It’s an expression my family uses for something or someone who strikes us as unusual. The context can be positive, such as a quirky or endearing oddity; or it can be of the don’t-make-eye-contact variety.
A bird of the former type attends my daughter’s gymnastics school. She’s tall and pale, all angles and elbows. A haunting beauty if I ever saw one. Glance at her slumped shoulders and ducked head, and it’s obvious she doesn’t think so.
“I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14
Each week I watch her practice, this swan in the making. I have never seen a cartwheel so awkward. When her legs are in the air, she pulls them in almost like a frog’s, as if she’s not quite sure how to manage their full length, and maybe doesn’t want to bring attention to how long they are. Her tumbles and rolls are just as unbalanced.
Despite her weaknesses, before every maneuver her eyes light with a fierce sort of determination, as if in her head she’s saying, “I know I’m not good at this, but I will be.”
And for just a moment, that few seconds before she has to run down the mat, or hop up on the beam, or climb the rope, she folds out of her ball of insecurity and self-consciousness. She squares her shoulders, clenches her fists, takes a deep, shaky breath, and that little beauty puts her all into it.
Her finish is clumsy. She looks down, probably not wanting to see the response to what she presumes is failure. Still she gets back in line and gives it another go. And each week she gets a little better.
Watching her moves me. I can’t help thinking that maybe when the Father watches many of us, including me, He sees what I see in her: fear of failure, fear of being seen failing, insecurity over what we must look like to others when we put ourselves out there and finish clumsy, doubt that we’ll ever succeed despite how much effort we put into it.
And yet we don’t give up, because something inside won’t let us. Maybe it’s the fire burning within that speaks to the purpose of our creation, or maybe our Creator Himself, who knows the plans He has for our lives and spurs us gently onward.
“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
Writing is hard. Parenting is hard. Marriage, friendship, art, work. Life.
Everything we endeavor to do well can be laden with periods of ungainly tumbles and uncoordinated leaps. We fall, trip, bruise–and look as odd as a six-legged horse in the process. But like the little gymnast, we shake it off and do it again.
Because birds don’t fly on the ground.
Odd birds are only odd for a time, enduring momentary setbacks and temporary failures as we flap about. One day we’ll take flight, soaring high to all that God has called us to for His glory alone.
Right now we’re just strengthening our wings.