A Nest for Herself

swallow-in-the-snow

A Nest for Herself is the first of several original seasonal stories I am posting to endeavor to convey the truths of  Christmas in a subtler form. These are my gifts to you, dear readers. I hope these small stories draw you into the greatest Story we are looking forward to celebrating.

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It was the lights which first drew her, glowing warmly from tall arched windows. Snow swirled thickly where the yellow beams lay across the sidewalk. Laurie Kay stood just outside their reach, her pale face turned up to the high colored windows set like jewels in the stone facade of the towered cathedral. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth to catch the falling snowflakes on her tongue. They melted on her cheeks, cooling the hot tears trickling down. How did she come to be here in this unfamiliar part of town, where well-dressed people carrying glittering packages rushed past her? Why had she come to Christ Church Cathedral?

A peal of bells cascaded from the top of the tower, ringing out a joyous Christmas carol. In a few hours the carved double doors would swing wide to welcome in people for a Christmas Eve service. She would be far from here by then, maybe at the shelter or on the corner by Tom’s Bar; anywhere she could find a little warmth. If it got colder she might even knock on JD’s door. A few bruises were the price she might have to pay for a warm place to spend the night. He was still mad about her having the baby. She pulled her thin coat as tight as she could around her swelling stomach.

Someone came out of a small door at the base of the cathedral tower and hurried down the street. Laurie Kay caught a glimpse of warm wood paneling and soft yellow lights. Without thinking, she crossed the sidewalk and slipped inside before the door closed automatically behind her. The hush of this holy place fell around her shoulders like a blanket, muffling the clatter of the city beyond its doors. Warmth, stillness, a sweet scent of burning candles and polished wood; she knew this place. Maybe not this actual place, but she knew the atmosphere. She grew up in a place like this, it was like home. She couldn’t go home but maybe she could stay here for a little while to warm up.

Across the city the windows of a simple old church grew increasingly bright with a flickering light. A man inside made his way patiently around the sanctuary, lighting candles tucked in greenery on window sills and walls. At the last pew he blew out the taper in his hand and sank down with a sigh. The old church’s scarred walls and stained ceiling took well to the forgiving candlelight. This gentle light would help hide the sadness in his eyes and strained lines around his mouth. When he stepped up to the pulpit shortly to lead the Christmas Eve worship service, Pastor Randall would need to work hard to project the joy of the Christmas season he wasn’t feeling.
Where was she? Was she warm? Safe? Even alive?

Thoughts of his daughter Birdie wore their weary way through his mind once more. After her mother’s death two years ago, Birdie had turned a hurt and angry shoulder on the life she grew up in. He remembered her as a little girl perched on the edge of the pew below him, her feathery head of dark hair and round brown eyes giving him a focal point while he preached. His wife would gently hold her hand to keep her from fluttering from pew to pew in the middle of his sermon to visit the church family who loved her so much. After his wife’s death he spent long hours alone in his study, unable to deal with Birdie’s despair along with his own. He was helpless against her anger and rebellion, rising from her broken, motherless heart. His feeble attempts to comfort her barely touched the passion of her grief. She flung herself against the loving arms of family and friends until they could no longer hold her. Then she flew away, a crippled bird, into the night.

Laurie Kay caught her breath when she stepped through the recessed door into the vast vaulted chamber of the cathedral’s sanctuary. It was as if heaven’s floor had dropped away so she could gaze up into its glory. The frescoed ceilings far above gathered the glow of a myriad of candles and jeweled scenes in stained glass windows seemed to come alive in their flickering light. There were a few people dotted among the rows of oaken pews. She went unnoticed as she stole up the side aisle to slide in beside one of the tall stone pillars. She leaned her head wearily against its cool surface, gradually relaxing into the warm, quiet hush of the great church.

A rich tapestry hung near the high altar, with intricate threads weaving a picture of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus. Thoughts of her own mother came crowding in to her mind. She was too tired to stop them so she let them flow, remembering the sound of her mother’s laughter, her eyes alight as she held Laurie Kay up to put the angel on the top of the Christmas tree. With the house darkened except for the twinkling tree lights, they would wait for Laurie Kay’s father to come home, and each time he would exclaim how beautiful everything looked. But his gaze was only for her mother and for his little Birdie snuggled close to his side. Such comfort and belonging seemed so long ago, shattered by the sound of sirens in the night and men in white taking her mother hurriedly away. The pain was so great that Laurie Kay had only one urgent desire; to fly, to escape, to lose herself in a life so opposite to what she had known, she would never be reminded of what home used to be. She had succeeded for a time, up until tonight when she turned a corner to see the windows of the great cathedral gleaming through the snow. If this lofty chamber was as near to home as she could find, then she would rest here a while.

She noticed a carving of a small round bird on the high arm of the pew in front of her. Looking closer, she saw a bronze plaque below, with words inscribed.

“Blessed Are They That Dwell in Thy House”
“During the construction of Christ Church Cathedral in 1895, a swallow’s nest with eggs was discovered at the peak of this Gothic arch. Work was halted in this section until the eggs hatched and the fledglings left the nest. When the arch was completed, the nest was preserved in plaster and remains there to commemorate this house of God as a sanctuary for all His creatures.
“Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” Psalm 84:3”

Laurie Kay’s gaze followed the length of the stone column, seeking out a tiny gray nest tucked in the embrace of the curving arch.There it was, the one spot a little mother swallow had chosen as the safest place to have her young. In the midst of the formation of this mighty cathedral she found sanctuary, and God had protected her.
“Will I not do the same for you?”
The words came fully formed in her mind, settling in her heart just above the warm round form of the child within her. There was a safe place she knew of, much like this. She remembered the warmth, the refuge, the love she once knew there. Could she go back…like this? In all her migrations in the mire of this sickened world, she never forgot the sound of her father’s voice calling her his Birdie. Perhaps it was time to wing her way home.

Pastor Randall was reluctant to extinguish the candles yet. Their glow tinged the edges of his heart with a little warmth and he found solace in the quiet of the empty church. There was just enough light to read the banner hung above the pulpit.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
He prayed for God’s good will to reach his daughter, to bring her peace, wherever she was. His requests for her became more simple the longer she was gone, yielding all his anxiety into a single prayer of surrender.
Candle flames guttered in a sudden draft sweeping through the opened church door. Before he turned around, he heard a sound like wings beating the air, becoming the patter of light footsteps running up the aisle. The weight of the child was forgotten as Laurie Kay flew into her father’s arms.

Good Gifts

Navy DadAs June approaches, memories of my father fill my mind and heart, thus these early Father’s Day thoughts.

I didn’t have my father for very long. He died at 60, when I was only 30 years old. When I think of him I remember as a child waiting for a tall, handsome man striding down the gangplank of a Canadian Navy ship to scoop me up in his arms, his dark blue uniform still scented with the exotic places he’d been. I felt a bit shy of him. Three months is long to be apart in a child’s time frame, but a few moments in his arms gave me back my beloved daddy.

He wasn’t an easy man to live with when he was home. Career driven, cycling through bouts of alcohol addiction, I never knew who would walk through the door; the sober father I loved, or the stranger resembling him, with slurred speech and stumbling step. Although his addiction brought pain to my family, I loved him fiercely. He represented strength and protection to me, in spite of his weaknesses. He loved me; imperfectly, but sincerely.

I believe my father’s flawed love was instrumental in my search for and discovery of God, my heavenly Father. Faith was not part of my upbringing, yet I hungered for something to believe in. As an adolescent I learned about a Father who was perfect, unchangeable and reachable. When I heard the story of how God sent His sinless son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die in my place so I could be reconciled to Him, my search was over. The father-love of God filled the empty places in my heart where my earthly father had failed.

Yet many of my father’s ways of loving me showed me God’s heart. He loved to give gifts, especially when he returned from an extended Navy voyage to distant countries. I still have some of those treasured gifts; a Chinese music box inlaid with mother of pearl, a fragrant sandalwood fan from Japan, a toy koala bear from Australia. My father knew how to give good gifts to his children.

When Jesus taught about prayer in Matthew 7, He used the illustration of fathers giving gifts to their children. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! ( Matthew 7:9-11 NIV)

No parent would respond to a hungry child with something injurious, like a stone instead of bread, or a snake instead of a fish. Parents are often foolishly indulgent, but God is all-wise; he knows what we need, what we desire, and what is good for His children. He would not call us to pray, then refuse to hear or give us what would be hurtful.

In the many years since my father has been gone, I have sifted how he parented me through the filter of God’s compassion and forgiveness. I have chosen to be thankful for the good and let go of the negative. Although he did not always fulfill his role well, he conveyed his deep love for me in many ways, and for that I am thankful. When I feel the ache in my heart of missing him still, I go to my heavenly Father to ask for His love to fill in those empty places. He is always faithful to give good gifts to those who ask Him.