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Cardinals in the Trees

By Catherine Arveseth

Marveling at the tree canopy that covers much of Amelia Island, I stand on a running path with my chin pitched upward, wishing I could finger the spanish moss dripping heavy from a giant oak above my head.

The morning is already hot. And humid.

It feels like Virginia, where we used to live. Same kind of shady paths. Same humidity. Same sound of cicadas swelling loudly, as they saw the air together.

I am tagging along with Doug who has a work trip in Florida. And while it was stressful getting ready to leave the kids for a week, I am so glad we are here. Grateful to sweep off parts of my soul that have been sleeping. Happy to have some time with Doug.

Chin still pointed into the trees, I see a flash of red against green. Red wings opening briefly as they sail to a new branch.

And then I see it clearly. A cardinal. My red bird of promise.

She has always been such to me. Since my mission to Illinois, when I saw her perched on a wooden feeder outside the window of an old home in Nauvoo, swinging gently above  untouched snow.

Each time I see her, I hear that whisper from heaven that I am known. That God recognizes me, hears me, cares for me.

Not sure how I came to this conclusion. There’s no cardinal doctrine. Just the quiet feeling that settles in me each time I see one flash through the woods or glide across the snow.

Always, it feels like a gift.

I pick up my feet and start running. Amelia’s maritime forest is much like Virginia. And I can’t stop thinking about the cardinal.

Years ago when Doug and I were struggling through the high-lows of infertility, we discovered I was pregnant with our second baby.

Because this pregnancy was the result of IVF and we had implanted two embryos, it was unknown yet if the pregnancy meant one baby or two.

Earlier that week we told Eliza, who had just turned one, that we were going to have another baby. I was sitting in the rocking chair, singing to her, when she suddenly picked her head up off my shoulder and declared, “Babies!” Plural. And from that moment on, it was always “the babies.” She would pray for “the babies in mommy’s tummy.”

But we didn’t know for sure. One of the embryos wasn’t very viable and it was unlikely both had taken.

A few days later I was pushing her in a stroller up a steep wooded path near one of Virginia’s nature centers. That afternoon I had an appointment for an ultrasound to determine the health of the baby. Or babies.

As we struggled up the hill, two cardinals suddenly appeared right in front of Eliza on the trail. She bent her little body over the edge of the stroller for a better look. They jumped and swirled and flitted around each other, dancing and hopping. It looked as if they were playing with each other.

Eliza giggled.

They flew a few feet ahead of us, so we pushed the stroller forward. And on went the game. They would hop ahead of us and we would follow. They stayed with us all the way up that hill. I’d never seen anything like it. Two birds, unafraid, seeming to enjoy each other so much. It was then that the thought came to me, “Two. You are having two babies. This is my gift to you.”

And that afternoon, my husband and I saw what Eliza already knew: two hearts flickering on the ultrasound screen, valves opening and closing, twin lives fluttering next to each other.

Cardinals are my sign from heaven. My belief that God speaks to us through nature. That he knows each of us. And that his love is always there for us.

While I don’t pretend to know God’s mind, I do believe, he doesn’t want us to forget the miracles he was worked in our lives. He needs us to remember, to see, to recognize his hand.

But we drift. We get so busy we don’t notice. We doubt the signs and wonders we have seen.

Remember the Nephites, who saw a night with no darkness and a new star – both signs of the Messiah’s birth?

Only four years later, “the people began to forget the signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven” (3 Nephi 2:1).

In his talk from last conference, Bishop Gérald Caussé said, “Our ability to marvel is fragile.”

And I agree. To marvel is something we must practice.

So I am reminded after seeing the cardinal in the oak yesterday, that God forgets no one. He is mindful of you, of me. Of those who have left. Of those who are unsure. Of those who stay.

And if we set aside time for Him, we will be given new eyes.

Eyes to see the cardinals in the trees.

What signs or wonders have been personal for you? How can we practice the art of marveling and seeing? How does recognizing God in your life strengthen your faith? 

photo credit: andrewslatonphoto.com

About Catherine Arveseth

Catherine Arveseth is mother to five children, including two sets of twins. She is an exercise physiologist by profession, writer by passion, loves hiking with her family, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and the edge of an ocean. She and her husband, Doug, began their family in Virginia but now live in Salt Lake City, Utah. She blogs at wildnprecious.com.

9 thoughts on “Cardinals in the Trees”

  1. Catharine, this is why I absolutely love reading anything you write. This is so beautiful. I, too, love the cardinals from VA and in CA I miss that tiny bit of loveliness. But, yesterday on my walk to work I saw a feisty blue jay and had to stop and stare and I felt something of the wonder you felt on the island. So glad you have had a chance to get away, too. Just a reminder that you are even more than a mother, as important as that is. Enjoy your time alone with Doug! Sending love and best wishes.

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  2. This touched me so much this morning. How poetically you expressed this concept of the signs of God's love! Thank you, Catherine.

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  3. Oh, I love you. I have allowed myself to become less tender and less aware of these gifts. I want to regain these eyes of faith. Thanks, sweet Cath.

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  4. Catherine, how beautiful! Thank you for writing and sharing your spirit with us!
    Some weeks ago I was asked to speak in a sacrament meeting on the topic of spiritual gifts.
    We ALL have one, at least one. The world and satan want us to be distracted from pursuing and them. Realizing gifts of the spirit takes faith, patience and courage. But what a GIFT they are!! Signs and wonders do abound. If we have the faith to recognize them they can strengthen us, guide us, bless us, bless others. You said this all so beautifully above. I just want to add my testimony to yours and say thank you.

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  5. What beautiful writing, Cath! I just love your heart! You have inspired me again and again with your grateful, humble soul. Thank you so much! I loved reading more about the miracles surrounding your twins' arrivals.

    Birds for me have also been significant symbols. Several times during very stressful moments, I have looked outside and seen a pair of doves sitting near our home and felt the Spirit gently remind me that God is mindful of us and directing us in our lives.

    Love you, dear Catherine.

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  6. Thank you for this reminder to remember, sweet friend. I have been sort of indoorsy lately, and although God can speak to us anywhere, it is good to be outside and marvel at his creations. This reminded me of a time when we also lived in Virginia, Marc was going into business for himself and I was petrified and paralyzed with worry. One day my stomach hurt so much I stepped out onto our second story deck to sit on the steps and pray. Our back yard was full of lush, green gum trees and the breeze was making the branches sway and whisper like water. That sound had the spirit in it and I've remembered it so many times-God telling me all would be well. Hugs and kisses to you.

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  7. This was a beautiful post! I'm also stirred by this idea that our ability to wonder is fragile. The believing-before-seeing principle can seem more and more strange in our scientific-method-paradigm world. But it reminds me of those drawings that have a hidden picture. The picture is there, but you can only see it after you believe there's something more there. For those without eyes to see, it's simply the first image. You have to choose to see the second.

    I have also had an experience where I felt a bird was God's messenger to me, so I related to your experiences with cardinals. Here's a post about my bird story: http://birdsongmoments.blogspot.com/2013/07/bird-songs.html?q=bird+songs

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