Archive for May, 2019

Along Came Charlie

The very first parrot I owned was the result of a moment of righteous indignation.  Or at least, I thought it was righteous.  I will admit to a bit of parrot snobbery in my youth.  I thought I knew better and could do more.

Back in those days they used to sell parrots at places like Pet Smart and Pet Co.  I thought that was a bad idea then and I still think so now.  The staff is not trained to deal with parrots and the average shopper at those stores is better suited for a parakeet than a parrot.  Thankfully, they don’t sell them anymore.  But that is where I ran across a certain Yellow Naped Amazon.

There is a sort of bird to human chemistry that exists, and a bird may or may not take a liking to you, even if you are a bird whisperer.  This particular Amazon seemed to take an immediate liking to me.  And when I saw the staff members handle him roughly and take a treat away that they had just given him, well, all of my Mercy indignation rose to the surface.  I didn’t smack the lady like I wanted to, but that Amazon parrot DID come home with me that night – after I carefully considered (for about 2 minutes) whether I could actually afford to own a parrot.

I transported my new pet triumphantly out of the store to the car in a little dog carrier.  He hadn’t made much noise before then.  But as soon as I sat down and put him on my lap, I heard something coming out of the carrier.  I looked at my friend.  “Is he laughing??”  She grinned.  “It sure sounds like it!”

And so began my life with Charles.  Or Charlie for short, or Sweetie, or other things, depending on how well he was behaving.

Charlie suffered no lack of self-confidence or self-esteem, for that matter.  He pretty much knew what he wanted and pretty much thought he ought to have it.  Muffin was sweet-tempered.  Charlie was just tempered.  There was a certain look in his eyes that I learned very quickly meant “get near me at your own risk”.  That posed some interesting complications when he was already sitting on my shoulder and I needed to put him back on his cage.  But for all of his willfulness, he had a gentle side.  He loved to cuddle near me under a blanket when I was watching a movie, and at other times he would sit on my arm and snuggle up so I could scratch his head.  I have never seen a parrot enjoy that more than he did.

One of my favorite things to do with Charlie was to take him out for a walk or for a ride in the car.  I loved to watch people’s reactions.  I found a dog leash that was small enough that I could attach it to his leg band and it wasn’t too heavy.  And off we would go for a walk around the block.  It was especially fun in the car.  We built a perch that would fit over the front seat, so I would have a little feathered passenger.  I was at the ATM one time and someone drove by, and then stopped, circled, and came back.  They rolled down their window and kindly informed me that I had a parrot sitting in the seat next to me.  I told them I had been wondering what it was, and I felt much better now that I knew.

Charlie saw me through one of the roughest patches of my life.  I think it was a year or two after I got him that my best friend and I decided we were going to move out of the small town in Michigan where we grew up to the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul.  It’s a long story as to why there, but that’s where we decided to go, and so we bundled up both parrots and all our worldly possessions  and off we went.

We were there only a few months when life began to unravel.  My best friend ended up rushing back to Michigan for emergency surgery and I followed a couple of weeks later with both parrots.  I was an emotional mess myself, and every mile I put between me and Minneapolis, the better I felt.

It took a while to put the pieces back together, but it was also in this season that I came across Sapphire, or Plumbline Ministries as it was back then.  Charlie and I were living at my parent’s house until I could get my feet back under me and get an apartment.  And Charlie remained his inimitable self throughout the whole thing, which was a tremendous gift of stability at a time when I really needed it.

I was drinking from the Plumbline stream like a woman in the desert.  I was such an emotional mess inside and all of this stuff about design, and the Mercy gift (good gracious, God would create this on PURPOSE? Still a few years before I reconciled to that), and spiritual cleansing, and inner healing, and you know the drill.

Eventually, it led to another huge change in my life, where I would rip up my roots all over again, only this time to go even FURTHER away.  Within about three years of my introduction to Plumbline, I was contemplating moving to California to work there.  My best friend already was.  And I could hardly stand the thought of her having all the fun.

But this also posed a challenging question.

Would I take Charlie?

A question I agonized over.  There were a lot of reasons for either decision.  I knew this was a monumental  transition in life.  I anticipated that it would require a lot of energy, emotional investment, travel, and more.  It was a growth opportunity of a lifetime. Could I subject him to a life where I was going to be gone so much?  Yet, I loved him. A lot.  He was one of the anchoring consistencies of my life.  And it is hard on parrots to change owners, even for an unflappable Amazon.

At the end of the day, I decided I had to find him a new home.  I remember sitting on the floor with him one evening and realizing that I couldn’t allow him to be the centering point of my universe.  Life had to revolve around God’s bigger plan, not around my parrot, regardless of how much I loved him.  That was a hard pill to swallow.

So, I found a parrot rescue that had a good reputation.  Leaving him there was the hardest thing I had ever done.  But, even though my emotions were hurting, I knew I had done the right thing.   The next season of life would be demanding and it was important that I could be flexible and free.

It would be well over a decade before I would consider owning a parrot again.

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It all began with Muffin.

Muffin was (and possibly still is) a sweet tempered Blue Fronted Amazon parrot.  I have carefully sifted through all of my memories of her and can’t bring up a single one of her biting me.  Never fear, however.  I have been bitten enough times in subsequent years to make up for her denying me that privilege.

Muffin belonged to my high school best friend.  Well, she was technically a family bird, but her two favortist people in the entire world were my friend and her Dad.  My first memory of Muffin was at my friend’s parent’s house.  Muffin’s cage was downstairs.  I was sitting upstairs with a friend of the family.  Muffin was doing what parrots do.  Making a lot of noise.  I looked over at the friend and asked if the noise ever bothered her.  She asked me, “what noise”?  Yep.  Tuning out is a necessary skill if one is to own a parrot.

I thought that Muffin was a cool pet, but I don’t remember doing much in the way of making friends with her … until my friend went out of town and asked if I would take care of Muffin.  I agreed to do it.

These days they make parrot cages with bowls that you can access from the outside.  This is so that you don’t ever have to stick your hands into the cage of the Hyacinth Macaw (they are huge) you have been coerced into babysitting, who are quite territorial and could easily deprive you of a digit or two.  I can’t remember if Muffin’s cage had those kinds of bowls or not, but one way or the other, she got out.  Now, as I said before, she wasn’t a biter.  But I couldn’t leave her out of her cage either, so I still had a problem.  I called my friend.  She gave me some advice and lo and behold, Muffin stepped right onto my hand.  I don’t know if trumpets sounded in heaven or not, but an angel or two must’ve rejoiced.  I was still utterly ignorant of the vast sparkling treasures of my love for birds, but that was the moment when the first gleam shone through.

For the rest of the week Muffin and I worked on becoming friends.  I let her out of her cage on purpose, instead of by accident.  I talked to her while I was there.  I bribed her with food.  We all know that food is the way to any animal’s heart – so long as it doesn’t involve any of your own body parts.  Muffin was a junk food junkie.  She loved Doritos.  Parrots have about three taste buds, so they usually like strong flavored things.  She also had a soft spot for Cheez-its, as I did I, so we immediately connected around carbs and chemical preservatives, the bond of any true friendship.  Every vet and parrot fanatic would strangle us for some of the things we fed her back then.

By the time my friend returned, Muffin had another “favortist” person added to her list.

There is a special balance of emotions and attitude when working with parrots.  They are prey animals, and technically, humans are predators.  Parrots are NOT domesticated.  They are tame.  Now, a parrot that is born and bred in captivity (as is the only legal option!) will not know another world.  But they still have their instincts.  So, you need to have a gentle confidence.  Too much and it is aggressive, too little, and they can’t trust you.  Much of that can be learned, and should be, if someone wants to work with birds.  But I think there are some people who intuitively know how to communicate that they are that kind of person.  I was discovering that I was one of those kinds of people.

It just so happened that I also worked for my friend’s parents, and for several years, Muffin lived at the office.  It was a great arrangement for her because she got to be around people all day.  I held her a lot.  One of her favorite places was to sit under the table on your thigh, near the knee, while you were working at your desk.  So, I would sit for an hour or two at a time, working away, while she preened or slept contentedly on my leg.  Occasionally, I would look down and she would be peering up at me, and then immediately put her head down on my leg, with her neck all fluffy.  This meant:  SCRATCH ME.  And one must obey, of course.

I was learning the world of parrots.  My friend’s parents had raised a variety of birds over the years, and she knew a lot about them.  I was beginning to develop a respect and sense of awe over how smart they were, and how they could associate words with behavior.  The memory that stands out to me as the “knock me over with a feather” moment (ha!) was one day at work.  Muffin was rummaging around on my desk, probably chewing on something she wasn’t supposed to be.  I wasn’t feeling well.  I put my head down on my arms and just sat there.

Within a few seconds, I felt two parrot feet on my arm and a head poke through the space between my head and my elbow.  A little voice said in my ear, “whatcha do?”

That was Muffin’s version of “whatcha doing”, or “how are you doing”.  I put my head up and just looked at her.  It makes me teary just thinking of it now.  I will swear to my dying day that she knew I was behaving oddly, that something wasn’t ok, and she wanted to know what was wrong.

I was still nowhere near recognizing my growing love of parrots as a God-given piece of design that would expand far into the avian world.  The only other existing bird love I had was a long-time, unexplainable fascination with penguins.  My connection with Sapphire Leadership Group was still many years down the road.  But the journey had begun. I was dreaming of the day when I would have a parrot of my own.






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Beginning at the End

Every end has a beginning on both sides.  It is those transition periods that can be the most challenging.  A whole lot of our endings overwhelm the beginning that happens – or COULD happen at the same time.  Sometimes we wrestle for weeks, months, or even years before we can let go of the end and fully embrace the new beginning … that isn’t so much of a beginning anymore.  It can be even more challenging to look back and see what resources we gained from the previous beginning (and middle) that just ended.

What is especially important is to recognize the things that haven’t actually ended, but came through from a previous beginning to this one.  Don’t throw every beginning out with the ending, as they say.  Well, actually, they don’t say that, but they should.

Why am I nattering on about beginnings and endings?

Mostly because I just experienced one.  An ending, I mean.  A big one for me.   One of them that made my heart feel like it had been trampled, and by my own feet, no less.  I am smack in the middle of that challenging, messy, prone to navel gazing transition into a new beginning.

I want to tell you the story.

I warn you that it is a bird story.  But I don’t think you have to be a bird person to benefit from it, or even enjoy it.  At the core, it is a human story.  It’s about how we wrestle with unpacking our design and all of the wonders, surprises and disappointments that go along with it.  It’s about weighing the realities of the present against the uncertainties of the future and making decisions with outcomes we can’t predict.  It’s about things that don’t turn out the way we dreamed. I hope that you will be encouraged and challenged.  I hope that it will make you think and ask questions you haven’t asked before.  I hope it will give you permission to risk.  And if I have done my job well, you will laugh (or at least grin and roll your eyes occasionally) and maybe even cry.

To tell you the story, I have to start at the beginning.  The other beginning.  Not the one I am at now.  The one on the other side of the end.  You know, where it all began.

To be continued (for quite a while, based on the number of sticky notes on my wall) …

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