Those are My Birds! by Tammy Abee Blom

I filled a bird feeder with sunflower seeds and hung it outside the kitchen window. I did not know if the birds would come, or if the squirrels would commandeer the feeder, so I waited to see what would happen.

16 birds pictureWithin days, the birds became regular visitors, and our family of four spent our breakfast and dinner times pointing out the different birds. Doug commented that the Finches mimicked a busy day at O’Hare airport–they circled the feeder. Our favorite bird has been nicknamed Mr. Cardinal, because he is huge and lands like a cargo plane. Because there were many birds we could not identify, we procured a book featuring the birds of the Carolinas.  Now we can confidently point out Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, and the official bird of South Carolina, the Carolina Wren. Watching the birds has become a favorite family activity.

One morning the birds did not appear.  I checked the feeder, and the seed was dry. I looked for evidence of mischievous squirrels. I could not figure out where the birds were. Then I heard “bang, bang, slam, bang.” And I remembered that I had been hearing this noise all morning long. The noise from our neighbor’s home improvement project was keeping the birds away. With a pout and a foot stomp I said, “Those are my birds. I want my birds back.”

That was when I had my Jonah moment. Jonah, angry and disgruntled, sat down in a huff outside the city of Nineveh. God caused a plant to grow and shade Jonah. The plant comforted Jonah. But then the plant died and Jonah railed about how angry he was to have lost the plant and its shade. God reminded Jonah that he did not plant it or make it grow. The plant grew because of God’s goodness. Jonah went from being pleased to have shade to being indignant that his shade was taken away. He had lost his appreciation for the gift of the plant.

I was indignant that my neighbors were keeping the birds away with their noisy construction, so I blurted out my assurance that I was entitled to our bird show. When I heard what I had just said, I conceded that I was behaving like Jonah. The birds come and go as they wish. By hanging the feeder, I put myself in a place to enjoy the birds and was gifted with their presence. Yet I did not create the birds, nor could I orchestrate their coming and going. However, I had moved very quickly from graciously accepting the gift of birds to expecting the gift, even demanding it. I am thankful that Jonah’s story reminds me that some gifts come and go, and all we can do is enjoy them while we have them.

I am thankful for the diverse group of birds that come to our back porch to share meals with us. I am thrilled my daughters can now differentiate between a Finch and a Chickadee. But I am most grateful for the reminder to enjoy the gift of the birds.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

 

Living Life Together by Brittany Riddle

Brittany RiddleJust the other day I walked the block from my church to the town post office to mail some letters that needed to go out that day. The sun was shining and a hint of fall was in the air. As I walked the short distance past a couple of shops and restaurants, it occurred to me that I have never lived or worked in a place where I could walk to the post office. In the past, a trip to the post office (or anywhere else) has meant getting in my car and driving. I enjoyed my walk that day as it reminded me how much my life has changed in the past two years.

Two years ago this month I began my first call as a full-time minister. Until that day two years ago, my main identity had been “student.” I had been in school non-stop since pre-school. Being a student in the classroom came naturally to me. I loved learning, exploring new ideas with other people, philosophizing, and even writing papers! I was confident God was calling me to ministry in the local church, but after twenty-three years in school, I wasn’t sure anything else could come naturally to me.

When I began serving as an associate pastor at my current church, I quickly realized that I had a very different background than many of my church members. I wasn’t sure what ministry would look like with people in a small town or whether I would be able to be myself. Two years later, those worries are mostly gone. I have fallen in love with the people I minister alongside and have learned that relationships matter more than anything else. There are days filled with joy as well as days filled with challenges, but in the midst of the ups and downs of living life in community, I see the face of Christ in each of them.

I continue to learn from each person I minister alongside, but my classroom is a little different than it was in school. My classroom today is more unstructured than the one when I sat in rows, had a syllabus, and completed assignments. My ministry “classroom” requires more of my heart than I am used to sharing. More vulnerability. And I am less sure of what I am doing or whether I am doing it well. I don’t get papers back with grade letters on top to tell me whether or not I have satisfactorily completed an assignment.

Instead, I have to define success differently. Success is now a sacred conversation, a meal together around a common table, worshiping in community, handling conflict with grace, and finding God in the ordinary moments of life and ministry. These moments do not happen without some bumps along the way, but each day we serve together and grow together as we strive to be a little more like the body of Christ.  Thanks be to God.

Brittany Riddle is minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia.

 

Bind These Words by Brittany Riddle

Brittany Riddle wristThis past week our church had a worship service of healing and wholeness.  This was a new experience for our congregation, and it was a beautiful and meaningful service of confession, blessing, healing and forgiveness.  As part of the worship service, I needed to remember a three-part blessing to pray over those who came forward during the service.  Knowing the reality of Sunday mornings and how many things I have running through my mind during those hours of worship and Sunday School, I thought it would be a good idea to write one-word prompts for the three parts of the prayer on the inside of my wrist—just in case.  Bless, Heal, Strength.  I wrote them in permanent marker.

The worship service went smoothly, and I did not need my hidden reminders.  As I went home that afternoon, I tried to wash the words off my wrist, and no amount of soap and water would wash them away.  I went to a meeting at church that afternoon with the words still on my wrist.  Even after more scrubbing that evening there were still remnants of the words where the ink had soaked into my skin.

I really didn’t want to walk around with permanent marker on my wrist, but I realized that of all the words I could have been stuck with on my wrist for a day or so, it could have been a lot worse than “bless, heal, strength.”  These words were much more meaningful than a grocery list that had been on my wrist a couple of weeks ago.  Over the next couple of days, the words faded, but I could still see little specks of black ink on my skin, and they made me smile.  Every time I looked down at my wrist I was reminded to leave space in my life and my ministry for God’s blessings, Christ’s healing, and the Holy Spirit’s strength.

As silly as I felt with these words written on my wrist, it occurred to me that what began as a simple aid to remember a communal prayer in the midst of a busy morning was actually quite biblical:  “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (Deuteronomy 11:18).  Bless.  Heal.  Strength.  There was something powerful about having the words not only in my head, but physically written on my body.  Those words were a part of me for those couple of days—they were on my hand, on my mind, and in my heart long after that worship service was over.  And thankfully so, because those were words I needed to hear this week.

Brittany Riddle is minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia.