Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fish Tale

I know you won’t believe me. It’s one of those things you have to see with your own eyes, witness for yourself. Even then, while it’s in plain view, you’ll likely shake your head or pinch your skin to verify sanity. Once you’ve experienced it, however, you’ll never, ever forget.

Every warm season since the death of Mr. Steve’s wife, Joan, a snowy egret returns to his house in coastal North Carolina. My aunt and uncle live just across the canal from his single-dwelling cottage. I admit, I’d heard the tales, too, and probably dismissed them as exaggeration…that is, until the irrefutable scene unfolded in front of me. Twice daily during nesting season, the white-plumed bird follows a canal to its end and swoops down on Mr. Steve’s back yard. The way the bird transitions from aerodynamic flight to full upright stance, using his great wingspan to gracefully stick the landing…Well, that, in itself, is- stunning.

What happens next, however, is enough to make one question the basic laws of nature.

Standing the full height of a small man, the animal walks gracefully across the knotty crabgrass and lowers his bright yellow beak. Then, the snowy egret, quite simply…knocks. He persistently pecks the glass of Mr. Steve’s back storm door, awaiting a response from within. (Mr. Steve even swears that if he doesn’t answer quickly enough, the egret will continue on to the front door, knocking feverishly.)

Eventually, Mr. Steve emerges, bucket in hand, lips moving in casual conversation. As comfortable as old friends, the two play a game of fetch. Mr. Steve pulls minnows from his bucket, while the hungry bird eagerly awaits his prize. The game continues until thirty or so minnows are safely stored in the egret’s long neck and he can return to the nest, retrieve the small fish and help feed his babies.

Observing through Aunt Faye’s kitchen window, I am always mesmerized. I never tire of watching Mr. Steve feed his egret. Witnessing the mutual exchange occur- fish for friendship- is nothing short of magical, hopeful and real.

Try conveying such a mystical moment to friend or perfect stranger, however. It’s near impossible. I can identify with the frustration Aunt Faye feels when telling the egret’s tale to the ladies at the local grocery store, whose response is usually a roll of the eyes or a suspicious cock of the eyebrow. Unless you’re in the presence of another first-hand witness, it’s just another fish tale.

I recently realized that telling a stranger the story of Mr. Steve and his egret is markedly similar to sharing with others why I am a follower of Jesus.

I must admit, the cards are already stacked against me regarding this. The proper term, “evangelism,” has earned a negative connotation, conjuring images of screaming tele-preachers or tract-bearing strangers. Eye rolling, suspicious glances and voiced disbelief are regular occurrences at the mention of the name Jesus. “Just another fish tale,” some eyes seem to say. Others question motives or become defensive, as if an unspoken boundary has been crossed.

Neither aggression nor agitation is ever my intention. When speaking of Jesus, I am simply spilling over, excited to share a genuine relationship that has brought order, humility and peace to my life. Besides, who would believe that a real God can speak to me audibly through songs…or to my friend, Debby, in butterflies?

Right or wrong, I have always shied away from evangelism for evangelism’s sake. Before becoming a Christian, I detested those who looked at me (as one of the unchurched) with pity, and I abhorred those who tried to sell me salvation as if it were simply fire insurance. If anything, these tactics were perfect God-repellants for my soul.

In the end, Jesus spoke to me for Himself. He knocked, and I answered. Then, He made His presence undeniably clear. He emerged…and I believed.

Such is Jesus’ modus operandi. He doesn’t do anything less for any one of us. That certainly eases my anxiety about being an aggressive evangel. Sometimes, the best thing I can do is get out of His way.

If you’re a non-believer, or a seasoned Christian who has simply lost the “magic,” don’t worry. Today I will not prick you with guilt or prod you with scripture. Like I said, the hand of Jesus is one of those things you have to see with your own eyes, witness for yourself. Even then, while He’s in plain view, you’ll likely shake your head or pinch your skin to verify sanity. Once you’ve experienced Him, however, you’ll never, ever forget.

He is always knocking, my friends, and I pray that you answer. May you witness your own fish tale today.


Jennifer Johnson said...

Like the new look? Praise to my brother-in-law, Matt, for his graphic and technological...genius. Thanks, big brother!

Summer has also stolen my writing time. While I won't apologize for the near two-month lapse, (Who can give up walks on the beach, reading novels, or endless games of UNO with the kids?) I will say that I've missed the blog.

Stay tuned for announcements about an exciting new project.



Anonymous said...

Hey Jennifer,
Love your blog. Love your "fish tale". And yes, Love Matt's artwork.(linked here from his blog).

I'm always amazed at how some folks go through life seeing the oceans, sunsets & sunrises, trees, mountains, even thunderstorms and still not believe.

Thanks :)