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BLOG: How we process bad things

We have a bird that talks. Two of them, actually.

One is an African Grey and the other is an Eclectus Parrot. We got both of them (at different times) in rather pitiful condition and both spent much of their first two months screeching and screaming almost endlessly. But as they settled in and learned to trust us, they calmed and became amazing pets.

Lottie Rayne (we got her last year during rainy season) is our Grey and she started talking one day early this summer. It began slow, with just a word here and there. She then quickly moved to small phrases and now she even speaks in short sentences. Every morning she wakes up and stretches her feet and spreads her wings and then launches into her daily exercise of running through all her sound effects, whistles, and words. It's hilarious to sit and just listen.

Basil, the green parrot, is not quite 7 months old so his vocabulary is very limited. I personally have only ever heard him say hello though he's definitely working to vocalize. He seems to largely be listening to Lottie and learning peer-to-peer. Lottie, however, is learning from us.

Hey, pretty girl. She says it in Robbie's voice to anyone who happens by.

What are you doing? Again, Robbie's voice and she nails the tone and inflection with which he says it.

I love you. This time it's my own voice I hear coming through the beak of my bird. She repeats I love you twice almost every time she says it and one day it hit me why that is. The guys built an enclosure on our front porch where these two talking birds live. It's big enough for them to fly around with logs and perches for them to play with and nest on. But it's also right outside the window of the office in our main house. And this is where I work at the computer, often surrounded by kids looking for hugs and reassurance of love.

When one child climbs onto my lap for a snuggle I almost invariably say, I love you. But then there's often a jealous bystander who wants her share and so a second I love you generally quickly follows.

Lottie knows the drill.

She's been listening and processing and taking it all in. And then after weeks, or sometimes months, what's gone in begins to come out. And it comes out with great, albeit unintentional, attention to detail. It's all there. The words, the tone, the inflection, the timing. It's funny but almost scary how that programming works. Because although these are birds I'm talking about, humans are very much the same.

And I'm not just talking about children.

What we plant ourselves in front of, what we put before our eyes, what we allow into our ears ... it all goes in and we unintentionally process it. Eventually, if repeated often enough, it begins to come out through our mouths and also our actions. Not one of us doesn't know that this is how it works but there's one small detail we sometimes overlook.

Because every now and then I'll hear Lottie say the most random sentence and I know it's not one she's heard often. It's a flower comes out in a child's voice, but I don't know of any child of ours who runs around saying It's a flower with any sort of regularity. But clearly she's heard it and so now she says it, even though it's not something she's heard daily or even weekly.

That short sentence went in and stayed in even when not repeated. And this should give us pause.

We tend to think if we just don't make a habit of the not-so-great stuff that it's pretty safe. It won't hurt much, we reason. But the reality is, not everything we allow in has to be repeated often in order to affect us. Some of it just sticks, like it or not. This is why it's so important to guard the corners of our conscience. We have to stay vigilant to filter what we do, see, watch, read, and think about through God before we do it. It's why we need to be careful with social media and YouTube and all the things.

The enemy seeks to soil even the most beautiful content by violating it with ads and images that sear into our brains without us realizing it. Later, when we're discontent with our home or bored with our marriage or annoyed by our kids or frustrated with our current circumstances, we likely won't even realize that much of that struggle has come from what we've allowed into our mind when we let our guard down. And it doesn't have to be something we've repeated often to cause a whole host of problems.

Lottie often screams Mooommmmmy in such a loud, childlike voice that I go running thinking someone's outside the door needing help. I get there to find a bird, innocently perched on a log, having no idea the confusion or panic she's caused. But one thing is sure and that's the fact that she learned to call me by hearing the kids do it when they're in need. Kids know to call on their parents when trouble finds them...

We, as adults, need to teach them to call on God before trouble comes calling.

Because the good stuff also goes in and has a lasting impact. Which variety of input we choose is something we get to decide daily. A life filled with continuous good choices is one where God is seen in the person, even before a word is spoken.



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