Percussive Boom

Add this to the list of weird things that have happened to me.

Percussive Boom. Geyser.

I was running my dog outside before a work-from-home meeting (that part is not unusual), when my shoes crunched across something unexpected in the driveway.

Glass. Thick brown shards of it extending from my puppy’s poo pail across the width of my car’s back bumper.

My mind ran the gamut in about 15 seconds – had someone thrown beer bottles against my garage door? Had the outside light shattered? Had there been glass in my driveway yesterday and I drove over it?

I scanned every nearby surface until my gaze froze at the shattered edge of my car’s back window.

Whoa.

No Ordinary Shatter

This was no ordinary shatter, if a car window shattering is ever ordinary. This looked like there had been a percussive boom inside my car. The lip edge of my rear window was curled outward and flanked with broken glass. There was no single point of blast, no rock-through-the-hole center. Instead, there was a maze of spider veins and a series of chipped layers all across the window that were reminiscent of sharp flakes of shale. Add to this picture the fact that my car was backed – backed! – against the garage door. Another car closer to the road was untouched.

I was flummoxed.

There was no sign of anything heavy falling off the roof – where would it have gone?

Could something inside my car have exploded? There was nothing in there but a half-full bottle of frozen water and my dog’s towels.

I called the police because I needed a witness to my perplexity.

The Investigation

The attending officer agreed it didn’t look malicious.

“But what caused it?” I asked.

“Weird things happen,” he said with a shrug.

Shatter lines

I imagine an officer working the beat has witnessed weirder things than a car window shattering for no apparent reason. For me, however, this was right up there. Maybe not quite Unexplained Flying Objects weird, but close.

His best explanation was some kind of air pressure caused the window to shatter. When we shut the car doors, the quiet slam caused half the window to shower into my car.

“See?” he said. As though this were a perfectly predictable response.

I waved him on his way and called my insurance agent.

Answers

“What’s your best guess as to what caused the broken window?” she asked.

“Umm… air pressure,” I hedged, as I tried to explain the miraculous shattering.

“Has it been cold there and have you used your defroster lately?” she asked.

“25°F and yes, yesterday.”

“That happens,” she answered, keyboard clicking in the background.

That happens? I’ve been driving nearly 30 years in sub-freezing temperatures, sometimes in places where plugging in your car to keep the engine block from freezing is a thing. And I have never heard of your window spontaneously shattering while parked in your driveway.

But I wasn’t about to argue with the nice lady filing my claim.

The call ended with a referral to a local glass shop and a promise that the repairs would be covered in full. I may be vacuuming glass dust from my trunk for weeks, but one step at a time. Currently my car’s tail is shrouded in black garbage bags, and no one better run up the driveway barefooted. Which, given the weather, is probably unlikely.

Weird, right? Have you ever heard of a car window shattering at 25°F a day after using the defroster?

If you’re like me, now you have.

Lessons Learned

Here are the lessons I draw from this little tale.

  1. Weird things happen. Sometimes they make good stories.
  2. I tried googling percussive boom to see if it was a legitimate phrase. Google suggested I might actually be trying to search for Percussive Boomwhackers, which is a musical instrument in the plosive aerophone and idiophone family. I don’t know what most of those words mean, but I suspect the sound my car made when the glass shattered is very similar to a Boomwhacker so I kept the phrase.
  3. Things shatter: windows, relationships, us. Sometimes the breaking comes from an external blow. Sometimes it comes from our own internal pressure cooker. Sometimes we have no idea what happened; we just see the pieces. But all this mess – me, you, that dude down the street – the repair for all of it is paid in full. We may still have to have the repair work done. We may need some protection in the meantime because it can be vulnerable to be shattered. But if we are willing to take the necessary steps, the offering is on the table. When we take the first step – it doesn’t even have to be the step, it can just be a step – God reveals the second step. Repair work proceeds step-by-inch-by-step.

In a tiny twist of dramatic irony, I stopped by the mailbox on our evening walk. There, in an oversized white envelope, was my annual car insurance bill.

If ever there was a clarion call to action, this might be it.

I think I’ll pay it.

This post was first posted to inspireafire.com. Wishing you a shatterproof day today 🙂

Making Do

Lighted vest - set aside "making do" for something better.
Sometimes we need to set aside our “making do” for something better.

I come from a long line of thrifty innovators. The kind that take great pride in sayings like:

Use it up,
wear it out,
make it do
or do without!

So it surprised no one when the need arose for me to put my thrifty innovation to good use. I had recently been coerced by a friend to join a running group – a harrowing tale in its own right for someone whose use of the term running had heretofore always preceded a direct object. (Think: “running the microwave” or, on particularly ambitious days, “running the vacuum”.)

I quickly learned that for a sport that seemingly requires no equipment but your own two feet, a remarkably large market of running essentials exists. I splurged on a new pair of running shoes and pulled a water bottle from my hiking gear, but I balked at the reflective vest. Options ranged from a simple and lightweight mesh vest to strings of LED cables that flashed in assorted colors. That is when my ingenuity kicked in.

The Art of Making Do

I wasn’t about ready to strap on a battery pack, but a reflective vest was certainly within my purview. I grabbed a roll of silver furnace tape, fashioned a few straps I could slip over my head, and had the equivalent of my reflective vest for about 39 cents.

My running group was simultaneously impressed by my creativity and embarrassed to run with me.

Maybe my running vest fell a little short compared to the truly reflective gear worn by the others, but I was making do with what I had. I was getting by on my own, and it worked just fine, thank you very much.

The Gift that Changed it All

Making do with tape

Fast forward a year into my running adventure. My running friend handed me a Christmas present with a smile. I opened it to unveil my first real running vest. It was fluorescent green with reflective trim and fit so light I barely knew I had it on. It was a beautiful Christmas present.

I retired my makeshift reflector with just a bit of nostalgia. There is a certain element of pride that comes from creating something on your own. I had been making do and getting by, but truthfully, the gift was even better.

Sometimes others know what we need even more than we do. We need people around us who can speak into our lives, share their own experiences, and open us to gifts we haven’t yet experienced. We need those who can come alongside and say, “I love that thrifty innovation you’re sporting. It’s now time for an upgrade.”

We need people who will help us set down our independence and accept a gift.

Heavenly Transaction

Even more than that, we need people around us who will point these earthly transactions toward a heavenly one. Even more than I needed a reflective vest, I needed the lesson it can teach me. The lesson of sometimes needing to set down my prideful independence. The lesson of opening myself up to another way that is not my own. And the lesson of accepting the greatest gift that has been given to me.

During the Christmas season we celebrate the birth of Jesus. He is the gift of God given to each of us. This gift is the opportunity to move beyond “making do” and embrace life to the full (John 10:10). But in order to receive this free gift, we have to set down what our hearts have already embraced. We have to retire the make-shift life we were etching out for ourselves in order to receive the fullest life that God has planned for us. We must loosen our grip on our little plans before we can accept the plans so big they stretch further than we can dare to ask or dream.

Jesus said that to follow him we must lay down our life and pick up our cross. He also promised that His burden is light, and He will never leave us.

Jesus, like life, was full of seeming contradictions.

The Path Forward

The path beyond making do

I am finding that the more I walk out my life in step with Jesus – and by that I mean consciously asking each day for God to show me his presence in my life and to give me wisdom in how I should live – the more I can sense his presence.

I don’t know where the path ahead will lead, but I am reminded this Christmas season that my job is first of all to release the stubborn “making do” life I have created. Second, my job is to receive the gifts of grace and guidance from the God who loves me. And third, my job is to pass along those gifts.

In short, my job is to reflect back the true light that has come into the world.

I’ve got a vest that will help me do exactly that.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. Merry Christmas!

Hidden Thankfulness

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

I’d like to thank all the people I never thanked.

This could be a sweeping generality: family, friends, first responders, the lady cleaning the bathroom at the gas station where I stopped for gas.

But, I have something more specific in mind.

I’m thinking of my fellow student Tom, who drove me to and from work for two weeks when my ’94 Chevy Blazer bit the dust. And I’m thinking of Eric, who drove me to the car dealership, because how does one buy a new car when they have no way to get there?

I always meant to make them cookies. Give them a card. Something – anything – to say thank you.

I never did.

It wasn’t because I wasn’t grateful, because I was. They saved me at a time when I had limited directions to turn.

It wasn’t because I didn’t have time. I mean, you can only walk around the block so many times. How hard would it have been to make a plate of cookies?

Why didn’t I?

More Hidden Thanks

I’d also like to thank Tiffany, who invited me that same year to Easter dinner.

“I’ll meet you at Carterville and then you can follow me,” she said.

“Great!” I said, making a note to look that up on a map. “Where in Carterville? Like, what address or landmark or whatever?”

She looked at me like I’d just asked her to define the exact confections of a jelly bean.

“Like Carterville,” she said again. “There’s a stop sign. I’ll meet you there.”

Oh. Right.

Just Because We Don’t Get Thanks…

I’m pretty sure I told Tiffany thank you, but there is no way she knew how much her invitation meant to me. I think of her from time to time and wonder what she’s up to. I’m not sure I can even conjure her last name, but I remember so powerfully how much I appreciated our interactions. I was a thousand miles from home and everything I knew, but I was less alone than I realized.

The more I ponder the reasons why I never thanked these people in the moment, or why I never reciprocated their kindness, the more compassion I have for others who likewise do not reciprocate to me. For whatever reason, I did not have the capacity at that time. And for whatever reason, there are others who do not have the capacity now. Just because we do not get a thank you does not mean it wasn’t appreciated. Just because our outreach is not reciprocated does not mean it didn’t have impact.

I’m here to say it mattered.

A Network of Thankfulness

Jesus told his followers that whatever we do to our brothers and sisters we do to Him. Paul admonished that we should work at everything as though we are working unto the Lord. And here’s the thing I’ve realized: we’re all connected.

We may do something for someone and have it reciprocated, but usually the web is more complicated than that. It’s far more likely that we do something for someone, and someone different does something for us, and we may not do something for them, but someone else will. Complicated and beautiful, right?

There is a vast network of exchanges happening, and at the core, we are doing everything unto Jesus, and Jesus is doing everything unto us. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. Not from a friend, a coworker, or a stranger. The gift may come through them, but it comes from God.

Maybe someday in this life or the one after I will get to say thank you to Tom, and Eric, and Tiffany. In the meantime, I pray that someone is being a blessing to them. And I pray that whoever I can bless carries that blessing on to someone else.

We are like surges through a global neural network, transmitting the signal that comes from above. All throughout God’s kingdom there are flashes of blessings, fires of thanksgiving. I’m thankful to both give and receive.

Who do you wish you could say thank you to?

This post was first written and shared at inspireafire.com. Happy Month of Thanksgiving!

What Are You Wrestling For? (You may need to change it.)

Wrestling with God - Rocky Trail

I’ve been wrestling with the deep and the hard these last few years.

God knows it. I know it. The bell sounds and we go another round.

I think of Jacob wrestling all night long and I think, wow, what a relief that would be if this only lasted one night.

But I am persistent. (Okay, stubborn.) And I do not let go after one night, or one year, or one long, long time.

So God and I were going another round the other night when I was suddenly struck with the thought:

I will give you what you ask for. It will even be good (because God only gives good gifts). But you will miss out on what I intended to give you that is even better. It’s your choice.

I can’t guarantee the thought was from God, but I can tell you it jolted me at such a visceral level that I’m pretty sure it’s not one I conjured of my own volition. It certainly made me pause and consider what I was asking.

Could I really wear God down? Could I ask him so persistently for something outside his perfect will that he would actually give it to me?

The answer, I think, is yes.

Examples of Wrestling in the Bible

Think of Abraham arguing with God for the people of Sodom. He persistently wore God down all the way from 50 to 10. If God found just 10 righteous people in the city, He would not destroy it (Genesis 18). Or think of Jacob in Genesis 32, with his one-night wrestling match, who ultimately received his blessing (along with a physical limp which is a side note for another day).

Then there is the parable Jesus told in Luke 18 of the unjust judge. By persistence the widow was granted what she requested, even though the judge did not fear God or care about her. If that is the outcome of persistence with a judge who does not care, think how much more will be granted by a Judge who does care.

And lest we rest on these in the comfort of knowing that such prayers were answered because they already aligned with God’s perfect will, let me remind you of Romans 1, where God gave people over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done. Or remember Numbers 11, where the people grumbled and complained to God until he gave them the meat they asked for, which ultimately made them sick.

Be careful what you pray for, it has often been said. Because you just might get it.

Another Option

“This, then, is how you should pray,” Jesus told his disciples. “Our Father, who art in heaven… thy will be done.”

There are things I want in life. Sometimes very badly. I don’t understand why some people get them and others do not. But if I believe that God is good, that His plan for me is far grander and more fulfilling that any I could ascribe to myself, and if I believe that God can and will grant me far more than I could ever dare to ask or dream – if I believe all of that, then even more than wanting what I want, I want what He wants.

I don’t know what it means to deny oneself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus, but I am afraid I may be in the process of finding out. The unexpected catch is that it really is a choice. God may give me what I ask for. I may wear Him down with my tears and pleading, and in so doing I may miss out on the even better plan.

I can go part way and stop. I can test the waters and turn back. I can choose to never begin.

Or I can go all the way through to the end.

Deep down I know what my answer is. I know what my answer always has been. But rather than feel the body lock release, I feel the wrestling hold simply shift. A change in perspective changes the wrestling match; it does not end it.

Sanctification is the fancy word for the process we go through our entire lives as we become more like Jesus. Put another way, sanctification is the process of aligning our will with God’s will. We are to be transformed, by the renewing of our minds, so that we can discern God’s good, perfect, and pleasing will.

Transformation sounds lovely. Discernment would be a blessed gift.

I think we get there by wrestling.

Just be careful what you’re wrestling for.

If God offered you what you’ve been asking for, but you would miss out on His better plan, would you take it? This post was first shared at inspireafire.com. I hope reading it makes you think as much as writing it did for me.

Life is Weird. (Leadership Lessons from Ecclesiastes)

Every once in a while, I need a good dose of Ecclesiastes.

I like to remind myself that the purported wisest man in the world, the one about whom the Queen of Sheba said, “you have far exceeded the report I heard,” and the one about whom God himself said “I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be” (1Kings 3:12), this man, Solomon, is also the writer of Ecclesiastes.

I like to picture him walking on the royal grounds or pacing the parapets and wringing his hands, “Meaningless! Meaningless!”

It makes me feel like I’m in good company. Because although my grounds aren’t royal, I do sometimes pace them in wonderment at just how weird life can be.

So with that as my foundation, I set out to see what this wisest of the wise had to say. Rather than draw from the wisdom literature known for its pithy sayings and quotable insights, I bypassed Proverbs and dove straight for Ecclesiastes. I wanted to know what this wisest of leaders had to share, not in the enlightened moments known for their wisdom, but in the shadows that are not.

I invite you to come along. Whether you’re leading your family through dynamics, your company to the next level, or yourself out of a bad day, I bet you’ll find something here for you too.

My top 3 Ecclesiastes picks:

What has been will be again (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

You’ve got to read the verse in context to appreciate the sense of futility that Solomon captures so poetically. The sea that’s never full, the sun that rises and falls, the wind that blows round and round… But amidst this long lament, the thing that captured me about this verse was the click of a “snap out of it!” realization.

If what has been will be again, then that includes good things too. It’s so easy to dwell on the negative, to wring our hands at the meaningless futility, but for every revolution of the cycle, good things are coming back around. Things we want to see and experience and hold again. If the drudgery of the mundane are the spokes that drive the wheel forward, then so be it. We can embrace it knowing that good things are coming if we don’t give up.

Go near to listen (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

Solomon offers this advice when we go to church or to commune with God. I’d argue it’s good advice regardless of where we’re going. Too often I approach others – God, family, friends, coworkers – with what I have to say. We should actually draw near first to listen.

Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

I’ve always liked this verse. For those times in life where I feel lost and don’t know which way to turn, I remind myself to start with what I have, wherever I am. There is something to be done, right now. Do that. Then see about the next thing, and the next. Before you know it, that wheel has rolled another rotation and you are in another time and place.

Work is a gift from God. We often define work as something that we don’t want to do, but that isn’t God’s definition. Work was first given as part of the perfect creation in the garden, and it is still given to us today. How much would our perspective change if we looked at work not as something we have to do, but as something we receive?  

“What do you have that you have not received?” Paul wrote many centuries later to the Corinthians. That includes the work along with the play, the tears along with the joy, the spokes along with the turning wheel. It is all gift. We cannot add to it or subtract from it. We cannot of our own accord make something of it. We oftentimes cannot even understand it. The only thing we can do is receive it.

Life, my friends, is weird.

I’m grateful anyway.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. Enjoy this rerun, and have a meaningful day.

Time Wasted. (Learning Peace When Plans Derail.)

Pond

I bet you’ve had a day like this too:

I woke up extra early with my list of errands in hand. My first stop was unexpectedly closed. Then the bridge was out, and the detour was backed up for miles. An hour and a half later, I finally made it to my main destination only to find they had closed for the season, yesterday. When I had called earlier in the week to check their hours, that detail had somehow been neglected.

As I put my car in reverse, all the ways I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve spent my morning ran through my head. All that time, wasted.

The incident reminded me of a time in college when I had walked the entire length of campus to an office that was closed.

Highway sign

“What a waste,” I grumbled to myself as I started the trek back to my dorm.

In the next moment, a cardinal flashed across the sidewalk in front of me, paused long enough on a branch tip to serenade me with his trilling crescendo, and then disappeared.

The scene was so surprisingly beautiful, I stopped dead in my tracks to the whispered thought: nothing is ever a waste.

It’s a lesson I need to learn repeatedly, because this was not the first time, nor the last, when I will have days like this. As I’ve contemplated why some days go according to plan and others spin like a hamster wheel going nowhere, I have a few ideas that I think are worth considering.

We may be going in the wrong direction.

Sometimes our days don’t go according to plan precisely because they are our plans. We need to pause long enough to hear whether God is prompting us in a different direction. I don’t think every Road Closed is a message from God – sometimes life is just messy – but if we’re repeatedly hitting the proverbial wall, we better at least ask God why. Did He put the wall there to send us in a different direction?

We may need time for personal development.

God may leave a wall in front of us not because it’s the wrong direction, but because it’s the wrong time. When it’s a big wall we’re hitting – relationships, careers, life directions – it could be that we’re not ready for what’s on the other side. We may need time to grow. Alternatively, when the wall we’re facing is built with life’s little frustrations, it may be less about what’s on the other side and more about us. It could simply be an opportunity to practice patience.

We may not be seeing the whole picture.

I’ve seen some remarkably tiny details in my life play out in ways that I know are touches from God. While every detail of our day is not orchestrated like a stage set for a stringed marionette, God can and does interject. Maybe what I considered wasted time was exactly how I was supposed to spend my day. Only God knows how the events that unfolded impact both my life and countless unseen intersections with others. God can turn even wasted time into a blessing.

There may not be a reason.

Sometimes there is no need to hyper-spiritualize every moment of every day. Sometimes life is messy, and that is the full extent of the story. What matters is not the why. What matters is how we respond.

What matters most…

Whether our “wasted time” was an orchestrated lesson from God or an impromptu opportunity gifted to us from the messiness of life, the key is our response to it. God wants us to seek his guidance, trust him, and maintain a good attitude.

Even if our day is not going according to plan, we can be polite to those we meet. We can choose to not get frustrated. We can look for opportunities to make the most of every situation. After all, the lessons learned along the way may be more important that whatever filled our to-do list.

Learning to be at peace in whatever comes our way is never time wasted.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed!

The Price and Cost of the Ultimate Freedom

The cost of freedom and free will

Unless you’re an accountant, you’ve probably never thought about the difference between price and cost.

I didn’t until today.

But while we may use the words interchangeably, there is a notable difference. Cost is what it takes to produce something; price is what someone pays for it.

This is straight forward when we’re talking about gadgets and gizmos. It becomes more interesting when we start talking about less tangible things.

The 4th of July is a celebration of independence for the United States. It’s a time when we reflect on all the costs that have gone into the freedoms we enjoy. It is also a time to reflect on what price we are willing to pay to maintain it. Freedom, as the saying goes, is not free.

It has a cost. And a price.

This is true for the freedom of political sovereignty, and it is true for the most foundational freedom we possess.

The cost of a country’s freedom is high. So is the cost of divine freedom: free will.

Free will, it seems to me, has messed up a lot of things. It has unleashed war, poverty, cruelty, and confusion. It has allowed evil to run rampant in our world. It has allowed people to make terrible decisions that led to terrible consequences on personal and global scales.

It seems like we have unwillingly paid an awful price for our free will.

Yet, there must be something more. When God created us, He could have created automatons that would always do his good, perfect and pleasing will. But He didn’t. He gave us free will.

Even now the question remains: why does God allow so much evil to run rampant? Why doesn’t He step in and stop it?

The first answer is: He did.

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. “But take heart. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

God paid the price of sin so that we can enter a peaceful eternity with Him. He did stop the evil. But we don’t get to see the full manifestation until we get to heaven.

Perhaps that should be enough of an answer, but if you wrestle with questions like this as much as I do, then you might also wonder why we have to wait. Why doesn’t He step in and just stop the evil here and now?

The second answer I see is: free will.

In order for evil to be removed, God would have to prevent humans from acting on the evil impulses we have. The loss of free will is the price that would have to be paid for God to erase the suffering from this world. We might say, “Fine! It’s worth it. Do it!”

God says, “Not like that.”

This makes me look differently at free will. What could possibly be more important than world peace? What could possibly be more important than the elimination of cruelty and suffering and insert your list of world horrors here __________________.

The answer I hear is: free will.

God values free will so much that he will not remove it for a quick fix of the world’s woes. He knew the costs before creation began. He knew the price that he himself would pay on our behalf.

God gave us free will anyway.

God continues to give us free will today.

If God values free will that much, then I’m beginning to think that I should too. And I probably ought to learn more about it. What exactly is free will? How do we glimpse its value amidst the darkness of its price? And most importantly, how do we use it for good and not for evil?

I hope this post stirs up your desire to wrestle with these questions, too.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed this reprint!

I Need You to be Okay Without Me

This post is about my dog. And about so much more than my dog.

It’s also about me, and possibly you, too.

You see, when the pandemic hit, I was one of the lucky ones. Through a series of fortunate arrangements, I have been working remotely for the past two years. My dog loves this deal, and despite the constant teleporting between virtual meetings, I love it too. She lays by my feet all day. We enjoy lunch on the back porch. We go for walks in the evening. We are, as the saying goes, attached at the paw.

Which will be a problem in a few months when I return to the office.

For two years we have rarely been apart. She co-pilots our route to the curbside groceries. She mooches treats from every drive-through establishment in town. She protects me from the brave and friendly delivery people.

And pretty soon she will have to be okay without me.

Except I know – and perhaps you do too – that sometimes there is nothing okay about being apart from those we want to be with.

It’s been three years now since my father passed away. I still catch myself expecting to see him, expecting to hear him, expecting to talk to him. I don’t think that will ever go away. The absence of his presence is nearly as tangible as his actual presence. It’s as though someone took that piece of my life and carved it into a metal ink press. The part that’s missing is the part that makes the picture when it’s stamped.

It’s not gone. It’s just completely inverted. And I don’t like it at all.

If our definition of okay is who we were “before,” then we may never be okay again. Instead, we become okay with not being okay. We become okay with being who we are “after.”

That’s what I’m working on with my dog now. The differently hard. And the differently joyful.

Dog chewing on toy.

We’ve started a robust separation desensitization routine. A dozen times a day I walk out the front door and right back in. Or gather my keys and then set them back down. Every day we practice quiet crate time in the other room.

Little by little the panic is a little less panicked. Little by little she is learning – I hope – that she can be okay without me.

She might even find that although this is new, and it’s not what she asked for, that there will be good things, too. There will be opportunities she wouldn’t have had otherwise – and no, I don’t mean sneaking into the garbage unobserved.

What can any of us say about the road ahead? We can say this: that our eyes have not seen, our ears have not heard, and our hearts have not begun to imagine what God has prepared for those who love him. We have the strength of the Father guiding us through both the lines and the spaces. We can embrace both the joy and the pain. And we can cling to the one presence that we never need to be okay without.

This post was originally written for inspireafire.com.

Don’t Mess with Mama Bird (A reflection on the soft fierceness of a mother’s love)

Eggs in nest
Photo by Christina Dymek

In the tree outside my window there is a little nest.

On the electrical line that runs not far away there is a giant black bird.

This is not a good combination.

From the oversized tail feathers and the car-alarm-competing cry, my bird book tells me the giant black bird is a great tailed grackle. And this giant grackle is intent on eating the tiny egg inside that nest.

I would not want to be that egg.

Nature is harsh, and the thin shell of protection is no match for a giant pointy beak. The twisty branches and their gentle covering are no deterrent. I watch as the grackle swoops closer, navigates the outer branches, and dives for the nest.

But God did not leave that little nest without protection.

Hidden in those branches is a guardian far more fierce than twisted branches and a layer of egg shell. In the second after that grackle dives for the nest, he changes course and flees from the tree. Inches from his tail is a tiny mama bird in quick pursuit, twittering her defense call. This new bird is less than one-third the size of the grackle, but she launches herself with a determination that is no match for mere hunger.

The grackle flees, and in that moment, I would not want to be that grackle.

When we think of a mother’s love, we often think of the nurturing, soothing kind of love. We picture mamas rocking their babies and kissing injuries. They restore calm to a world gone crazy. Oh, how we need that kind of mother’s love!

But there is another kind of mother’s love that we also need. The kind of love that says you should never get between a mother bear and her cubs. The kind of love that says a tiny bird can take on a giant… and win.

When Jesus stood lamenting over Jerusalem, he demonstrated both kinds of this love. “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he cried. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Luke 13:34).

I often think of this analogy in the soft sense. I think of how comforting it must be for a chick to snuggle against the downy warmth of its mother and be covered by her wing. There is a reason we make pillows and duvets out of down!

But today, as I watch this little bird defend her nest, I see another side to this mother hen’s protection. While the baby chicks are nestled under her wings, mama hen is keeping watch. If the need arises, she will defend those chicks with everything she has – beak, claw, and sheer determination.

God instilled both kinds of love into a mother – a softness and a fierceness that are unmatched anyplace else. And God offers both kinds of love to us. He longs to gather us close, comfort us, and nurture us. He longs to protect us with an intensity that shouts: You are mine. Nothing – nothing – can separate you from my love.

This is the soft fierceness of a mother’s love. This is the soft fierceness of God’s love for us.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed it!

Heading for Takeout

There’s a saying in my family: When Janet heads to the kitchen (that’s me), then everyone else heads for takeout.

I’m fully convinced I could headline on the “Worst Cooks in America” if I could just survive in the kitchen long enough to submit an audition tape.

Some of my culinary mishaps are the stuff of urban legend. Like the time I exploded a plate while making French toast for my friends.

I don’t mean I broke a plate. I mean it was a duck-under-the-table-shrapnel-flying explosion. Apparently, I turned the wrong burner on. (I wondered why my French toast was still raw even as I turned the heat higher and higher.)

After that my friends ushered me out of the kitchen, swept my floor and countertops, and called me when breakfast was ready.

I get that response a lot.

There was the time I made pudding from scratch that was so lumpy I called it chocolate chunk pudding and convinced everyone it was intentional. And recently during a family visit, my mom came down the hallway calling, “Wow, whatever those plumbers did really stinks… oh, wait, I think that’s your cooking.”

There is, however, one culinary expertise that I possess: I make a mean bowl of Jell-O.

Ever since the great soup escapade of 2014, I decided to focus my efforts on something a little more in my wheelhouse. My attempts with powdered gelatin and boiled water have been met with wild acclaim. I no longer have to ask my church family what I should bring to the carry-in.

“How about Jell-O?” they will suggest.

“Yes! We love your Jell-O! Please bring that,” another will chime in.

With such enthusiasm as that, how can I let them down?

Jell-O it is. And I am happy to report that to date, no one has been injured in either the making or consuming of my special gelatin salad. I call that a win for everyone.

All of this bring me to my reflection. When faced with obstacles as insurmountable as my cooking inaptitude, it seems we have three paths to overcoming:

#1 Find your special niche.

I’m not about ready to whip up a crème brûlée, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be successful in some small and still important part. (Who doesn’t love a colorful Jell-O?) The same is true for you and whatever obstacle you may be facing. I’m not ready to take on cooking-at-large, and you may not be ready to take on your obstacle-at large, but that doesn’t mean there’s not still a place for us at the table. Find your spot and pull up a chair. I’ll be at the end away from the flames and sharp utensils.

#2 Get training.

As much as I hate to admit it, and I’m only going to whisper it here, I have on occasion actually used a (gulp) recipe. And the other day I inadvertently learned how to tenderize chicken by soaking it – oh excuse me, marinating it – in lemon juice or vinegar. I haven’t actually tried it yet. Mine will likely taste like pickled sawdust, but my point is I learned something. There are people out there who know more than us. (Thank God!) Don’t be afraid to learn from them.

#3 Let it go.

Sometimes rather than climbing over obstacles, we can simply walk around them. I wonder how much time we spend in life fighting battles we don’t really need to fight. Take a moment to assess how important your particular challenge is. If it’s important, see #2 above. And if it’s not, well, I say we just forget it and go celebrate with some takeout.

Who’s with me?

This post was originally written for inspireafire.com. I hope this second helping brought a smile to your day!