Monday, May 31, 2021

Stingy Sparrow

(This is a story I posted several years ago. But I thoroughly enjoyed reading it again - I hope you will, too. Blessings on this Memorial Day!) My backyard bird feeders are a source of great Joy! We have three. Each carefully positioned to provide the birds safety and to give me maximum visibility. My favorite is shaped like a miniature porch swing. Tiny white, slat boards form the back, seat, and arm rests. Too precious! It's a favorite with the birds as well. My best mornings begin with a cup of coffee which I drink while sitting on the back screened porch; watching the sunrise and waiting for the birds to arrive. Frank knows how much I enjoy this ritual, so he's diligent about keeping the feeders stocked. Love that man o' mine! We originally hoped to draw doves, my mom's favorite birds. That happened rather quickly. This spring we've added sparrows, a couple of red birds, a fabulous little blue bird and even a dim-witted wood pecker. I say "dim-witted" because although the smaller feeder won't hold his weight, he forgets every time and wastes all sorts of energy trying to find a foothold. A few times I've witnessed him literally hang upside down for several seconds while he composes himself and starts again! It's futile - but he foolishly keeps trying. (A little side note: Psychologists tell us that insanity is doing the same thing over and over in exactly the same way while hoping for a different outcome. Food for thought.) In this part of Florida, we also have huge cranes that must surely have inspired the Muppet version of Big Bird. The adult cranes stand five feet tall and can be rather intimidating to small children and their grandmothers. They're majestic creatures and very protective of their family units. My feeders weren't meant for the cranes. We purchase seed specifically formulated for the smaller sized birds. But the cranes didn't mind. In fact, they found it quite convenient that our feeders were originally placed right at "chin" level for their dining pleasure. Those aggravating monsters would stand at the feeders and wipe out all the seed in a matter of minutes. We caught on to their game and moved the feeders higher up, post haste! Three days later, Frank watched with no small measure of delight as the puzzled cranes wandered around and around their former feeding troughs. They stretched and squawked and strutted. But we had taken care of the problem. No more seed for them! He said it took the aviary giants all of about ten minutes to figure out that if they bumped the bottom of the feeders with their beaks, delicious seeds would still fall to the ground. This they did, post haste! Do you KNOW how humbling it is to be bested by a BIRD?! There's a lesson to be learned everyday if we watch for it. And one of my most powerful lessons came last week from the tiniest visitor to our bird restaurant. I mentioned that sparrows have just discovered our sumptuous banquet this spring. Watching them flit about has been such fun. I had no idea that some varieties have slight coloring in their feathers. Then there are the joyful chirpings and songs they share. With each sighting, I'm reminded of what Jesus told his friends about the sparrows. "Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without my Father knowing it. How much more valuable are YOU?!" (Emphasis mine.) Frank had re-filled the swing just the day before. I watched and quietly sipped my steaming coffee as the visitors began to arrive. First the doves. They're typically the earliest birds. They ate and cooed and called out to others then went on their way. Next the red bird with his brilliant crest. Then his mate with more subtle coloring. A bluejay did a quick fly by. But he didn't stay long; wrong flavored seeds, I think. As my coffee disappeared, about a half-dozen sparrows came on the scene. They sang their gratitude flitting back and forth between the two feeders. I lingered just long enough to witness a real life lesson. A final sparrow flew in and went immediately to the large swing, still laden with seed. A different sparrow pecked contentedly at the other end. When a third tiny guest landed on the back of the feeder, the first one suddenly took ownership of what didn't belong to him. The sparrow became aggressive, flying at the other two while scolding them loudly. He didn't want to share with the bird at the far end and he definitely had no intentions of making room for the one who had just landed. I watched in amazement as the little pontiff paced up and down the foot long feeder, daring any other bird to come near. He even flew at the birds on the circular feeder. Then quickly returned to protect his territory on the larger swing. His anger and frustration knew no bounds, it appeared. And having laid claim to this new stash, he had no intentions of sharing. None! The other birds had already been there a while. So after a few more attempts, they flew off for friendlier skies. (Pun totally intended!) What happened next struck me to the core! The stingy sparrow watched triumphantly as the others flew away then turned to fill his selfish little gut. Only he couldn't eat in peace. He was too busy watching. Too startled by every noise, thinking the others were returning. He literally paced the feeder, screeching at any would-be intruders. But the other birds were long gone. There was no reason for the sparrow's behavior! He had what he wanted. But it immediately became a burden instead of the blessing we had intended. The lesson was clear. That sparrow had done nothing to obtain the stash he was guarding so pathetically. He hadn't built the feeder he paced. He hadn't milled the seed. He hadn't even created the wings he used to beat the others away. But he was trapped by his greed! And so it is with us when we forget that every good and perfect gift in our lives has been given us freely by our heavenly father. It's so easy to allow ourselves to lose perspective. To think we've done it all and therefore we must protect it all. Greed can take hold quickly and can impact us for a lifetime. We can become stingy, unpleasant people; chasing away all who would joyfully share life with us if we'd only allow them. After watching the little bird a few moments longer, I bowed my head and asked God to show me any part of greed in my life. I've lived long enough to know that gratitude breaks the grip of stinginess. So, I lingered quite a while telling my heavenly father how grateful I am for every wonderful gift of provision He has placed in my world. The stingy sparrow did serve one good purpose that day. He reminded me to be generous with all I have and lavish with my gratitude toward the Father. Lesson Marked!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Good Pain

I count it a real GIFT that you read Embrace the Grace. Truly! That you would take time out of your busy schedule to scan my ponderings and musings is something I don't take lightly. Because of feeling it's an honor to write for your consideration, I usually pray over my topic for each post. Today's topic was immediately clear to me.
For fourteen years, this little shih tzu has been my faithful companion. Gracie Marie earned many other names for herself like "Gracie the Goat Dog" and "Aggravating Mutt" and even "Little Pill." These were the result of both her stubborn personality and her propensity to eat whatever might present itself. She vacumed everything that fell from the children's highchair trays and anything dropped during meal prep as well as dirty socks. Such a discerning palette! Her most heralded acheivement was accomplished during a visit with John and Joy while Frank and I were away on vacation. After everyone had gone upstairs to bed, Gracie managed to climb up on their dining room table. She then proceeded to unzip the children's backpacks (resting in the center of the table) and forage through their snack bags which had been carefully prepared for the purpose of saving time the next morning. My, oh my! What chaos ensued when her deed was discovered. Needless to say, Gracie was not invited back to the Schrecks after that.
In spite of her bad habits and frustrating ways, we all loved her but no one as much as me. Gracie felt compelled to accompany me everywhere. Her little bed fit perfectly under the chair on my side of our bed. She had her own spot (squeezed in beside me)in my prayer chair until she couldn't jump up any longer. Many mornings, I just picked her up. If I was cleaning, she moved from room to room with me. These next two pictures made me laugh because they highlight how attentive she's been. I often send pictures of outfits to Kristin for a quick critique. Notice who is sitting beside me in both.
Gracie Marie! You can imagine the pain we felt when she started failing two weeks after Christmas. Our vet worked with us but we knew the inevitable was fast approaching. At 1 in the morning on January 24th, Frank and I rushed her to an emergency clinic. Her loyal heart was just giving out and so we held her and talked to her while the kind vet ended her suffering. We wept like children and told only a few people beyond family at church later that morning. The pain was just too fresh; too intense. We buried her little body in a spot she loved beside our house. (And yes, I'm crying again as I write this. She was such a faithful companion.) Fast forward to this past Saturday when we ran into a couple from our church at a local store. We stopped to chat and greeted Ipod their dog (who was riding in the shopping cart) right along with them. The first bit of conversation was the news they were facing about their much loved companion, Ipod. "The vet says he has cancer. We've brought him home to love on but he won't be with us much longer, we know." Frank and I were immmediately able to share our concern in ways that affirmed their pain. Our own ache had created a deep well in our hearts from which we drew compassion for the purpose of comforting our friends. It was a tender moment in the middle of that busy store. Later, the wife sent a text thanking us for understanding their hurt. As I pondered this morning I realized that's the ultimate purpose of pain in all our lives. Any pain I experience should create in me a sensitivity to the pain of others. Compassion and empathy both stem from having walked through similar hurt and trials. Once healing begins for me, I'm able to comfort others with the same comfort I've received. Notice, it's not for the purpose of drawing attention to myself or my loss but rather for wrapping my arms around another and saying honestly, "Your pain matters to me. I care." Frank often says God never wastes anything. And in this instance, I can even see where pain could be described as "good" if I allow it to generate tenderness for others around me. Does that speak to your heart, too? I certainly hope so.
Gracie Marie's unconditional love was a gift from my Heavenly Father and I'm grateful. Her absence has left me with a big void but if the pain of her loss can be used to make me more tender toward others, then it's good and I'll be grateful in the growing. Thanks for pondering with me today. How about you? Was there a special pet in your life that you had to release? Were there any lessons you gleaned that we could all apply? Please share with us in the comment section.