Two years ago, I lost my grandpa. He lived a long life, and had sorely missed my grandma – his wife – all of the years since she lost her battle with Parkinson’s disease. In that way, I knew it was time for him to go. But, I loved him so much. I can still hear his voice call me, “Baby doll,” and I can still feel his strong hugs that seemed to wrap me all the way up. I can still see the way he looked at my kids with love and hope for the future. I can hear his TV playing old Westerns, and even now I can almost imagine myself sitting on the couch near his chair and talking with him about all the adventures I had experienced since our last visit. His house was like a second home to me, and he was the glue that held our family together for so many years. His house was the gathering place. And when he died, I felt like I didn’t know where to go anymore. It was like our family was fragmented and disjointed, and I didn’t know if I would be able to put the pieces together again.
Hanging up in my grandpa’s house were blown glass hummingbirds that dangled near the window where the sun’s light could dance through their shapes and refract prisms of light on the wall. Hummingbirds were always important to my grandma, and I can remember sitting on the porch of the mountain house with my mom, dad, brother, cousins, grandparents and so many others as we watched the hummingbirds drink nectar from a feeder. Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures to watch. Their wings move so quickly that as they dart back and forth, it almost looks like they don’t have wings at all. From the hummingbirds hanging in my grandparents’ house to the countless hours and days spent watching hummingbirds with family up in Jamestown, Colorado, I can’t see a hummingbird without feeling like I am with my grandparents again.
Last fall, when it was just a few months before the first anniversary of my grandpa’s death, I was walking through my living room keeping myself busy. I don’t remember if I was cleaning, or going to my desk to work, or what I was doing exactly, but I know I was distracted, and feeling a little hopeless. I looked up for a brief moment and was startled by what I saw. There, at the big picture window, was a brilliant green hummingbird hovering close to the glass. I had never had a hummingbird feeder at our home in Iowa, and I had never seen hummingbirds in the area before. I stopped and fixed my eyes on the hummingbird. I forgot to breathe for a moment. And then, as quickly as the hummingbird appeared, it was gone. Even though it was only a brief moment, my whole day was changed. It was almost like I was there with my grandpa again. Almost like our family was back together, and my grandma was healed from such a terrible disease, almost like the brokenness, sorrow, and pain lifted just for a moment. It was like a preview of heaven for me.
It’s now been almost two years since my grandpa’s been gone, and I can feel myself welling up with tears when I think about it. The smallest things remind me of him, and I can feel the wave of sadness all over again. A box of cherry cordials in the grocery store. The smell of the photo album he gave to me shortly after I went to college. The random memories my son will blurt out about his time at great-grandpa’s house. Picking strawberries in the summer. Making a taco pizza – one of his favorite kinds. And it will all come back to me. Now that it has been two years, it isn’t always sadness that comes back with the memories. Sometimes there is laughter. Sometimes tears. But always this feeling that things in this life are not as they should be.
And then I remember the hummingbird.
On this second week of Advent, I’m thinking about the hummingbird. In the days leading up to the miracle of Christ’s birth, I’m feeling that longing, that incompleteness, that feeling of expectation and hope. I can almost imagine myself groaning with Mary as she made the long journey to Bethlehem. Along with the overwhelming feelings of expectation is also a sense that things are not as they should be. Something needs to happen. We need something. We need someone.
We need a Savior.
And like the hummingbird at my picture window, we know that hope will come. In an unexpected time, at an unexpected place, at a time when we might not even know we so desperately need it. And we will pause, fix our eyes on Jesus, and maybe even forget to breathe for a minute. We will be overwhelmed with joy, and be awestruck at the amazing grace of God.
One thing I have come to love about the hummingbird is the shape of its long beak. It reminds me so much of a trumpet that sounds forth the tidings of good news. In such a small form, the hummingbird inspires such hope. In a chaotic world, the hummingbird seemingly floats in and brings the hope we need. The Savior of this world was not born amid trumpet fanfare. An angel brought the news to shepherds going about their nightly routine. A star shone the way, but so many people didn’t even notice. In a time when there was unrest, disquiet, and Herod was raging with jealousy, our God came as a helpless child. This Advent, I hope you will join me in fixing your eyes on Jesus. Look up and see him in the unexpected. Be so amazed that you forget to breathe. And let’s give God the glory!