Layers of pre-dawn orange-yellow streaks bled into the pale horizon giving a hint of the light to come. Being early risers, the sun and I breakfast together. During a recent early breakfast, while enjoying a sweet watery melon, I caught a glimpse of an iridescent green streaking by my window. The hummingbird returned and hovered a bit, studying me through the glass, then went about his business sipping up nectar from the bird feeder. In an instant, this sassy little guy did a near loop de loop and then returned to my window, perhaps waiting for an applause. The colors of his feathers seemed to switch from green to brown and back to green, depending on the angle of the rising sun. Soon other hummingbirds jetted into my view. I watched them flit from tree to feeder and back again. I imagined tiny nests in nearby trees with even tinier thirsty chicks.
My hummingbirds seem to know me. Throughout the day, they put on a show, displaying their aeronautical acrobatics. I watch them grandly soar in huge sweeping arcs. Adorned with ruby throats and emerald wings, it’s no wonder they are called flying jewels. On days when I refill the feeder, flashes of red, gold and green crown my head. The flying jewels hum like a militia of pulsating wings.
To avoid the advancing hot sun, I decided to go outside to celebrate the day, along with the flying jewels. So, coffee in hand, I stepped outside into the steamy yet fresh new day. But before I got to the front yard where the bright red feeder hung, another sight shining in the morning mist captured my attention. I stopped here for a moment.
A shimmering, lacelike spider web, stretching between two shrubs glistened in the early light. I have noticed similar webs before with delicate umbrella-like spokes. This morning, I saw skeletons of unsuspecting flying insects that had unwittingly flown into this deadly trap. Caught in the sticky web, they met their ultimate demise.
Mother nature’s lesson here is clear: avoid getting ensnared and stuck. I now think about the two contrasts: being stuck in an unyielding web and the free-flitting ways of the hummingbirds. I wonder, where am I? Am I stuck or am I flitting? I have known both.
Unlike the animal life in my garden, imprinted with their life’s occupation, I have the gift of free will. I can choose my steps, every minute of every day. The spiders and birds are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Am I?
Instead of a programmed flight map, I have a endless choices and a multitude of distractions. I can dart from emails to social media to Netflix all day long. Likewise, I am free to remain in a same-old-same-old; stuck in paralyzing thoughts and deeds. Am I bound to a fixed point or does God intend something else for me? Since I cannot hold on to two opposing thoughts: stagnancy or flight, I must choose. I look to Proverbs 1:5.
A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.
Mature Thinking and Wise Counsels
The bible has over 70 verses on learning and growth. In his letters to the new believers, Paul implores his flock to look ahead and to grow.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
Paul believes we are made to stretch and to grow. Just watch a baby twist and turn to advance himself any way possible, from rolling to crawling, from crawling to walking, from walking to running. Even infants do not wish to be tethered to a fixed point.
As a maturing adult, God showed me a glimpse of his intentions for me, but my mindset, stuck in its infancy, put up roadblocks. I felt a calling to write. No, not a calling but more of an urgency. There was a voice beating inside of me that wanted to be heard. I wrote pages and pages of spiritual essays and prayers and kept them hidden. I hid my light under a self-imposed bushel. I kept this passion very private, too embarrassed to draw any attention to this part of my spirit.Even when doors opened for me to develop my skills as a writer, the most important door, the one in my mind was closed. I felt like a song writer with a few bars of melody that could not be denied, yet deny them, I did. I buried them.
Even stagnancy has its own contradictions. Eventually, I did write, but the lens was turns outward, taking the form of educational theses, peer-reviewed articles, and a doctoral dissertation. At one time, I even had a small byline, writing educational news in a local newspaper, covering the four w’s: who, what, where and when. All the while, an inner ache was building, an ache I did not want to acknowledge, so I found the perfect avoidance technique, I flitted.
Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:13-15).
In his letter of the Ephesians, Paul seems to have spoken directly to me when he wrote “tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching”. That was what I allowed, but I didn’t slowly drift away; I was blown off course. I allowed other agendas to detour me, making right and left turns amassing an ever-widening gulf between me and my Christian roots. In my other posts, Finding My Bedrock, and Trust, I wrote how my search for truths led me off track and how Christ’s love for me whispered me back. With all the shouting in this world, after all my rabbit runs down fruitless and even dark trails, it is amazing how a still small voice, a voice that made me feel still smaller, could come through the noise and demand my all.
That Still Small Voice
Even in my diversions, the old ache would bubble up. While on a plane headed for an educational conference in San Antonio, TX, I was putting the last touches on my presentation, when I abruptly slammed my laptop closed. There it was again. That aching hole in my heart. Most times, I just lived with it like sensitive tooth. But today the hole widened, and I felt swallowed up by it. I could not merely brush it aside. Angrily, I reopened my laptop to a new page and began a letter. Dear Nagging Empty Hole, I began. Irritably, I pounded out a few questions. What are you? Who are you and what do you want? Why do you persist in following me? After this initial outburst, I continued typing but I soon found my thoughts transitioning to a calmer curiosity. I let the words flow, unfiltered and began to feel a warmth I could not yet describe. I connected with something I came to believe was good, a spirit within me that wanted to be acknowledged. That was a start. An acknowledgement. I decided to accept this presence. A soft hand was extended, and I hooked one finger and held on.
Free Will: “I love you enough to let you go.”
I didn’t fully grasp the gift of free will until the day I gave my daughter her own wings to fly away. She had recently graduated from college in California and was leaving us to be with her boyfriend in Northern California. Of all the successive steps toward her eventual independence, her first walk across the room, her first tricycle, kindergarten, summer camp, driving and dating, in my mind, this was the Big One. This was a relationship that I inwardly but silently questioned. So, on one of those rare rainy mornings in Southern California, I drove my girl to the airport dreading this monumental parting. The windshield wipers marked time like a metronome, counting the waning minutes that we had left. After all hugs and kisses, there was one final goodbye. I watched as she turned away. Each step she took pounded my heart like a hollow drum. As she stepped onto the escalator that carried her up toward her new life, I felt the enormity of what it means to let go. Surrounded by busy travelers, holding back a tidal wave of tears, I impulsively blurted out, “I love you enough to let you go.”
Our Flight of Free Will
I would like to be able to go back in time and whisper to my younger self, “wake up from your slumber and see what God has given you.” But God loves me so much, I was allowed to stumble along, get carried off to who knows where. Gracefully, the thing imprinted on our souls that is God’s intent for us, does not have an expiration date. It waits.
It began with the simplest of questions when the central conflict of my life slipped away, and I accepted the big reveal: the need to turn the lens inward. My good friend Carol Beyer in Florida texted me a simple question, “What are you doing?” In that second, the full weight of her question landed on my soul and the last thirty years of my life compressed into one revelation. After years of moving from state to state, shifting careers from teaching to administration, sitting in an office, reading research, solving university administrative problems, and neglecting family and friends, I had simply run out of distractions.
“What was I doing?” she asked.
I was quietly sitting in my garden chair just observing life. For her benefit, I began to write a description of what I was seeing, what I was feeling, when the old ache resurfaced. After thirty years of flitting, I turned the lens inward and my first post, Finding Stillness was born. The words poured out like broken dam. Each word I typed pulsed with life. As Jesus said in his parable, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house (Matthew 5:15). I wanted to share candlelight.
The Fullness of Time
Sometimes you just know when it’s time. Hummingbirds know when to sip and when to soar. My daughter eventually discovered the Northern California relationship was not working. Together we decided it was time to return to my east coast roots, near the Jersey shore, where she met and married the love of her life. Life can push us around, to lead you down blind alleys until the time comes when we finally face the right questions, like what are you doing? And, it only takes a few moments to change course.
In her book, The Five Second Rule, Mel Robbins suggests we are one decision away from a completely different life. It took just a few seconds for us to decide to return to New Jersey and it took me a few seconds for me to turn my lens inward to write the words begging to be heard.
None of this is easy. There are still webs of my own making. Doubts and fears are not too far away. Even as of this writing, they skipped into my thoughts and tried to double-dutch their way into my mind. But they have lost their power to my resolve, to my spirit, to the light that surrounds me when I write . In my post titled Faith and Doubt, I talk about how I learned how to put doubt in its rightful place, not suppressed, but understood.
I am not The Nature Whisperer. I am Nature’s listener. I feel closest to God by a wooded stream, hiking in the Colorado Rockies, living in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey, under the giant trees in Lake Arrowhead, California, admiring my Floridian Live Oak or just watching my hummingbirds friends light up my window. Surrounded by sweet fragrant pines and families of geese that single file parade past my back door, I listen for hidden treasures, thoughts that come floating in on a breeze, thoughts that I am compelled to prayerfully explore. Sometimes they arrive in capital letters but most often in a gentle voice, a voice as close as my own breath. I listen.
If you are reading this, mostly like you are wondering about your own journey, your own light that might be still hidden. I am taking a leap by sharing my writing. It is my hope that something in these words might ignite your own spark. God loves you. That makes your spark a valued treasure.
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5)