1.29.2011

Free Bird

As I pushed the shopping cart through Super Wal-Mart, laboring down the endless cereal aisle, I heard a sound that one does not normally hear in such a place.

A chirping bird.

It wasn't just a little peep. It was a full-fledged birdie aria coming from up in the rafters somewhere. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I detected a note of distress in the warbling.

The bird was not immediately identifiable. If you have never noticed, the Super Wal-Mart ceiling is a maze of white pipes and bars and skylights that stretch all the way to inifinity. But then I saw him - a little brown sparrow perched up there, noisily calling out to his friend, another bird that was answering him from the accessories department.

I wondered how they got in. I wondered what Wal-Mart does in these situations. I wondered if things get "messy." And I wondered how they would get out.

Still thinking about the birds, I rounded the corner in search of sweet relish and saw my friend Leann pushing her cart in the opposite direction. We smiled and greeted each other, and then I said to her what was on my mind:

"I guess Wal-Mart has a bird problem, doesn't it?"

Instead of agreeing and moving on to more interesting subjects (in the way I was expecting the conversation to go), she said, "You know...isn't that just like us? Flying into a place that we think is appealing and fun...but then all of a sudden, it's not so fun anymore. And before we know it, we're trapped. Poor little birds."

A profound, unexpected response to my not-so-profound observation. I slowly nodded, quietly, which must have made her backtrack a little. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "That's just what I was thinking about before you walked up."

I quickly assured her that there was no need to apologize. In one sentence, she had covered the universal human struggle with that sin word - the word we are all well-acquainted with, but don't really like to talk about. Easy to fly into, not easy to fly out of. Stuck, trapped, imprisoned.

Fortunately, there is a way for those little birds to get out, according to the cashier who rang up my groceries. They have to find the Garden Center. In the birdie world, it's their gateway to freedom.

As my friend pointed out, we are not so different from birds trapped inside a big box store. We need a gateway, too. And it's Christ.

"I am the gate," says Jesus in John 10:9-10. "Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

Christ, who frees us from the prison of what we once were.

I imagine what it will be like for those little birds when they finally do find freedom. Out of the crowded, noisy world of strange smells, grim faces, unpleasant vibes, and ear-splitting intercom announcements...and into the crisp, blue sky.

Where they were meant to be.

1.21.2011

Antiques Roadshow: How Much is My Dusty Old Stuff Worth?

The TV program Antiques Roadshow, or as we call it in our family, "How Much is My Dusty Old Stuff Worth?", is fascinating on a number of levels.

Usually, you see a very average-looking person sitting there at the table on side, and a snooty, condescending antiques collector on the other. British accents are especially appropriate in these situations. The item in question sits on a table in the middle. Baseball cards, a hand-woven Indian rug, art-deco jewelry, pirate swords, you name it.

The snooty collector always asks Joe Schmo where he got the item, and Joe launches into a story of humble origins. "My grandma just always had it sitting in her house. Who knows where she got it?" Or, "When I was a kid, I played with another kid whose grandfather gave this to our family." Or even, "I found it in the trash."

Then, the snooty collector demonstrates that he knows everything that could ever be known about the thing. He notes its unique characteristics, he elaborates on the history of the period, he talks at length about why collectors would be interested in that particular piece. This goes on for several minutes. You're sitting there at home, watching the show, wondering how this man knows all that stuff, and wishing he would just hurry up so we can all find out how much the thing is worth. Joe is sitting there patiently too, but you know he's thinking the same thing.

Finally, the moment of truth. A little animated treasure chest flies across the screen to the sound effect of Tinkerbell's magic pixie dust, and we are all shocked to find out that the old red Chinese vase is from the Qing Dynasty and is worth $30,000-$50,000.

All eyes are on Joe...what will he do with this newfound knowledge? Most people aren't sure how to respond at that point. Their eyes get wider, and they smile and say, "Wow." Quietly.

You never see them jump out of their chair, put both hands down on the table, and truly react. "WHAT? You are KIDDING me! That old ugly thing?? No WAY!" You know that's what they really want to do. But they're on TV with a snooty collector, so they try to be cool about it. Inside though, they are exuberant, astonished that the dusty old piece of junk that's been in somebody's house for years is actually a treasure. And it's theirs.

I don't think I have any hidden treasures in my house.

Or do I?

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 says this: "We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies."

Believers in Christ are dusty, fragile jars on the outside...acutely aware that we are only formed from the dust, sitting on a table in front of a world who doesn't think we are worth much. But the reality is quite different. Christ in us is the great treasure, the power from God and not from ourselves. His love for us takes us by surprise. His love is what brings about the realization that we do have worth. His love for us enables even fragile jars to persevere in the hardest of times.

So...there is a hidden treasure inside those who are in Him. It came to us at a great price, one that could never be measured or evaluated in human terms.

It's the light of Christ within.

1.13.2011

The One Who Steadies

My first bicycle had a name.

Morning Glory.

It was pink, the enduring color-of-choice among 7-year-old girls, with yellow and white flowers emblazoned on it. The name was its given name, courtesy of the manufacturer, splashed in cursive script on both sides of the bike. I was quite content with it, since it sounded feminine and pretty, and of course those are the only requirements for little girls' bike names.

She was perfect, I thought, the day my dad took me to make my selection. Morning Glory eventually became my own glory, my pride and joy, there on our cul de sac. But I had to master her first. She had no training wheels.

That feeling you have riding a bike on your own for the first time - when you realize that dad is no longer back there, holding the back of the seat, huffing and puffing around the elementary school track - has to be one of the greatest thrills in life. I am moving through space on something other than my own two legs. I am balancing on this giant machine all by myself. I am going really fast. I am the captain of my destiny! This is amazing! How do I STOP?!?

On Christmas morning 2010, the scene played out again, 27 years later. My daughter shakily began peddling on her new girly bike, Buttercup. Little brother was already riding circles around her on his smaller, training-wheel-clad version named Cobra (black, of course), which only added to her determination. There was her daddy behind her, huffing and puffing, and bending over, breaking his back in the process. I won't let you fall, he was saying to her. And there she was, gaining more and more momentum, until finally, I watched his gloved hand leave the back of the seat...and she flew.

When she dismounted, she ran across the yard to me, jubilant, engulfing me in her little arms. She had done it.

A milestone. Just as much as walking and potty training and kindergarten and graduation, though not talked about as often. I am filing away that mental image from Christmas morning in my head.

How many times, I thought, have I faced challenges just like that bicycle? Help! I'm wobbly. I'm unsure. I'm unsteady. Off-balance. Off-kilter. Not at all confident in this thing I am trying to do, whatever it may be at the moment. I don't even know how to work the kickstand so I can get started here. But even as I teeter and totter, there is the heavenly Father behind me, steadying me. Because His hand is at my back, never letting up, I can keep peddling without fear, even though it is not easy.

He is a safety net. A rock. Firm and secure. The one who steadies.

"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen." Jude 1:24-25

1.08.2011

Snow and Football

Here in Alabama, there are two things that really crank our tractors. One is the prospect of snow. And the other is football.

To have a major winter weather event in the forecast and a national championship football game going on the same weekend is almost too much excitement for us to bear. Not only are the bread and milk flying off the shelves, Auburn fans across the state are flying out to Arizona to watch our beloved Tigers face the Oregon Ducks Monday night. Local schools, including Auburn University, are closing two days in advance of the snow's arrival, which is happening (conveniently) on Game Day. Among our friends and family, there is an electric undercurrent of nervous anticipation for dual reasons.

Forecasts of multiple inches of snow and ice in this state are rare events, indeed. Today our family went into emergency preparedness mode: flashlights (check), batteries (check), firewood (check), charcoal (check), and Cheese Puffs (check). Who can forget the great winter storm of 1993 (or maybe 1992?) when we lost power for 3 days? It was kind of fun at first, living like frontier people and baking potatoes in the fireplace. But at the 48-hour mark, it got old...so old, in fact, that when the power finally did come back on, I cried tears of joy and sang the Hallelujah Chorus. That response was probably a bit over the top, looking back.

The juxtaposition of the biggest game in Auburn's history with what might be the biggest winter storm that this state has seen in years is drama-in-the-making. Because the drama all comes down to one thing:

Cable.

IF the cable is out due to the winter storm on Monday night, a great, collective wail of frustration and grief will rise up from the state of Alabama - one that might be heard all the way out there in Arizona.

If necessary, we can live like frontier people. We will heat our soup on the grill and live off Cheese Puffs for as long as the bag allows. But if there is one thing that we have got to have on Monday night - for life, for liberty, and for the pursuit of happiness - it's cable.

So, Charter Communications and Alabama Power, please get yourselves in gear and prepare for the winter battle ahead. You are our only hope. Whether or not the residents of this state will witness history rests on your shoulders.

Bring on the snow. Bring on the ice. Bring on the Championship (aired on cable that works).

And...most importantly...War Eagle.

1.04.2011

Trampling into a New Decade

The old year quietly slips away as the clock steadily ticks down on December 31. It's an unstoppable transition. I am never very sorry to see it go away. Even if it was a good year, it seems kind of used up and tired by the end, when Baby New Year is ready to get born and the labor pains of New Year's Eve have already kicked in.

Three hundred and sixty-five days (well, 361 now) now stretch out before you like a vast, unexplored territory. You are Lewis and Clark trampling through the underbrush into 2011. You have never been here before. You've already plundered the first 4 days of it, even without Sacajawea's help. Taking down the Christmas decorations was a wilderness experience, but you managed to blaze a trail through your living room nevertheless. And that's something.

Now, you are opening a 365-paged book that only has words written on the first 4 pages.

You are listening to the beginning of a song of 365 measures, just a few notes' worth. Can you name that tune in....five?

You are taking the first few bites of a mystery meal...blindfolded. Steak? Tuna? Beets? Ice Cream?

You are holding your breath as the curtain goes up.

You are a kid on the first day of the school.

You are on your first date with 2011.

Maybe you don't really look at it that way. Maybe it was just another manic Tuesday this morning, not unlike the ones you had last December. Nothing special. Nothing interesting. January sometimes gets a bad rap in all of its gray, wintery, Christmas-aftermath blahs. But whether it feels like it or not, it's actually a very unique time. There is a blank slate in front of us, and the blankness of it is pretty inspiring.

Remember how it felt as a child to be given a NEW box of Crayola crayons, in pristine condition, tips sharpened to perfection and never before used...with an accompanying blank coloring book? It practically cried out to you to fill it. Immediately and with passion. Maybe that's why I snagged the only vacant elliptical trainer at the gym this morning. January 4th is still a new crayon box.

There's nothing like a new year, a new decade even, to lift your spirits. The Lord specializes in newness...His mercies are new every morning. He pours in new wine that fills up new wineskins. He gives a new heart through the new covenant. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation...the old has gone, the new has come.

I am giddy and hopeful on my date with this decade. I'm ready to sing the song that is still unwritten...to turn the pages of the book...to taste the mystery meal, whatever it is.

Here's to the newness of this new year.

Until next time,
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