Life is an adventure, an exercise in trying and failing and trying again, and again, and again. The last year has been one of the greatest adventures of my life. Plans have coalesced, changed, come unraveled, been rebuilt, abandoned, reformed, remade.
I swear sometimes that just being alive is the ultimate exercise in recycling. We repurpose, reuse, and remake ourselves all the time.
I am doing it again.
I found the perfect job this May, working for an amazing artisan cheese maker, selling his wares at local farmers markets. However, midway through last month he ran up against the same wall of questions that I hit about 10 months ago: when your strength gives out and you’ve lost heart, do you save your farm or do you save your family? He made the only choice he, or I, could make: his family. It was a hard call and I can empathize with his situation. When you are trying to do everything on your own to produce, manage, sell, and survive in business sometimes you just have to know when it’s time to take a look at the costs of your venture; the real cost to you, your family, your faith and strength, and decide if the price is worth it or if it is too dear to let you continue. If the cost is too high compared with the return on your investment you eventually run out of strength. If the cost is worth the effort, you find yourself strengthened.
It can be hard to know when it is right to let go and move on or dig in your heels and stand your ground. It’s different for everyone. I listened to my friend, the genius cheese maker with the heavy heart, and I mourned with him, knowing that it was one of the hardest decisions he has probably ever had to make. I thanked him for the chance to work with him, even for such a short time. It’s almost a crime that someone so talented should have to make the decision to leave his gifts behind, that so many people won’t get the chance to taste the work of his hands. It broke my heart to see another small family farm enterprise in its death throes. It brought back all the pain of having to leave my own farm in Missouri, the soul crushing agony of leaving behind all the years of work on our farm project in Oregon, the tears of lost dreams when I drove away from the Paradox Valley in Colorado in hopes of building something permanent and lasting for my children. But under the reminder of pain there was a greater measure of peace and a stronger hope than I have ever had before.
In every other moment of change in my life, I was moving forward to something I believed would be better; something that would secure for my family a position of greater stability, peace, and permanency.
Nothing feels permanent to me anymore. Nothing but my faith in God, the love I have for my family and the thoughts in my own mind. Those are the only things I have that are really mine; the things that can’t be taken from me by anyone, the only things I can take with me anywhere and everywhere we go.
I have given up my idea of stability in an effort to follow the Spirit. I have discovered that my perception of peace and prosperity is entirely different from how the Lord views it and I often struggle to let faith hold more sway over my heart than fear. I let go of old dreams in an effort to dig in and do the hard work required of me in the now so that my heart isn’t torn in two from contemplating where I am and where I want to be. I have struggled to bow to the gentle will of God when I have wanted to cry, beg, and plead for the simple, sweet things I have longed for in my life. My definition of stability has morphed into the knowledge that being stable doesn’t mean having the things I think are important, it is being where God needs me to be doing the work he needs me to do, often with no tools to do it but a willing heart and able hands.
I have found peace, but not where I expected it. Peace isn’t in a house with daylilies and zinnias growing by the front gate. Peace isn’t in a cupboard with enough food for the next week. Peace isn’t in having more than $25 in my bank account. I was really hoping I could find it in those things, mostly because I want those things, but that isn’t where I’ve found it. Every time I qualify peace with that kind of a marker, it fails to arrive when the accomplishment does. Instead, I just set a new requirement and push peace a little further down the road.
So I stopped looking for peace in the wrong places. I stopped pushing it away. I stopped telling God where I wanted to find peace and I’ve started listening to Him as He tells me where to look for it. Not too surprisingly, He has told me to find it in the same places He has told others.
Peace has been in my heart when I serve others. It has been in my mind when I pray with feelings of gratitude. It has been in my words when I try to offer encouragement to my family instead of expressing my fears and my frustrations.
I’ve been walking by faith these last few months, never being able to see much more than just what is in front of me in this very moment. One of my dear friends told me about a month ago “I love that you are able to live so much in the present, to enjoy all the little moments that are happening right now.” I just laughed. It’s not intentional. When the present moment is all you have it becomes the thing that means the most. An uncertain future can be an amazing tutor.
All through this process of learning to have faith, to serve with more love, to accept peace when it is offered, I have still been praying and asking the Lord to lead me where I need to be. I have expressed my willingness to labor in whatever field he leads me to and have hoped in my heart that He would lead me to a work and life that I could love.
I had no idea that he would answer my prayer by taking me out of the fields altogether.
Yesterday I interviewed for a photography job that I almost didn’t apply for. I saw it listed on a job search and my heart beat fast, I thought “Oh, wouldn’t that be wonderful? Wouldn’t that be perfect?” A job where I could serve, and learn, and grow my creative brain while still meeting the needs of my family: it seemed so far out of reach. I’ve been farming with William for the past 19 years and I have loved it, but I studied English and art in college. I wanted to write books for children and illustrate them myself; I wanted to create things of beauty that would move someone the way that I feel moved by beautiful words and beautiful artwork. But I could never find the time to dedicate to it. Not because time wasn’t available, but because I always felt too exhausted by the work and worry of farming to put myself into the role of a creator. I’ve dabbled in it from time to time, and it has always made me happy, but it was never my work.
Now suddenly, it IS my work. I walked in to the interview, found out my supervisor is a distant cousin (really distant, like a Revolutionary War general as a common ancestor distant), heard about the opportunities for education they provide, was excited by the growth potential, and I was stunned that they wanted me. I went in thinking it was such a long shot, that my amateur efforts with photography would keep me out of the running, but they wanted me anyway. It turns out that the skills I’ve needed all these years for farming (getting up early, keeping a steady work schedule, being physically strong) are things they really value. They value my creative mind, but what they really want is my willingness to show up and do the job.
I am thrilled beyond description, grateful beyond words that I could find work that will feed my family and nourish my talents, meet our physical needs and still give me time to write and have fun with my kids. I went to bed humbled by how beautifully God has answered my prayers for the opportunity to perform a work that I can love.
I will be putting away my muck boots and picking up a Nikon camera to record the important milestones in the lives of children and families. Admittedly, those boots haven’t had much use the past few months, not having a farm field of my own to tromp around in; but I don’t imagine I’ll be away from the dirt for long. I’m still hoping that those daylilies and zinnias are in my future, but for now, it will be professional clothes, backdrops, flashes, and light diffusers. It will be a whole world away from what I’ve been doing the last two decades, but oh, I am so excited.
I can tell you beyond any doubt that God hears our prayers and He answers them. He doesn’t take away our troubles, but He gives us joy in the midst of them. He doesn’t make us comfortable, but He gives us the chance to comfort others and find respite from our own woes through service. He always answers our prayers, but not always in the moment that we pray.
There is a great deal of wisdom in the last few lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “A Psalm of Life”:
“Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.”
I am grateful that part of my waiting is at an end. I am grateful for the chance to labor.