A couple of years ago, I visited Portugal on a trip with A Rocha International. We gathered together near the coast for eight days. This group of scientists, environmentalists and Christians from all around the world helped me to tune my senses to pay attention the world around me, considering what it looks like to participate in the restoration of people and place.
In my hotel room in Lisbon, the night before my flight home, I sat with my guitar across my knees and the windows open to the courtyard. I heard some expressive birds calling outside and couldn’t imagine what creatures might be making those songs. Later that afternoon, I was walking with a friend from the A Rocha team on the city streets and we saw them. There overhead was a flock of bright green parrots chatting to each other in the trees. These were the birds I had heard making these intelligent sounds outside my window!
I asked my friend about them, and he told me that they had been domesticated pets years ago, that had been released or had escaped back into wild. After a few decades of adaptation, these birds not only had learned to survive in this new, urban environment, but they even learned to flourish. As I heard the story, I found myself cheering them on, celebrating their joyful sounds and pondering the question of identity.
At different times, we may be placed in different roles; daughter, son, student, wife, husband, sister, friend, teacher or parent. Sometimes we change our address. We start new relationships. We change careers. In our ever-evolving relational changes, we get to know ourselves from different vantage points. When our environment changes, we might notice new behaviors and we learn new ways to get our needs met. Our personality takes shape as we figure out how to survive in a new place. In all these externals of our habits and affections we get to know our personality, but personality alone is not a full picture of who we truly are.
Psalm 139 begins with these words, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”
God has made each of us like the parrots in Portugal. We have each been born into a particular habitat; some in freedom, some in captivity. We have each been brought through life circumstances and have had to pass through many changes that are beyond our control. While the coordinates of our geography may change our habits, yet we each have been given a particular song that God has written on our hearts.
As we reckon with our true identity, we have the opportunity to come closer to understanding what it means to be loved and known by God not just because of where we live or how we behave, but because of who we are. In the desert or out at sea, in the city or out in forest solitude, God’s provision may take a myriad of different forms. God provides for us in all situations.
Missing my kids and eager to get home to Tennessee, I came back to my hotel room that night in Lisbon and wrote ‘Parrot In Portugal.’ In it, the emotion of Psalm 139 is coupled with the melody of the parrots outside, resonating the assurance that we are known, heard, called and celebrated for who we are in every changing circumstance of our lives.
“Oh I hear you, I hear you in the trees, in the trees…You can fly or you can stay, I’m holding out for you, my love.”
Just a few weeks ago while I was visiting Fuller Seminary near Los Angeles, I visited Huntington Gardens with some friends. As we were ducking into one of the museum buildings, I looked up and saw, to my surprise, another flock of wild, bright green parrots. I delighted to see them again; another family of the same species, halfway around the world. This second, wild-parrot sighting was the same week that “Songs From The Valley" came out, a full-circle reminder that God delights in us the way I delight in those parrots. "Sing out your song, dressed like the meadow at dawn." You. Are. Loved.
Invitation to Prayer: Make list of some of the most shaping roles you have been assigned in your present and in your past (daughter, son, friend, student, parent etc…) Ask God to show you a glimpse of your true self beneath those relational roles and responsibilities. Pray through Psalm 139, asking for God to meet you in the questions. Ask him to help you to sing your own song. Ask him to pour out an assurance of his love upon you here as we lean in toward the week of Easter next week.
Listen to track 6 from Songs From The Valley, Parrot In Portugal.