We have a bird feeder mounted on the rail of our patio. All who sit at our kitchen table can enjoy watching as an array of birds stop by to eat. My husband and I even call to each other to come from another room any time that a new specimen arrives. The whole sitting-still-and-watching-nature-thing never appealed much to either of us in our younger days. But now, either because age has slowed us down or wisdom has finally caught up with us, we find ourselves regularly entertained by the winged-creature-follies.
Just yesterday I noted four doves, three sparrows, two blue jays, and one red-headed woodpecker vying for a turn at the feeder. I stood quietly and watched for several minutes. I had not seen a woodpecker or any blue jays throughout the summer. As soon as the blue jays flew away, a cardinal joined the gathering. He, too, had been absent during the warm summer days. I guess that the abundance of food sources available when the crops are growing gives these species more tantalizing options than the store-bought mix that we load into our feeder. However, when the harvest is over, the cold weather arrives, and the natural sources become scarce, they look for a storehouse of grain. Welcome to the Amsdens!
Scripture tells us to observe the habits of birds and learn a spiritual lesson. They do not build their own granaries but rather trust that each day will produce the food necessary for that day. We deduce from nature’s lesson that God, who has demonstrated his disposition toward providential and loving care with the birds, will likewise care and provide for us. We are admonished to have faith in God. However, the Bible doesn’t end its ‘lessons from the pages of creation’ with only one chapter on ‘bird watching’.
We are also instructed to consider the habits of the ant that labors to gather when food is abundant, stores it up, and has available portions for a season when provisions are scarce. The ant instructs us on diligence and planning. Ants don’t come looking for the Amsden’s storehouse during the winter, for they have prepared a storehouse for themselves. Scripture says one who does not follow the leading of the ant is a sluggard and will surly come to poverty.
God doesn’t want us to exemplify only bird-type behavior or all ant-like qualities. We are to have a blend of both. While laboring and storing, we should trust. While trusting for each day’s measure, we should be laying up for winter. Winters come. And when they do, we will draw from what we have in reserve. If we have stored up good relationships, they will satisfy us in days of sorrow. If we have tucked away abundant supplies of love, kindness, and compassion, we can draw from those graces when the harsh winds of winter blight the landscape of our lives. If we have filled our hearts with hope and faith, those forces can sustain us when our days seem to have more dark hours than daylight.
The birds around my home need not worry. I have prepared a storehouse for the cold days ahead. The ants under my home are not concerned, for they have laid up provision for this season. As for those of us inside the Amsden home, my prayer is that we will always find our storehouses adequate when wintertime arrives.
Here I sit inside a Starbuck’s Coffee Café in the middle of a bustling business district of a major city. Outside the first snow of the season is falling lightly enough to allow the streets to remain clear while densely enough to create a Norman Rockwell scene. Big-city-Starbuck’s and days-gone-by-Rockwell in the same thought – what a world of contrasts!
I have my laptop open writing this article while drinking a cup of coffee. Did I say coffee? I meant a triple shot grandé white chocolate mocha americana. I ordered it like a veteran yuppie and paid for it by swiping my in-store gift card. No one seemed to notice my polyester pants instead of the latest fashion designer jeans. They assumed that I was part of the ‘happening’ thing because I could spout the Starbuck’s rhetoric. Yep – that’s me – a thoroughly modern grandma blending the style of my day with the vogue of today – did I mention that it is a world of contrasts?
To further emphasize my awareness of disparity is my all-too-vivid memory of this last week. Four of my grandchildren moved into my house while their mom and dad were on a trip. For the duration of their stay, I was thrust back into yester-year. I remembered the caregiver, child-raiser, nurturer role. After all, I raised five children of my own. Cooking, bathing, entertaining, and refereeing – ah yes, it all returned to me. Sounds of girlish giggling, glimpses of flying balls, sights of strewn toys – yesterday’s glories revisited today. Definitely satisfying! Immensely familiar! Very customary!
Now today, the grandchildren are back home with their folks and me? . . . . Well, I am planning a immanent mission’s trip to Costa Rica. Soon I will board an aircraft to spend a week with people hardly know who speak in a language I cannot understand. My world will rapidly move from familiar to new, from traditional to foreign, from customary to unknown – have I mentioned anything about contrasts?
Scripture teaches that a wise man is both a teacher and a student (Matthew 13:52). He is a teacher because he has mastered the past and has, thus, amassed resources of knowledge and experience. However, he is also a pupil, always studying the present to accrue more assets. From his treasures of both old and new, the wise man views his world, understands the current age, and makes wise decisions for himself and his household.
The contrasts and incongruities in our lives force us to become students. We must study, read, and learn. Then we must embrace, apply, and adapt. That isn’t always easy. I must admit that my first few trips to the new, improved coffee counter found me ordering a small cup of just regular coffee, which was the sum total of my past coffee knowledge. The new day’s menu intimidated me, as did the customers in line before me who had conquered the new jargon. Then, I decided I was willing to reveal that I was unlearned. I could show my ignorance. I could present myself as a student. So I asked. I taste tested. I learned. Triple shot grandé white chocolate mocha americana – how wise do I sound now?
Coffee conquered – give me Costa Rica! Whether the contrasts in my life come in the form of new drinks, new nations, new technologies, or even new thoughts, scripture promises me that a storehouse of both old and new treasures await me if I will revere the familiar and welcome the new.
My husband is entering his eighth week of recovery from a broken foot. His injury was complex. His attending physician placed him in a cast and confined him to a wheelchair. The dislocation of the bone joints that occurred in conjunction with the injury will necessitate either surgery or some kind of orthopedic aid in the months to come. Until the prognosis becomes clearer, he sits in a wheelchair with his leg and foot in a bulky, fiberglass cast.
These past days have provided him with many challenges that can only be overcome by the help of others or by an extra degree of effort on his part. Things that before were ordinary and unproblematic have become tests in tenacity and opportunities for creativity. The need to make a simple trip across the kitchen to get a glass of water thrusts him into an internal debate. Is he thirsty enough to put forth the effort to get up from the sofa or chair where he had secured a comfortable resting place, pull himself into the hard-bottomed wheelchair, propel himself across the carpet and tile floor, evade pieces of furniture that stand as obstacles along his path, and take himself to the kitchen sink? Quite often he will just sit until a family member (who is usually me) comes within the sound of his petition.
Much of his daily routine has to be temporarily downloaded to someone else and all jobs that can be postponed are deferred. We tried a few hours at the mall, but that outing was certainly one of those save-to-another-day-when-the wheelchair-is-gone events. Some tasks, however, have to continue to be accomplished regardless of the impediment. Day to day still demands an expenditure of energy, but his predicament requires a refocusing of his efforts.
In times of crisis, casual desires are optional while critical needs continue to be mandated. The more importance we place on any necessity, the more determination we will apply to find the means to achieve the end. Hindrances and obstacles may arise to add difficulty to our quest; but the higher the priority of the need, the less deterring are the barriers. The higher the level of thirst, the more exertion will be expended to find the water.
Life seems to bring to us the ‘become thirsty, overcome obstacles, get the water’ scenario in a variety of packages. A man who becomes dry at his workplace may rise to the challenge of more education, thereby obtaining the refreshing of a new career. Another man, perhaps bound by some form of addiction, may reach out from his parched condition to find help, rise above the problem, and drink in a new life. A family in relational dehydration can seek counseling, press though difficulties to find solutions, and soak up joy from resolved conflict.
In the middle of all difficulty lies opportunity. When my husband is thirsty, he often waits for a family member to pass by. But, if sufficient time elapses and no one comes his way, necessity demands that he arises and, in spite of difficulty and restricting circumstances, find another solution to his dilemma. Outside of the rare exception when a person is in a desert, water is usually only a short distance away. In our society, we are surrounded with medical assistance, self-help groups, support groups, training, and education. We can dial up and dial in. Charity organizations, government-backed institutions, and the private business sector are available to meet every need known to the human race. Water, water everywhere! And, there is more than enough to drink for the person who, in the season of brokenness, will acknowledge his thirst, rise up from his current station, and begin the painful process of overcoming difficulties. At the end of the journey is a refreshing drink that will satisfy the parched and thirsty soul.
On the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, my husband and I decided to take a drive into Troy to do a little reminiscing in the city where I grew. Snug in the warmth of our car, we traveled down the interstate, turned on Main Street, and headed to view my family home that had been occupied by new residents since the passing of my Mom and Dad.
Upon viewing the front, I noted that the new tenants had made a few improvements but had kept the overall look of the property as it had been. Warm emotions filled my heart. We drove around the block and down the alley where we could stop the car to look at the house from the back. I cracked my window to get a better view.
The backyard testified to the dominance of winter: the grass was brown, the trees were leafless, and patches of frost dotted the landscape. There were about a dozen blackbirds and an equal number of sparrows pecking at the ground for seeds, while a brown squirrel busily scampered up a tree and through its branches. A slight wind was blowing, the howl of which seeped through the window and sang winter’s cold, doleful tenor.
After a few moments of observation, my memory took preeminence over my cognition. As though with a flip of a switch, I was transported to my grade school days when my parent’s backyard was a playground for the neighborhood. I envisioned the game of tag and the special friends who gathered to play it. The tree at the edge of the property was no longer barren and brown but alive with foliage and was, again, home base. The clothesline pole upon which the birds perched was likewise transformed to reveal an off-base safe zone. I could see it – kids running to avoid getting tagged; shouts filling the warm summer air; pursuers shouting, “gotcha; you’re it.”
How real those few moments of memory became. Again, warm emotions filled my heart. A smile transformed my face as a tear fell upon my cheek. I stayed in the reminiscence. I lingered in the nostalgia. If it had not been for the imaginary sound of my father’s voice calling, “Pat” in the background, I might have dwelt there longer; but the present demanded my attention and the cold reality of winter again came into view.
Later that day, I thought about my flashback. I thanked God for that good reservoir of memories. I whispered a prayer to express gratitude that I have the ability to draw from yesterday’s blessings to refresh myself when the present seems frozen and fruitless. Proverbs talks about the wisdom of gathering and storing during a time when the fields are bountiful. Why? Winter will come. Less profitable, less bounteous times happen to everyone. That which has been stored during the summer becomes our sustenance for winter.
I spent the rest of my day in mental containers of yesterday. I recalled early family memories of my sister, brother, and cousins that filled my childhood with love and laughter. I reminisced about abundant seasons in my younger, adult life: our first home, a new baby, the memorable vacations, and those dream-come-true opportunities. I looked back over the decades of serving God and His people, and the many joys from that career. I was refreshed and renewed.
I’ve lived long enough to learn that every winter must complete its course and that wishful thinking does not change the reality of life’s coldest season. If it were not for storehouses, only the strongest would endure. Therefore, I must adhere to the wisdom of the scripture and make good use of my reserves. Summer will come again. Until it does, I have storehouses abundantly overflowing which have the power to add warmth throughout the winter days.
As we approach the New Year, many of our thoughts focus upon what lies ahead. We make our resolutions and set our plans, hope for pleasant days and prosperous circumstances, dream of achieving goals and overcoming obstacles. For the most part, we are aware that the future is unknown and has the potential to bring the unexpected, unanticipated, and unpredicted. Yet, we desire a new year teeming with victories and fulfilled aspirations.
The news cycles seem to broadcast so many problems and forecast so few promises for successes. Where can we turn to find answers to the issues of life for our future? Are there any absolutes? The Bible stands as a standard which transcends nationalities, generations, societal trends, philosophies and governments. Young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated can find solace in the pages of the unchanging, immutable Word of God.
How many parents have found themselves advising their children by saying words similar to, “Believe me, I know, for I’ve lived through it!” These words affirm that the one with the broadest perspective of time and the benefit of previous experience is most likely to have good advice, which is better known as wisdom. Older children advise younger children. Coaches apply experience and training in guiding their teams. Teachers seek to impart accumulated knowledge to their students.
Why? Because in any arena of interaction, we need knowledge and wisdom imparted to us from those whose stations in life are more advanced than our own. Therefore, when dealing with moral and spiritual issues, why should we drop this system that works so effectively in other areas? Is there anyone who qualifies to be our tutor and adviser about these issues of life?
God knows the answers to life because He is Life and the author of all living things. Since He is our Creator, He certainly has the insight as to how our potential can be released and our lives can fulfill their God-ordained mandate and destiny. Because He has been around from the beginning, He definitely has a perspective broader and far more extensive than all others. He is the ultimate and final source of wisdom, and He has recorded His wisdom for us in The Bible.
We have a choice – learn for ourselves in the school of trial and error or be taught by one whose wisdom never fails. In a society where the error of our attempts is often all too apparent, may we be a people who say with the psalmist, “Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore my soul does keep them. The entrance of your word gives light; it gives understanding unto the simple.” (Ps.119: 129-130)
Happy New Year!