Last year, while embedded reporters broadcast eerie night-vision images of US troops moving toward Baghdad, I was experiencing one of the most beautiful spring seasons I had ever seen in the California high desert. Bright orange poppies were carpeting acres of rolling hillsides.
The year before, when the winter rains hadn't come yet again, only a few spindly plants had bloomed. But despite raging wild fires and flash floods, the poppies had now returned, and plans went forward to celebrate the century mark of the proclamation that made the poppy the state flower. Spring had returned to attend her own party.
A soldier I knew was part of the Baghdad-bound troop movement. I promised his mother I would pray for her boy every day. Walking the poppy-lined paths in the warm sunshine, I was turning to God for messages of comfort. Somehow, though, it didn't seem right to be enjoying these glorious vistas while our troops were in harm's way. The petals of the blossoms clustered at my feet glistened like orange silk. The blossoms and delicate leaves were such a contrast to the camouflage uniforms and helmets I knew the boy would be wearing. I didn't feel inspired to pray.
Over the next week, though, as I watched the news, I persisted in my efforts to pray every day. I knew prayer was not an empty thing. I had a lifetime of experience reading the Bible and finding assurances that God is good and of certain help.
The next weekend, I was out at the poppy fields again, but this time it was a cold day with winds so strong that heavy lawn furniture had blown across my backyard as if made of paper. Standing at the crest of a hill, I noticed that the poppy blossoms were tightly rolled up and simply vibrating, unharmed, in the wind. It occurred to me that, from another hilltop centuries ago, Jesus had encouraged his listeners bowed under the weight of Roman domination. "Consider the lilies of the field," he said, "how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matt. 6:28, 29).
I began to pray for my friend by remembering the words Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote on the subject of being "clothed." She assured us: "Good thoughts are an impervious armor; clad therewith you are completely shielded from the attacks of error of every sort. And not only yourselves are safe, but all whom your thoughts rest upon are thereby benefited" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," page 210).
Effortlessly my prayer took form. Rain clouds blocked the sun, and winds threatened to shred the poppies' delicate food-making apparatus; but as the creations of God, they were responding intelligently, as they are divinely designed to do. The year before, blossoms hadn't appeared because the mild winter temperatures weren't harsh enough to set the seeds, yet their vitality hadn't been vanquished. They reappeared in soil ravaged, but re- invigorated, by fire. I took this as a symbol that Life is eternal.
I knew our soldier was intelligent and conscientious. He had trained well. He was also an American Muslim. He was going into battle with full appreciation for the people of Baghdad, who were turning to God just as he was - five times a day. In their prayers they were remembering - as I was - that God is infinite; that God's creation is beautiful; that His power is almighty, yet God is merciful. They were thanking God for His many blessings. Most important, they were worshiping the one God. These were indeed "good thoughts," the "impervious armor."
War conditions are tough and harsh, but I knew they could not rob my friend of his life, which is of God. Even if he should vanish in death, his vitality and purpose would continue forever, responding intelligently to God-caused impulsion. I walked back to the car chilled, but comforted.
I kept my promise and prayed every day.
A year has passed. Our soldier returned home safely, and I still consider the lilies when I think of him. God cares for us. Life is the gift of the Almighty.