motivateCan a Bird Motivate Me?

“There’s a rare bird in Anchorage,” I said.

Pedro rolled his eyes.

“It’s a hawfinch,” I explained. “They live in Europe.”

Pedro may have sighed AND rolled his eyes. “I suppose you want to go look for it?”

motivateI grinned. “Absolutely! While you hang out with Laura, Louis, and Abel, I’ll just pop into Anchorage and pick up some things at Costco and look for the bird.”

“What about the weather?” he asked.

“No snow in the forecast, and it should clear off by one or two.” I don’t love driving in the snow, but the chance to see a rare bird will motivate me to do things I don’t normally enjoy.

The next day, I started out just as the sun struggled to shine through a bank of clouds that huddled around the craggy mountains. A beautiful gibbous moon hovered on the horizon, and I couldn’t resist pulling over to snap some photos.

When I reached the outskirts of Anchorage, I could scarcely see thirty feet in front of me. Traffic crawled through the fog and slipped all over the ice. I pulled into a coffee shop and decided to work on a school project until the visibility improved.

Two hours later, I hit the send button and turned in my project. The sun had started to claw its way through the cloud cover, and I discovered it would only take me ten minutes to arrive at the reported hawfinch sighting.

The Birder’s Secret Weapon

Pedro laughs at me because many times when I make a ‘there’s a rare bird’ pronouncements, I drive up to the address or coordinates and see the bird. It doesn’t always pan out though. I subscribe to a rare bird sightings email list, which helps considerably.

Of course, I never know for sure if someone saw the rare bird in their back yard, or flitting around a park. I quickly checked the eBird report, and worried a bit since the reporting birder didn’t specify where the bird skulked.

I jumped on Facebook and did a quick search for Alaska birding groups. Within minutes, I had more information. The reporting birder saw it near a street intersection.

Whew! I had envisioned approaching a stranger’s house and timidly tapping on the door with an apologetic, “Um, I’m a birder looking for the rare bird, is it in your backyard?” apology. I didn’t know if I’d actually have the moxie to do this. Most of the rare birds I’ve chased have had the decency to hang out in public places.*

My Birding Formula

As I entered the residential neighborhood, the snow-covered streets made it impossible to tell if the local regulations allowed for street parking. I started to worry about where to park my car.

An elderly gentleman with a bright green parka drew my attention. I saw him gaze up, and then lower both hands to his chest. Next, I noticed a harness strapped over both shoulders. Bingo! A fellow birder (and a serious one, judging by how he carried his binoculars).

I pulled up alongside him, rolled down my window, and said, “Excuse me, are you out looking for the hawfinch?” This formula has worked multiple times for me. Go to an area with a rare bird sighting, see strangers with binoculars, boldly ask questions, see rare bird.

He leaned down to see me better, “I am. Just follow this road to the next corner and hang a left. That’s the area Dave saw the bird on New Year’s Day.”

“Do you know if there’s any parking?” I asked.

“Here, let me hop in and I’ll ride down with you.”

Don't try this at home. Don't pick up strangers. Unless they're #birders. It might be ok. Click To Tweet

Picking Up Strangers

He looked safe, slight of build with a white beard, and, he knew the birder who found the bird. I unlocked the door and tossed my backpack on the back seat.

As he got in, he said, “You know, you shouldn’t let strangers into your car. I’m Ed.”

My toes tingled, but then I noticed the twinkle in his eyes, and I grinned back. “I’m Anita.”

“Turn down here,” he directed, “and park in front of that blue house. The lady who lives there understands birders and doesn’t mind us parking in front of her house or going in her back yard.” He went on to explain that he lived nearby, and had spent hours out in the snowstorm the previous day looking for the hawfinch. Not only looking, but letting everyone in the neighborhood know that an invasion of birders might occur over the weekend.

For the next two hours, we examined every robin that flew over or perched in the neighborhood trees. Ed regaled me with birding stories (he spent ten years as a regional reviewer for eBird), as well as the cross-country skiing adventures he shares with his wife.

Alas, the elusive hawfinch remained elusive. At one point, Ed thought he saw it, but at that exact moment the elderly owner of blue house slipped and fell in her driveway. By the time we helped her, the possible hawfinch had disappeared. As the sun started to slip towards the horizon, I knew I’d have to leave without finding my rare bird.

Letting Love Motivate Me

On the long drive back to Palmer, I had a lot of time to think. I couldn’t believe I actually picked up a stranger and hung out with him for two hours. Ok. I confess that I have changed a lot since I started birding six years ago. I’ll strike up conversations with strangers, hang out at sewer ponds, endure scorching heat and hopeless humidity—all in the name of birding.

But when it comes to my faith—I joined the church through baptism at the tender age of eight—my progress seems stilted. I have never pulled up to a stranger toting a Bible and let them hop into my car. When I visit new cities, I rarely find a place to worship with other believers. I grumble if the sanctuary feels too hot or too cold. Sometimes, I struggle to stay awake during the sermon. I criticize the pastor and the program in my heart—all in the name of ‘improving things.’

This new year, I want to let my love for Jesus motivate me more. I want to step outside my comfort zone and seek out encounters with fellow Christians and seekers. When someone asks for prayer on Facebook, I want to pray for them right there in the comments section—not limit myself to a ‘Praying for you’ response.

The time has come to live out the love of Jesus that I claim, to let it motivate me to do things that scare me. I look forward to what awaits me when I live outside my comfort zone.

Learn to love outside of your comfort zone. That's what Jesus calls us to do. So just do it! Click To Tweet

Q4U: How do you live out your faith outside of your comfort zone? I’d love to hear your stories or tips!

(*my apologies to my FMF friends, the story got away from me!)

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