James and Solomon both teach us to expect the unexpected; our lives are mere vapors, and we are fools if we boast today what we shall do tomorrow or even a moment from now. In fact Jesus Christ once called a man a "fool" because he did not expect the unexpected. Of course the unexpected is not always a burden; sometimes the unexpected is a blessing; sometimes the unexpected is both a burden and a blessing. Such was my experience this morning–the unexpected burden and the unexpected blessing.
Hungry, I took a brief respite from writing to hurry through the drive-in window at McDonald’s for a sausage biscuit (with strawberry jam) and a medium orange juice. I whirled out of my driveway onto the street and immediately noticed the neon-orange sign–"Workers Ahead." I slowed appropriately and, as I drove by the workers and their three trucks, I noticed they were using picks, hoes, and a power-washer to clean and clear the crevices between the slabs of concrete that comprise our street. Once they cleaned and cleared the crevices, a third crew poured hot tar into the crevices to seal them and prevent future encroachment by grass and weeds, dirt and debris. Just as I approached the last vehicle, a UPS truck, with characteristically hurried pace, swept around the corner toward the narrow passage between the trucks parked on one side of the street and my slow-moving VW on the other. UPS drivers may be hurried drivers, but they are generally good drivers, and he cautiously slowed down and we passed one another without incident.
As I rounded the next corner and topped the hill, a struggling life caught my eye, a wounded bird flapping one wing desperately on the merciless concrete. I thought to myself, "the UPS truck hit her." In a split second I decided I would put the poor bird out of its misery and run over her–"she’ll never know what hit her." Another moment’s reflection and I changed my mind, but I had already passed the bird, so I stopped, looked in my rearview mirror, and backed my car up. I couldn’t see the bird beneath the horizon of my door, but I was sure that enough distance separated my deadly tires from her delicate feathers as I continued in reverse. Sure enough, the tragic image of the fallen bird slowly rose through my right window; I hugged the curb and got out of the car.
My first impression was that the flapping bird had only one wing, the other severed, I surmised, by the UPS truck. I gently nudged the torso with my foot, but the bird wouldn’t budge. I knelt down beside her for closer inspection. It was a one-winged mockingbird, a fledgling adolescent. I then discovered her other wing, halfway submerged in the hot, black tar the workers had poured. I gently encompassed her body with my right hand, and with my left I freed the threatened wing with a firm but gentle pull. I foot-nudged the bird again, but still she would not move. Stooping down once more, I lifted the bird’s body to see that her left leg was also tar-stuck. I gently pulled a second time, and the grey leg and pink claws (invisibly covered with black tar) emerged more easily from the quagmire. Still the young bird would not fly. I looked again–the right leg was stuck in the tar as well. I pulled a third time, nudged the bird, and she flew toward the nearest tree.
I never saw such a beautiful mockingbird, the round, white dots upon the grey wings, beating staccato to a newly composed symphony of freedom. My heart was touched. Her unexpected burden had become my unexpected burden, and my unexpected blessing, her unexpected blessing.
It’s a lot like life, isn’t it?
When we encounter an unexpected burden, we should face it–slowly–think about it–carefully–do something about it–wisely. Had I gone with my first thought–the UPS truck hit her–I would have been wrong. Had I gone with my second thought--the bird has only one wing--I also would have been mistaken. Had I reacted instinctively rather than deliberately, I would have killed the beautiful, young mockingbird and never seen her silver wings fly through the opal sky to the emerald tree. My deliberate caution and careful analysis had transfigured the moment and brought life out of the jaws of death. OK, perhaps that's a little too dramatic, but nonetheless instructive about unexpected burdens, and how such burdens may portend unexpected blessings.
Remember, when you encounter an unexpected burden today,
God can transfigure your black-tar burdens into silver-winged blessings.