Death and the birdbath…

Bing images

Bing images

Mother loves birds. Wild birds on PBS Nature specials. Tiny glistening, quivering Hummingbirds at the back yard feeder. Plain sparrows with their nest in the top leafy branches of the big apricot tree in the back yard. Fluttering and flouncing brilliant black Starlings that glitter emerald in the sun as they wash off their latest dirt bath in Mother’s birdbath, their gold beaks a bright beacon . Oh, she fusses about the dirt they leave behind, especially if she’s just cleaned up the bird bath and left it full of fresh water, but they’re birds and they’re welcome. She whispers to the Phoebes; coos at the Doves and click-clacks her tongue at the Wood Peckers.

She does not have the same affinity for feral cats. She treats them as interlopers who invade the bird space that is the back yard. She fusses like a mother hen when they slink across the grass to the birdbath, or when they lay in the shade of the apricot tree, their ears deaf to the warning of sparrows that screech in dismay. Anytime she sees one of those feral cats, Mother taps against the window or rushes out the door, sudden wings to her feet and cane, yelling to startle them into bolting to the fence where they squeeze under to safety.

I’ve gotten accustomed to Mother’s irritation at the cats and I’ve started chasing them away as well. Don’t get me wrong. I like cats. We usually had one in the house when I was growing up. What I don’t like is Mother’s stress and her fussing over the unwanted cats. And I figure if the cats are going to take it seriously that this yard is off limits, then the people that live in the house need to be unified in their feral cat approach, right?

I was rinsing dishes at the kitchen sink after lunch today when movement in the yard caught my attention. I looked out the window in time to see the younger black feral cat take a three foot leap into the birdbath. The entire event couldn’t have taken more than three seconds. He leapt, was coated with water that dripped off him and the sparrow in his jaws, steadied himself for a brief moment, then was down off the birdbath and headed across the yard towards the fence. Lickety-split.

“Hey!” I pulled the yellow rubber gloves off my hands and headed for the back door, my heart pounding. He was gone by the time I unlocked the door and got outside. The chirping from another sparrow at the top of the apricot tree sounded pitiful and mournful.

When I got back inside, Mother had come to the window above the kitchen sink.

“What were you chasing,” she asked? She had a Kleenex in one hand and with the other leaned on her cane and searched the yard for some sign of the disturbance. We’d been out to the doctor’s and then to the lab for blood work and she was still wearing nice green slacks and a flowered button down blouse, her hair combed perfectly, her lips the shade of coral.

The house was cool against the hot afternoon, the classical station played Mozart as if the entire world was tamed, with no animals or people dying anywhere. No drought in California or Texas or Oklahoma or Nevada; no famine in Sahel or Sudan; no Christian girls kidnapped in Nigeria; no political machinations at work in Ukraine; no terrorists released in exchange for a missing soldier who might or might not be a terrorist sympathizer himself, no estimated 200 million of the world’s people in slavery today.

“Nature at work,” I said and gave her the details.

“That’s probably a baby left in the nest or the mother who saw her baby taken,” she turned and clunked her cane back to the dining room.

For the next ten minutes I could still hear that remaining sparrow crying in the nest. My ears hurt and I had to tell myself to breathe in and out. This is life. This is the cycle of life. Nature had impacted that little family.

I forgot for a time there, in this air-conditioned, machine and technology propelled life that there’s very little we control. That a cat’s instinct is to eat birds, that mankind’s basest nature is to control and dominate, that our world doesn’t live in a bubble where we can determine the weather and eradicate drought.

What we can do is pay attention to each other, care for the weakest and take responsibility to rise above the worst that mankind can be. Reach to be the best we can be, and by God’s grace leave the world a better place than where we found it. I can do that. And, I can go on chasing feral cats out of the yard, knowing full well, if they don’t get a bird here, they’ll get one next door.

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Dreams of Famine

image source:endtimesresearchministry

image source:endtimesresearchministry

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that at least seventy percent of all Old Testament stories that are told by teachers to little children, and that are written in Bible Study books for Sunday School and preached on by ministers in pulpits are about David.  His life as a shepherd, as a future king, as a fugitive hiding from the reigning king, his glory days as well as his failure days as the greatest King in Israel’s history.  Even stories about his son and heir to the throne, Solomon, are all remembered and told in light of who he was, David’s son.

All that is well and good; there are things to learn from the cautionary and the triumphant happenings in David’s life, and believe me, I’ve heard them all.  More than once.  Like, over and over and over again.

The life story that most appeals to me, however, is not David’s.  It’s Joseph’s.  He was a favored son.  Not the worst way to begin life, right?

God gave him a gift: he had dreams that let him and family know what the future held.  Useful skill, right?

He was part of a large, wealthy family so he lacked for nothing.  Sounds good so far.

The biggest problem was that he was favored by his father above his ten older brothers.  They did not take kindly to that.  And then, to make matters worse, he talks about these visions or dreams he’s having, which might be ok, I mean you could tolerate some silliness from a much younger brother, but the dreams were all about how he was going to be the most important, the leader and his brothers would be his subjects.  This was far before Israel had a king, so the very idea was foreign as well as repugnant.  And all those typical, human emotions reared up in his brothers; anger, jealousy, envy, bitterness, rage, hatred and they smacked Joseph up the side of the head and knocked him into a deep pit.  It was the lone voice of reason of his brother, Judah, that saved him from being killed and instead he was sold into slavery.

When we see Joseph some time later in Egypt he has proved himself so capable that he had full charge of the household of a wealthy and prominent man, Potiphar.  God appears to be on his side again and it seems he landed on his feet, so I’m thinking, maybe this kid has more going for him than just being a favored, pampered son.  I’m happy things are going well for him and though a slave, he has the use of wealth and prominence, so he’s better off without that big, shepherding family that no longer wanted him around, right?

Or not.  Again jealousy and rage are dogging him, this time from the master’s wife and the result is that Joseph is thrown in the pit again.  Imprisoned.  For years.  Can’t have been easy, but even in prison there’s still something different about him.  God speaks to him in dreams.  And then tells him what the dreams mean.  Not only that, he rises to the top of the prisoner hierarchy.  The guys in charge see his value and put his skills to work.

This says to me that whatever Joseph did, wherever he was in those years since excitedly sharing his dreams with his brothers, he did the tasks well.  He was trustworthy.  He was not a cheat or a con-man or miserable or depressed or angry.  He never gave up.  He even reminds guys who are getting sprung from the dungeon to remember him to the man in charge.

His code of behavior and his persistence pay off, or to put it another way, when God was done working on him in the prison, He got him out.  And once again Joseph rose to the top so that by the time the land is deep in famine, he is in charge of all the storehouses in Egypt.  He has the power to destroy or to honor those who work for him and anyone who appeals for help.  And everyone, Egyptians and the rest of the nearby world, come to him for help.  Including his brothers.

This is the big moment.  This is when we will see the underbelly of his character.  Is he still angry?  Nursing an old grudge at the betrayal by his family?  Has his heart turned to false gods and practices of a foreign land while he’s been away from his own heritage and his own people?  Has he stayed true to God and the faith of his father, Jacob, his grandfather, Isaac and his great-grandfather, Abraham?

“You meant it for evil,” he tells his brothers when he has revealed who he is and they are begging for mercy, “but God meant it for good.”

I wonder.  How much trauma and loss would I have to go through before I totally gave up in self-pity?  What if I was ripped from everything I knew and it was seventeen years before I saw any of my family again?  How would my everyday vision in those long years have to be changed so that I could see that God meant it for good?  For me.  For the people my life effects.

Joseph is the guy who shows us what it means to truly believe and to fully trust in God, even when there appears no end to the nightmare.  Is it any wonder that when his brothers finally came to him, he broke down in tears and moaned and lamented so loud that all the neighbors heard and Pharaoh sent word to find out if he was ok?

One last thought.  By the time Joseph is a power in Egypt, married with children, he is no longer telling about dreams from God.  He is living the dream from God.  The fulfillment is right in front of his eyes, yet there is no boasting.  No, I told you so.  There’s just joy to be with the family he hadn’t seen in seventeen years.  Oh, and he keeps on doing the job God sent him to do.  He saves the newly formed Israelite nation from being wiped out by a famine.  Now that’s living out the potential God gives.