Best Laid Plans
“Oh Jerusalem! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!” -Jesus, Matthew 23:37
Absolutely no chicks this year,” I declared emphatically, looking sideways at my 15 year old son to be sure he caught every meaning.
(He seemed oblivious, so I moved on).
“We have to focus on managing the flock, dealing with predators, fixing the coops... so no new baby chickens!”
“Ok,” my offspring acquiesced obediently.
But Thursday afternoon, as I lay my recalcitrant 3 year old down for her nap, I glanced out her window. Sitting in the lawn was a chicken I hadn’t seen in probably a month. Little dots bobbled around her. Squinting, ignoring the pouting child trying to convince me that she wasn’t tired, I went to the window and looked harder. Was it?
“Boys!” I hollered down the stairs. “Go down by the apple tree and look!”
“Why?” They asked pragmatically, not wanting to leave a video game.
“Go!” I bellowed.
A minute later, muffled screeches vibrated the window. “There are chicks! Mom, come see!”
So the three year old got her wish. There was no nap. Also, no more power to my authority. Even the creatures run afoul of my pronouncements (pun intended).
If chickens laugh, I’m pretty sure that mama hen was chuckling at my surprise. All this time I had thought she was gone for good, but actually she had been nestled a few feet under the spruces behind the woodshed for the last month.
She had never really had a moniker, but suddenly her investment merited one.
I’m going to call her Pretense.
Video game forsaken, my older boys busied themselves creating an impromptu broody pen out of the old picnic table. Even chickens need a safe space.
An hour later, staple gun empty, enclosure more or less secure, we herded a nervously clucking hen and six chicks into their new home. We quickly realized the chicken wire we’d had on hand wouldn’t stop the tablespoon-sized bantam babies from escaping. Not that they really wanted to, but in the excitement, a couple slipped out and had to be gently tucked back under mama’s warm feathers. They were so small, so soft, so fragile. So full of new life.
There is no feeling like holding a new baby, even though I had no plans to do so this year.
The best laid plans of mice and mamas...
Have you ever considered Deborah, the woman who judged Israel and led Barak in the defeat of Sisera’s army? Do you think that was in her plans?
I don’t know much about her. Just what I read in Judges 3 and 4.
She was married to Lapidoth... perhaps she had kids... certainly she had hormones... emotions... dreams.
Perhaps she planned to be a mother.
To clean house.
Keep a garden.
Exchange news at the town well.
Sit in comfortable silence with her husband after a busy day’s work.
Perhaps she did.
In fact, perhaps that was her primary work, her greatest achievement.
Perhaps she only became “a judge of Israel” after menopause, after the kids were grown, and they’d sold the farm for a good return, moved in town, and she had a couple afternoons free to sit under the tree and share the practical, sage advice that she’d picked up from her years of monotonous service as a mom.
For so she was.
A mother in Israel. (Judges 4).
Or perhaps she was right in the midst of it, changing diapers, juggling meal prep with caring for the animals and disciplining offspring. Perhaps she hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in years, and she and her husband were like ships passing in the night. Perhaps she was worried about finances, the pregnancy weight that didn’t come off, and her child’s attitude.
And perhaps, right in the midst of her breathless world, her woman’s intuition kicked into higher gear. The niggling voice in her head grew so insistent she couldn’t push it away. That is where God meets mothers, after all - right in the midst of the mess. She shared the thoughts with her friends, words that seemed prophetic. And they began to happen, every time just as she’d predicted. She gained a reputation. People were always dropping by just at nap time to ask her to settle a dispute, pray for their marriage, speak wisdom into their uncertainty. Finally she committed to spending weekend mornings under the old palm tree up in the hills of Ephraim, and her children would play in the shade while people came to her for help. And she gave it, because that’s what you do as a mom.
As a mother in Israel.
She never planned to go to battle. But when her boys had been young and prone to nightmares, she had responded to their cries and gone to their side to soothe and pray and settle anxious souls. It’s just what you do. You’re there.
Balak, living his own nightmare, wavered as he looked at the vast army in the valley that he knew he had to fight. He wanted her there. So she went. That’s what you do as a mom sometimes.
A mother in Israel.
My own mother’s life is not what she’d planned. Brilliant in her own right, she could have climbed lots of adders, brought home much bacon, added many letters after her name. She could have invented things, improved technology, cured diseases. Perhaps.
But she prioritized being a mother.
And I have never heard her complain about it - or anything - as she has rolled with the punches through the decades I’ve known her.
She took on motherhood with a will.
And I wonder how many she has affected with her choice.
Generations now can rise up and call her blessed. Why?
For her quiet determination to put one step in front of another during the thankless dark nights with an infant.
For the healthy meals she cooked every day, even though her children eschewed those cooked peas.
For the rides to school, the long nights of homework, the extracurricular activities all not for herself that cost every minute of daylight for a decade of her life.
For the birthday parties she pulled together on a tight budget.
For the marriage she joint-maintained even when both were dog tired and on opposite schedules.
For gripping the passenger door in quiet panic through three student drivers with permits.
For caring for her aging mother through the midst of her own season of changing hormones and the upheaval of her children leaving the nest.
For prioritizing church and prayer, education and work ethic by her own actions. For moving the family 1,000 miles - and back again - to follow her husband‘s changing career. For catching the baby of a friend who had no one else to do it.
For starting new careers of her own that she chose not for her own potential but because they were flexible to let her support her children’s potential.
For pouring into her grandchildren. For dropping everything to care for them when one had an emergency. For teaching them, carrying them, advocating for them before man and God.
She is a mother of her own little nation.
Many lives exist because of her.
Many more will.
I watched the chicken mama clucking gently to her nugget-sized flock. She gathered them under her wings, settling into a soft, voluptuous featherbed. I knew the next two nights were supposed to hit freezing, and worried for her. I knew she wouldn’t move.
Frost surrounded the pen the next morning, but there she was, stalwart, all 3 pounds of her fluffy body a solid barrier between the cold and her helpless clan.
They peeked out at me through her feathers, curious heads. Warm, safe. Growing.
I pushed the food closer so she wouldn’t worry about chilly baby chicken feet.
I admired her in spite of myself - this little mama who chose motherhood - even against my own wishes. She obeyed higher instinct than her own safety to escape the big pen, create a hidden nest, and sit on it all through the cold nights of April, alone, vulnerable, exposed. And then to lead them out, proud and tired.
She will keep protecting them till they are her size.
Till she is poured out. Till another generation can rise up and call her blessed.
Or whatever chickens say.
It’s not often I admire a chicken.
Happy Mothers Day to all of you mother hens. And I mean that heartily.