Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Alive Again

At first glance it looked like a giant smudge on the new glass of the door to our deck. Moving in to investigate more closely I realized it was something else entirely. A large bird of some sort, perhaps a mourning dove, had apparently been startled while pecking at dropped birdseed on the wooden boards under the bird feeder, and had flown smack into the glass in its haste to get away. Amazingly, the bird’s image was left behind in intricate detail in the dust on the door.

Birds fly into that window all the time, usually leaving just a feather or two stuck to the glass in their wake. The lucky ones bounce off and sit gathering their wits about them for a few minutes before eventually taking off again in a safer direction. Others succumb to broken necks or the damage to their battered bodies in just a matter of minutes, leaving me to dispose of them before the dogs have a field day with their feather remains.

Never before had I seen anything like this. From wingtip to outspread wingtip the bird’s likeness was pictured before me, down to the feathery plumage of its torso. The dawning morning light was just right to illuminate the sight against the remaining dark surroundings, and I quickly grabbed my camera in the hope of somehow capturing the picture before it became less visible as the day wore on.

Perhaps it registered with me so strongly because I know a lot of people whose life circumstances are similar to that bird’s experience. Eagerly taking off on some new venture, they have barely gotten off the ground when they’ve slammed into an invisible obstacle, falling back to sit stunned and shaken and wondering what on earth has happened to them. Many times their dreams succumb at that point to the blow they’ve received.

Surprisingly, I didn’t find a bird carcass on the deck boards that morning. Surely if it hit the glass with the force needed to leave the image it did, it could not have survived. But things are not always as they seem. Perhaps the purpose behind that dusty imprint was simply to remind me that a seemingly dead future can be resurrected, and that a promise can live beyond the grave.

God’s left such reminders before. The Shroud of Turin is one such example, a piece of cloth said to have been wrapped around Jesus’ body at His burial, bearing in blood the features of the crucified Savior. Yet it was set aside at His rising, His abandoned grave clothes all that was left in the tomb on that first Easter morning.

While there is much debate about the Shroud of Turin’s authenticity, there’s no disputing that Christ’s image was imprinted on the hearts of the disciples that were discussing the events surrounding His death as they trudged wearily to Emmaus. When Jesus suddenly appeared walking alongside them, disguising His true identity but discussing the events of the last few days and explaining their significance, those same hearts burned within them, helping them to eventually understand and believe, and infusing their lives with new hope.

God simply does same thing with us. He walks beside us in the midst of our distress, encouraging and explaining things to us, although often we don’t recognize His voice or the form in which He appears. As a new day dawns we are surprised to see an imprint of His presence left somewhere where we’d stumble across it, and suddenly we realize that He was with us in the darkness all along and hasn’t left us, as we supposed. Hope infused and hearts beating wildly within us, we grab our resurrected vision and rush as the two disciples did to tell somebody else of what we’ve just experienced. Not only is the gospel thus spread, but our expectancy rises from the dead, and our dreams suddenly take flight once more. 

“On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces…”
(Isaiah 25:8 NIV)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Winged Valentines

The floral shop of the grocery store takes on a special wonder in the weeks before Mother’s Day. Flower arrangements and gift ideas of all sorts spring up in the shelves of the cooler and bloom on the display tables in that crowded section of the store. Special touches to simple potted plants give them an eye-catching beauty that turns a wandering shopper into a paying customer in just a matter of minutes. Simple things, like colorful helium-filled balloons tethered to blooming greenery by matching lengths of broad ribbon, sheets of bright tissue-paper-like plastic that add a splash or color to glass vases, and beautifully tied bows set off the wares in such a way that is sure to catch the eye and delight the soul of spring-starved shoppers walking by.

What got me were the butterflies.

Brilliantly colored artificial picks set in a flat pan of blooming miniature daffodils and blooming hyacinths, they looked for all the world like they had just landed there for a moment’s rest before flitting off to their next stop. I would have bought the arrangement based on the butterflies alone, and apparently the floral manager understood their pull, because she was soon placing them on plants of all sorts whose natural beauty was set off by these winged angels. Every time a customer came through my lie with such a decorated gift for a mother in their life, I’d catch the eye of my friend who was bagging for me at the end of my register, and she’d say, “I know. The butterflies.”

We had one such exchange even after Mother’s Day had passed when a shopper in front of me was purchasing three such decorated arrangements that were marked down because the blooms were passed the point of perfection.  Overhearing us, the customer looked at me inquisitively, and I laughingly explained to her that I had a weakness for the butterfly picks. She said, “You can have these three; I’m just going to throw them away. I only want the bulbs to plant in my garden for next year.” Insisting that I take them, she quickly pulled them off her purchase and gave them to me in exchange for the receipt I was holding out to her. Gratefully I thanked her and put them aside to take home with me at the end of the day. Already I could see them displayed in the flower pot planting that was soon to grace my front porch step.

Later that weekend I read a Facebook post by a man who was having a spiritual revival of sorts in his personal life. Raised in a Christian home and a pastor himself, he knew all about the love of God in his head…he just hadn’t felt it in his heart so much recently. Yet all of a sudden he discovered that God was reaching out to him in ways that were specific to him alone. He was inescapably drawn in by this love that was extended out to Him, and in his new found joy, he challenged his Facebook friends to look about them for the little ways in which God was speaking His love.

It didn’t take me long. Instantly my mind flew back to the butterflies who had winged their way so recently into my heart. Knowing the attraction they held for me, God made a way to give them to me through the actions of a good-hearted customer. His love expressed to each of us in a multitude of similar exchanges over time gradually binds our hearts to His so tightly that no future challenge is strong enough to ever rip them apart. But the process begins when we start to see and receive the little valentines He scatters throughout our days. 

Butterflies have absolutely filled my vision this past spring. I’ve seen them everywhere, on the printed fabric of shirts and purses, on necklaces and notepaper, even tattooed on necks. Each sighting is met with a smile and its message of love received, the discovery then dutifully recorded in my journal. It’s pages are full as a result, and so is my heart.

The Bible says that God gives us the desires of our hearts, and what more do any of us want on a continual basis but to know that we are loved? And so He responds, in a multitude of bless us, to be sure, but even more so in the hope that we will then turn and be a blessing to someone else. Those who receive love can’t help but give it away. But sometimes we have to see it before we can take it in to our love-starved souls. So look about you with new eyes for ways God might be waving His wings at you as He flutters by, receive with joy the butterfly kisses He plants in passing, and let your heart and life (and those of the people around you!) be changed forever as a result of the love that deliberately lands in your line of sight.

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”
(Matthew 7:11 MKJV)

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