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Last Christmas morning, a knock came at the door of our room shortly after 7 a.m. A few years ago, when our kids were up before dawn waiting for permission to descend on whatever Santa had left for them, seven would have been on the late side. But this year, with the youngest two in the 5th and 6th grades, I expected we would actually be able to sleep in a bit. I never would have suspected the identity of the "knocker." It was Austin, 14 and in the 8th grade. Even more surprising, however, was his reason for rousting us out of bed. With great excitement he told us that he had just seen a bald eagle fly over the house.
If it had been any of our other children, I would have told them they were crazy, mistaken, or the victim of an overactive imagination. But Austin is rather an expert on birds of prey, and keeps an eye out for them wherever we go. So, despite our skepticism, we got up to look out the window.
The huge bird was easy to spot perched on the bare branches of a tree. Even though it was a good distance away, his white head was unmistakable. Through the telephoto camera lens we were able to see that our Christmas morning visitor was a real bald eagle. Austin couldn't have received a better gift.
Last weekend five of us, including Austin, went up to Newburyport's Eagle Festival. Evidently, several bald eagles, both juveniles and adults, spend their winters near the Merrimack River. The best and most likely sitting places were conveniently marked on a map, complete with driving directions. It was a real joy to see seven of them in flight all at once. Adults, with their familiar white heads and tails, were easily distinguished from the smaller brown juveniles. Traipsing though snow covered paths down to Deer Island, we watched them soar and then dive down to skim fish from the water with their talons. The seal basking on a nearby rock made me wonder if we had somehow been transported to Alaska.
To watch eagles soar is to feel the fullness of renewed hope in the belief that God gives us all the grace we need to grow into what he made us to be. And what he made us to be isn't something small or low, uninspired or uninspiring. God made us for his glory, to mount the sky like eagles. He keeps us in the nest until we can fly, guides us to where we can find food, and strengthens us for the journey there. God builds us up, and if we falter, he bears us up. Trusting him gives us wings; wings that can help our souls soar upwards to his embrace, and dive down to help a neighbor in need. Finding our hope in him, our eyes can look directly into the light of truth and see clearly. And what we see is the long view of ourselves from his perspective, the vista that lies between who we are and what we can become. It is comforting to know that we believe in a God who keeps his promises, and finishes the work he begins.
At "family" Mass the next morning the deacon invited the children to sit down in front for the homily. A host of little kids, from toddlers to 7 and 8 year olds, emerged from the pews. Of course, none of our kids joined them. They're far too old for that sort of thing now, and simply don't consider themselves "children" any more. Sadly, they're right. Our kids won't be kids for long. And while there's a certain nostalgia that accompanies that realization, it's a beautiful thing to see our kids take wing and fly. May all God's children find shelter beneath the shadow of his wings, but also learn to soar above the clouds of this earthly life.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.