I named her Lola and had my son put a little red tag around her ankle.
After losing a little chick from the meat flock just a few weeks prior, I didn’t want to lose Lola too. The tiny red band around her yellow leg flopped loosely and she joined the rest of the all-white flock at the feeder.
She was tiny. But she was scrappy.
I liked how her little body would push its way into the sea of white and fight for a place at the feed tray.
We’d purchased the thirty chicks as a summer project after my son raised a small batch for 4-H. They fit perfect on our little farm. They fit perfect in my son’s farmer life. And they were going to fit perfect in our stash of freezer meat.
I didn’t think Lola would make it. When I saw she wasn’t thriving, I thought she’d succumb like the little one I’d named Emily just a month before had. That’s the way of life after all…the sad facts of it…but Lola kept on and she made me smile when she’d shove her little white body to the feeder and climb on the backs of her flock mates to find a spot to eat.
I thought I’d keep her.
She could hobble around with our laying flock and look cute.
She’d be the odd-shaped fat girl in the gang of our lean working hens and she’d remind me of the fight in all of us. The instinct God writes into our cells. To live. To survive.
But she didn’t. Along with the rest of her 28 pen mates, Lola stayed too small no matter how much my son increased their feed. The first batch had been fat, robust, healthy and happy, but this batch was two weeks past our scheduled butcher date and still not up to a weight that would bring an expected yield.
We talked to folks who raised chickens. It was a weird summer they said. Chickens weren’t growing to their full weight. Blame all the rain we had this summer.
It was getting cold outside and my Lola and the rest of her pen mates just weren’t growing any bigger so we decided it was time. We needed to butcher before it got any colder and my son and I did what we’ve learned to do…sharpen our knives and turn on the music while I put my big girl in charge of the littler kids and get to work, side by side doing what families have done for thousands of years.
“Mom what do you want me to do with Lola?”
He asks me quiet and tender after we’ve clasped hands and thanked the Maker of life for the gift of these lives and asked for the provision of kind hands that do their work gently and sure.
“Oh right. Lola.”
I tidy my table and give him the let’s-get-to-it look.
We’d picked up the chicks on one of the last days of radiation. They came home with us in a feed-store box on the morning we’d had a date with laser beams.
Lola reminded me that just like my husband had that morning and every morning prior for seven straight weeks…
…sometimes we have to fight to live.
Lola reminded me that even though we’re tiny and part of a big flock…
…we can still find our way.
Lola reminded me that sometimes we just have to use the strength we were given and it’ll help us. Sometimes…
…we just have to push a little harder.
Lola reminded me that our shepherd has his seal on us and that we’re easy for Him to find. There’s no doubt…
…He knows exactly which one we are.
Lola’s red band on her scrawny little ankle reminded me that sometimes we just need a little extra attention…
…to make sure we’re growing.
So as I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with my son whose shoulders are wide now like his daddy’s, I thought of the summer and the season and the past thirteen years…growing as a Mama. Growing as a child of God.
How does the time go so fast when you still feel so small?
How do I forget how much I grow every day until one day I look at the man I’ve grown up with and realize it’s been twenty years and four children and a houseful of prayers and a faith that leads upon waters without even thinking?
I’ve moved my truck to where we are so we can hear the radio and there comes the song. It used to play in the headphones of my Walkman and as the pretty girl sings time after some time you’ll picture me I’m walking too far ahead…
I realize my boy is the age I was when we all fell in love with that song.
We’ve walked ahead some.
And like my boy, we’re growing too.
Every year, every child, every friend, every prayer…
…He holds them in His hand right there where our names are written in red.
Time after time.
We’re about halfway through with the task and the smells from the house are of broth and winter provision and I know what he’s going to ask me.
“Let me go look at her first before I decide, son.”
We walk to the pen and he finds her, small still but as big now as the rest of the chickens with her there.
I think of our season…
…the extra years I’ve been given with my husband. The shed full of hay. The house full of children.
I think of what Lola has taught me. I think of how I’ve grown without even realizing it. How, in the scrappy fight to stay alive and keep thriving, I’ve felt the band of the one who’s marked me with His seal.
“Mom, it would be real hard to incorporate her into the layer hens. They probably wouldn’t let her in right away and she could probably die out in the cold.”
She’s not a keeper chicken. Her breed can develop fatal health problems if they’re kept past butchering age.
Lola is a meat bird bred to grow fast and then die.
To keep her would stress our farm and stress her, most likely to the point of death.
I realize all these things as I look on her little white form, -her little lesson-giving shape- and my farmer mind wins practical but can’t stop my soft side from releasing a tear and smiling thankful.
“Could you take her tag off son?”
“Okay?” His voice is quiet and his hands are bloody from the work he does so his Mama doesn’t have to, and in his blue eyes that were just baby eyes but are growing now into man eyes I see the asking. Are you sure?
“She wouldn’t survive son. She was a good chick. But it’s her time. This is what we got her for. This is her purpose. Just take her tag off. And please don’t tell me if you know it’s her when she comes through.”
He goes into the pen and I go back to our tables, hosing them off and getting ready to process the next chicken that my man-boy will gently and humanely send into eternity.
Lola had grown into her purpose.
And as I worked with my son in the chilling autumn evening, I realized that as he grows into his purpose, and my husband grows into his purpose, and you grow into your purpose…
…I’m growing into my purpose too.
A little flock of ducks flies over, their wings whooshing and their calls quiet. Their v-form heads due south and the sun slips behind the spruce trees.
We finish our work, wash up the knives, rinse down the table, and take one last look around the barnyard.
My son…the one I first held in my arms yesterday it seems…I ask him if he wouldn’t please move the truck back up to the house.
The surprise and excitement hit his face in a scared little smile he works hard to contain and I nod, smiling.
How long before he knows his purpose? Later that night, it dawned on me that, at twelve years old, my boy is two-thirds of the way through his trek to adulthood.
But now though, as I watch his nervous face maneuver my truck the twenty feet that must seem like a mile to him, I realize his purpose for now is the same purpose we all share…
…to keep up the fight to thrive…
…to push through the struggles…
…to rest in knowing who we belong to…
…and most of all…
…to just keep growing.
…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received…Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…
Ephesians 4:1, 1:13