The Goldfinch in Winter

About forty years ago I took up bird watching.  We lived on an old celery farm with fields overgrown by weeds.  It was the perfect habitat for a flock of goldfinches that flitted through our yard, flashing bright with gold bodies and black caps. 

That winter I bought a forty-pound bag of thistle seed (which I read was their favorite food) hoping to fill the gray days of winter with the colors of summer.  The seed cost 4 times more than other kinds of bird seed, but I thought it would be worth it.  Imagine my disappointment when the only birds that came to my feeder were drab, olive-brown birds that I took to be sparrows.

The next spring, however, my disappointment turned to delight. Those drab birds turned out to be goldfinches.  I hadn’t realized that they lost their bright plumage during the winter and that I had been feeding them all along!

I have often made the same mistake when it comes to people.  There have been some people that I have dismissed as not very significant, only to discover that they are precious and beautiful. All it took was a little time and patience on my part to see their true character.

Once, God sent the prophet Samuel to the household of Jesse to anoint a new king.  Now Jesse had seven strong and competent sons.  Starting with the oldest, Samuel looked at each of them and thought to himself, “Surely this must be the one,” but each time the Lord said, “This is not the one. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

After Samuel had examined each of the seven sons, he asked Jesse, “Do you have any other sons?” Jesse answered “There is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.” Of course, that turned out to be David, whom the scripture calls “a man after God’s own heart.”  I suppose you could say that David was a goldfinch in his winter plumage, but God still saw something there. (See I Samuel 16:1-13)

This past summer, I once again took up bird watching.  I bought three different kinds of feeders—a sunflower feeder, a suet feeder and, of course, a thistle feeder.  I attracted all kinds of birds—house finches, cardinals, and even a couple of different kinds of woodpeckers—but no goldfinches. It has been wonderful to feed the birds, but I have been disappointed by the lack of goldfinches.

However, with the coming of autumn and the scarcity of food, I have noticed drab, olive-brown birds perching at my thistle feeder.  I now know that they are goldfinches because they have distinctive black and white wing-bands and just a touch of gold around their beaks.  I’m looking forward to an explosion of color and delight this spring. All I need is a new way of seeing along with a little time and patience for my desires to come true.

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