Scripture informs us that we can learn life-lessons from observing God’s creation. Proverbs 6:6 says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.” The proverb is admonishing the lazy man to go to work if he wants a good future. The ant serves as the metaphor in God’s lesson. I suppose that the sluggard – and all of us for that matter – consider ourselves higher on the pyramid of creatures than the ant. Who wants to be coached for success from an ant? Belonging to the class ‘insecta’ and the family ‘formicidae’ may sound like these are creatures of influence; but let’s be honest, they are ants. Nonetheless, God placed a wisdom inside of these annoying creatures that can communicate His providential plan to mankind who belong to the class ‘mammal’ and the family ‘hominidae’ (in case you were wondering).
Ants aren’t the only lower life forms that can communicate wisdom. I suppose that all of creation can be a living book of instruction if we are willing to be taught. After all, the God who wrote the Bible is the same God who created the whole world. We ought not to be surprised that His message is consistent whether in written form or in living technicolor.
I am currently learning from ducks. Yes – I said ducks. I purchased four cute little creatures almost eight weeks ago. I had a dual purpose. First, I wanted to thrill and delight my grandchildren with the fuzzy ducklings. Second, I planned to release the grown-up ducks onto the lake that is behind my home. I envisioned having permanent resident ducks that would bring me and my husband hours of enjoyment as we observed them in a natural habitat.
What I failed to comprehend was the unnatural environment that I would need to supply between the store and that natural habitat. These babies began life in a very small tub but quickly required a bigger pen. The past weeks have necessitated three upgrades to their living space. I have not only provided the house, I have provided the food, the water, the swimming tub, the heat lamp, the sanitation – and basically everything needed to sustain these ducks, who – by the way – belong to the class ‘bird’ and the family ‘anatidae.’ Don’t let that name impress you – these are not the wisest of creatures.
Every day for the past eight weeks, I have been faithful. They have wanted for nothing. Food? I fill the feeder before they even peep their need. Water? I bring the fresh, cool, refreshing liquid. They ‘fowl’ up their pen (pun intended) and I clean it up. Yet – with all the evidence that I mean them well, these guys run from me. They squawk and run from this mercy-giver. Huddled together at the edge of their habitant, they look at me as though I had ‘fowl’ intentions. They could draw near to me in confident expectation. How much less stressful their existence would be if only they could comprehend the benevolent hand of their care-taker.
Although our time together has not produced wisdom in them, I am nonetheless a little wiser. Of course, I know more about ducks. For one thing, the next time I have an idea to buy ducklings, I will let that thought ‘fly’ right out of my mind. Also, I have been regularly considering the heart of my own Heavenly Care-Taker. How many times have I misconstrued His intentions for me? How often have I run from Him rather than running toward him? How frequently do I take His abundant grace for granted? My ducks have stirred a heart of wisdom in me to acknowledge God’s compassionate care with trust and thanksgiving. Life lesson learned!
Have you ever noticed that wisdom often becomes apparent on the back side of your choice; because having lived out your decision, you discover that your proclivity was not truly wise at all? Thus, we are inclined to say: “If only I had known then what I know now.” I am in the midst of one of those moments. Before I confess my error, let me tell you the hopes, dreams, and visions that put me on my present course.
It started just about five weeks ago at Easter time. As a mother of 5, mother-in-law of 5, and grandmother of 17, I love to celebrate holidays and make memories. Like most families, our family has traditions. Church tops our list as we commemorate the resurrection of Jesus. The day includes new Easter garments and photos, lunch and the traditional Easter ham, colored eggs and various types of candy. The older and wiser my children become, the less candy they allow their children to eat. The older and wiser my grandchildren become, the less candy they allow themselves to eat. The older and wiser I become, the less money I wish to invest in candy that nobody will eat. It would appear that all of us grow a little wiser with each passing Easter.
This past holiday, however, I decided to change up the normal and add a little Nana-flare to our event. I bought cute, little, fuzzy, furry ducks for each family unit. I envisioned Easter ducks would evoke joyous “oohs and ahhs” from my family as my children were delighted with a non-chocolate treat and my grands were thrilled to have their very own living, darling, snuggly pet. Yes, that is indeed how I saw it in my mind’s eye!
On Easter afternoon, I made an announcement that the whole gang should assemble in my living room for the big surprise. I could feel the anticipation mounting. Into the room of smiling faces and twinkling eyes, I carried the ducks. Squeals filled the air. The little guys squealed in anxiety and ran behind their parents. The grade-schoolers began to man-handle the ducks causing the ducklings to squeal in fear. And my children – the parents – likewise squealed out the words, “You’re not giving us those ducks for us to raise!” Almost instantly a level of wisdom began to dawn upon me. Easter ducks may, in the light of reality, have been a poor substitute for a chocolate bunny!
From that day until this, my wisdom is growing exponentially. I have been raising ducks. I had to buy a pen, wood chips for the pen, a lamp and light for warmth, a feeder, feed, and a water dispenser. My foyer is now home to the duck pen. My traditionally-decorated, beautifully-adorned entry way has a hint of a barn yard. At least, it did for the first few weeks. Ducks grow quickly. Ducks eat a good amount of grain and discard at least three times the volume they eat. They drink and splash, eat and mess, drink and splash, eat and mess, and then repeat the whole process over and over. I’m pretty sure they lack wisdom, which is probably why we call someone a “quack” when they do something stupid. And when a friend acts too silly, we call them “daffy” – which name originated with a duck by the way!
In so many ways, reality and fantasy have collided in the foyer of my home. Choices and wisdom have crashed head on. For example, in an effort to eliminate duck aroma, I placed the fowl creatures in a big tub of water. “Ducks swim. Ducklings have to start swimming sometime,” I told myself. So, we all took the plunge. The first water bath lasted almost an hour. When I pulled them out, they seemed to be unable to stand firmly on their webbed feet. They fell forward; I braced upward; they squealed weakly; I cried frantically. “I killed the Easter ducks,” was my foremost thought. They finally did regain their balance, and I later discovered that feather-less baby ducks absorb water through the down. More wisdom!
So – here I am – a wiser Nana and shrewder duck-raiser. I only have two to three more months until my wisdom and their growth is fully mature. My sons are saying “I told you so!” I am able to say, “I do know now what I need to know tomorrow.” Easter and baby ducks are not in my family’s future and wisdom for next-season’s Easter surprise will definitely be founded upon the backward look at my duck tale.
I love to quote the Bible. Although to be honest: most of the time, I ‘closely’ quote it rather than ‘exactly’ quote it; but you get my point. Quoting the words of someone more informed and more qualified than I am is a technique that I learned in my early years. My first recitation was a single word: “no.” I learned that word from my mother, who told me she used it frequently when imparting wisdom and discernment.
I’m pretty sure that almost everything I said throughout my first five or six years was a quote from my mom. Well . . . there was that one word I learned from the neighbor boy. When Mom heard me repeat him, she promptly imparted her “no” word of wisdom; and that quote was permanently removed from my repertoire. Before I went off to school, Mom knew everything.
Primary school broadened my horizons. I discovered that Mom knew a lot but not quite everything. Teachers and textbooks, companions and clubs, movies and music: my quote quotient was quickly quantifying. Mom’s advice to me while I practiced my new found information was, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Her advice generally meant that I was not getting smarter if I didn’t treat my friends with love.
Secondary school exposed me to a plethora of new ideas. I was becoming convinced that Mom did not know it all. My quote quota was taking quantum leaps. I cited Shakespeare for my teachers and The Beatles for my friends. I mimicked popular comedians’ comedy skits when seeking to evoke laughter and repeated poetry from Byron or Keats when attempting to appear intellectual. Mom’s quote for me: “This above all, to thine own self be true.” She warned me not to compromise who I was or ignore my conscience just to get ahead.
College days unveiled a universe of discoveries. My opinions about Mom’s advice went through several stages, but mostly I wondered if the things Mom knew had just become outdated. New peer groups and new ideologies challenged my traditional upbringing. New quirky quotes tempted me to quit on the old sayings. Yet, her values lingered as I thought of her words, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
I married in my early 20’s and became the mother of five by the time I reached 35. Assuming the role of mother brought about a renewed appreciation for my mom’s words. I became increasingly convinced that Mom might just know a lot, after all. I no longer wanted to quibble over the quotes in my quiver. I even moved to the point of asking Mom before making decisions. After all, “Time has a way of telling the truth.”
Now I am both a mom and a grandmother. Whereas my quest for good quotes continues and I have found an endless supply in the scriptures, I have replaced my mother in the role of purveyor of the proverbial and supplier of the sayings. I wish Mom was still here to rehearse one more time the old wisdom that formed the core of who I am. Although the sound of her voice may be silenced, the echo of her words continues to replay. I still hear her quotes and my children and their children are still instructed by them, too.
Quoting the words of someone more informed and more qualified than I am is a technique that I learned in my early years. Mom taught me to respect wisdom. Mom taught me to honor those who share their wisdom. Mom taught me to remember, rehearse, and retell wisdom. Maybe she knew that this life skill would eventually lead me to honor God, learn His word, and quote His wisdom. Thanks to Mom and the Bible, my quote for this day is “Children, honor your father and your mother.”
Wishing all Moms a Happy Mother’s Day!
Growing up in the greater St. Louis area, I have always been very familiar with the Mississippi River. In my early childhood, my grandmother would take me for a streetcar ride across the McKinley Bridge to get from Illinois to downtown St. Louis. Time has passed; streetcars have become outmoded; cars fill the family garage; but the Eads and McKinley Bridges still span the Mighty Mississippi along with newer and broader expansions.
The river also holds ‘Huck Finn’ type memories for me. My parents regularly took me to a friend’s riverside cabin where we would fish, hunt mushrooms, and build bonfires. As I grew and my interests changed, the river remained important. Motor boats and water skiing near Alton or the Admiral Boat anchored at Laclede’s Landing offered fun weekend activities.
More time passed. Today, I still regularly drive to St. Louis but now on one of several multi-lane interstates with the multiple bridge options that connect Illinois and Missouri. The Admiral has long been retired from the riverfront landscape and has been replaced by expansive casinos and a few sightseeing boats. The magnificent Arch frames the city and casts its image onto the river. However, in spite of the passage of time, culture or landscape, the Mississippi seems timeless, ever flowing southward toward the Gulf of Mexico.
The river springs from a secluded northern Minnesota lake named Lake Itasca, which was first called Antler Lake by the Chippewa Indians. In fact, it was a Chippewa Chief who ended the centuries-long search for the river's source by guiding Henry Schoolcraft to it in 1832. Schoolcraft strung together parts of two Latin words, veritas caput, meaning "true head," to create the name Itasca. From this hidden forested place, the Mississippi flows approximately twenty-five hundred miles to the Gulf of Mexico, bordering ten states and expanding to more than a mile in width. A drop of water takes sixty days to reach the balmy Gulf.
Continuously – and seemingly timelessly – the Mississippi travels from the head waters toward its destination. Life around the river may transform and change, but the river remains unaltered. Decade after decade, the waters released at Itasca will touch the banks of cities, support commerce and entertainment for the citizenry, and eventually spill out into the oceans that touch the world.
Jesus told His disciples that out of them would flow a river (Jn. 7:38). In part, He was stating that they would provide the fountain head for the water of His life to flow. Things that have small beginnings can have mighty cultural influences. Jesus’ original small band of followers has grown into a worldwide movement. Time passes and culture changes, but His water moves continuously – and seemingly timelessly – from His people throughout the generations and into the nations.
Those who live near that River of God have memories of good days that have ‘floated’ their way and promises of blessings that shall yet ‘drift’ downstream. No matter how culture may ebb or flow or how the undercurrent of humanity may pull, God’s Word and Spirit always provide that timeless, steady stream of life.