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Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

I wrote this some years back about an experience that shook me visibly at a Veteran's Musuem. Though my writing style has altered and matured in the intervening years, the sentiment stays the same. No veteran should ever be forgotten.

That is a lofty exhortation; but if we try to make it happen, we will honor our ignored heroes greatly.

The warm texas sun glistened off the beautiful statue. I had never seen anything like it. It was mammoth, made out of bronze, I believe, and fitting in its simplicity. The soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima is a powerful sight in itself, but to see it so huge was a truly fitting tribute to those marines who gave everything they had so that we could have everything we want. Sound trite? These statements get bandied about a good deal, but they carry extreme importance. It's close to impossible to justly capture what these people gave in service of their country.

We were in South Texas on that warm March day. Our vacation was coming to a close, and we could definetely call this trip a success. The birding had been good, the people friendly and the scenery gorgeous.

But we had some time to kill before our plane took off, so my Dad pulled this destination out of the thin blue air. I have no idea how he found this place in a state we had never been in before, but find it we did. It was a memorial to the Marines who served in the Pacific, with a special emphasis on Iwo Jima.

The special emphasis came in the form of a huge gold statue in the middle of a field. It was awe inspiring, and I wish I could remember more. I have photos, but they don't seem to do justice to this triumph of sculpture. There was a lot of information about the sculpter, but I can't recall any of it.

But I do recall the gift shop. There were mugs, DVDs, mouse-pads, T-Shirts, you name it, it was probably in there. It also doubled as a museum, where a large number of school-children were taking a tour. The noise grated on my nerves, so I moved to a corner where a large number of sweatshirts and hats would muffle the cacophany of giggles and screams.

In the corner of this room was a standard fold up chair. It was empty, but I turned around and heard the soft shuffle of wise feet heading toward it. I glanced behind me and saw a veteran of the USMC working his careful way to the chair.

Then I brokedown.

I had wanted to go up and laud him for his wonderful service to his country. I wanted to tell him all the wonderful things I had experienced because he believed that the "master race" needed to go no further. His actions allowed me to grow up in a christian home, not worrying if I was not living up to a standard. Without him, and others like him, I would not be able to see the fifty-two birds I had on this trip...

But I brokedown.

Just to see his frail old frame sitting there, lonely, desolate, forgotten by most of the people he worked to keep free, stirred something unmentionable in me. It grabbed my soul and tore down my defenses.

I had grand things to say to him, but I couldn't bring myself to say them.
I shook his hand, stared him directly in the eye, and thanked him. He may not have heard, because my voice was cracking with emotion. Then I went into the map room and felt the storm of emotions well up inside.

I spent the plane ride home reading, catergorizing my life birds, and thinking. Had I said enough to the man in red? Did I say too much? Did he think me crazy for the visible discomfort on my face as we talked? I don't know because my emotions got the better of me at the time.

Now six or seven months have gone by. Birds have migrated through, graduation has come and gone, girlfriends have come and gone, work, play, college, all these things have had their season in my life and have passed. But I silently hope that honored old man still sits in that museum/gift shop. I hope he sits there as an immutable reminder to us all, of the courage and sacrifice of all veterans.

Thank a Veteran any Day.

Thank God for what he's given us in them.

I'm sharing this with Brag On God Fridays.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Breath of God

For seven months of the year, we tend to take trees for granted. In Southern New Jersey particularly, the notion of driving by hundreds of these majestic creations is something taken as matter of fact .

But come October, the trees announce their presence in earnest; they herald their existence in exclamations too loud to miss. Like tragic heroes about to die, they make their presence known in a most dramatic fashion.

Lining our roadsides in large numbers, sassafras trees give a wide variety of colors come the fall. These trees paint with a palette that encompasses anything from light green to deep red.

Unlike the other wildlife I like to observe, trees sit still long enough to let me make my judgments about their aesthetic appeal. At times, they seem straight and narrow, as plain as any other tree.

But viewed from underneath, the leaves become a dazzling kaleidoscope of bewildering reds and greens.

This black gum shows the typical fall foliage of the species; various shades of red, usually leaning toward the darker shade of the spectrum.

And here's a close up view of black gum leaves:

But these creatures of beauty are not just pretty faces. This winged sumac shrub provides valuable seeds for migrating songbirds. This particular shrub shows the grapple between life and death, summer and autumn.

Trees are valuable to God as well. He references them numerous times in the writing of his word; whether it's comparing the strength of a nation to the cedars of lebanon, or comparing the strength of the godly to a tree planted by a river, it's hard to get away from these wondrous creations in God's testament.

We should be thankful for this time of year; a time when God lets his less appreciated creation strut their stuff. We also need the reminder about how crucial these trees are to our well being.

They absorb sunlight in large amounts, letting us enjoy their shade.

They give us the wood with which we shelter just about everything we hold dear.

They produce the oxygen necessary for survival, giving off the breath of God.

And these few reasons barely scratch the surface of the benefits given by these sleeping giants. We have much to praise God for in the gift of these woody beauties.

And if the awe and wonder of a sassafras tree gone up in metaphorical flames were the only reason to give thanks, that would be reason enough.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Apples of His Eye

Somewhere,I suspect that there are beauty pageants for birds. Here's my imagination at work; my educated guess at what these displays of avi-fauna attractiveness look like.

Our first contestant is the ever popular, ever loved, Eastern Bluebird! Their nickname is the "Bird with Earth on its breast, and Sky on its back." And what a beauty they are!

But these neat little thrushes are more than pretty faces; they are also advocates for those who are in need of housing; hundreds and hundreds of bluebird houses are erected every spring for these fantastic fliers to seek shelter in.

This species is also the poster child for magazine covers, coffee table books, and sweaters that somehow find their way into thrift stores time and time again. They're industrious, crafty and full of vim and vinegar. And who couldn't fall in love that vibrant mix of electric blue and rusty brown?

Yes, it's everyone's favorite: the fun, the flashy, the endearing Eastern Bluebird!

(Thunderous Applause; Whistles, Cheers)

Next in line, is, is, is well, the Chipping Sparrow.

It, uhhh, measures five and a half inches long, is gray and brown...

Its song sounds like an insect...

(Polite Applause; then silence; then crickets)

So there we have it; America's darling of a songbird, the Eastern Bluebird...

(The Crowd Goes Wild)

And that sparrow you sometimes see in your backyard that needs a voice lesson...

(The Crowd Sits Down)

Hmmm, cast your votes, but while you're doing that, this word just came in from our sponsor:

"The Chipping Sparrrow, though small and dull, has God's presence promised it. Guaranteed. A Chippy can't die without God being there. No matter how dull and gray they may be...His eyes are on the sparrow."

(The Crowd Leans Forward, Longing. They Want To Be a Sparrow)

Just a needed reminder that God's presence can turn any popularity contest on its head.

I'm sharing this Hear it On Sunday, Use it on Monday.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Perpetually Perfect

I have spent a good deal of time around artists in the few years I've walked this earth. And whenever I come away from an experience with an artist, I feel a sense of awe. Whether they are a photographer, painter, or poet, they all generally posses a skill most of us long for; the ability to capture a perfect moment in time. The artwork these talents hand down to us are monuments to the moments in time we cherish; those rare spaces in life where everything seems to fit just right. Those who capture these rare harmonious happenings are the artists whose influence stands the longest. Here are three of my favorite pieces of art.

This pull-along, male Wood Duck was my first toy. Ever. It was hand-made by a neighbor; a kindly woman who eventually succumbed to breast cancer. As it stands, this duck holds a lot of significance in my life; it serves as a reminder of the giving soul who took so much time and energy to produce a well crafted toy for a newborn down the street.

It also serves as a reminder of the beauty that surrounds us in the natural world. I forgot I still had this toy when I started exploring wildlife; before I rediscovered it, the Wood Duck had become my favorite waterfowl. When I look on this simple pull-along, I am reminded of the many times I've encountered this bird, serenely floating along some wooded pond. Such sudden instances of peace and calm keep me grounded as life goes by at a frantic pace.

Twenty-two years later, I would receive this intricate carving of an American Avocet for a birthday present. It was one those pieces of art that demands your attention. I remember showing this gift to one of the world's finest birders soon after receiving it. His strong shows of approval over the carver's merit were well founded. But even more impressive than the carving would have to be the paint job. Every fine plumage detail is captured in all its glory here. I have seen countless other carvings of the same bird, and none come close to this fine piece of workmanship.

My most recent acquisition is this painting of a Blackburnian Warbler painted by a friend from my church. Titled "Alert" it shows a fine spring-plumage "fire-throat" on the outlook for potential danger.

When I received this painting a few weeks ago, I stood a bit paralyzed by the attention to detail expended upon my commission. The depth of field, the stark colors, the single dead leaf, all these intricacies added up to a phenomenal purchase. I had always complimented my friend on her distinctive artwork; with this picture, she had raised the bar significantly.


With all these perpetually perfect moments stored in my mind, I find a quiet place and take a walk with a Friend. Not just any Friend, but the Name above all Names, the Friend above all Friends. In some cool, verdant region, I stroll along with the Creator in a perfect abode. An area where the squeals of Wood Ducks ring like pleasant melodies in their Maker's ears. A region where American Avocets fly by with all the freedom they were intended to have. A special place where Blackburnian Warblers no longer sing for the sake of survival, but for the sake of glory.

We walk along, talking about the topics that are near and dear to our hearts. In the cool of the evening, we find communion as natural as if we were never separated.

Somewhere along our stroll, I look to His face, and ask Him the question that sits somewhere within each believer, "How can I walk with you?"

"Because I love you," comes the concise reply.

"But I swear, by accident, now and then," I confess involuntarily.

"I know," the cool, unaffected response returns.

"Don't you know how prideful I can act," I question, hoping to see some sign of pity, but only finding looks of knowledge.

"I know you were prideful a few days ago. I know you will be so tomorrow, too," comes the unexpected response.

"Then how can I walk with you?" I ask again, with undertones of bewilderment.

"Because you're perpetually perfect, my friend." A response that cuts through my tired questions, bringing balm to my tired spirit.

"Because of the love and dedication of my son, you are washed and holy in my sight. I see you through the blood of my son; I have captured you as you were always meant to be."

I pause, reeling in the truth of who I am. I have been captured perpetually perfect; I have good standing with my Friend of Friends, Lord Of Lords.

We exchange glances; mine expressing my overwhelmed emotions, His, expressing his faithfulness and grace.

We then continue on, confident that this is a walk that will never end.

I am sharing this with Brag on God Fridays.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In The Form of a Dove

Whenever a rare bird shows up around Cape May, it can expect its privacy to be invaded within minutes of its discovery.

Like a well-oiled machine, instant communication devices alert birders of these avian anomalies with a speed unimaginable.

I am often the benefactor of these high-tech reports, and when I heard of a Eurasian Collared-Dove nearby, I wasted no time in jumping in my car and following the precise directions to the location of interest.

On the way over, I formulated a mental picture of the bird so I could have a head start on finding it. I imagined myself standing there, like a ninny, in front of the houses of Cape May Point, helplessly scanning the telephone wires. You never know how rare birds will act; they're rare, they have free reign to act however they feel fit.

I slowly coasted up to the address, and quietly got out of my car. In synchronization with my body leaving my driver's seat, the bird non-nonchalantly flew up on a wire, staring at me as if I had been late for some long-standing appointment.

You never know how rare birds will act, I noted, sardonically.

But before I could finish my thought, the unexpected happened. My car door slipped from my grip, causing a loud bang to echo through the vinyl canyons of Cape May Point.

Ahh!, I grunted, shamed at my lack of discipline, and expecting the worst.

But it was no matter to my long-lost friend. He simply stretched his neck and preened a few feathers.

That didn't startle you, did it? And if doves understand rhetorical questions, I imagine he found it very profound.

If my lack of vigilance didn't scare this bird from his roost, the BMW roaring down the street surely would.

I leaped behind my car to avoid being a fatality of such a nice vehicle. The man continued to talk on his phone, completely unaware that he was doing well above the speed limit.

Once past, I rose from behind my shelter, only to be serenely greeted by my European visitor yet again.

You're made of sterner stuff than I, my friend. If doves understand compliments, I'm sure his ego must have swelled a little.

After a few more moments of observation, I got in my car and left the Arnold Schwarzenegger of doves behind. As I drove off along the tourist stocked streets, I thought of the importance of doves in Biblical literature.

They acted as assurances of floods gone by.

They were an integral element of the romance between King Solomon and his beloved.

They were a picture of innocence to our Lord.

But perhaps most importantly, we're told at the beginning of Christ's ministry, the Holy Spirit was sent to Him in "like a dove." This picture of the peaceful power of the Holy Ghost has been a familiar visual to the saved and unsaved alike. Whether it's used as an emblem for the Quakers or a Calvary Chapel, the impact the picture of the dove has had on Christianity is profound.

I need that Dove in my life; I need the Holy Spirit more than bread, more than water.

I find a life invaded by the Holy Spirit is just like that dove on the wire; no matter how many "door slams" life throws at me, I can sit in perfect peace.

I also find that encounters with the Holy Ghost are predictable; He's available to meet with me whenever I choose to seek him. Like the dove greeting me like a long lost friend, a search for this Helper is always fruitful.

I couldn't imagine winning any battles without this crucial comforter. It's with his help the Word of God leaps off the page and cuts straight through my heart. It's his coming along side that takes the fleshly tendencies that were once so dominant, and keeps them far away from my mind. It's his gentle leading that shepherds me along this earthly pilgrimage.

I remember once chatting with a friend, when a white dove flew by, probably released from a wedding. This apparently prompted some long lost religious memory, as he quickly asked, What's the point of the Holy Spirit? From all I remember, all he did was put tongues of fire on people's heads.

I shrugged my shoulders, knowing a sufficient explanation would be lost on my friend. That knowledge can only be attained empirically.

That information can only be known by those who have had an experience with God's Comforter.

I'm sharing this with Spiritual Sundays and Brag on God Fridays.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In the Shade of The Mimosa Tree

I wasn't really shaded by the Mimosas in the area that humid August afternoon, but the title sounds like it should be an Eugene O'Neill play, and it's been rattling around my head for the past several weeks.

Through this blog, I am opening a doorway for you to view my special place; a place of refuge that is closed to the rest of humanity. I'm not the only with this type of hide-away; most, if not all, people have a place for safe observation and contemplation. The idea even has biblical precedent in the concept of a "prayer closet."

And so, let's take a walk through my secluded spot, and hopefully you'll be inspired to leave no corner unexplored in your secret space.

Upon leaving my car, my ears are suddenly assaulted by the electric tones of an Eastern Kingbird. This bird may be small, but it seems to be infected with Napoleon's Disease (small, but big chip on its shoulder.) His scientific name is Tyrannus tyrannus, meaning tyrant of tyrants, and I'm sure the number of birds that he harassed could attest to this designation.

From the small and bossy, to the small and gentle, this Common Buckeye sat waiting for the sun to peek over the cloud, giving him a bit of an energy boost. Butterflies need their internal body temperatures around eighty degrees in order to maintain optimum flight. This poor fellow has a bit of his wing missing. (Maybe he met the Kingbird.)

This rusty-colored Dragonfly is probably a Needham's Skimmer. Dragonflies are cool. At once aloof and alert, they roam the air with an intensity that is hard to imagine. Dragonflies are also our good friends, since they eat a lot of mosquitoes.

I'm always surprised at how quickly the trees betray Fall's coming. It seems earlier every year, but it must be my memory playing tricks on me. Here's a Sassafras Tree showing the struggle between Autumn and Summer, life and death. (You can make Sassafras Tea and Root Beer from the roots of this gorgeous plant.)

Let's take a pause and enjoy the Eastern Comma in repose. He may be practicing for the long overwintering stage that could come for him later on. Upon finding a hollow tree or clump of leaf litter, these beautiful bugs will spend the colder months in our area.

Back to birds, this Mockingbird demonstrated his heartiness by continuing to sing well into the afternoon, well past the time when birds need to sing. Mockingbirds are our most talented mimics, and are adept at imitating other species of birds. But birds are not the only things subject to this mimicry; Mockingbirds can mimic anything from car alarms to police sirens.

And finally, though I didn't take refuge under the shade of the Mimosa, others utilized this colorful non-native plant. This Spicebush Swallowtail has found some intriguing nectar in the pink flowers of the Mimosa. Though it doesn't belong in our area, it is beautiful, and wildlife has adapted to its presence.

Finally, here's hoping you get a chance to sail away on the tides of discovery. And discovery starts right in your own back yard.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Ship, For New Horizons, She Sails

It is a habit to watch the boats come in to port. We love to see their sails unfolded, shining a glorious white against the backdrop of the green marsh. With a gentle breeze, the ships seem to move without effort, like a dream from when the world was young. There can be no more calming, reassuring sight than that of a ship heading for home.

But the habit turns to heartbreak when a ship is witnessed leaving home for different ports; ports unknown.

I dedicate this blog to the wonderful journey of a dear friend and mentor; a joyous tutor in the things of life. She's heading for new ports, so I thought a retrospective of how she influenced my life would be a fitting tribute at this season of change.


I was 17 when I first performed in a play; some heady, Victorian comedy by Oscar Wilde. I had no idea what to expect from my first opening night; the sensation of a huge audience watching me become someone else was a totally bewildering experience. As I ambled on stage, trying my best to keep my cool, I could sense doubt emanating from some wicked, dark corner of my imagination. I questioned every move I made, but the audience seemed to eat it up. Laughter roared from every angle of the auditorium.

But from two discerning eyes came something deeper than laughter; from the faculties of Kathryn Ross issued forth "potential signals." She sensed in me a talent that needed to awake. This would impact my formative years in ways I could never have imagined. And Kathryn Ross would be behind most of the changes that lay in store.

For the next six years of my life, I would find myself graced with opportunities to participate in a number of activities that this saint of a woman would put on in her local community of Vineland. Each endeavor was a gift from God, a molding tool to shape me in His image.

Her most noted dramatic activity would have to be the numerous Melodrama's performed each summer. These quality, handcrafted scripts were tailor-made for a handful of young people, showcasing their gifts and abilities in avenues that might have otherwise been closed. For four years, I had the distinct privilege of forming life-long friendships with similar souls, all under the watchful eye of our gracious den-mother, "Miss Kathy."

Those threads in the fabric of time are admittedly small; but each has a warm glow all it's own. A vibrant feeling resonates from each moment, drawing me back to a simpler time. A time when the self-sacrifice of one talented, gracious lady made a world of difference in the lives of a dozen young people. Those days need not be remembered; the lessons learned from those four years are lights unto our daily paths.

The number of other events Miss Kathy had her hands in around Vineland is truly admirable; it sometimes seemed as if the entire cultural livelihood of this Southern New Jersey Town rested upon her shoulders: an artistic Atlas for the 21st century. The opportunities she presented to me were wonderful and character building: entertaining children at Talespin Story, dressing as a pig for a Christmas Parade, interpreting nature for third graders at Vineland's Founders Day. All these events are the building blocks of memories; to think they originated in the hearts of two dear people like Ed and Kathryn Ross only cements the value of each experience.


The ship is leaving. With a few bursts of wind, the sails bellow and aim for the cool blue ocean, leaving the comforts of the green marsh behind. Soon nothing but water surrounds; nothing but horizon lies ahead. But that's okay, the white and blue, the tested and the new, go well together. The sails flap in the breeze, sounding out the possibilities waiting to be born as the future draws near.


Things are changing for this dear lady and her literary endeavors. Gone is the Story-Time for toddlers; gone are the carefree days of Melodrama; the days of parades and dramas are slowly fading away into the dust of the past.

But that doesn't worry me. The future for Kathryn Ross is full of artistic adventures, designed to impact the lives of her disciples forever.

And I know that as I move forward with the lessons she has instilled into my being, I have her full support. I know she has a world of confidence in me, and that inspires me to sail onto horizons I've only dreamed about. With such secure backing, failure is a word long out of fashion; success is the word of the day.

And I have Kathryn to thank for that.

"The instruction of the wise is like a life-giving fountain..." Proverbs 13:13a

Kathryn Ross is a Literary Enhancement Artist in Southern New Jersey. Along with her husband Ed Ross, they seek to instill in students of all ages principles of truth and beauty. Check out her blog: The Writer's Reverie. To leave such a deep well of inspiration untouched shows a lack of appreciation for a good word, fitly spoken.

Felicitations Miss Kathy, as you sail onto new horizons. And Happy Birthday!

I am sharing this with "Brag on God" Fridays. and Simple Pleasures Thursdays.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lost No More

The grins on the faces of the birders coming off the boat told me that success was the sighting of the day.

Did you see the bird?, I inquired, knowing the answer beforehand.

Oh yeah!

Beautiful bird!

The ride is worth the money!

I'd be riding the boat all right, along with 16 participants.

But today's cruisers were unaware that this tour was a cruise for lost souls.

One day earlier
I had no idea why my boss was calling, but I figured answering your boss' call is a form of job security.

"Hi". My boss intoned. "Was there a Brown Booby reported last week?" Brown Booby is a type of seabird normally seen from the waters of Central America and points south.

"There was" I affirmed.

"Well, there's one sitting on a channel marker out in the sound right now!" The excitement could hardly have been contained.

The silence I responded with was perfectly natural after such a stunning revelation.

So there we were, the next day, approaching this wayward bird that had set the birding community ablaze. Every form of instant communication among birders was chock full of messages concerning the whereabouts of this gawky avi-fauna: the Brown Booby.

If the name of this bird sounds a touch silly to you, know that you're in good company.

The original discoverers of this species, a group of French Sailors, found the bird doing its mating display; one look at the feet is enough to tell you that this particular dance is rather gawky and uncoordinated. Hence, they gave this weird creature a fitting name.

Or, as my boss pointed out, there's a lot of French Sailors having a lot of good laughs every time we find one of these birds.

Arms that are ready to shepherd the lost safely home.

The bird was a feathered dichotomy: at once gawky and graceful, clumsy and sophisticated. Subtly stunning, yet clearly awkward.

As referenced earlier, the Brown Booby is normally found in the warm waters off of Mexico and Puerto Rico. Why it likes sitting on a channel marker outside of Wildwood, New Jersey, is anyone's guess.

Some suggest that a strong, southerly wind pushed the bird towards the Garden State.

Others say it might have been an odd dispersal, as other sightings of this species had been noted along the Eastern Seaboard.

No matter how it got here, it was lost. But not alone.

Since it had been found three days earlier, the birding community had been fervently seeking views of this vagrant. The longest a Booby has stuck around is a day and a half in our area, and he proved uncooperative. This one seemed to have tape on its feet, a perfect specimen for lengthy looks.

The bird was lost, but it could never be described as isolated. It had too many people looking for it.

Similar to the child of God. With all the happenings in the world, it's easy to slip into despair and feel lost. At times, it seems the current of regret and doubt sweep us away into the dark caverns of our minds.

At times, it feels as if all is lost

But, we have a message from the Father, a Father stronger than our feelings. The message says that although the difficulties of life may cause us to question our son-ship, He has us carved into His hands.

The message says that although the journey home is difficult and often frightening, He has provided a light for our feet.

The message says He came to seek and save the lost. A promise to take to the bank next time loneliness and despair creep in; He's out there looking for us, waiting to run to us with open arms.

Arms that are ready to shepherd the lost safely home.

I am sharing this with Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Perfect Storm

When a storm treads its way up the bayshore in late summer, we have no choice but to watch.

With all haste, we ran to watch the storm roll in. Our hearts out-ran our minds as we raced to the wide open spot we have known before. From there, the storm was center stage. It had no choice but to perform.

What an odd storm you and I thought in unison. And it was unique. Nothing seemed to fit: a few clouds would roll by, here a lighting strike, there a thunder clap. The usual phenomena of a storm, but these were thrown together like random ingredients for a cake never before tasted.

We waited for the thunder to follow the lighting; it never came. We anticipated the rain as the sky grew darkest; it never materialized. Something was off-kilter with this storm; there was a meteorological mishap to send us this heavenly jest.

You and I looked deep within each other. We saw the confusion and battered spirits within our own souls. We knew the storm was simply a reflection of the beauty that was tossed about within.

With unspoken words we told each other of the fragmented bits of life we were experiencing. We felt as if we were ships, ships whose only contact with solid ground was being battered against random rocks along the voyage. It seemed as if our destination was straight ahead, but along the way, we ran into a number of twists and turns that knocked us for a loop.

We looked for an anchor within ourselves; there was none.

We looked for harbor without; only ocean was found.

We sought refuge anywhere we could; no one had answers to our illusions.

We knew it would be faith that would have to drive us home. Faith: the inherent knowledge that there was a Grand Artist who would put it all together. Faith: the firm belief that there was a designer that was piecing all the disparate elements of our lives together, like a celestial quilt being woven throughout the heavens.

Realizing it would take a Father of Lights to piece together the scraps of existence we called life was a freeing prospect. No longer were we wayward souls on a damned voyage; we were heavenly children on a trip home.

Faith sent a whole new light onto the many questions we had accumulated along the journey. And suddenly, a storm that had made no sense was the perfect storm, because there had been a divine hand behind it all the time.

I am sharing this with Brag on God Fridays.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Like A Still Small Voice

The humidity greeted me like a brick wall as I stepped out of my car.

I wasn't expecting it to be this muggy, I mentally noted. But I shouldn't have been surprised; early August in the Mid-Atlantic States generally ushers in the three h's: hot, hazy and humid. And this particular day in my favorite marsh of Greenwich N.J., all three unpleasant conditions met together to make a sticky time of year even worse.

No matter how hot it was, at least there would be activity...or so I thought. But it seemed as if all my surroundings were taking siestas, as though the world was on lunch break. I don’t blame the world, in this heat.

There must be some life here I commented internally as I looked around, hoping for some signs of activity. But all my eyes could make out was the barren marshland surrounding me.

And it was humid.

I suppose there are a number of dynamics to the hobby of birdwatching that keeps thousands of observers coming back for more. Perhaps it's the aesthetic value, the sheer beauty of nature that forces the observer to return time and time again. Or maybe it's the good company that nature lovers attract that turns a hobby into a passion. Maybe the serenity of a walk through the woods is enough to satisfy the longing soul.

One of my favorite aspects of wildlife watching is the fact that you're chasing after life. The nature lover is seeking all the secrets that the world has to offer. The opening of the flowers, the migration of the birds, the fragile life cycle of the butterflies, all these puzzle pieces of life fall into place when you're out watching the natural world unfold.

There are times when the world is simply vibrating with the essence of life...

There are other times when it seems like an atom bomb went off.

It's humid enough to make you think an atom bomb was dropped I moaned to myself, again.

Off in the distance a small flock of migrating shorebirds cried, giving the coda to their time in North America. A little life, but too far away to write home about.

As I dragged myself along, the tarmac seemed to move under my feet. It was going to be a walk without redemption when all of a sudden a small, flighty object winged its way past my line of sight.

What in the world...?

My winged wonder finally sat itself down after a few circles and revealed itself to be a Red-spotted Purple butterfly; a visual feast that sits comfortably between "beautiful" and "out of this world stunning."

Thanks for sitting, my beauty I sweet talked the colorful insect as I drew near. You stay right there.

A few times the bold butterfly played hard-to-get, and would take off and fly around, taunting me all the time. But with longsuffering and a little perserverance, the butterfly finally yielded the shots I wanted; I had finally gotten the records of the life that had been lacking.

This encounter reminded me that no matter how many times you go out in the field, looking at the world around you, there will always be a new discovery that will pop up at an unexpected moment.

The spiritual plane seems to function in a similar fashion. There are those times, those roads we travel, that seem to have no messages from God whatsoever. We travel on, knowing our obedience will be rewarded, but the seeming absence of the divine is enough to leave us longing for more.

The Bible makes the course of action for these moments perfectly clear through it's long set of scenarios and precepts: keep walking. No matter what you feel, no matter what you can see, no matter what others are telling you, don't go off the path. Keep living as Jesus lived, no matter what the situation may seem like. Because we know eventually, His voice comes in like a still, small whisper.

And sometimes, the whisper has wings.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ode to Oystercatcher

They're the crowd favorites, the class clowns.

If you ever want to see glazed over eyes turn bright with excitement, all they need to behold is an American Oystercatcher.

What's an Oystercatcher? This beloved bird is a football shaped, mish-mash of colors and features. A common shorebird of the backs bays and salt marshes, this odd-ball is sure to be a show-stopper every time. In fact his uniqueness has earned him a number of interesting nicknames:

Bird wearing a tuxedo, smoking a carrot.

Keystone cop of the bird world.

Insane shorebird.

Or my favorite appellation: Bird a child would draw.

No matter what sobriquet you apply to the Oystercatcher, this distinctive shorebird with the bright orange bill gathers attention without fail.

But my admiration for the American Oysteratcher lies beyond the superficial, and reaches back to a noteworthy quality this bird possesses: it's drive to survive.

Today, taking a survey of an average salt marsh in New Jersey will reveal a number of these brightly colored birds. However, as the experts tell us, nesting in the salt marsh is a new trend for this shorebird. Years ago, the Oystercatcher would primarily be found nesting on the beach.

But no matter how much enjoyment humans derive from those miles of sand, beaches are no fun for birds nesting on them. The nests of beach birds are under constant attack: crabs, cats, coyotes, crows, dogs, all take a stand as enemies of beach nesters. And what better target for these invaders than a nest positioned in plain sight on a wind blown beach.

Some birds, like the Piping Plover, haven't seemed to figure out that the beach is an unsafe area for vulnerable birds. As a result, their population numbers are in a critical state.

Some birds, like the Oystercatchers, have put two and two together, and have started establishing nesting sites in the salt marshes, areas where they are considerably more secure.

Yet another example of the tenacity of this awkward avian lies in its shifting diet.

As the name implies, Oystercatchers love chicken...(Just seeing if you were awake).

Oystercatchers love oysters. In fact, their bills are perfectly designed for cracking open an oyster's shell. Their bills are squished in on the sides, giving them the same design as a shucking knife. With this, they can easily pry open their favored prey.

But in the Delaware Bay region, Oysters went through a serious decline when a blight ran through the population that nearly decimated the Oyster populations of Southern New Jersey.

Would the Oystercatcher disappear along with his favorite food-stuff? Not on your life. Rather than fade away, the Oystercatcher changed his diet. It now feeds on Ribbed-bank Mussels, the common mollusk of the Salt Marsh.

An impressive bird; it has had a myriad of challenges to face, and yet has let nothing stand in it's way.

Big, yes. Gawky, yes. Bizarre, yes.

But underneath all the odd features is bird with a will to survive.

A bird with a reminder of hope for a world in the throes of change.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fish and Visitors

His rubber-clad hands deftly stripped the juicy meat off the fish.

"Good catch?," I asked, eyeing up his prizes.

"Not bad," he responded, "caught by a guy this morning. There's about 16 pounds here in all."

The pile of carcasses along side the cutting table attested to this respectable victory of lure over fish.

I had no idea I would be observing a fish cleaning; no grand visions of flying fish guts filled my sight when I awoke that morning. However, I had awoken with a number of trials and tribulations that were continually nagging at me all day. Though these "sufferings" were nothing in comparison to the horrors in the daily experience of an Indian orphan or a war torn people, pain is pain, and though I feel for the suffering masses worldwide, these personal problems would not be silenced.

I've searched high and low for cures for suffering, and who hasn't? What logically reasoning soul hasn't sought a deeper explanation for pain the world over, not to mention in their own lives? What thinking human has never stared at the ceiling, wondering why evil and suffering have been allowed to permeate the air we breathe?

I have sought answers and cures; my questions have led me from the Psychiatrist's couch to the Philosopher's stone.

Never have a I sought a reason for personal suffering at a fish cleaning table...

I watched my friend adroitly cut and lift all the skin from the tender steaks that glistened with moisture. His hands never missed a beat; he held two conversations and still managed to expertly handle his fish.

It slowly began to dawn on me that one aspect of suffering, at least for a child of God, is a process with our best interest as the outcome. As we're walking through this life, we walk as strangers, pilgrims bound for a better place. But along the way, we tend to accumulate the things of this world, visitors that seem light and airy at first glance, but in the searchlight of Eternity, they prove themselves only to be heavy and bulky. Not the sort of freeloaders that are conducive for a Christian sized journey.

With each quick slice, I could see my Father taking away the things that I had accumulated, commenting with each stroke:

Wood. Gone.

Hay. Forget it was ever there.

Stubble. Too invaluable for my child.

Even as I write, the pain of the removal process is still gripping me. It seems the world does nothing but take, take, take, almost driving the weary to the point of desperation. When we reach this point of hopelessness in the world, we can almost hear our Father say: "Give, Give, Give, for there is something that is worth far more than the gold of this world: your faith."

"Those are some pretty steaks," I commented as my friend bagged the remnants of the tuna.

"A lot better than when they arrived," he commented, and walked off.

I looked back into the drum containing the filleted fish.

"One reason for suffering," I said to my captive audience. "You never know what wisdom will come from the mouth of fishes. I'll bet you know a lot of secrets."

But they're not talking.

I'm sharing this on Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Rooted and the Restless

Half way through the summer season, the young Osprey wait with anxious anticipation for their next meal. Their Father should be by shortly with a nice, juicy fish clutched tightly in his sandpaper- like talons. These hungry, impatient young ones are newborns; the universe has just been introduced to the Ospreys of the future.

To be sure, come mid-July, the Salt Marsh looks more like a nursery than a grassy wilderness. Many of the birds that spend their summers in the marshes along the Atlantic Seaboard are busily tending their brand new bundles of joy. You can't swing your binoculars without sighting some small bundle of fuzz, anxiously imploring it's parents for a meal.

Seeing a beautiful bird like an Osprey attend it's offspring is a majestic sight; but if you want a spectacle of spawns, look no further than the Laughing Gull. Along the East Coast, the Laughing Gull is the common McDonald's parking lot gull of the summer. It's black, gray and white plumage, along with it's bright red bill in breeding season, give the bird a subdued, yet colorful expression. But it's loud, raucous call should alert you to its presence from miles away. And there is no louder time at a Laughing Gull colony then when the young arrive.

In Cape May county, New Jersey, the young arrive in a big way: the largest nesting colony of Laughing Gulls in the world is situated right in the heart of the Salt Marsh. In fact, an estimated one million pairs of Laughing Gulls call the Southern New Jersey marshes their summer home. And when the young arrive, the marshes burst open with the boisterous calls of proud parents.

Yes, it seems the world is rooted in place for most residents of the marsh. For the moment, most avian families have no intention of taking long trips anytime soon.

But if you look closer, there's restlessness afoot. There, there's a bird with a destination on his mind; he has no time to stop and care for a family. There, another bird on his way to his winter home. Yes, while most of the local marsh families are just settling in to raise their young for the summer, some shorebirds are already heading south for the Winter.

These Shorebirds nest high up on the arctic Tundra. Arriving there in late May, they begin a quick breeding session, and then lay their eggs. Most of the eggs will hatch in two weeks, revealing a tiny fluffball that can already care for itself. Just like a chicken's chick will be pecking for food shortly after leaving it's egg, so these shorebirds are ready to fend for themselves. This is known as precocial behavior, and it leaves the parents free to roam as soon as they've said goodbye to little junior, leaving the young to learn how to migrate all by itself.

It's an odd dynamic out on the marsh in mid-July. Some birds are rooted; some are restless.

A perfect example of the Christian's walk; an analogy with Biblical precedent.

In Colossians 2:7, Paul exhorts his unfamiliar addressees with the words So walk in Him, rooted and built up. It seems an odd request, this command to stand still but keep running, but in the context of the Christian walk, nothing could be more appropriate.

Often, the need to run for God comes upon us, and off we go. Running is fine, as long as we have the firm foundation of the Word of God to lead us onward. Without this basis for our race, we're bound to smash into walls along the way, a common fate that leaves the Christian bruised, angry and disillusioned about the life of faith in general.

Oftentimes an opposite situation develops, a scenario in which we become so rooted in our knowledge of God that we forget to run. We've been waiting so long to become secure, we often miss the roads God has built for us to race on.

Yet again, the Bible comes through with balance, and the Great Apostle's solution could not be simpler: be both. Be rooted and running; be firm and fervent to run the race.

Rooted and running. Yet another wise word from our Father; a word that's been spelled out in His creation all along.

I'm sharing this with Spiritual Sundays and Brag on God Fridays.
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