Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Black Mood

I woke to the sound of the dog retching, vomiting up the steak bones we had given him the night before.

Rarely do my days (or my stories, for that matter) have such an unpleasant beginning; I was determined to shake off the bad start with my plan to breakfast with the hummingbirds at the local state park. A series of feeders hung between overflowing flower baskets at the entrance to the lodge attracts the tiny buzzers in large numbers; it is a delight to sit on the benches to the side and watch the birds feed, chatter, and chase each other, sometimes zooming past seemingly inches over one's head. Quickly I gathered my coffee, donut, and devotional books and raced the seven miles separating me from the morning show.

As I pulled into my usual parking spot I was surprised to see a vulture sitting on the grass nearby. Hueston Woods is known for the vast number of black and turkey vultures that frequent the place, but usually they are lined up on the very top of the lodge's A-line roof, stretching out their wings and warming themselves in the morning sun before taking to the skies in search of food or perhaps just to play in the air currents. Many are the times I've laid back in a chair and simply watched them soar in circles way above me in the boundless blue – relaxation at its best! It was unusual to see one down on the ground in such a matter, and we eyed each other warily as I made my way past it to the covered entranceway nearby. 

I settled myself on the concrete seat and noticed with disappointment that there were no hummers around at all; a quick glance showed that the feeders had not yet been refilled in the busyness following a holiday weekend. But roosting on the rail across from me were half a dozen of the vultures, again in closer proximity than I had ever seen them before. Far from the breakfast companions I had in mind, they simply sat and watched me eat my treat until a maintenance worker came out to empty some trash barrels and shooed them away, saying with a smile, “If I have to get up and go to work, so do they.”

My second destination of the morning was a wooden bench behind the lodge overlooking the lake. A coffee stop in the gift shop was a necessity; the thermoses are in the back, past shelves lined with kids' toys and souvenirs. I remembered with a smile the many stuffed animals my boys came home with from trips in their boyhood years; we could've stocked a stuffed animal zoo. But the choices of the same in this shop were limited to just a strange two. One was a bald eagle, which made a little bit of sense since the park boasts a nature and raptor rehabilitation center; among the residents is a bald eagle that could not be released back into the wild. But next to it on the shelf lay...a stuffed turkey vulture! Who on earth comes to the park and takes home such a toy? I was amazed that anyone had even thought to make one, but had to admit that the likeness was striking with its black body and red face; it was just not something I could imagine a child wanting to hold tight and cuddle at night.

Coffee in hand, I went out the rear door of the lodge and headed towards the benches at the far end of a large expanse of grass. Again to my amazement there were large groups of the buzzards gathered on the ground, sitting together, standing nearby, or walking from one group to another. Once more they weren't disturbed by my presence or my movement. But to my dismay I found one even roosting on the back of the very wooden bench on which I'd planned to sit! By this time I'd had enough of their monopolization of my morning; I shooed it away with gusto. But when I went to place my bag down on the vacated space, I quickly had second thoughts; more birds than one had been there before me, their accumulated droppings the disgusting proof. Quickly I moved over to a cleaner bench nearby and got my focus off the black and brooding birds and onto the peace of the place which I had initially come to enjoy.

While this whole experience was a new one for me, many people suffer the recurring nightmare of waking to a black mood hovering above them and then dogging their every step through the day. No matter what they do or where they go, it moves with them, settling in and eclipsing the sunshine of happier thoughts and brighter moments surrounding them that are waiting to be enjoyed. While I don't pretend to understand nor desire to minimize the pain and seeming helplessness of a deep depression, there are things we can do to chase away an occasional dark and cloudy day.

The first step is to realize that darkness is not God's plan for us; we are children of the Light. While He occasionally allows us to go through difficult times and experience things we would rather avoid, they all have a purpose attached to them; His Word promises us that they will work for our ultimate good. If we can hang on to that promise, push past the unpleasantness and actively pursue the message behind it, we will all the more quickly find ourselves on the other side.

The maintenance worker's words stuck with me; we can't just sit around and brood. We have to get up and get to work, making those situations work for us instead of against us. So many things in life are motion-activated these days, from flushing toilets to water faucets to paper towel dispensers. Surely our faith operates the same way. We have to make a move in God's direction, and then He responds with ever-increasing hope and help and eventually, restored happiness.

Part of the solution, of course, is to take care where you set your stuff. Don't sit down amidst the droppings of other people's negative situations, and don't buy the lines and the lies they offer to sell you. Friendship sometimes comes with a price that we simply can't afford to pay. Sometimes it's best to get up and deliberately remove ourselves from bad situations and settle in a spot where we can receive the positive input we need.

I did eventually find that peace at the park the other morning. The solution came when I quit looking at the birds around me and directed my gaze to the sky above me...absorbed the weightlessness of the feather-thin clouds in the sky, trusting in the promise of the cross formed by contrails of jets in the big expanse of blue, and let the warmth of the Son-shine bake into to my soul.

God has a myriad of ways to get his messages across. My mind went back to the gift shop I had been in mere moments before: out of all the stuffed animals that could have filled the toy shelves in a park setting...raccoons, squirrels, foxes, etc...the choices were limited to just the two mentioned above. Likewise in life our choices often come down to just two; a simple yes or no when deciding whether to settle for the status quo.

I smiled as I remembered (and modified) the old saying: “It's hard to soar like an eagle when you're surrounded by turkey (vulture)s.” Perhaps God states His solution this way: “Don't let the devil dump his darkness all over your day.”

Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.]”
(John 14:27 AMP, emphases mine)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Time's A-Wastin'

It was an easy mistake to make. I sat in my car, eating my sandwich and engrossed in a good book while the life in my battery slowly ebbed away.

It had been a rainy, foggy morning, the kind of day that demanded driving with the lights on. When the sky brightened later, I didn't think to turn them off. I went through the drive-thru at McDonald's and then parked to eat in the lot; actions that kept me from having to get out of the car, but that also kept the door alarm from signaling that the lights were still on. It wasn't till I was ready to move on and couldn't get the car to start that I finally realized what I'd done.

It was a simple fix that day to call Triple A, get a jump, and be on my way, but I know God well enough by now to realize it wasn't just “one of those things” that happens from time to time. Rather, it was a a forced delay to cause me to question Him, listen to what He had to say, and think about some things in a way maybe I hadn't considered enough of late.

What He spoke to me about that day was waste. I whine about not having enough time for all that I want to do, but the truth is that I throw time away in little chunks all day long. And when I look back at the end of a week, a year...perhaps a lifetime...I see large sections of each that went missing because I didn't use what I'd been given appropriately.

Some of us find ourselves in a similar “forced delay” that is likewise not of our choosing, held back from the plans we had made perhaps by a consequence of some earlier action, an illness, an infirmity, or the loss of someone dear to us. While we normally consider such an interruption in a negative context, a change in our perspective might bring about surprisingly positive results. What if instead of being irritated and frustrated by the turn of events, we became intrigued and fascinated by what God might want to show us in this time that He couldn't reveal to us any other way? We might find ourselves actually thanking Him for doing so!

When the Triple A mechanic showed up to jumpstart my car, his first action was to flip off the cover of the battery, and we were both surprised at what was hiding underneath. The severely corroded cell required a lot of time and several bottles of cleaning solution before the terminals were clear enough to be connected to the jumper cables. He warned me that if the car started at all it would get me home but not much further than that; I needed to replace the battery as soon as possible.

Perhaps God is using what we consider a difficult time in our lives to likewise cause us to see what might otherwise remain hidden from view, giving us a chance to check our connections with Him, with friends, and with our families so we can make corrections to the same while there is still time to do so. When a battery reaches the end of its lifespan it is easily replaced. Not so with our lifetimes; we only get one go at it. Face it, we're all “terminal”...and if there's any amount of corrosion hanging about our lives we need to clear it off so we can make the most of the time and energy we have left. So let's not waste this moment; instead, let's be grateful for a chance to review and re-evaluate how we're living and loving today...because any tomorrows are not a given, but a gift.

He has made everything beautiful in its time...”
(Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)
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