My Father’s Flock

"The God of big miracles is also the tender giver of tiny ones that happen every day. We just need to be watching." by Pauline Hylton
Blue Sky with sun and birds flying.

I didn’t know it was the last week of my father’s life. He had two leg amputations, and I was his caregiver for years. Who knew it would be over in a few short days? The Lord, that’s who.

After seven years of in-home caring for both of my parents, I’d transferred my father to the nursing home less than a mile from my home about five weeks earlier. It was the worst day of my life. On that day when I visited him, he lay in bed, a vacant look in his eyes, and that hurt a lot. 

This was the father I knew who once told me, when our gas tank registered empty, “Let’s give it the old college try!” And then laughed. We ran out of gas. He was the man that sat in the back of a police squad car dressed in full Salvation Army uniform while a policeman interviewed me after I’d slid into a car on an icy road. He didn’t say a thing, but knowing he was there made me feel safe. 

My father led Scout troops on nature hikes and collected poisonous snakes and gave talks about them to other troops. On several occasions, he took me snake hunting with him. “If I get bit, you’ll have to carve two x’s on the bite and suck out the blood, Okay sister?” Solemnly he’d meet my gaze. “Yes, Daddy,” I said having no idea how I could do that. But my father told me to, and I trusted him. I treasured the time he spent with me—even if it was hunting for snakes. He loved to tell me about the birds and the bees. “Did you know that bees do a special dance to tell the hive where the food is and how far away it is?” Then he would demonstrate his “bee dance” until I couldn’t stop laughing.

My father especially loved birds. We’d be driving down a busy street in The Salvation Army van on my way to middle school. All of a sudden, he’d swerve, pull over, grab his binoculars and say, “There is a pileated woodpecker! They always travel in pairs. Sister—look there’s the other one!” By that time, I was terrified that a classmate would see me, so I huddled under the dashboard, pretending to have dropped a school folder. Often, I’d find him in his office, engrossed in a book about nature. He also had two albums on the mating calls of the Humpback Whales. He played them incessantly. “Isn’t that amazing, Pauline? Listen to their calls.” He’d smile at me and say, “God created each animal so different. These whales travel…”

He kept talking as I excused myself to move on to more interesting conversations. So after his first amputation, and a severe depression, I decided to take action. “Mom, I’m going to put seed on out fence so attract birds.” You know the saying about teenagers, “If you feed them, they will come.” The same works for birds. Within a week, I had about six species of birds along with a dozen squirrels frequenting my fence. I would sit on the lanai with my parents as we sipped our morning coffee. My father sat entranced by God’s creation. “See the cardinal pair, Dad? Look, the female has only one leg and her mate feeds her.” He’d look at me and smile.

After his second amputation, I placed birdseed on the rehab window. He brightened some but said little. On the first day of the week that my father would die, I came to his room. “Get up, Dad, we’re going to go for a walk!” He looked at me but did not respond. After the aides hoisted him out of his bed, they placed him in the wheelchair for our late morning outing. I chatted as we passed the nurse’s station. He said something. Bending down I heard in barely a whisper, “Juice. Chocolate.” 

“Could you get my father some juice please?” I asked the nurses. After he took a few swallows, we set out on our daily walk around the property. We passed the ballfield where we often stopped to watch the children play. That day, it lay vacant. I headed for the pond with the double dolphin statue.

As we rounded the corner, we were surrounded by birds. There were seagulls, pelicans, blue herons and Muscovy ducks. “Look dad! See all the birds!” I couldn’t believe it. Mallards approached us; a blue heron dined casually on fish. An egret stared at the metal wheelchair. Then I saw them.

I bent down and gazed at several rarely seen wood storks. “Dad, look at the wood storks! I can’t believe there are so many of them!” For a moment, I saw the glint in my father’s eyes of a young man. His face brightened as he looked at me, “Wood storks,” he said simply. Then he smiled. Those were the last words my father ever spoke to me.

We stayed for a while. Then I took my daddy back to his room and the staff put him in his bed. Bending over, I kissed him. “I love you daddy. See you tomorrow.” I received a call later that evening. Dad’s sugar was over 400. He never regained consciousness.

I’ve often thought of that day—the perfect gift my heavenly Father gave me and my daddy, those precious moments by a quiet pond, just my dad and me and that miraculous flock of birds. My earthly father gave me a love for my heavenly Father’s creation. My heavenly Father treated us to a celestial bird show for a man who was ready to go to his eternal home and the daughter who would be left behind.

It reminds me of a passage in the Bible: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matt. 10:29 NIV). Not only does the Lord know when they fall, but He also knows when to send them, and I know He took the time to send them to us.

Several months later, while sitting at my desk, a female cardinal landed on my windowsill. I marveled at her stunning colors. Noticing her intricate feathers, I thought of the pair of cardinals that visited our house for over a year while my father was sick. I remembered the celestial bird show and I knew they were miracles from the Most High.

I learned that God doesn’t have to part the Red Sea to show His strength. He doesn’t have to heal the lame or give sight to the blind. He did that—but He doesn’t have to. It taught me that not only does He take care of the lilies of the field who are clothed brilliantly, but he also cares for a tired, grieving daughter who is caring for her daddy. The God of big miracles is also the tender giver of tiny ones that happen every day. We just need to be watching.

Now I have a grandson and we go for walks on our farm. “Silas, do you see that bluebird? Look at those beautiful colors!” His sweet face looks at the bird with childlike innocence. “Did you know God created each bird? So many kinds of birds, and colors? He didn’t have to, but He does because He loves us and wants us to enjoy His creation.” Silas looks up at me and smiles.

And when I see him, I see another miracle and I smile too. 

Pauline Hylton is a freelance writer who lives on an old tobacco farm in North Carolina. She not only feeds wild birds, but also 20 hens, 14 sheep, 3 dogs, a cat and a hungry husband.