Seven cardinals for Christmas …

Isn’t the sight of the bright red cardinal against fresh fallen snow one of the most delightful visions?

For me, it’s full of hope.

Reminding me of the blood of Jesus.

And that Christ in us is our hope of glory.

Although not often, whenever I see one it thrills my heart like an unexpected text message of sorts from God.

Dear daughter…just because I love you, Dad. 

Over the years, through various travails, there were moments when I would pray that God would send a cardinal, encouraging my hope about whatever difficult situation I was facing.

And please allow me to clarify. This is not a story about signs from God, but rather a commentary on His sweet and loving ways towards us and the little things He does just because He knows it will touch our hearts.

He is and always will be the One true God, to be pursued for no other reason than Himself.

I must admit, though, I love it when he personalizes his communications with me in tender ways I long remember, showing me again that He is closer than my next breath, He understands my heart and He knows just what I need before I do.  Cardinals, those vibrantly hued harbingers of hope, are one of God’s many fingerprints in our daily lives.

And that brings me back to shortly before Christmas 2009.

I was a single mom who had been laid off from my fulltime position in communications and marketing one week after my 50th birthday in October.  And November marked the end of a serious relationship that I thought had lifelong potential.

Prior to my medical insurance running out, I had a mammogram. A glitch in communications with my doctor’s office and the inability to locate my old records led to a delay in hearing back on the results.  No news was good news to me and I happily prepared for what would be a meager Christmas, though none the less merry.

When the nurse called to say something had shown up on my mammo, fear coursed through my veins in an instant and my breath caught at the back of my throat. No woman ever wants to hear those words.  A repeat mammogram was needed as soon as possible, she said, to determine what next might need to be done.

By this time, my insurance had run dry. One day during the slow moving week before the repeat exam, I gazed out the front windows at the distant hills.

If this is the worst case scenario, Lord, how will I ever pay for treatments, continue to work, take care of my home and family, especially on my own?

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
 

As God spoke back to me the words of Psalm 121 which I had hidden in my heart long before the crisis, a sure, certain calm covered me, hushing my heart for the moment.  He reminded me that He will be with me through the storm, no matter what.

Those seven days between the nurse’s call and my repeat mammo were a time of cleansing, healing and growing.  Like David in Psalm 51, I asked God’s forgiveness.

Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities, I prayed as I confessed some here-to-for secret sins to my closest sister girlfriends, asking them to pray for my healing.

God held me extra close during this weeklong detox while he purged the old so that the new might come in.  As Jesus refers to the old skins and new wine, God took me by the hand and lead me forward degree by degree lest I burst wide open or flee the time of teaching.

Each day held a new lesson, an intensive course – not in miracles — but in how to be more like Him.  The Lord showed me many things which I am certain He has shown you, too.  And the particulars of my sin, like yours, are not worthy of even being recorded, for sin is sin.  The same sacrifice removed them all.  Suffice it to say, my sins were as scarlet, but he washed me white as snow.

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. 

Reaching the end of my praying about the outcome of the repeat mammogram, I asked the Lord if perhaps He might send a cardinal for me to see because I needed a little boost.  Glancing out the French doors at my yard backed by woods, I saw nothing but drab, brown limbs stretching skyward unadorned.

However, later on that chilly Saturday afternoon with Christian music playing, Jesus asked me to dance.  Yep, He did.  He really did!

Taking me in His arms, he twirled me around the kitchen until I left the spirit realm and reverted to interpreting the world around me via my human senses.  While the dance lasted but a moment, it will be in my heart for all eternity.

Sunday, driving home from church, I scoured the roadside, ever in search of the illusive red plumage that might streak across the sky.

Then Sunday afternoon I asked the Lord to forgive me for asking for anything other than Him.  I did not need a cardinal.  I did not even need to be twirled in the kitchen.  All I need is Jesus…

Several other delightful things unfolded that afternoon, including three precious girlfriends getting the same heavenly nudge and all calling my cell concurrently with very similar words.

Monday morning, as I sat down early to read Psalm 81, one of those girlfriends called to say she had just been praying for me and God impressed her to call:  “Read Psalm 81, it’s for you this morning.” 

In your distress you called and I rescued you… 

With this message in my heart and a tired peacefulness after a week of wrestling, I took myself to the imaging department at the cancer center at our local hospital.

As I was preparing for my encounter with the mammo machine, I commented on the technician’s Christmas decorations.

Four little green Christmas trees with four little red birds.

“Are those the partridges in a pear tree?” I asked.

“No,” came her quick reply, “those are cardinals.”

Cardinals!

Not only one, but four.  You sent them after all, my Lord.  My heart skipped a beat and tears welled in my eyes.

He had waited until the very last moment and then sent me cardinals, illustrating an assurance that all was fine and that He loved me very much.  (As much as He loves you!)

Immediate feedback from the radiologist confirmed that all was indeed fine.  As I walked back to my car, tears streamed and I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the winter’s day, the beauty of His heart and the teeny, tiny ways He reaches out to us as He proclaims His magnificence in whispers.

It had been a gift of a week that Christmas season.  I had learned much.  Heaved some baggage over the side.  Grown closer to my nearest and dearest friends.  And gotten a bit more insight into how much His heart is always for me.

Several days later, I travelled to Yonkers to celebrate the birth of our Lord with my family.  My mom had beautifully wrapped boxes for me to open.

As I lifted the lid and saw what the first package held, an astonished gasp escaped my lips. “How did you know to get me a cardinal?”

She replied she hadn’t known anything.  She just liked it and thought I would too.

Then I opened her second box.  A beautiful embroidered pillow featuring a cardinal in all his splendor.

And when I carefully removed the paper from the third gift, I spied the Lenox logo, my favorite brand of china and decorative items for decades.  But it got better.  Inside was a charming votive lamp embellished with holly and a …cardinal!

With a few happy tears, I recounted what my week had held.  To protect my mom from worry, I had earlier chosen not to share about the pending medical testing.  My Christmas story blessed her, I am sure, as it illustrated His personal and very real love for each of us, His precious children.

There are other cardinal stories I could relate, a particular one which in retrospect heralded the coming of my new husband, but perhaps those are for another day.

I will leave you with this story of how the Lord sent a scared single mom seven cardinals one trying Christmas season… the memory of which will forever roost in my heart, reminding me always of the hope we have in Him.

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