Monthly Archives: May 2015

Playing with Sticks

Every little boy (and girl) loves them.  In our house they are represented in varying sizes, shapes and textures.  Some are long, others are shorter.  Some are thin and rough and are bandied about in twirling, frenetic fashions.  Others, however, are stocky, smooth and are useful for solid, quick jabs and are more realistic for taking with you in the car, on a walk, and, yes, to a family photo shoot.  Sticks.

Here are a few of G's collection.
Here are a few of G’s collection.

Sticks collected from a nearby nature trail – around us they are plentiful and frequently visited.  Sticks nabbed from a neighbor’s or friend’s yard – a souvenir of sorts from a play date.  Sticks from parks and even a stick from a trip to Arizona – a stick lovingly and diagonally padded inside a checked suitcase and brought out of the toy box for special occasions.

Yes, I said toy box.  I know, a little boy playing with sticks may not seem particularly unique.  However, I am not sure how many treasure their outdoor finds quite like G does.  Every stick- well, every stick his mother allows him – he has kept from his ramblings and filled toy boxes.  Balls, plastic toys,and wooden blocks are set aside so that the go-to toy for G on any occasion is the stick du jour.

While playing with G yesterday in his pop-up tent, he began to collect a smattering of sticks from here and there, from a couple of stashes upstairs.  Somehow, he had the right job for each stick.  One was a fishing pole, another was a shovel.  A narrow, curved one was the obvious choice for a nimble bow.  The arrows were swift and imaginary.  G found a sword, a spoon for a stuffed buddy and a flashlight – all made from his imagination and sticks.

I began to make application.  Why are sticks such a big deal to G?  There are a few reasons, I think.

  • It’s personal.  He has found them all by himself and even more importantly, he has carefully chosen them for their intrinsic and special qualities.  Not just any stick comes home, only the ones which are specifically chosen to fulfill a task.
  • Sticks are infinitely malleable to any task at hand.  By malleable, you understand, I do not mean the sticks themselves are soft and pliable, but rather they are conducive for open-ended play.  His mind and imagination are malleable as he plays with a small piece of wood, once as a weapon, then as a flying broom stick.  The next time it is a musical instrument- a flute or an alpenhorn.
  • They are from nature.  They have texture.  They are real.  They are legitimate objects, not a toy or a modified version of something.  They are not fabricated in a factory.  They are from God.

And here, in G’s pop-up tent is where I began to reflect on this simple thought.  God offers us daily something real, not artificial, but authentic, created.  God throws blessings down upon us daily.  Thousands of little things for us to make use of, millions of tiny things for us to glory in.  They are a myriad of promises on which our imagination and gratitude may stretch and grow.  Why do I spend my time preoccupied with the artificially fabricated things?  Sticks.  Blessings scattered about on the ground.  G claims them as his own, takes them home and knows just how to appreciate them.

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Dear Father, thank you for providing G with sticks.  Help me to truly see as I gather together my daily blessings scattered around like the endless sticks upon the ground.

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Looking at bark

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Are you able to discern this variety of tree simply by its bark?  Could it be a sweet gum?  There are certainly a number of sweet gum pods, or the fruit, about the ground nearby.  Why are you uncertain?  Are you not familiar with trees?  Can you more readily recognize them by their blooms or leaves?  is the photo simply too close?  The closer we study something the more difficult it may be genuinely to see it.

Is it a beautiful tree?  Perhaps.  It is hard to tell now.  I am merely examining one small part of it. It is nearly impossible to see your hand half an inch from your face.  As I cannot even remember if this really is a sweet gum, I cannot be sure.  I know it is not a beech, which has a smoother bark.  What I do know is that if I were to take a few paces back I would see a thing of fractal beauty, an example of a social yet stationary giant.

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This is how my son appears to me, day after day.  Rough.  Bumpy.  Craggy.  Too close. There are too many petty fights, too much time spent on incidental worries, and certainly not as many moments appreciating where he is now.  When I look exclusively at the details, become hyper-focused on the minutiae in the necessities of the day to day, it becomes increasingly difficult to see him as he truly is now, in all of his beauty.  I need to step back a few paces every once in a while, smile at him and take in all of him at this stage –  bark, leaves, limbs, branches, shaggy hair…..

 

…Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;

they will sing before the LORD…

Psalm 96:12b-13a

Resources: “What is that in your hand?”

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What is the mightiest tool I possess?  A keyboard?  A recipe for spaghetti puttanesca?  A seemingly pointless master’s degree in Slav(on)ic  studies?  These meager resources seem insufficient to tackle the task at hand- namely, raising three boys from childhood to boyhood, and eventually to manhood with grace, strength, consistency and wisdom, turning their hearts solidly toward God.  It is more than I could do on my own.  It is more than any of us can do.  As I sigh over bread crumbs kicked into distant kitchen corners, or over another petty squabble between my boys, or even a missed opportunity to encourage someone, my impoverished resources appear pathetic.  As I focus on my weaknesses, I largely see problems and never solutions.  I get bogged down in the now and forget to rejoice over the future’s victories.

I see my puttanesca recipe only as a means of getting dinner on the table until I remember a couple of loaves of bread .

Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?

John 6:9

My arms seem weak and tired until I recall a shepherd’s staff.

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

Exodus 4:2

A random and ancient oxgoad.  A slingshot and a smooth, well-chosen stone near running water.

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.  He too saved Israel.

Judges 3:31

Could they be synonymous with a pen’s scribblings?  A healing conversation?  With words of truth spoken in earnest?

What they have in common is their negligibility.  They are nominally useful things in human hands.  Yet in the hands of a foreign judge, backed by the LORD Almighty, an entire nation gains freedom by way of a farm tool.  Guided by the Jewish Messiah, surrounded by crowds, a boy relinquishes his lunch and feeds thousands, highlighting deity in human form for all in the vicinity.  Leaning on a staff a shepherd strikes fear in the world’s leading ancient empire.  Alone in a remote town, among an insignificant tribe, a married couple turns construction and home design into a powerful sanctuary for a holy prophet.

Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him.  Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.

2 Kings 4:10

Whatever we find in our hand He infuses with power and substance and relevance.

And there are times that as we search about us we may discover that we have inadvertently dropped whatever had been in our hands.  There is no longer a shepherd’s staff or even a small stone.  Or maybe we had never even grasped anything at all.  A flash of light, a midnight escape in a basket, (Acts 9:23-25) a couple of Roman floggings, and we no longer possess our prestigious diploma in the Torah.

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And that is when we fall, only to take up the most powerful tool of all – prayer.