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Lessons from Yellow Trout Lilies: Watch for the Unexpected


I was startled one March morning to notice a massive buttery spread of thousands of flowers along the tree-studded ridges where I had walked daily. How had I missed hints of this development? Had it occurred last spring as well? Even the carpet of green blotchy foliage which precedes the blooms and was so obvious the following years, had gone unnoticed. Further investigation revealed that this was an endangered woodland plant: yellow trout lilies (erythronium americanum), that grew in colonies and could take up to eight years to reach maturity and bloom. Once established, the colonies of plants could live for hundreds of years. A quick chat with a neighbor verified that, indeed, our neighborhood and in particular, our property had a large well-established colony. Over the next couple of weeks as I walked through a private acreage of ant pollinated blooming jewels, my previous oblivion of this enormous, gorgeous botanical stand prompted me to wonder what other beauty I had missed because of my limited awareness.

For a couple of years I had daily walked through this slice of land with the misguided impression that I was very perceptive of the environment. Knowing the types of trees, plants, and animals that shared this space with me, I had watched for the predictable changes of mudslides, broken branches, and springtime flooding of the stream. I knew the ebb and flow of blooming dogwoods and deciduous trees. But the sudden awareness of my having missed what was now obvious, brought several life lessons to mind.

The first lesson is to note that the Lord may be working with people in ways that will catch me unaware. As I had been startled by thousands of plants, a shocked Elijah had no idea that, indeed, there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed to Baal. Feeling alone, Elijah had soldiered through harrowing experiences, with no conception that he might have kindred spirits in the land. Surely, it will be a beautiful thing to watch the Master Conductor reveal his varied players, as He orchestrates a final demonstration of His character of love, unmasking the ultimate depravity of the evil one.

Faced with the reality of my blindness to this mass of beauty last spring elicited a feeling of modesty in my ability to fully perceive. A wise person would nurture this humility. It is easy to feel as though one is fully aware of society, and for example, to construct with zealous confidence an apocalyptic prophetic scenario. Just as it was impossible for me to have known the existence of these thousands of lily plants before the appointed time of bloom, it is impossible for us to know which forces for good and evil might emerge from unexpected places at surprising times. While confident in the Lord’s faithfulness, it would be wise to maintain a humble stance when assessing and speaking about complex situations.

Lastly, I thought about how one’s emotions and defense mechanisms can deprive us of a true appraisal of the reality around us, including goodness that may be percolating out of sight. Apparently, I had missed the yellow springtime show for one season. In my daily walk I had been so wrapped up in my own goals of maintaining sure footing and sampling podcast menus that I had neglected the discipline of broadly surveying my surroundings. A nature lover, I thought I had already inventoried the environment and thus developed a false confidence in my own perceptive abilities. Had I continued with a daily narrow focus I would have missed what is probably the best flower surprise of my life. A person’s emotions can be self-referential, misleading and blinding one to actual issues and events. Awareness of this ubiquitous tendency and an intentional turning of our cognizance to the Other in front of us will reveal the splendor that God has created.

So, in this season of Thanksgiving, let us vow to broaden our focus, allow for the unknown, and with gratitude watch for the unexpected gracious bounty from Jesus Christ, our Lord.


Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Ryan Hodnett


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