All I wanted to do was help my daughter feed the seals. She wasn’t too crazy about handling the slimy fish, but I thought if I did the first one, maybe she’d work up the courage to do the next one herself.
The Sea World instructor gave us two instructions over the loudspeaker.
- Make eye contact with the seal before you throw the fish.
- Watch out for the birds.
Dozens of gulls perched on the rocks around the seal habitat waiting for us to toss our fish. A big, ugly one to my right shifted anxiously from foot to foot. His eyes were fixed on my hand. He’d seen this show before and knew it often ended with dinner.
I wondered how many snacks he’d plucked from the sky as they left the hands of unsuspecting tourists. Well, not on my watch. I’d put down good money on these fish, and I had no intention of letting any flying felons swoop in and steal them away.
It was time to show my daughter how it was done. “Okay, honey, let’s pick a seal,” I explained. I locked eyes with the nearest seal, and he cocked his slick body back, ready for the catch of the day. I glanced back to that suspicious gull to my right, then back to the seal.
“Sweetheart,” I said, “all you have to do is-“
But my fatherly instruction was cut short by the furious flutter of wings. The gull on my right had just been a decoy. The real danger came from my left – above me. I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book. I tried to yank back my hand, but too late.
The fastest, meanest bird in the world tore the fish right out of my hand and took some of my finger with him. I stood there holding my stinging, bleeding finger feeling like a total chump. I swear I heard some birds snickering.
Later that I night, I thought about a story Jesus told about a farmer scattering seed. Some of it fell along a path, and a few rotten birds came and ate it up before it could take root and grow into something good. I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened in my life.
God gives me something good, like joy, hope or peace, and then someone or something swoops in and snatches it away. Has that ever happened to you?
God gives you forgiveness, and someone throws your past up in your face. God gives you courage to speak up at work, and then a bullying boss humiliates you. God gives you a vision for your future, and your doctor calls with bad news. God gives you self-control to change a bad habit, but you fall off the wagon.
The fact is that we have to fight to protect the good things God gives us. If we don’t, the wily birds will snatch them away every time. The best way I’ve found to do this is to invite other people to speak truth into my life and encourage me along the way. These are the close friends who help me watch out for the birds. They remind me of God’s perspective and help me to guard the good stuff God has given me.
So this week, count on God to bring good gifts your way, and count on close friends to help you keep them.