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Monday, May 15, 2017

As She Sleeps

This article originally appeared in Do South Magazine. 

Tonight, the light of my Macbook is spilling onto a hay-strewn barn floor. The rhythmic sound of tapping keys is mixing with a hum of crickets and the soft moans of the doe laboring at my feet. Tonight, I am a goat midwife. I would usually be in bed by this hour, snuggled between crisp, white sheets, feet entwined with the farmer. We would be asleep, resting for the coming morning, if it were a regular night. But it isn’t. So I am perched upon an old, wooden rocking chair with peeling red paint, laptop on my lap, waiting for life to burst forth.

Have you ever been so familiar with something that when you got a different view of it, it took you by surprise? Do you know what I mean? Like when you see a photo of yourself from the back and think, “Oh, how strange.” Or when you run into a person you know from work while on vacation in another city, and you hardly recognize them out of their usual setting? It’s like a revelation of something you thought you knew well, the realizing there is still more to learn.
My farm during daytime is as familiar to me as my own body. The way the morning light shines upon her through the trees, she glows and glistens before the dew dries. The smells of animals and manure mingle with the sweet scent of hay and grass. It assaults the senses in all the best ways and in some of the worst ones. The day is fruitful. The chickens are laying, and the goats are being milked. I tend to the garden in the mornings and spend the afternoons in the kitchen, mixing and kneading dough. The day is busy and long, tiring but so lovely. The night, however, is a foreign thing.
When I think of my life before this farm, it feels like looking into someone else’s story. The neighborhood I called home for decades now feels like a different world. Back then, when nights were lit by electric streetlamps, and the stars were drowned from view, I would have called night dark and quiet. Neighbors slept when I slept, so their cars and TVs slept too. And so it was quiet, and beyond the streetlamps, it was dark.

In the barn, I’m surrounded by the sound of chewing cud. Even as my goat herd lies resting, they chew. It’s a rhythmic sound, strangely comforting and so very alive. The sweet scent of hay is somewhat muted by the damp of the night. The hay feeder stands nearly empty, depleted from constant visits by twelve hungry girls today, waiting to be replenished by the farm boys in the morning. From the back of our property, a soft lull of birds floats through the night air. They make noise even in their sleep, the guineas, turkeys, and chickens. Low, hushed squawks and the occasional crow, it is a gentle sound compared to the roar and ruckus of daybreak.
In the far distance, a siren sounds. Perhaps the volunteer fire department or maybe an ambulance seven miles off in the closest town? I can hardly hear it. It reaches my ears more like a question than a declaration, but then Dakota, our giant white livestock guardian dog booms in response. The doe jumps in surprise, and I do, too. Then we settle back into our reverent waiting. The night, in all her soft and tender sounds, she is anything but quiet, and she fills the air again as the booming subsides.
The clock has rolled past midnight now. I heard the TV switch off a while ago, the farmer abandoning his wait for me to return. If I were to go in, I’d find five boys sleeping in five beds, mouths slightly open, with deep, soft snores emitting from their sweet bodies. And I’d find the farmer sleeping just the same as his sons, curled on the left side of the bed with blankets on the right side pulled back, inviting. I won’t go in just yet, though. I’ll stay on my post, surveying the farm and observing the swollen and stirring goat.
In the country, even in the very depths of night, it is not dark. Even now, the moon is waxing, nearly full. He joins with his bedfellows, the stars, to sing over my farm and those surrounding. The light that falls in the night is very different than the soft glow of morning or the golden blaze of dusk. The moonlight is cold and slightly suggestive. It plays tricks on the eyes; it transforms trees into shadowy towers and forests into bottomless expanses. But from the barn, it is a mercy light. It means I am not alone, with my glowing computer screen, in lighting the place.
Oh, and the stars, the silver, singing stars. I couldn’t see them from the neighborhood. I remember late-night car trips on country roads, when I, the city girl, would demand the car be pulled over. From the shoulder, I would awe, neck craned, at the galaxy I lived my life oblivious to. If I may confess to you tonight, from my rocking chair post, in becoming a regular farm girl, I have come to take the stars for granted.
Tonight is different, though. It is not a regular night. It is not a night where we arrive home too late and unload sleeping children beneath the waving sky without so much as a glance upward. Tonight, the stars have my eyes. They look almost layered as if laid down above me in sheets and I am certain they tell a story beyond my ability to comprehend. Surely they are a part of something so much bigger than me. Beneath these stars, on a little farm in the Arkansas woods, I am very, very small.
The doe is shifting, her long face lays upon the hay. She begins to doze, and I wonder if perhaps we will have a morning baby instead of a night one. The new mother in the kidding stall next door whispers sweet nothings to her day-old kid. It has been a fruitful weekend. My mind wanders to the contents of the pantry, planning breakfast for a full house. Farmhouse quiches are my fallback breakfasts for sleepy mornings, and tomorrow will certainly be one. As captivating as night is, the morning pushes her way in whether I welcome her or not.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Pear Tree and The Bathroom Stall

Tonight, Ezra ate a pear. 
As I stood over the charcoal grill cooking dinner, he sat on the back porch steps and ate a pear. He had asked me to cut it into slices so he could easily share it with Journey, our pet pig. So I did. And he sat on the steps sharing with her. He'd eat a slice, she'd eat a slice. Then, with a shout, he found the seeds. 

Mom! I can plant these! I can dig and plant these and make more pears!

My muscles hurt this evening from the time spent clearing my garden plot today. Our greenhouse is bursting forth with life. I felt proud of his idea. I knew his idea was, in itself, the fruit of the seeds I've planted in him, but then he held out his sticky, little hand. His sweet hand, the one that I held for the first time almost exactly four years ago. In it, I saw three small, black seeds, all badly damaged by the knife that sliced the pear, the knife that simply thought of the fruit as a snack not a vessel of promise. 

Oh, Ezra. I'm sorry, honey. Those seeds can't grow. See, they are damaged. 

He wouldn't hear me. 
He's passionate, you see.  Fiery. Persistent and Borderline bullheaded, with all the zeal one must have to change the world.  He dismissed my wisdom as petty concern and pulled his boots on. I knew where he would go, and he did. Straight to The Digging Spot, a dusty hole the boys have emptied and filled more times than I know. With the pig hot on his heels, he ran towards his goal in the way small boys do, all the while talking about how nice it would be to have a pear tree of his own. 

We can pick pears all the time, everyday. We can eat pears and not even have to go inside. We can even climb my pear tree and eat pears while we climb. Mom, you can even make pear jam. We will have all the pears. 


We will have all the pears. 

I could see the certainly on his face as he knelt at The Digging Spot. He swiped at the loose dust and dropped the seeds with as much expectancy as I've ever seen anyone plant anything. 
And then, without a single moment of warning, Journey the pig slurped up Ezra's damaged pear seeds. She chomped happily and then sniffed for more, walking away when she was sure that all was left was seedless, dusty dirt. 

One single, very pregnant moment of realization hung in the air. And then Ezra began to cry. He cries with as much passion as he dreams, with as much tenacity as he tries to see his ideas into fruition. 
He cried and he cried. And I held him for a while, and just let him loose the idea that a wonderful pear tree of his own would grow out of The Digging Spot. And when I felt he had had the proper moment to mourn his idea of things, I told him what I knew. 

We have a pear tree. Did you know that?

He didn't. Of course, he wouldn't. He was just a baby when we planted it, three years ago when we first moved onto our farm. And though it's grown to stand a few feet taller than me, it hasn't reached a point of bearing fruit yet. He wanted to see it, so we took a walk through the gate, back to the yard where the chickens free range and I showed him. 

He laughed. With the stickiness of pear still clinging to his hands, he covered his smiling mouth and laughed. 

I can't believe it! I didn't even know! I didn't even know this tree was a pear tree.

I laughed with him. We talked about what we would do with all our pears. How we would make jam and share them with the animals, even with the silly pig. Then he spotted the broody hen leading her trail of chicks into the coop and ran to see her. And I was left by myself, standing at the pear tree. 



The first time I remember hearing God was in a Golden Corral bathroom at one a.m. on a Saturday morning. I was eighteen, working a job I hated and on that particular night, I'd landed the noxious task of cleaning the women's restroom. It seemed that night had produced an especially awful mess to clean. Each stall was worse than the last. Tampons on the floor. Clogged toilets. Overflowing trash bins.

When I got to the last stall, I wanted to cry. I was tired and felt like throwing up. Trying to steel myself for whatever filth laid behind the stall door, I leaned my head against it. And I prayed. 
I was just finding God then. Raised in church and never having really known Him, I was just learning to talk to Him all the time. And in the Golden Corral bathroom at one a.m., I said something to God without even thinking it through.

If you really love me, let this stall not be so bad. 

Immediately, I repented. I knew better. I'd learned in church, don't test God. You can't say stuff like "If you really love me." I told Him I was sorry.

I don't mean it. I know you love me. I'm sorry. You sent your son. You love me, I know. Your love for me has nothing to do with the mess in this nasty bathroom. 

And I swung open the stall door. 

It was clean.
Completely clean.
Freshly bleached.
Toilet scrubbed.
Trash empty with a fresh bag and all.
Why? Because I had already cleaned it.
I was so tired that I'd forgotten.

I stood there in the doorway of the clean stall, half shocked and wholly wooed by a God that for the first time was showing me His complexity. He was showing me that He could use any means to answer prayers. Sometimes, the answer would be right in front of me, sometimes He would do it through my own weakness, but all the time it would point back to Him and His glory.

 Like a light bulb coming on, for the very first time, I realized that He knew my prayers and requests before I even asked. But He did want me to ask. He wanted my real heart and my real thoughts, not some churchy script. He even wanted me to say the wrong things, as long as I was talking to Him. 
And as the realization washed over me. I laughed. Standing in the bathroom at one a.m., I laughed with God at myself and I laughed for His goodness.

Tonight, beside a pear tree that was planted three years ago, I watched my son laugh at the provision that had already been made for him. So much like I had laughed that night in the clean bathroom stall.
Except this time, I had the view of the parent.

He's too young to know the power of the analogy he just walked out. 
Of course, the spiritual picture painted in my sweet Ezra tonight would be obvious to anyone looking for it. 
The son unwilling to listen to the voice of his mother's wisdom, like we are so often when wisdom instructs us. The damaged seed, like our futile efforts to do things without God. The unfit ground, The Digging Spot, that old place that is easy to dig in because the brokenness of the ground, but fruitless for the same reason. The dreams dropped before the swine, the swine consuming a dream not out to malice but because it is, after all, a pig. The pear tree long since planted, a desire met before it was even conceived in the heart of the one loved by his parents. 

The voice of God is there. Clear as day if our eyes are open, and it's there everyday in one way or another.
He is speaking. Concerning Himself with our concerns.
Moving on our dreams.
Speaking to our hearts.
In backyards and bathrooms. 
Before we even ask. 

The question is, are you listening?

Monday, May 1, 2017

When Heartsickness Lurks

This morning I received a sweet message on Instagram that set the wheels in my mind to turning.
I use Instagram more than any other social media platform. It's easy, and its become a habit to capture little squares and 15 second videos of our everyday to share. Because I do so often share there, our little life has caught the eye of people and I often get sweet messages of encouragement from those who enjoy watching our adventures.

The message today was a familiar one.
Something along the lines of Hey, I hope this isn't weird but I have been so inspired watching your farm grow. This is my dream. I want a farm so badly and I feel like God has put the desire in my heart. What do I do in the meantime? 



I try to personally respond to each of these messages with encouragement. Its messages like this one, messages from the homestead dreamers, that compel me to share in the first place. Because I remember what it was like to have a constant yearning for a life that seemed impossible. I recall the way the yearning itself takes on the feeling of a dull ache somewhere in the region of your belly. I remember what it is like to harbor a dream, having no ability to make it reality. And I know the feeling of teetering on the edge of heart-sickness, the certainty that you are foolish for dreaming barely being overcome by the optimistic grasp of "Just maybe...just keep hoping."

I wanted a farm for a long time. If I called it a childhood dream, I wouldn't be lying. I specifically remember telling people that I wanted to be a farmer as a young girl and feeling crushed by their laughter. Surely they were imagining commercial chicken houses and mile wide crops, and the spindly, suburban girl before them hardly fit the bill of farmer. But I had an idea of something different. Something that involved a red barn and a big garden and animals bringing forth more life.



Like childhood dreams often do, my romantic idea of a farm got filed away as unrealistic. By the time I entered adulthood, I had set my focus on more acceptable goals. I'd be a journalist. A photographer. I'd sell my gifts to do family portraits and maybe if I was successful I could afford a horse or two, maybe I could have some chickens in the yard and rows of tomatoes. I had kids young, went through a divorce. Got remarried. And my sweet Miah, my second chance, saw the long extinguished dream and said "Let's take another look at that."

Just like that, it was alive again. A house in the country, a little land of our own, a small farm and real, homegrown food were again on my list of "Maybe, someday."

You know, when I look at my life, I am truly overwhelmed by the goodness and the grace of God. Not because of any single good thing He has done because He has done a lot of good things. But I see Him more in the areas where I got things right entirely by accident. When I fell in love with Jeremiah and when my desire for a little farm came alive again, I wasn't being a good Christian girl. I was struggling with sin. I was broken, angry and largely lost. I was overcome by anxiety and guilt. I couldn't list the books of the bible to save my life and my church attendance was nothing to write home about. But His faithfulness isn't determined by my faithfulness. His love isn't determined by my  ability to follow the rules.

During that season, I started to read the bible. To be honest, when I started to read the Word again, I related more to the wicked ones who were mentioned than I related to the saints. I related to the seductress, to the adulteress. But somewhere along the way, I found myself in the woman with the alabaster box. I found myself in the testimony of Paul. Somewhere along the way, I begin to see myself as the redeemed. 



Years went by. The desperation grew. I appeased the yearning at farmer's markets. I drove to local farms to buy raw milk. I learned to make cheese. I grew what I could in containers, and read every resource I could find. I subscribed to magazines about homesteading and followed blogs by homesteaders. I could tell you how to butcher a chicken before I'd ever even held one. I learned to cook from scratch, learned to make cleaners and be resourceful. I learned to preserve. I thought about a farm all the time. And all the while I talked to God. I sought Him. I dove head first into finding Him and learning what His kingdom was about. So much more than my farm dream came back to life in me during those years.

Then between Christmas of 2013 and New Year's Day of 2014, during a date night to the book store, over a cup of coffee and a book about backyard farms, I cried. To my husbands great bewilderment, on a rare opportunity for alone time and in a very public place, I cried over chickens and goats that I did not have. My heart felt sick. It felt impossible. I hope I never forget Miah's sweet face when he responded, "God knows the desires of your heart."

I wrestled with that truth. Really wrestled. And prayed, the deep kind of prayers that feel like they scrape the bottom of your heart. And just a few days later, while sitting on the bed of our suburban home, we thanked God for everything He had blessed us with and put the dream of the house in the country in His hands. It might take years, we agreed. Our kids might be grown, we resolved. His timing is better than ours, we knew.




I can't promise it always works out this way. It would be unrealistic to think it could always be so neat, but within three weeks of deciding to let God have His way with my dream, I found myself standing in front of a vandalized foreclosure on four acres with a price tag we could actually afford. Three month later, we signed the papers that made us homeowners. And a few months after that, I brought home a box of peeping, fluffy chicks. Every single day of the process was an excruciating battle between flesh and spirit, hope and fear, patience and worry. And every single day, His grace was sufficient. Every single step, He was enough and I was leaning on Him to get through it.

I know that isn't a direct answer to the question: What do I do with this dream? 
I know it's a lot easier to direct people to wait and pray when you have the fulfillment of your dream in hand. But it's taught me a lot, it's changed the way I dream now.

Now I remember that God's timeline is way, way different than mine. Hugely different. Massively different. In fact, if I placed God's timeline next to my own and did a comparison, I might even question that they are even in the same classification. Yes, impatience still rears his head in the waiting. Yes, I still face frustration. However, I know that the twenty some-odd years of dancing around my homestead dream feel like a sweet process now that I milk goats in my pajamas every morning. That perspective applies across the board. Now when I think of writing books, another lifelong dream, I am able to keep in mind how sweet the process will be between now and then.

Oh, and the process. The process is our friend. Do you know, I am certain the success we have experienced since we started our farm is directly related to the time I spent hoarding knowledge and gaining skills in the waiting. Today I am going to make jam to sell at our farmer's market booth, a skill I learned with foraged blackberries we brought home to our suburban kitchen years ago. I didn't just sit on my hands and wait for God to deliver. I took hold of the vision He had put in my heart and made war with it, equipping myself and partnering with it to the fullness of my ability.



Let the yearning sharpen you. My goodness, if I knew what I had been asking for when I prayed for my life, I might not have asked for it. Five sons. Full time ministry. A working farm. Dairy goats. Horses. A huge garden. A bunch of chickens. A big extended family. The list goes on. Those things that I count as my biggest blessings are, without contest, the hardest things I've ever done.

But I wanted it all. Begged for it. Yearned for it. Persistently prayed for it. When it's winter, and the chickens get a cold and stop laying and the stench of the farm in mud season permeates every fiber of my skin and I have to buy grocery store eggs and produce and supplement all the feed, I remember how I cried in the book store. When my favorite goat dies even though I fought my hardest to save her, when the alarm goes off hours before the sun, when I get bucked off the horse and get a huge bruise on my jaw milking a first freshener goat, when I'm sunburned and tired and I want to give up, I close down the pity party and shout over it, "This is my dream!" I've learned that while this whole life is a gift, the waiting was part of the receiving. Had I gotten it all when I first asked, I don't know that I would have had the determination to keep going when it got hard. And it's hard. But it's worth it.

So there's my advice. It probably doesn't make you feel as nice as you'd hoped, but it's all I've got.

One last thing. One day, when you have your farm and your dream is in hand, don't forget what it took to get you there. Because there's always someone else three steps behind you. There's always someone else holding out for fulfillment. Give them a hand up. Loan them your testimony and remind them that God is no respecter of persons.

He did it for me, and He will do it for you.

And when heartsickness lurks, remember this.
He knows the desires of your heart. And He really does care. 









Monday, September 19, 2016

Shine


The Light brings out the poems
in me.
Like some distillation, some percolating process,
when the sun shines on my skin and
then poetry begins seeping from my
heart.

Words flow lovely from fingertips,
ink on pages, sometimes cryptic
but sometimes clear, so clear
you could consume them and know
the very deepest, sweetest depths
of me.

Transparency was frightening for the
longest while, like a boogey-man fear,
exposure felt always near and
I was so afraid.
I didn’t know that I protected my own darkness.
I didn’t know the walls I had erected
in attempts of self protection,
were exactly what allowed the fright a place
to stay.  
Longing for the light, but scared of the peril that lived
under the bed, “They’ll know you and they won’t
love you, and neither will your Maker,”
A dark-dweller, terrified of my own shadow,
living in the shadow of everything but The Almighty,
no identity stuck to me but the one
that called me lost and hiding.

But then The Light,
found me.
With His Permeating perfection,
blaring and glaring.
Exposed me in the gentlest way.
Shone hard and searching, a light that
starts from the inside out.
The kind that busts in walls and
causes dark to flee.
He came like a flood and
made me an all new, fearless and bold
and wild
creature.
Afraid of nothing but distance
from Him.

I love the mornings.
Every morning, a new rebirth,
a fresh reminder that the light
wins every time.

When I open my eyes,
in the peaceful moments before sons demand
breakfast,
As a rooster’s crow floats in
windows and brown curls
tangle around my face,
as the man I call mine
lays with a bronzed arm slung over
my baby-stretched belly,
I am wooed by it all.
This picture of redemption that is
my life, it is lovely in such an all-encompassing
way. A whole entire
life imbued with beauty,
but the part that romances my heart more than
the rest is the light.

Golden in the evening and blinding in the morning. Hot or cold, rain
or shine, the day breaks,
everyday. He breaks through.
Everyday.
And as often, I pray, let me be a light-carrier.
Let me be a reflection of the sun, the Son, the shining one.
Let me birth it into the darkness,
overcoming the bondage.
Would you let me see the fearful set free?

He answered me, not in a flicker,
but a blaze.
And said, yes, you are mine.
I have shone on you,
now shine.

Shine, little light.
Shine. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Blended


This essay was originally published in Do South Magazine, a beautiful publication out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Visit their website here for more of my monthly contributions.

Summer days start early. Roosters begin to crow at five in the morning, and the toddlers begin their cry of “Breakfast!” soon after. Then the kettle whistles and the tea brews and some days, venison sausage pops in a cast iron pan. Some days, though, it’s cereal for breakfast. Most days we pray and meet with Jesus before chores, but occasionally, the tasks are demanding and the mornings rushed.
The farm life is wildly romantic if you like that sort of thing. It’s a beautiful, beautiful life if you’re enamored by fresh eggs with pumpkin-colored yolks and dirty hands and rows of tomato plants and squash plants and proud corn stalks reaching up toward the sun. If you don’t mind the smell of earth and animals, and you don’t mind hard work, this is an unthinkably lovely way to live.
Most of the time I’m thankful, but sometimes my gratitude slips through the cracks. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve had chickens in my yard for a million years and I simply forget the way I used to pray until I cried for God to give me a farm. But there’s one thing that stirs up remembrance in me, like a shock to my heart reminding it to beat again, and it’s always, always on time. The reminder? It’s when Maliah comes.
We have a blended family.  When my husband and I began dating, he brought a daughter to the table, and I brought two sons. She was four; they were four, and three, and they were great friends. I remember sitting in church while we were dating and the preacher saying, “Statistics say it takes seven years to blend a family.” The funny thing is, I still remember that single line of the sermon, but I can’t really remember my response. I can’t really recall what I thought it would be like, endeavoring to make a family out of the torn remainders of first attempts, but I am certain that I had no idea how hard it would be. I had no idea how much grace we would need.
We are just starting our seventh year together. Jackson and Asher, my oldest boys, spend the majority of their days at our home. I am able to homeschool them, and they are accustomed to the rooster’s crow. We have sewn our family together by welcoming our three younger sons, Tobias, Ezra and Benjamin. They are farm boys by definition, with dirt in their veins and any city life so far removed, I doubt they remember it.

IMG_0476

But Maliah lives 600 miles away, in a San Antonio neighborhood with her mom and stepdad. Every summer and rotating holidays, we drive for hours under the big Texas sky and pick her and her pink suitcase up. Then we drive hours back under that huge expanse, back through sprawling fields, through the hills and into the Arkansas woods, back into the driveway of our farm. 
As soon as she gets here, the atmosphere of our family shifts. Usually, the farm is just an ordinary part of life, but when Maliah comes, there is an enjoyment about it. When she comes and unpacks her pink suitcase and all her wonder, excitement is rekindled in us all.
She names all the chickens. We have a lot of chickens. A lot. And she names all of them. Names like Charlie, and Rosie, and Annie, and John Luke. She loves running with the baby goats and holding all the bunnies. When the chicks are hatching in the incubator, she checks it a dozen times a day and carefully carries the tired and wet babies to the brooder. She begs to be included in every market trip, every feeding, every task. When the boys would rather watch TV shows or play video games, she responds with indignation. How could you want to do anything else? There’s a farm outside!
 When we picked her up last November for Thanksgiving, she had started to change. Her legs had grown into long willows and the next season of her life had begun to show in her shape and the leanness of her face. I saw how it grieved my husband to see the evidence of time on her, and to see how much he missed. But after being here for only a few days, she woke up before the sun with him and layered on the camouflage clothes that belonged to Jackson. They bagged two deer while she was here, and she rolled up her sleeves and helped her dad clean them. He was so, so proud.
 At spring break, her legs were impossibly longer. Just a few months had changed her even more. She was thrilled to stop in Dallas on our way home and pick up a few dozen hatching eggs from a friend’s farm. We went to Bass Pro Shop and bought her some new Muck boots, as her feet had grown along with the rest of her. She picked out camouflage. When we arrived at the house, as usual, the excitement stirred. We hiked our thirty-five acres every day, even the days it rained. We told her all of our plans for the future, for new barns and pastures, a herd of cattle and expanded chicken houses and gardens. And in her excitement, ours was rekindled.

 "
Even though I can’t take any credit for her genetic makeup, I take a certain pride when I see her running across the yard in cut-off jean shorts and rubber boots, a chicken under one arm, a dog and a brother hot on her heels."
 

IMG_0007When the pastor talked about blended families on that Sunday so long ago, he said, “Jesus has a stepdad.” I think it was that single line that evoked such optimism in me. If God entrusted His son to a couple of broken people who were willing to say yes, surely He would give us the grace to raise these kids together. It’s been hard. Truly, harder than I ever imagined it would be, but He has poured abounding grace upon our family.

Being a mom to five sons is such a cool and fulfilling role, but I’ll be frank, there is something very special about a daughter. Even though I can’t take any credit for her genetic makeup, I take a certain pride when I see her running across the yard in cut-off jean shorts and rubber boots, a chicken under one arm, a dog and a brother hot on her heels. I see myself when I was eleven and all I wanted in the world was a farm. When she looks through my closet and equally compliments my long white bohemian dresses, my leopard print heels, and my Carhartt overalls, I am tickled to be an example of what beauty is.  Most important, when she’s feverishly scratching notes in her prayer journal and eagerly watching me while I preach, I am amazed at the weight of having a hand in the shaping of a woman.
Of course, we wish it was different. It would be ideal not to have to be assaulted by the way she’s grown when months go by between visits. We wish she was closer, and that being blended wasn’t such a challenge. Ultimately, we have placed her in the hands of our Father, thankful for the way He moves us to appreciativeness when she comes. We may have taken on blending a family without the realization of the struggle it would be, but now, as we dig into year seven and have watched these children grow together like a grafted tree, I can say surely, it’s been worth it. Being blended gave me a daughter, gave me a hand in raising a woman of God, and gave me a chicken named John Luke. What a beautiful life I live.

Extraordinary


This essay was originally published in Do South Magazine, a beautiful publication out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Visit their website here for more of my monthly contributions. 
It’s funny how we humans are able to get used to extraordinary things.  When I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, I attended a regular playgroup with my boys in neighboring Pigeon Forge. There was a point in the forty-minute drive where my car made a turn and there before me was the most breathtaking mountain view. Every time, every single time I made that turn, it hit me. I could physically feel the awe it inspired.
I would call my grandmother. Because she understood my heart and she encouraged my childlike wonder. And she never grew tired of her granddaughter, a grown woman with children of her own, calling her and ecstatically describing the mountains. “It’s unbelievable,” I’d say. “I don’t understand how people live their lives in the shadow of snow-capped peaks without a constant sense of awe. I don’t understand how they go to their doctors’ appointments and soccer practices without stopping to gawk.” 
And she would always say the same thing, “They are just used to it. It’s just normal to them. If you don’t want to lose the wonder, don’t treat it like it’s just normal.”
It’s just normal. Oh, that was such a tragedy to me. I’d petition God when I hung up the phone, “Please, don’t let me ever see the extraordinary as normal.” 
I have been blessed with a life full of wonders. When we pray for patience, God gives us the opportunities to practice patience. In the same fashion, I truly believe He heard my prayer for never dulling wonderment and so He set me on a road of great and extraordinary experiences. Through ministry and photography, I have endeavored down an unbeaten path and on it, I have strived to maintain an ever-growing reverence for the power and beauty of God. 
I’ll never forget the moment I saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time and realized that East Tennessee’s Smokies were mere hills in comparison to these monstrous miracles. I’ll never forget the first time I photographed a baby being born, feeling the hefty impact of a life starting, weigh on my heart. It’s not just the big things either. Just a few nights ago, as my husband, Jeremiah, and I drove down country roads surrounding our property, I shouted, “Slow down!” So we did slow, and I gaped at the thousands of lightning bugs that dotted the cow pastures. Or this spring, when fluffy white clumps of seeds fell from trees by the heaps and floated through the air, I stopped in the grocery store parking lot and raised my hands to feel them hit my fingers. The cart girl stopped and said “Are you OK?” to which I responded, “They make me think of angels.”
Sure, it’s peculiar. Wonder is rarely refined. It isn’t described as childlike due to the measure of dignity it carries. But I don’t care. Let me be the crazy lady in the parking lot being moved by tree seeds if it means I don’t grow blind to all the beauty this life has to offer. It seems like a decent tradeoff to me.

0420_0213I am wildly passionate about Creation. I am ever awed and deeply wooed by nature and babies and beautiful views. I am enraptured by the way the garden grows and the way my children learn. I could write for days and weeks about beauty and power and wonder. That’s not why I’m writing this, though. I know I have cultivated a deep appreciation for beauty, but I have allowed myself to take the most important thing for granted. This is a confession.

When a blade requires sharpening, it must be unsheathed and then run over the rod. It must first expose its dullness before the sharpening can happen. So here I am confessing. I have gotten busy and allowed myself to grow altogether dull to love.

Every day, I wake up in bed with a man that loves me wildly. He’s the kind of man that pulls over so I can see the fireflies. He is spending his life with a woman who has a romance with beauty he can’t always see, but he always tries. And I’ve found that more often than not when I am being swept away by some everyday, extraordinary thing, my sweet husband is not looking at the view or the baby or the firefly, he is looking at me. And I have taken it for granted.
This morning I woke up in a big, old house. Just two years ago, I was praying for hours a day that God would give me that house, and He did. We moved in with our six children, and we had so much space, and the need arose, so we moved two of Jeremiah’s brothers and his sister in as well. Now we live here all together, a big cramped mess of people who love each other more deeply that I can explain. And every morning I wake up in my big, old house and meet my big, loving family in the kitchen. We eat breakfast and make plans for the day. We pray and go about our routines.
 And many mornings, I leave my big, old house and go about the business of ministry. I attend meetings and plan events. I make phone calls, and I pray and study. I am so familiar with the love of God, and I see it echoed so much in my church family that I’m afraid I’ve gotten used to it. This tribe of mine has gone through struggles and trials hand in hand. We have felt our souls knit together and endured pain together. We run the race together. It is truly extraordinary. But here I am confessing, I have gotten busy, and my to-do list has captured my focus. And I have grown dull.
I didn’t realize it. I didn’t realize that I was living in the shadow of uncommonly beautiful love, completely used to its unusual nature until a few weeks ago when my eyes were opened in a moment.
It was during a worship service, and I was kneeling at the altar in prayer. I felt tired. I don’t know why, I just felt really tired, run down by my beautiful but busy life. And my big tribe of family and friends were all around. We were singing and praying, and my pastor took the microphone and said, “I want us to call out the names of the people we have been praying for. Just lift them up to God right now.” At that moment, the overwhelming exhaustion from being so busy felt like five thousand pounds on my shoulders.
 Then I heard someone call out a name. Jewel, my little sister. Then I heard someone else call out another. Drew, my brother. Then I heard my husband call out the name of my mom. I heard a friend of mine call out the name of my dad. And it started to resound all around me, my prayers and my concerns and my desires being called out by people who barely know my loved-ones. All they knew was that these names belonged to people I love unexplainably, and that was enough for these names to matter to them.
I’ll never forget the way it hit me. It was the same feeling that would cause me to pull over when I first saw the mountains around the bend in Tennessee. It was the same feeling that stirs in me every time I hear a baby cry for the first time. As I sat at the altar, my tear-streaked face hidden by my hair, a deeper awe and wonder than I think I’ve ever felt washed over me and I thought, “Oh, God, I am so loved.” I realized how much they all really loved me, and that it was just a reflection of Him. And some fathoms-deep place in my soul woke up, and I had a new revelation of how fiercely my God loves me.
I’ve been missing it. While I waged war against becoming dull to beauty, I allowed myself to become dull to love, and it made me indifferent to people. Sure, I’ve loved the people that I’m close to. I’ve loved the people I have ministered to. But I have been living the kind of life where I slowed down for fireflies and pretty views but walked past the broken lady in the grocery store because my list was long and my mind was full.
I realized how tragically I had taken for granted this extraordinary thing, and so, I repositioned my heart. I have prayed for so many strangers in the last few weeks, just random people in public. I’ve stopped and asked people questions about how they are doing, and surprisingly, many have answered honestly. I’ve looked at people in the eyes. I haven’t been in such a rush to move on. I’ve been thankful for my family. I’ve enjoyed my kids more. My heart has been set with a fresh fire.
So can I challenge you? Can I urge you to find the love in your life and step back and marvel at it for a while? Let it stir you up and spur you on to spread it. Don’t live in the shadow of some beautiful thing like this and treat it like it isn’t breathtaking.
It isn’t just normal. You are extraordinarily loved. So stop, and awe. Be washed over with wonder. Then don’t let it ever feel just normal again. It isn’t. It’s extraordinary.