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What the redbird means to me

November 22, 2016

Perhaps it was the perfect storm of emotions that left me feeling elated one minute and deeply grieved the next on Sunday, which happened to be my birthday.  I was happy to celebrate with friends and family and was ecstatic that my book is published as I had a book signing in church earlier that day.  But perhaps the sharing of the story of my life and how grief has created its scars left my heart aching for the boy who can no longer be here to give those sneaky come from behind bear hugs.

My book is hopeful and uplifting, but the education of love through loss centers on our son dying at only twelve years old.

I miss him. 

For life’s celebrations, there will always be the empty chair.  On that day, I was riding the high of friends loving my book, but my heart trembled with sadness still because no phone call from college would come from the boy gone too soon.

I’ve been asked a few times about the title of the book – the redbird sings the song of hope: and other stories of love through loss and why I chose that title.  Simply put, the redbird is our love note from God. I am not trying to be cheeky, but the rest of the story is in the book.

But I do know the redbird and a friend helped wipe away the tears of longing of what will never be on Sunday night.

To start the story right, here are two things you must know:

1). I love birds.

2). I have never met a stranger.

Many years ago, a dear friend asked if a friend of hers could come to my house to photograph cardinals.  In one text message her friend (whom I had never met) became my friend.  Bill had fallen on some hard times and he like me discovered solace in the winged friends of God’s creation.  From the moment I met Bill I adored him.  He was genuine, sincere, and oh so real.  I love people who have endured life’s scars and are willing to share them with the world. These are the people who embody hope and I admire them. They give me strength to take the next step and on some days to get out of bed. Our littlest thought he was the greatest guy ever because he has many tattoos and a kind heart and she was enamored with his ink and his realness.

Bill was welcome at our home, or more importantly for his career as a photographer, our backyard any time.  There would be times, he would quietly come and park on the street then set up to photograph the birds in our backyard.  His presence became a staple, and when the timing was right we would quietly ask if he would like to stay for supper. Those were blessed days of hearts intertwining – especially over the redbird  he was so hoping to photograph.

We have remained friends and despite his moving a couple hours away, we stay in contact.  A message here or there and an occasional in person meeting always leaves me wishing for more time.

And yet it was time or rather timing that filled my heart with a birthday greeting that seemed divinely appointed.

Sunday evening, I received a message from Bill not realizing it was my birthday. He sent me a sweet message, remembering the times spent in our backyard, with two of his pictures attached.  My tear filled response thanked him for sending what appeared to be birthday greetings straight from heaven.



Both photos used with permission from Bill Van der Hagen

His response filled my heart with such hope and such love. Through tear filled eyes, I told him that he was the messenger of Reed’s birthday greetings for me.

Wow! Happy birthday! Crazy! I walked around for 4 hours with a friend at sunrise and we didn’t get any photos then he left and within 5 minutes the male cardinal was literally sitting 15 feet from me and never left. Closest and most patient they have ever been, the female perched as seen in this photo at about 20 feet.  I knew there had to be a reason for their friendly demeanor this morning.

My friend, Bill, reached out because he was remembering a lovely time in our lives we shared, but I believe that God divinely orchestrated that birding moment.  He put the right person in the right place at the right time and then he stirred my friend’s heart at exactly the right moment to send me a message I so desperately needed as I rode the roller-coaster of joy and sadness.  It was the greatest birthday present ever.

As I write this, my heart is again reeling after learning of the news of the Chattanooga school bus crash.  While I don’t know the depth of their personal pain, I know what it is like to lose your child and to have your children severely injured on a school bus. In an instant, the world changed forever.

Some might wonder how you can survive a pain so deep that the scars will always be a part of your existence. For me, my answer is a whole lot of faith, a bunch of amazing friends, all kinds of prayers, and one redbird singing the song of hope.


Note: If you live locally, I have copies of my book I would love to sell and personally sign one for you.  Otherwise, my book about my journey through grief and healing (and the redbird’s part in all that) is available thru Amazon and Barnes & Noble.









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  1. Pam Fennell permalink

    I would Love a Signed Book!!

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