Yes, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” But…

Coming out of our basement laundry room last week, a baby sparrow sped by me, running in fear with his wing dragging on the pavement. “Poor thing!”, I thought, but as I climbed the stairs my heart recited that song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and, I wondered, as “He watches over me”, what does the Lord want me to do about this sparrow apparently in His view?

I plopped down my laundry and realized, I could not leave that injured bird there, unable to fly, amid possible rat attacks and other terrors. I contacted the Wild Bird Fund downtown, known for their devoted care for injured birds of all kinds. “Try and catch him and bring him to us!” Ok, I thought, how hard can that be?

I returned to the trash area where my super was putzing around. “Hey,” I said with gloved hands, “I’m just looking for a little injured bird…” He immediately engaged in this search and within seconds we were chasing the poor thing in and out of every corner and cranny. “Got him!” I announced with delight. I had never held a bird and he was precious!

Time for me to scurry down to the Wild Bird Fund!

I contacted them in a day, two days…surely the baby bird would soon fly to Central Park! Finally, this week, I received the report…

I am very sorry to tell you that the house sparrow you brought to us was too injured to recover. The main problem was to do with his wing, as you suspected; his left radius and ulna were nearly severed, his humerus was very swollen, and his right elbow was fractured. While we can treat some wing injuries, these ones were not survivable. Fractures in birds that are close to the joint, such as the elbow, do not heal well. As the bone calluses, it fuses the bone and the joint together, leading to permanent paralysis, so that the bird is unable to move his wing. This means he could never fly again, and in turn could never return to the wild. Because his prognosis was extremely poor, we made the decision to humanely euthanize him and prevent further suffering.
I know this is not the outcome you were hoping for, but please know that by bringing him to us, you saved him from a great deal of future distress and discomfort. In cases like this, the kindest and most humane thing we can do is allow the bird to pass in peace and without pain.” 

What? That tiny bird had all that?

You’re right, Care Team, that was not the outcome I was hoping for! Lord, Your eye was upon him, You put this baby in my hand and…why?

I thought of the greater ‘whys’ charged up to heaven, filled with grief from untimely death and loss. Brethren who seem to be at the peak of their ministry, raising their family, a joy to parents…dreams crushed. My brother’s death was such a loss, leading me to question and challenge God. One of our beloved pastors often tells of the grievous late night knock, “We’re sorry to inform you…there was an accident…” Burying their only daughter, he cried out, “Why!”

God is not fragile. He can take our anguish and anger – the honest cry from His children and, moreover, He will answer that cry.

I couldn’t possibly see the sparrow’s pervasive injuries uncovered by diligent diagnostic care and medical equipment. Neither can I see into the spiritual realm of God’s view and providence. He is undoubtedly sovereign and certainly owns us, we belong to Him. Then why untimely death of His beloveds? Why, when the ‘outcome is not what we hoped for’ but what we actually dreaded most?

At 38 yrs old, a husband and a father to two toddlers, my brother Paul was at the peak of his faith. He bravely suffered through harrowing medical treatments and admitted towards the end, “I have no regrets. Having cancer brought me closer to the Lord in so many ways – I would not have known Him so deeply without it.” Paul’s faith was a testimony to doctors and patients in oncology – and to us as well.

“I know full well that my life is in the hands of the Lord. He has the keys to the car, and I am going along for His ride…” Paul Stepanian

Pastor Ben Crandall shared similarly from the pulpit, “At 25, my daughter was full of faith, had her whole life ahead of her. I cried out over her grave, why, why did You take her from us!” The pastor shared what he later received from the Lord, ‘I saw her spiritual future and took her before she fell’.

Long ago I jotted this quote in my Bible,

“The believer’s life on earth is his only arena for change and fruitfulness…the nature of eternity is changeless. Therefore, the time to become like Jesus, being conformed to His likeness, is during this earthly Christian experience of trial and faith.” “You and I will never be any closer to Christ, throughout eternity, than we are when He comes. That’s the point of Judgment.” (Dr. Lovett)

The nature of eternity is changeless…” We see untimely death as missing 30, 40 or 50 years of life – God sees our lives entering into eternity in the likeness His Son – enjoying His close presence forever.

God does not spell out everything like the Wild Bird Fund. But our faith need be strong enough to stand upon His word and His sovereignty and trust Him when ‘the outcome is not what we hoped for’. Those devoted to my little sparrow assured –

I know this is not the outcome you were hoping for, but please know that by bringing him to us, you saved him from a great deal of future distress and discomfort

Doctors determine outcomes through X-rays, CAT scans and tests. God sees through everything, and into eternity.

His eye was on the sparrow. But more than ‘His eye’ is upon us – His life is within us and He orders our steps as a sovereign Father in heaven. Whether our ‘wing is broken’ or our heart is broken or ‘the outcome is not what we hoped for’, we can trust the Lord to walk us through, and with a view of eternity.

Love Thy New York Neighbor

The Lord’s famous ‘Good Samaritan’ story often stirs my heart.  Sometimes I wonder, why did He use the term ‘neighbor’ when the needy person in the story did not “live next door or near the person in question”?  Two ‘neighbor’ stories always come to mind, one near and one far….

A few years ago a Mormon couple moved into the apt next door.  They were a bit overly friendly and even baked cookies to leave at everyone’s door.  (But no one I know would eat food left at their door)  Soon after, invites to Mormon services were given and, not surprisingly, the flyers looked very ‘mainstream Christian’.   I wondered, was this ‘loving your neighbor’?

The second story is far away and long ago when my father lived in Aleppo.  As a youth he worked for an Arab in a small shop around a cluster of stores.  One day there was an Islamic uprising against the Jewish community, Jews were beaten and shops were vandalized.  When club wielding, menacing men came to the Jewish shop next to my father, the Arab dashed out and stood in front of the Jewish shop.  He spread his arms wide across the doorway and boomed, “You must kill me first to get to them.  They are my neighbors!”

Born in the rough and tumultuous Middle East, Jesus’ concept of ‘neighbor’ defies most superficial ones of today.

I try to uphold ‘neighborly love’, sometimes incidentally, carrying groceries for elderly, visiting someone sick, getting mail.  Sometimes, it is a commitment of friendship such as with ‘Hilda’ in Juanita’s Joy and Making The Last Seconds Count.  But the truth is, I was hungry for more – more love to flow in and through me.

If God “determined the times set (for men) and the exact places where they should live” it would seem that one’s ‘neighbors’ are assigned as well – whether they are near or not.   While my heart was burdened for the Kurds oppressed and under fire in Syria and I was drawn to the ministries of Kurdistan, the Lord made His will clear…

I was disappointed that my heart was so kindled but not by God.  Shortly after the Kurdistan kibosh though, God opened the door of my neighbor’s life and ushered me in.  Joanna*, a single working parent with a chronic illness, always seemed okay and self-sufficient.  But when her life unraveled through illness and loss and without family or support she was greatly needing an outpour of “oil and wine”.

When the Lord kindles the love, the ‘oil and wine’ begin to flow.   Coming alongside her with childcare, practical resources and emotional support seems supernatural in that it is not ‘taking away’ but ‘adding to’ my life…friendship, pleasures of giving and mentoring, and the joy caring for a cheerful toddler…

Moreover, Joanna spoke of a church life some time ago.  The Holy Spirit is stirring a living faith and I believe she will grasp the Gospel and find the new life promised through our Savior Jesus.

May we always have the faith to thank God when the crossing bar lowers on our path, pausing us, redirecting us or just stopping us from pursuing our own desires.  And may He order our steps and infill our hearts with the “oil and wine” ready to flow toward that “neighbor” along our path!