When we Bartons are feeling sentimental, we write. It’s how we process our world. A few years ago, when our son Nate graduated from high school and went away to college, I wrote this post. And this morning, John wrote the following post about Brynn as we process her graduation and our empty nest. – Sara Time is filled with swift transition.
That is the first line of an old hymn that we sang in my childhood church. It has been decades since I have heard it, but today the melody is emerging from the chambers of memory, and the message is more meaningful than usual. Today Sara and I are especially aware of the swift movements and transitions of life and, as the hymn continues, we are especially aware of our need for “God’s unchanging hand.”
It is 6am on a quiet Sunday morning in Michigan. Later this afternoon, we will be at our youngest child’s High School graduation party. Friends and family will come, eat cake, offer words of congratulations, and we will surround our beautiful little girl (young woman!), our last born, as she perches on the edge of the nest.
Pride. Emotion. Confidence, mixed with self-reflection. Gratitude, with a dash of anxiety. Life is changing and Sara and I have been fluttering around the house, and around Brynn, attending parties and ceremonies and final soccer games, seeing to details, surrounding our baby bird, knowing that our time is short, that our efforts have been partial and imperfect, and our power limited.
Sometimes God gives simple gifts of grace. One such gift has been given to us in the last few weeks through our living room window. Almost exactly one month ago, on Mother’s Day (you can’t make up these details!), we noticed two cardinals starting to build a nest on the branch of a small tree just inches from our gaze. A hard-working brown female with a sharp red beak, and an assisting brightly colored male. Through the glass and screen, they didn’t seem to notice our peering interest as they made multiple trips in and out, and the nest of twigs and pine needles took shape. The work continued over the course of about a week, anticipations of the coming grace.
Meanwhile, Sara and I attended the final games of Brynn’s senior soccer season. Twelve years of soccer. Hard bleachers. Long drives. Rain and occasional snow. Mud on the car’s floorboards. Stinky shin guards in the front closet.
The cardinals’ flitting continued, the constructing and shaping of the nest, all along with our daily peering, until finally the mama cardinal settled, nestled, and laid a small egg. We think there was only one egg, but we only caught fleeting glimpses over the next few weeks. She nestled faithfully, and the male checked in regularly.
And there was Brynn’s honors convocation, senior party, the final “march” through the school hallways with younger students cheering and seniors high-fiving and tossing stacks of class notes in the air.
Then the morning came when the mother cardinal was gone, but only temporarily. A little head peered out and shook awkwardly over the nest’s brim. Baby bird had hatched. A wide open mouth. Food brought and baby fed. And the baby grew incredibly fast. Within a day or two, the shaky peering head revealed a spunky jostling adolescent with an odd arrangement of budding feathers that made me think of the awkward years of braces and pimples. And time didn’t slow for the cardinal family. While the building and nesting took weeks, it now seemed that the little bird’s growth could not be contained.
That was true for our bird too. Just a few days ago, she graduated. Can you believe she is graduating? Cap and gown. Pictures. Lining up. Music and march. “Brynn Noel Barton.”
And then there was yesterday morning. I peered through the window and the baby cardinal was standing boldly on the edge of the nest, gazing out on a big new world, contemplating flight. Mom and Dad were perched side-by-side on the higher branches of a neighboring tree, watching, flitting back and forth, disappearing and reappearing, perching side-by-side again. It felt familiar. Did baby bird roll her eyes and ask for more space?
And then the bird jumped. Not very far…just onto the adjacent branch. But for the next hour we watched as mom and dad continued to dart back and forth between trees, stayed on alert, watched, occasionally landed next to baby bird as if to encourage, affirm, nudge. Baby bird whipped wings, grabbed braches, head and eyes darting back and forth. What’s out there? But there was also a distinct feeling that the baby bird was already beyond the need for mom and dad’s final hoverings. Not yet in full flight, but ready. There is no way to predict or control all the dangers, challenges, and joys that await. But it is time for mom and dad to pull back to allow for full flight.
This morning, as I peer out, the birds are gone. The nest is empty. Time is filled with swift transition, but it is good. And we prepare for Brynn’s graduation party.
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
Oh LORD, we give her back into your hands. Take care of our little bird as she flies.