Birdsong

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But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”                            Job 12:7-10

 

An owl has a nest in our neighbor’s yard. I hear the hoots in the morning and early evening, soft and a little sad, and very beautiful. We have lots of other birds around us, too – sparrows and robins, bluejays and even cardinals. And there’s been a family of hawks settled into the park behind us. From early Spring until November, our feathered friends are up and singing each morning just before sunrise.

I am always amazed at the variety of melodies and rhythms that make up this outdoor symphony. Sometimes I can track a specific tune to a specific bird. And sometimes I can single out one song from the others to follow. But usually I don’t work that hard, and just take in the whole glorious bunch as it is.

It may sound funny, but I find a lot of comfort in birdsong. Some nights, when I’ve struggled to sleep, the first few notes are like a promise – a new day is starting. They are part of my daily routine, and those months without them feel incomplete. Hearing birds sing in the morning settles my spirit – it is a sweet way to start my day. It leads me to look out my window where I notice the trees. And from there I am led to look up, both to see the sky, and to lift up a quick prayer of thanks.

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I guess I like the birds and their songs so much because they remind me of God’s presence. After all, it was by His creative Hand that they exist. And such a splendid variety! That truth can be applied to all things in nature, can’t it? Trees, insects, flowers, animals – different species and flora, every one designed and brought to life by the same God who made us.

Nature has a constancy to it that reassures me as well. The tree that has stood guard in our front lawn for decades, the annuals that come up every year in my little garden, and the squirrels that race around each summer point to God’s steadfastness. As life around me seems more uncertain, I look to these things, and ultimately to their Creator, to find my peace.

 

Facing Pain

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I woke up this morning and promptly had a terrible spasm in my shoulder. I mean, the muscles were LOCKED UP. I tried stretching every which way, asked my husband for a shoulder rub, then sat against my massage cushion. Nothing touched it. Finally, about an hour later it started to loosen up.

When the pain hit, my initial response was to try and conquer it – hence, the stretching, which didn’t work at all. When my husband’s backrub caused more pain instead of less, my knee-jerk reaction was to look for an escape. That resulted in a lot of squirming around, but still no relief. So, I found myself sitting on the side of my bed, crying. But even as the tears streamed down my cheeks a little voice whispered, “This isn’t helping, you know.”

And I did know. If I’ve learned anything about dealing with pain this past year, it’s that tension in the body makes it worse. That idea makes total sense to me. So why did I end up sobbing? Well, the fact is that I really don’t get many of these spasms anymore. And while that is definitely a blessing, it meant that I wasn’t expecting to feel that kind of pain again. I got caught off guard, and I reverted back to some old coping mechanisms – namely, crying.

What is your first response when pain hits?

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Luckily, within a short time I decided that being upset was only going to prolong the problem. So I set up my massage cushion, leaned back and tried to calm my breathing. Sitting quietly, I began to talk to God, remembering scripture verses I’ve been reading this week. The vibrations and the heat began to work, and my back muscles began to relax as my mind settled.

It was a pretty clear lesson – trying to power through or run away from pain is almost never effective. The only real way past pain is to face it. But even more important, I’m not alone as I deal with life’s difficulties. God is always there, a prayer away.

That truth applies to every kind of pain we have to face. I hope I remember that more quickly next time!As it says so beautifully in Psalm 32:  “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”  

That truth applies to every kind of pain we have to face. I hope I remember that more quickly next time!

On Contentment

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Well, we’re in what my relatives used to call the dog days of summer. I think they were referring to the heat. I know my dog is pretty uncomfortable about now, and so am I. We both sit around a lot when the temps and the humidity climb.

I caught myself starting to complain about the weather the other afternoon as I stood sweating in our back yard. But then a funny kind of time travel happened, where I was transported for a moment back to this past February. I stood in the same spot, shivering despite being wrapped in about five layers of clothes. And guess what? I was complaining about the weather.

Never happy, are you? I thought, amused. Just for fun, I tried to imagine where I could live where the temperature would be perfect for me all the time. But all the places that came to mind had some flaw – if it was warm all year it was also humid, or the insect problems, or how it would be in the middle of nowhere with no wifi, etc. There was no ideal place, even in my fantasies.

In the past that realization would have left me discontent. I guess I’ll have to stick it out here (Can’t you just hear the sigh in my voice?!). But I was really causing my own misery. Because instead of simply indulging in a little wistful daydreaming, I believed I ought to be living in a perfect spot right now. Having to make due with less was unfairly difficult and tiresome.

What prideful thoughts! But even after I knew better, I struggled with letting go of that mindset. I read the Apostle Paul’s testimony in Philippians 4:12 – “I have learned the secret of being content…” – and my spirit would rebel. To me, “content” meant forcing myself to be happy settling for less.

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Now, ‘contentment’ means a sense of peace about where I am. How did I have such a big turnaround? It sure didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t come from me. Paul also wrote that we are to be transformed, and the tense he uses indicates that it happens to us rather than by us.

God revealed more and more to me about His love and provision, and drew me into a closer relationship. Over time, my focus began to shift from me-centered to Him-centered. And as I began to fix my gaze on God, earthly circumstances didn’t matter quite so much. I felt more secure even without everything on my list of wants.

Paul went through that shift, too. The secret of being content is something we can all know and use daily – loving and trusting God. It’s that simple and that challenging. Weather conditions are just a small aspect of life. But if I can embrace contenment during both dog days and cold spells, I’ll be on the right track!

 

 

Working At Unity

 

 

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lor, one faith…”  Ephesians 4:3-5

I heard about an article today that caught my attention. The author’s premise was that America is quickly becoming a country of separate tribes rather than the unified nation it was designed to be. Whether the tribes are labeled according to race, gender or even region, all of them are motivated by frustrations and grievances.

It is as if people want to focus these days on differences and deficiencies rather than common threads we all share as U.S. citizens. The idea saddened and scared me, because it rang so true. With a quick look at the news I can see it playing out around me every day – you probably can too.

And what’s true of the world at large can unfortunately be said of the church. The Body of Christ has become divided. In fact, whole denominations have come about when agreement couldn’t be reached on certain issues. I can take this to an even more personal level. In my church of only about 150, we have opposing factions that have faced off about worship music styles, dress code and how to run the Sunday coffee hour.

These are all things worth talking about, but should they be the cause of strife? Is there a way to agree to disagree while nurturing connections between people? I believe there is – but we have to be willing to shift our focus.

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The scripture from Ephesians 4 is all about rediscovering what we have in common. Paul uses the word ‘one’ several times to emphasize his point. And notice that it’s not an accidental thing – it’s a decision on our part. “Make every effort,” Paul writes, as if he knows we need reminders. Well, we do!

As humans, tribal thinking is a natural reaction to living in a challenging world. We can find a sense of comfort and security in the familiar. But taken to the extreme, we can become so enclosed in our own circle that we grow suspicious of those who don’t do things exactly the way we do.

There are certainly core issues that all believers must hold, and the Bible is the only Authority for them. But there are so many other, smaller issues that are not fully spelled out in Scripture. And paying too much attention to those distracts us from becoming the true family of God that we could be.

How do we foster Paul’s approach to each other? With an attitude of:

  • Curiosity – we truly want to know about each other
  • Humility – we realize that we don’t know everything
  • Thankfulness – we feel grateful that God created all of us uniquely in His image

The Body of Christ united by the bond of faith, blessed with peace and power – how great does that sound? It’s possible, if we’re willing to work at it.

The Challenge of Unanswered Prayer Part 2

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Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

Psalm 27:14

My last post ended on a bit of cliffhanger – one that unfortunately lasted about 5 months! I won’t spend a lot of time trying to explain myself, except to say that life (and in my case health) truly did get in the way of doing something I love so much. But I am sorry for letting so much time slip by. I’ve missed writing and sharing, and hope those of you who have so faithfully followed me in my journey will join back up with me now. And so, onward!

As I pointed out in Part 1, the issue of unanswered prayer is thorny for Christians. It certainly has been for me. It’s hard not to get something that I really want, or to be saddled long-term with something I don’t want. And I’ll admit that many times I haven’t been gracious about being in either situation, uttering lots of “God, where are You?” kinds of prayers. Continue reading “The Challenge of Unanswered Prayer Part 2”