You’d have to be from the South to know this as truth because no matter how hard you try to dodge it, college basketball is baked somewhere deep in your soul. And not just the love for the game itself, but if you happen to be from Kentucky, you get a nervous tick when you see the colors red and blue side-by-side. Nope, the colors don’t give you the elated feeling you get when you see red and green, knowing Christmas is near. Instead, they clash like oil and vinegar. I mean, even hating organized sports growing up, I understood how critical it was to pick your color and stick to it. Either you bleed blue or red; there’s not much in between.
My dad isn’t a sports fan either, but my mom, she always enjoys crisp winter evenings where she’s glued to the television cheering on the University of Louisville Cardinals. And when I would visit my grandma’s house as a kid, if it was basketball season, you betcha the TV was stuck on the channel where she could root for her home team. It was as if the Big Red I drank growing up was meant to fuel my passion for the game and the team, but no amount of attempt stuck.
I was one of those “in betweens” who could care less. It’s a good thing since I happened to marry someone who was on the other side of the fence; a passionate University of Kentucky fan. No, I didn’t own a shirt sporting my favorite team or honestly even knew how to play the game until my husband’s love for it pushed me to watch a few. And when the teams play against each other, I have no hope but to watch as many times my mom and my husband will share a couch and pester each other, in a loving way of course, as they see who comes out victorious.
So while red is in my genes, blue is what now lives in our house. I mean, as we were teaching my son that red means stop and green means go, my husband tossed in that blue means “GO CATS!” so I never had a fighting chance. Yet if you look closely when you enter my home, a home where UK blue is peppered throughout whether I like it or not, you will find glimpses of the rival randomly placed, so precise, so purposeful. On a bookshelf, a T-shirt, the Christmas tree. A cardinal bird, while an arch nemesis on the court, is a welcomed gift that I will never deny in my home.
My grandma was sick for a year. Even though she quit smoking years prior, the damage to her lungs was not something she could not escape, yet when our family heard the word “cancer”, great devastation hit with the thought of it taking her from us. We had just lost my grandpa earlier that year. The heart can’t bear that much ache so close. Or at least it shouldn’t have to.
I’m not sure if she did it for her or for us, but she fought harder than she probably ever expected to have to. She underwent surgery, only to find it had spread. And she attempted chemo which caused her to lose the beautiful red hair that was her staple. She was terrified of losing it, and while appearance-wise it may have impacted her look, I hope she knew that it never defined who she was. She was more than anything a curler could control. She was love, in its purest form.
I remember a conversation we had together one evening – my mom, my grandma and I. We were laughing at the fact that my mom had been driving that day and a bird hovered in the sky, casting it’s shadow on the road Mom was driving on. The bird had big wings and had them spread as far-reaching as they possibly could, as if to engulf her below. And after she saw one, she noticed another. She felt peace as something in her heart told her that her dad and her grandma were there with her, flying by her side, never to leave.
We knew that grandma’s end was near. We didn’t know how long we had left together, but we knew that our time was limited. We tried to laugh and carry on, many times not dwelling on the inevitable. But this day, for some reason, I asked a hard question. Grandma, what kind of bird will you send to us? I knew the answer when I asked. A cardinal bird of course. Although when I asked her directly, she was noncommittal; she just smiled and probably tossed up a prayer at the same time.
It wasn’t a day or soafter she passed that I knew she lived up to my request. She sent them to me and to all that she loved dearly, red birds that is. It was as if they had migrated to the city because everywhere I would look they would be. On a country road, they would be strategically placed on a limb and catch by eyesight. On the interstate, where a tree wasn’t in view, one would fly across the busy road. I’d find bumper stickers or stuffed animals purposefully placed for me to get a glimpse and be warmed by the peace of knowing right then and there, she was within reach.
No matter where I was, a cardinal would appear at the precise moment I needed it. I had a very important meeting out of town that I was extremely nervous about, yet the moment I walked up to the building, I noticed a redbird hopping on the ground right by the entrance. I wasn’t entering that meeting alone; she was there too. And when my husband and I accepted that it was time to move out of my condo and buy a house, I knew the house that was meant for us the moment we stepped outside and a redbird was confidently perched on the highest point of the roof. It was like she was giving it her blessing and helping me find peace no matter where I was.
When I found out I was pregnant, they came in droves. And when the pregnancy took a turn, they didn’t stop. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my head too heavy to hold up from the tears that flowed like a faucet the day I found out I was losing the one thing that meant the most to me. I had no strength, no hope. I was empty, and yet as I sat there, something told me to look outside. At that exactly moment, a bird flew up to sit on the shallow window sill. A red bird turned and looked in the window directly at me for several moments that felt like a lifetime. It was her. She sent me a message, and that day I heard it loud and clear.
When I made it to the delivery of my oldest, I was terrified. Terrified of letting down the guard around my heart because after a miscarriage I wasn’t convinced that the joy of this sweet baby wasn’t going to be ripped away from me too. Even the epidural couldn’t calm my nerves or take away my ache deep within. No, it wasn’t until the nurse walked in that I started to cry and find peace all at once. Out of all of the nurses that worked in that department at that hospital, that day that nurse worked that shift and decided to wear that pair of scrubs. The pattern I will never forget, a series of redbirds playing in the snow adorned her. While she was probably just enjoying the fact that she dressed to the season (it was a chilly December), for me, her clothing choice told me that no matter what, it was all going to be more than okay. It was going to be perfect.
I wanted so badly to deliver my sweet baby on her watch because I knew that if she was there, Grandma was too. But her shift ended and I wasn’t far enough dilated to meet my baby just yet. However, something in this nurse’s heart told her that her scrubs weren’t hers that day. That I needed them more than she would ever know. So when she came to wish me luck, she had changed shirts, and told me she was leaving her scrub top for me to know that no matter what, I’m not alone. That shirt was perfectly positioned at the head of my bed as I pushed my sweet Eli into this world. No, Grandma wasn’t sitting in the waiting room to meet him; she was in the delivery room by my side. No questions asked.
Throughout my life I pray to God for signs. I beg for miracles and messages, but ones that I understand and are so obvious that they slap me in the face. I have three kids, so I’ve learned how to tune out noise just to get by. And while that’s helpful during dinner time, it’s not so helpful when you are looking for God to direct you. Yesterday was a hard day on all fronts. So hard that I can’t even find the words to articulate the why or the how. It just was. My energy was zapped from things out of my control. And my passion questionable as I was finding it hard to see God’s plan for me. I know in my heart where He is pushing me, but I can’t figure out the most direct path to get there. So I took a moment to breathe, laid flat into the couch and prayed the only prayer I could find the words to say. Help me.
It was like it was on repeat. Help me. Help me, Lord, to see you. Help me to feel you. Help me to know I’m not alone. Help me to know you are by my side. Help me to find the path you want me to go down. Help me have patience and kindness. Help me to love even when loving is so hard to do. Help me be me, be the me you know me to be. Lord, help me.
And then I picked myself up and finished my day as best as I could. But the day didn’t get easier. A stomach bug found me on the couch again trying to just make it until it was time to give in to the day and take a rest. The kids got fed and giggles echoed through the house as they do each night. They filled my heart with the strength I needed to get through what the rest of the day had drained from me. And just before bed, as I sifted through Eli’s classwork that had been sent home, I spotted it.
I work from home and usually don’t venture out during the week to see the sun except for the rays that peak in through the blinds. So God has to get a tad creative to send me a message these days. And yesterday he did. At the bottom of the pile was an abstract birch tree Eli had painted with a red piece of construction paper taped to one of the branches. It was folded to be able to fit into his backpack, but it only took a moment after I opened the page to let the miracle sink it.
A redbird. Just when I needed it most, it had found its way into my home. I didn’t even know that Eli knew of such birds and I know he hasn’t a clue of their meaning to me. Every element of the bird was precisely cut perfectly out of the red construction paper and was meant as a sign from God that all is well. I prayed for help that day and He gave it in a modern day thundering cloud, loud enough where there was no way to not accept it.
And as I sank to the floor to thank Eli for his beautiful masterpiece that I will cherish, he proceeded to question his color choice, telling his daddy that he sure does wish that now he had made a blue bird instead since blue means GO CATS! Sweet boy, our house will always bleed blue, but cardinals are forever welcome.