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How I Learned to Look for “God Signs”

Photo of Bonnie BlaylockBonnie Blaylock | Bio

Bonnie Blaylock

Bonnie holds an M.A. in creative writing from the University of Tennessee. After translating science-ese into articles and papers for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for over 20 years she owned a small-animal veterinary hospital with her husband while raising their two children, beekeeping, and traveling extensively. Returning to her creative writing roots, she hosts a blog of personal essays She has completed two novels and is currently at work on a third.

A long time ago, our family happened upon this idea of what I’ll call “God signs.” The idea came through a friend of ours who had mentioned that, whenever he was faced with a tough decision or was feeling conflicted or particularly low, he had started noticing birds. Not just birds on a wire or flying by, but he’d be sitting alone somewhere outside and a single sparrow would perch close by.

Now, maybe sparrows are just an extroverted little species or are particularly bold trying to beg for crumbs. I’ve certainly fed my share of them on the patio outside Panera. But these weren’t sparrows in a group who appeared to want something. This would just be a single sparrow, and it would alight nearby and stay for a while.

If you are familiar with Scriptures, you might be thinking, as he did, of that verse in Matthew 6 where Jesus refers to the birds of the sky as a reminder that God takes care of all of his creation. All of it. Even you. So worrying doesn’t help anything.

Because it became such a regular occurrence to see a sparrow in difficult times of his life, our friend chose to see the little bird as a “God sign,” God’s way of saying “Hey, I’m thinking of you right this minute. Be joyful.”

While I liked the idea of God sending little tangible messages as a nudge or nod to people, at the time I was kind of an eye-roller about that sort of thing. I mean, really, ever heard of coincidence?

We were in the middle of raising our young kids, struggling with a business and the craziness of life in our early-30’s. I was tired and, let’s face it, had become a little cynical in my faith. I didn’t get the big, brazen answers to prayers that some people seemed to. Bad stuff had happened in my life and I just had to handle it. Nobody with a red cape swooped in to Save the Day. And while little magical sparrows were sweet and all, that sort of thing would never happen to me.

So when my husband came home and told me about the sparrow thing and the idea of it maybe being a “God sign” and wasn’t that neat, I admit it: I scoffed. Actually, I think I said out loud, “Oh, right. You can interpret it that way if you want. But God would never do that for me.”

I probably threw in an old-fashioned “pshaw” and then did the eye-rolling thing and said, “If I had a God sign, it would be something totally ridiculous like a praying mantis.”

Where did I pull that one from? I don’t have a particular affinity for insects (except maybe bees). I could’ve picked a lightning bug or Japanese beetle or even a bumblebee, something I saw every day in our yard. But I was trying to come up with something nuts, totally out of the realm of what I saw on a regular basis. Anybody can see a sparrow, I thought. Let’s see you pull this one out of your hat.

You know where this is going, right? I shelved the conversation in the back of my mind and the next day (the next day) loaded my kids in the car to go to a local blueberry patch, about 30 minutes from our house. We met some other moms there and spent the morning picking a gallon or two of berries. After our picnic lunch, when it was time to leave, I got everyone in their car seats and threw my stuff in the passenger seat. We still had to run to Target for an errand before heading home and the afternoon was getting away from us.

I was distracted and thinking of what was on the list for the rest of the day. Which was probably why I didn’t see him until I had already backed out of my space. As I took the car out of reverse and looked ahead to drive out of the parking lot, there he was. I gasped so loud the kids in the back were startled. “What’s wrong, Mommy??”

I pointed to the windshield. There, smack dab in the middle of the glass, staring in at me with a look on its face like “You were saying?” was the biggest, greenest praying mantis I’d ever seen. I didn’t even know they got that big. It was a good 7 or 8 inches long, perched sitting up like they do with its arms folded.

I might have seen a mantis when I was a kid sometime. I kind of remember my dad showing me one he’d found once, but I’d never run across one myself. Like, in the wild, let alone this close to me on my car.

After a moment of stunned disbelief, I started laughing. No. Way.

This was before cell phones with cameras on them, or you’d better believe I would have subjected this guy to a photo shoot on the spot. “Look!” I told the kids, “Look at this big bug!! It’s a praying mantis!!” For some reason, my kids couldn’t fathom why this would be so funny to me or why I didn’t just turn on the wipers and get it off, my usual reaction to unwanted insects. “Look at him! Isn’t he AMAZING??”

I continued to laugh all the way to Target. All the way back into town, 30 minutes away. I drove at normal speed–on the highway around 50 mph–and he stayed there. The wind didn’t blow him off. It was like a mantis shampoo commercial, with the breeze slightly ruffling his wings as he turned his triangle head this way and that. Mocking me. God was like “you think I can’t do a mantis? I’ll show you mantis. How ’bout this.”

This granddaddy of all mantises clung to my window until we parked at Target. He stayed there as I showed him to my kids up close. Then we had to go in the store, and when we came back out he was gone.

I was chastened. Touche. For some reason, a verse from Joshua came to mind, clear as a bell:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I tucked that little gem away. I’d been deservedly popped upside the head. Oh me of little faith.

Could it have been a coincidence? Sure. Insects are everywhere. I have seen them since then, though. It’s usually when I’m distracted, busy working on My List, which good Type-A people always have on hand. I’d not seen one for years, and now I see them every few weeks. They’re unusual and reclusive. I’ll just be walking out the door, and there’ll be one sitting on the fence.

And–coincidence or not–I see them when I’ve been deep in thought (ok, worry) about an issue in my life or a relationship. That Joshua verse always pops into my head. My spirits always lift and I feel like I’ve been given a nod from above.

Whether it’s been actively placed there just for me or whether I just choose to see it as a reminder of what I should be more mindful of, I have grown to appreciate more of the magic and joy in life. I’m a lot less dismissive than I was back then. More full of wonder and ready to notice and receive blessings, however they’re packaged. Even in a weird little green bug.

(From Used with permission.