With the first snow of winter upon us, and the animals in our manger completely covered, I realized the bird feeder was again empty.

A brightly colored blue jay sat on the deck railing and looked in the window of the living room where I sat with my morning coffee. With his head cocked to the side, he seemed to stare intently at me, as if trying to pressure me into refilling the feeder.

I laughed to myself and thought, “You were certainly not the early bird today, dear friend. You were beaten by some lovely cardinals, a host of finches, some blackbirds, and, of course, the local squirrels.”

But I acquiesced, and threw out some remnants of a seed and fruit bread I had been saving for them. And the blue jay, being somewhat pushy, ate his fill.

There are few things that give me a greater feeling of contentment than to watch the birds come to visit and fill-up on food I’ve left for them. Seeing their unique beauty, listening to their chatter with each other, even observing their squabbles, are some of the best moments of my day.

I have often wondered how these extraordinary creatures weather the varied and severe storms that could prove to be a mortal danger.

A professor in Tufts University explains that aside from a bird’s natural built-in protection such as feathers, which offer remarkable insulation from cold air reaching the skin, and feet designed so body heat is not lost to cold air, there are two things that help birds survive – location and preparation.

Being small allows birds to take advantage of microhabitats, such as the lee side of trees or deep inside thick hedges.  He notes that wind speeds, and even the effects of driving rains, are dramatically decreased in these microhabitats. As long as the birds stay put and fluff up their feathers for increased insulation they can usually weather the worst of storms.

But staying put also means they cannot forage for food, so an important part of their preparation for storms is to get as much nourishment as possible before the storm hits.

Many birds can sense changing air pressure and, in preparation, spend as much time as possible foraging and eating. Because eating produces metabolic warmth for birds, who need to consume one-third to three-quarters of their weight daily, food is imperative if they are to survive.

It is no different for us when we are faced with so many of the severe emotional and spiritual storms that often hit without warning, and certainly the past year has provided a significant amount of those.

We are strongest when we weather the storms from within the shelter of our faith and when we keep ourselves nourished with prayer, worship, the support of our various communities, and a grateful heart which enables us to give to others.

Preaching in one of his weekly Angelus messages some years ago, Pope Francis taught on the Gospel of Matthew and the story of Jesus walking on the water to his Apostles during a storm. He recalled how Jesus instructed Peter to come to him on the water and, with his eyes on Jesus, Peter did just that, and walked on the water – at least for a few seconds. Peter then yells out to his Lord, “Save me!” and Jesus reaches out his hand and saves him.

Pope Francis reminds us, “The faithful and ready response to the Lord’s call always enables one to achieve extraordinary things. But Jesus himself told us that we are capable of performing miracles with our faith, faith in him, faith in his Word, faith in his voice. Peter, however, begins to sink the moment he looks away from Jesus and he allows himself to be overwhelmed by the hardships around him.”

As we enter into a New Year, may we find strength, courage and hope in God and, through Jesus, overcome our sometimes fragile faith and believe, instead, in our ability to achieve the extraordinary.

Mary Clifford Morrell is the author of “Things My Father Taught Me About Love” and “Let Go and Live: Reclaiming your life by releasing your emotional clutter.”