Down and defeated doesn’t mean down and out

earl-smI will, perhaps, never forget my first glimpse of Earl. I met him on a bitter cold April afternoon. The friend who called to alert us said he’d arrived the evening before. Said he’d spotted him from his living room window; huddling motionless under a naked tree across the road. Wet. Bedraggled. Resigned. Not even minding curious bystanders.

We’ll never know exactly what brought him down. An unseen injury? An encounter with an adversary? Perhaps only our untimely prairie storm. But all who saw him agreed: His was a most inelegant position for a mature bald eagle. A noble skylord.

How he must have hated it. He had no obvious wounds. Yet he let us come near, close enough to touch; barely shifting when a curious dog nudged nearer, then backed away – not because the bird threatened him, but at his owner’s sharp rebuke.

Much has been made of an eagle’s ability to ride out storms. When all other birds take shelter, eagles simply climb higher, riding the winds, strengthening their wings.

Good thing God gave us that example in nature. How often we need it. Even a glimpse of an eagle statue or photo, wings outspread and soaring, can stiffen one’s spine on difficult days. When weary. When our team is losing. When our impassioned efforts for good vanish like snow on warm pavement.

On the days that require more than we have within, eagles remind us to find a second wind and keep climbing. Higher. Higher. To a better view, a more clear perspective. To the place where we sense God’s nearness.

But in nature eagles don’t soar all the time. Earl didn’t conquer that April storm. It took him down. Rendered him powerless. On the ground, his white headfeathers poking up like quills, his pinions trembling and disheveled, little remained of nobility.

But for the kindness of a group of strangers, Earl couldn’t have survived a second night under that tree. Predators would have devoured him in his weakened state. Perhaps that was why his remarkable amber eyes met ours without a trace of fear. He knew his need.

We alerted a nearby farm vet, who kindly took him in and provided safe shelter and fresh flesh. Overnight, warmed and dried, the bird regained strength and the following day, lurched skyward and lifted off. Soaring, he earned the name by which we who had the privilege of his brief acquaintance remember him. Earl. Majestic skylord.

Life’s storms ground us all sometimes, making flight impossible. Not every failure is reversible and not every sorrow finds solace. At times like that it takes more than we have within to even try flying again. We need others to step in and be Jesus to us. We need someone else’s wings to shelter and carry us. Someone unfailingly strong.

Perhaps that’s why I and scores of Christian believers over the centuries have found such strength in Bible verses like Exodus 19:4, quoting God himself, reminding the Israelites of his mercy and provision when fleeing from slavery in Egypt. “…I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.”

God does not change. When storms ground his children, there is peace and restoration under his wings. If you’re down today, let him carry you there.