“Remember to look up.”

I’m not sure who said it.  We were preparing to move to Belgium, and a well-traveled friend told me, “remember to look up.”  They explained that so much of Europe’s beauty is found in the ancient church steeples, or the ornate stone carving along a roof line, or the stained glass window as the sun peeks through in brilliant color, or the ceiling wrapped in a beautiful tapestry.  And I would walk through the streets of Belgium and France and Italy, in complete awe of the magnificence of my surroundings, and I would remind myself to look up.  And the simple act of tilting my head would open my eyes to the full beauty of what was before me.

Today I set off to run a few errands.  I started out at 9rounds, my boxing gym.  It was my first workout post -surgery, and while still extremely limited in my ability, I decided to get in a little mini-workout.  From there I walked across the parking lot to the market to pick up a few items for dinner.  I quickly loaded my groceries into the car and was trying to determine if I had enough time to run home and put them away before meeting a friend for lunch.  Just as I started my car I looked straight ahead to see my friend Melissa parked directly in front of me.  I gave her a quick wave and realized she was on a phone call.  As I was debating whether or not to get out and say hello, she signaled that she was wrapping up her call.  Knowing I was crunched for time, I told myself I would keep it brief.

I turned off my engine and exited my car.  Melissa greeted me with a warm hug as she inquired about my recovery.  We moved from topic to topic, my health, our kids, our upcoming weekend.  And I found myself no longer worried about the ticking clock or the groceries to be put away, as I enjoyed a few minutes with a wise friend whom I rarely get to see.  And as we stood there, wedged between my car door and a minivan, talking a mile a minute, something overhead caught my eye.  And as I looked up I saw hundreds of birds flying in formation.  Interrupting Melissa, I told her to look up, just in time for her to see them too.  Within seconds, the same hundred birds took off again, in similar formation, flying to the tree just behind us.  And we watched in awe as we realized that we stood in the middle of a triangle of trees, and in these trees were perched hundreds of yellow-bellied birds. And for the next few minutes these beautiful winged creatures surrounded us as they went from tree to tree. Melissa and I stood there, our necks cranked back and our eyes looking up, and we laughed and smiled and stood in wonder, both of us aware of the beautiful gift above. Because we both knew that through this hard journey I have been on these past few months, birds have been a reminder of God’s love and grace.  And here we were, on an ordinary day, in the middle of a parking lot, looking up to see the extraordinary.

The birds settled back into their trees and Melissa and I wrapped up our conversation, as I realized the time and hurried off to lunch.

And after lunch, as I drove home to finally put away my groceries, I felt so thankful.  This year has not been an easy one. I have walked a path paved in pain and uncertainty and despair.  I have flooded my pillow with tears and spent days in the darkness.  I have wrestled with leaving my children and husband and friends, and thought about how I would say my goodbye’s to those I love.  And all the heartache, all the brokeness, is being held together by the multitude of silver linings.  Because while in all my life I have never experienced so much adversity and pain, I have also never experienced so much love, and compassion and generosity, and grace.

And those birds, hundreds of them, swooning overhead.  They were hundreds of beautiful reminders of God’s provision and love, surrounding me, protecting me, whispering to me.  “Look up! Look up!”  And what my friend said years ago is as true in Europe as it is in a cement parking lot in Charlotte, North Carolina. Because there is so much beauty in this world, so much beauty in one another, so much beauty in the winged creatures flying overhead. And when things seem dark or hard, when you are having trouble finding the beauty, you may just need a change in perspective. You may just need to tilt back your head, open your eyes, and remember to look up.


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