If you missed my new painting video that I shared yesterday, here it is again.

I did something different this time… I took pictures at the end of Session 1, Session 2, and then the final finished oil painting. Sometimes people like the minimalist look of my unfinished work. They see stages of my progress in the videos and like points along the way. So, this time, I decided to offer a couple of those progress points. The effect is like a storyboard, a collection of three paintings that tell the story of this cardinal becoming finished art.

Session 1
Session 2
Finished Art

Sometimes “unfinished” has a raw appeal that is passionate and interesting; as a metaphor for life, we are often endearing when we are in our unfinished state of being. Many of us fall in love when we are young and scattered, not yet settled and sorted out. The humble energy when we are seen while “in progress” is beautifully human. When we allow someone into our unfinished state of being, into our private space, we share our hearts with others.


Watch me paint these cardinals in 40 seconds (time lapse)

I just came back inside after an exhilarating experience! We’ve had a male and female cardinal as frequent visitors to our patio garden bird feeder. This spring they apparently welcomed a nest of wee ones into this world. We think there are five. All are juveniles now, very silly and playful, and accustomed to me being around. They now trust me enough to play and eat while I’m standing on the patio, only a few feet from where they are.

Today there were three cardinals flitting about while a hummingbird was at his own separate feeder… all very near where I was standing. They looked at me occasionally. They seem to like the attention I give them. How amazing to have gained their trust!

Trust from the vulnerable is such a precious responsibility. When trust is granted, we have a moral obligation to never deliberately, willfully, knowingly abuse that trust. Imagine having a powerful position over more than just young hungry birds; imagine having power over nations of people who may believe our words and act on them in ways that may hurt or kill them.

When I feel the spirits of wild birds, I feel the power of nature. Nature is a balanced place where predators and prey exist alongside each other. When things are off balance, something happens to counter it. This too is how humanity works. Trust is a sacred agreement from one soul to another. Those who break that trust will face consequences- if not in this life, surely afterward.

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Do, then See

Watch me paint “Redwing Blackbirds” in 2 minutes (time lapse)

First the inspiration for this art, then the update. When we say yes to a project, action, task, journey, or relationship, we then see things we’ve never seen before.

“When sharing a painting that was inspired by a dream about the birth of my son (“Blue and Yellow Bird”), someone spontaneously said his favorite bird is the Redwing Blackbird. He couldn’t possibly have known that my son was born in a small town called Red Wing. The serendipity of that conversation was so startling, that it inspired this Redwing Blackbird painting, in which the birds seem to be in a conversation that only God understands.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

The story from here gets pretty wild… This past week I was working on a project about serendipity and divine intervention, signs of hope and connection, and other spiritually mysterious events that bring hope to individuals, such as special connections to loved ones who have passed away. I’m nervous about this project because it has the potential to be shared with a wide audience (part of a new publishing platform that I was invited to participate in, I will have no control over its audience).  

One of the stories in the project is about my cousin. The timing of this segment was serendipitous in and of itself because I was prompted to submit the story the same week that would have been her birthday. The story (which I will share at a later time) involved our sons, who had been born on the same date ten years apart. 

Immediately after submitting my story about my cousin and our sons, I received a new email. The first word in the subject line was her son’s name! How did that happen? 

When my eyes first saw it, I was in a sleepy state, having just finished writing and proofing the story and in need of some tea. So, for the first second, my brain thought, “oh no, I didn’t intend to use her son’s name!” For privacy reasons I’d referred to him only as her son. My fuzzy brain thought I was still on the story submission page for the project!

But no, the project window was closed out after I hit the submit button. This was my email window. It was a random message, a marketing teaser for an impersonal mass-mailing newsletter. It had nothing whatsoever to do with me, as it wasn’t a personal email. Her son’s name isn’t common, but it is of Biblical origin. The sales email referred to a Bible story to illustrate a marketing principle that barely made sense. The story didn’t have much of a connection to the point the author was making, so it really did seem as if her son’s name appeared for no logical reason and out of nowhere, to land in my inbox at precisely that moment. 

The odds of her son’s name being the first line of the email I saw immediately after hitting “send” on the story was very slim, slim enough to defy logic and probability. I told my daughter about this and she said, “Must be she approves” (my late cousin approves of the story I wrote about us and our sons). It was a sweet thought, and I hope that’s true. Confirmation of this may have come yesterday…

Yesterday was her birthday, and you’ll never guess what I saw! I saw a bird that I’ve not yet seen here. Not only did I see that bird, but a whole flock of them. Only one stood out as strikingly beautiful though, heavenly even! I gasped when I saw it and could barely get the words out to tell my family to look, look, look!

It was a glorious redwing blackbird! All of the birds in the flock looked like the ones in my painting, except for one bird that landed last. The sun hit his feathers and he nearly glowed with radiance! He had a vibrant yellow streak on his wings, in addition to the red and white markings. This vivid neon yellow is what flashed when the sun hit his wings. 

You might recall that the Redwing Blackbirds painting connects to my earlier art “Blue and Yellow Bird” (a bird that doesn’t actually exist in real life). The yellow bird dream is a story about my son that I plan to write about in the next installment of the same project that features my cousin and our sons. I was dithering about whether that story should be in the project, but now I’m convinced I should commit to it.

I’m still amazed by what happened, and it would make even more sense if I shared the full story, but I’ll keep this brief. The message on my heart to share with you is this: “Do, then See”. Sometimes we are given an opportunity to do something, and we don’t feel any strong connection to the project, volunteer position, task, job, event, travel opportunity, or relationship. It may not even be entirely our choice, as the situation is born out of hardship or circumstance. But if we make the commitment to do it anyway, we may then see how meaningful our action is, and how it relates and connects to other pieces of a marvelous and mysterious puzzle.

“Seeing” is not usually so literal, with the sudden appearance of a spiritually meaningful rare bird landing just a few feet from where I was standing! I can’t promise heavenly sightings that instantly validate our decisions, but when they happen, they take our breath away! The effect of it never lasts long though, and our human doubts creep back in like the tide. Most of the time, we must have faith without the fancy spiritual appearance of birds, butterflies, rainbows, and other signs that people commonly feel encouraged by.

“Seeing” happens after we’ve done what has been offered to us to do; after we’ve had the faith to see it through, especially if we initially had no reason to believe that our action would prove to be meaningful, beneficial, special, or fruitful in any way. Perhaps our rather ordinary action will simply be another task to tick off our lists. But nothing we create, do, or share is in isolation. Every interaction with this world has a reaction. We may not always see it, but sometimes we DO.

It may take many years for something we’ve put into motion to be seen and felt by us. It can take a great deal of faith to remain loyal to a person, action, or path. But if you know in your heart that what you’re doing is what you are meant to do, believe it. Do, then see.

More than Sparrows

First the Sparrows oil painting and the inspiration behind it, then a challenge for self reflection. Are you “worth more than sparrows”? Do you live like you are?

Watch me paint “Sparrows” in 2 minutes (time lapse)

“The inspiration for ‘Sparrows’ comes from Matthew 10:29-31 ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’”

from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

After painting “Sparrows” I saw those birds in abundance. They seemed to have had a nest in the trees by the front door. Sparrows were in my line of sight day after day. I have since not seen many sparrows, but one returned yesterday and was sitting all alone on the trellis on our patio.

My first thought when I saw what kind of bird it was, “Oh, it’s just a sparrow.” I’d been hoping to catch another glimpse of the mythical Blue Cardinal that I told you about in yesterday’s blog post. So I didn’t run for my camera.

In the Biblical metaphor, the sparrows have little worth, yet they don’t fall to the ground without God knowing. I’ve noticed that the verse doesn’t say “without God saving them”, “without God preventing the fall”, or “without God regretting the loss”. If we were to take the verse at its word regardless of how many translations it has gone though throughout history, then God knows what happens to the sparrow and that is meant to be enough comfort to us.

I’m imagining this in two different ways. One, from the perspective of a king. The king has a vast kingdom with many treasures, including living assets. He counts them all. He knows the value of each, and the status of every living asset. He keeps watch over every asset in the kingdom, but some assets are far more valuable to him than others. We can imagine that his vigilance and investment into those more valuable assets would be far greater than the rest.

The second perspective I’m imagining is from that of a parent. A loving and dedicated parent knows what their children are doing, even as they grow to become adults living separate lives. One day, a call may come. An adult child is in the hospital and is in a bad way. The parent arrives at the bedside as soon as possible. The child’s response is not, “Why did you not prevent this from happening to me?”

The child is relieved to see the familiar devoted face of the parent who knows them, who sees their worth, who loves them unconditionally. This face brings the child comfort, regardless of how old that child is. For many blessed parents, a day will come when it is the child who arrives at the bedside, and the same comfort is in reverse. When an older person is dying, it is often their child who they want at their side.

What if we felt as free as the common sparrow? When I saw the sparrow yesterday, he seemed to have not a care in the world. He had easy access to food but was perched a few feet away from it, just looking around. He wasn’t jumpy, as if afraid of predators. Indeed, he had the place to himself. There was nothing to fear in that moment.

When we are perched in a space where our needs are met and there are no immediate dangers, why are we sometimes unable to let go of fear? If God knows what’s happening to us does that give us comfort, or is peace impossible without insurance that no harm will ever come our way? If we refuse peace we enslave ourselves, do we not?

I don’t have the answers, but I do know this… I’ve been at the bedside of the dying. In my experience, in those final days and moments, they don’t say, “Why is this happening to me? This is unfair!” They don’t rail at God or blame others. They seek out the faces of those who know their worth. Their gaze unmistakably says, “I’m glad you are here.”

When we know that we are worth more than sparrows, we live as if we are. We are a living investment that has the potential to increase the value of others. We can choose to let go of resentment over the times when there’s no divine intervention to save us. We can choose instead to accept the peace that is offered: we are known, valued, and loved.

We are worth far more than sparrows! Our best life is not to perch in the space where basic needs are met, where we’re temporarily safe from harm. It is not to rest in days of good weather. That’s a very small life, worthy of a sparrow.

When life hangs in the balance, what’s most important?  Acceptance of the limitations of humanity seems to come naturally to most dying persons. So many have this regret: “If only I understood this (what truly matters is love) when there was still time to live fully.”

We have time. We are worth more than sparrows. What will you do today?

Cardinal Promise

First the oil paintings then the stories behind them. Don’t miss the beautiful real life video update filmed just yesterday! Grab a cuppa, settle in and enjoy. 

The first cardinal I painted was for Grandpa Smiles, a children’s book about my son and my late father who died long before he was born. Dad was only thirty seven when he died from cancer after serving two tours in the Vietnam War. He didn’t live to see me grow up. And yet, his life made a significant impact on mine, and on my son’s.

When I was a child attending Dad’s memorial service I remember thinking, “Who are all of these people, and why are they coming to our (private) service?” The church was packed. The speaker said things about Dad that sounded like he led a whole life that didn’t include me, and I wasn’t aware of.

Years later when my husband was deployed to the war in Iraq, I left Germany where he was stationed and came “home” (I don’t really have a home, as I’ve moved around so much, but I went back to the town where I spent most of my school years). I got a job at the same factory where my father had once worked. Except he had been a manager in the offices and I was working second shift as a factory worker in assembly (a story for another day).

While working at the factory, I ran into people who had known my father. They were eager to tell me stories about things he had done. I had never known any of what they were telling me. Hearing it for the first time was as if they were talking about a stranger. It was a strange feeling to realize that Dad had been living a secret life.

It was clear that these people not only remembered my dad, but held him in high esteem, with an almost hero legacy. They told me stories of good things he had done, how he’d helped people and even financed getting someone back on their feet again (Dad was not a wealthy man). All of this was kept secret because Mom would have been livid if she’d known that he used some of the family finances on other people. 

I wish he’d have told me, but he DID tell me. He told me through the good things that he did in his life, that remained to be shown to me long after he died. That’s what happens to goodness and truth: it remains. It becomes a legacy to follow.

Watch me paint “Cardinals” in under a minute (time lapse)

The next cardinal I painted (in the video above) was years later, a pair, male and female. This was for the children’s book “Bird Days“, my last children’s’ book. I later left children’s book illustration behind as I launched into my “inspired by” oil painting series for the adult market. “Cardinals” was included in the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith“. 

The painting “Cardinals” became one of my most popular paintings, especially as it has deep personal meaning for people who have lost loved ones. But even without that profound connection, others see cardinals as a symbol of hope, faith and promise. Still others simply enjoy the quiet beauty of cardinals and feel peace at the sighting of one, whether in real life or in paint.

My third cardinal painting features cardinals on my patio feeder in “Come to the Garden“, which I blogged about recently in the post called “Quiet Joy“. Now I’ll pull a quote from this painting’s description from the book, because it’s time for a real life video update.

“The birds don’t usually come around all at once… …The tree on the right is the butterfly tree that I showed you in a previous painting. The shepherd’s hook is there, with the bird feeder below it. The cardinals sometimes pose exactly like this. We’ve changed things up a bit since I did this painting. We’ve added a red tower for smaller birds, that’s supposed to attract the elusive migratory Painted Bunting I showed you earlier. We’ll see, come spring!”

– from book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

So, as you know… the elusive Painted Bunting DID return, and has been a regular visitor every season since! I’ve blogged about him several times, including just yesterday:

Well, after I blogged yesterday I saw the painted bunting again, and tried for (and got!) better footage, which I’ll show you… but this isn’t the video I was excited about… that’s coming later! But watch this short clip first.

Oh and this one too… very short, only 24 seconds.

THIS is the video I’m excited to show you. Remember when I said, “the birds don’t usually show up all at once”? Well, sometimes they DO, and when that happens, it’s GLORIOUS! 

Graced by the promise of a cardinal, overwhelmed by the beauty of an elusive painted bunting, and cheered by a diminutive chatty hummingbird, how can one not feel certain of a divine plan after seeing this? Surely we are loved, by a Father who keeps many secrets, but reveals them in truth. The goodness we see is the legacy that teaches us how to live. The pursuit of happiness begins with openness, continues with kindness, and is fulfilled in acts of love.

Lizard & Elusive Painted Bunting

First, the oil painting, then the shameful story behind it… make sure you don’t miss my bonus video- real life new footage of the elusive Painted Bunting!

Watch me paint this lizard in 1 minute (time lapse)

“During our first summer in Georgia, the thing I feared most happened: the air conditioning went out. We had to deal with the intense humid heat with no AC [air conditioning, cooling]! The days and nights dragged on as we waited for the situation to be resolved.
The weeks before this happened, I’d made a new friend: a cute lizard on the glass patio door. He kept me company while I was working on my computer nearby. I named him Henry.
On one of our sweltering nights without air conditioning, I left the glass patio door open, which exposed a small gap in the seal of the sliding screen door. The hour was late night, nearly midnight, and my husband was working the night shift. That’s when Henry got IN. I chased him until I was overheated and sweaty. Finally, with the help of a spray bottle of water, I corralled him out the open door, while yelling, ‘Get out, Henry, you bast-rd!’ I realized too late, that our new neighbors didn’t know ‘Henry’ is a lizard.
Since then, I’ve rekindled my friendship with our patio lizards, as they keep the doors free of bugs. I’ve watched a lizard eat an entire pesky moth in two seconds time. As long as they stay on the other side of the door, we are good pals.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

If our neighbors heard me in my crazy fit of heat-induced delirium, they’ve politely never mentioned it. No air conditioning while knee deep in the humidity of a scorching Georgia summer is akin to boiling one’s organs while draining the brain of consciousness. When chasing that slippery little lizard, I was near the brink of delirium.

Fortunately, the air conditioning is working just fine so far at the beginning of this new season. We saw the first sightings of the return of the lizards. One tiny lizard was declared the cutest one she’s ever seen by my daughter, and then she spotted another lizard that seemed to change colors (like the lizard in my oil painting video, which is inadvertent due to changes in lighting while filming, but it gives the illusion of the real life way that lizards change hues from green to brown and back again).

The lizards have a much higher favorability rating since they’ve not come back indoors, but they can’t beat the popularity of the birds. The cardinals are active and seem to have a nest nearby. Hummingbirds are crazy with hunger at all times of the day. But, it’s the elusive one that most catches our breath…

The painted bunting is back!!! There seems to always be just one each season (and sometimes his female companion). I call him the “elusive” painted bunting because it’s hard to get photos and video of him. He’s skittish of any sign of movement. It’s difficult to adjust the camera or zoom in to follow his movements, or even be quick enough to capture him at all.

I was able to get fantastic footage that I shared previously in the blog post “Bunting is REAL!“. I captured that during last season, from inside the house. This time, I was outside, from a different angle. The new footage isn’t as nice, but it’s fun to see anyway, as it puts you in the moment.

When I was processing this video for you this morning, I saw a flash of light from the patio window. I had a feeling… yep, it was the sun hitting the tower bird feeder because someone was in it and made it sway… YES! It was the painted bunting, back again this morning for breakfast. I tried to grab my camera, but he flitted off.

Here’s the glorious footage from last season, in case you missed it and didn’t want to bother clicking on the link I shared earlier… or if you just want to watch it again to compare. Notice how bright his colors are? It’s very difficult to get the breathtaking vivid hues to show up on camera. I’m glad I painted him. Oils do this bird justice better than my camera does. But, this footage here is pretty close!

I’ll continue to try to capture the elusive painted bunting. It would be nice to catch him when he’s perched on a more natural habitat, like when he’s waiting in the trees for the bird feeder to be free of pesky threats like other birds or women with cameras.

Not every blog post has to be a metaphor for loftier thoughts, but I do see one in this post. Why do my husband and I gush over this elusive bird, while largely ignoring many other types of birds, and never filming the lizards at all? Is it because the painted bunting is so exotic and beautiful, or because he is rare, his season with us very short, and he’s difficult to catch sight of?

Our human nature is to value more the things that are fleeting and rare, the moments that are difficult to obtain, and the experiences that require work and luck to achieve. It seems we’re always chasing after that mysterious combination of destiny and control. So while the common lizard may zip past our feet, we’ll barely glance at him when the painted bunting flies overhead.

But when winter stretches on too long, as this one did, and the first lizard makes his appearance, the sighting of his tiny green crawling, climbing, and leaping body induces relief and delight! So happy to see you, dear Lizard! For when we are without the joys of abundant life, we miss the lizards equally as the elusive painted buntings. All creatures great and small, we appreciate them all!

Patio Friends

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss the footage I took from my patio.

Watch me paint this hummingbird in under a minute (time lapse)

“This is a little guy that visits our patio feeder regularly. I get so much joy from seeing birds. It’s hard to explain why it would even matter to see these tiny creatures, but it feels like a gift every time …
We have several varieties of hummingbirds and sometimes they fight. I call their battles “Humming Wars” because their flight patterns and the whoosh/zoom noise they make reminds me of Star Wars’ special effects. Sometimes one of them will blitz by our heads if we are in their flight path.
It’s a privilege when the hummingbirds interact with us. When they’re just peeking inside the glass to beg for their feeder to be filled, it’s not a high quality conversation, but there have been rare occasions when they’ve communicated with us without apparent self-serving motive. I was sitting on the swing one evening with my husband. We were quietly talking, when a hummingbird appeared. He looked directly at me, and then zipped toward my head, and hovered only a few inches from my face. It was a bit unnerving, as we made unwavering eye contact for several seconds. Then, I guess his curiosity was satisfied because he left. I could exhale again, whew! I thought he might have tried pecking at my nose for nectar.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

My phone app alerted me that animated gifs were automatically generated from my photo albums. My pictures of one of our patio friends have now made this ruby throated hummingbird a movie star, debuting right here on this blog! (see gif below)

Hummingbird feeders take up very little space and you can enjoy them on a small patio or balcony. When your circumstances restrict you from a big garden, you don’t have to deprive yourself of patio friends. When we feed the birds, they visit us, and they are delightful company!

Bunting is REAL!

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss the video proof that my elusive Painted Bunting bird exists!

Watch me paint Painted Bunting in under a minute (time lapse)

“A gorgeous bird appeared on our patio. I thought maybe a neighbor’s tropical pet bird had escaped. I’d never seen anything like this in the wild. I looked at a bird identification guide for Savannah. This is a migratory bird who visits our coastal area, called a “Painted Bunting”. Well, of course I had to paint it! My family gave me a tower bird feeder to attract this type of bird. I look forward to the spring return of painted buntings.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

For many months the painted bunting did not return, and it seemed like my family was beginning to doubt that I’d seen what I thought I had. But finally the elusive bunting appeared and he is REAL! This little guy is slightly different from the taller one I painted, but he’s definitely the same breed of bird I saw the first time. And, he visited many times after this sighting, so my video was validated by the family seeing this extraordinary exotic bird with their own two eyes.

He- or they, if the missus is along (you can see a glimpse of her peeking around the feeder in this video) never stays long. He eats from the feeder and quickly moves on. His migratory season is short; days or weeks in our area, not months. But the bunting is very much REAL, and beautiful!

Watch a Painted Bunting having a snack at our patio feeder

(I filmed this from only a short distance away, from inside the house behind the patio glass door – had to be quick, he doesn’t stay long!).