Chasing Fireflies

To catch a firefly is to catch a promise.” ~ Jennifer Wilder Morgan

Summer, for me, has always been a magical time—full of fun, mystery and revelation. I am a child of summer—born in August and raised on the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio. I remember sweltering hot days and warm nights; delightful splashy cool downs in front yard sprinklers and neighborhood swimming pools; ice cream cones, barbecues and picnic fun with family and friends; building sandcastles on the beach; laying in the grass at night watching meteor showers and making wishes on shooting stars; lazy mornings and carefree evenings … those were the days of refreshment and restoration that summer promised before the return to school, hectic schedules, carpools, and homework.

But … one of my favorite things about summer happened after the sun went down, because that’s when the magic happened! The air became soft and pleasant, accompanied by wonderful lake breezes, and as the night shadows crept steadily across the yard, crickets and tree frogs began singing their evening vespers. Then, one by one, little points of light would appear and disappear amongst the grass, bushes and trees, like stars playing an ethereal game of hide-and-seek. My brother, sister and I sat, quietly whispering on the cool, dark lawn, planning our strategy to capture some of this luminous wonder in the glass mason jars we held clasped in our laps. It was the season of the fireflies!

Night after night, we chased after these wondrous creatures and placed them carefully in our jars, creating our own little magic lamps. (Fireflies were, and still are, the only bugs I care to hold in my hand.)  We huddled together on the lawn with our lamps for what seemed like hours, giggling and mesmerized, our faces glowing in the soft yellow light of the fireflies. Finally, as we were called back into the house for bedtime, we reluctantly released our fireflies back into their night-time world. And as we slept, these benevolent fireflies continued their twinkling dance outside our bedroom windows, promising another night of enchantment and wonder.

I have always been enchanted by the fireflies. Not only by the scientific miracle that allows a tiny insect creature to create light, but also by the feelings of wonder and comfort their presence in the darkness evokes in me. My grandmother in Indiana had a deep backyard that was bordered by forest. When we visited her in the summer, the nightly twinkling firefly show was spectacular. It seemed that the stars in the sky were duplicated amongst the grass, bushes and trees, so that heaven and earth had become as one. I will never forget one night as I watched this spectacle with my grandmother, I told her that the light of the fireflies ‘made me not afraid of the darkness.’ She took my hand, leaned down and whispered, “Do you see those firefly lights twinkling on and off? That is God saying peek-a-boo! … peek-a-boo! God is promising you that He is always here with you.”

My heart has treasured that conversation between grandmother and granddaughter, and the wisdom that was imparted in that magical moment. Today, as I picked up my Bible and read John 1:5, I was immediately transported back to my grandmother’s backyard in Indiana, and to the lights twinkling outside my bedroom window in Ohio. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Yes. Those little twinkling creatures that mirror the stars in the heavens are Creation’s way of reminding us of the promise that God is always present. No wonder I always felt comforted by their light in the dark of night. And to think I used to catch that promise in a mason jar!

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