The Sound of That Bird

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly. Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint.  – Ecclesiastes 12:1-4

I hear a very loud bird chirping away each morning this week as I leave the house. He’s very excited to be awake and ready to catch that worm. Perhaps he’s searching for a date.

Time passes and there are opportunities now that won’t be here tomorrow.

Each night I put my head on the pillow and it seems I was just doing this a few minutes ago. I know that living isn’t passing by more quickly than it did in the past. What’s happening is I’m not as connected as I once was. Sitting in the dark theater not paying attention to the film and then suddenly the credits roll by. Time didn’t speed up. Disengagement made the present seem to pass by too fast.

In the West we are born into a culture that’s shaped to think about linear progress – moving forward, maybe a few steps backward. Standing still is really not an option.  When people find themselves stuck in neutral or pushed off the side of the road, it can cause a great deal of anxiety – this isn’t what’s supposed to happen, is it?

“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” 

― Franklin D. Roosevelt

I often wonder where I’m really going during this stage in my life?

Thinking about the progression of life, there are stages; childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age. I think each can also be subdivided as well.  I read a stage theory from a guy named Mark Manson. He doesn’t seem to have any academic credentials and likes to cuss a lot (maybe that draws attention?).  Anyway his four stages of life struck me as worth thinking about; (1) mimicry, (2) self-discovery, (3) commitment and then (4) legacy.

I wonder where I am right now?  Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in the middle. Does unfinished business in one stage keeping me from fully passing to the next? Do I really want to venture into a “legacy” period of life? Then I hear that bird calling out each morning. Make today count for something.

It’s not like my life isn’t filled with activity. I’m heading off rapidly in some direction each day (who knows if it’s the right way?). There’s always something to do, somewhere to go, someone to meet. Yet, when I think about it, I spend a lot of time drifting in circles.  My life seems busy, but it’s not always going anywhere. That’s a problem.

“Now that it’s all over, what did you really do yesterday that’s worth mentioning?” ― Coleman Cox

I used to have big goals that drove me onward into the future. These no longer exist. For many reasons, they disappeared. Having something meaningful to accomplish, no matter how distant, always pull me through the dreary here and now and produce an expectancy about tomorrow.

Focusing on others instead of yourself, that’s the right path to walk each day. My life ought to be something I can give and do for those around me. I’m losing too many days to the past and the future.

“The timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.” ― Khalil Gibran

That bird each morning reminds me that here and now matters. There is something to do today. I am to open my eyes and look for the opportunity to practice my faith, heal wounds, speak truth, give sacrificially, and turn my cheek if need be.

I heard a benediction at the end of worship a few weeks ago. It was written by our pastor (I think) and it struck me between the eyes because it seemed to provide some assurance to all of us who are in transition and wondering where we are supposed to be going/doing right now:

Wherever you go, God is sending you.
Wherever you are, God has put you there.
God has a purpose in your being right where you are.
Christ, who indwells you by the power of his Spirit,
wants to do something in and through you.
Believe this and go in his grace, his love, his power.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
                                                                              Amen

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A Partridge in a Pear Tree

“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” ― J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan)

Over the past several years it seems like our decorating style has gone to the birds. We got a new couch a year ago and picked out a fabric with giant birds all over it. I didn’t have to work hard at all to sell it to my wife. I think because it had a black background. Her favorite TV decorating show has a “everything is black” theme to it. We just re-wallpapered in the kitchen and breakfast area. A very busy and colorful bird pattern. Guaranteed to make you car-sick if you’re not careful.

Yes, a theme is definitely appearing in our house everywhere you look. All because something bigger has happened several years ago – we’re just documenting it in our living space.

About five years ago I was in the middle of a terrible dark time that I experienced almost every day. It felt as if I was on a runaway ride that I couldn’t control. Like shooting down the rapids in an inner tube. Other people were making decisions about me and my future. Things were not proceeding the way I had always thought they would or had planned. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.

Sleepless nights, worrying and being angry were getting me nowhere just deeper into a hole. I knew I couldn’t control what other people were doing. While my life headed off in directions I had never anticipated I just stood there in disbelief. I was shell-shocked for several years. When would this end?

[Little did I know that cancer was right around the corner ready to strike us and wage a terrible war we still fight every day.]

Then I remembered – was prodded to remember – that Jesus told his followers to stop worrying about their lives. He directed their attention to the birds. God takes care of them, won’t he also take care of you – He loves you so much more!

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” – Matthew 6:25-27

Of course I had read this scripture many times before. But as is often the case, this time it became a handle to hang on to. Then a series of events – signs, if you will, started over approximately two years. These experiences served to encourage and communicate to me that God is present and very much interested in my survival and transformation.

“I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” ― William Sloane Coffin Jr.

The tribulations only got worse! But I began to calm down. I was consistently reminded of the truth of God’s presence and care for me.

Well, what happened?

I began to see birds in all sorts of locations and (most importantly) at significant times. I didn’t look for them (as Jesus had instructed, they would just show up at just in time.)

  • Right in the middle of an important decision about two people – there are two birds on the window sill.
  • Rushing out of the house overflowing with anxiety – confronted by a mockingbird at the frontdoor who will not move out of the way.
  • There was a bird who would perch on the corner of my neighbors roof day after day and sing at me when I came and went. He wasn’t there at other times, no one else ever saw him. For about a week or so I felt like he was there to meet me (and remind me).
  • Then there’s the little brown bird who would spend the night in the wreath on the front door and sneak into the house when we came home – never happened before, never since – but he came into the house several times (spent the night once) and reminded us how near is God.

There were all sorts of small and subtle encounters that kept me aware that I was not going to go through this terrible time alone.

Maybe when I was too near stumbling and fumbling my faith, God drew near and reminded me of what was always true?

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6

I teach a course that helps students to understand some of the reasons why people have these kinds of experiences. Often our thinking and perception of the world around us is distorted. We can sometimes experience:

  • Confirmation bias – a kind of selective thinking that happens when we only notice those things that tend to be consistent with our current beliefs – we also fail to notice things that contradict these same beliefs.
  • Pareidolia – seeing significance in random and meaningless phenomenon

Even knowing that these biases in thinking often occur, I am convinced that what has happened to me was not caused by my own crooked thinking. I think I needed some help and there it was.

“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.” ― John Berger

God has promised to be present with us, especially during terrible times. This fact is not dependent upon how we feel or how firm we believe. He has promised it, this makes it true.

Sometimes, because of God’s grace and nothing else, he makes his presence known. He has certainly put reminders in our path every day Jesus said to look at the birds – a sight we all see and maybe never notice.

When you open your eyes of faith and practice looking for the truth, there’s no telling what you might see.

Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” ― J.I. Packer

My Life as a Dog

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“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”  – Matthew 6:26-27

There’s a dog over there, running with abandon up and down the empty lot in the middle of the city. Now he’s lounging at the base of a telephone pole. A few minutes later he’s running at breakneck speed from one end to the other.

Where are all your cares? Where will your next meal come from? Where will you sleep tonight? What of the dangers that lurk around every dark corner? You could get hit by a car!

There you sit staring off into the sky as a storm approaches – what a life.

Here I sit trapped in my cage worried about every single slight and a future that may never materialize. Eaten up with bitterness and overflowing with anger. Worries follow my every step. I’m laughing in public and wailing in private.

I’m the one living the life of a beast – untamed feelings driven more wild by this civilization all around me.

*I wrote this in 2011 looking out the window of the little cage I had just been consigned to occupy. I noticed this stray dog one day and it hit me that it was me who was becoming a wild beast.

Faith takes practice.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius