The Heron’s Lesson

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Its Sunday afternoon. I drop my backpack filled with two rackets and a sleeve full of tennis balls onto the court. The cement is cold, but the sun is out, melting the ice that was freshly scrapped to the fence line that encaged us. A forty-degree day in February felt like the first calling of spring. As we volleyed back and forth, I looked up to see a bald eagle soaring just above our court. I had to lift my hand to cover the sun to see it circle in the distance.

It was a gift really. A majestic reminder of strength. As I dropped my hand from my forehead and looked back to the court, I glanced down at my sweatshirt. It had an eagle on the front. I was wearing a basic college sweatshirt, but that eagle symbolized the resilience and fierce nature of this solitary bird.

As I thought to myself, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a student just a week before. She equated her high weeks as if she were an eagle, soaring above the heights. Above the daily troubles, concerns, and pains of her heart. But what about the low days? She felt discouraged, depressed, and lonely. With tears in her eyes, she asked if eagles ever got frustrated or sad. I ventured to say they do.

In Hebrew Scripture, the prophet Isaiah reminds the nation of Israel of God’s character and promises in their time of desperation. He writes,

“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31)

He will renew their strength like the eagles. May it be so.

I sat there with my student in silence. If she were to be an eagle, she would need to be strong. To hold it together. Keep her emotions in check. Smile in the presence of her peers and professors.

I broke the quiet and told her a story I had recently read by author Sarah Bessey in her book Miracles and Other Reasonable Things. With intimacy and depth, Sarah describes the miracles that she has seen in her life. Some instantaneous, supernatural, surreal. Others slow, painful, requiring tremendous effort.

As Sarah reflects on her own faith, she says it was more like a heron than an eagle. I think I would say the same. The heron is patient, hiding in the reeds of a nearby lake. She doesn’t stand out. She’s flexible, attuned to her environment. She knows the power of timing and waits to come out of hiding in just the right moment.

Perhaps that is strength too. I looked at my student and I told her that she didn’t have to feel like an eagle. I told her maybe she could be a heron too.

Sometimes the healing is slow. Deep healing often is. There will be days when our strength is renewed like the eagles, and we thank God for that. But sometimes healing feels like we’re treading through muddy water with our boots weighed down in the murky earth.

Whatever the healing looks like, may we give thanks for it all. For the miraculous and the ordinary. Healing may not be in an instant but a million little instants. Healing happens when we nourish these broken bodies with food, sleep, and plant them around meaningful people. Healing happens when we write in our journals, take our medicine, and make it to our chiropractor appointments.

Healing comes in her own time. Whether in a moment or many moments. When we look back over the years or as we stand on this ground without pain in places we thought we may never recover.

In the same chapter of Isaiah where God reminds Israel that he renews their strength like the eagles, He also says that he will hold them close to his heart like a lamb (Isaiah 40:11). He will take the lost and feeble sheep in His arms and comfort them. Maybe this is healing too.

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