Because Andy set up a kitchen table office, in front of the french windows, overlooking our small back yard, he was the first to see the wren.
The wren built her nest in an un-pruned, bed-head of jasmine, on a rotting trellis by the kitchen window. In a tangle of mis-spent vines that stroke and stray across the red brick wall of the house she layered up, cocoon-like, a spun wonderment of nest. She layered up moss, stalk, grass and stem with the remnants of dead leaves and the brittle white hair from the tail of a horse. For the love of one hundred small journeys back and forth, she spun before our watching eyes, stalk upon stem and feather-lined: a home from the dust. At the kitchen table office the work comes slow but good, we have enough. He typed out proposals, completed reports and answered his mail, whilst spent fibre was bent into a bed and summer leftovers formed the roof above the wren’s feathered head.
And then, one day, she was gone.
We both worked on through early spring days, him at the table, me out of the house. Long days and too much to do. Hearts can be discouraged but each night there is food on the table and our fine children sit with us to eat. They tell us their grades and their dreams between sips of juice and with mouths crammed full of hot potatoes, salad and dessert. They help us remember that we too have dreams and dead dreams can live.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says,
So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling.
Everything is meaningless – like chasing the wind.
I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.
So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety?
Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest.
It is all meaningless.
Daylight saving, the clocks go forwards. The evenings are longer and the daylight is more. Leaving the dishes in the sink and the washing machine un-emptied I step into the yard with a mug of tea. It’s six o’clock and the birds sing loud and long into the shameless blue sky. The gravel in the yard shines rain-washed under my feet. Hosta shoots stand proud in frost cracked terra cotta, rampant strawberry leaves tumble out of the raised beds onto the path. The rose is heavy with hard green buds, the ferns coiled tight, hyacinth flowers like stars, alchemilla mollis leaves hold globes of rain drops like a jewel. On the rotting trellis by the kitchen window stalks of jasmine, brown and dead, find a way to shoot and leaf. And then I take a look at the well spun nest …
I stare into the nest and the wren stares back.
The bird we thought had flown, she is there in her nest. She will lay eggs. She will sit on them, keep them warm. And in a few short weeks she will be feeding young.
Dreams die. Toil takes charge. Hope slips when our sight slips and we grieve what is gone instead of naming what we have. It would seem we did not look closely enough, we did not wait and watch. This is how we live in thin times: our eyes struggling to focus. This is how we live in thin times, because God is still good and grace turned up in a thousand shocking ways. Grace in the place you least expected it. You stared hard at the darkness and the face of joy stared back. When you thought joy had flown, you stared into the black opening of an empty nest and hope stared back.
Grace showed up like a bird: one quarter ounce of beating heart, chiselled tail, black bead eye and speckled wing.
Here she is now on the garden wall with her little-big-voice song, a song she sings for all glory like the very stones cried out in praise. She does not labour nor toil yet Solomon in all his splendour was not so well arrayed.
And how much more does your Father in heaven love you?
How much more does He love you?
So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work.
Then I realised that these pleasures are from the hand of God.