The Sparrow and the Evergreen Branch

I was sitting on the couch the other morning, coffee cup in hand, laptop open before me. The sun was just starting to come up while everyone else was still asleep. From the living room window, I could see part of the balcony off of our kitchen. It’s there, after each meal, where we shake out the crumbs from the mat under the high chair. The roof of our downstairs neighbor’s balcony extends several feet out beyond our balcony providing the perfect place for the aftermath of a toddler’s eating to land and the perfect place for birds to gather for a feast (much to our landlord’s chagrin). 

As I was sitting there on the couch listening to some lone dog bark relentlessly down the street and the splash of water on concrete from someone turning on a garden hose, I watched several sparrows start to flutter around the balcony, anticipating the remains of our breakfast. 

You guys are a little early, I think to myself. They’re so close to the living room window though, that I remain as still as possible, not wanting my shadow to scare them off. It’s in the small hours of the morning and I’m supposed to be writing, my one pocket of time in the day set aside to do this. But the little sparrows caught all my attention. 

Actually what was pushing its way into my mind that morning was the tension of wanting to be hopeful while also accepting reality, wondering if it’s possible to be an optimist and a realist at the same time.

I kept going back to this statistic I once read that less than one percent of all refugees in the world ever get resettled in a third country. Some eventually move back to their home country, research says, but the majority remain in limbo indefinitely. I don’t even know if that statistic is still accurate, but nevertheless, the odds are stacked against us.

Is limbo all we’ll ever know? Will we always feel this unsettled?

While the birds tweeted and fluttered, I noticed one sparrow in particular perched on the balcony’s wrought iron railing. While the other sparrows hunted around for rogue crumbs, prancing nervously on the roof, this one stood stock-still for several minutes. In its beak was an evergreen branch. 

I watched the little sparrow for a few moments, my mind thousands of miles away. Then somewhere a noise sounded, then a burst of wingbeats and the startled birds flew off to find sustunance elsewhere. The sparrow with the branch in its beak remained. 

Later that afternoon, I stood in the kitchen, propping open the door to the balcony because a spring storm was approaching. I couldn’t resist listening to the patter of rain and the continuous rolling of distant thunder while I made dinner.

While chopping up vegetables, the song “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” began to play on a random playlist I was listening to and I knew the whole thing from earlier that morning was significant. I thought of the sparrow and its evergreen branch, undisturbed by the surrounding clatter.

Hope for the future—for me, for my family, for my friends, for a hurting world—felt like a carrot dangling in front of my face, something just out of reach. Are my arms big enough to carry both hope for a future beyond here and acceptance of reality?

My toddler started pulling at my pant leg right then, demanding me to “dance-dance”, which meant to put on something upbeat (evidently dusty old hymns weren’t cutting it). I let the song end as I finished the last of the vegetables and wiped my hands on a towel. The storm was quickly making its way over our town and a clap of thunder filled the silence of the kitchen as I switched playlists.

She reached up her hands and I sat her on my hip as the first upbeat song began to play. We danced and swayed and giggled in the middle of the kitchen, keeping time to the drumming of the thunder and the beat of a Disney sing-a-long. The rain had picked up and the heavy clouds darkened the room, casting long shadows across the fridge. And there, in the middle of the storm, we touched our foreheads together, twirled in a circle, and laughed some more. 

As I’m typing this, I find myself wishing it was a dove instead that had perched on the balcony earlier that morning. What if it had held an olive branch in its beak? Doves and olive trees exist in this region of the world so it wouldn’t have been totally out of the ordinary. Throw in a rainbow and it would have been so perfectly Old Testament. 

But, in the end, it was a sparrow that showed up. A nondescript, insignificant, little brown bird that sat content on the railing, offering a branch from a tree that can endure even the harshest of weather. A reminder.

Is this how we live in the tension?  Perhaps we need only to go on—day by day, minute by minute, crumb by crumb, sustained by a Creator whose eye is on us, anchored in the promise that we are being taken care of.

We had eggs for breakfast this morning, so no crumbs to shake out. But I felt bad for the birds who were back again, fluttering around our balcony, assuming they’d find some food. In between sweeping the floor and running the dishwasher, I popped a piece of bread into the toaster. 

Stepping out to the edge of the balcony, taking care not to let the screen door slam shut behind me and scare off the poor birds, I crumbled up the toasted bread in my hands and tossed it over the railing.