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Rescued Chickens Brought Me Closer To God

Connecting with animals deepened my connection to the creator and creation

  • Caring for a flock of their own put the Otto family in touch with some truths. Cheryl Otto

Cheryl Otto shared her observations on faith and her feathered friends at La Selva Beach Community Church in California. In turn, we share an excerpt from her speech.

The Bible uses various metaphors to describe God and God's relationship to us. My new personal favorite is God the Shepherd, who watches over his sheep. My recent experience as a shepherd of sorts gave meaning to the many metaphors for God.

And it taught me that we experience God in the most unlikely places—if we slow down long enough to notice.

It started with an email: "Hi. There are 'excess' hens that will be euthanized tomorrow if they don't find a home or a temporary place to stay. A volunteer will deliver the hens to you if you want some." I immediately agreed to take four hens.

The hens' story

Our hens were terrified when they arrived. They had been born in a cockfighting facility, where their main purpose was to hatch roosters. Hundreds upon hundreds of chickens lived literally on top of one other in pens and small, ramshackle cages.

The group that shut down the facility had no time to place the birds in homes. A rescue worker threw about 80 (of the 1,000) hens into her pickup truck and took them to a foster home.

The hens were malnourished, scared, and missing patches of feathers from being pecked. Their wings were deeply clipped to keep them from flying over the fenced yard. (Yes, chickens can fly.)

But they were alive.

Hens and humans

The hens didn't trust us at first. They would squawk and flap their wings at my approach, and they were frightened when I gave them medicine or treated their wounds.

Didn't they know we loved them? Most people would say, "Of course not! They're chickens." But the more I observed these creatures, the more they seemed just like people.

How willingly do we embrace change? How trusting are we that there are loving forces guiding us along our paths? And how much easier would our lives be if we truly trusted God and didn't resist? If we truly lived with faith?

Meet the flock

As our daughter, Perry, and I have watched over our flock, we've noticed that, like humans, the hens have distinct personalities. Pumpkin is the sentry, keeping an eye out for danger. Cocoa is the adventurous escape artist who loves to extend her boundaries.

Rose is the mom of the bunch. She hangs out in her nest box, taking care of all the eggs. She's been known to scoop up eggs from the other nest boxes, so she can keep them warm and protected. We often have to remove her from the coop and "force" her to have fun. (We all know people we have to remind to let their hair down once in awhile.)

Finally, there's the underdog, Daisy, who gets most of my attention.

Lessons for all of us

The most fun we have is when we let them out of their run to stretch their legs. Within seconds, redwood bark chips are flying. While one hen kicks up her heels in the bark, another seeks the perfect patch of sun to bask in. Yet another finds a pile of dirt, scratches around, fluffs her feathers, and takes a dust bath.

Our hens earn their keep in many ways: providing eggs for our friends and neighbors and tilling the soil with their long toes. And they are generous providers of fertilizer—which has both its advantages and disadvantages, depending on where you happen to step. It is quite apparent that they love their work and are happy to contribute.

The girls have blossomed. They are a great source of joy, beauty, wisdom, and laughter. They've learned to trust us, respect each other, and share their resources. They've healed and grown. And so have we. Interacting with them reminds me to trust more, invest more, share more, and play more.

I wonder what else they are here to teach us. How much richer would all our experiences be if we approached God's creatures and creation with that very question: "What are you here to teach me?"