By Kay Etheredge
Every year we hang two ferns on our front porch. Every year the ferns serve as a place for a family of house finches to build their nest. I say family because generations of these same birds have nested on our porch. Our children were all still at home when we first noticed the tiny birds inspecting the ferns. They flitted to and fro and then decided that the ferns were perfect for them. We delighted in watching the male and female birds hard at work, building straw by straw their nest, and we delighted even more at the chirping of baby birds on our porch. Each time we walked out our front door the mother flew away, and we felt a degree of pride and sadness as the birds learned to fly and left their cozy home.
The next year the birds were back…we assumed they were the babies, now grown, returning to build their own nests in our ferns. Year after year we notice them outside our living room window darting in and out of the ferns and we announce to anyone who happens to be nearby that the finches are back.
Meanwhile, two of our own children have married and left our nest and have had children themselves, carrying on the process of expanding our family and building new generations. They still enjoy the progress of the finches and it has been a thrill to show our older grandchildren the baby birds. We lift them up and oh so carefully pull back the fern fronds, revealing tiny beaks opening and closing as they await their next meal.
This year the finches were back and I enjoyed seeing them carefully building their nest in one of our ferns. I was preparing to travel to Wisconsin to help our youngest daughter pack her things to move back to Alabama. She will be married in August so even though I was excited about her being here for the summer, it was tinged with sadness at the thought that she would be here only for a minute and then she would not be back to live in our home again. Each time I opened the front door I would see Mama Finch fly away, and I sneaked a few peeks at the baby birds in the fern. I could hear their chirping each day and feared that I would miss their learning to fly while I was in Wisconsin.
I flew to Wisconsin and spent the next week packing and working to get our daughter’s things ready. One day my husband called and his voice was somber as he said, “Something got the baby birds last night”. I was horrified and so was he. He said how he had gone out to water and the fern was pressed apart, then he saw the nest itself was in the flower box below and feathers were strewn everywhere. We began to wonder if the entire family had been killed or just the babies. It was too sad to allow ourselves to think that their family lineage had been interrupted by some intruder. I told my husband to look back on the security camera to see if he could see what happened. He said he didn’t know if he could stand to watch it.
Several weeks later we did look at the security camera for other reasons and we discovered that the intruder was a large black cat. We don’t own a cat and don’t know where the cat came from, but in the middle of the night he half jumped, half climbed into the fern and ate the beautiful finches. I told my husband I felt almost responsible…like somehow we had let them down. My husband told me days after that he saw the finch parents eating from our bird feeder. We rejoiced together that the mama and daddy finch had survived. I wondered if birds grieve the loss of their babies. I wondered if their hearts can break.
Last week our daughter and I sat at the dining room table working on wedding invitations and I saw movement outside the window. As I looked, I saw the finch parents back at work, building a new nest. This time they put it in the fern next to the fern where their babies were killed. Yesterday when I walked outside I saw the mother fly out of the fern and I heard loud chirping from down inside the fern.
Here at Brother Bryan Mission we have seen some of the same men cycle in and out of the program. Some we have known through ministry at another mission, some we have known because they have been here before. It is hard to see the same men succeed, fail, and come back through the doors to try again. But some do come back and it can maybe be seen as an encouragement to see that they believe in the process and they remember the help and progress they experienced here. They know the love that staff members extend and they want to try again. I remember as a teenager when my parents would leave the porch light on when one of us was still out at night. I think at Brother Bryan the porch light is on and there are men who return to that light when they have failed and life for them has become dark. There are loving staff members here who lead them gently back into the Light that illumines even the hardest and steepest path.
God is faithful. He is faithful in the lives of tiny house finches and He is faithful in the lives of men who reach out to Him from places of desperation.
Little tiny finches are learning to fly in Crestwood. Two birds, brave in the face of adversity, decided to try again. They returned to the same porch where year after year there are two ferns…something that is familiar and comfortable…almost like a porch light…waiting on them to come home.