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Friday, November 20, 2015

Thankful.

This essay originally appeared in Do South Magazine. Being a monthly contributor this this beautiful publication is one of the things in my life for which I am deeply grateful. See more of my contributions on their website.

Thanksgiving stirs something up in me. Of course, I want to be thankful year-round. I want to take it slow and enjoy what really matters. This time of year amplifies that desire. Every year, I go into the holiday season with a deep longing to get it right, to linger on the important things and pass over the distractions. Usually, I get caught up, though. I have the best of intentions in October but by the end of December, I’ve spent too much, gotten too stressed, and ended up frustrated.

This year, something shifted in our life and in us. We went from people who harbored a dream of going back to the basics and raising our own food to people who actually had a working homestead. There is a red egg basket on our kitchen counter now. It’s a romantic thing, at least in my terms of romance. The eggs are all different colors because our flock of chickens contains many different breeds, and it is more beautiful to me than any flower bouquet. The hens started laying over a year ago and I wondered if it would become commonplace, if it would just be a thing we were used to.



It hasn’t. I still catch myself pausing in the kitchen, reaching in the basket and rolling an egg around in my hand, feeling so deeply happy to call it mine. I wanted this life for such a long while. For years I read books and followed blogs about hobby farming. After we bought our property and moved in, I felt my dream begin to form into reality when my aunt gave me three chicks and I found a twenty-five dollar chicken coop on Craigslist.

That little coop was the most thrilling thing I’d ever had, and as I cared for the coop daily, I thanked God for hearing my prayers. I felt so grateful. I shared photos and wrote about it, I posted about it on Facebook. A month or two later, my dog killed those chickens. I sat on the front steps of my house and cried, feeling like God had forgotten me, feeling like He didn’t actually hear the desires of my heart. I felt foolish for being so enthusiastic in expressing thanks for something that turned out to be so fleeting.

Since starting our little farm, I have learned a great lesson in thankfulness. It was a lesson I didn’t know I needed. I thought I was a grateful person before. I have always reflected on my blessings and vocalized my thanks. But it was a surface-level gratitude.

I always thought that being thankful meant just being appreciative. Receive something, express gratitude, thankfulness complete. Not so much. It’s good to be appreciative. It’s perfectly appropriate to praise the people around you to let them know you see them, need them and love them. It’s wonderful to praise God for what He has done for you, because that is how we share His love.


However, being thankful, being really, truly grateful is a deep-rooted thing. It’s not something we just celebrate in November. And it certainly isn’t just for when things seem to be going all right. Thankfulness is meant to create a concrete foundation for us to hunker down to when the storms of life come. True gratitude happens when no one is looking, and before it benefits anyone else, it has to change our outlook and the groundwork of our own lives.

Homesteading is hard. This summer was so hot, the rabbits refused to care for their young so the babies grew cold in the nest boxes while their mothers panted on the other side of the cage. We lost chicken after chicken to heat stroke. Extension cords ran across the front and back yards, fueling fans on all of the animals, but we still had to pick up bodies. Then the truck broke down. Our finances were lacking. The chickens got mites and the goats got worms. I hatched an incubator full of eggs and the heat lamp was too hot, so when I excitedly came to check on them, none moved.  Let me tell you, there is nothing romantic about homesteading when all your stuff is dying.

It was about that point that every bit of passion I’d had for this life dried up. I felt like the worst farmer in the history of the world. Surely, surely, no one had ever made as many mistakes as us. I wanted to give up. I wanted to send all our animals to a farm that could keep them alive. I wanted to question God. But then I remembered crying on my steps over my first lost chickens, feeling hopelessly forsaken. And I remembered how just a few weeks later we were blessed with thirty new chicks, and how a couple months after that we built our big coop. I went inside and looked at my red basket, and though it was nearly empty (as the hens laid very little due to the heat and the mites), there were eggs. So I said, right then with a pile of losses and an almost empty basket of eggs, “Thank you, God, for this farm.” And I meant it.

It was the kind of decisive moment that stays with you. I didn’t feel like I needed to share it with the world or even my family. It actually didn’t even feel like a grand gesture. But it was the moment I made a choice that even if my life was not going how I wanted, I still wanted it exactly as it was. I decided not to jump ship and blame God for the failure but to instead hang on and embrace what He would teach me. I’m not entirely sure, but I think if there were a scale for these things, that would be the instant that I actually became a really, deeply, genuinely thankful person.



The heat broke. Things stopped dying, new chicks hatched and lived and the rabbits gave birth and cared for their kits. We fixed the truck, built a greenhouse and filled it with promises of provision. I know everyone has their horror stories of their first year of homesteading, and ours is no exception. It’s almost like an initiation is required to enter into this life. It’s like any person with this dream has to relinquish control and understand real gratitude before they can accomplish anything. I have been initiated, hazed even. I have learned true gratefulness should not leave me feeling forgotten by God. Instead, it should propel me to remember the good He’s done for us before and encourage me to believe He will do it again.

I expect the holidays this year to be quite a bit different. I can already see the changed mindset of my family. We’ve taken strides to live simply and learned to give thanks for when things are prospering and also when they are not. It makes life slower, more worthwhile. Nothing is for granted.


This Thanksgiving, we are butchering turkeys we’ve spent the last six months raising. All of us are aware of how many hours of hard work went into them. We remember how we prayed that they wouldn’t die in the heat, how much effort went into protecting them. Now, before they are even brined and braised, I can say I have never been more thankful for a turkey.

Yes, there’s a twinge of sadness to living life like this. Because while gratitude is born in a choice, it is cultivated in learning to honor and value our blessings. While I will be immensely proud to serve a bird that was ethically and naturally raised by our own hands, it will be sad to no longer have the silly things gobbling around the yard. Thankfulness is bittersweet, and we live in a society that will cheer a person on as they disconnect from the cost of things. Everything costs something, and we are made better when we seek to stay aware of that.

As I enter this season of gratitude and celebration, I’m hoping and praying to carry these things I’ve learned. I’m hoping it may spur me to give canned jams and tokens of our labor as gifts, understanding the cost of them and the value. I may not get it all right, I may get caught up in the buying and the planning. But I feel like as the years go by, as we make it through more hard summers and hard winters, this thankfulness will grow.

And one day, it won’t be something I have to choose. It will just be who I am, a woman deeply rooted on a strong foundation. Whether or not the egg basket is full or empty, I will stand firm and be thankful. And I will thank God for the privilege of living this beautiful, bittersweet, completely romantic life.



  

2 comments:

  1. So tell me why I am sitting here crying over your dead chickens and your soon-to-be plattered turkeys?? I also live on a farm...we've had steers and pigs that end up in the freezer and I do miss them in the barn, but I didn't cry when they went into the freezer...so why am I crying over your chickens and turkeys? Must be the picture you painted on my heart with your words...thank you.

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  2. I love this! When you described your reaction to losing your first chickens, it reminded me of some of my initial thoughts during my recent miscarriage (Nov 7th). I announced very early and we were so excited and thankful, and then we lost our baby just before we were supposed to be 12 weeks. I felt similar feelings, regarding being so thankful for something so fleeting. And your words about finding a more deeply rooted thankfulness echoed my own journey and touched my heart. God redeems and restores and He has walked with us through this. We are so grateful for all that is and hopeful for all that will be. ❤

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