As we crossed the street, little Ashley trotted alongside me. I pulled the stroller to a stop on the other side of the crosswalk and set the brake. We had a few minutes until the big kids got out of school ... and a few minutes to catch our breath from the hike up the hill. As I reached for the icy water bottle in the stroller pouch, Ashley shrieked. I had inadvertently stepped on an old apple core. Covered in ants.
"Hey, it's okay. No problem, Honey," I said reassuringly as I nudged the ant-feast against the fence with the toe of my shoe.
I turned to Ashley. There was obviously a problem. Her wide eyes surveyed the scene and then she screamed again.
One little ant had managed to leap from the apple to my shoe and was slowly making his way up my leg.
"Whoa, whoa. Settle down," I said as I brushed off the detoured little fellow, "See? He's gone."
Ashley was breathing quickly and her sweet little lips were quivering. Ever since her run in with the wasps, she has been understandably a little unnerved around creepy crawlies. She nodded her head, as if convincing herself that the danger had passed.
Then she went a little bonkers.
One minuscule ant was headed the wrong way ... crawling up her leg. Oops.
Sweet Le-le screamed and started tap-dancing in place. Her little legs were flailing around. She flapped her arms wildly, sending her jangle-y bracelets up into the air, scattering across the sidewalk. She was terrified. (And so was that poor little ant.)
With great mommy-speed, I swept the unfortunate bug off into space and pulled Ashley toward me. I hunkered down next to her and tried to console her.
"Sweetie ... it's just a little ant. He didn't want to hurt you, he was just lost. He's gone now. You're okay."
I rubbed her back, wiped her tears and peered into her scared little eyes. I explained to her that ants don't usually hurt you. Some might have little pinchers, but most just lumber from place to place carrying things. This tiny guy was ...
At just that moment I felt a sting on my foot. And then another.
As nonchalantly as I could, I casually shook my sandal off my foot and brushed the little fiery ant bully off my foot.
Thanks, buddy. You're really not helping things here.
So much for, "he didn't want to hurt you." Apparently there is a bit of danger lurking everywhere ... even at the crosswalk.
How often have you found yourself in that same type of situation?
Perhaps a loved one comes up against something difficult, something scary, something new, something sad and you find that you must be brave for the both of you. Then in the midst of your attempts to bring comfort and encouragement, you, too, are struck with a taste of their fear, worry and weariness.
How do you remain strong and courageous in the face of of someone else's challenges?
More than anything, Ashley needed me to be brave and even though part of me want to tap-dance my way to an ant-free-zone, I needed to be calm. My panic would have only escalated her already high-level of bug frenzy. My rational response allowed her to lower her insect-threat-level back down to "code mellow-yellow".
I know that I won't always be able to sweep away my kids fears and worries - at least not as easily as thwacking that ant - but we can take these opportunities to learn how to deal with our problems sensibly ... while still validating their concerns. We can see these little scary episodes as teachable moments and learn how to talk calmly, breathe deeply, pray quietly and remind ourselves of God's presence.
In the Old Testament book of Joshua, we read about a promise that God made to the Israelite leader, Joshua. After forty years of wandering in the desert, God's people are finally preparing to cross the Jordan River and enter the land promised to them. Most certainly a scary prospect.
Here's what God has to say:
7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7-9
When I read this text, I am struck by the number of times God tells Joshua not be be afraid or discouraged or weak or cowardly. I think of Joshua as being a great warrior, but it would appear that he had his own doubts and his own fears. Not only is this astonishing to learn, but it's also comforting, in a way. If God promised to be with Joshua as he set out to conquer the giants in the Promised land, then I know that He will be with me and my loved ones as we face our own giants.
Be they challenging friendships, hard life lessons ... or pesky little ants.