Back in April, we crossed a threshold that we never anticipated. I’m not sure that this new benchmark was even fully desired. But, we have come to embrace it. What is the it? As of April, there are more animals on our property than people. We moved here as a family of 6, plus one dog. Six on one, that’s easy dominion. Now the odds have changed. In April the totals were 2 dogs, 2 cats, and 1 rabbit. We had the advantage, but just barely. From some of the stories we have heard from previous missionary pastors with Village Missions, inheriting animals was just part of being a rural pastor – at the time I promised that would never happen to us.
So what happened? At Christmas, our children were the recipients of some money that they were free to use however they wished. It was an unexpected blessing. The beautiful bride and I came up with some great ideas of what they could do with the money. Our 8 year old surprised us when he turned down each of our grand plans. His reasoning was that each of the ideas we came up with meant that the money would be spent right away, and then it would be gone forever. Instead, he was looking for a way to make that money stretch farther, and perhaps produce more money. It is like we have a miniature Dave Ramsey in our home. “Well then, what do you think you would like to do with the money?” said we, the parents with a twinge of a patronizing tone in our voice. There was a one word answer. “Chickens.”
The explanation went along these lines – if we get chickens, they will lay eggs. If they lay enough eggs, we can sell what we don’t use. The money we get from selling eggs we can then use to buy other things. Fairly airtight logic from the 8 year old. His wisdom and foresight momentarily shamed me.
Courtesy of neighbors down the road, we received 6 baby chicks. The odds turned against us – animal kingdom 11, humans 6. We kept them in a brooder in the garage, under a heat lamp, safe from the curious paws and jowls of the dogs and cats. We fed them, watered them, and held them (apparently there is a field of chicken psychology that suggests if you handle chicks when they are young, they are far more docile in later life – still not sure why we bought into this logic since they were never, EVER going to be household, handheld pets). Right around 4 weeks old, one of them died. We knew that statistically speaking, this was possible and our children were prepared for it. The next day, we awoke to another dead chicken, and later that afternoon two more. One death was understandable, but our children were not as prepared for the sudden decimation of our flock. There was no obvious reason for the furious fowl fatalities. All their needs were met and they were not the victims of an attack by other members of the animal kingdom. Tears were shed, poultry pall bearers were assigned, and we began strategizing our next steps. We purchased 3 new chicks and we are pleased to report that everyone has survived to this point. All of our animals are pleased to report that despite the losses, with the recent additions, they now hold a 10-6 advantage.
My children have faced much death since we moved to the country 16 months ago. The four dead chickens were preceded in death by two rabbits (which is why we have just one) and followed by one cat, who we are fairly certain became a coyote snack while we were on vacation. Add to that the collection of mice, moles, and rats that have turned up dead (and dragged in by the cat to the garage) and it seems nearly weekly my children look death in the face. This is my cue to embrace teachable moments.
Because of all of this animal death, we have had to answer the question of where death comes from. In a way (a bizarre, rural, home educating father way) this death has been a gift. Animal death has afforded me the opportunity to speak of the reality and certainty of death. I’m trying to get them to see how ugly death is, and how it was not part of God’s design, and how it was introduced to the world through Adam’s sin, and how they too have a sin problem that will lead them to death. I want them to capture the gruesome connection between sin and death – holding a dead chicken or rabbit in a shovel helps them see that. (Please know that this sounds much more morbid than it actually is). Romans 6:23 comes a bit more alive for them now. They see that there is hope available in Christ to escape the penalty of death. The 1 year old has no idea what I’m saying (yet), the 3 year old at least grasps that “Jesus died on the cross for my sins” and the 6 and 8 year old boys are grappling with this regularly. We pray that each of our children fully understand that they are sinners in desperate need of a Savior, and that only Jesus can rescue them from death. Unconventional though it may be to use lifeless critters like this, if it warns their souls and stirs them towards Christ, then the illustration will have been worthwhile.