We all need hope. Especially when we are facing hard things and feeling scared.
And today a friend sent me this photo on Facebook and it reminded me once again how the sight of this bright red bird is a symbol of hope for me. Like a private message from my Lord.
Dear daughter, just because I love you, Dad.
Sweet girl, don’t lose hope. I am always here for you.
Over the trials of my years there were moments when I would pray that God would send a cardinal, encouraging my hope about whatever difficult situation I was facing.
And that brings me back to Christmas 2009.
I was a single mom laid off from my fulltime communications position 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 record-keeping led to a delay in hearing back on the results.
Then the nurse called.
Something had shown up on my mammo.
No woman ever wants to hear those words. Fear coursed through my veins and my breath caught at the back of my throat. A repeat mammogram was needed as soon as possible.
My insurance had run dry and during the slow moving week before the repeat exam I gazed out the 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?
He spoke back to me Psalm 121 hidden in my heart long before the crisis.
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.
A sure, certain calm covered me, hushing my heart for the moment. He reminded me that He will be with me through any storm.
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 secret sins to my closest sister-girlfriends asking them to pray for my healing.
Each day held a new lesson. An intensive course not in miracles but in how to be more like Him. 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.
After all the praying and crying and wringing of my hands, I asked the Lord for a cardinal. Glancing out the French doors at my yard backed by woods I saw nothing but drab, brown limbs stretching skyward unadorned.
Sunday driving home from church I scoured the roadside in search of the red bird.
Sunday afternoon I asked the Lord to forgive me for asking for anything other than Him. I did not need a cardinal. All I need is Jesus.
Later three precious girlfriends — getting the same heavenly nudge and all calling my cell concurrently — offered similar words of encouragement.
Monday morning reading Psalm 81 one of those girlfriends called to say she had just been praying and God impressed her to call me: “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.”
My heart skipped a beat. Not one, but four.
You sent them after all, my Lord.
Immediate feedback from the radiologist confirmed that my mammo was normal. As I walked back to my car tears streamed and the beauty of the winter’s day, His love for me, and the thousand tiny ways He proclaims His magnificence in whispers completely overwhelmed my heart.
It had been a gift of a week that Christmas season. But it gets better.
Several days later I travelled to celebrate with my family. My mom had beautifully wrapped boxes for me to open.
As I lifted the lid on the first package of a framed print 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 the third gift: a charming votive lamp embellished with holly and a cardinal!
With happy tears I told her all about my week and she was blessed.
And may my Christmas story and the seven cardinals God send bless you, too. No matter what you may be walking through today there is hope because the God of all hope is ever for you.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
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