Yesterday my father-in-law picked up this year’s shipment of baby chicks from the post office. This is an exciting time for the four grandchildren who gathered in the back corner of their grandpa’s shed where he has set up a kiddie pool under several warming lights. Truth be told, we are all excited to see the fluffy yellow chicks and even the truly ugly ducklings and turkeys. One by one, he lifts each chick from the box, gives it a drink of water, and gently places it in the pool. The grandchildren gather around, the little ones underfoot and diving in against their mother’s wishes to pick up the chicks as soon they hit the ground.
Unsurprisingly, one of the ducklings is already so maimed that he likely will not make it through the evening. This is sad for my husband, who used to go out to check on the new arrivals every year so that he could hand deliver water and food to the weaklings, hoping that this would allow them to live another day. It is also sad for my (almost) five-year-old nephew, whose eyes well up with tears when he begins to understand that this duck will not make it. “Will they just throw him in the garbage?” he asks his mom in that sweet, guileless voice so precious in young boys, especially in young boys who wield light sabers and make violent threats. He will spend the rest of the morning guarding the door to the chickens new home so that the dogs cannot enter. No more chicks will die on his watch.
But this will not change the fact that one duckling already has a death sentence. I remind myself how true it is that we must not count our chickens before they hatch, a tired proverb whose repetition comforts me in this moment. Of course! I tell myself. I should not take for granted that potential chickens are the same as actual chickens. Certainly after a lifetime of bringing chicks home in the spring, my father-in-law has considered this eventuality and ordered a few extras.
The irony is not lost on me when later that day on the drive home, Paul and I begin imagining our new life in a town we have just visited for the first time to interview for a job as a pastor and pastor’s wife. Surely we cannot be so bold as to begin actually planning—making lists, considering budgets, choosing carpet—for a salary and a parsonage that comes with a job Paul does not yet have. We are looking forward to the promise of chickens when all we really have are eggs—delicate, small hopes that are, as they say, “subject to change.” We don’t care, though. We will continue to count on the chickens because we prefer reveling in hope over bracing for disappointment.
I make lists of things we will need: patio furniture, a grill, a new microwave, curtains, purple towels… Paul wonders about my list and I just tell him that at least I am going to pray for these things and see what happens. It cannot hurt to ask.
One year when Paul was a boy his father ordered a special batch of chicks that were supposed to grow into chickens that would lay multi-colored eggs. Paul and his brothers envisioned a roadside stand where they would sell these startlingly pretty eggs. They ordered the eggs in the spring and began imagining the profits—how many eggs would their chickens lay? How much would they charge per egg? How would they split the money and the chores among the brothers?
When the chicks arrived, their excitement was not diminished. Here were the chickens that would grow up and lay those money-making eggs! But as the chicks grew out of their cute fuzzy infancy and into their gangly, awkwardly feathered adolescence it became clear that what they had was a pen full of roosters. The chickens they had counted on simply didn’t exist.
Paul tells this story now as a funny anecdote, another investment scheme gone wrong. He does not remember it with bitterness or disappointment. He remembers fondly the eager hope that they had, the plans that they made for chickens that had not yet hatched.
And that is why I continue my eager planning—because I do not know what else to do with my excitement and I will not regret the days that I spent dreaming about our new life no matter how this turns out.