My maternal grandparents, Paul and Bernice Gerrish, lived and died in Pasadena, CA. Grandma stood no taller than 4’10”, had a stunning head of upswept silver hair, and taught piano lessons for most of her adult years. Grandpa, all of 5’6”, held a PHD in mathematics, tutoring college students until he was ninety-three years young. He also opened Pasadena’s first swim club, teaching the babies how to keep from going under. As a lover of nature, Grandpa had a green thumb, and was particularly smitten with roses. But, it was his infectious laugh and playful sense of humor that got us every time.
But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. 1 Timothy 6:6
If we were holding a cookie or brownie, and were unaware of his presence, he loved to sneak up from behind us and squish our fingers together, laughing hysterically as the crumbled mess cascaded to the floor. And when the females of the family assembled, Grandpa would quickly announce, in a clear voice, “I’m heading for the garden. No Hen Party for me!” I never fully understood what that little statement meant until we accepted the gift of ten two-week old chicks from two separate neighbors.
While living in Big Bear, Pat and I had assembled a flock of four baby chicks. The “Girls” were very friendly, and in due time, produced their fair share of nutritious white and brown eggs. Over the next six years, we would lose one, then another, until finally, we were suffering from the empty nest syndrome. As our move to Hawaii loomed in the not-so-distant future, we decided to wait to replenish the McGeehan flock.
Nine months after our move, the time had come to assemble a new flock of feathered friends. We missed the joy of having our own backyard “Hen Party.” And since store-bought eggs command upward of six dollars per dozen, without much of a discount if you locate a neighbor who sells the precious commodity, it seemed the sensible addition to the horse, two goats, and two cats that already shared pasture space with our rented yurt. No sooner had I mentioned to a few neighbors our desire for chicks, did the offer of free chicks pour in.
Four seemed like a good number, but we decided to up it to six due to the probability of attrition. I told our closest neighbor, Bernie, that we would gladly take six of her peepers, females only please. (A rooster was totally out of the question due to the pre-sunrise wake-up calls that are standard fare.) She confirmed what I already knew, “No guarantee they would all be females.” But, we dove in anyway with an extra measure of faith.
In anticipation of the chicks’ arrival one week later, Pat constructed the tiny coop using repurposed materials from the shed and woodpile. After a few days of intense labor, voilà—the nursery, I mean coop, was completed. He jokingly referred to his creation as “The Gilligan’s Isle version.” I told him I felt that was too generous of a description. But it did boast all the elements of a thoughtfully constructed space while allowing the chicks to safely mature—chicken wire siding, bamboo corners, pressboard box and ramp up to Level Two, a small perch and entrance door of bamboo, wire and fire hose, all built atop a sturdy wood pallet. A tarp, pitched over the top, would keep the rain out. We were now ready to accept our half-dozen flock of feathered friends.
Just prior to the arrival of our brood, another friend announced that a friend of hers had three chicks in desperately in need of a good home. “If you don’t take them, the Mongoose will haul them off,” she shared. Those pesky Mongoose love baby chicks, so of course, we agreed to add them to our fledgling flock. The next morning, Bernie arrived with a little sack of chirping chicks. The original four, then six, came in at a total of seven, with Number Seven sporting a tiny broken leg. After receiving an arm’s length of care instructions, we placed them into their little safe haven. Two hours later, Pat came home with the additional three babies, increasing our brood to ten. Let the Hen Party begin!
Some hen owners pride themselves on identifying their chicks by breed—Rhode Island Red or White, Bantam, Blue Orpington, Ameraucana, Cochin, and Cornish, to name just a few. That is way over my head. I go by color—three blacks, one gray, two speckled, two brown, and two blondes. I didn’t want to name them until they were older because names equal emotional attachment, and I was too smart for that! The truth of that statement was demonstrated just a few hours later.
In the early evening, Pat and I made a final trip to the coop to provide a handful of lay mash for the girls and tuck them in for their first night at the yurt. Upon opening the door, one chick flew the coop! We scrambled to catch the wayward birdie, but she made her escape through the nearby hog wire fence. By the time Pat ran to the end of the fence line and through the gate, she was nowhere to be found. We searched and searched through the tall grass hoping to spot her and bring her back to safety. Two days later, after periodic searching, we gave up. Three days later, little blondie with the broken leg met her maker. We were now down to eight. Attrition, as expected, had reared its ugly head.
Over the next six weeks, the girls grew ten times in size, and their constant peep peeps grew louder and stronger. It was a continual Hen Party! Soon, Pat and I realized that the Gilligan’s Isle rendition of a chicken coop required an add-on of open, yet protected, yard space. They needed room to learn how to run, to flap their wings, and to peck for bugs and worms.
After five hours of labor, we successfully completed an 8’ × 8’ cubicle of chicken wire surrounding the coop. A ceiling of additional chicken wire would keep the owls, hawks, and yard kitties from enjoying a chicken dinner at our expense. Little did Pat know that throughout the day, I was naming the flock: our little gray girl was now Pearl, the little brown one would be Coco Chanel, the twin goldens were Lucy and Ethel, the small black one was Ebony, and on and on.
Once the expanded enclosure was complete, we let the girls out of the coop to explore their new world. We pulled up two beach chairs just outside the enclosure to enjoy their antics. At first, they were very tentative about stepping onto the grass. But soon, they began to wildly flap their wings, sampling the grass, and bumping into one another in all their excitement. I could almost hear my Grandpa say, “I’m heading for the garden. No Hen Party for me!”
When Baby Blackie flew the coop, never to be seen again, it made me wonder why she wanted to leave the safety of her sisters and her home. Did she think the grass was greener on the other side of the hog wire fence? Was she discontent with her home, her family, her surroundings? Maybe she ran because she was frightened. Or maybe she just didn’t stop long enough to consider the consequences. I will never know. But one thing is sure—I have experienced similar feelings periodically throughout my life. I have thought the grass might be greener in someone else’s life, was discontent with my surroundings, even had a dream once that I was a beautiful eagle, and could fly away when fear threatened my life. And I have most definitely made split-second decisions without remotely considering the ramifications of those decisions. You too?
Paul said it well in Philippians 4:11-12, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” By the time Paul wrote these words, he had been imprisoned numerous times, beaten and left for dead, and rejected by his people. What was his secret? He had learned to be content. He discovered that what was most important on this earth was not important at all. He had a relationship with his Creator, and he knew his real home, his eternal home, was in heaven. So Paul was able to take the good with the bad and the ugly—and he found joy in the midst!
In retrospect, it is interesting that a wayward chick can bring to life the truth of contentment to me. During these past nine months of living in our rented yurt, I too have experienced the peace of living in an attitude of contentment even though, on occasion, the thought to fly the coop, I mean the yurt, seemed just the tiny bit appealing! I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t acknowledge that I had to make a huge adjustment when we left California—saying “See you soon” to our family and friends, handing the keys to our home over to Dan, our fearless Big Bear realtor and friend, then moving into a one-room yurt, off-grid, and on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
I could have thrown myself an enormous Pity Party, complete with the decadent chocolate cake of discontentment, the dreamy Ice Cream Sunday of discouragement, and games of resentment, anger, and bitterness. Instead, like Paul, I chose to learn the lessons of contentment—to live in relationship with my Creator, regardless of my circumstances. I have learned that if I stay snuggly in the palm of His hand, I am safe, secure, provided for, and loved. My life’s struggles cannot possibly compare to those who live in third world countries or even the poor of America. But in my own life, God has many lessons of contentment for me. Have I learned? Yes. Are there more to come? Absolutely.