Remember the Cardinal

Photo credit: Harvey Reed, Pexels

A couple of years ago, we set out a bird feeder on our deck as a fun way to bring nature a little closer to our doorstep. It was great fun to be able to sit at the breakfast table with the kids and watch out the sliding glass door as birds of all shapes and sizes came to feast on a smorgasbord of sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and millet. We saw woodpeckers, sparrows, dark-haired juncos, and goldfinches (my personal favorite), come in droves throughout the day. We even made a special trip to the store to find a book on birds native to our area of the country, and the kids spent many a happy hour looking for the matching pictures of the birds they saw so that we could read about their habits and favorite tidbits to eat. There was one bird, however, that we couldn't seem to coax to our feeder: the cardinal. Henry was fascinated with the male's bright red feathers, and we had seen them flying across the road near our house many times, but, for whatever reason, they didn't seem to be interested in the goodness we had to offer them.

About a month into our failed attempts at cardinal baiting, Henry asked if we could pray that one would come to our house. We hadn't been able to coax one here so far, even with all of the research we had done, so I wasn't optimistic. I knew better than to discourage praying, even for something that seemed so trivial, so I half-heartedly agreed that we could give it a shot. It couldn't hurt, right? Little did I know that God was about to teach me a lesson in faith that I won't soon forget.

Henry prayed every day, and approached each morning and afternoon feeding with such hope and expectation, fully believing that God would answer his prayer with a "yes". Still, there was no cardinal. I began to lose what little hope I'd started with. "Honey, God might say no, and that's ok," I told him.

Days turned into weeks-- two, to be exact-- and yet, Henry still prayed. I'll never forget the excitement one morning as he came running into the bedroom screaming, "Mom! MOM!!! God answered my prayer! God answered my prayer! There's a cardinal outside near the bird feeder!" I cried. While my faith had doubted, Henry had kept praying, and God had answered "yes".

The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Forty years of wondering if God would fulfill His promise, questioning what in the world was taking so long. Yes, that forty years was a result of their lack of faith, but what about all of the children who were born during those forty years.? They no doubt had heard stories of deliverance and of God's promise to give them a home, but did that pillar of fire at night and cloud by day really know where it was going? He could easily have given them what they desired much earlier, but He had something better planned for them: a lesson that increased their faith and prepared them for the battles they would face once they entered Canaan. Perhaps that was what God was doing with the cardinal-- increasing Henry's faith and teaching both of us that God's denial of instant gratification, doesn't mean He isn't listening.

I'm ashamed to admit that I often quit when the going gets tough. I look at my struggle with anxiety, and the desire to control. I question why God doesn't remove those thorns of pain. I see my friends struggling with infertility, difficult marriages, and cancer diagnoses, and I wonder why God hasn't provided a miracle. I reason that God should answer our prayers for deliverance with a resounding "YES!" and take away the hurt and difficulty, and question why God would allow suffering and heartache. I become angry when He seems silent to our cries.

 What I must choose to believe, though, is that God has a plan so much better than anything we could ever dream up for ourselves. I cling to verses like II Corinthians 4:17, which reminds me that pain in this life is temporary, and James 1:12, which promises blessing on those who persevere, despite the pain. I cannot stop praying just because God seems silent. His answer may not always be what I think it should be, but that's a good thing, since He knows the whole picture, and I don't.

Forty years into the wandering, God brought it all full circle. He had answered the Israelites' prayers for deliverance at the Red Sea when rescue from the pursuing Egyptians had seemed hopeless, and He again miraculously provided at the end of their desert journey by parting the waters of the Jordan River so that they could cross over into the Promised Land. He then commanded them to pull twelve stones from the river, and set them up as a memorial. I love Joshua's explanation of what these stones were to do... "so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord's hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God." (Joshua 4:24, CSB)

I do love it when He does answer "yes", don't you?  Henry prayed specifically, and as soon as he saw the cardinal at our bird feeder, he knew that God had answered his prayer. The simple arrival of that tiny creature increased not only Henry's faith, but our faith as a family, as well.

Stories of answered prayer can affect the faith of those around us, and serve as reminders in the darkness that God is mighty and powerful. Nothing is too hard for Him.

The Israelites had rocks to help them remember God's power. Our family has a cardinal, all because a little boy believed that God was powerful enough to do what seemed impossible to me.

Heavenly Father, please forgive me for my lack of faith. So often I immediately turn to doubt and worry when you seem silent, instead of trusting that You have it all under control. Remind me of your faithfulness in the past;  may I cling to it as I look to the future, knowing that Your power is limitless, and your plans are not without purpose. Open my eyes that I may see how waiting increases my faith, and use the waiting to teach me what it means to be more like You.


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