That snippet of an Innocence Mission lyric has been running through my mind the past couple of weeks: newly weighted with meaning; warm like the steadying handclasp of a friend.
For over two years now, we have known the almost unclouded joy of a dream-made-real here on our farm-in-the-city. We have stood amazed as God brought to life one request after another in the beautiful forms of all of these ‘friendly beasts’ with whom He has so graciously allowed us to share this bit of earth. We’ve had a real-time crash course in animal husbandry and we have laughed as much at our own ineptitude as at the antics of all our creatures. And we have learned much—so very much—from these mute witnesses to a loving and lovely Creator. The grace of God has been dealt to me in trusting eyes and velvet noses and swishing white tails in a way that has changed me forever.
We have been spared more times than we know by the Preserver of man and beast. But even the ‘boundaries that enclose a pleasant land’ cannot keep out pain and sorrow and the awful effects of a fallen world. We’ve drunk deeply of a bitter cup the past couple of weeks—a cup we’d never have chosen but one which yet bears the sweet fragrance of grace and a love beyond our imagining. And we know, as never before, that the Lord is loving and faithful towards all He has made.
In one tragic moment we lost both our beloved Nubian doe, Pansy, and our beloved Pyr, Juno. I know you’ll forgive me for refraining from details too painful to dwell on much less write about, but suffice it to say that I feel like I have been living in a rather horrid mixture of Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows. (Both of which, incidentally, absolutely tore me to pieces as a child. And as an adult. The Lord knows our point of pain…) It was a blow that we’re still staggering under; a double-edged sword. And I am not ashamed to say how deeply I am grieving over a goatling and a big white dog.
The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. And He has given so much more than we ever could have anticipated. On the day of our sorrow, as we were speeding home through the night from an interrupted vacation, we kept voicing our truths to one another: We have no regrets. We’d not go back and undo the love to be spared the pain of it. The loss, even in its agony, is a feeble thing beside the joy that these animals have given us.
The thorn is no match for the sweetness of the rose.
A few days before we had left town there was a surprise waiting for us in the barn one morning. Butterfly, our ‘missing’ Rhode Island Red turned up in one of the stalls. With a peeping, pecking bundle of fluff at her side. I was literally stunned stupid.
“Where did she come from?” I blurted out.
The crowing of our rooster yanked me out of my imbecility and I grinned up at Philip.
“Margot’s a daddy!”
(Now, if you want to know why I have a rooster named Margot, we’ll have to save that for another time. Or maybe you could just think about it. For a minute.)
I was flummoxed and overjoyed at the same time. The first little life actually born on our farm! It was nothing short of a miracle! And yet danger was lurking on every side, it seemed: Maudie the cat was stealthily slinking in through an upper window, and Juno in her eager oblivion threatened to step on the baby with one huge paw and never know the difference. Turns out we had all failed to anticipate the legendary fierceness of a hen for her chick—let’s just say that all the proverbs are true. But we managed, nonetheless, to scoop up Butterfly and her newly christened little one, Gertie, and deposit them safely into the brooder that we keep in the hens’ stall for the raising of store-bought chicks. With food and water, room to stretch her legs and plenty of hay to rest in, Butterfly settled happily into her new quarters and I, at last, could enjoy the fact that we had a new baby on the farm.
I spent way more time in the barn than I had that day, popping into the maternity ward, as it were, to check on our honored pair. But more often than not I didn’t see Gertie at all. Save for an occasional peep and a tiny head popping out of Butterfly’s feathers, you almost wouldn’t know she was in there. Gertie was tucked up where any utterly defenseless baby chick ought to be: under her mother’s wing.
And so we left on vacation in the joy of new life. And we came home in the literal darkness to the darkness of loss and death. I remember coming into the barn with Philip that night, switching on the light and waking everybody up. Going into Puck’s stall where he was sleeping alone for the first time in his life and falling on my knees beside him with my arms around his dear neck and my hands stroking his long Nubian ears. My grief was so searing that I wept aloud. And so much was the commotion that the whole barn was literally filled with the tumult of it. A bleating goat. Sheep noisily protesting the interruption of their slumbers. A rooster crowing and hens clucking their annoyance.
But over every other noise was one shrill, persistent, terrified. The peeping of a chick that was so loud and unremitting that it sounded like ten chicks instead of one. It went on for so long that I got up at length and went to look in at the brooder to make sure everything was alright. And there was Butterfly, waddling around after Gertie, trying in vain to soothe her hysterical baby who was flying about the cage in a senseless elusion. She would draw near and open up a wing and off Gertie would run to the other end of the brooder, as if devoid of all hope of safe haven after such a rude awakening. I watched this performance several times in succession until Butterfly, bleary-eyed if ever a hen could be and doubtless thoroughly tired of this game, walked over and unceremoniously sat upon her charge. The silence was instant and the other animals seemed to settle with it. The next I saw of Gertie was a pair of beady, contented little eyes peering over the edge of Butterfly’s wing.
It was one of the most beautiful living pictures of the love of God that I have ever seen and He spoke to my heart with it in a way that I will remember to my dying day.
That’s where I want you, my child. Cease from all your strife and know that I am God. Come under My wing and stay there.
I thought of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem: …how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings… Of the mighty tenderness of God who keeps me as the apple of His eye and takes me and my sorrows under the shelter of an overshadowing love. Of the goodness of the One Who sees, and not unmovedly, the fall of a sparrow and Who knows the very hairs of my head.
So, yes, I am grieving. But I am grieving in the safest place in all the universe. With my face pressed in close against His feathers. And, let me tell you, the tender mercies there are Real.
Your holy wings, O Savior, spread gently over me,
And let me rest securely through good and ill in thee.