I always learn lessons from guests who show up unexpectedly.
Three days ago Tom and I noticed an unusual dove walking silently near us as we were eating watermelon under a tree. We were able to catch him—or is it a her… and found bands on each leg. A quick Google search informed us that this is a racing homing pigeon. This is an universal sport, dating back centuries.
A phone call to the National Racing Pigeon association matched the number on one leg band to the initial breeder in Pennsylvania. Before this particular bird was fully feathered, he was shipped to Meridianville, Alabama,to join a racing club. Mr. Edwards said, “This racer is only sixty miles from home.” I learned he came in 11th in last week’s 200 mile race. This past Sunday he began a 300 mile race…
He may come in last in this week’s race. He is still with us, roosting one night in the shed — we didn’t know he was still around; he just walked out when Tom opened the door early morning. The last two nights he settled in the garage. It’s warmer there.
Social media advised me to provide some wild bird seed or uncooked rice and lentils and show him where the water is. They will rest a while and be on their way. The breeder in Pennsylvania assured me this homing pigeon will eventually find his way home. It has been documented that racing birds can compete in a 1,100 mile contest and get home safely.
While I am not sure this colorful, marked flying machine is going to leave and find his way home… at least to place himself in the finish… I learn two lessons: we are either like the lost bird needing care and rest on our race, or else we need to be the safe place for a lost ‘bird’ to find encouragement and restoration.
I shared with the Pigeon association’s receptionist and the Pennsylvania breeder that this is a beautiful story of humans and homing.
You know the expression, “Home is where your heart is…”As believers our hearts are made for home. It was Augustine of Hippo who said, “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” We are on our way HOME. But what happens when we get too tired or changes in circumstances cause us to lose our way? What do we do when it is difficult to go another step? Where do we go when we’ve lost hope to finish the race.
I learned tired, hungry homing pigeons look for quiet, peaceful places for a stopover. The shade trees and bird feeders in our garden must have enticed this racer to stay awhile. This is his safe place for now…
As I watch this ‘lost’ racing pigeon trek around the yard, sit in the shade of the trees, nibble at the grass seed Tom recently planted… I wonder… where do I go when I need a safe place… where are the arms that will hold me? Who will collect my tears in a bottle? Where do I find comfort before I can continue the journey to Now?
Remember the story in I Kings 17? During a drought in a political crisis, the Lord sent Elijah to the Brook Kerith for safety; he was provided food by ravens, and a bubbling creek was near by. When the spring water dried up, the Lord sent him to his next safe place… to the home of a widow for food and protection.
I love the story of Onesimus and Philemon in the New Testament. Paul urges the household of Philemon to receive the former slave back into their hearts. Onesimus needs a safe place on his journey now, Paul hints. “I am sending him–who is my very heart–back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.” verse 12,13. “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” verse 7
This beautiful, quiet racing dove, eating and walking at leisure near me, reminds me to hold you gently, to allow you to be yourself, to let you rest for awhile without judgement or questioning. I don’t even need to warn you to finish the race. All I am to do is to be here when you seek a quiet, safe place.
How beautiful to find a place to rest… on our journey home.