It was just a stick that had fallen out of a neighbor’s tree and now it laid on their finely manicured lawn, but as I passed it on my morning walk, day after day after day, I found myself giving this stick way more thought and attention than seems normal or sane for a human being to do.
The first time I saw it, I was fifty feet away and I thought it might be a croquet wicket- you know, the U-shaped wires you stick in the ground to hit balls through. But it was thicker than wire and brown and knobby and seemed to have a long tail end on it, running through the grass like a snake.
Nope, it’s just a curved stick, I thought as I walked closer. It’s a trap set by Wile E. Coyote, I laughed to myself, as if he dug deep into the ground and pulled up an electrical wire, leaving the loop to trip up and shock the Road Runner as he beep beeped by.
It was only five feet from the curb. Should I pick it up for my neighbor? Move it into the street for the city yard waste collectors to pick up? No, I decided. I wouldn’t want my neighbor to peek out from behind her curtains and see me straightening her yard, as if a stray stick disgusted me.
Then I chuckled again to myself as the Sunday school teacher inside my head pointed her wrinkly finger at me and screeched, You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own yard, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s yard!
No worries, Church Lady. You’ll get no argument from me. I know full well that if the neighbor knew which house was mine she might fall over hee-hawing, as the Ramsey yard presently resembles a wasteland out of a post-apocalyptic movie, with stray sticks too numerous to count lying dead on the ground, bare zones of dead grass, and three crepe myrtles stripping in full view of everyone, leaving their bark hanging in big strings from their limbs as if to scare people, a trio of tattered, indecent ghosts.
But back to the stick…what is it trying to say to me? SPIT IT OUT, STICK!
After walking past that dern stick every morning for a week and a half, I have come up with a couple of ideas of what the message could possibly be.
It could possibly be nothing. Yes, it could actually be that a stick has fallen from the tree and since it is dead- and since it’s a tree- it has nothing to say. I know. I recognize this and I’m aware that most people do not believe that dead sticks say anything worth listening to. But I also know it’s not really the stick that is talking, even though I like to imagine that it is. While it’s possible that God is trying to speak to me through the stick, it’s more probable that it’s only my own brain churning, enjoying that a fallen stick has piqued my imagination. So I invite God to tell me something important through it. And God does, sometimes, in cases like this. So I like to invite. Don’t scoff.
Or maybe it’s this: Maybe as a flawed human, I enjoy seeing flaws in others, especially when they seem perfect otherwise. That among the green grass and neatly trimmed bushes, the perky flowers and swept sidewalk, a stray stick has fallen and littered the yard. I could say that this makes me feel better about myself, but does it?
When I notice flaws in other people’s yards- or in other people- and spend my time thinking about them, I don’t feel better about myself, really. I feel nit-picky and mean. I feel bad inside and get a sudden urge to eat a doughnut or soothe myself in some other self-destructive way, like telling my husband or a friend, so we can both feel negative and crabby together, I guess.
This is when I should reread Galatians 6:4-5 in The Message: Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
Now that’s a Message worth sticking to!
(Sorry, sometimes I crack myself up. I promise I won’t stick around for more.)