Tony Woodlief | Author


Something inside draws us home. Last year, two swallows built a nest on the narrow ledge above my front door. We tried to shoo them off, used a broom to sweep away their construction a few times, but they just kept rebuilding. They kept on keepin’ on, as Caleb might note. Eventually they won, and for a time they occupied a little mud-cake perched over my door, and then they disappeared.

They returned last week, and though we fuss at them, I think we’ve decided that they are part of the family. Every time we come out, there they are, circling, little dabs of mud or bits of grass in their beaks, waiting for us to clear a path so they can continue their business. Every time I see them I think of the 84th Psalm:

“Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself.”

My mind often drifts to this Psalm even when the little squatters aren’t chirping over my door. I think it’s because of how the words struck me the first time I read them; it was as if they were my own:

“My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

I feel a kinship with people who know what it means to have heart and flesh cry out, people who read these words and think: “Yes, I know that feeling. It is a true thing. It is part of me.” I suspect it is terrible flaw within me, but I can feel no closeness, no pity, nothing of consequence for someone who does not understand what it means to cry out for . . . home. Beside such a longing all the sects and denominations and tribes, the futile creations and imaginings of man, fall away.

“Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage…”

Yesterday I came home and discovered that the boys had been working for a good part of the afternoon on “painting” their wooden playset, using brushes and a wash bin of cloudy water. They liked the way the water turns the faded wood a darker, richer color. I watched them from the window; they were so diligent, so joyful even though their task was futile, even though they could see it was futile, because in many places the wood was already drying and returning to its grayish hue.

But they didn’t care, because for a time they had made it more beautiful than it was. They were like the swallows, cheerful, without care, confident beyond the power of an adult in the knowledge that they are home. Home. And watching them I knew, in one of those tingling moments of clarity that begins to fade even before we have fully embraced it, where my home is. I glimpsed the faintest picture of how it will be, everlasting, bright as this world is faded, joyful as this world is broken. Its language is laughter and silence in equal measures, and its citizens are children.

“For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

So I quickly changed clothes and went out to join them. Their eyes lit up as they saw me walking across the grass, they way they always do when they see their father after he’s been away for a time, the way my heart always does when I see them. “We’re painting!” they announced, and attacked the hopeless, hopeful task with renewed vigor.

I watched and encouraged and worried about splinters. Then Caleb handed me a brush. “Can you get that high part? I can’t reach it.” So I painted it with water, and when I was done they both said, “Ooooh. Pretty.”

“No good thing will He withhold…”

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