Lessons From the Cardinals

Cami and I love nature. We’ll take 30 minutes to watch a caterpillar eat on a leaf, or a spider spin-wrap its prey, or a toad hide in the grass.

By far, our favorite nature activity is bird watching.

Lately, we’ve seen numerous cardinals. God’s been whispering encouragement to my weary heart through these beautiful red birds:

*Some food is better than other food.*
A bird feeder hangs in the dogwood tree in front of my house. One year, I kept it filled with sunflower seed because the bird seed bag said sunflower seed would attract songbirds.

The songbirds showed up. But so did the squirrels. The feeder is supposed to be squirrel-proof, but the sunflower seed was an incentive for the squirrels to live dangerously. The squirrel (Cami called them all “Chippy”) shimmied out onto the branch that holds the feeder. When Chippy reached the spot over the hanging birdfeeder, he launched himself toward the ground. On his way down, he grabbed the perch at the bottom of the feeder with his paw (sometimes the front one, most often the back one) and pulled himself up to the feeder. Then he wrapped himself around the feeder and munched away on the sunflower seed.

You have to admire that out-of-the-box thinking, don’t you?

I was filling the bird feeder with sunflower seed every other day–not because I wanted to watch squirrel acrobats, but because there were indeed beautiful visitors to the now-Chippy feeder: goldfinch, titmice, chickadees, purple finches, and cardinals. The local chipmunks and sparrows enjoyed the seed detritus underneath the feeder as well. I didn’t begrudge Chippy his well-earned snacks; it’s just that I’d rather watch birds and chipmunks.

So I tried a different kind of birdseed: safflower seed. Guess what? Chippy didn’t like it. So the seed lasted longer in the feeder. I saw more cardinals than ever before in my life. They came in, ate their fill, then swooped up to the dogwood branch and sang their songs. Maybe they were letting all their friends know the Chippy-buffet had been converted and was again songbird-welcoming.

In Cami’s world, some learning environments were better than other learning environments. Our church’s homeschool co-op didn’t work for us in her earlier years because the structure and class sizes hit all her hidden disability buttons, which triggered all my rescue instincts, so everyone went home agitated and exhausted. Her best learning environments included kinesthetic activities with simultaneous visual input and clear auditory input with room to stop the activity if she needed to ask questions or tell someone a Pokemon fact she was thinking.

I came to realize that it was up to me to create those effective learning spaces for Cami because her struggles with crowds so drastically affected her learning processes. Now as we navigate her finishing high school studies and asking the what’s-next questions, I have to trust that I’ve taught her the most effective “food” for her best learning environments, and where to find those places and tools for herself.

*The best way to learn a song is to sing it.*

I love to sit and watch birds from my home office window. A few weeks ago, I watched a male cardinal high up in the tulip poplar behind the fence. While the tree branches swayed in the swift breeze, I discerned three parts of his song. (Do the females sing? I wonder.) What made the bird’s song change? Was he adjusting to the breeze, finding his footing on the branches as they moved in the wind?

Whatever he was doing, he was singing. Loudly. I noticed that he was a juvenile, not quite totally red, mostly dark gray with a red head. I thought, “That young whippersnapper has the right idea! I should have his courage.”

We should all have his courage. The “right idea” = sing for all we’re worth (which is a lot) + don’t worry about what others think of our singing. Our homeschool life doesn’t look like anyone else’s homeschool life. It never has. But we learn so much that we would never grasp if we had to learn it in the traditional classroom style.

*All I have to do is take the next step.*

Some days, I spend huge amounts of minutes just watching the cardinal activity in the front of my house. Spring keeps the mamma cardinals busy.  I saw a female cardinal in the parking lot, hopping along with a bundle of twigs in her mouth. She must have hopped for a good five minutes, all the while with those twigs in her mouth. (So maybe they don’t sing—with all those twigs in the way. . .)

I thought, “Wow. She isn’t thinking about her husband’s upcoming business travel. She isn’t thinking about the church schedule for next week. She isn’t thinking about the homeschool plan for tomorrow. She’s just making a nest now because that’s what time it is: spring is egg-laying time, and egg-laying needs a nest.” She was so busy, hopping about, taking only the next step. She wasn’t fluffing the nest yet because she was still building it. There’ll be plenty of time to fluff it later, when she’s sitting on those eggs in her sturdily and timely built nest.

Thank You, Jesus, for the lessons You teach us through Your creation. Open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to understand what You’re saying to us. Oh, how we need You, Lord.

All my children will be taught by the LORD,
and great will be their peace.
I am a servant of the LORD, and
this promise is my heritage.
(Isaiah 54:13, 17)

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