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Archive for January, 2011

A Squirrel Story

One of the gifts that I received at Christmas was really for the birds. My sister and brother- in-law gave me a set of three little “men” who looked like gingerbread men, but were made entirely of birdseed. In the same way that we humans would eat a gingerbread man, the birds can feast upon the “Birdseed Man”, each of which came equipped with a string for hanging.
I hung up Birdseed Man #1 last week, and from my kitchen window, watched the birds peck and poke at his seedy body, noting that they went for his sunflower seed eyes first (reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds, which is the scariest movie ever, by the way). I quit watching in order to do a few things around the house and when I came back to the window, the birdseed man was gone! Completely! Just his little noose remained. I checked to see if he had fallen from the tree, the end result of too much pecking and poking, and saw– there, on the ground below where he had been hanging–just a dusting of seeds. It was like a chalk outline of a body, only done with sunflower shells and golden seed. Well, the birds must have enjoyed that, I thought, so I decided to hang up the second birdseed man, and watch to see how quickly the birds could devour this one.
After Birdseed Man #2 was hung up, I stood at the kitchen window and watched as the regular parade of black-capped chickadees, house finches, and wrens began pecking at his limbs. Then, the birds scattered, and I saw something rustling in the trees above the Birdseed Man. Dropping down from an upper limb like Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible” was this huge squirrel. Clinging to the tree trunk with one paw, he reached for the Birdseed Man with the other paw, and hit it hard enough to make it swing back and forth, each swing coming closer to him. Then on an upswing, he wrapped his little paws around the waist of the birdseed man and held it tightly and pulled. Then he released and repeated the process. It didn’t take many clutches and pulls for the Birdseed Man to be yanked free, and dragged off in the jaws of this enterprising squirrel. (I would like to note that during this process, both of my cats sat and watched, showing not even the slightest inclination to capture and feast on “squirrel.” Perhaps they judged that the squirrel would get them much like he had gotten the Birdseed Man # 2.)
Oh, what the heck, I picked up Birdseed Man #3 and hung him up just to see what would happen. I mean, would this squirrel go for a third? Would he have enough room in his squirrel home for a third birdseed man? Or maybe he had multiple homes? Or did he have a “two birdseed men” limit and the birds would get this third one? This time, I barely made it back to the kitchen before not one but two squirrels appeared—the Chip and Dale of the squirrel world, I suppose. In record time, with one squirrel above and one squirrel below, Birdseed Man #3 was removed from his branch. The two squirrels–with Birdseed Man #3– then made their way through the leaves of the maple tree, into the leaves of the magnolia tree and disappeared into the leaves.
The next day it snowed here in Middle Tennessee, a good snow which covered the ground but makes it difficult for the birds and woodland animals to find food. I have to think that those squirrels were just kicking back, watching the snow fall without anxiety, delighted to have a full larder of not one, not two, but three birdseed men. If (and this is a big IF because this may just be a simple reflection on squirrels) there’s a theological lesson to be learned here, I’ll take it from Psalm 104, which is a glorious prayer of thanks for God’s providential care over all creation, including my resourceful and entertaining squirrels: O Lord, how manifold are your works!
 In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. 
These all look to you
to give them their food in due season; 
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 
May the glory of the Lord endure for ever. 
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord. 
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
 Praise the Lord!

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Snow Days

Yesterday was a snow day here in Middle Tennessee, and as far as I know all children love a snow day! No child wishes that he or she could have gone to school, even if the snow is not “usable” (as in for sledding, snowperson building, etc.). A child loves to stay home because the snow has changed the plans for the day. I know those of you who are from the North are amused by our Southern snow days; I’ve heard your mocking tone as you shake your heads and say, “Snow day? For what? This little bit of dusting?” And you are right, we here in the South are quite jittery when it comes to snow predictions much less actual snow fall. I am from one of those families where the mere speculation that there might be snow (either by weatherman Bob Lobertini on Channel 5 or the now-famous Pat Sajak on Channel 4) was enough to send my father to the grocery store for “bread and milk.” Every time. Once, since I’ve been an adult, I had occasion to get something out of my parents’ freezer in the basement and saw as many as twelve loaves of frozen bread, and a few gallons of milk. I was afraid to check the date!
Clearly, though, not all adults like a snow day, as evidenced by my parents’ fear that in one day, we might run out of food. Nowadays, a snow day is bad news for a parent who has to arrange some kind of childcare while she goes to work, or for an adult whose scheduled day off to keep a doctor’s appointment is wasted and the boss might not be so inclined to provide another day; or carefully made plans for the day are now disrupted by bad roads or even a weather-induced accident.
Maybe one of the reasons we adults hate snow days is precisely because our plans are disrupted, changed or eliminated. We who have carefully mapped out our hours resent the intrusion of unplanned events. And it happens not just with snow days, but with anything in life that disrupts, changes or stops our well-laid plans.
I had dinner the other evening with a young woman (you know who you are!) whose life plans have received a “snow day” in the form of cancer. Until her treatment is complete, her very detailed, very methodical plans are on hold, if not outright packed away for the winter and spring. There’s an urgency to her prayers for God allow her to continue with her plans as soon as possible. There’s a bit of anger in her prayers toward God for sending this unwelcome “snow day.” I can understand those feelings, but I want to encourage her to let her particular “snow day ” be an opportunity for her to “be still and know that I am God,” as the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 46. God has a way of reminding us that our best laid plans are subject to God’s plans. God has a way of showing us that our brilliant thoughts aren’t greater than God’s thoughts.
I’m not trivializing death or disease or suffering or unemployment or divorce or any kind of “snow day” that disrupts our lives. All of those events—and more—can wreak havoc with our well-planned lives. I am, however, holding up the idea that we use our “snow days” to draw closer to God, to stop moving for just a minute and listen to what God has to say, to see in our chaos, the One who brings order out from it. By so doing, we will find a beautiful peace in both the “snow” and in the understanding of God’s care and plans for our lives.

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Happy New Year!

I was strolling through Facebook this morning and I noticed the large number of friends and “friend commentors” (I don’t know Facebook nomeclature; I’m speaking of the people who comment on the status of a person that I know, but whom I don’t actually know–if that’s clear!) who were not just glad 2010 was over, but were adamantly and enthusiastically glad that 2010 was over. The comments had the feel of the Munchkins when they sang, “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead,” and contained words like “awful,” “horrible,” and “worst.” And when one stops to think about it, 2010 brought flooding and displacement, unemployment and poor economy, and in our own little congregation, a lot of deaths.
But as I am always prone to viewing the year-half-full rather than half-empty, I would lift up that the May flooding enabled many folks to realize what was permanent and what was not—love never ends, even though furniture and houses may collapse. Displacement caused some to realize that it isn’t the place, it’s the people who make a home. Unemployment forced some people to re-evaluate how wrapped up they were in their work, and even wonder if perhaps they weren’t more than “just a job.” The poor economy has kept all of us more aware that life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. And the death of our loved ones has reminded us that—as hard as it may be to believe at times—the end of life is not death, but life eternal.
I know it’s easy for me to write these words, not having been adversely affected by the flood nor removed from my home, not losing my livelihood and still receiving a salary. I will admit that death did invade my personal life both when my mother died; and as I have remarked to some of you, when the persons at HFPC died, because they were people for whom I had great affection and had a connection, not peripheral or casual acquaintances. One can’t know someone for 17 years and not grieve over his or her death!
Still, I’m grateful for 2010, for its beauty and its ugliness; its joys and sorrows. I’m not going to say that the floods were good, or that unemployment is good, or the poor economy is good, or that death was good. 2010 has showed us that God is good, even in the midst of the awful, horrible and worst. 2010 showed us that God is love, even when there’s a lot of unloveliness around us. 2010 showed us that God is merciful in the midst of injustice; that God is life, in the midst of death. We don’t know what 2011 will be like, but we do know what God is like: good, loving, merciful, life-giving, full of grace. That’s how we exit 2010; that’s how we enter the new year!

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