Imperfect Birds

Flying birds

Black and white image of birds flying off a tree

Two years ago, I picked up an obscure book written by Anne Lamott and took it with me to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia. My friend, Jane, and I had rented a cabin for the week of Thanksgiving and I wanted to spend the majority of that time snuggled up by a fire and reading.

This particular book is titled Imperfect Birds and I had purchased on a whim at a warehouse book sale (aka my happy place). The book charted a very strained relationship between a mother and a daughter who were both actively trying to avoid life in different ways. The book was emotionally difficult to swallow, but was beautiful and I am glad I stuck with it.

I finished the book with some vague idea that we are all craving something, we just try to satisfy that craving in different ways. The daughter in this book was craving love, so she tried to satisfy it with drugs, criminal activity, and shady relationships with guys. The mother craved any form of meaningful relationship, so she filled the craving chasm with performance, appearances, and punishment.

We all crave something at any given time. Since I started this journey of healthy eating and living choices a couple of months ago, I am more aware of my cravings than ever. I had fooled myself for quite some time that I craved certain foods, but I was wrong. I just squelched cravings with food, or prescription drugs, or alcohol, or sex. It has taken this season of detoxing to create space for me to see what I truly crave.

When I reach for food (warm, crunchy, fluffy bread or a large bowl of thin pasta married with spinach, tomatoes, shrimp, and feta to be more specific), I am usually craving a relationship to silence my loneliness.

When I debate on picking up some wine, I am almost always craving peace and comfort in the form of numbing my emotions with some Pinot Noir.

When I would turn to sexual relationships, I wasn’t craving sex or even a person. I have realized that when I feel very stressed or anxious, that has been translated into sexual desire for some reason.

When I start a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter movie marathon, I have come to realize that I am usually craving some form of security or predictability. A powerful and imagery driven story that turns out well is a great way to divert my attention from the fear of the unknown.

I wish I could tell you that I abstain from my coping mechanisms all the time, but I would be lying. Some “craving killers” are easier for me to pass up now than others. I have a better understanding of the consequences that come with settling for immediate gratification.

Today I was supposed to read a letter to a friend in jail, but I forgot to bring it with me. She had no idea this letter existed, so I could have easily just not brought it up and moved on with my day. I chose, however, to confess this to her and apologize for not bringing in a letter of encouragement that she really needed in that moment. She expressed her disappointment, but then put her hands on my shoulders and said, “I am sad to not get the letter, but I am not mad at you. Just don’t ever lie to me.”

That’s when I started thinking about imperfect birds. I had chosen to come clean in this situation, but I could give a laundry list of other times over the past days, weeks, and months when I just didn’t make good choices.

As I navigate through Advent this year and carve out space to be silent and listen to the promises which were proclaimed and fulfilled in the form of a baby in a barn, I am painfully aware of how imperfect this bird is. Turning off the music or the movies or the Macbook has proven to be somewhat painful when I recognize that it is time to light another candle and focus on what is true. When I cut out space to meditate and listen, my imperfections seem to be not only present, but magnified. I guess this is why I almost always have an excuse to “keep on keepin’ on”. I can’t hear or see my missteps if I am too busy drowning out the truth with so much noise.

My prayer this Advent season is that I not only acknowledge my imperfections, but give them a voice and let them be what they are: they don’t define me, but they do affect how I fly.

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