I got a surprise treat for Mother’s Day today — from God. Albert Einstein once said: There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. I had a tiny miracle today when the first hymn we sang at church was one that is near and dear to my heart. I have a special relationship with sparrows that only God knew about for a long time until I finally wrote about it and it was published in our denominational newsletter years ago. The song we sang this morning was “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” Thanks, God, for reminding me you’re there and aware — even when I don’t think you are. Here’s the rest of the story.
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The temperature that day had dropped well below freezing. The wind was blowing, inching it down further still. I stood at my kitchen window looking out at the dark, angry sky and thought how much it looked like I felt! The cold air was sneaking in around the window casing. No wonder our fuel bill was so high! The outdoors was coming in!
I felt cooped up. Our second car was out of commission, and the bus stop was a half mile away. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere anyway. I’ve never been a winter person. So even though I have a tendency to suffer from “cabin fever,” I always hibernate from January through March.
The snow lay beautifully undisturbed in the backyard despite the windy day. It looked like someone had stretched three-foot-deep quilt batting from one gray chain- link fence to the other.
The bird feeder we kept on a pole under our cherry tree swayed back and back again with every new rush of air. The sparrows had all taken refuge in the thick, bare tree branches. All except for one that was still sitting on the plastic feeding rail around the half-full seed container. “Must be hungry,” I thought absently, and turned away to occupy myself with something other than my gloomy disposition.
The morning came and went, and as I fixed myself a bite of lunch, I noticed the little sparrow was still clinging to the feeder. “That’s odd,” I thought. “Why isn’t he in the tree with the other birds?” I wondered if he were afraid to let go. Surely not. Perhaps he was sick. My curiosity had the best of me now.
I searched my closet for an empty shoebox, crawled into my big boots and heavy parka, and taking the box with me, I let myself out the basement door. My boots crunched through the crusty top layer of snow, sinking in clear up to my bunched-up pant legs. The wind snatched the lid from the shoebox and blew it up flat against the fence, nailing it into place. I didn’t go after it. I was beginning to think this whole little excursion was silly anyway. What in the world did I think I could do if I did get the bird?
As I got closer to the bird feeder I could see the feathers all roughed up on the little sparrow’s back. I thought hanging on to that rail must be taking a lot out of the poor thing. Then I was there. I reached up with my free hand, and for a second I thought the bird would allow me to pick it up. But just as I would have touched it, it spread it’s tiny wings and flew away. It perched itself in one of the links in the fence a few feet from me. “Well be that way, then!” I grumbled irritably, more annoyed with my own stupidity than the little bird. “It was a dumb idea anyway!”
I followed my boot tracks back to the house. “Well, Lord, I tried to help.” Shedding my winter gear, I returned to the warm kitchen for a hot cup of coffee. Glancing out the window, I was surprised to see the bird had once again stationed itself on the feeder. “Stupid bird!”
I filed the whole adventure under “waste of time” in my mental filing cabinet and busied myself with laundry. But I couldn’t get the little sparrow out of my mind. All afternoon, between trips to the basement, I’d look to see if it was still there. At 3:30 my son came home from school and I forgot about the sparrow as I got caught up in hearing about his day. The neighbor kids came over to play, and I finished putting my last load of laundry in the washer – a load of towels. Whoops! I’d forgotten the dish towels.
I climbed back up two flights of stairs for the umpteenth time that day to retrieve them from under the sink. As I passed the kitchen window I stopped in horror. The little bird was no longer on the feeder. It was laying feet up in one of my boot prints.
Without even thinking, I slipped back into my parka and boots. I took the shoebox and hurried out the back door. Maybe it wasn’t too late yet. Maybe he was just tired. If I could only warm him up… I knelt in the snow next to the little bird. He didn’t fly away this time. My hands, not yet cold from being outside, picked him up and cradled him gently next to me.
He was so small. No bigger than my fist, and weighed no more than an ounce or two. His brown feathers were still ruffled, his wings spread slightly as though to take flight, but his eyes were closed and his head fell to one side as I shifted him from one hand to the other. It was too late. He was dead.
My first thought was, “He wasn’t really stupid, Lord. I didn’t mean that. He was just a sick little bird who froze to death. And,” I added in growing pain, “I couldn’t help him, Lord.” My heart broke in a million pieces, and for the longest time I knelt there in the snow and cried, oblivious to the wind and cold. Then I put the little, still-warm body in the shoebox and set it in the garbage can.
For the longest time I didn’t tell anyone about the sparrow. It seemed such a silly, emotional little episode. But I never forgot it. Year’s later we’re still feeding the sparrows in the winter. And after all this time, every once in awhile my heart still aches for that little bird, and for the fact that I couldn’t help him.
I’m in a winter place in my own life right now. Months of mild depression have left me feeling tired and restless. And, at times, ready to just give up and take flight like that little bird did. But my Lord Jesus is the Lord of hope. I cling to Him as the little sparrow clung to the bird feeder, and know that by His grace I will handle whatever comes my way. Perhaps not with a lot of class, but I will get through whatever life throws at me.
Still, the questions come. “Why, Lord? What are You trying to teach me through these long bleak months? Will I ever feel happy and content again? I’m scared, Jesus. I need Your peace that passes all understanding.”
With all my questions crowding in around me, feeling cooped up again, I sat at my kitchen table this morning flipping through my Bible trying to find where I left off reading yesterday. The bookmarked pages fell open to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 12 where I’d stopped, and in the midst of my confusion and unrest, the following words stared back at me in a message only the Lord Himself knew could touch my innermost being: “Indeed the very hairs of your head are numbered. Don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” (12:7)
(Repost from 10/20/14)