Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Extra Effort Required

The squirrel leaped from branch to branch, sampling multiple nuts in succession until finally making a selection. A black walnut now securely in its mouth, it scampered off, and I watched to see if it was just looking for a more secure perch on which to eat it, or if it was off to store it somewhere in preparation for the coming winter. His progress through the trees never stopped, and so I assumed the latter. Truly it seems that September starts the season for gathering. Squirrels gather nuts, rakes gather leaves, farmers gather crops…and pastors gather their flocks in church buildings once more.

I smiled at that last phrase. With summer ending and school starting, our preachers hope that with our more predictable routines we’ll make regular church attendance the priority in our lives it was before summer sunshine distracted our attention. And surely it’s only on their hearts because it’s likewise on God’s. Perhaps He knows that more than just a season of the year is drawing to a close. If there’s an urgency to their message, it’s likely God-inspired. After a few more minutes of reflection on the subject in the morning peace, I heard my to-do list calling and went inside.

A few minutes later I was sitting at the kitchen table when I heard a loud “PLOP” outside the glass patio doors. I looked up to see that a baby squirrel had fallen out of the nearest tree and landed with a splat on the wooden boards of our back deck. Stunned, it lay there for a few seconds before it began pulling its limbs in towards its body, its high-pitched squeals signaling its distress.

Thankful that our inquisitive dogs were still locked inside, I waited a moment, wondering what would happen next. Too young to do anything but cry for help, the helpless baby just lay there awaiting rescue. Cautiously I opened the door and peeked outside, hoping to see a mama squirrel looking down in horror at the baby she must’ve dropped in transit. I was momentarily diverted by the thought that apparently even squirrel moms occasionally suffer from the Delinquent Mother Syndrome that I experience from time to time. But no squirrel mother seemed to be anywhere about. Perhaps the baby had simply crawled out of a nest in the tree trunk itself, one that we knew had housed a squirrel brood earlier in the year. However it came to be spread-eagled on my back deck, it was beginning to look like its rescue was up to me.

Reflecting that getting lost baby animals back to where they needed to be was apparently becoming a way of life for me (see Revival’s Arrival and Mission Unmasked), I called a friend who had taken another baby squirrel to an animal rehabilitator in the area earlier in the year. Before I could even get the number, however, I noticed that it was beginning to rain outside, and all the mothering instincts within me refused to allow the confused and frightened animal to be drenched, as well. So I carefully lifted the now dish-towel wrapped infant into a box and prepared to put it in the garage out of the weather until I figured out what to do with it. Looking up again I at last spotted Squirrel Mama watching closely from a tree limb high above me.

“So she is around!”, I muttered to myself. That changed the game plan significantly. I remembered a hole some 15-20 feet up the same tree frequently used as a raccoon refuge when our dogs chased them away from the birdfeeders. If I could somehow get the baby into that hole, surely that would provide the best possibility for a squirrel family reunion. But, oh, it was so high up!

I heard a voice in my head reminding me of the huge ladder in the garage and knew I was supposed to give it a try. “God, you are really stretching me!” I grumbled. Last week it was a 20-foot truck I needed to drive, and now I was expected to get a baby squirrel some 20 feet up a tree. Knowing that trouble usually comes in threes, I gulped nervously at what he might have in store for me next.

Ladder finally in place, I began my ascent. Rickety at best, the wooden structure swayed from side to side with each step up. Sadly there was nobody home to help hold the thing or I would surely have delegated this opportunity for bravery away. Perched on the top step while the ladder rocked alarmingly beneath me, I hugged the tree tightly with one arm, reached as high as I could with the other, and was just…able…to…push the little squirrel into the opening, towel and all. Minutes later and with my feet securely on the deck flooring once more, I looked up and noted with satisfaction that Squirrel Mama had watched the heroics from up above and knew exactly where to reunite with her young. Mission accomplished, I put the ladder away and peeked hopefully out from the kitchen window from time to time the rest of the day to see if I could spot any further action around the hole.

In our conversations of late God seems stuck on this concept of getting those out of place in their current surroundings back to where they need to be. And He’s not limiting our discussions to just baby animals in my backyard, either. In all areas of my life I’m surrounded by human hearts that are just as desperately in need of rescue. Most of us at one time or another likewise found ourselves wandering into dangerous territory or taking a wrong step despite warnings we may have received, falling flat on our faces as a result. We’ve needed somebody to go an extra mile on our behalf to get us back to where we need to be.

It’s that extra mile God asks of us that’s the kicker. The situations I’ve found myself in in recent days and weeks that were difficult for me are laughable, used by God simply to get my attention or to illustrate a point. But He’s likewise surrounded me with real heroes who find themselves in circumstances that are anything but funny and who He asks on a daily basis to do more than they ever thought they could possibly do. He’s led me to foster parents who love and care for the children whose biological parents for whatever reasons could not. I’ve watched several friends sacrifice their todays for loved ones with too few tomorrows left to them. Parents send the children who are the light of their lives around the world to be a light in missionary or military service. And the bravest among us endure tours or duty in war-torn countries, sometimes again and again and again.

God’s Word promises that He won’t put more on us than we can bear. Thus we know that we are able to do what He asks of us, however reluctant we may be to attempt it. But when we risk discomfort, perhaps even death, expending ourselves on behalf of another, the Kingdom of God expands as well, and so does our Christian experience.

In the season of gathering its important to note that nothing happens by chance. Nuts fall to the ground, not naturally into nests in trees. Leaves don’t normally fall into neat piles to be burned or bagged. Neither do crops jump out of the fields and into storage bins or stomachs by themselves. Yet somehow we expect God’s lost children to find their way to Heaven on their own. Some do, of course, but God knows that the vast majority will need some help to get from where they’ve fallen to where they need to be. From the time of the first disciples on He’s sent harvesters in the form of preachers, pastors, teachers…and everyday people like you and me… to help them find their way back Home.

Almost everything gathered in September eventually disappears. Nuts are eaten, leaves are burned or disintegrate on their own, and crops are eventually consumed. Only the souls gathered for God live on in an eternity of peace and joy. Sadly, those that are left in the fields likewise have an eternal future, one that’s as bleak as the initial outlook of that baby squirrel on my back deck. The Bible tells us that soon even the harvesters will be called away. Our extra effort today could mean that fewer loved ones will be left where they lay and be lost.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
(John 5:13 NIV)

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