Guest Post by: Viq Thomasson
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:25-26, NIV
When I saw that April was looking for guest posters to speak/blog/write/ramble about Matthew 6:25-26, I was excited. I hate the term “life verse” – but if I had one, that would be it. (We, and I am definitely using the royal “we” here, are going to refer to those verses as one verse through the course of this post because, hey, artistic license. Also, I’m lazy, and I’ve already made the same typo 4 times. I’m tired of fixing it.)
I have clung to this verse in some very dark places. I have held on to it, white-knuckled with fear, through some very long nights. There are nights yet to come that I am sure will be just as dark – and that verse will be there, giving me comfort.
“But Viq,” you’re probably saying, “why does this have so much meaning to you?” (Go ahead and ask. I’ll wait.)
Well, to explain that, I have to peel off the veneer and reveal some things about myself that, quite frankly, I’m not very proud of. For years, when we lived in Evansville, IN, we were part of a church whose slogan was “Be real.” I am going to be real. I’m going to reveal one of my most closely held, but poorly kept, secrets.
My name is Viq. I love Jesus. And I smoke cigarettes.
There. I said it. I am a chain smoker. I’ve had this habit since I was 16. I have quit multiple times, only to come running back like a jilted lover hours/days/weeks/months later. “I miss you, Joe Camel! Please come poison me some more!”
I know it’s bad for me. I know it will take years off my life. I know it stinks. I know it’s expensive. As our pastor in Evansville said one time, smokers are a slave to something that is 3 inches long. Please don’t lecture me about it. Nothing you say will make me want to quit anymore than I already do. But for those of you that have ever tried to beat an addiction, it’s simply not that easy. Trust me on this- I’ve beaten my share of addictions.
As my mother would say, “What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?” (Imagine it in her thick West Tennessee accent, and you’ll get it.) Patience – we’ll get to that.
For the past 20 years, I have made my living in the restaurant industry. (I have also spent 10+ years in radio, but that is another story – unless you’re hiring in radio. In that case, we should talk.) For those of you that have ever spent any time around the restaurant industry, you know that there is a place where smokers are relegated. We’re given our own little ghetto – usually referred to as either “the back dock” or simply “out back.” It’s mostly unprotected from the elements. In the summer, you roast. In the winter, you freeze. If it’s raining, you’re wet. And, in almost all cases, it is next to the one part of the restaurant business nobody really wants to get up close and personal with.
It’s always right next to the dumpster.
Have you eaten every morsel of food on your plate, every time you’ve gone to a restaurant? Of course not. Nobody does. No matter how delicious things like “green bean surprise” (Surprise! It’s mush!) or “creamed spinach” sound on a menu, they’re not the reason you ordered the ribeye. Multiply that by 100 guests a night (a VERY slow night by restaurant standards), and then imagine how ripe your kitchen trashcan gets after you forget to take out the trash for even one night.
“Out back” is not a pleasant place. And yet, this is the place that we chose to stand next to, multiple times a day, in order to get our fix. Did I mention that it’s outside, in the elements? That means it’s exposed to the wind, the rain, the heat – and the birds.
Sometimes, if the trash is full, the whole can just gets shoved outside to be dumped later. Sometimes, a bag breaks on its way to the dumpster. Sometimes leftover food trash falls out – little crumbs that would be imperceptible to you or me. But those pesky birds – somehow, they always find them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been outside, smoking as if my life depended upon it, and seen a bird swoop down for a morsel too small to even notice. There have been days and nights where I’ve been out there, hands shaking, praying for one more $20 tip so I could pay my rent, which was 5 days late. I’ve pleaded with God when I didn’t even have the words to plead, “I know You’re in control here – just give me a sign that You’re there.” And there’s always a bird there.
For the longest time, when I saw the birds, I thought like a restaurant worker. “Somebody needs to come out here and clean this up, or we’re going to have bird poop all over the place – cause that’s not a health department violation!” In 2006, our pastor did a sermon on tuning out “white noise” and focusing on the Kingdom. The next day at work, as I was smoking, I saw a bird swoop down and peck at crumbs that had fallen into a crack in the concrete. I snickered a bit about birds and white noise – and then I stopped.
There is a principle that I have never been able to find a proper word for, so I simply call it the Holy Bitchslap. It’s where God tries to get a point across subtly, and I refuse to listen. He nudges me a few more times, and I still don’t get it. The next thing I know, WHAP! I feel (figuratively) a full backhand and four knuckles across my cheekbone. Suddenly I feel embarrassed, saddened, and extremely humbled. I got the full force of the Bitchslap that day.
I’m not saying that God put those crumbs there Himself. Somebody got sloppy. But to those birds, they were manna. God reminded me, not-so-subtly, “Don’t worry about the birds. I’m taking care of them. Look in the parking lot. See the grass growing through a crack in the sidewalk? I’m taking care of it as well. I’ll take care of you too – but you have to trust Me. You have to let go, stop trying to fix things yourself, and let Me handle it. You focus on following Me.”
Did things magically become perfect after that? No. We were never promised a trouble-free life. We were promised grace. We were promised that, no matter what, God loves us. We were promised that God feeds the birds, and that we are more valuable to Him than those birds.
After the flood, God sent a rainbow as a reminder that He would never again try to destroy the world with water. God keeps His promises. That day, God made a promise to me.
If I see a bird picking crumbs from the trash, I know He loves me. When I am out back, poisoning myself with one of the most toxic things I could ever do to my body, and I see a bird pecking at trash, I know He loves me. When I am standing out back at 130 in the morning after a 15 hour day, and my back and feet hurt so bad that I can hardly walk, I know He loves me.
The irony of all this? My wife is terrified of birds. She thinks they’re creepy and scary.
I don’t agree with her. They’re a love letter. They’re a promise. They’re John Mark McMillan’s sloppy wet kiss (or David Crowder’s unforeseen kiss, take your pick). They’re a constant reminder that, no matter what, oh, how He loves us.
Go listen to the song now. I know it’s stuck in your head.
Viq Thomasson is a Southern boy living in Indianapolis with his wife and 3 hounds.
He loves the Cubs, Red Sox, Kentucky Wildcats, his wife, and Jesus.
If he gets enough encouragement and/or nagging, he may just start a blog.
If you’re bored enough, you can follow @viqwithaq on Twitter.