Messy And Close

It was a hot mess. And for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why.

I am speaking about my front porch.

Every morning I opened my home’s door to find it strewn with various bits of detritus. Chunks of styro-foam.  Bits of netting. Straggle-y sticks and stalks.  By the end of the day said trash would disappear, which I chalked up to a good, stiff breeze.

This mystery continued for several days until, finally, it dawned upon my toddler-addled brain to look up.

And there it was -the beginnings of a nest.

A. Really. Ugly. Nest.

Precariously perched in a small corner a mama bird was hard at work building a place to have her young. Her progress was not what one might call pristine or promising. Certainly not pretty. But she did not stop, and, eventually, she made something of a topsy-turvy home in which to lay her eggs.

I wondered what in the sam-hill would cause a bird to build upon such a small, hidden eave, when anywhere else would have taken so much less work. Our front yard is full of perfectly good trees, ready-made for nest-building.  However, I also saw that our neighborhood was full of mockingbirds, those aggressive birds that will dive-bomb the head of anything human, avian, or otherwise. This robin- mama wasn’t looking for pretty or easy. She was looking for protected, sturdy, safe.  She was looking for close and hidden. And she was willing to do the awkward, messy work of creating that kind of home for her chicks.

All this reminds me of Psalm 84, where the writer cries out:

Even the sparrow has found a home – and the swallow a nest for herself – where she may have her young.  A place near your altar, Lord, my King and my God.

It strikes me that the bird (and the psalmist who wants to be like the bird) is desperate to build a nest near God’s altar. Close. Tucked in. Intimate.

And it amazes me that Psalm 84 says God welcomes the messy process of his people (like birds) bringing the bits and pieces of who they are, strewing the altar with the trash, because, well, because He’d rather have us messy and close, than pristine and far away.

Intimacy, like nest-building, is messy.

But it is so well worth the mess.

Especially when what you end up with is nesting place nearer to God than you could have ever imagined.

I’ve never wanted to be more bird-brained in all my life.

With Hope,




When God Speaks Through A Red Headed Three Year Old

When I was twenty weeks pregnant with my now three-year old, Luke, we had quite a scare. I’ll spare you all the details leading up to the discovery, but through a set of crazy God-circumstances, we found that I had what is medically referred to as an incompetent cervix. (Don’t get me started on that name. Another post. Another day.) 

Simply put, the pregnancy structure wasn’t holding, and at twenty weeks (and forty one years old), that was a major problem.  I was unlikely to get pregnant again, we were told, and even though there was less than a cm to work with, surgery would be our best (and only) shot.  Dr. Strnad, our unshakeable doctor, leaned close to my bed, explaining slowly-clearly- seriously - that the risks of surgery were great, and that there was a strong possibility that the structure itself would be punctured, causing immediate birth.

I didn’t realize I was crying, until I tasted the salt. I remember saying, “Dr. Strnad, he would be a pre-mie, wouldn’t he?” A sober look crossed her face. “No, Allison, he won’t be a pre-mie. At twenty weeks, he’s not viable. I’m so sorry.” 

Clearly, there was no other choice.  I remember experiencing what I know now was shock. My teeth chattered, my body shook, as if the room had been plunged into a sudden winter.

We had the emergency surgery to try to fix the problem, and after the procedure, we were told that I would be embarking on bed-rest. Bed-rest that would last for three, solid months. Three, solid months. This was the very definition of torment for a type-A sister like me. But make no mistake, I would have sat on my Haverty’s couch for the “whole nine”, if it meant saving Luke.  

  Bed rest, went a little something like this: The day consisted of one walk downstairs in the morning to the couch, where I would remain on the couch - until I was allowed one walk up the stairs at the end of the day. Getting a glass of water was out. Prepping a meal – prepping a nursery? All out.  I could use the rest room, I am happy to report.  Additionally, I could partake of a shower once every three days for a grand total of three minutes. We were allowed to venture outside the house once a week for a myriad of specialists’ appointments. I admit it  - I looked forward to that day as much as a teenager does the day her braces come off.

Now, I want to make something clear: our church stepped up incredibly. They circled the proverbial wagons and bore our burdens.  Meals. Visits. Cleaning.  Carting around our older son, Levi.  We have no blood family where we live, but the Body of Christ became our family in ways we could have never envisioned. My family and I are eternally grateful for the care we received.

 But even the incredible outpouring, couldn’t do the one thing that I thought I wanted more than anything else – it couldn’t fill up all the hours alone.  Folks stopped by for a visit of an hour or so (which I treasured above gold), but you can do the math, right? Loads of solitary hours were still left in a day. And, as I have already said, I’m type-A to the marrow, so the hours and hours of solitary communion with the couch – with nothing much to do, but sit - were painful. Dreaded, really.

But even harder than the intense communion with the couch, was the intense communion with the contents of my heart. All that unfilled, unoccupied time became a crowbar used by God to pry open my heart. Things leaked out that I had not taken time to look at. Not in a really long time.

Whenever I would get a cut as a kid, my mom, like most, would say, “Make sure to let it get some air.” Letting something breathe, was the first step to warding off infection, in her sage opinion.  

Well, there was a lot locked in my bed-rest heart that I had never given “spiritual air.”  Like unsanctified expectations. Sometimes of people.  Sometimes of God.  Like traces of un-forgiveness. Traces that I would’ve sworn had been rooted out, but were still lurking, hiding beneath the busy-ness. I needed to do business with God but hadn’t stopped in so long.  Bed-rest was nothing but stopping. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Bed-rest functioned in me like musical rests function in music. Rests are integral to a good piece of music, but often they are rushed, and sometimes they are over-looked altogether. However, without the rests - music is not music; it is just a series of unending, largely indistinguishable notes.  It is quiet that gives sound its meaning.  As my junior high chorus teacher used to say, “Mind your rests. Mind your rests.”

So, there I was, minding my three-month rest, as God “searched me and knew my heart. ” (Psalm 139:23a) It was there on the couch, that I told Him the little “t” truths I was carrying around – things that were ultimately handicapping my relationship with Him. I spat the poison out, and found He could more than handle it. He was patient. He was kind. But He was unrelenting.  And once it was all out on the table (or the sofa, as the case may be), He gave a very specific instruction. One instruction a full two years before a certain Disney character made it the most famous sung cliché in recent history. You know where I’m going, right?

Let it go.  

He said, let it go. Daughter, let it go. It doesn’t serve you anymore.  Wave the white flag. Surrender.

Let it go.

And, somehow, with the incredible grace of Christ, poured out on the girl on the couch, I was enabled to do just that.

If I ever forget, if I ever forget the “let it go” lesson of the couch, God gave me a redheaded baby, named Luke, who would become a redheaded, three year old. A three- year old who sings the reminder at the top of his lungs. (Thanks, Disney.) I hope it is never lost on me that the “actual fruit “ of bed-rest was my son, Luke. And that it is this same Luke that God uses to remind me of the “spiritual fruit” of bed-rest.

Sometimes, in my world, at least, God can sound an awful lot like a redheaded three - year -old.

Enjoy the serenade.