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Opinion >  Column

Faith and Values: A special gift of feathered grace in this hoilday season

This one-legged chickadee at a bird feeder represented hope and grace to Gena Bradford, this week’s Faith and Values contributor.  (Gena Bradford)
This one-legged chickadee at a bird feeder represented hope and grace to Gena Bradford, this week’s Faith and Values contributor. (Gena Bradford)

I’ve always loved birds. I’ve collected bird ornaments for the Christmas tree, bird figurines for the shelf in my study and, each year, a new bird calendar.

The countless species of birds – their colors, sizes, and calls – are profound. At age 7, while visiting my grandmother, I awoke to the melodious trill of a bird just outside the window. I wanted to know what bird could make that magical sound (later to learn that it was a meadowlark).

Then at age 9, our family was gifted a lime-green parakeet, named Ikey, by a family that was moving. This social and humorous bird brought our family great joy. He would sit upon my shoulder, nibble at my ear, share a piece of corn on the cob with me and then sit upon the rim of my water glass to drink. He had a marvelous vocabulary, mimicking the words he would hear us say during the day. When I rang his toy bell or called his name, he would come flying as his cage was always open. It’s funny how a small bird can become a child’s best friend.

I’m a grandmother now, and my children and grandchildren have flown away to jobs across the country and overseas; even those near home have been separated from us by the pandemic protocols.

This December felt lonely, until the feathered gift arrived. I had mounted a bird feeder just outside my study window when the weather turned cold. Yearly, all I ever saw were sparrows. In delight and disbelief, a petite black-capped chickadee alighted upon the seed cake. However, she quickly flew off.

She came again the next day, and the next. In the coming days, I studied her more closely and even took her picture, and then I saw that she was lame. She perched upon one leg. I gasped. How can she do that?

Her other leg was drawn up, the claw foot peeked out from her feathers – useless, yet she appeared strong and balanced. She came daily to feed, and soon others joined her. Now there are three chickadees with ink-black shiny skull caps, white cheeks and pale yellow underbellies – all works of divine art.

I wonder if anyone has ever seen a one-legged bird thrive. It made me think of four years ago when I was in a traumatic bike accident – breaking my leg and rendering it useless. I wasn’t allowed to put weight on it for months, and had to use a wheelchair. By God’s grace, and a good doctor, I healed. But indeed, this little bird reminded me that God’s grace also reaches to the smallest of creation. A holy sign that God is with us in our disabilities, our losses and our weakness. Something divine, called grace in feathers, was landing just outside my window.

Every morning for three weeks, I couldn’t wait to see if she was still here and able to feed. I bought her special seed that chickadees adore, and now even nuthatches and siskins were joining the feeder. I could hardly focus on my writing tasks. My heart was captivated by the bird life just 4 feet from my desk.

They were happy!

Was I?

There were reasons to feel sad, as times with family and friends, and traditional festivities, were all on hold. These smallest of feathered birds were filling my soul. They were there for me, a daily gift.

Then four days ago came a nighttime windstorm. The weather dropped below freezing. That next morning, all the small birds were gone; all day, no chickadees! I grieved and worried. Where are they? Did the wind blow them away? Where will they feed? Is my special gift OK? I checked frequently, but no sign of them that day or the next.

Then, on Christmas Eve morning, an especially lonely day, I looked up and there she was, standing on her solitary leg, eating seed. I broke into tears. My gift was back, and it triggered the truth that I was missing my children and grandchildren this Christmas. God knew that. He knew my heart. He knew the gift I needed.

His eye is not only on the sparrow, but the lame chickadee, upon each of us in our brokenness and loneliness. He comes bearing gifts. God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, brings us grace for our failures, strength for our weakness and peace in troubled times. God loves us and knows our hearts.

May we keep our eyes open and expectant for the gifts of 2021!

Gena Bradford is a local author, educator, and speaker; reach her at genabradford.com

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