Monday, May 26, 2014

Taking flight

This spring, we've had the anticipation and excitement of new life around our house.  No, I'm not having another baby, as the kids keep hoping.  We had birds build a nest in the bush right off our front porch.  Usually they try in vain to build nests in the wreath beside our front door.  But because the protective parent birds dive bomb our heads as we enter and exit, we dismantle each building attempt until they finally give up or the season ends.  This time, they got the bright idea to try another location, so we supported their effort, and we were rewarded with watching the stages from nest-building to egg-laying to the hatching into four fluffy baby birds with closed eyes and open beaks.  For weeks now, we've observed the tireless mama and daddy alternate between feeding their brood and keeping a close eye on us predators.  The babies peep constantly, and Maryn loves checking on them each time we go out or come in.  She's kept us updated on their growth process and developmental stages (opening their eyes, making sounds, eating more frequently).  Today I noticed that the bush houses them was shaking, and when we went out to investigate, we noticed the birds were no longer inside the nest.  The parents were hovering on a nearby powerline, and the four fluffballs were situated on different branches of the bush, sporadically hopping, making a new attempt at movement.  Soon, we know, they will be taking flight.

After watching the mama bird's anxiety in having us so close (and empathizing as a protective mama bird myself), we went inside to watch from my bedroom window.  The mama continued to feed each baby and, I assume, prod them to make the big leap.  I held my own baby on my lap and talked about how the mama has to encourage her babies to fly.  I asked her how she thought the babies felt, and she said, "Probably scared."  I agreed...after all, haven't we all experienced that?  I asked her if she would ever leave her nest and mama bird, and she answered, "No, I'm going to stay with you forever."  I smiled and said that she might change her mind someday, but it would be okay.  I promised to be right there beside her, encouraging her to fly, and always offering a safe nest for her return (for brief visits, of course).  

I think it's significant that the Bible uses images of birds to show God's relationship to us.  God is like a mother hen that gathers her young to her.  God is like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young.  God cares for the sparrow and likewise will care for us.  God is always there in ways seen and unseen, offering nurturting and challenge to help us thrive.

Yesterday, we had commencement at the university where I serve as chaplain.  It's always a bittersweet time.  We are all so tired at the end of the year, and so ready to be finished.  We are so proud of the accomplishments of our creative and dedicated students.  We are sad at saying goodbye and knowing that things will be different in the coming year.  And our students are in equal parts thrilled and terrified.  As one student shared, "All of my life's planning lead up to this moment.  And now I don't know what's next."  I, too, spent most of my life planning a future that ended up surprising me by what happened when the plan ended.  It was scary and uncertain and seemed impossible at times.  And then one day, I noticed I was flying.  Somehow I had it in me all along.  The hard part is letting go of our grasp on that familiar branch and jumping into the mystery of the unknown, where we might just find God's plan.  As one of my favorite children's books says, "If in all of forever, I never endeavor to fly, I won't know if I can."  But as the bird in the book discovers, "If I hadn't endeavored and found my wings clever, I never a sky would have scaled, never a world would have seen, and never a friend would have found."

"Friends of a feather, I say, endeavor and fly!"

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Gift

Today, I wear a Mother's Day gift from my sweet girl.  Like many such gifts, its value is not in the materials themselves, but in the pride and love in which they were fashioned.  I don't think I'll ever forget the look of excitement on her face as she told me about making the necklace, and the brief bit of concern that she wasn't supposed to tell me the secret, but "Oh, if you really want me to, I'll tell you" and then she was off in a flurry of words and gestures and detailed instructions of how she had shaped the clay and added the ribbon and bead.  She couldn't wait for me to see it.  And neither could I.  She was so proud to hand it to me and explained, "I put my thumbprint on it" and I felt the groove with my own thumb and told her that we would always be connected as I could touch my thumb to hers whenever I missed her.

My favorite part, though, is that she called it her "fumprint".  In her self-consciousness, she would hate for me to point that out, so I had to work hard not to smile at the cuteness.  She has always been a verbal and vocal child, very precocious and advanced for her age, so I hang on tightly to these reminders of how little she actually is.  She has lost so many of her former mispronunciations as she has grown, and she has alternately created and dropped her own made up words and sounds to express herself.  Now I can understand why my mom loves to remind me of how I used to call construction paper "instruction paper".  For parents there is a sweetness in seeing the imperfections, a reminder that there is still so much time to learn and so much to embrace in the reality of how things really are right now.  This gift and her words are a reminder not to rush into the future, but to slow down a moment and put my fumprint against hers and try not to be shocked that the sizes are not so very different as they once were.

Maryn and I are made from the same mold, it seems.  We both struggle with perfectionistic tendencies and are crushed to think we have failed at something.  But I'm reminded that sometimes our strengths and weaknesses are different sides of the same coin.  Although she is very verbose, when she is feeling intense emotions, it is difficult for her to find the words.  She will yell and grunt and point no matter how many times we remind her to "use her words".  Although I've developed other tools in my many years of experience, my tendency to withdraw or be passive-aggressive is not helpful either.  But we are both quick to pick up on how others are feeling and to show empathy and compassion for them.  In the same way, we are disappointed when the reality of life doesn't match up with the picture we've created in our head.  But that imagination helps us to dream new things and work to make them happen.

I like to think that this is how God looks at us.  Not as a mess of failures that need to be corrected, but that the Holy One is gently smiling in love at our offered gifts, imperfect as they are.  God sees a child, created in the Father's divine image, enough as she is, and yet with so much potential for continued growth.  So I will hold on to this fumprint as a reminder of my girl that is so like me and so loves me in spite of my failures and whom I remind every day that I will always love her, too, no matter what.