I recently spent some days by the sea in my parents’ beach house, Rainbow Cottage. Their home-away-from home is situated on a grassy hill overlooking the ocean. Three tall pine trees stand in front of the house like soldiers in command. The skeletal mass of their trunks and branches slightly obscures the majestic view but in no way diminishes it. These pine trees are ‘markers’ - we often refer to them when explaining the location of the beach-house to friends. My parents love these trees. Their home was built to accommodate them.
The first night of my stay at Rainbow Cottage overlapped with my parents’ last night before their return home to the city. My father will soon be having open-heart surgery and I wanted to make the most of this time with him before the operation. As it grew dark, we stood in the front room staring out at the vista of loveliness – the fading light on the water like liquid gold and the huge expanse of sea and sky slowly merging. My dad pointed to the middle pine tree and told me that there was a large nest built by magpies in one of its top branches. For the life of me I couldn’t see it! He attempted a number of times to describe the location of the nest, but I still couldn’t make it out. My mother suggested that we try again in the morning, but my dad was determined and shone a torch on the branches. Lo’ and behold I saw the blurry outline of a scraggly nest of twigs and the black-and-white flecks of a magpie’s tail.
After my parents left and over the course of the following days, when I looked out the front window, I caught glimpses of the magpie parents flying in and out of the nest. I was amazed at the fortitude of these birds and their persistence to find food for their young. The nest stayed intact despite the high winds and heavy rain. In Psalm 104:12 it states, 'The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.'
During this time of solitude, I began to reflect on the significance of the nest in the pine tree and how it spoke to me about my connection with God, my relationship with my parents and my love for my husband and children. I thought of my dad, how time is flying by and how he is ageing and that there is nothing I can do about that. When I was a child, I thought that he was invincible. And now as a grown daughter, I see his frailty and vulnerability, how vulnerable we all are. I thought about my kids who are now young adults and that famous quote by Elizabeth Stone, 'Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.' I am so thankful for the many years of parenting my kids – the fun, laughter and hard times - and of essentially growing up with them, of witnessing their struggle into adulthood and becoming their own persons. And I realised that at the end of the day all that really matters is my relationship with God and my relationship with others: As Jesus states in Mark 12: 29-31, 'The most important commandment is this: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: "Love your neighbour as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these.’ In Galatians 5:6 Paul writes 'The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.'
We can easily get caught up in the complications and politics of all that is unnecessary in life. God longs to tend to our hearts in the same way a mother bird cares for her chicks. He wants to nurture and sustain us and for us to feel safe in His presence. Our hearts will only be at rest in the circle of His loving embrace. In Psalm 84: 1-3 David writes;
'How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God.'
After enjoying some lazy days of reading, walking along the beach and art making, I made the trip back home. On the drive I was thinking about how God how my heart sings when I am in nature: There was something so comforting about witnessing the roar of the ocean, the never-ending ebb and flow of tide between my toes, the sand whipping my hair in the wind and the sting of the salt spray on my face. It’s at times like this that I feel alive and I know that God is with me in the same way He is with His creation.
Around 9pm that same night I was a few kilometres from home and driving through one of the side-streets in a nearby suburb when I noticed two ducks and seven little balls of fluff waddling in a line up the street towards a main road. I slowed my car and followed alongside them all the while feeling extremely worried about their safety, knowing that at any minute they could be killed by a passing car. As they neared the main road my anxiety heightened. I thought, how the heck are they going to cross this road and stay intact as a family? They needed to cross this road to get to the duck-pond in the local park. I sent up an ‘arrow prayer’ to God and asked a friend to pray too. As the ducks started to cross the main road, I flashed my lights and beeped my horn at oncoming traffic. It was dark and the ducks were hard to see even with my car lights on. Amazingly some cars stopped, and the ducks thankfully made it across. When they reached the safe terrain of the local reserve, I felt so relieved. God heard my prayer and had looked after this little duck family. In Matthew 10:29 Jesus mentions, 'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.'
The experience of witnessing the ducks crossing the road was another visual reminder of God’s care for us, for me. He looks after, sustains and provides for His loved ones. He will keep us safe. We can trust Him with the little things and the big things of life. He will take care of my dad in the operating theatre. He will be with my children as they drive along wet, country roads. He will provide for us in trying times. In Matthew 6: 25-30, Jesus states, 'Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?' In this scripture Jesus is reminding us that just like the birds, He knows and loves us. We will not achieve anything by fretting, hoarding or always playing it safe. He is aware of the troubles we face. We are not immune to them. His love is greater than our fear. If we live in hope, faith and trust in Him, we can live in freedom and peace. In Psalm 56:3-4 we read, 'When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?'
I would like to end with a quote by Henri Nouwen:
'Life is precious. Not because it is unchangeable, like a diamond, but because it is vulnerable like a little bird. To love life means to love its vulnerability, asking for care, attention, guidance and support. Life and death are connected by vulnerability. The newborn child and the dying elder remind us of the preciousness of our lives.'
'Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.'
Michelle Krieg is an art therapist and a student wellbeing officer at Tabor Adelaide. 'Look at the birds' was featured on Dr Phil Daughtry's podcast "The Contemplative Corner": https://contemplativecorner429865032.wordpress.com