Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ducks on Wheels

At the close of my silent retreat last weekend, I parked myself at a pond's edge and took to watching the ducks.  At first glance, and certainly my long-held, un-analyzed impression, attributed a peaceful existence to these winged beauties.  But, if you watch them for any length of time, you realize they are engaged in ceaseless activity!  While it is true, they don't generally make a lot of noise (unless they're chasing off another), they are not at rest!  They "duck" their heads under the water, repeatedly.  They raise themselves up by flapping their wings.  They preen their chests.  They preen under their wings.  They submerge altogether.  They follow.  They chase.  They paddle.  They quack.  They fly.

This makes me wonder about their restlessness, which seems ingrained in them.  Normally, I think of restlessness as the opposite of contentment.  Naturally, the question proposed itself.  Are ducks content?

Merriam Webster says content means pleased and satisfied.  Not needing more.

I'm not sure, but I think they are incapable of being content or discontented.  They are ducks, doing what ducks do.  They just are.

Maybe the restlessness/contentment contrast doesn't hold for ducks, but I think it has implications for us.  We seem to possess a similar restlessness.  We resemble the duck in his ceaseless activity.  We are ducks who drive cars.

But, we have an advantage.  The advantage.  The advantage of knowing our Creator and resting in Him.  We are limited by short attention spans, uncomfortable chairs, mercurial thermostats, whiny knees, the tiniest of hunger pangs, and a million assaults from the phone in our pocket, but we ARE capable of it.  And the more we practice this resting in the Creator, the more capable we become.

Lord, teach me to rest in You.  Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Does God Use Toothpicks?

Recently, I was visiting patients on the floor at the hospital.  As I was leaving one patient's room, a gentleman from another room met me in the hallway.  "My grandfather needs a toothpick."  I explained that the hospital may have some in the cafe or the cafeteria and inquired if he knew where either of those locations were.  He assured me that he could find it.  In spite of his hopeful confidence, I invited him to walk with me to see what we could come up with.

As we walked, we talked about his grandfather and skimmed over pieces of his own journey in life.  The cafe didn't have toothpicks, nor did any of the drawers in my department.  Grateful for the conversation, but empty-handed, we walked back to his grandfather's room. 

Prior to entering, I checked the room number against my patient list, to make sure we were in the right place.  We were.  But, to my absolute amazement, delight, and disappointment, the grandfather we were hunting toothpicks for, was a man I knew and loved!  He was someone I visited regularly at the nursing home I've been visiting for nearly a year.

He stole my heart one of the first times I asked him how he was doing.  He was 99-years-old and blind, lying peacefully on his bed in a dark room, holding his call button with both hands, and said, "Every day is a holiday.  Every meal a feast.  Smell every rose as you go by, 'cause you only pass this way but once."

I would probably be smitten with anyone who answered that question that way, but this man, in that room?  Definitely.

I tracked him down the following morning to deliver a baggie with toothpicks to cover another week or so of meals, I hoped.  I helped him with a sip of coffee and a bite of breakfast before the nursing staff "relieved" me.  I would have liked nothing more than to stay, but I had a full day's work ahead, so I wished him well and he thanked me for the little I did.

I tried to find him again this morning to no avail, and found out this afternoon he died over the weekend.

I've never been so grateful to have been asked for a toothpick--I would have missed him altogether.  I'm grateful for the awkward prayer I was able to pray with and for him, thanking God for his 100 years and his fidelity to those he loved.

Does God use toothpicks?  

He can if He wants to.  

It may seem like a stretch to you.  It could be a coincidence.  But, if you were me, and you were there, and you could feel the weight of what you would have missed, if it had happened any other way, I hope you would be asking right along with me, "Does God use toothpicks?!"

Dear God of Miracles Big and Small, Obvious and Overlooked,

Thank you for the incredible opportunity to know this great man, whose inner strength could be seen and felt.  Thank you for his grandson who was with him and for allowing me to be there, too.  If You use toothpicks, thank you for the implications this has for everything else in our universe!  Nothing is too small or ordinary to be used by You.  What an awesome thing to ponder!  And a great comfort, too.

Please be with this man's family and all who are grieving.  Thank you for being near to the brokenhearted. Eternal rest grant unto all who have died, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May they rest in peace.    Amen.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Monarch

Over the weekend, my oldest son approached me with a little something in his hand.  Maybe half the size of a quarter.  I was expecting something gross, funny, or dead, so I met his something with an appropriate amount of hesitation.  He insisted that I look more closely and hold it.

As soon as I held it in my hand, I knew it was alive or had been alive, but I didn't know what it was, nor had I ever beheld the hue of ethereal blue it radiated.  It looked like it had been sealed with kisses from a golden ink pen, held by a meticulous lover.    

"Where did you find this?!," I questioned my son.  He found it attached to one of the wooden boards in our atrium.  I looked even more closely and realized I could make out a butterfly wing on the inside!  Ohhhhhhhhhh!  Unbelievably, the word "chrysalis" popped into my mind, and I finally understood what I was holding.  It looked like this, with a color somewhere between the second and third photos from

 Before I had a chance to google these great pictures and understand more about what it was, and exactly where in the process of metamorphosis "we" were, it "fell".  About 10 feet.  The four of us present were aghast at the thought of such an incredible discovery coming to such an abrupt and violent end.

We recovered it and put it in a jar to see if there was going to be more to the story, or not.  By nightfall, it had turned black, which of course meant it was dead.  Any color turning to black always means death, doesn't it?

Morning told a different story.  The Monarch butterfly had emerged from its chrysalis, but it had not flown away.  It was lying in the bottom of the jar, in some liquid that wasn't there before.  My husband had the wherewithal to take it out of the jar and hang it on a stick, so it could pursue its natural course from there.  Like a crash course in delivering babies, we watched a time-lapse video of this occurring in a natural environment, but something was wrong.  Try as it might, it could not unfurl its wings.

This little fact about this little creature whose existence was totally unbeknownst to us 24 hours before, devastated us.  We took turn holding sticks, and providing assistance when it fell off.  After a while, like a good theater company, we placed it on a rose for a different backdrop, hoping for a different scene to emerge.  When that didn't work, we filled a lid with sugar water, which enticed its incredibly long proboscis out for display.  Wow!  Have you seen this in real life?!  Just when I thought this mystical little creature had shown me all of its wonders, it showed me more.  Surely, there was something more I could do for it.  When all else failed, I tried to fix its wings myself.

(And I'm the one who goes around perpetuating the story about never helping a struggling butterfly out of its cocoon!  The struggle is crucial for its survival, I've been told.  It facilitates circulation through its wings.  But, desperate circumstances called for desperate measures.)

All of this to say, none of it worked.   Only two choices were left.  Was it going to die "naturally" as a victim of the elements or more mercifully and quickly, by my hand?  I entertained trying to keep it alive in an aquarium, but to what end?  After a quick call out to my husband, and no reply, I knew I had to do it.  The kids went out the back door and I went out the front.  I was never so sad to kill something so small, and yet so shockingly exquisite.

From first glance to tragic end, this little butterfly and its place in the story of life have made an indelible impression on me.  Lying in bed last night, I googled more about a Monarch's life.  I had to know.  Just how much life was truncated by a series of unfortunate events in my living room?  From what I read, it takes about 4 weeks to pass from an egg to a butterfly.  The average length of life beyond that?  About 4 weeks, with a range from a few days to a year. 

The marvels of the caterpillar, aesthestics and ecological value of the butterfly, aside, I am totally in awe of the captivating beauty and ornate detail of the chrysalis.  Outside of its central place in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar/butterfly, it is independently and astonishingly beautiful

What is the reason for such beauty?  Under more fortunate circumstances, it goes completely unnoticed.  In short time, I am becoming convinced that the better question is, for whom?  For whom has this beauty been created?

As far as I can tell, it is for no other reason than that "For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator."  Wisdom 13:5

Maybe, the beauty is just for us.  The ones lucky enough to stumble upon it...

"If you become Christ's you will stumble upon wonder upon wonder, and every one of them true."
-St. Brendan of Birr

Dear God of Metamorphosis and a Million Wonders Unseen,

Thank you for all things beautifully and wonderfully made.  Thank you for the countless details, which comprise beauty in every form...Especially in this chrysalis, whose beauty is most compelling because the reason for it can only be You.  And us.  I'm sorry it had to die, especially because we had our part in its death.  But, I'm not sorry that it led me here, and to You.  It's funny how life is like that, with exceeding beauty and death "living" side by side.  It seems like there could be one or the other, but not both existing at the same time, so close together.  I guess that "seeming" is the way the truth embedded in our heart drifts toward our minds.  The heart knows that death will take its final blow when it meets the Source of all beauty.  Thank you for this hope and everything in life that points to it.  Amen.