lessons learned: even squirrels are welcome at the table

Living in the Southeast, I look forward to the excitement and anticipation the first snow day brings each season.  While people concern themselves with bread and milk, you can find me in the birdseed aisle stocking up on food for our backyard community.

I come home, fill up the feeders then, with tea in hand, sit by the back window on my little red stool.  I am always surprised by who comes to the table so to speak. Blue birds, goldfinch, and cardinals come out of hiding to enjoy homemade suet, thistle, and sunflower seed.  I pause in awe for minutes at a time throughout the day to marvel as they swoop from feeder to feeder with the chickadees, titmice, nuthatch and wrens.

feb15.nuthatch at green feeder

And then, inevitably, out come the squirrels.

I believe they must gather in a secret location to plan their strategic attack on every feeder I own because suddenly, they arrive in force then station themselves on their chosen feeders.

feb15.squirrel climbing up tree by feeder

Who invited them to the table?

I know they are hungry and part of God’s creation, but they scare away my fine feathered-friends!  They are ill-mannered hoarders of food who believe they are entitled to a free meal.

Oh. wait.

Aren’t they are part of our Creator’s world, too?

They are no more or no less important than the colorful blue birds or cute chickadees.  They are also my backyard neighbors.  Why wouldn’t I welcome them at the table?

And so, as I prepare to take the next round of food outside, I grab an extra pitcher and fill it to the brim.  Some may call that “radical hospitality” or “extending grace.”  I simply consider it my call as a person of faith.

God welcomes us all to the table.  Shouldn’t we do the same?

the spirit of the season

Every year since this act of kindness occurred, I post it in my social media.   I don’t cut and paste the story because retelling it each year grounds me and reminds me who we are called to be, not just in December but all year through.

A few years ago during the week before Christmas, I stood in a long line at Target.  While I was there for only a few items, many people waited with their full carts.  Tired from perusing the aisles and/or a long day of work, shoppers were ready to check out and head home.

Two carts in front of me, a young mother with her infant son began unloading.  As she did so, it was clear that she was trying to add up all the items in her head.  She checked her coupons and gift cards; all the while, her baby cried from fatigue or hunger or wet diapers.  Even though she was concentrating on her grocery total, she managed to offer him a few tender words of comfort so he knew she was there.

As the clerk checked the items one by one, I watched the young girl nervously stare at the cash register and bite her lip.  Her hand rocked the baby carrier in hopes of soothing her child.  After the final item, a jumbo box of diapers, was added to the total, she began handing over coupons and gift cards.

At that point, I started to hear the groans of people behind me.  Tired and haggard, they hoped they’d chosen the fastest line.  Clearly, not

The cashier finished swiping all the papers and cards, but to her dismay, the young girl had underestimated the total.  As a result, she fell several dollars short.  She looked over her few bags trying to determine what could be sacrificed–the baby formula, the few cans of food, the toiletries or the diapers.

She picked up the box and handed it back to the cashier.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the woman ahead of me quietly and discretely slip some money across the counter.  The cashier gently took the money, rang up the bill, and began to hand the change over to the kind soul who’d helped the mother.  I can’t be sure what indication that the woman offered the clerk, but without hesitating, the cashier handed the change to the young mom.

The girl turned her head, and I saw her eyes sparkle with fresh tears.  She thanked the compassionate woman multiple times then headed out into the night.

If I had not been paying attention, I might not have heard the next exchange between the woman and the cashier.

The clerk looked at the customer and said, “That was very kind of you to help that mom and her kid.”

The woman replied, “I could never have a child of my own.  It was a gift to me to be able to help this one.”


lessons learned: tree houses, slide locks, and the need for control

When I was a around 8 or 9-years-old, my dad and I built a tree house in the forked trunk of a large pine in the back corner of our yard.  It was a simple tree house–several wood blocks used as ladder steps up the side of the tree then a big box structure made from plywood with a green rippled fiberglass roof.  The best thing about it though was the trap door which you pushed open to get inside then could be locked for private “kids only” meetings and such.  My dad had agreed to the lock under the condition that I did not lock any adults out or keep anyone out who asked to come in and play.

That lock taught me many lessons in negotiation, control, power, and surrender.

This morning, as I listened to Dave’s reflection on curious kids and elevated pulpits and vantage points, I remembered a particular story about that old tree house.

On a cool and rainy teacher workday, I planned to go out back and hang out in my home away from home.  I had packed my backpack with some items I would need and set out across the back yard.  Before I reached the swing set midway across, I heard laughter and snickering then a slammed trap door.

And then there it was, the sharp click of a hardware store slide lock.

I immediately recognized the voices as 3 neighborhood boys, my same age, who were usually a part of my neighborhood tribe.  That day, however, they had other plans.

I knew they wouldn’t let me in, but red-faced, I climbed up the steps and knocked on the trap door.  They laughed and shouted, “Boys only!”

In my bossiest voice (or as I refer to it, “the voice of social justice”), I commanded them to let me in.  It was my play house after all.

They shrieked and whooped and jumped up and down.  No matter, I persisted and banged until they got tired of hearing me, and with a click, they opened the trap door just a crack.

There, three faces stared down at me with mischievous eyes and goofy grins.  There was no way I was getting in with those three blocking the entry.  I reminded them matter-of-factly that it was my tree house, and I should be allowed to play.

They looked down on me, then at each other, then down at me.  It was in that moment, I felt the power shift, and boy, was it palpable.  I realized that no matter what I did or said, I would not gain access until they were ready.

And then the tears started as they always do when I’m angry.

At that point, the boys had achieved exactly what they wanted.  They had defeated me.  They slammed the door then began laughing and calling me various names as I moped back to the house.

Needless to say, I ran straight to my mother and explained the situation.  I begged her to come outside.  I knew that if they saw her marching across the back lawn, they’d scramble down or at least unlock the door and let me in.

Nope.  She wasn’t coming. “You need to go work this out on your own,” she suggested and sent me back out the door.

As a child, I felt betrayed.  I’d already tried working it out, and now I needed to bring the heat.  What more could I do.  I needed her adult authority to make this right.

Today, however, as I sat listening to Dave’s message, I realized the two gifts my mom offered me that day:

  1.  I learned how to empower myself to solve the problem, even if it meant doing it with a red face and a few tears.
  2.  I came to appreciate what it felt like on the other side of the power dynamic, what it meant to be the person on the ground, the one locked out, the one excluded.  It hurt.  It was lonely.

It is human nature, I guess, that causes us to desire that kind of control–to be the ones looking down on others rather than elevating them to our position, or better yet, lowering ourselves to theirs. My prayer is that in our lives as local neighbors and global citizens, that we do what we can to shift that power a bit.  To create opportunities for equality.  To surrender our need for control.  To embrace and to want for each other the same sense of community.

To unlock the lock, and make room for one more.


remembering this day

I’m sure many of us recall where we were when we first witnessed or heard the news about the World Trade Center or the Pentagon or Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.  I recall being on vacation with our family, my child’s father turning on the tv right as the plane flew into the 2nd tower.  I turned to block my child as we didn’t realize a national tragedy was occurring right in that very moment.  As I redirected her out of the room, I watched her toddle through the door with her teddy bear–she turned and giggled at me, and I wondered how her life, our lives, the lives of millions of people had changed.

With the most recent refugee crisis occurring, I have continued to wonder where our world is headed.  But with recent stories of countries opening their hearts and borders to new neighbors, I believe there is hope. And as Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

This is one of my favorite prayers~

O Lord, take my ears and hear through them

take my hands and use them,

take my lips and speak through them,

take my eyes and smile through them,

take my heart and mind and will,

and use them as lamps of love,

by which your light may shine in all

the darkness of this suffering world.

~Modern prayer, anonymous