“Beautiful life, full of grieving…”

springtime chicks, 2009

That snippet of an Innocence Mission lyric has been running through my mind the past couple of weeks: newly weighted with meaning; warm like the steadying handclasp of a friend.

For over two years now, we have known the almost unclouded joy of a dream-made-real here on our farm-in-the-city. We have stood amazed as God brought to life one request after another in the beautiful forms of all of these ‘friendly beasts’ with whom He has so graciously allowed us to share this bit of earth. We’ve had a real-time crash course in animal husbandry and we have laughed as much at our own ineptitude as at the antics of all our creatures. And we have learned much—so very much—from these mute witnesses to a loving and lovely Creator. The grace of God has been dealt to me in trusting eyes and velvet noses and swishing white tails in a way that has changed me forever.

We have been spared more times than we know by the Preserver of man and beast. But even the ‘boundaries that enclose a pleasant land’ cannot keep out pain and sorrow and the awful effects of a fallen world. We’ve drunk deeply of a bitter cup the past couple of weeks—a cup we’d never have chosen but one which yet bears the sweet fragrance of grace and a love beyond our imagining. And we know, as never before, that the Lord is loving and faithful towards all He has made.

In one tragic moment we lost both our beloved Nubian doe, Pansy, and our beloved Pyr, Juno. I know you’ll forgive me for refraining from details too painful to dwell on much less write about, but suffice it to say that I feel like I have been living in a rather horrid mixture of Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows. (Both of which, incidentally, absolutely tore me to pieces as a child. And as an adult. The Lord knows our point of pain…) It was a blow that we’re still staggering under; a double-edged sword. And I am not ashamed to say how deeply I am grieving over a goatling and a big white dog.

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. And He has given so much more than we ever could have anticipated. On the day of our sorrow, as we were speeding home through the night from an interrupted vacation, we kept voicing our truths to one another: We have no regrets. We’d not go back and undo the love to be spared the pain of it. The loss, even in its agony, is a feeble thing beside the joy that these animals have given us.

The thorn is no match for the sweetness of the rose.

A few days before we had left town there was a surprise waiting for us in the barn one morning. Butterfly, our ‘missing’ Rhode Island Red turned up in one of the stalls. With a peeping, pecking bundle of fluff at her side. I was literally stunned stupid.

“Where did she come from?” I blurted out.

The crowing of our rooster yanked me out of my imbecility and I grinned up at Philip.

“Margot’s a daddy!”

(Now, if you want to know why I have a rooster named Margot, we’ll have to save that for another time. Or maybe you could just think about it. For a minute.)

Butterfly and Gertie

I was flummoxed and overjoyed at the same time. The first little life actually born on our farm! It was nothing short of a miracle! And yet danger was lurking on every side, it seemed: Maudie the cat was stealthily slinking in through an upper window, and Juno in her eager oblivion threatened to step on the baby with one huge paw and never know the difference. Turns out we had all failed to anticipate the legendary fierceness of a hen for her chick—let’s just say that all the proverbs are true. But we managed, nonetheless, to scoop up Butterfly and her newly christened little one, Gertie, and deposit them safely into the brooder that we keep in the hens’ stall for the raising of store-bought chicks. With food and water, room to stretch her legs and plenty of hay to rest in, Butterfly settled happily into her new quarters and I, at last, could enjoy the fact that we had a new baby on the farm.

I spent way more time in the barn than I had that day, popping into the maternity ward, as it were, to check on our honored pair. But more often than not I didn’t see Gertie at all. Save for an occasional peep and a tiny head popping out of Butterfly’s feathers, you almost wouldn’t know she was in there. Gertie was tucked up where any utterly defenseless baby chick ought to be: under her mother’s wing.

And so we left on vacation in the joy of new life. And we came home in the literal darkness to the darkness of loss and death. I remember coming into the barn with Philip that night, switching on the light and waking everybody up. Going into Puck’s stall where he was sleeping alone for the first time in his life and falling on my knees beside him with my arms around his dear neck and my hands stroking his long Nubian ears. My grief was so searing that I wept aloud. And so much was the commotion that the whole barn was literally filled with the tumult of it. A bleating goat. Sheep noisily protesting the interruption of their slumbers. A rooster crowing and hens clucking their annoyance.

But over every other noise was one shrill, persistent, terrified. The peeping of a chick that was so loud and unremitting that it sounded like ten chicks instead of one. It went on for so long that I got up at length and went to look in at the brooder to make sure everything was alright. And there was Butterfly, waddling around after Gertie, trying in vain to soothe her hysterical baby who was flying about the cage in a senseless elusion. She would draw near and open up a wing and off Gertie would run to the other end of the brooder, as if devoid of all hope of safe haven after such a rude awakening. I watched this performance several times in succession until Butterfly, bleary-eyed if ever a hen could be and doubtless thoroughly tired of this game, walked over and unceremoniously sat upon her charge. The silence was instant and the other animals seemed to settle with it. The next I saw of Gertie was a pair of beady, contented little eyes peering over the edge of Butterfly’s wing.

It was one of the most beautiful living pictures of the love of God that I have ever seen and He spoke to my heart with it in a way that I will remember to my dying day.

That’s where I want you, my child. Cease from all your strife and know that I am God. Come under My wing and stay there.

I thought of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem: …how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings… Of the mighty tenderness of God who keeps me as the apple of His eye and takes me and my sorrows under the shelter of an overshadowing love. Of the goodness of the One Who sees, and not unmovedly, the fall of a sparrow and Who knows the very hairs of my head. 

So, yes, I am grieving. But I am grieving in the safest place in all the universe. With my face pressed in close against His feathers. And, let me tell you, the tender mercies there are Real.

Your holy wings, O Savior, spread gently over me,
And let me rest securely through good and ill in thee.

Caroline Sandell-Berg

Pansy, March 10, 2008--May 10, 2010

28 Responses to ““Beautiful life, full of grieving…””

  1. Jessica says:

    Oh, Lanier…I’m so sorry! I’ll be praying for you and Philip and may you continue to find rest in our loving Father.

    “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” ~Psalm 91:1

  2. Jodi Lenz says:

    Dear, dear Lanier, Bron and I are so sorry. *Hugs*

  3. Jodi Lenz says:

    Hey Lanier,

    It’s me, Bronwyn. My mom recently showed me this post and I wanted to say I’m very deeply sorry for what happened to your animals, but at the same time I thought it was great that you acknowledged the fact that, yes, God cares about when stuff like this happens, as you demonstrated through the hen and chick story. Your witness is really helpful to me more than you realize. Sometimes the things in this world are hard for me to take, so your blog is a safe place, and even though I’m younger, I feel like you’re a kindred spirit since we both love writing so much. Here, I’m sending you a lyric from my favorite Innocence Mission song:

    “Georgia, since everything’s possible, we will still go.” <3 *hug*

  4. Robyn says:

    There are no words, my friend. I know that our hearts have met in our grief and you understand as I understand. Thank you for bravely posting this…

    The thorn is no match for the sweetness of the rose…how true…especially as I am now (quite certainly as Sovereign comfort for the recent tragedies) experiencing the sweetness of new kids.

    Love y’all…

  5. Michele says:

    Dear Lanier,

    I am typing this with tears in my eyes…..I’m so very, very sorry for your loss. They were both so beautiful and I’m sure had the best life a goat and a dog could have ever had while in your care.

    Gentle Hugs,

  6. I am SO sorry for you. I grieved as much over my two kitties (one died at age 16, the other at 18) as I did any human… really. There is something about the unconditional love of our furry family members that pierce the heart.

    I will be keeping you in prayer as you walk this process of grief.

  7. Sharon says:

    There are only a few people with whom I can share my grief when one of our beloved animals dies. Perhaps I feel ashamed that my sorrow for a pet is so deep–when there are such terrible abuses and miseries in the human world.
    Never-the-less, my attachment to my dear creatures is very strong, as is my sadness when they “leave”–whether due to old age or to some horrible circumstance.
    Truly we must beleive that this world is not now what God meant it to be. We are given glimpses of beauty, a measure of awe and wonder at creation, even as we have to admit that dreadful, heartbreaking things happen.
    I appreciate your sharing of this hard trial.
    Like you, I would never choose to be without animals. The loss of them tears my heart, but a life without their company would be very bleak.
    There are no “replacements”–only dear “others” who will join you.

  8. Kiersti says:


    Your post both brought tears to my eyes and ministered to my heart…your writing about your dear friendly beasts has given such beautiful pictures to me of the Lord’s love for us. I am so sorry for your loss…it hurts so much to lose beloved animals. May the Lord hold you close in the shadow of His wings as you wait for Him to heal your hearts.


  9. Gretchen says:

    You’d already told me the story. But I cried reading it here.

    And it brought back memories of losing my first kitty Mocha…

    Sending many hugs and prayers to your little farm…

  10. Judy Tinsley says:

    There are no words to comfort my dear friends loss. Wish I could take all the hurting away! Love you guys,

  11. Michael & Edie says:

    “In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land, and will make them lie down in safety. I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD.” – Hosea 2:18-20 (Read at Dorothy’s burial)

    “O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers, the animals, to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We must remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life.” -Basil the Great (AD 329-380)

  12. Michael & Edie says:

    We thought that last line matches perfectly your picture of Pansy. “…they love the sweetness of life.”

  13. Hunter says:

    Oh, dear Lanier, my heart goes out to you. There are no earthly words to help the hurt, but you do know the One Who has words of Eternal Life. He is your comfort and has the everlasting arms. Run to Him when your heart faints.
    I have had such a life of joy and only a few spots of grief in my 66 years. The first of those few spots came with a call from my mother to my college dorm that my spaniel companion of 11 years had been killed on our street. Even now, I feel that deep pit of sorrow.
    But, I can now “comfort you with the comfort with which I have been comforted.”
    My need and love for Him grew with each tear and sob.
    Blessings upon you both.

  14. Elisabeth says:

    Aww … I’m so sorry, dear Lanier. *Hug!* Praying for you …

  15. April says:

    I’m so sorry, dear one… ::hug::

  16. Josie Ray says:

    Lanier, I’m so sorry for your loss. Only you could write of it in such dear terms, and share strength through your tears. You even made me laugh when Butterfly sat on Gertie.

    When we lost our cat–she was like a little human, so much personality!–I found much comfort in William Cowper’s poems regarding animals, particularly the tenderness of his epitaphs. If you’re inclined, visit http://www.ccel.org/c/cowper/works/miscellaneous.htm and page search on “epitaph” I so felt like he was present with me and understood. (See Epitaph on a Hare, Epitaph on a Free But Tame Redbreast, Epitaph on Fop.)

  17. Josh says:

    I’m so very sorry for your loss, Lanier. Y’all and your farm will be in my prayers.

  18. Joanna Rogers says:

    I never know what to say at times like these. There really is nothing I can say, except that I pray the Lord will comfort you and Philip. I know that you will treasure your memories of those beautiful, faithful, loving creatures. I don’t wish to throw platitudes at you so I will close. Love to you, Philip, and all your animals.

  19. hopeinbrazil says:

    Thank you so much for these words. I feel like I’ve been like the chick this past year and God finally had to “sit” on my to keep my still. Thanks for reminding me that it was HIS GRACE that brought me to a complete halt. He has a perfect plan although I can’t see it.

    I’m speaking at a women’s retreat this fall and I am wondering if you will give me permission to share your story (just the part about Gertie and Butterfly).

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      You are most welcome to use my story–thank you for asking. I’m so glad that it ministered to you. 🙂

  20. We’ve wept with you over this and are still so, so sorry.

  21. […] « “Beautiful life, full of grieving…” […]

  22. Holly says:

    Dear Lanier,

    So sorry – I know exactly how you feel. I just lost my own “old man” – my beloved 18-year-old Siamese. Hugs to you!

    “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.” Proverbs 12:10

  23. Rita says:

    I am so so sorry. You’re loss is great and your grieving real. There are scriptures that lead us to believe that all living things are made by God and will be with us in heaven.

    My dear animals the ones still here and the ones gone on to heaven will be in my heart always.

    They have been and are my delight and bring us great joy. Will pray for peace as you move through this difficult time.

  24. Martina says:

    I am very sorry, dear Lanier. But, as Rita said, your animals will always have a place in your heart, and it is good to have spent time with them at all – much better than living without animals.

  25. […] the sorrow of May was our loss, then the joy of it was a retreat to the seaside in our 1962 […]

  26. […] I had forgotten. I had forgotten that the opposite of joy is not sadness, but fear. I had forgotten (again) that joy and sorrow are twin eggs of the same nest. I had forgotten that love is always worth the pain—always. […]

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