The hummingbirds show up in the morning. They fight and dive at each other, suspicious and nervous. They gather around my kitchen window, coming in for a quick sugary drink then darting away before you’re done blinking.
They come because of my grandma.
For years, she had a bright red feeder outside her kitchen window, the one by the island where we piled the appetizers for holiday dinners and where the teenagers sat when they became too cool for the kid table but didn’t have room at the adult one yet.
Hummingbirds remember.They remember where food was last year, and they come back. Their kids come back, their kid’s kids come. I don’t know the innate workings of how they show up every summer, but it’s what happens.
We love watching the hummingbirds. They eat a similar schedule to humans, showing up three times a day for a meal, which means when we’re in the kitchen getting ready for the day or gathering around the counters to chop and mix and wash for dinner, they are there too.
It takes a while to train the hummingbirds to come back every year. You have to be patient, keep putting out food even when you haven’t seen them in days, and trust that your hard, consistent work will eventually bring them around.
I imagine you also have to stand inside your house and sing “my sugar water brings all the birds to the yard,” but science is still studying that.
My grandma did all the work attracting the hummingbirds to her yard, and now years later, her granddaughter and great-grandkids are reaping the benefits. We get to enjoy the tiny little rockets who show up outside our window at almost every meal.
I think often about my grandma’s work and how it’s still impacting our lives. I think about it as I chop fresh tomatoes from the garden to make salsa; I think about it as I microwave my lunch in the middle of a work day; I think about it in the evening as I fill the coffeemaker for the next morning.
She had no idea we’d live here one day.
She didn’t plan to live anywhere else ever, but old age and failing bodies changed that.
She unintentionally left us a beautiful gift.
Our families leave us unintentional gifts all the time, but some are not as enjoyable as hummingbirds at our windows. Some of them are painful and heavy and devastating.
Parenting is hard, one of the hardest things to do. We have to teach kindness and toilet flushing, sharing and chewing with your mouth closed. We have to help you learn to read and tie your shoes, show compassion and not bite anyone. Parents are in charge of sending humans out into the world to make it a better place and, hopefully, not a worse one.
But we also send our kids off with gifts we’ve been ignoring, gifts we should have handled instead of passing on. Gifts like untreated depression and out-of-control anxiety, sexual brokenness, and addiction. We work really hard to pretend these things don’t matter to us, they don’t really affect us, and so we shove them off to our kids and ask them to carry them for us. The problem is our loads don’t get lighter, we don’t rest easier when we hand them to the next generation. They just weigh down more people, it doubles the burden, finding new people to suffocate, destroy, and drown.
We are all giving gifts to our kids.
Gifts that will change their friendships, marriages, careers, families, and kids. Gifts that will help determine how they spend their time, their energy, their money, their life.
I ask myself often what I’m giving my kids that day. What am I giving them that they’ll carry into adulthood? What they’ll wound others with, what they’ll love others with?
And if I don’t like the answer, I begin my work.
Right now, my work looks like modeling healthy boundaries and friendships, what we should allow in relationship with others and what we should not. My work is taking a breath before I speak, not responding to hurt by hurting someone else, and making sure I look people in the eyes to tell them I love them. My work right now is being patient when I really want to move this show along and going to counseling to heal wounds I don’t want to saddle my daughters with.
My work in this season is honesty because it always leads to healing, guarding my time because those girls aren’t little anymore, and making sure guilt and shame are not parenting tactics I fall back on when I’m being lazy.
My work looks like making sure my daughters ground their identity in who God says they are instead of the world and not rushing them to grow up faster than is necessary.
Work in my marriage looks like strong boundaries, clear eyes on what enabling looks like, and a refusal to settle for less than I deserve.
My grandma spent years consistently putting out food for hummingbirds whether she saw them every day or not. Her work and dedication to making those tiny birds appear in her kitchen window have brought joy and entertainment to our daily lives.
It’s the same with us; the things we give our attention to–good or bad–are what will be floating around our lives, our families, our relationships years from now. When we gather in the kitchen for a late breakfast on a slow weekend morning, we’re surrounded by hummingbirds, the choices our parents made, and the scars of things they didn’t address when we were younger.
But with consistency, hard work, and faithfulness even when the job seems fruitless, we can allow our futures, our children, our next decade or two to be lighter, more peaceful, and healthier. If we want less chains, less burden, less chaos and heartbreak for our children, their families, and their futures, we do the tedious, complicated work now so later there will be hummingbirds, freedom, and joy.