I try to make it a habit to walk around our yard most days after work. I circle the house, then head down to the garden where yellow and red Zinnias occupy one row and red-and-white striped ones form another. The heads of the sunflowers hang heavy, drooping and brown, and the yellow finches are happy to pilfer their drying seeds. Our tomatoes grow nearby, dark and dense as a forest, with heavy fruit twice the size of my hand hanging like red water balloons on nearly every vine.
Our garden is a riot, an explosion of weedy chaos that cannot, in our current tropical conditions, be tamed. But, we try. We summon strength and courage to weed one bed, then another. Hidden, we find the small watermelons the grew from last year's seeds, the pale winter squash growing in inexplicable abundance.
This year, with our hens no longer free-ranging, we're freed the alarm of their endless infiltration of the garden gate. No more pecked-at tomatoes. No more chasing five, six harried hens, trying to shuttle them out through the narrow gate.
This year, the hens are confined to a large fenced yard attached to their coop and they've managed to peck the ground there bare of any sign of life. Noticing their sparse conditions this summer, it dawned on me that our garden’s endless supply of weeds might be a welcome addition to their otherwise bleak landscape.
We started taking weeds to them by wheelbarrow and wagon-load, tossing the leggy green plants over the fence handfuls at a time. The hens were elated. They ran, pushing and shoving, to scour the windfall of succulent greens. Our rooster, Joker, puffed out his chest, making several announcements to his girls, waiting until they set-in before taking his own. Within minutes, the stems were bare, stripped to frail, skeletal forms.
What a grace this is, what a miracle: our chickens take our garden’s accidents and turn them into eggs.
There’s more, though. Standing in the kitchen, on any given night, I’m frequently confronted with routine kitchen scraps (the peels, the cores, the wilted ends) as well as bowls of mystery food left too long in the refrigerator. These too, the hens down enthusiastically, clucking and tutting. When I feel weighted by the guilt of chili left too long in the back of the fridge, the knowledge that this too can feed to hens gives me solace. These hens are teaching me grace again, reminding of the power of redemption, the truth that our mistakes are never the dead end we imagine them to be.
Richard Rohr sums it up this way: God writes with crooked lines. By which he means, God connects all the dots of our lives, the much-intended ones AND the ink blots that splatter accidentally on nearly every page. God writes the story of our lives with a view so broad, so imaginative, even hens turning old tomatoes into eggs ought not to come as a surprise.