Monday, March 25, 2013

Robin Reflections

Sundays are simply a delight to me. Although I enjoy my relationship with God every day, I live life a little differently on the day traditionally set aside to worship Him to mark it as set apart.

It’s on that day of the week alone that I stop at McDonald’s to pick up a quick breakfast on the way to an early morning music practice session before church. I try to get to my parking spot down the road from the brick building early enough so that I can sit in the car for a few minutes and consume it while conversing with God. I mark the uniqueness of those moments by treating myself to a hot mocha instead of the usual coffee in my cup, but yesterday I had even yet to take a sip when God showed up in a big way.

As I savored the usually-forbidden flavor of the sausage McMuffin in my hand (the grease stains on the paper wrapper a good indication of why it was a Sundays-only moment), I was startled when something struck the driver’s side window beside me. A robin had landed on the edge of the door, so close to the glass that surely the tips of its toes hooked in the window slot were the only things holding it there! But there it stayed, despite how I jumped in response to its sudden appearance, cocking its head at me and eyeing me steadily. Amazed, I studied it in fascination; the bright orange of its breast feathers, the beautiful brown on it’s back, and the black eye rimmed in white that was inspecting me as closely as I was looking at it!

For the longest time we simply stared at each other. What was it doing, I wondered, and why was it there? Did my breakfast look as good to it as it did to me? Was my sausage McMuffin the draw? Robins eat worms they pull from the ground, I reminded myself. The are not parking-lot scavengers like the sparrows that peck about for left-over french fries. I didn’t understand.

Finally it flew to the grass on the side of the road next to where I’d parked. But just a minute later it landed back on the car again, this time on the passenger side at the bottom edge of the windshield, again looking interestedly at me sitting inside. Having never seen a robin act this way in all my life, it definitely got my attention.

Later I realized that was exactly the point.

I had deliberately set aside that time to visit with God, and yet His sudden appearance surprised me. The truth is that I didn’t expect Him to show up physically at all, much less covered in feathers.

We’ve become accustomed to hearing from God in certain ways. And it’s true that many times He simply speaks to our hearts directly, highlights His thoughts in our Bibles, or causes them to come out of the mouths of our favorite preachers or singers. But God is not limited to the confines of our church buildings or the boxes we place Him in. Instead, we’ve limited ourselves in our expectations of how He might appear to us, and so we walk right by His Presence in the burning bushes of our lives repeatedly. As a result He seems to take a special delight in surprising us, and enjoys our startled excitement when we finally recognize that He’s been right beside us in the “Emmaus moments” of our days.

His message to me yesterday was two-fold. Despite the wonder of seeing the brilliant color of its feathers up close, it was the bird’s black eye staring at me so intently that initially got my attention. Thus the first point was simply that He sees me.

Such an obvious conclusion shouldn’t discount it’s importance. Surely we all need to know that God sees us in the trials we are going through, standing at the base of mountains we can’t seem to climb, or blocked by obstacles we can’t seem to overcome. We truly wonder at times if God is aware of the difficulties we face and the issues we’re dealing with. The answer is a resounding yes. Life is so much easier when we know that we don’t struggle through it alone.

The second point is equally important, that being that God is simply interested in the details of our days. I smile to think of the way the robin cocked it’s head and watched me so intently as I consumed my breakfast. Is God truly interested in the little things of life, like what I might be having for breakfast, why I like it so, and what I’m thinking of doing next? I absolutely believe so. It’s the little details that we would only confide to an intimate friend that God is so hungry to hear Himself. His goal is to be first in our thoughts and closest to our hearts of any of those we are in relationship with.

He wages an uphill battle in that area, however, because we are so distracted by things we can see and hear (and in my case, taste). The visible draws our attention away from the unseen, and so God has to show up in truly spectacular or surprising ways to grab our attention and focus it back on Him. The physical world is simply at His back and call to call us back to Him, in Whom, as the Bible states, we truly live and move and have our being.

It’s been a long-standing issue with God. Even back in Bible days He was using the natural world He created and in which His people wandered to first grab their attention and then guide their steps. Stories of burning bushes, plagues of frogs and flies, traveling pillars of cloud and fire, droughts and floods fill the pages of His Book. Similarly has He filled the pages of my book(s), the journals I keep on an ever-present basis for the purpose of recording the many ways He’s shown up in my life simply to get my focus back on Him. Once you start seeing Him operate in such a way you find that you have more stories to tell in that vein than time to write them all down.

I’m grateful that I don’t serve a Sundays-only God, but one who is interested in the smallest details of my everyday life. It’s my constant prayer that He will open my eyes of expectation to see Him in forms and places that I wouldn’t ordinarily think to look. Today He sent a robin to remind my heart that it’s not the things I do on any given day that make it special, but rather His Presence in it that truly sets it apart.

“Heaven’s calendar has seven Sundays a week. God sanctifies each day. He conducts holy business at all hours and in all places. He uncommons the common by turning kitchen sinks into shrines, cafes into convents, and nine-to-five workdays into spiritual adventures.” - Max Lucado

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they…would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”
(Acts 17:26-27 NIV)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Victory on Valentine's Day

I could place her face; it was her name I couldn‘t come up with. But then rarely do I know the names of the people I meet over the checkout lane of the grocery store until a friendship has been firmly established between us. Yet she chatted merrily on, mentioning in the same tone she’d just used to discuss the weather we’d been having lately that she was going through a divorce.

I stopped scanning her groceries for a moment and looked at her. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

“Oh, I’m fine. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” she asserted. “And I don’t need that in a bag…” she said, reaching to grab the bottle of vodka I’d just set down and putting it directly into her purse. The action caused me to wonder if she was really as fine about it all as she claimed, especially when I saw her the next day, the one after that, and the one following that as well, doing exactly the same thing. Some days she came through my line, on others I just happened to look up and spot her in another checkout lane just in time to see her stash the bottle in her handbag. Perhaps these days before Valentine‘s Day were tough ones for her in her current situation, and the liquor was just her pain medication of choice.

That thought prompted mental visions of another friend for whom this particular holiday was also especially difficult this year. A coworker who looks too young to have already been married two years, she’s an army wife whose husband has been deployed overseas for the past eight months. The separation has been hard on them both, and they are eagerly counting down the days till their reunion sometime this spring.

I asked her recently how she made it through the holiday season just past. She told me that Thanksgiving and Christmas weren’t so bad, perhaps because she had lots of family around, but that New Year’s hit her hard, as she and her soldier had always been together before this to share a New Year’s Eve kiss. And now Valentine’s Day loomed on the horizon, and she hoped she’d be scheduled off that day so she wouldn’t have to see people buying flowers and candy for the love of their lives, while hers was still so far away.

Imagine her disappointment then when the work schedule came out for the week of Valentine’s Day, and not only was she scheduled to work on the holiday, but she was placed in the floral department all week long! With cashier hours in short supply at the start of the year and the floral department needing extra help to handle the Valentine’s Day demand, she’d been given hours there in order to meet the need and fill out her paycheck at the same time. Grateful for work though she was, the action rubbed salt into a wound that was already raw and bleeding.

Surprisingly, she, too, found solace for her pain in something she carried in a bag…not a handbag, but a shopping bag that she filled with gifts for her friends and coworkers. By day she took orders, carried fresh blooms from the cooler and cashed out customers making purchases, and then she spent her off hours tying personally-addressed Valentines on to the stems of cloth flowers, depositing them in the pink carry-all until it was packed full. A day or two before the holiday she started delivering them with a smile, an occasional hug, and a warm wish for each. Using some tips from a regular in the department she also put together an arrangement of fresh flowers for the mother who supports her in so many ways in her husband’s absence. She simply spread joy wherever she went that week.

Her actions seemed to inspire the same in her coworkers, who were soon passing out mini-bouquets, frosted cupcakes, or buying little remembrances for any possibly lonely soul who came to their minds. And not surprisingly, the love she gave away came back to her in the form of flowers from friends, a greatly anticipated gift from her hubby, and the thoughtful appreciation of the many people who were blessed by her actions. She simply took the pain she was feeling and turned it into gain somehow for everyone around her, and found victory on the very Valentine’s Day she’d been dreading as a result.

The Bible warns that in this life we will have tribulation; each of us will face troubling situations that break our hearts and threaten to wear us down physically and emotionally. It’s what we do with that trouble that counts. So often we stay so consumed with getting through the matter ourselves that we don’t even see the suffering of those that surround us. We feel we have nothing at that point to give to anybody else, anyway. Yet God urges us to use the very thing that threatens to destroy us as a tool to help the person struggling beside us get a leg up on their own situation. In doing so we find that we are gradually lifted out of our own pit of despair as well.

We need to remember that we don’t fight our battles alone; God sends visible reminders of hope and the victory He promises if we just have eyes to see them. Perhaps it was just one such messenger who suddenly appeared before my friend in the floral shop a day or two before the holiday, a man dressed in army fatigues, presumably from the nearby recruitment center, there to buy flowers for his girl. She told me later that she was surprised she didn’t break down at the sight of him. Yet I believe he was really sent there on a mission to deliver a gift…his presence perhaps a heavenly reminder that sooner than she thinks, her own soldier will come walking home to her. On that day she will cry…but they will be tears of joy.

“…for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap…And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all…”
(Galatians 6:7,9-10 NKJV)
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