It’s quite possible that I will look back on all of my Disheveled Theologian columns someday and think that I spent an inordinate amount of time writing about birds. Nevertheless … here I go again.

I have been spending a lot of evenings lately sitting out on our deck and writing. Who knows if the writing will ever see the light of day, but for now, it’s what I do. I get distracted when I’m out there sometimes — by boats, by sounds, by jumping fish, by the weather or by birds — but I don’t mind; the environment is worth it to me.

I was writing last evening, listening to the sounds of my son mowing the lawn and Mr. Handyman replacing the screen door, when suddenly the mower stopped, Ian walked up the deck stairs and paused, looked up into the towering tree above and said, “There’s a nest up there.”

“How did you ... oh,” I said, seeing several white splotches on the rail. I looked up into the tree and sure enough, an untidy nest was nestled on a bough and the movement around it seemed to be more than just the movement of the breeze in the leaves.

I thought about grabbing the binoculars, but I got distracted (surprise!) and forgot. But this morning, when I moved my office back outside, I heard some fussing, and before I settled down to work I succumbed to the distraction, grabbed the binoculars and tried to focus on the nest.

But I was too close. I stepped back a ways. Still too close. I walked all the way off the deck, stood by the garage door, and trained my binoculars on the brown lump of mud and wattle that made up the nest.

Sure enough, a fat baby robin sat stalk-still, its chest tinged orange, black speckles blending in with the shadows of the leaves, its beak closed and its eyes wary. It was as if it was thinking, Maybe if I don’t move she won’t see me.

I returned to my laptop, knowing what to write about today. They make occasional noises, the babies (there are at least two). Small domestic squabbles, perhaps, or demands sent out into the world for worms. They can’t be far from flying, from testing their wings and leaping from the edge of safety and into the great unknown.

Suddenly there is a great commotion above me as I write. One of the babies has flown to the supporting tree branch and is out of the nest (I keep walking down the deck with my binoculars to check). I don’t think its sibling approves. Either that or its encouraging, it’s hard to tell. Either that or it’s begging to know how it feels to be free of their confines.

They’re quite again now. Exhausted from all that excitement. They have tucked their heads, nestled down in their nest.

And so it goes for us. Our son heads back to college soon — he has tested his wings and flown, though having him back for the summer has been wonderful. Our middle child will be a high school senior. She’s the speckled fledgling, on the edge. Thank goodness for our youngest, keeping our nest from being empty.

Life is a series of commotion and rest. We spread our wings and we fold them back. We do too much and we withdraw to safety. Both over the course of years and over the span of a day, we go forth and we retreat. We get excited and we calm down. We stand on the edge and we decide: Yes or no? Do or Don’t? Out or in?

“To everything there is a season,” Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes chapter one. A time to advance and a time to refrain from advancing. Thank God that in each season he is with us, sheltering us in the shadow of his wings.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. … He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Psalm 91:1,4 NIV



Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.