This Great Tenderness

We didn’t get around to Christmas cards this year, but come January, when the real depth and breadth of winter set it, I started making paper Cardinals.  They made me happy in the same tangible, heart-happy way playing the Ukulele does.  The crimson card stock, the white on black on red, the candy-cane striped twine tied just so – all of these fed my soul, fed my hope as I cut and pasted.  

I built the birds in batches and sent them out in flocks, tucked into brown envelopes the color of sandpaper. I imagined them winging their way through town, across state lines and landing, breathless and bright on the doorsteps of those my heart carries.  

I took one, by hand, to a friend who suffered a traumatic loss this past week.  Walking through her door I remembered that I am a Pastor to her.  I was her Pastor, for a brief year or so, but then I left the ministry to be home with my young sons and she and her husband left the church.  

Walking in to her house, though, I felt it, that she is still one of my flock.  

I spread my arms like wings and gathered her in, I sat and drank, listened and prayed, and did my best to provide a shelter for the darkness she is bearing.


I have been through a few months of darkness now, months of the deep pain of unknowing, the frightening disorientation of walking in the dark.  During prayer awhile back the word “brooding” arose within me.  Later I looked the word up in an online dictionary and found, among others, the following definitions: 
                  brooding v.
                        1. to protect (young) by or as if by covering with wings 
                        2. to hover envelopingly; loom.

I began to wonder whether the darkness I felt had something to do with the spirit of God brooding within me.  Maybe the darkness I was experiencing was not the distance of God, but rather the nearness – the overshadowing – of God. 


This week I came across the phrase “brooding tenderness” in a collection of writings by Howard Thurman.  Writing about his sense of being surrounded by the love of God, Thurman describes the brooding tenderness out of which all things arise. 

The more I make my home in this spacious place beneath God’s wide, warm wings, the more I feel my own wings stretched open wide.  The more I rest in this brooding tenderness, the more I feel a depth of tenderness being born in me.   Resting here in the darkness of waiting, I also become a place of rest for those who wait.

This post is linked with Playdates with God and Concrete Words.


  1. This line is wonderful: "Maybe the darkness I was experiencing was not the distance of God, but rather the nearness – the overshadowing – of God." I will try to think of the dark times as God's overshadowing.

    I think of hens that go broody. They sit on their nest, rarely leaving, sometimes plucking out their own breast feathers, waiting . . . for eggs to hatch. Is God waiting for something new, something to hatch in the warm, dark place under his wings?

  2. Kelly, this is gorgeous, and I'm so glad to have found your blog awhile back. I love knowing you're making red birds and giving them as gifts. It's a beautiful thing to be led of the Spirit to share small gifts, which are so often large to broken-hearted recipients. God bless you, Friend, in your pastoring, and may you feel (as Psalm 91 suggests): you're ever under His great wings.