Monday, June 27, 2016

Letting Nature Teach Us

A strange thing happened the other day. God broke His finger through the heavenly clouds and reached down to touch my heart in a special way. Or at least, that's how it seemed.

I was in the middle of making supper when suddenly, without really knowing why, I felt prompted to go outside to look for a baby bird. Not even thinking about the strangeness of it all, I left everything half cooked and went out to the front yard. Then, as though an invisible hand reached down from heaven and turned my head to the left, and to my surprise, I suddenly saw a little baby bird.

My first reaction was one of surprise that there actually was a baby bird there, and then I felt dismay. I love animals but get nervous with anything that is helpless. I knew that the best I could do for this baby bird was to put it back into its nest and hope that the mother would come back for it.

After getting some help from a neighbor to help me with the ladder, we put the bird back into his nest, only for him to "fall" out again. "I think it's time," our neighbor said. "He's learning to fly. Not much we can do for it but let nature take care of it."

I didn't like this plan at all. I knew I wouldn't be able to focus on anything with a helpless baby bird hopping around our front yard. I worried our dog might get it. Or that one of the kids would accidentally step on it. Or that it would hop into the street and get run over.  But, like our neighbor said, we had to leave the bird to nature and allow it to run its course.

Still, I hovered by the window, watching for several minutes to see what would happen to the little bird who seemed content to sleep on our lawn. And to my amazement, I realized his parents had not abandoned it or forgotten their baby, but had been watching over it a short distance away, even coming often to bring it snacks.

"Perhaps this is why I felt compelled to look for a baby bird," I thought to myself. "Maybe God wanted to show me how He takes care of His own."  I still kept an eye out for the bird throughout the day though, as it alternated between sleeping and exploring its new surroundings. Only once did I have to run out to the street to save it from being ran over.

The day passed on uneventfully, and pretty soon, even the little bird was forgotten. We ended the day with going to Mass as we always do. But then I was in for my second surprise of the day.

Max, our twelve year old who altar serves, got the schedule for altar serving and was shocked to find an increase of altar servers on the list. On our way home from Mass, he worried and fretted, working himself into a frenzy of questions: "Who are all these people? Where did they come from?? Why are there so many names?? I don't think I should altar serve anymore. I don't know what to do! What do I do?! Why do all these kids have to be on this list?!" And on and on.

Lately, Max has been showing more and more fears and anxiety over social situations, to the point where it's impossible to take him anywhere. I have found that except for altar serving--his one "social event", there is no group I can get him to join, no outing I can get him to come to. I can't even bring him to the store without him nearly having meltdowns. Even going to the park is no longer an option as the different kids "popping in and out of nowhere" is disconcerting to Max. I have found myself increasingly worried about Max, about what this road of inclusiveness will lead him in his life if we can't get control of his fears. As he ranted on and on about the list of names, I found myself getting impatient and finally angry. I told Max to stop it, get ahold of himself, stop obsessing. We both went to bed upset that night.

I laid in my bed crying that night, though I didn't know why. I wasn't sure where the anger was coming from. I wasn't sure if it was directed at me, Max or just autism. All I knew was that I was angry. And suddenly, the memory of the fear and anxiety I had felt over the little bird came to mind
Max, our altar server!
when I realized there was nothing I could do to help him. And suddenly I knew where the anger was coming from.

I'm so sorry Max. There is nothing I can do for you. You are going to a place I can't get to. I used to be able to soothe you, comfort you, scare your fears away. But I can't do it anymore. I can't help you.

There was nothing I could do but commit Max to the Lord. For the rest of the night, I slept restlessly, waking up often with Max on my mind, praying and begging God to help Max in a way that I couldn't and finally would fall back in a restless sleep, only to wake up later again praying.

The next morning I woke up and prepared myself for listening to another long talk from Max about his fears over the list of faceless names.  I tried to stow as much patience as I could, prepared my heart to not become anxious as I watched my son slip further and further into the puzzling world of autism.

But as we said our morning prayers together, Max threw me for a loop yet again and then went on to stun me speechless. Instead of listing off his fears to God as he usually does (which can make for a very long prayer), he said:

 "Dear Jesus, I am a little worried about all those kids that want to serve in altar serving. Where did they all come from, Lord? It used to be just me and a few other kids. But now, all these kids are suddenly wanting to serve too. But even though I'm scared, I'm happy too, because all those kids want to serve You. And that is really good. I'm happy that they love You so much that they all wanted to serve You. Please teach them to focus on serving You and not themselves. Teach them they are up there for You, to serve You. Help them to be good examples of what altar servers should be.  Amen."

I kept my eyes closed, not daring to make a sound during this prayer. Outwardly, I looked the same, instructing the next child that it was their turn to say their prayer, but inwardly, I was saying,

"Thank you, dear Jesus. Thank you for taking care of Max, my own little bird. For going into a place where I couldn't go. Thank you for helping Max deal with his fears. For helping him understand what altar serving is really about. Thank you."

We got up from prayer time and proceeded with our day, and the list of names was never mentioned again. Somehow, during the night, God took care of Max as I watched and prayed from a distance. Not being able to help him as I wanted, but leaving him in the hands of God. And God had proved once again that He is faithful, how He watches over His own. I didn't have to worry. Max was not alone as I feared.

Later that day, Luke came running in breathlessly. "Mom!" he gasped. "I found the little bird!"

I felt my heart contract as I prepared myself for the worst. "What happened?" I asked.

"It flew away! It was sitting on our grass and when I got to it, it flew away! It learned how to fly!"

I couldn't help smile at the ending of God's lesson. Point taken, Lord. I truly had nothing to worry about.

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