What makes the perfect vacation? Is it the place (beach, mountains, cruise), the people (family, friends, church group), the activities (backpacking, snorkeling, gallery hopping, shopping, fishing, golf, etc.)?
I would suggest it is whatever is most different from what you usually do. For me, it was painting the outside of my mom’s house. That’s right: painting my mom’s house. Since I work at a computer all day, the best vacation for me is one that is physically exhausting, outdoors (preferably in a natural setting), that involves low-level problem-solving skills, with some meaningful personal and social interaction interspersed. Painting her house fit that bill.
But that’s not why I chose that particular “vacation spot.” The truth is, I needed money and she was willing to pay me. But God used that to create for me the perfect vacation. If your reaction is, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I understand. But after I tell you what happened, I think you will agree that this “vacation” was indeed perfect.
Let me start by telling you that my mom lives in a neighborhood, in a town in North Carolina, that would almost qualify as a nature preserve. She is surrounded by huge hardwood trees that are over 100 years old and are home to all kinds of creatures, including four hawks. While standing on my ladder painting, I could hear their constant cries and watch them soaring overhead, pouncing on some unsuspecting prey or eating their catch in a nearby tree. For birdwatching, it doesn’t get any better than that.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were countless other varieties of birds, each with its unique call and peculiar activities, and one pair of birds in particular that spent about 16 hours a day faithfully hunting insects and carrying them back to their family in my mom’s birdhouse. Every time one of the parents showed up with a new morsel of food, the babies would cry out to be the one to receive it. I don’t know how the parents kept track of who had received what, or if they even tried. It may have been survival of the fittest; in which case, some of the babies may not have made it.
One day, I felt something flying around my head and I almost swat at it, thinking it was a bug. It turned out to be a humming bird. Often I would just sit and listen to all the different sounds. It was like being in an aviary or a jungle. Then a car would come by with its radio blaring and break the spell. I decided that the birds had more sense than the humans.
The painting itself went well. I’m one of those rare individuals that actually enjoys painting. What I don’t enjoy are heights. So I started on the end of the house that was one story high and worked my way up. As I got closer and closer to the other end, which is several stories high, I began crying out to Jesus like those hawks. Suspended on the top of a ladder, manipulating myself around to reach all the nooks and crannies, I had to fight the fear almost to the point of getting physically sick.
When I finally got the the end of the house, I knew I had to do something, because it needed painting but I did not want to climb up that high. Then a miracle happened. My mom’s neighbor’s son, who is a professional fix-it man, came home to visit and was looking for odd jobs. I asked him if he’d be interested in painting the end of the house for me, and he said yes. That was Jesus answering my prayer. I thought, “Man, that’s the way to live: to be in such a desperate situation that you cry out to God for help, and He does.”
They say there are no atheists in fox holes, but what about the rest of life? We don’t like to be in situations where we experience fear or desperation. We want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. But that’s not where the action is – even on a vacation. Soldiers and missionaries shouldn’t be the only ones that know they need God’s help. All of us need to put ourselves into situations where we have to cry out to God. Otherwise, what’s the point? The edge is the only place to live. In that regard, hawks really do have more sense than humans. Now, every time I think of a hawk, I’ll remember how I cried out to Jesus and He answered. Not a bad take-away.
Several events occurred while I was home. I’ll tell you about one of them. My friends, Keith and Monte Willis, closed their restaurant and gift shop, F. Futs (that’s “stuff” spelled backwards), after the bank called their loan; but not without throwing a big party. It was an anticlimactic finish to a spectacular career of almost single-handedly rebuilding the downtown of Lenoir, NC. It’s still got a long way to go, but they got the ball rolling by buying and renovating several of the old buildings, and by opening a number of restaurants, pubs and shops.
Banks have no heart or soul. They’re cold, greedy institutions, and I’m sure the fate that Scrooge avoided in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol awaits many of today’s bankers. It’s ironic, since Keith’s dad was a banker. But banks have changed since his day. When we bailed out the banks, we helped the least deserving of our institutions. We rewarded the rich and penalized the poor. I think the Bible has something to say about that.
The Willises have a great attitude. I know they’ll land on their feet. Already, Keith and his older brother Mike are working on their next big idea. They’re a great family and an asset to Lenoir. I’m thankful to know them and was glad I could be in town for their big closing. The way their friends jumped in and helped them during their time of need reminded me of It’s A Wonderful Life. George Bailey realized he was rich when he realized he had friends. I’m sure the Willises feel the same way – they’re just that kind of people.
One of the Willises commented to me that everyone right now seems to be struggling, and that that was probably a good thing since struggle is good for the soul. That’s exactly right. God is into character-building. He’s not interested in our schemes for getting rich or making it to the top – so let them go. He is interested in the poor in spirit, the meek, the broken, because those are the people He can work with. Those are the truly blessed.
Each day, working outside, I never knew who or what would show up: sometimes old friends, sometimes interesting strangers. One day, as I was working on the front of the house, a little red puppy came scampering into the yard. He was the cutest, friendliest pup I’d ever seen. He had the head and body of a labrador retriever and the coloring of an Irish setter. I had seen him playing with the kids across the street the previous day, so I decided to lead him back across and warn them about the dangers of his crossing the street on his own. As it turned out, the dog didn’t belong to them – he was a stray.
That got me to thinking about where we could find him a home. The lady next door, who had just lost one of her two dogs and had a fenced-in back yard, seemed like the logical candidate; but in the back of my mind, I really wanted him for myself. But I just didn’t know how I could work it out. Again, I cried out to God and asked Him to work out what was best for the pup.
The next morning, I heard him crying out, so I went to see what was wrong: he was tied up in our neighbor’s back yard. I figured she had found him and decided to keep him, but he did not like being tied up. So I got him some water and spent a little time with him to let him know he was okay, which he seemed to appreciate. As I closed the gate behind myself to leave, he started crying out again. I returned several times during the morning.
Later, as I was cleaning some brushes in my mom’s backyard, the pup came running towards me across our neighbor’s yard, followed by our neighbor. She said, “Waitsel, what have you done to me!” I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I laughed along with her. She said she had seen him in her front yard and, learning that he was a stray, decided to keep him. She was taking him to the vet on Friday to get checked out. If he didn’t pass, she would let me have him. Well, he passed, so I guess I wasn’t meant to have him. I was a little jealous of her because I really liked him.
Things always work out for the best when we cry out to God. They worked out for me and my fear of heights, so that my mom’s house got painted and I didn’t get hurt falling off a ladder. They worked out for the Willises, who now know they are rich in friends, and are starting out on a new business venture, which they seem to enjoy. And they worked out for the red puppy, who now has a very good home. God is in control; but we need to cry out to Him and let Him know that we need Him.
Waitsel Smith, June 29, 2011
Text and Illustrations © 2011 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.
For more on Christian Character, go to my Christian Character website.