I may or may not have mentioned that our family has spent the last twenty-five years living on the edge of an Amish community. I have had dealings with many of the Amish throughout those years, and there are some whom I count as friends.
I began teaching first and second grade (combined) soon after we arrived in Southern Maryland. The church where my husband was on staff needed a teacher, but I still had five little ones at home who needed a full time mommy after school. The Lord gave me a sweet deal where I could have a full-time adult assistant of my choosing, so I never had to take any work home. I was truly off at 3:15 when school was dismissed. Anyone who is a teacher knows what a tremendous perk that is!
One of my parents lived next door to an Amish farm. She and I had become friends as a result of our nearly daily parent/teacher conferences. :) When I mentioned to her that I would like to hatch baby chickens in the classroom (I already had an incubator), she went to Stevie, her Amish neighbor, and brought me back a dozen large, brown fertilized chicken eggs. And so the tradition began.
Every spring it was the same. In twenty-one days a dozen Amish chicken eggs would become ten or eleven adorable baby chicks. There were always one or two that did not make it. Then we would have a chick funeral. I would grab a staff preacher and drag him off to give the eulogy. I'm sure we were a sight; the children, my helper, and myself, marching in a straight and somber line down to the edge of the woods. The line leader for the week would be carrying the coffin (okay, shoebox). The children would cry. (Okay, maybe me, too.)
One year I had the misfortune of not being able to find anyone available to preach the funeral other than the pastor. I knew that would mean trouble. Sure enough. He 'preached' about our loss being Colonel Sanders gain and about how good Mrs. Olszewski's chickens were. So wonderfully good that they were 'finger lickin' good'. And on and on he went with such sarcastic nuances, just barely skimming over the kid's heads. He thought he was funny. Grrr!
I wonder how many little crosses and loving, sweet, handmade posters on sticks were left there at the edge of those woods throughout those years.
That same parent had made a great indoor wooden yard with a pull-out newspaper-changing-drawer for the baby chicks that had hatched successfully to run around in and grow. My desk lamp became their warming light. The kids couldn't wait to get to school each day to see them, and a fun reward was to get to chicksit for five minutes while the rest of the class did seatwork. It was a great motivator, and I had a classroom of very well behaved children.
It was only a matter of time before the pastor would come to me and insist that it was time for our baby chickens to go. My classroom was the closest one to the auditorium. Even though we cleaned up behind them meticulously, he would say that I was making the whole church smell like a barn. :) Maybe. I have to admit, sometimes during preaching I could hear those sweet babies chirping and clucking away in my classroom. Perhaps the pastor should preach louder!
So then we would load up kids and chickens onto the bus, and off on a field trip to the Amish farm we would go. As the years went by, Stevie became more and more friendly to this 'English' schoolteacher and her well behaved children, and the field trip came to include being a passenger in the Amish buggy, hay rides in the big wagon, and a trip around the farm on the back of a pony (or mule, lol!). All the while we watched our beloved babies get acclimated to their new chicken house and interact with their aunts and cousins. It was always one of my favorite field trips of the year.
We learned about way more than chickens throughout those days and weeks. We learned about birth and death. We learned how marvelously chickens are made; perfect in every way. About how God cares for them, just like the little sparrow. And about how much more He loves and cares for each one of us. How we are fearfully and wondrously made. We learned how God expects us to care for his creatures, and about how you can really learn a lot about a person by how he or she treats helpless animals. We learned kindness and compassion and responsibility.
We learned about the struggles of life, and how God uses them to make us strong. The chickens that died, did so as they were hatching. You can watch them work and labor as they peck their way out of that shell. Some really have a difficult time. But if you help them, they are sure to die. They have to do it on their own. Working through that struggle makes them strong enough to live. Amazing!
We learned about how the Bible talks about chickens, and what those wonderful verses mean. Matthew 23:37 says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" We learned how sad we would be if, after we had loved on and taken care of those baby chicks all this time, they ran away from us and wanted nothing to do with us. We thought about how sad Jesus must be when we do that to Him, and how He gave us that verse to help us understand.
We learned how God promised that He would cover (us) with His feathers, and under His wings shalt (we) trust. (Psalm 91:4) God's provision. God's protection. God's comfort and love.
I started to write about the Amish. God had me write about chickens. Go figure. Maybe He'll let me write my Amish thoughts another day. :)