I walk out to the barn to do chores with him, early morning sun already hot and the goats come running. I slosh water around, filling pails, and he feeds the layers and checks for eggs, and goes into the barn to feed the baby chickens. The twenty-five that are growing fast and healthy, to feed us when winter comes.

He calls, and I hear the confusion in his voice.

I take a step into the barn, wait for my eyes to adjust, and I see him tossing dead birds out of the stall. And right away I know it’s my fault. Because he’d been haying and I’d been left with the chores and I’d done something wrong. A pile of dead birds told me so.

What did you feed them?, he asks. I show him the pail I’d scooped from, and he says it’s the wrong one. And I’m a baby about it, tears pricking, and I feel a flood of familiar feelings. Ick and sludge I’d thought long banished, cleansed by grace and love and Jesus. But it comes unexpected, the shame, and I turn and walk out of the barn and across the yard and into the house, and when he comes, calling up the stairs, I’m in the bath.

It’s silly. It’s not a big deal. They’re just birds. People make mistakes.

I tell myself these things.

But when my husband texts me, sweetly claiming responsibility because he should have shown me where the chicken feed was instead of just telling me, I text him back that it was stupid of me not to check, and now we have no chickens, and I add a sad face to the end of the text because I am.

Because it’s my fault and honestly, I was thinking more about getting the stinky job done and getting out of the stinky barn with as little poo on me as possible than I was about the birds.

I spend the day working it through, gradually surrendering shame, and I remember that it’s when I think I’ve conquered that I forget who really has. I remember that victory is His, always, and that unless I lean into that, I fall.

By the time my husband gets home at the end of the day, I’m secure in grace once again. I’m leaning on everlasting arms, and they will hold me. Mess-making, chicken-killing me.

When we wallow in guilt, remorse, and shame over real or imagined sins of the past, we are disdaining God’s gift of grace.

Brennan Manning