Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lost sheep...

Freshly shorn sheep coming back to the farm.
I was at the Ancient Faith conference this summer and in all the amazing talks and opportunities to connect with others in the biz (doesn’t  that make me sound cool?), I had the chance to think about some ways in which living on a small farm changes the way I look at the Bible. One of the speakers talked about making things relevant to people, something that they could understand. He said that thinking about the lost sheep doesn’t make sense to people, that really they could more easily understand a comparison to losing a child in the airport. Your other three kids might be right by your side but you would be in a dead panic until you found the fourth. He then asked the crowd, “Who here has sheep anyway?”

I have sheep.

We have sheep out here in the woods where we also have coyotes, wolves, and bears who could easily prey on our soft and foolish sheep. Sheep, to be completely honest, are incredibly stupid. They are just hopeless. Nothing makes more real the scriptures that refer to the followers of Christ as sheep as owning sheep and struggling with them. We are just as lost and just as likely to be reckless as our sheep. I am most definitely a sheep.

Veronica and Cristina peeking in at the sheep after shearing.
Their vulnerability and devotion are as beautiful as their collective madness is frustrating. When we have an electric storm, something not nearly as common as it was Colorado, they panic and run away to hide under trees and they refuse to go into the barn like the other animals do. If we see a storm coming, we have to be proactive and actually put them in the barn and shut the door to prevent them leaving again. When frightened, they run, and often they run from safety. If we miss the beginning of the storm, we go out into the fields and trees and halter them and drag them to the barn because they will not come for love or grain. There is nothing so stressful as wrangling a terrified animal in wind and rain and lightning and unlike Jesus, I cannot calm the storm. All I can do is push through to lead them to safety and retreat back to the house if it is safe and wait out the storm in the barn if it isn’t.

Recently, we had a sudden and unexpected storm blow in immediately after milking and the cows were safely in the barn, chewing their cud. The sheep had panicked and broke through an electric fence and were running madly in the farm yard. I didn’t have time to grab my boots and so I ran out in my flip-flops and took my oldest daughter and two of the boys, sending one to the barn for the halters. We ran out in the lightning and pouring rain and immediately my glasses were covered and my feet were sliding around in my almost-shoes. I made the conscious decision that even if my feet were trampled or I was knocked down, that I had to keep diving for sheep until I had them. It had to be done. I did slip and fall face down into a utility wagon and I was sore and horrible bruised the next day but I just jumped back up and kept running. When I had a sheep in his halter, I kept a tight rein so that he would be right by my side, and I lead him to the barn as he repeatedly stepped on my bare feet with his sharp hooves. Once they were in, we were able to go back into the house. All of us were exhausted and soaked and bruised but no one complained. One of the boys started a little pot of espresso as we sat on the wooden benches, the water dripping off us. It is a matter of course when you have animals.
Jack holds a small piece of wool before processing.

This spring, the sheep had gotten out and went into the poultry shed and managed to get into a bag of feed that had not been properly stored. One of the sheep is particularly stupid and he had put his head into the bag and gotten it stuck when he lifted his head and poured the grain out. He panicked and ran madly in the farm yard bumping into the vehicles and tractor and trees and he brayed miserably. I ran out with the children to save him. Once I had caught him, my daughter pulled the sack off his head. He breathed deeply and happily rubbed his sweaty head on her outstretched hand. Then he looked down, saw the grain sack, and we had to play the game all over again.

Sheep run circles around Eli in early winter.
We always care for them. We run out to gather them up when the coyotes start howling and they stand in the pasture calming eating the grass. We check on them throughout the day and do so with urgency when we can’t see them from the windows of the farmhouse. We don’t have a winter hydrant and so we hand carry water out to them all winter long, about a hundred gallons twice a day using a sled over the snow. We cut down noxious weeds to prevent them getting ill. When they are sick or injured or not getting along, we halter them in front of the house in the close apple orchard and keep vigil. On some level, they know how deeply they are cared for and often come when we call, or rather when their person calls. They know the shepherd's voice. In the winter, when fences are pretty much useless because of the depth of the snow and they freely ranged the farm, they would come up to the porch and in look in the kitchen window at the children, looking for their person.

We are sheep and our foolishness and the frequency at which we return to the same sins, over and over again, can make us feel weak and foolish and even sheepish. We run from safety and often ignore the sounds of the coyotes calling in the outer fields. We are most definitely sheep who blindly cling to the other sheep in the field rather than run towards the barn. We are also the sort of sheep who know the Shepherd’s voice and when we chose to ignore it, it is at our own peril. I want to be the sort who hears His voice and runs towards Him knowing how He is running towards me. He doesn’t abandon us, He flies into the fields and ignores all His own suffering.

Maybe that is why it is so easy to love those sheep and love them hard. It is because we are sheep ourselves.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Living the dream..

I have found myself thinking about something I hear someone say regularly. These words have been sticking in my mind and I can't help but think about them, turning them over in my mind, again and again, I really feel the need to get the thoughts out.

To the left you can see a picture I took of our sweet little calf, Heracles. This was two months ago so his voice is deeper and he is no longer the size of a black lab. He is bigger than the yearling sheep. He is beautiful. We bred our dairy cow and she delivered him this past March. There is a lot of pride wrapped up in the little guy. We worry about him and hover over him and make sure that he is fed and watered and halter broken and brushed and petted constantly. He is not just well cared for but pretty darn spoiled. He follows my daughter, Veronica, by the sound of her voice. She is his person. He does whatever she wants, he trusts her and her voice.

Veronica, Calf-Whisper Extraordinaire.
We spend a lot of time taking care of the animals we have on this little hobby farm. It is an unbelievable amount of work and we are not well suited to but we do it. Somehow we keep the animals alive. Somehow we manage to keep their babies alive. Somehow we manage despite annual snowfalls as deep as twenty-eight feet, and I am not even kidding about that amount. The Keweenaw is real, guys. Not only do we keep the animals alive, we aren't dead yet either. That is winning, in my book.

Sometimes I go to bed at night and I wonder what we are doing and why. We took a major leap coming here and we didn't really understand what we were doing. Basically, my husband and I looked over a ledge, held hands, and jumped. He quit his white collar job in finance and we sold our remodeled home and offloaded literally half of everything that we own. We had to grow into this work here, and this is serious work people. The visions of sweet animals on pasture is beautiful. The visions of children playing in a farmyard with the animals just steps away is also beautiful. In reality, it is just as beautiful as we imagined but it is also just a lot of reality. I know people dream of raising their children on the land but I doubt their sanity when we are mucking the barn, milking during fly season, or trying to lure sheep out into the open so we can help them. They get into a lot of trouble and not just in the Bible, guys. Seriously.

Sometimes I question our sanity. My husband sacrificed a white collar salary. We sacrificed a lot of urban comforts. We sacrificed our relationships since now my mother, sister, and my best friend who are the people I love most (after my husband) are twenty hours away. Oh, add in the oldest boy who decided after graduation to move to my mom's because Colorado is much awesome. We are crazy. Our life is crazy. Everything is crazy and here we are, in the thick of it. I have days that are just too much sometimes. The other day, actually a really bad day, I was in town at the Walmart because we gotta eat and wash and do things. I asked the checker how he was doing. He often replies the same way.

"Livin' the dream. Not my dream
but I am sure it is somebody's."

This. This is the anthem of my life. But maybe not in the way that you might think immediately. I know that I am living the dream, even when it doesn't feel like dreamy. I think that is what is wrong. When we sit around and dwell on the things that hard or wrong or unfair we forget that this is the price we pay for the dream, even if it isn't your own. I am not pointing fingers and I really like this checker; he is on the short list of people I look for when choosing a lane. It's like this, when I was young and I had several children very closely spaced, there was a time when I was frustrated with my fertility (nobody tell me I have too many kids, that is the fast track to Delete-and-insta-block-ville). I have a dear friend who has never had children. She has been married as long as I have and never had any. So heavy was this burden was for her and I am a better person for knowing her and watching her carry on through it.

When I was up with sick kids and I was so tired that I actually cried, I prayed for her. When I was thrilled at my children's first steps, I prayed for her. When someone would tell me that I have too many kids, I would pray for her. When someone congratulated me on another baby, I prayed for her. I have prayed for her thousands and thousands of times over the intervening years. I always thought about how I was using my burdens for her sake. That in using my struggle, I was blessing her. I should have been thinking how she was blessing me. I have been living the dream for two decades and most of the time I didn't even know it. How many times would she have happily taken on the price I pay to live this dream? Thank God that in my navel gazing I at least prayed for someone other than myself. I should call this friend and tell her that she is a blessing to me because she keeps me from being a totally self-absorbed narcissist. Without her, I cannot imagine who I would be.

Sorry for the electric fence wire; I am too lazy to clone it out.
Behold Jack, hugging Io while Heracles licks his hand.
I think there is a temptation to focus on the cost of the dream and not the dream. We look at what we have to go through and we don't see what our suffering buys for us. With children it is easier, though not easy, to see the endgame. Pregnancy and childbirth and violent and painful and messy. When your baby smiles at you for the first time it is ethereal. The clouds part and the sun shines and the angel chorus rings out. We are actually living the dream but we don't see it because we are focusing on the cost.

Dreams are expensive. We get that, right? Kind of? Don't we all love the film montages with a workout sequence and people rise to the top? Don't we love the movies with the swelling music and David conquering Goliath, but there have to be a couple of serious obstacles so it feels more triumphant? We don't want it to be too easy, we want the characters to have work for it. We want to think that when they succeed, we succeed. We want to believe we are the kind of people who will do whatever it takes, who will make it to the top, who can't be held down. In reality, we are the people who want to Netflix and Chill but have success still come to us. I do this. I know a lot of people who do this.

I am not really sure where my story arc is headed or where the late nights and early mornings and the accidental injuries are headed but it is somewhere. In real life, these sequences don't have a soundtrack with a driving beat and they take a lot longer. There is a culmination here somewhere. I am going to have to see where this all is headed, how it all works out, and then I will know what it all meant. Maybe someday I will have that, "I was born for this!" moment. Then again, maybe I won't. Not all dreams end the same way.