The Little Blackbird and My Grace Awakening

“To show grace is to extend favor or kindness to one who doesn’t deserve it and can never earn it …”  – Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (c)1990 W Publishing Group

As a child of rural south Mississippi farmers who loved folk music, I grew up surrounded by gospel and bluegrass tunes of the 1950s and 60s, enjoyed childhood hunting and fishing on Grandaddy’s farm land, and of course, the good ole southern country cooking that comes with farm living.

I’m not sure exactly when I understood what grace really was, or what it meant, until one day when my brother and I took a little fishing trip with Dad, down the trail to Grandaddy’s pond.

It was probably summer, and we grabbed a couple of cane poles, a rod-n–reel, catalpa worms and crickets for bait, and Grandaddy’s .22-caliber single shot rifle, bolt-action, sorta like the cowboy heroes of 1950s TV land used.

Long story short, we were walking down the dirt trail from Grandaddy’s house to the pond just down the hill from the cow pasture.  We brought along the rifle to shoot at birds, squirrels, and tin cans for target practice.  At least, that’s what Dad and Grandaddy always said … target practice.  As we were walking along, humming and whistling familiar tunes with Dad, enjoying the sunny day that God had provided, I noticed a lone little blackbird perched on a tree limb along the trail.  It was a perfect target, in plain view, and not more than 20 yards ahead of us.

I hushed my brother and quickly asked Dad for the rifle.  He slowly and carefully loaded it and handed it off to me.  I slowly and carefully gripped the rifle in my best aim-to-shoot posture, just like Grandaddy had taught us.  Focused my little blackbird target in the sights on top of the gun barrel, took in a deep breath, slowly exhaled, gripped the trigger … and POW … my target flailed and flapped and fell to the ground.

WOOHOO!!  I did it!  I hit my target!!

I was only eleven or twelve years old at the time, but … I did it!  I shot my first “wild animal”, all by myself.  Dad and Danny celebrated with me for a moment, then we ran to bag our prey.  As we approached the little blackbird, I could see that it was still struggling to breathe, its wings flittering and flapping, its little body flopping randomly.

I vividly recall, even now, the rush of emotions I felt in that moment. The adrenaline rush of excitement over my first kill, and the country boy anticipation of ‘bagging’ my prey … was quickly reduced to a flooded moment of horror, panic, fear, and sadness.  I felt nauseous.  My heart raced and I felt short of breath.  I felt a sharp pain coming over my entire little body.  Just as that little blackbird must have been feeling as it lay dying under that lone oak tree on the trail to Grandaddy’s pond.

I looked on as that little blackbird took its final fleeting breaths.  I watched its eye darting to and fro as it desperately sought it’s final breath, under the bright blue sky and the warm sunshine near that lone oak tree on the trail to Grandaddy’s pond.

After a few somber moments, Dad gathered up the lifeless little blackbird, tucked it into my hunter’s backpack — the squirrel bag, as Grandaddy and Dad called it — and we proceeded to walk on down the trail to Grandaddy’s pond.

As we walked, I could feel the warmth of the little blackbird’s body in my backpack.  I had seen the bullet wound in it’s belly before Dad picked it up and I saw the blood spilled on his hands when he tucked it into my backpack.  I watched Dad wipe the blood off his hands with a sweaty cloth and on the pantleg of his trousers, an old pair of blue jeans, if I recall.  I could feel the warmth of the little blackbird’s body cooling with nearly every step as we proceeded down the trail to Grandaddy’s pond.

I took off the backpack at the pond, we baited our lines, and then we fished and caught bream and catfish for what seemed like a few hours.  Dad helped us string up the fish and tote them back to Grandaddy’s house, back up the trail, where we would pass by the lone oak on the trail to Grandaddy’s pond.  My heart sank, once again, as Dad carried the string of fish, and as I carried the backpack, with the now cooled and lifeless little blackbird tucked in, as we passed by the lone oak tree on the trail to Grandaddy’s pond.

We cleaned up all the fish, threw off our sweaty clothes, grabbed Mamaw’s garden hose and sprayed ourselves down after a fun-filled day of fishing … and my single gun shot at the little blackbird target.  Then we enjoyed a country boy’s dream of home-cooked fried fish with all the fixins at Mamaw and Grandaddy’s table.

Later, mom and Dad would tuck us in for bed, probably to the tune of a favorite gospel or bluegrass song, and probably a Bible verse or two.  And, I would try to sleep, but my little mind was ravaged by the scenes of my first kill.  Of that little blackbird.  Of the awful pain it felt.  Of the pain that I felt in my soul.

I continued to fish and hunt through my teenage years, and on into my adult life.  Admittedly, I have not fired a rifle for more than 30 years, not even at a firing range.  Probably, because I ‘see’ that little blackbird in the sights of the rifle, at least in my mind’s eye.

That day is forever etched in my memory.

I’ve never forgotten the pain I felt that day, amidst all the fun and laughter of fishing with Danny and Dad at Grandaddy’s pond.  I’ll never forget the Holy Spirit nudging me all day, to consider what Grace feels like.  To consider what life and death feels like.  To begin to understand what regret and shame feel like.  To try and sort out right and wrong.  To realize the power within my own little hands, to take life, for sport, because I could.  And, to feel the pain within my soul, once the deed was done.

I prayed to God that night to forgive me for taking that little blackbird’s life.  I asked God to please give that little blackbird a thousand trees in Heaven to enjoy.  i asked God to never, ever let me forget the life that little blackbird lived and the joy it probably brought its little blackbird family.  And I begged God to never, ever let me forget what it feels like to need forgiveness for taking something that — at that time — I felt did not belong to me.  And, I asked God to please forgive me, even though I felt I would never deserve it.

I have prayed that prayer again and again, many times over, and for countless other reasons.  I have asked God’s pardon, His Grace, a thousand times.  I have sought to understand His kindness and mercy, His undeserved favor, everyday.

And almost everyday, when I pray those prayers for Grace … I remember that little blackbird under that lone oak tree on the trail to Grandaddy’s pond.

The Arrow

So, I did a thing last week.

I accepted an offer to fill the role of Teacher Assistant in our local public school district. I am super excited!  I have known the principal who hired me for several years and we have forged a really cool friendship, though he is at least 25 years younger.  His faculty is one of the best in our district, and we have walked through some really amazing victories together, as well as a few very heavy valleys which have affected the lives of our students, their families, and our entire community.

I have considered this move for quite a while, and especially since I began the process of completing my studies for a Bachelor’s degree … at the age of 55!

At this age, most people have determined their likes and dislikes, preferences, and behaviors.  And, no one really likes to change.  Well, almost no one.  I am one of those very interesting (and sometimes frustrating) adult ADHD specimens who is always looking, and seeking, and pursuing, and discovering, and inquiring.  I have ‘words’, as my sweet quiet introvert wife Sheryl will attest.  Lord that woman has patience with me!

This week, during a personal development seminar, a very good friend and mentor showed me the famous FedEx logo and asked me if I saw ‘the arrow’ in the logo. At first, I did not.  So I looked again. And again. And again. Then suddenly, voila!  I could ‘see’ it!  Can you?

Sometimes, we don’t see things clearly.  For whatever reasons, sometimes life throws so many curves and unexpected challenges our way, that we simply cannot see the forest for the trees.  There are times when we need the help of others to see things differently.  I know that for me, I need the help of God, the help of His Spirit — daily — in order to see things differently than I have seen things before.

So when I finally did ‘see’ the arrow, it immediately conjured in my mind many references to the word arrow.

From my church upbringing, I have heard many times the scripture passage, “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.” – Psalm 127:4 states:  An arrow in the quiver is a strategy or option that could be used to achieve your objective.

A quick search of Bible scriptures results in more than 50 references to the word — arrow(s).

Arrows are implements of archery.  With nearly every reference in scripture, in language arts, in poetry, the word arrow almost always signifies the delivery of a message, or a warning, or a route towards an objective or goal.

Children are like arrows. Children are a heritage of the Lord, scripture promises.  Children become youth.  In their youth, or adolescent years, they begin to experience mental, emotional, and physical change. They are on a journey. They are moving towards early adulthood. They are beginning to ‘see’ things in a different way than before.

As parents and as educators of adolescent youth, it becomes crystal clear to most of us, that we have an enormous responsibility to nurture, and to guide, and to prepare our children for an ever changing and ever daunting world, which is filled with wonder, with adventure, with danger, and with opportunity.

To borrow from the imagery of archery, we must work diligently and daily, to prepare these young arrows with every possible resource.  For very soon, they will be chosen by our brave and victorious warrior King, the Lord Himself; and He will set them in his bow, aim them strategically towards the target He has set forth for them to attain, and empower us to release them out into their own brave new adventures.  And for what universal cause?  For what eternal reason?  For what earthly purpose?

To change their world. To make their parents gleam with gladness. To affirm their educators with deep fulfillment. To inspire their peers.

Or, as my sweet introvert wife always says to her own natural born babies, as well as to her classroom babies, “… now, I want you to go and make a difference …”


Jana Maples Myrick Aust went Home … to Jesus, her Mama, and other loved ones in Heaven … early Tuesday morning.  She was one of the most beautiful people in this world.  And she shone brightly throughout her incredible lifetime here which ended way too soon.  Much before any of us would have expected.

Let me say at this point in the story … CANCER SUCKS!  It is a monster. It is evil. It is wicked. And, it is no match for the Savior. Jesus died on a cruel cross, was buried, then resurrected as KING … over cancer. HE wins. Therefore, WE win.  Hallelujah!  O praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!!

My beautiful Sheryl and Jana were childhood friends who grew up to fall in love with two brothers from this sleepy little town of Pascagoula.  Danny and I dated Jana and Sheryl through high school and college years, and then married our sweethearts, to then venture into our own respective journeys and careers.

Danny and Jana loved and lived big. They brought two incredibly talented and handsome boys into this earth who are their greatest pride and joy.

As life does, it threw a few curve balls at Danny and Jana. They divorced a few years ago; and eventually remarried loving new spouses who have brought even more joy, laughter, love, and beauty to our extended and blended family.

Jana touched thousands of people in her lifetime here. Her effervescent smile, radiant personality, and spitfire energy lit up any room she entered. Her children adored her and carry her spunky spirit in them.

In the blur of just 24-hours since her transition to Heaven, the expressions of love, sympathy, condolences and memories have flooded her social media page. It is obvious to all that Jana made her indelible mark on many. She lived fully. She loved as unconditionally as humanly possible. And she will never be forgotten.

We love you Jana. We miss you terribly.  Yet, we rejoice that you are Home, Healed, and more fully Alive than we can imagine.  We will cry many tears as we remember life with you, and now without you.  We will laugh at the charming memories you created for us all. We will deeply love one another more carefully because of the intense love you showed us all.

Jana, you were more like Jesus to us than you may have realized. You always showed kindness and generosity to others.  You took the mess that life sometimes creates, and recreated new life and new love from the mess.  You chose to overcome darkness with light.  You demonstrated heroic faith and courage in the face of the monster disease that we all have come to utterly detest.  You beat the monster. You are the champion.

We celebrate you, Jana.  And, we will see you again dear sister.

Thank you Jesus, for our beautiful sweet Jana.  We celebrate her and now entrust her to Your sovereign care … until we meet again at that Glad Reunion Day.