Death, Justification & Cockatiels

Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eats, thereof you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17)

Today, I held the penalty of sin – death – in my hands. It struck down my 19-year-old Cockatiel, Minnie, her wings spread uselessly, breathing labored, face-down on the bottom of her cage. I’m thankful I found her in time, that I was with her when she took her final breath.

Even though the Lord, always generous with His mercy, prepared my heart weeks in advance, showing me what was to pass, I wasn’t ready. Instead of bowing my head in submission, saying, ‘Yes, Lord, I will be still”, I begged He’d spare her for just a little bit longer….

Nineteen years is the longest I’ve shared my life with any pet. In hindsight, our time together was but a blink of a star.

One of my favorite memories was the time she presented me with an unexpected “gift”. Fluttering in panic, flying circles around the family room shrieking an alarm call, I managed to coax her down, my outstretched hand her landing pad.

Cupping her gently, whispering, “It’s okay….you’re okay”, I felt her abdomen contract, depositing a perfectly formed, tiny pink egg in my palm. Gently poking the foreign object with her beak, recognition suddenly registered in her eyes. Crouching low, rolling the egg into place beneath her warm belly, she settled down to the business of nesting, all the while excitedly chattering to me, bobbing her head to emphasize her joy.

Another memory began with terror and sadness, but ended with the Lord using her to bear witness of His grace and mercy to all His creatures. Cockatiels are smart little parrots, something Minnie demonstrated one day, opening her cage feed-door, freeing herself to wander throughout the house while we were out with friends. We came home, finding her huddling in the corner of the dining room, barely able to support herself or keep her eyes open, evidence scattered around the floor. She’d spent her time shredding the bottom of the floor-length drapes, releasing and ingesting small lead pellets used in the drapery hem.

Knowing time was not on our side, we rushed her to our avian vet who provided the diagnosis and prognosis we feared: heavy metal poisoning, unlikely to live, and if she did, she’d suffer severe and permanent neurological damage.

Still, we urged the vet to do what he could to treat her, to try to save her.

Four days of chelation….

Four days of prayer, kneeling by her incubator, hands pressed to the glass, lips quietly beseeching favors for one of His creatures….

Four days of seeing the veterinarian shake his head, hearing him say “no improvement” each time we walked into the intensive care unit….

And then, on the fifth day, she rose, like a Phoenix from the ashes, her face alert, voice brisk, calling out to me when I came to visit and pray. “She’s recovering”, the vet said, his words piercing my tears, “but she shouldn’t be”, he cautioned, urging us to wait another day before removing her from the incubator.

Day 6 found her impatiently tapping her beak on the incubator window, as if to say “Let me out!”

When we profusely offered thanks for the vet having “saved her”, he blushed, brusquely denying any credit. “I’m not a religious man. I’m Jewish, but don’t practice anything of which I was raised. I have to tell you, as uncomfortable as I feel about it, the power that saved her wasn’t of me or my medicine. I’ve never felt so powerless. I saw you in here kneeling in prayer, laying hands on her incubator, crying out to your God. I think it is that One, your God, that you should thank for sparing her life…..”

Within two weeks, she was back home, as good as new, none the worse for her experience. I was all the wiser, richer, deeper in knowledge of Him, for what He, the Creator of the universe, had done – spared one little bird’s life to bear witness of His mercy, and His intimate involvement in the small details of everyday life.

“Remember”, the Apostle Paul urged. And “remember” I did, as I held her in my hands as she lay dying, thinking back through the years. As I said my goodbyes, I stroked her soft, lemon-yellow feathers, praying, “Please Lord, let this not be the last time in eternity. Let there be another time, in another place, that I see her fly again, feeling her sweet face against mine and hearing her sweet call….”………


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