It was early-May when my neighbor and I made our very first weekend Wal-mart run. Various odds and ends were needed, but birdseed and hanging plants were high on the list. So naturally we hit up the Garden Center first.
It was there that, inspired by the green thumb of my companion and the bare bones of my balcony back home, a colorful geranium made its way into my life – for better or worse – accompanied by a bag of birdseed.
I was grateful to discover my balcony already had a ceiling hook in place from a previous tenant. So I just looped my newly adopted geranium over it and “voila!” the colorful plant was up on display! Next, I put the birdseed in a bowl on a small patio stand and positioned it relatively close to the geranium.
As days went by, I began to feel my attention gravitate more and more to the activity surrounding the bowl of bird seed. I began waking up earlier, to account for the extra time I’d spend sitting on the far end of my couch with my coffee, gazing through sliding glass door. I began to recognize my return visitors and even had a book to identify the newcomers. I’d officially become… a birdwatcher.
It wasn’t long before one little house finch, in particular, caught my eye. She had this peculiar habit of bouncing back and forth between my hanging plant and the seed dish. She’d go back and forth, back and forth – spending a majority of her time in the geranium.
What is she doing in there? I went outside for a closer look and then, from the new angle, I saw it... a nest!
From that moment on, checking on Momma Fin (as I began to call her) and her nest became a part of my daily routine. I looked forward to coming home after a long day at work to see her perched amongst the petals, eyes half closed, geranium swaying in the wind like a rocker, with the sun eventually setting behind her. She looked so peaceful.
Little though she was, she also had a great deal of perseverance. I witnessed her pant her way through some of the hottest days of summer and buckle down her beak in the most blustery of storms – all to ensure her nest was protected and eggs incubated.
All the while, I had this vision of what the discovery of her hatchlings would be like, should the eggs finally hatch. I pictured myself peering down into her nest and seeing this cute little bunch of feathered fluff-balls, akin to baby chicks, chirping pleasantly up at me with bright, inquisitive eyes.
Imagine my alarm when the reality of the situation was more like peering down at a cluster of semi-transparent, miniature plucked chickens, squirming around on top of one another with bulges for eyeballs. Not at all like I’d imagined them.
Still, it wasn’t long before Momma Fin’s little brood began to grow on me, both literally and figuratively. Day by day they became bigger and more birdlike; slightly less startling and slightly more endearing. Until finally one day, while I was away from home, they took their first flight without me. And just like that... they were gone.
I’ll admit, returning home to (literally) an empty nest, was kind of a strange feeling at first; I’d become so accustomed to watching this mini-miracle of life unfold daily before my eyes.
There was a hint of sadness, but also a lingering sense of appreciation. Of all the hanging plants in the neighborhood and on our building, Momma Fin could have chosen any of them for her nest, but she chose mine – I’m not sure why, but I'm sure grateful she did.
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until He was thirty
He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where He was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but Himself
He was only thirty three
His friends ran away
One of them denied Him
He was turned over to His enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing
The only property He had on earth
When He was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend
Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind's progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life
Dr. James Allan © 1926.
Ever encounter a verse that just resonates deep? That’s been the case for this poem and me. I received it recently on a prayer card – in memory of a beautiful soul, not long departed.
God hath not promised
skies always blue,
all our lives through;
God hath not promised
sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow,
peace without pain.
But God hath promised
strength for the day,
Rest for the labor,
light for the way,
Grace for the trials,
help from above,
Unfailing sympathy ~
~ Annie Johnson Flint ~
Working in an apostolate that prays for intentions from people and families across the country, paired with my own personal experiences in senior care and hospice volunteering, has led me to contemplate and, at many times, grapple with, the meaning of suffering, to a greater extent then perhaps I would otherwise.
I think that’s why I love this poem so much. It helps me accept a mystery that relies more on my faith then my reason. Reflecting on the stanzas and the life of the author through whom it was inspired, reminds me that Christ didn’t come into this world to take suffering away, He came to transform it and give us hope.
"Cabin Fever and Coffee" continued...
The next day I woke up early for work and, despite the 20+ inches of snowfall over the weekend, like a true Wisconsinite, laced up my boots and hit the road. I managed to maneuver my way over ruts and drifts, all the way up to the edge of my office parking lot, only to discover not a single plow had seen it for what appeared to be the entire weekend.
Too much effort invested at this point to turn back, I parked in a neighboring lot and made the trek over to my building, all the while thinking of my neighbor’s snow bank incident the day before. I couldn’t help but sense that underlying that decision was an independent and adventurous spirit – not all too different from my own.
A couple times over coffee the day before, my guest mentioned that she lived alone, and had done so for a long time – several years. Occasionally in our conversation, her voice would scratch and fade; she’d pause and clear her throat a couple times, until it came back. “This is what happens when long periods of time go by without anyone to talk to,” she remarked. And to think, I couldn’t handle being alone in my apartment for just three days!
I settled into my desk and booted up my computer when it hit me. Dinner. I would invite her over for dinner. I’m a pretty mediocre chef, but surely I could come up with something!
When I got home from work, feeling a little nervous and fearing rejection, I taped a note to her door with a dinner invitation for the following night. Call it a soft ask, but it worked! That first note was like a tiny seed that keeps growing; nourished by weekly dinners, cups of coffee, farmers markets, weekend Wal-Mart runs, many more door notes… and feathers, lots of feathers.
Who knew friendships bloomed from blizzards?
My mom and dad fell in love through letter writing. Both were in their mid-thirties, neither one dating or ever married before, when my dad's niece, Mona, played matchmaker and exchanged their addresses. At the time, my mom was working in Milwaukee with Mona, while my dad was dairy farming in central Wisconsin. Mona saw my mothers love of horses and my fathers love of farming, and recognized, rightly so, the potential compliment. Long story short (I really could write a book about it) my mom took to pen and paper first and what followed was a year long string of letters that lead to engagement, marriage, and well, me. Fortunately for me, they saved all their letters in an album upstairs in our farmhouse and have kept them open for reading. The window into their courtship, really the foundation of their friendship and our family unit, is something I cherish. One of my favorite letters in their correspondence is one my dad wrote to my mom where he includes the following poem, encouraging her. To this day, it encourages me.
Prayers Can't Be Answered Unless They Are Prayed
Life without purpose
is barren indeed,
there can't be a harvest
unless you plant seed.
There can't be attainment
unless there's a goal,
and man's but a robot
unless there's a soul.
If we send no ships out,
no ships will come in,
and unless there's a contest,
nobody can win.
For games can't be won
unless they are played,
and prayers can't be answered
unless they are prayed.
Not just for pleasure,
enjoyment or health,
not just for honors
and prestige and wealth.
But pray for a purpose
to make life worth living,
and pray for the joy
of unselfish giving.
For great is your gladness
and rich your reward,
when you make your life's purpose
the choice of the Lord.
~Helen Steiner Rice~