One day during the tussle between incumbent winter and upstart spring, I was refilling the bird feeder when I heard a faint chirp from near my feet. A red poll had found refuge in a little snow cave under the edge of the shed; only his tiny head peeked out to question my intrusion into his safe zone. After a time of observing him hopping aimlessly without food or ability to fly, I gently captured him and gave him a temporary home in an old aquarium I sometimes use as a bird hospital.
Once he adjusted to the new surroundings and gained strength from regular access to food, water, and rest, we began working on rehabilitating the malfunctioning wing. First attempts at flight resulted in an immediate downward flutter to the floor, but as the days went by my new little friend was able to increase his distance and dexterity to the point where the furniture, walls, and ceiling that were initially dangerous obstructions become perches and play areas. He was ready to return to his natural home where spring had been successfully repudiating winter’s faltering arguments.
The release was gradual – pre-departure flight checks took place in the sun room before venturing through the door to the vibrant expanse of open air. He was cautious, more so than any other bird I have released, but when he did fly away it was with strength and confidence. My job was done. His life had been spared. I felt good.
My feelings of self-satisfaction came to a jarring end not even two weeks later. A brief, but bitter and blustery rebuttal from dying winter had wrecked some havoc and I was out cleaning fallen branches and twigs from the back yard when I saw my little friend. He had found refuge in an unused nesting box, but it was insufficient. The sight of his lifeless body tucked so securely, so hopefully, into a corner of the box crushed me. All my labours to save him had been for naught. Instantly, the whole experience became a vivid corollary to the months of trying to save our son from his determination to die, to the sense that victory over the darkness in his mind was coming to fruition only to come home and find that the struggle had ended in bitter tragedy and endless pain.
I had to walk away from the bird, another unwanted image in the process of embedding itself deep into my memory. I had many questions for God that day. His answers were gentle: not one sparrow (or red poll) will fall to the ground outside My care. Even the very hairs on your son’s head were numbered. Don’t be afraid, he is worth more than many sparrows (or red polls)…
It took some time for me to flounder through the foggy soup of heavy emotion to find anchor once again on the firm foundation of God’s sovereignty. Death is part of the curse of sin in our world, but it is also part of God’s call to eternal life (Jn. 12-14-16). I do not have to understand it all fully to trust fully. When God says that He works in all things for the good of those who love Him, we often want to define the “good” part of that statement according to our values and desires rather than recognizing that God’s view of good is encompassed in eternal, holy, just, and righteous perspectives. There is no etymology of the word good with God because He is – past, present, future – good.
“Let not your heart be troubled,/ His tender word I hear,/ And resting on His goodness,/ I lose my doubts and fear;/ …. When hope within me dies,/ I draw the closer to Him/ From care He sets me free:/ His eye is on the sparrow,/ And I know He cares…