Monday, May 22, 2017

The Birds of the Air


    It's been there for years, this wooden box nailed to our fence. It's long sat empty, waiting for a pair of birds to claim it as their own. Made by little hands, nailed and fastened together, it's been full of nothing but hope as seasons have come and gone. But early this spring, as rains continued to fall from cold, grey Oregon skies, little voices excitedly proclaimed that they'd seen birds flying in and out of that box.

    For the last six weeks, we've watched with delight as this little mama and papa sparrow have day after day flown in and out carrying bits of this and that. We've laughed as one approached the nesting box carrying a twig far too big to fit through the little hole, watched with amusement as Papa Sparrow  sat for a moment on top before reluctantly releasing his prize twig and fluttering off in search of something not quite so grand. The kids have been thrilled to see them picking up tufts of fur from our bunnies or bits of horsehair that have migrated home from the ranch.
    And then one day an egg was spied by a pair of peeking eyes. Some helpful child took a roll of packing tape and fastened the box so no one else would be tempted to open it and disturb this little family in the making. We watched with great anticipation as this faithful Mama and Papa took turns sitting on their clutch of eggs, flying back and forth all day long. And finally, about a week ago, we heard the first faint cheeping sounds coming from the box, and we've listened happily as the nearly constant cries have grown stronger.

    It's been a hard season for our family, a walking through trials that threaten to swallow us up. My faith has been stretched and tried and stretched some more. At times I am tempted to give up, but like Peter I say, "To whom would I go?" My mind often falls into the familiar groove of worry, my stomach knotting with anxiety and fear. How many times I have stood at my kitchen window and watched these little birds! And the gentle voice of my Jesus comes, bidding me to cast my cares on Him, reminding me to look at the birds of the air.

    Is it any coincidence that this year, of all years, this little pair of sparrows made their home not six feet from my kitchen sink?  They are a gift, a reminder to my weary soul that if our Father cares for these little birds, how much more does He care for me and mine? Like Elijah's ravens, I believe they were sent to minister to my soul, to nourish and sustain my faith in a time when I've been tempted to despair. I have listened intently over the last week, hearing the persistent cheeping of tiny birds we've not yet seen. Their voices have changed swiftly from faint little chirps to loud and confident cries. Their Mama and Papa are continually flying back and forth to keep their brood fed.

    And I am reminded, again and again, that I cannot add anything to my life by being anxious. What I can do is join my voice to the chorus that is taking place outside my window, waiting confidently, trusting that I and my family are of much more worth than those little sparrows. If our Father cares for them, then how much more will He care for us and hold us close? If these little birds hunger and are sustained, then how much more will we, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, be filled? Soon that box will be empty again, and yet for me, it will still hold the reminder of the gift that has dwelt in it through this difficult season.

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:25)

Friday, May 19, 2017

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

Sahara Desert, Morocco, 2017

     I don't recall when I first became "acquainted" with Tsh Oxenreider, but I remember going through her book Organized Simplicity years ago and loving what she wrote about crafting a statement that defines who you are as a family. That helped me as I sorted, organized, and pared down in preparation for selling our home and traveling in 2012. I've since enjoyed her blog, podcast, and other book, Notes From a Blue Bike. Her love of travel, simplicity, and faith have often left me feeling like she's a kindred spirit, and more than once I've felt like she's written words that are in my heart.

Chichen Itza, Mexico, 2007. There's a baby Raphael tucked inside.

    Little did I know at the time, but Tsh and her family lived just a few hours away from us before they too sold them home and embarked on nine months of world travel. Her newest book, At Home in the World, chronicles their journey as she and her husband Kyle, together with their three children embark on a round-the-world adventure. More than a travel memoir, it's one family's search for belonging and becoming, of seeking to discover the meaning of home and to reconcile one's wanderlust with the need to make a home in this world.

Santa Barbara, California, 2012, our tiny home on wheels. I loved the freedom we had to explore with the security of having our own little home wherever we went. 

“Earth's crammed with heaven, 
And every common bush afire with God, 
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

    Like Tsh, I long to wander this earth, to explore the beauty that is so lavishly spread upon its seas and continents. I want to experience different cultures, languages, ways of life. I love to be in a place where the language is unfamiliar, where I'm half guessing at whatever I do. But at the same time, I and my family need the stability of a place to call home; we need to put down roots and sprout wings. I too live with the tension so well described in At Home in the World and struggle to reconcile my wanderlust with my love of keeping a home and filling it with memories and security.

Morocco, 2017, having tea with a semi-nomadic Berber family. There are all kinds of homes in this world, and our lives were enriched by the generosity and kindness of this family who welcomed us into their humble cave.
   The Oxenreiders left home without knowing where they would land at the end of their journey. We did the same thing, having sold our home and pulled up stakes in Oregon, we set out into the unknown, trusting that when the time was right, we would know where to settle down. We assumed it would be in a different country, and were surprised to find ourselves back in our hometown a little over a year later, starting over in many ways. Although it wasn't what we had envisioned, it was definitely where we needed to be. Tsh and her family ended up in a familiar place as well, and for largely the same reason - community. 

Thailand, 2015. Pearl makes friends wherever we go.

     Our children need to grow up not only as part of a global family, but as an integrated part of our local community. We often connect with people while traveling, but for us, there is something to be said for the deep roots that we have put down at home. Being near family and friends who know and love us is something we can't replicate anywhere else in the world.  We need to see the world and experience her beauty and culture, but at the end of the day (or the trip), it's good to have a place to call home. I have come to the same conclusion as Tsh, that in the end, we will always long for more, always have lingering feelings that maybe we should be somewhere else. As C.S. Lewis put it, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explantation is that we were made for another world."

London, England, 2017. The Dr. Who fans among us were pretty excited to find the TARDIS! Having one of these would make travel so much easier! 

      I loved reading about the Oxenreider's adventures as they traipsed around the world. It's always fun to meet other traveling families, and though we've never met them in real life, I feel like they're our kind of people, people crazy enough to take risks like selling their home and traveling with a family! Whether you are a jet-setter or armchair traveler, At Home in the World is both a fun and thought provoking read on what it means to find your place on this planet. 

Panama, 2013. We stayed overnight in a floating house on Lake Gatun, part of the Panama Canal waterway. Caimans and monkeys and parrots, oh my!