Roundabouts are for the Birds

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O snail
Climb Mount Fuji
But slowly, slowly!
Kobayashi Issa

The nest in the rafters of the porch has a four-pack of baby robins. Their necks strain hard for mom as she gathers their next snack. Unfortunately, mom can’t seem to satisfy, their need so great and her efforts finite. But she tries, she darts and pulls from the yard and ditch, digesting and regurgitating for the greedy infants. We had concerns, for her nest building capacity seemed limited. Inefficient and messy, the nest now provides a sturdy home for her hungry youngsters.  Her instinct of dedication nothing short of miraculous.

It seems the most important work we do is never linear, a forward and back that borders on inefficient and uncoordinated. I have found this to be true of my most important undertakings: marriage, parenting/keeping kids alive, and now planting a church.  The kids are alright and I am grateful for the benefit of being taught by them. In my marriage, with missed opportunities and slung words, we are pushing twenty-four good years. And this church plant is happening. My word.

How is this? How is this economy of broken efforts and poor motivations still functional? How are the kids alive and decent? How do Eric and I find ourselves desiring and seeking the best for one another? How is it we make any progress with the backs and forths, concerns and doubts, the questions?

And when I’m still, silent, abiding, I sense deep in the recesses of my gut, in the undetected nether-world-space where the Spirit dwells, Trust Me.

And sure enough, there it is, it might be the next moment, next day, next year. It pops, like a Jack-in-the-box in the middle of the bramble-covered path. Hope is reborn, the path expands, and the work once again reveals itself as an apology, a course correction, a slow down, a forgiveness, a conversation, a project.

Trust Me.

This summer marks our fifth backpacking adventure. Myself and three friends, we take three to four days to hike in the Colorado Rockies. We have become more efficient with our packing, but the first couple days are always tricky with carrying the weight of gear and food, adjusting and readjusting. There is a cycle, each time, that seems to assert itself – with the weight and heat, the elevation and incline – the middle is so difficult. Bodies hurt, clouds threaten, feet blister, spirits wane. We choose challenging routes. Our treks are not easy and our mettle is tested. As we summit mountain passes, the trails steepen while our packs pull back, our bodies strain ahead, each step a test, each switchback a temptation toward futility. The path winds and criss-crosses. Slow but incremental progress is laid with each and every shuffled step.

But each step accomplishes great work, and with time the summit is attained. The sea of jagged knife-edged peaks on display as we celebrate the prize with a quick exit from our packs.  Snacks are dispensed, cameras snap with selfies, and fleeces are donned to combat the windy chill. We recognize the remarkable accomplishment because of the pain, because of the wait, because of the desperation. Beauty and awe persist regardless of the difficulty and faulty motivations. Beauty and awe await our effort, our seeing, our celebration.

The little birds are ugly and wrinkled, but growing by the minute, feathers now cover their wings, eyes slight with open slits. Their mother has given them life. She has sustained their existence. She is responsible for their thriving. Her instinct of dedication and tenacity a roundabout way to accomplishment. Her inefficient and poor nest building abilities pale in comparison to her persistence. As she hops across the yard, a plump worm hangs across her beak. She implores me with her beady eyes to relocate, to give her a bit of privacy. But I can’t stop watching, I can’t turn away, for the strain and swing of skinny necks yearning for fresh meat, responding to the provision of their mother is my hope.

Success is never linear nor is success certain. The next thing is all we have, the next uphill step, the next lean in, the next press. While we are not always guaranteed a view from the top, we do get to survey how far we’ve come, we get to feel our legs and lungs strengthen, our desire and resolve unfurl. And all the while, trusting in the perfection of the One who loves us despite our wandering motives and imperfect ways. We stop, take stock, breathe, nourish, and remember. Generosity and provision are ours for the taking… we persist.

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