up the world, then so can we.
  6. The difficult, little-known path—where fewer people dare to tread—is where all the amazing things really happen. So forget the bus and take the hike.
  7. Yes, there are bears in the woods. Say your prayers, keep your distance, and keep on trekking.

Perhaps the ultimate lesson is that God is not afraid to give us more than we can imagine. He’s not a stingy God. Instead, He’s an over-the-top, wild, fully-alive, fun-loving, merriment-making kind of God who created little bugs that flash in the dark. And this is the same God who rejoices over us. Make sure your heart aligns with Him, then pray for your heart’s desire. You’ll be surprised what He can come up with!

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NAS).

Finding Center in Life’s Turbulence

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I’m so pleased to share with you the following story from guest-blogger Kristen Hogrefe. I’ve done a lot of traveling lately, and I can certainly relate to her message! Be sure to check out Kristen’s site for more faith-filled encouragement.


In my recent travel adventures, I noticed the flight crew now refers to “turbulence” as “rough air.” I’m not sure why. “Rough air” sounds no less pleasant. Regardless of how we spin it, turbulence remains a reality for air travel and, honestly, for life in general.

Sometimes, we don’t even have to be in the air to experience it. My last travel experience involved being grounded in a plane for two hours before the airline allowed us to disembark (due to weather).

As I waited in the crowded plane, just ready to be home, I felt a rising frustration at my helplessness. I closed my eyes and tried to pray, but my emotions were less than Psalm 23 worthy.

I typically can find the positive in the negative. This is a first-world problem. At least the AC is working, and you’re sitting next to your best friend. But despite all these happy thoughts, an unrest clung to my spirit like gum to a shoe. Have you ever felt that way?

In the grand scheme, this was just an inconvenience that taxed my tired travel nerves. However, God used this low moment in my life to remind me that circumstances shouldn’t control my emotions but that He should be my unshakable center.

Real-life rough patches

Compared to the Apostle Paul’s life, my little travel drama was like dust on a sleeve. In 2 Corinthians 11, he recorded his sufferings for Christ that range from stoning, shipwreck, beatings, imprisonments, and worse.

At first, I’m tempted to think, Yes, but Paul was a super Christian. I’ll never be at his level.

Yet he himself told us the very opposite. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?” (2 Corinthians 11:29 NKJV)

In other words, he had his times of weakness. He became tired and frustrated, just like we do, but here’s the difference: He didn’t let those emotions control him.

In another letter, he gave this testimony:

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

The solution isn’t to deny the emotions we feel, whether mere frustration or genuine pain from heart-breaking circumstances. The solution is to cling to the unmovable Rock of our faith, Jesus Christ, during them.

Calm in turbulence

We know that our center can’t be ourselves, but there’s a real difference between knowing and applying.

Back to my travel confession. I was trying to distract myself with prayer instead of actually praying. I attempted to pray for other people when I myself needed the Holy Spirit’s work in my own life first. No wonder I felt ineffective and gave up.

Instead, I should have confessed the words of that old song: It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Next time, I need to try this biblical approach:

  1. Bring my thoughts captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). I shouldn’t sugar-coat my feelings and thoughts but be honest with Jesus. He already knows anyway, so why pretend?
  2. Ask for his will to be at work in my circumstance and for his peace to calm my heart (Philippians 4:6-7).
  3. Focus my mind on what is good and lovely (Philippians 4:8-9).

I don’t know what challenges you’re facing today, but God does. Whether big or small, God cares and wants you to bring them to him.

Maybe next time life gets turbulent, we can pray something like this: Dear Lord, I feel _____________, and I want to give this emotion to you. Please replace it with your peace and calm. You know the circumstance I’m facing: _________________. Please bring your Word to my mind so that I focus on what’s good and true. Help me trust you to work even this out for good.

When have you struggled to find center, and have you experienced God’s peace when you’ve been honest with Him?

Practicing Simplicity

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In my book Girls with Gusto, I explore the eight major steps of the spiritual journey as seen through Proverbs 31. In Step Five, we come to the following verse:

“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy” (Proverbs 31:19-20 NAS).

I’ve always thought this step was about becoming a generous person, and that by extending our hands to others we experience anew the trust and faith we have in God. While I still believe that to be true, I’ve come to realize that generosity is the by-product of this step, not the primary goal or lesson.

 

The More of Less

Like the rest of America, I have a lot of stuff: nostalgic mementos, old paperwork, clothes I’ll never wear again, pots I’ve never cooked in, materials for projects long-forgotten, and books that never held my attention. You know, stuff.

Thankfully, the Lord led me to a book called The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker. This little gem has challenged me to put my stuff into perspective. It added the term “minimalism” to my vocabulary, and it gave me the freedom to dig myself out from all the junk.

But what really struck me was the author’s perspective. As a Christian, Becker’s focus isn’t on minimalism for its own sake but for what it can give him and his family—and a big part of that is being able to “meet the needs of others.” He states, “When we spend too much money on ourselves, we miss the opportunity to find greater joy by being generous to others.”

So, living simply can lead to more generosity.

 

The Generous Life

The Lord then led to me another gem, Secrets of the Generous Life by Gordon MacDonald. This devotion-style book gives practical tips on how to live a generous life, stating that giving generously is a “kind of divine work”:

“The generous life is not about doling out extra amounts of money. It is about reorienting the human heart in the direction of Christ so that we become transmitters of the same affection and care that Christ modeled in his time.”

Generosity, then, comes from focusing on God and heeding His call—which may involve the sacrifice of our money, time, or other resources for the betterment of others.

 

[Click to Tweet: Generosity comes from focusing on God and heeding His call. #generouslife #bigsisterknows]

 

The Discipline of Simplicity

God still wasn’t done schooling me on this topic. He led me to one more book, a modern-day classic: Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. In this book, Foster highlights the thirteen major spiritual disciplines as recorded in the Bible and understood by the leading church fathers since the first century church. Imagine my surprise when I learned that simplicity—not generosity—is one of those disciplines!

As Foster explains, “the central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of His kingdom first—and then everything necessary will come in to its proper order.”

To experience this “inward reality liberates us outwardly….Our goods become available to others.” In other words, when we put God first in our lives, we find ourselves capable, willing, and even delighted to be generous to others.

However, if we focus on being generous, on getting rid of the stuff, on living simply, then we will miss the point. For to focus on anything but God is to make it an idol.

 

The Practice of Simplicity

I now realize the true value of Proverbs 31:19-20: the woman is generous to those around her because she’s learned to live simply, her eyes focused on God. If we follow her example, we’ll begin to live generous lives, too.

In future posts, I’ll dig more into this concept of the simple (and generous) life and how minimalism can be a useful strategy. But for now, remember that whatever it is you’re seeking in life—whether it’s to be more generous, to understand God’s will, or to have God’s favor—that focusing on God and His Kingdom is always the answer. Only then can everything else fall into its rightful place.

 

What about you? Are you seeking to live a generous life? What techniques do you find helpful?