It is said the sign of a healthy garden is the insects. I enjoy watching my garden insects more than the garden itself. Summer before last, I stepped out on my patio early one pleasant evening to water my plants and flowers and found two huge green caterpillars on my potted bell pepper plant. After watching how they oozed along the thick stalks of the plant, their little feet inching over the green, I peered at their mouths munching a chunk out of one of the many dark green leaves. I called my daughter Rebekah to bring her 8-month-old baby boy to see the wonder. We marveled at it for a few minutes then went inside for dinner and the rest of our evening, thinking they would eat a few bites and move on. Before bed I once again went out to the patio to let the dog out. The stalk of bell pepper plant stood in the pot, naked to the world. No leaf adorned it. The two very hungry caterpillars appeared asleep atop the green shoots.
Rebekah, having bathed and pajama’d the baby, stepped out on the patio with him and burst into laughter. I have a long history of killing potted plants, and this was just in keeping with my norm. While I was disappointed that my bell pepper plant, which was full of healthy, green leaves but no sign of flowers, was eaten to oblivion, I was excited at the prospect of watching the caterpillars hang from the naked branches and make their cocoons and eventually turn into butterflies or maybe luna moths.
When Rebekah was about 7 years old, she took a hike with her dad around the neighborhood. She returned carrying a spindly stick with a beautiful small green cocoon hanging from it. Her young “eagle eyes” had spotted the wonder, and they brought it home to put in her butterfly house. The house was a clever tube of netting with a large round of cardboard at the bottom and a gathered opening.
We carefully placed the stick inside so that the cocoon hung safely suspended where we could observe it daily. The shiny lime green object was bejeweled with little blue dots that sparkled like sapphires and had threads of gold. It would’ve made a beautiful pendant for a gold chain. Weeks later a large luna moth emerged from the jewel, wings adorned with giant spots of sapphire blue and glistening accents of gold. It was an experience my daughter and I would always treasure.
Now, almost 15 years later, I ran to the garage hunting for the butterfly house that I was sure I refused to relinquish when my daughters accused me of being a closet hoarder and tried to make me “get rid of all this stuff.” Rebekah came to the garage door holding her young son asking her standard “what in the world are you doing now?”
I explained that at least I could enclose the caterpillars in the butterfly house, and we could watch the wonder of nature unfold since we wouldn’t be enjoying any bell peppers this summer. But I couldn’t find the butterfly house. I found the George Foreman grill, a large-button landline phone for the elderly, a collection of vinyl record albums, and a 15-year-old Mac computer, but nothing to house the caterpillars. Rebekah put Cayden to bed during my mad hunt in the garage and was coming downstairs when I finally gave up the search.
I was offering other ideas that might work for my project as we stepped out on the patio to look at our garden guests. The picture is still etched in my mind in full color. The bright patio light was a spotlight for the pale green stalks that shone against the dark. The green branches stood in the pot like a skeletal hand devoid of leaves and now bereft of the insects as well. My caterpillars were gone! Now, not only would I have no bell peppers, I couldn’t even make any good thing come out of this tragedy.
Sometimes, life hits us like this. Have you had a hungry caterpillar or two eat everything in your life until you feel there is nothing left? My readers know that I have. With the tragic loss of Rebekah four months ago, I thought that was enough. But to add insult to injury, I’ve also had someone close to me take advantage of my hospitality and steal credit cards, cash, and precious treasures from me. Now, I’m locked in a court battle replete with detectives and lawyers and judges, while raising my two-year-old grandson and helping him deal with the loss of his mother. My branches are naked.
But the Lord knows our frames and never gives us more than we can bear, but gives—or rather develops in us through the trial—what was already there lying below the surface. The naked branches of my bell pepper plant produced even more leaves and flowers that summer after their total stripping. We ate bell peppers all summer long, and from a potted plant.
Just as a healthy garden has devouring insects, a healthy spiritual life has consuming trials. How we react to those trials determines if we will flourish or remain naked with no fruit to offer anyone. If you plow through your trial, you will develop strength you never thought possible. While it took a couple of months to resume my routine, I still awake early each morning, make my green juice, and do my yoga. Then I have my quiet time with the Lord, studying His marvelous Word. It is here that I regain the true strength that I need to produce any fruit. Once a week, as I am doing this morning, I treat myself to an early morning hour of writing. I continue to make my “To Do” lists and check off any accomplishments, usually rewarding myself with a bit of dark chocolate or a glass of red wine. Of course, it helps immensely to have a two-year-old depending on me to do these things so that I can take care of him. It also helps that he loves to drink green juice with me!
All these things are working together to put me back together so my heart can heal and the hole can be filled with new treasures. Meanwhile, I’ve potted a new bell pepper plant.