Theo the Bird

So, it was 1990 and I found myself living in Summerville, SC with my wife Diana and four kids. I was working for a ministry, which means ministry pay (and not TV ministry pay!) and times were tough, money-wise. Diana’s mom, Libby, called from Tennessee with a problem. It seems that her grandson Joe had nowhere to live. Mom was out of the picture, dad was unable to provide the care he needed, and she was at wit’s end. We decided he should come stay with us – what’s one more little kid to feed anyway? Joe was delivered to us and we soon found out that he had, well, a lot of personality. He was a handful, especially for being such a tiny little guy. But we took him in and included him in all our family activities, including church.

And this happened.

Pastor Kent was leading an evening service towards Christmas time and he brought him on stage (or Joe ended up there – entirely probable). As Kent was holding him up and explaining our situation, of how proud he was that a family already stretched so far would add in another child to tend and another mouth to feed, six-year-old Joe broke into song. This song:

Mary had a baby, yes, Lord;
Mary had a baby, yes, my Lord;
Mary had a baby, yes, Lord!
The people keep a-coming for to see her child!

We had no idea where he had heard it, and no idea why he retained it, and no idea why he chose this time to belt it out. But it was a revelation to us that we had done the right thing, that offering help to a child that needed us was the right course. This tiny theophany of tiny Joe singing a song assured us of God’s presence in our lives.

We’ve all experienced epiphanies – those moments of clarity, the awakening of an idea, that flash of inspiration. But a theophany is a rare event in the Bible, those few times that God appears to man. However, a tiny theophany is a sliver of that, as C.S. Lewis put it they are “shafts of glory” or “glimpses of God.” These are times that we know that we know, they cannot be analyzed or quantified or processed.

What brought us to South Carolina a few years prior was itself confirmed by such a tiny theophany. We had driven down for a visit as Diana was considering taking orders to the USS Holland. We were not completely certain about the whole thing, but we were certainly open to the adventure. We toured the area, looked at the Navy yard full of ships, had some fun and headed back to D.C. Still not locked in, or even convinced it was the right thing to do, but as we headed up I-95 I heard that still small voice speak to me:

“It is the land of milk and honey, but there are giants in the land.”

The phrase is a condensing of Numbers 13, where Moses sent men to spy out the land. They reported that it was indeed quite nice, but there were giant and fierce men there. In other words, there is good and bad ahead. Which is life, summed up. So, we took that to mean that taking orders to Charleston, SC and the USS Holland would be a good time for us, that we would be okay even as we battled the giants. After 8 years there I can tell you it was all that, and more, but for now I’ll leave it at this: the tiny theophany, the still small voice, the “shafts of glory” are what took us South to our destiny.

We later bought a home in Summerville and had a brass door knocker made for the front door, with our name proudly etched in the metal – FLESHMAN. When we moved to Tennessee in 1995 (a whole ’nother “tiny-theo” story) and sold that house, I excluded the door knocker from the contract, removed it, and brought it with us. After first renting we ultimately bought the house on Harmony Lane, the street Diana grew up on. As I unpacked our stored stuff, I found the door knocker and, much to my delight, the front door had the same holes in it! Now, you can explain it away with common hole centering if you like. But we took it as a tiny theophany, a wink from God that we were at home, as I screwed that knocker on the door. And over 20 years later, we are still here, remodeling the exterior, including the front door. But the knocker is staying – you do not just toss aside the glimpses of God!

We tend to look for the grand things in life, the big moments and great achievements, that define who we are. But it’s the little things, the tiny theophanies, that really define who you are and how you relate to the God who made you. When you can see his hand in the fine details of your life you know you are walking the right path.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
I Corinthians 2:9

I started selling real estate in 2002 and hung my license at Crye-Leike, Realtors in Soddy Daisy. I was doing quite well when I met a guy and listed his house. During the challenging process of selling an odd property we became friends. I convinced him to get a real estate license himself, which he did, and he got off to a good start. Realizing his potential and trying to play a long game for my own business, I suggested we become partners. So, we did. It caused some friction in the office and we left for Re/Max Properties in Hixson to pursue our goal of world real estate domination. Or at least Chattanooga. Freshly into our new gig at a new company, we went to the Riverbend Festival one night to see a Pink Floyd cover band. As we waited at the Unum Stage in the late afternoon, what should arise behind the stage but the world-famous Re/Max hot air balloon – you know the one -and we were giddy with excitement. Surely a sign that we had done the right thing, here was a shaft of glory in brilliant red, white, and blue floating above us. A tiny theophany that buoyed our confidence.

The thing about getting those glimpses of God is that it is not about religion or church attendance or any tradition of man. It is about being open to a profound fact, that God is interested in the affairs of man, that you can know him in the now, see his hand in the tiny events of life. There is one small secret though, and it is this:

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Like a little child, it is imperative to have eyes of wonder, a heart of joy, a spirit of fun. Because life is fun, even while it is hard, and his hand and voice and glory are evident in the good times and the tough times.

I was at Siskin Hospital for Rehabilitation trying to learn the ADLs (activities of daily living) and still coming to terms with my near-death experience of the preceding weeks. It was a hard time, a challenging time, where I was stretched beyond my limits, but I had to endure, if I was going to get back to the business of living. I wasn’t concerned about going back to work, but I did miss seeing friends, eating pizza, and drinking a good bottle wine. Priorities, I know, right? And who should appear but our good friends John and Mary, a delightful gift all by itself, but they came complete with a large pepperoni pizza from Community Pie and a bottle of wine. I thoroughly enjoyed the company, and the pie (the best in Chattanooga?), but the doctor nixed the wine. Mostly I enjoyed the glimpse of God’s hand in the gift of the moment, the tiny theophany of good pizza with good friends.

Does God really care about the little things in your life? I think so, and this lovely little passage sums it up for me, and sets up my last story:

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his [stature?” Matthew 6:26-27

Diana and I were in the pool one evening a few weeks back when we noticed a bird perched on the gold ball of our neighbor’s flagpole. Over time, the bird appeared every evening. I got to whistling to see if I could get a response, and I did. Sometimes if I didn’t see him there, I would whistle to see if he would show. And here is where it gets crazy – we both understood that the bird was a tiny theophany, a shaft of glory, a glimpse of the goodness of God. And we named him Theo, for obvious reasons. He continues to bring us delight, every evening.

Our friends John and Mary, of the pie story above, came this week and brought us a large pepperoni pizza (this time from Lupi’s – Chattanooga’s best?) and we supplied the wine. As we floated in the pool, I told them about the bird on the gold ball, Theo. We talked about life, about challenges and struggles, about good times and bad, about how we got where we are today, about how small our world really is. And, we talked about tiny theophanies. Those moments, those glimpses, those shafts of glory that illuminate life, that make it all make sense, that make life worth living. The fact that they were there with us was its own tiny theophany.

I am sure you have your own catalog of tiny theophanies, of the times that life made sense, of times you smile and realized it would be okay, of times when life was sweet. Think about those things, meditate upon the hand of God in your life. You do not need degrees in theology, you do not even need an epiphany.

“What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” Luke 12:6

Let your own tiny theophanies be your glimpse of God, shafts of glory, and the touchstones of your life.

One thought on “Theo the Bird

  1. Wonderful article Kenny. The theophanies of life are amazing indeed. Thanks for your great storytelling and encouraging look at life! God is amazing through all that happens to everyone on this planet and I pray more will see the goodness of .god daily as they read your article.


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