Monday, May 26, 2014

Taking flight

This spring, we've had the anticipation and excitement of new life around our house.  No, I'm not having another baby, as the kids keep hoping.  We had birds build a nest in the bush right off our front porch.  Usually they try in vain to build nests in the wreath beside our front door.  But because the protective parent birds dive bomb our heads as we enter and exit, we dismantle each building attempt until they finally give up or the season ends.  This time, they got the bright idea to try another location, so we supported their effort, and we were rewarded with watching the stages from nest-building to egg-laying to the hatching into four fluffy baby birds with closed eyes and open beaks.  For weeks now, we've observed the tireless mama and daddy alternate between feeding their brood and keeping a close eye on us predators.  The babies peep constantly, and Maryn loves checking on them each time we go out or come in.  She's kept us updated on their growth process and developmental stages (opening their eyes, making sounds, eating more frequently).  Today I noticed that the bush houses them was shaking, and when we went out to investigate, we noticed the birds were no longer inside the nest.  The parents were hovering on a nearby powerline, and the four fluffballs were situated on different branches of the bush, sporadically hopping, making a new attempt at movement.  Soon, we know, they will be taking flight.

After watching the mama bird's anxiety in having us so close (and empathizing as a protective mama bird myself), we went inside to watch from my bedroom window.  The mama continued to feed each baby and, I assume, prod them to make the big leap.  I held my own baby on my lap and talked about how the mama has to encourage her babies to fly.  I asked her how she thought the babies felt, and she said, "Probably scared."  I agreed...after all, haven't we all experienced that?  I asked her if she would ever leave her nest and mama bird, and she answered, "No, I'm going to stay with you forever."  I smiled and said that she might change her mind someday, but it would be okay.  I promised to be right there beside her, encouraging her to fly, and always offering a safe nest for her return (for brief visits, of course).  

I think it's significant that the Bible uses images of birds to show God's relationship to us.  God is like a mother hen that gathers her young to her.  God is like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young.  God cares for the sparrow and likewise will care for us.  God is always there in ways seen and unseen, offering nurturting and challenge to help us thrive.

Yesterday, we had commencement at the university where I serve as chaplain.  It's always a bittersweet time.  We are all so tired at the end of the year, and so ready to be finished.  We are so proud of the accomplishments of our creative and dedicated students.  We are sad at saying goodbye and knowing that things will be different in the coming year.  And our students are in equal parts thrilled and terrified.  As one student shared, "All of my life's planning lead up to this moment.  And now I don't know what's next."  I, too, spent most of my life planning a future that ended up surprising me by what happened when the plan ended.  It was scary and uncertain and seemed impossible at times.  And then one day, I noticed I was flying.  Somehow I had it in me all along.  The hard part is letting go of our grasp on that familiar branch and jumping into the mystery of the unknown, where we might just find God's plan.  As one of my favorite children's books says, "If in all of forever, I never endeavor to fly, I won't know if I can."  But as the bird in the book discovers, "If I hadn't endeavored and found my wings clever, I never a sky would have scaled, never a world would have seen, and never a friend would have found."

"Friends of a feather, I say, endeavor and fly!"

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