Danaus plexippus

Danaus plexippus, the milkweed butterfly.

This resident caterpillar…

from one egg of over 300 eggs; after a 3-5 day development becomes…

a summer weather caterpillar for 9-14 days with 5 stages of growth called instars.

On the 5th instar…

a pupa forms, then in 8-15 days an inexplicable wonder …

millions of late summer adults become international travelers.

Unfathomable mystery packaged by God.

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Freedom

It came to the bird feeder quickly with caution. A rare sight for my eyes, this bird is found in Western states. A Black-headed Grosbeak had come to crack the sunflowers with its parrot like beak. “Gros” is Germanic for large. Focus your attention on its beak, there is no question about its size. It quickly cracked and shelled three sunflowers before leaving for the woods behind the house.

 

Black Headed Grosbeaks are neo-tropical birds. These birds usually winter south of the Tropic of Cancer. That’s the latitudinal line 23.5 degrees north of the equator. That makes the Black Headed Grosbeaks an international traveler. Their summer nesting range finds them in the western United States and southern Canada with the Missouri river as a general eastern boundary.

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All life in God’s creation has miraculous aspects. Black Headed Grosbeaks have many. They are adjustable. Living in tropical heat in winter and northern climates in summer requires it. They fly long distances. Caution is built-in. Male and female incubate the 2-5 eggs in the nest. Black Headed Grosbeaks chooses nest sites in trees near water and in shade to keep the nest cool. While those large beaks easily crack the hull of a sunflower, they also break the hard shells of beetles which make up to 60% of their summer diets. Their diet includes snails. In fall migration berries are available and favored.

 

There is another miracle given the Black Headed Grosbeaks-freedom. Today we celebrate the freedoms we have been given in our nation. The Black Headed Grosbeak has been given freedom too. Our Creator, the author of freedom, has directed this bird to fly much of the North American continent. From southern Mexico to central North Dakota where the bird in the photos was is over 2000 miles. Black Headed Grosbeaks have a vast freedom. Their territory is enormous. Yet, all the basics for life are provided for it in the north or south. God has given each of us eternal freedoms too. The greatest is freedom from sin. What makes this freedom desirable? It frees us from guilt and gives freedom from sin’s eternal punishment. It gives us hope and an everlasting future.

 

Yes, we celebrate freedom today. But on this United States Independence Day, the greatest freedom is given by God. He sent his son to purchase freedom for you, for me. It is Jesus who has freed us. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12 This God-given freedom is perfect. It is eternal. It is available to all who seek it.

 

Life Food

A walk outside is worthwhile. It is time spent wisely, and a slow walk in a wild place often yields surprises.
 
Two dear grandchildren needed something to do. In my naturalist voice, I said, “Let’s use our eyes, ears, noses, tongues and fingers and explore what’s happening in the backyard.”  It worked.
 
Ants, weren’t surprising. The rough bark of an ash tree-ordinary. Waiting for an Oriole to come to the grape jelly feeder-too long. We needed something exciting.
 
We went to our 16-year-old prairie garden. The Northern bedstraw is blooming. Monarda caught my eye first. We rolled leaves between our fingers and nibbled on the tips to taste. Then we saw it. It takes time to really see nature.
 
We found exciting. A green caterpillar with yellow and black polka dots below two long black strips down its back amazed us. My naturalist partners were mesmerized with me.
 
A search today disclosed the name of this nearly three-inch caterpillar. We were admiring a Bedstraw Hawk moth caterpillar. (Hyles gallii) At this size, the caterpillar is nearly ready to pupate. It will burrow beneath the prairie garden and spend the remainder of summer and all of next winter in the safety of the earth beneath the prairie. Next growing season it will emerge as an adult Bedstraw Hawk moth. Like the caterpillar, it will be large.  Its wingspan could be over 3 inches.
 
The Bedstraw Hawk moth lives on the nectar of monarda and other flowers. It is one of the 11,000 species of moths in the United States. It is true to its name. The female Bedstraw Hawk moth lays her eggs on the stems of Northern Bedstraw. Hatching caterpillars feed on Northern bedstraw. They live and grow eating this plant. While the adult Bedstraw Hawk moth pollinates Northern Bedstraw, its caterpillar dines on it and lives. Beautiful bedstraw is life food for Bedstraw Hawk moth caterpillars.
 
The Creator of both bedstraw and the Bedstraw Hawk moth ordered this relationship between plant and insect. Both organisms benefit, though the plant is partially eaten.
 
The same Creator has provided everlasting life food for humans. Jesus explained it this way.  He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)
 
Eating earthly bread will provide temporary nourishment. Jesus, the bread of life, provides each one of us with forever life. Life for eternity. As He created the beautifully designed Bedstraw Hawk moth caterpillar, His design for us is life-beautiful eternal life. Only He has the power to give it.

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Either Way-You Win

Darkeyed Junco WPOne of my favorite birds is not a flashy multicolored wonder. Gray, black and white are considered ordinary. It is not a large bird. It does not fly at blazing speeds. Its beak is not curved or hooked. It does not have talons on its feet either. One more thing, it does not sing a spectacular song.

You are wondering. Why is this bird a favorite? What is it?

Stretch the suspense, go farther with me before you know.

This bird has been classified in the genus of American sparrows. Genus, that’s biology talk for family. Yes, I said it is in the sparrow family. Sparrows are common. Its 5 ½ to 6 inches long. Its size does not make it a favorite. Its wing span is a slight 7-9 inches. It is a ground bird seeking its food on the ground. 75% of its diet is composed of seeds. During nesting it adds protein from insects. Even more, during nesting season it nests in coniferous forests. But not in the trees, look for its nest on the ground.

It would be true to say this little sparrow sort of disappears for the summer. We said it is not flashy, and it is absent during the summer, it nests in the north in forests.  How could anyone find this bird delightful?

But it is delightful. The gray and black with white bars on their tails is actually beautiful. No need to be a flashy flier, they flit. It’s wonderful. Their beaks have perfect symmetry, the claws on their feet match the color of their body. And their color coordination is superb. What about that song? It’s a trill a bit like a Chipping Sparrow and similar to the Pine Warbler. A great pleasure comes from seeing a small flock of them feeding on the ground or perched on a branch.

Why a favorite? I get to see them Some of them spend winter in our backyard. They bring anytime joy to my birdbrain with their soft calls and deep color contrast with snow. Oh, you want to know what it is?

A Dark-eyed Junco is our bird star. Junco hyemalis for the biologists who are reading.

But Dark-eyed Juncos are a favorite of mine for another reason. It could be because they are in the sparrow family. It could be their quiet but pleasurable songs. It is true, black, and shades of gray can be eye appealing. The main reason these birds are favorites is they show me God.

John 20:31 tells us about the words written about Jesus in the Bible. It reads, “But, these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The Bible gives us specific documentation about the life of Jesus. It identifies him as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

The Dark-eyed Junco speaks of Jesus without words. The power of Jesus is seen in the Junco’s quiet life and how it lives through all seasons cold and warm. Jesus power is seen in this tiny 5-6-inch-long bird’s ability to safely locate a nest on the ground and know when to migrate northward safely. The fact that Jesus is divine, truly God, is heard when the Junco calls and when its black gray feathers contrast in exquisite beauty against white snow.

Want to see Jesus? There are two clear options, read the Bible, and watch the birds. Either way you win.

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Fullness

There were three of us. We had planned this before we closed our eyes in sleep the night before. We were going on an expedition. It would cross a lake and take us through thick woods. Our goal was to find signs of wildlife. To actually see wildlife would amaze us.

 

We knew the snow would be deep. More than 1 foot of new snow had fallen in the past week. It was soft and fluffy and the whitest of all whites.DSC_0005_1825sig

 

We ate a fantastic breakfast. We never talked about what we were doing afterwards. It was not hard to get my companions put on their winter gear. They were wired for adventure. They did not brush their teeth before we left. My fault, guess I was excited for this adventure too.

 

As we stepped outside the air was fresh, and cool. Can fresh air smell good? This air did. My steps are big when a distant goal is in mind. My adventure partners kept up with me although their strides are shorter. They made the expedition enjoyable in the beginning and all the way to the end.DSC_0008_1827sig

 

The first part of the expedition was on the street. The snow had been removed, walking was easy. When we came to the lake the snow was up to our calves. We crossed the lake sliding through powdery whiteness. We took turns in the lead. When we reached the woods, we paused and got quiet. Our goal was to walk silently. With more than a foot of fresh snow it was quite easy. At the top of the hill up from the lake we found fresh turkey tracks. We followed them for a distance until the turkey went a direction we did not want. There were places after that where the snow was up to our thighs and almost up to my partner’s waists.

 

An expedition is a journey with a purpose. One of our goals was to walk to the river through the woods. We made it. My partners legs were much shorter, but their muscles were much younger. We walked through thick woods, down small hills and up steep ones. We admired the morning. We admired the trees especially a massive spreading Red Oak. Never once did my expedition partners complain they were tired. We walked over 2 miles, most of it through a foot of fresh snow. It was completely worth every step.DSC_0011_1828sig

 

Why? First there was companionship. When people experience a walk outside together the shared experience builds bonds. These bonds are strengthened by the visual memories of the beauty in nature. My partners and I will remember being together and some details from this hike with a purpose for the rest of our lives. Second, there is health. Our expedition this morning improved our physical wellbeing, reducing our blood pressures, heart rates, reducing my muscle tension ( I don’t think my partners have any), and even the reduction of stress hormones. Our cardiovascular health was  improved. We walked for about 90 minutes in the cleanest air among great winter beauty.DSC_0020_1831sig

 

You may wonder how it is that a walk outside is so healthy for anyone who does it. There is a depth to exercise outdoors that cannot be matched by indoor exercise. Indoor exercise has proven health benefits. But the benefits of time outside are greater. Time outside refreshes the soul.  Consider the words of the Psalmist. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33:5 Knowing the earth is full of the unfailing love of God makes it easier to understand why time outside gives us health and peace. Consider these synonyms for full: complete, filled, and bursting. The earth is full of what? The unfailing love of God. The earth bursts with it. You sense it if you go outside. Perhaps that is why the fresh air smells so good. My partners and I found it today.DSC_0024_1834sig

 

It makes me want to go outside again tomorrow.DSC_0031_1837sig

Snowflake

We are like snowflakes.DSC_0147_1601sig

Call it a snowflake, but crystal is a superior name,

nothing is common about them, like frozen miracles.

Formed ½ to 3 miles feet above the earth,

a droplet of water, a speck of dust or salt.

Unseen by any human eye till just before it reaches land.

The central crystal adds 6 crystal arms on its trip to soil.

Each crystal arm forms according to the God arranged order of the water molecule which establishes them. In perfect conditions their symmetry is breathtaking.

All crystals travel a different path to earth.

No crystal is alike-ever, in all of history, this winter and any future winter, not even one image the same.

Sturdy for the long fall to earth, delicate, intricate, elaborate, and infused with breath taking beauty.

It may be called snow, but this word is too common, too ordinary.

How are we like snowflakes?DSC_0142sig

Call us embryo, but baby is a superior term.

We began life as babies.  Miracle is the best description.

Each of us was formed unseen at conception in the womb. Unnoticed by human eye.

Growing quickly adding incomprehensible and magnificent body systems. Every part miraculous, symmetrically breathtaking.

Our development followed a God set order-our DNA.

Like a snow crystal,

there is no other human exactly like you, not one.

Every human is sturdy for a long life on earth, but delicate, elaborate and infused with breath taking beauty, like a snow crystal.

Yes, call us human.

But separate from lifeless snow crystals for we are made in the living image of God.

Snow crystals melt within the season of their formation,
The human soul is eternal.

So, God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27DSC_0149_1603sig

Which Way?

This may be one of life’s biggest questions. Here it is, “What is the way?” This question comes often, if not daily. Sometimes the question relates to major life decisions; to take a job, leave a job, to buy a home, or sell a home. Sometimes this question relates to interpersonal matters. Should I marry him? Should I divorce or keep trying? Which way? It is an unchanging aspect of life. From the time a child begins making choices to the time a gray head is laid to rest, humans are faced with decisions which begin with, “which way?”

You would be thrilled with me if in the next sentence you were given a formula, which if followed, would always provide the correct answer to “which way?” You know better. Life has taught you that there is no such thing. With a sigh, you resign yourself to living life knowing that in future days you will face the question, “which way?” You know that at least half the time you will choose the wrong way. Possibly some months you will find most of your “way” decisions were wrong.

There is no comfort in this. We often choose the wrong way. We suffer the consequences of our wrong way choices. Our wrong way choices bring pain to self and others. Wrong “way” choices bring regrets. Some of them last a life time. This is the opposite of comfort. It’s heartache.

But. There is a way. For the rest of your life you can walk in this way. You will still make bad choices. You will say wrong things. Mistakes you regret will still occur. However, there is a way. It is not a formula. It is not a 10-step plan to better life. It does not cost you, it is free. If it seems too easy, it’s not. This way cost someone their very life. The blood of this person spilled on the earth. No, making this way was not easy.

Isaiah, the prophet of the Bible wrote about this way. He said, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”  Isaiah 30:21 (ESV) Long ago Isaiah said, “This is the way, walk in it.” Our logical question is, “What is this way you are referring to?”

The wonderful answer is found in the words of Jesus. He is the One who died for the sins of all. His blood was spilled for our sakes. Jesus plainly said, “I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father (God), except through me.” (John 14:6) The truth is, there is a way, a perfect way.  In all of our lives, there is a way…it’s Jesus. When you turn to the right, seek Jesus. If you turn to the left, seek Jesus. In big decisions, some this week-seek Jesus. Whether your job, personal relationships, or any other thing in life, the way for all of life is Jesus.DSC_0010_007sig

The sun has a “way.” As does the moon. Likewise, a river. Even a train has a way, the tracks. Humans have a perfect “way,” in Jesus. Consider these words what your ears hear behind you: Jesus is the way, walk with Him. When we choose the wrong way, Jesus calls to us, “Follow me.”  No comfort is more real for us today.DSC_0041edsigDSC_0094_028sig