We walked in silence by the South Platte River, listening and watching for critters. It was a habit of ours whenever my husband and I explored that patch of earth in our Colorado days. Our Critter Count started, one way we noticed God’s presence. His creativity inhabits all the ordinary moments of our life. 

My husband, then with eyes like an eagle and ears like an owl, spotted bighorn sheep, kingfishers, lightning-quick rabbits, and heard hummingbirds long before others even knew creatures hovered nearby. 

On the other hand, I didn’t quickly associate the fact that the odd shape in the woods seemed a bit out of place. The camouflaged critter of some sort or another taught me to hone my attentiveness. 

Tuning my focus to what’s unlike the rest of the environment, I’ve learned to gaze differently. Wearing two hearing aids, bird songs can escape my notice. Back then my husband heard all sounds easily. I trained myself to block out distracting sounds. Then, I would notice the four-syllable whistle of a mountain chickadee or the flicker’s brrrat-a-tat-tat-tat tapped out on the hollow log.

We meandered through thick cottonwoods, slender aspens, towering Rocky Mountain maples, and ancient Ponderosa pines. Beneath our feet, a crunchy carpet of neon yellow, autumn gold, and red leaves mingled. This less-used path, intentionally chosen, invited us into wonder, into attentiveness, with its rich lulls of beauty in this riparian area. Our first human encounter included a short exchange with an older gentleman, who, upon being asked, reported no critters whatsoever existed that day on his hike. 

We smiled at him, inwardly winking at one another. 

You have to acquire the ability to notice differently. Then you can see what others miss. 

Within three minutes of parting ways with the critterless-hiker, rapid hammer sounds telegraphed of a red-shafted flicker working nearby. Scouring shady willow overhangs at water’s edge, we spotted two iridescent mallard drakes, two mottled hens diving for dinner, and a trio of green-winged teals. Dark rolling shadows on the river’s surface hinted of red-tailed hawks soaring high above. Long before our stroll ended, we discovered more critters than we had fingers with which to count them. 

This morning, alone with God, I think back to the gentleman who had missed so much on his hike then see myself as a mirrored image. I’m just like that gentleman some days. 

I come to God noting nothing, “Nothing much is happening. Nothing new. No viewings of grace, growth, glory.” 

I imagine God inwardly winks, just as my husband and I had in regard to the inattentive gentleman. 

“No sightings or soundings of heart shifts?” Playfully, chuckling, God says, “Well, let’s wander together down the day past, the week just ending. Let’s notice differently. Let’s block distractions to really hear deep.” 

We retrace my heart’s responses to a random encounter at the grocery store, an unexpected email requesting my editorial eye from a decades-old forgotten connection resurfacing. We stroll past shadows of an old memory and revisit a line that’s stuck with me as I’ve reread The Hobbit. 

Together, Jesus and I spot the odd shape of invitation, the varied patches of goodness, subtle colors of change, noticing differently how God’s heart shows up for mine, a Critter Count of His creativity in the ordinary moments of my life. 

All it takes is to notice differently.

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