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A Life-Changing Lesson from Nature

A scary-looking insect is a life-changing messenger, teaching the beauty of letting go and trusting change.

Magicicada - 17 year cicada emerging from skeleton is a lesson for change

My devotion in Daily Guideposts this month delves into the amazing impact the 17-year cicadas had on my life when they emerged in 2013. Here is more on the lasting lessons their brief appearance taught me about trusting God through the dark times and surrendering to change.

This morning I had my first sighting of the Magicicada. I was putting my son on the bus when I noticed a red-eyed insect hobbling on a dandelion. The cicada, newly emerged with fresh wings, stumbled along the grass and flowers. Leaning down I noticed another and another. The ground was crawling with them.

Magicada are periodical cicada, appearing every 13 or 17 years. The oldest insect in North America, they begin as rice-shaped eggs in the grooves of a tree. Once hatched, they fall to the ground and dig their way deep into earth. Seventeen years later, they emerge as hard-shelled, rust-colored nymphs. At first light, they climb upward to the nearest tree, picnic table, swingset, house, closest vertical surface, shed their skin, grow wings and fly.

Their presence is a catalyst to reflection, to look back over the years since their last appearance and consider the challenges overcome, the blessings received. Everywhere in the Hudson River Valley people are talking about the last time the cicadas were here 17 years ago—almost the time it takes for a newborn to reach the age of majority. Who was born, who we lost, job changes, life changes.

Where was I the last time Magicicadas graced the ground? I was fresh out of college in a job I didn’t really like, in between relationships and living an hour away. I remember disbelieving my family when they called to tell me about the cicada invasion. I tried to picture the scene when they said they were using a snow shovel to clear a path to the bird feeder. “You have to see them,” my sister Maria said. “There are over a million an acre.” I didn’t see them though. Back then, it seemed crazy to drive an hour to look at bugs.

I walk around the the cicada-covered trees. Magicada’s survival strategy is “predator satiation” which means they appear in unbelievable, crowded numbers and overwhelm the environment. Despite having little defenses most survive to mate.


Hundreds are molting. Some are frozen waiting for their wings to strengthen. Others are just beginning to shed their skin.  Nymphs climb over newly emerged fragile cicadas and I find myself helping some that have fallen. I carry them to places where their pink wings can spread and harden.

My favorite part, the a-ha moment that I wait for, is when the cicada pulls himself free and holds on to the shell of its old self while his wings strengthen, a brave leap of faith that takes my breath away. I watch the surrender, the rebirth, again and again. I never tire of seeing it—a secret of God it seems, a window to His grace.

Time stops and I stand in the moment, thinking about everything.  How the last time the cicadas were here my sister was alive. Who would have thought she would die healthy in her sleep at 45? My sons weren’t born. I always imagined a daughter, but a son, two sons, blessings and love, the depths I never could have known.

Up close the cicadas are beautiful and ugly at the same time. Their red eyes give them a scary edge and I think about how we fear what we don’t understand. So often we resist change out of fear. Knowing the cicada’s history and all they’ve gone through is cause for respect. Here, their perseverance a testament of beauty.

Change is contagious. I look back on the dark times that I’ve been through since the last time the cicadas came. Like them, I had to climb out of the darkness of losing my sister. With time and faith, grief cracked open and let in light. Grief itself grows its own wings.

Morning after morning I get up just as the sun crests the tree tops and watch the wonder. I cherish these precious days knowing they are finite and I’ll have to wait another 17 years to witness it again—and only God knows what those years will bring.

In the end, all that was left was the Magicicada’s shed skin. Ghosts of who they had been piled beneath trees, scattered in the lawn, stuck in the crevices of the siding of our home, on the undersides of tree limbs—reminders of their ephemeral blessing—and a nudge from heaven to persevere through darkness. Trust change.  Let go. Shed what what we no longer need. Leave it behind and fly.



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