I had done a bit of wallowing in self pity the other night. I was folding laundry and feeling the despair of resignation, not the good kind. I was a bit angry at my kids for being angry at each other, angry at God for not appearing to answer my prayers, and angry at my own self in the midst of it all. I went to be early with tears in my eyes and felt hopeless in that moment. My sweet husband checked in on me and I told him I was just tired of it all and left it at that. (I think that may have had something to do with his migraine the next day.)
Yesterday I went on a hike after the kids went to school. I put a sermon in my ears with low expectations, still feeling the effects of my funky mood. I was out at a good clip, saw a slow hiker ahead of me and bristled at their presence on my trail. I took the single track to the right to avoid them and kept at my furious pace, while listening to the preacher talk about the messy process of salvation described in Kathleen Norris’s book, Amazing Grace. When I got to the top, I noticed a shape at the lookout point that I could not quite recognize. Was it a person? What was that person doing in my spot so early in the morning? (That the subject matter in my ears was God’s grace had so far eluded me.) As I came closer, I saw that the thing perched in my spot was an enormous bird. My mind went Randy’s recent experience of feeling like God blessed him through raptor sightings on a drive to Boise. It was so big that I thought it must be a golden eagle! What luck. Closer still revealed that the bird was actually a turkey vulture. I had to chuckle at God’s humor.
It’s not that turkey vultures are not cool, because I stayed there mesmerized at the sight of this bird. Several times it lifted its wings as if to fly away and each time it did, I froze and then crept a little closer. It let me approach and I watched it for several minutes. Finally, I figured the bird had had enough of my encroachment. I surrendered my spot and the amazing 360 degree view to the bird and turned to descend the trail the way I had come. When I looked back, the bird was gone. I tried to find it again, scampering up on the ridge slightly and scanning the skies. It was like it had never been there. I kept walking with a renewed set of thoughts in my head. While I made my way back down the less steep side of the trail, there was my turkey vulture soaring on a thermal way out ahead of me. It was glorious.
As I am relfecting on that hike, the words of the preacher are sitting with me. He was talking about how God blessed Jacob with an encounter. For anyone who has read about Jacob in the Bible, you know that he is not the character who sticks out as a man of integrity and tremendous faith. No, Jacob was a schemer. He was always trying to control his own fate when it came to women, livestock, and family relations. In the encounter mentioned in the sermon, Jacob was scheming about how to deal with a pressing situation coming at him. In the midst of his crisis, God showed up and promised to bless him. There was no good reason for God do behave in such a way. Jacob didn’t deserve a blessing from God. He hadn’t been a man of great faith, so why did God show him such extravagant love? That, my friends, is the point. God transformed Jacob through His grace. He was kind to Him just because that is God’s nature. His grace does not depend on Jacob’s performance, or ours for that matter, or mine.
As I made my way down the mountain, I had a teary moment of confession. I will spare you all the details, but it was a sweet reconciliation with God. I thanked Him for the gift of this turkey vulture that I did not deserve. I thanked Him for reminder of His presence with me, not because I am a stunning model of faithfulness and virtue, but because of His beautiful grace that is given with no strings attached. In the words of Leslie Phillips (who is actually quoting the Bible), “it’s Your kindness that leads us to repentance, O Lord.” God was kind to me in the midst of my tantrum simply because that’s who God is. The Lord gives grace unexpectedly and hopefully it leads us to right worship. Sometimes it takes a turkey vulture to help us along.