I saw a mockingbird today, full of sass and spunk as it flipped its tail on the branch of a still dormant crepe myrtle tree.
“Funny brash bird,” I thought as I pulled out of the parking space in front of that tree.
Brash, indeed. Neighborhood cats who normally make a meal of small birds slink in fear of the kamikaze action of a ticked-off mockingbird. It’s rather entertaining, unless you’re the cat.
Mockingbirds have a habit that I find both maddening and beautiful. They can imitate the songs of many other birds, and they do so loudly and for long periods of time. It’s pretty cool. Except…at 3:00am.
I can’t count the number of summer nights were I’ve awakened to the sound of a mockingbird hollering its fool head off. I don’t understand that behavior. It seems to me that the goofy bird is announcing its whereabouts to every predator within earshot, and as loud as it is, I’m sure earshot is actually a good piece away.
But then again…it’s singing in the dark. It isn’t singing because the sun is shining and it’s easy to see a bug dinner go flying past. It’s singing when it’s difficult to see, when most other birds are tucked away with their heads under their wings, waiting on the sunrise. It is boldly offering beauty in dark places.
And even on the nights I can’t sleep, that’s a beautiful thing.
The rainy season came and so I went shopping for a coat, one with a hood that covered my head and deep pockets in which to keep my matches dry.
“Try this on!” well-meaning friends said, handing me a coat. And so I tried it on, but it was too tight, like a straightjacket.
“Looks great on you!” the well-meaning friends exclaimed. I noticed they were wearing the same coat, but it didn’t seem so ill-fitting on them.
I handed it back. ”No, thank you,” I replied. ”It’s uncomfortable. It’s not for me.”
The well-meaning friends glanced sideways at one another, shifting awkwardly. ”But it’s the only real coat,” they insisted. ”All other coats have faults and flaws, and you’ll get wet and drown.”
I considered the risk. ”I’ll take my chances,” I responded.
The well-meaning friends backed away slowly, trying to smile politely while pulling their children close.
I turned and walked into the storm, my eyes constantly scanning the landscape for stores open in such awful weather. I found a few, but the coats weren’t what I was looking for. They lacked hoods or the sleeves were too short, or they were simply too tight and I couldn’t breath once they were zipped up. I always ended up back in the storm, getting soaked to the bone.
One day while I was trudging up and down a street of shops, I passed a woman standing under an awning outside some of them. “You’re getting wet,” she called.
Of course I’m getting wet, I thought, but I reminded myself to be polite. I stopped. “Yes, ma’am, the weather sure is frightful!”
She eyed me up and down. ”You look like a drowned rat,” she said as she surveyed me. Apparently polite only went one way. ”Here, give this a try.” She held out a coat.
“I’ve tried on every coat in the area,” I replied. “None of them fit. I guess I’m just supposed to learn to navigate the rain.”
She thrust the coat towards me again. “You haven’t tried this one.”
I sighed and took the coat and held it up. It was a strange coat. It appeared to be very old, and yet, it was completely fashion-forward in style and trim, as if it were too new to fit within the modern trends. Looking it over, however, I knew it wouldn’t do.
I held it out to her. “This coat is far too large. I’m a small person, as I’m sure you can see.” Indeed, the coat was huge.
She didn’t take the coat. “It will fit perfectly,” she insisted. “Put it on. You’ll see.”
“Don’t you have any others?” I asked, looking around. ”Maybe something else in your shop?”
She laughed. “I don’t have a shop. And you are not going to find anything in these shops anyway. Stop wasting your time. This is your coat. Put it on.”
That is when I realized that she had no other wares. She wasn’t a shop owner at all. I stared at her for a minute, and then in quiet exasperation, I slipped my arms into the sleeves of the coat and pulled it up around my shoulders.
It was too big. I was swimming in the thing.
“See?” I said, holding my arms out so she could see how ridiculous I looked. There was no way it would keep out the rain. It was too loose.
She stepped forward and began to button it for me. She cinched the belt and adjusted the buckles on the sleeves. Then she grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around to see my reflection in one of the windows of the shops.
“It’s not too big. You’re just used to suffocating in your clothing. This fits well, and it has room for you to grow. Rainy seasons always precede seasons of intense growth. You know this.”
I stared at my reflection. That coat on me didn’t look anything like that coat off me. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen before. Certainly like nothing in any of the shops. I felt a deep longing stir, as if something inside me was awakening for the first time.
“But it doesn’t have a hood. My head is going to get wet.” I couldn’t believe that I was protesting. I wanted this thing, and I wanted it badly, but for some reason it seemed I shouldn’t have it. It was too good for me. I needed an excuse to get it off and hand it back.
She gave snort as she reached behind my neck and grasped a hidden zipper, giving it a yank. Out fell a neatly folded hood. ”Silly girl.”
I shook the folds out of the hood and pulled it up over my head. The coat was heavy, and yet, it felt as if I was made to wear it, or perhaps it was made to be worn by me.
“How much is it?” I asked the woman.
“It’s not for sale,” she replied.
“It’s not for sale,” she repeated. ”It’s yours. It’s been waiting for you to claim it.”
I slowly nodded. My heart was beginning to understand something my brain was yet unable to grasp. I reached out and took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Thank you,” I mouthed as I turned to go.
Her hand gripped mine more tightly, turning me back around to face her.
“Remember,” she said, staring deep into my eyes. “It is not for sale.”
I nodded again as she let go of my hand, and I turned and set out into the storm.
The wonder of wonder.
When a tiny fist is curled around your finger, how do you not experience wonder? Or when you watch a hummingbird hover in flight, or a fireworks show with color exploding across a night sky, or see the swirling rainbow of colors on the surface of a bubble—how can you shrug your shoulders and say “oh…that. Yeah, whatever…” as if it’s some dull dismissible thing?
Sometimes it seems as if wonder is becoming a scarce commodity. Not because of a lack of wondrous things, but because of something in us, this bitter and jaded human race, sedated to insulate ourselves from the stress and pain of life. We forget that when we insulate from the pain, we also insulate from the joy.
We dull ourselves to wonder.
When I first met Mr. Sparky he was an aeronautical engineering student. “I don’t want to know how planes fly,” I told him. “To me it’s magic, and I don’t want to spoil it.”
Thirty-two and a half years later, he’s still keeping it a secret from me. Oh, I know there’s something about lift and thrust and pixie dust, but I don’t know the details and that’s really fine and dandy with me.
I don’t want to lose the capacity for a wow! I never want to forget how to be amazed.
When the water is perfectly still and I can see the complete reflection of this world in that watery one…
When I feel the breath of God whisper across the back of my neck…
When stick my nose in a gardenia and inhale deeply…
When I read a line that sends shivers up my spine…
When I see a sunset marbled with brilliant color and glorious light…
When I watch row after row of waves crash onto the shoreline…
When I catch a baby toad smaller than my pinky nail…
When I hear the laughter of children…
May the eyes of my heart remain clear to recognize the breathtaking wonder of the extraordinary ordinary, and be awed.
I know some stuff.
Some of it I learned from books in my 17 years of schooling. Some of it I learned from life experiences. Some of it I learned from Google and YouTube.
You can learn a lot from Google and YouTube.
I used to know some stuff that I’ve now forgotten. Like the Krebs cycle, and how to steam-set silk dye, and dozens of words in sign language.
I reckon I could re-learn that stuff if I wanted to.
I’ve heard it estimated that most humans only use about 10% of their brain power and capacity for most of the tasks they encounter on a daily basis. I wonder what all that gray matter is doing when it’s not lit up trying to cook an omelet or text someone? Perhaps it’s resting. Or maybe it’s trying to sort and file the enormous number of advertising jingles we all have stuck in our heads.
What I really wonder is what happens up there when I tell my mind to hush and then listen with my spirit, engage with my heart.
It took me a lot of years to learn to do that. My mind wanted to be in charge all the time. It wanted to figure everything out, and if something couldn’t be defined, defended, and explained in a rational manner, my mind wasn’t willing to give it the time of day.
And look at me now. I believe all sorts of outrageous things.
Proof that God still does miracles, for sure.
“How’s the knee?”
“Rather stiff and tender,” I admitted. If you don’t tell your physical therapist the truth, he can’t help you get better.
He sent me to warm up on the hamster bike, and I spent the next ten minutes working hard to go nowhere. Afterwards I hopped off and headed over to the table where he was working on someone else, expecting to be sent to do more stretches.
“Hop on up here,” he said, nodding his head toward his other table. He gave his other client some instructions and then turned his attention to me.
“Where does it hurt?”
“Under the kneecap. And in the medial area.” He checked my range of motion and found it good. He then began poking around, asking if certain areas were sore.
“YES.” There was no playing it cool. It hurt like the dickens where he was poking. To my credit, I refrained from kicking him in the face. Besides, kicking anything would hurt.
He nodded. “That’s scar tissue. We’re going to break that up.” And by we, he meant him.
Unlike the rubdowns I’d received previously, he didn’t grab any lotion. It was clear he wanted to be able to use the natural grip of the skin surface to dig in harder and deeper. And dig in harder and deeper he did.
It took all my focus to remember to keep breathing, keep breathing, keep breathing. He was relentless with the pressure and rubbing.
“I know this really hurts,” he said apologetically. “You’re going to be really sore tomorrow. Not the same sort of sore as before, but you’ll feel bruised.”
I had no doubt of that. “I just keep reminding myself that there are people in the world today trying to pass kidney stones,” I replied between breaths. ”This is not that bad. There are women in labor. This is not that bad.”
The woman on the table next to me giggled. “I do that too! I think of something worse and remind myself that what I’m feeling isn’t as bad as that. It could always be worse!” Considering she was healing from a recent ACL repair, I’m sure she had plenty of opportunity to practice the “it could always be worse!” technique.
The physical terrorist worked on me for a good long time before letting me up to do some other exercises. My knee did feel considerably looser, albeit sore. I finished out my session and then headed out to run a few errands and then work a shift. By the end of that shift, my knee was hollering unkind words at me. It was done.
I came home and tackled the pile of dishes left loitering on the countertop. As I scrubbed at them, I thought about my morning and my still aching knee. Who knew that breaking up the scar tissue would be the most painful part of the healing process?
Isn’t that the way with all scars? The Voice was quiet, gentle.
I stopped. My mind began to race through an inventory of past injuries, past wounds, and not just the ones in my physical body.
He was right. As always.
When we’ve been wounded or offended, forgiveness is crucial to begin the healing process. I’ve often heard it taught, however, that forgiveness means the pain will go away. Maybe it works that way for some people, but I’ve rarely found it true for myself. Forgiveness means I cancel the debt and stop holding the offender responsible to fix the situation or make it up to me in some way. I take them off my hook and put them on God’s so that He can deal with them. But that doesn’t change the fact that I hurt. It just changes who is responsible to heal the hurt.
And He starts by going after the scar tissue.
Our hearts and minds have areas where wounds have left them stiff and sore, unable to move freely in rhythm with His own. We build life habits around those wounds to protect them from more pain, but those habits only serve to permit the formation of even stronger scar tissue. Soon we find entire areas of our lives encased in thick, unmovable, inflexible bonds. We are handicapped until we submit to His merciful mashing, molding, and kneading.
The first thing we learn about the healing process is it hurts.
The pain of healing isn’t like the pain of injury, or even the pain of being scar-bound. It is cleansing pain, freeing pain.
It is hopeful pain.
If I am completely honest, my life bears more scars than I can count. If you get brave enough to look at them, they look awful. And once upon a time, they felt awful. They hindered me by keeping me stiff and sore and bound, unable to process life properly. But God is a faithful Spiritual Therapist. He knows where to apply pressure and movement to soften the hard areas and break up the bound areas. He is kind enough to whisper “you’re going to be sore from this for a little while, but then it’s going to be so much better.”
And it always is.
Sometime after I reached adulthood—probably about the time I entered my 30s—I lost the ability to enjoy one of my childhood’s greatest simple pleasures: spinning.
When I was a kid I loved to spin. I would wind up a swing until my toes couldn’t touch the ground anymore and then let go. Or I would just twirl until I couldn’t stay upright any longer. Amusement parks and midways were heavenly. Ride after ride of spinny-twirly-dizzy fun. The Scrambler, Haley’s Comet, The Zipper, the spinning tea cups…loved them all.
Then somewhere along the line my inner ears stopped cooperating, and even a quick turn could throw me off-balance and send me lurching sideways. Coordination has never been my strong suit, but add in some funked ears and my equilibrium goes south. Like, way south.
I now understand why some folks refer to the Haley’s Comet as the Vomit Comet.
Spinning is now so unpleasant to me that I can’t really remember what it felt like to like it. I clearly remember that I did. I remember that it had such appeal to me that I would seek it out and do it over and over. But I can’t remember the feeling in a way that I don’t associate it with collapsing on the ground with my eyes squeezed shut, moaning and holding onto the grass for dear life because the planet is obviously trying to buck me off.
It’s enough to kill any desire to go back to the days when spinning was joy.
And maybe that is best, since it’s cute when little kids spin for fun but somewhat more disturbing when adults do it.
I still wonder, however, if perhaps it wasn’t a slick bit of thievery that I didn’t catch until way late in the game.
Lacey: Lukewarm will never do.
Lacey: It’s your signature tension. Holding out for the real thing.
The words sucked the breath straight out of my body.
Tension is what permits a tightrope walker to set foot on the high wire.
Tension is what prepares an arrow to flight straight and true to hit its mark.
Tension is what makes the chalk stripe of a plumb line bold and clear.
Tension is what makes the strings of a violin sing sweet ringing notes.
Our culture speaks so negatively of tension as being the source of headaches and heartaches, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes tension is simply a slice of a painfully glorious waiting.
I never thought of having a signature tension. But if I do, then may this one be it: may I live in the stretch and pull between the now and the not yet, forever dissatisfied with the imitations and the impostors and the lukewarm, sold out to a King and a kingdom that are invisible to all but the lovesick ragamuffins and street urchins who’ve finally found a home.