Spiritual lessons from Thor

Hi All!

One of my greatest pleasures in life is getting to spend time with my sugar glider, Thor (if you thought this was about Marvel’s hero, sorry, but please keep reading!). Part of this is because he’s hilarious, super soft, a great heater in winter, etc., etc., brag, brag, brag, but it is also because I learn loads about how God feels about me when I spend time with him. So, without further ado, some spiritual lessons from having Thor.

11692_737483639640487_8088680241465679790_n

Delight

First off, I should say that I don’t learn about any of these things just from Thor. My family and friends have taught me much about all of these as well, as well as God himself. However, it’s also worth noting that as a human, it’s pretty easy for me to muddy those other relational waters with all sorts of unfair and stupid human junk, whereas with Thor, his motives are usually much easier to navigate, mainly: eat, rub tiny chest on random things, get to tea, explore, and cuddle, which thereby makes it easier for me to keep the waters clear. Also, I adore animals, so I really think God just uses them to talk to me.

In any case, one of the first and most important lessons I’ve learned from having this little nugget is how much God delights in me. How? Well, easy. I just watch Thor and smile. That’s it. He just makes me happy by his very existence, and that’s how God feels about me. It’s great.

Persistence

One of my favorite things about Thor is his tenacity. I’ve seen him climb to the top of things I’d never imagine, open containers I never thought he’d crack and more, all just because he wanted it. And while that’s certainly a lesson to me as I try to accomplish my own goals in life, I also learn about God from my own reactions to Thor’s endeavors. See, it’d be easy for me to just pick him up and put him on top of my bookshelf, or to pop open the top to his food container when he starts tugging at the lid, but every time I watch him wrestle with these tasks, I get the sense it would be cheating him to do so. It is better for him to have to face his own challenges because that’s how he learns. And the rewards, such as reaching the top or sneaking some pre-dinner snacks, seem so much more rewarding for him for the fact.

As a side note, that’s not to say that I never help him, just like how God doesn’t just leave us on our own, but it does help put things in perspective when I’m wondering why God isn’t stepping in directly to put my life completely straight on a regular basis.

Quality Time

Sugar gliders don’t make a lot of noises, but one of them is a small meeping noise called a “bark” (see below). It’s usually used to get somebody’s attention, such as if they’re bored or lonely.

Thor, whose bark is particularly piercing, typically does it in the middle of the night.

And yet, when he does it, when I know he wants my attention, there is very little I wouldn’t do to make sure he knows I’m there. I’ve spent more than one night sleeping on the floor just so he can see me, and believe me, the feeling I get when my presence calms him is amazing. And sure, I’m not likely to get back to sleep most nights unless I talk to him barring just letting him bark himself out (I tried it maybe once or twice and it was a terrible, terrible feeling. I haven’t even considered it in years), but even when I’m exhausted I know that’s not my only–or often my main–motivation for tending him. The fact is, I want him to know that I’m there, that he’s not alone. My heart is stirred at his cry. How often have I assumed God wasn’t there, that He didn’t want to be with me, when in fact it is the opposite? God doesn’t sleep of course, but even if He did, He wouldn’t care if I woke Him up in the middle of the night. He loves me and hears my cry.

Compassion

The only other time Thor really barks is if he gets spooked. Now he’s a little blind in one eye and sometimes darts in front of me, so I know the causes of some barking fits (Sorry Thor!), but other times he just does it, and I have no idea why. It’s during these fits that I can’t really do anything to stop it, either. I can reach into his cage, give him a treat, and offer to let him out, but usually it doesn’t help, or at least not for long. He just huddles up in the back of his cage or behind his exercise wheel, refusing to be comforted. And it sucks, because I know that once I’m there, he doesn’t have to worry. I will take care of him. If he needs anything, I can provide.

It’s a humbling reminder of my own refusal to accept God’s comfort sometimes, but it’s also a reminder of God’s heart behind wanting to help. It’s not like I just want Thor to shut up or stop whining (although, I’ll admit I do sometimes find it frustrating, whoops). Rather, it pains me to see him unhappy or scared, for him not to feel safe and cared for when I’m right there ready and willing to help.

I could certainly stand to remember who’s in front of me when I’m scared more often too. Thanks, God!

Unconditional love

If I were a sugar glider, I’d probably look a bit like Thor. Mostly blind in one eye from a cataract, missing some tail fur from when I was gone for a week, and missing a toe from taking on a pet he shouldn’t have, the point is that even during his short life so far, he’s gotten a little banged up. And the funny thing is, I adore him for it. Rather than making him less lovable, it adds character to him and his story that I just love, even if it makes him a little less lovely by worldly standards. He’s precious to me, and while there are things I wish he hadn’t done or wouldn’t do (like trying to take on a rat or biting me), I don’t think of that when I look at him or think about him, I think of how much I love him, and of all of the good things I associate with him (like spunk or courage). It’s pretty easy for me to assume God just loves staring down at all my mistakes and flaws. Thor helps remind me of the good that God chooses to see instead.

So yeah, those are some lessons I’ve learned over the last five years. What lessons have you learned from your pets (or wild animals or precious house plants)? How have you grown spiritually as a result of having them?

Have a great Fourth of July everybody!

 

Advertisements

Recommendation Roundup

Hey all,

I’ve been thinking a lot about influences lately, so I thought I’d throw out some shout outs to artists who have been encouraging to me as an artist/writer. For this round I’m just going to do Christian artists, just because finding my place as one has been a journey (and also because if I expanded it, this would be much, much longer), and because they’ve been specifically helpful to me in this regard. So in no particular order, here we go!

Daniel Warren Johnson (@danielwarrenart)

http://www.danielwarrenart.com/
http://www.space-mullet.com/
https://imagecomics.com/comics/releases/extremity-1

Daniel Warren Johnson is a comic book writer/illustrator/web comic artist, perhaps most well known for his webcomic Space Mullet, “an episodic style comic about a washed up, Ex-Space Marine trucker named Jonah, and his alien co-pilot, Alphius,” and his new comic Extremity, which explores the varying impacts of pursuing revenge as a collective family unit. Not only is his work beautiful (fyi, it is pretty violent, so if that’s not your jam, I wouldn’t follow this up), but his writing is also thoughtful and complex in its introduction and exploration of its themes. My favorite example of this is issue #3 of Extremity. I love his characters for their complexity and heart (Alphius, Bobbi, Shiloh, and Rollo being some prime examples), and for the artfulness of his compositions, especially in their subtle echoing and support of his themes (a good example is this page of Space Mullet http://www.space-mullet.com/comic/chapter-4-pg-35/ and all of the third issue of Extremity.)

Anyway, you should check out his work (he’s got more than just those two projects for sure), order it at your local comic book store, and if you ever get the chance, snag a commission.

Meg Syverud (@BluDragonGal)

http://megsyv.com/
http://www.daughterofthelilies.com/dotl/part-1-a-girl-with-no-face

Meg Syverud is the writer and illustrator of Daughter of the Lilies, a beautiful webcomic that follows adventurers Thistle, Orrig, Brent, and Lyra. From her site:

What happens when a man who kills monsters falls in love with a girl who thinks she is one?

Brent, a brutish, freelancing adventurer, realizes that he’s fallen for his coworker, Thistle: a shy, talented Mage who considers herself a monster, and who is relentlessly pursued by a tyrannical dictator.

Daughter of the Lilies is a comic largely about the importance self-worth, the different forms love can take, how it can redeem and empower us, as well as issues relating to anxiety. (There are also unicorns, manticores, ghouls, goblins, cannibalistic elves, and so on.)

One of the things I love about this comic (besides the fact it’s really pretty) is one of the goals behind it, which is to have open dialog about Christianity in the webcomic sphere.

One of the things I really love about it is how she actually does it, through story and community discourse. It’s lovely (and a great story and concept too!).

The Bible Project (@JoinBibleProj)

https://thebibleproject.com/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVfwlh9XpX2Y_tQfjeln9QA

I’ve mentioned these guys before. They’re a Portland based non-profit whose “mission is to help people see the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus,” and they do it through a variety of resources, including YouTube videos, books, and, my personal favorite, their podcast. I’ve only known about them since fall of last year, and only started listening to their podcast a few weeks ago, but I’ve seen a lot of growth come out of even that short period of time. They do a great job of mixing intellect, history, and literary knowledge to reveal what the Bible is and how to read it properly, and I’m really grateful for their thoughtful and varied approach.

N.D. Wilson (@ndwilsonmutters)

N.D. Wilson is a non-fiction and Middle Grade fiction author from Idaho. I’ve read his 100 Cupboards trilogy, following home grown adventurers from Kansas trying to save basically everything from an evil witch, and most of Death by Living: Life is Meant to Be Spent, and the more I read, the more I appreciate his work (I’ll admit, I wasn’t terribly sure of him when I first read 100 Cupboards. Thank goodness I came back!). It’s very poetic, which is lovely, but it also does a great job of calling evil what it is. I know on my writing journey, one of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn is to acknowledge evil and its power without either glorifying or magnifying it–that is to take it seriously but always recognize there is a greater and better power still, and that’s something that I think N.D. Wilson does very well. I love both the purity and humanity of his characters (I think of Henry, who can one minute be squabbling with his cousin, and the next flinging himself in the line of danger to save her), and the poetry of his writing (the opening to Dandelion Fire is a great example of this, if I recall). I’ve been so encouraged by the strangeness of his stories (weird books do matter!), and have learned much from his example of maintaining good in the face of evil within an invented world. I am reminded of broader scopes and Tolkien-esque adventures when I read his work, and am encouraged to think such stories can and do happen in our day to day lives.

Alma (@hearalma)

http://www.hearalma.com/

I’ve mentioned my friend Alma a few times before, but I just wanted to call attention to her again, partly because she has a new podcast (@voicescast) regarding people who use their voices in life and how to do so well, and partly because if we’re talking about artistic influences, she’s definitely on my list. She’s a neo-soul singer, so there’s not a lot of overlap in our trades, but she has encouraged and inspired me in her thoughtfulness and wrestling with what it means to be a Christian artist, for her quality in craft, for her outspokenness in, well, many things, for her great love for cultivating meaningful conversation, and for actually going out and getting things done! She’s lovely. Check her out.

Honorable mentions

To finish off, I’d like to highlight just a few other artists that I like, those who might have had lesser influence (so far), or just that I feel are worthy of mentioning as great artists.

Kyle Culver (@kulver), a friend of mine with a passion for art, film, and storytelling who constantly inspires me with the volume of projects he works on, and his enthusiasm for story and self improvement. https://www.youtube.com/user/akaneo17/playlists

Mutemath (@MUTEMATH), a band you might know whose lyrics bring comfort.

Rivers & Robots (@riversandrobots), another great band whose lyrics bring perspective.