It's been a crazy ride. Here in the United States in the span of a couple weeks, we bore witness to the horrific pain one human being can inflict on a community and a nation, and we turned around and celebrated the biggest holiday for 'giving' on our calendar. Human perseverance is truly miraculous. Miracles have been on my mind, in fact. What constitutes a miracle, exactly, and why are they a mysterious presence in our lives?
I was thirty-three years old before I saw my first woodpecker. (What's that got to do with miracles, you ask? Read on...) We'd just bought our first house, and I was standing on the deck admiring our back yard, a half acre of planet Earth that we could now call our own. I listened to the birds chirping, and somewhere at the back of the property, hidden beneath the dense tangle of leafy vines, a creek gurgled. Suddenly, above the backyard din, a succession of hollow raps popped across the air.
I couldn't place the sound. It came again, to my right. I turned my gaze, searching the tree canopy, and finally spotted a gray, thick-shouldered bird with a scarlet head, clamped to an oak trunk, banging its beak with surprising rhythmic speed. A woodpecker! I watched its strange behavior for a while, and I realized how odd it was that I had witnessed baboons and black mambas in the wild before ever seeing a live woodpecker.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, the day of the elementary school massacre in Connecticut: I was running around the house, trying to prepare for the holidays despite the grief tearing at my heart and getting absolutely nothing accomplished, when a large woodpecker out the back windows stopped me in my tracks. It tapped away at its tree trunk, offering me a great view of the detailed ruffles of black, white-tipped feathers down its back. As I watched, it hopped down and began rooting its beak around in the leaf-strewn lawn. A second woodpecker joined him, his red head bobbing in and out of the foliage. Then I spotted another in a tree. And another, higher up. They seemed to be everywhere. I lost count at eight. Eight woodpeckers, at once!
It was one of Life's little miracles; the kind you feel was delivered deliberately to you.
Miracles happen all around us. We notice the big ones, the earth-shattering good news that change the trajectory of our lives and fill us with wonder. And we search for them during the darkest of catastrophes, when ordinary people show extraordinary kindness and compassion, often at great risk to themselves. But big miracles are few and far between. Little miracles, on the other hand, happen every day.
A little miracle exists amidst what's ordinary and reminds you of the mysteries at work in the universe. It heightens your senses, grips you with gratitude, and stirs your soul. It makes you acutely aware in that moment, as God whispers a message to your heart. And if you aren't paying attention or you're caught up in insignificant distractions, a little miracle can easily unfold before you, going unnoticed.
With such sadness in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, I've decided to get a jump on New Year's resolutions by creating a Miracle Jar. In the year to come, I'll be watchful for Life's little miracles. When I witness one, I'll scribble it down on a scrap of paper and drop it in the Miracle Jar. Whenever I need a boost (or a story idea...), I'll read through them. I've already got a few small miracles in there, along with my woodpeckers:
Early morning and I'd just finished my run. The sun broke through the clouds as I walked to cool down. I felt light and airy, and giddy with happiness. Angels whispered. I thanked God for my good health.
A stranger held the door for me and looked right into my eyes when she wished me a good day.
Late afternoon, I came into the kitchen to stir the sauce just in time to see my fourteen-year-old son lean over my twelve-year-old daughter's shoulder and explain the solution to a math problem she couldn't work out.
At bedtime, I turned the hall corner in time to see my daughter hug my son goodnight before disappearing into her room and closing the door.
Every day I peer out the back windows, on the lookout for my flock of woodpeckers. I have yet to spot a single one. Thank goodness I slowed down, pulled my attention away from the unfolding tragedy that day, and noticed them, or I would have missed my little miracle.
In the New Year, I'm going to be present, live in the moment, and remain vigilant so I receive all the little miracles God sends my way. And may your Miracle Jar be full in 2013, too!
Have you witnessed any miracles lately?