“Thank You, God, For Blessing This Farm.”

So the past two weeks, I’ve cried.

A lottttt.

And I am definitely an ugly crier. Especially when surrounded by the heartbreak of others.

Depressing camera footage televising miles of embers, ashes, and smoke where some of the most beautiful rangelands and pastures once painted the Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado skylines. Gut wrenching photos of dead cattle and horses mangled up in the remnants of barbed wire fences as they tried to flee the flames. Tear jerking interviews and biographies of farmers who have lost it all…some including their lives. The small remainder of a world that literally went black in a matter of seconds and forever changed the lives of everyone who once called it “home.” Inspiring testimonies of the ones watching on the other side of the television screen who immediately jumped up to lend a hand in some way, whether it be through semi-loads of food and clothing, trailers loaded down with hay, gift cards for T-posts and barbed wire, or simply heartfelt thoughts and prayers. And – in the midst of all the disaster – false “animal abuse” bull crap from terrorizing groups like PETA and HSUS who have been sharpening their pitchforks only to stab farmers in the back and kick them some more while they are already down when they have to put down another animal.

texas-wildfires-2011-cow-fire_34903_600x450

An animal that can’t physically breathe due to excessive smoke inhalation.

An animal that is unrecognizable because its manes, tails, and hides are literally singed to what’s left of their skin.

An animal that can’t see, smell, or hear because its eyes and nose and ears are now part of the ashes scattered on the ground.

An animal that can’t walk because their hooves have completely burned off to nothing but bone.

An animal that lost its mom to the flames just moments after its birth.

An animal that is lying there, suffering in writhing pain and torment, as Hell burns with raging fury all around it.

An animal over which a farmer sinks his head into his palms in tears, despair, and guilt because he could not rescue it in time.

An animal that hasn’t died…yet.

If you are still clueless while reading this, I advise you take some time to research the catastrophic wildfires that have been running rampant out west these past few weeks. I assure you that if you have any sympathy at all, you will not walk away from all of the devastation unchanged – regardless if you farm or even know the difference between a heifer and a steer or not.

Absolutely. Heartbreaking.

170308150202-04-kansas-wildfires-livestock-super-169.jpg

As I sit here watching the news and scrolling through all the Facebook articles about this disaster, I can’t help but think…what if it were us?

The mere thought of this leaves me plastered with goosebumps and tears stinging in my eyes.

My husband and I are both 23. We are just starting out, trying to build a farm from the ground up together as newlyweds in Cross Timbers, Missouri. We have considered this home since we married three years ago. Our operation may not look like much to some (as any farm couple knows how hard it is to get going in the first place let alone keep making a living on it) but we take pride in our rusty tractors, weedy fields, patched up fences, and small herd of non-registered angus crossbreeds. Farming is something that flows through my husband’s veins and stems as the result of a childhood dream to carry on the family tradition of farmers’ tans, sweaty ball caps, stained T-shirts, calloused hands, and manure-caked boots. It’s also something that I have learned to love and value alongside him – oftentimes from the comfort of the back rack of a four-wheeler during a spring rain to tag new calves that have just hit the ground, the fender of a no-cab tractor weaving through the windrows during hay season, or the bouncy buddy seat of a combine during another fescue seed harvest in the June heat.

We love it – all of it.

And if the day were to ever come where all of a sudden all of the dreams we have built together on this land were to suddenly unravel and completely disintegrate before  our eyes…we would both go down in flames with it.

To us, there is no more beautiful place on earth that we could possibly imagine spending the rest of our days together raising kids and chickens, watching sunsets, catching crappie in the pond, hunting trophy bucks off our back porch, and watching new calves frolic in the fields.

c9_DSC0521c5

So today I am simply being thankful. For life. For our farm. For happy, healthy cows we get to watch graze out our front window. For green grass in the summer and full hay lots and grain bins in the winter. For old barns that are still intact and that abandoned grain silo covered in vines. For broke-down machinery that can be fixed with a quick jump start, tack weld, or a shot of WD-40. For mended, crooked fences that outline and embrace these fields that we get to call ours. For the old farmhouse we will one day fill with love, laughter,  memories, and all-things Fixer Upper inspired. For blue skies, sunshine, and bright stars that blanket overhead of it all. For another day to watch my husband’s eyes light up as he heads out the door to check on his cows or fix the baler – and one more chance to fall into his arms at the end of the day when he returns, alive and safe.

For this place we call home.

So thank you, God, for blessing this farm. Remind us to never, ever take it for granted. Wrap your arms around all these families who have lost it all – and comfort those dealing with the unimaginable loss of their loved ones who gave it all to fight the flames for their animals.

And guide all of us on the sidelines as we band together and try in every way we can to help them reclaim and rebuild their dreams up out of the ashes, one by one.

 

_DSC0437

 

purple-arrow

Advertisements

The Silence.

I love noise.

Music cranked. People talking and laughing. Fixer Upper turned all the way up on my T.V. Piano hymns on a Sunday morning. Rain falling on a tin roof. Wind blowing through trees. Crickets singing on a river bank at dusk. Cows mooing when it’s time to move the electric fence. And of course, my all-time favorite sound ever…the grumble of my coffee pot in the morning.

Oh yes, Folgers in my cup all the way.

But to be completely honest…these past few weeks have been odd. Unusual.

Quiet.

Even when I’m surrounded by 26 obnoxious high school students, blasting 90’s pop Pandora on my hour commute home, or listening to my husband snore so loud to the point I’m convinced there’s a bulldozer in my bed, I still feel this strange quietness creeping in all around me like a slow and steady fog.

It’s the perfect concoction of fear topped with a pinch of anxiety wrapped up in desperation and served with a side of loneliness. There’s probably a much fancier name for this out there, but I refer to it as The Silence.

And the crazier thing is when all the noise in my life stops for even just a split second and I pause long enough to dust off the Bible and lift my hands to God in prayer about all the impossible decisions I’m facing, the bills that keep multiplying, the unimaginable hardships I keep watching my loved ones go through, the growing to-do list I can never seem to get ahead of, and how overwhelmed I feel about it all…The Silence grows even louder and I don’t know what to think, do, feel, or even say.

Kind of makes it hard to write a successful blog, ya know? #WritersBlockLevel1000

I hate silence. Partially because I don’t have kids yet so I take it for granted, partially because it creeps me out and makes me feel like a serial killer is gonna pop out from behind my shower curtain any second, but mostly because it forces me to do something I’m not very good at doing in life. Being mindful. Being present.

Being still.

And I most certainly don’t like it when during the most desperate times of my life – when I need God’s guidance the most – it’s all that I seem to get in return.

Ah, He sure loves to test our patience, doesn’t He?

But here’s the thing I’m finally learning to realize. The Silence never lasts forever. Eventually the story unfolds and life goes on, even when it seems impossible. At some point, all the things we stress and obsess about seem to work themselves out in time.

But we have to respect that it’s only in His time and not our own.

And if we just listen to The Silence He often sends us when we demand a right-now answer…with all of our heart…with all of our mind…and giving Him all of our unceasing faith…we begin to see the bigger picture. And suddenly, all the impossible times don’t seem so impossible anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know how it is. It’s so much easier to cram our lives with so much noise to distract us and drown out the stillness we sometimes so desperately need more than anything else in that given moment. It’s hard to feel the pain if you just keep moving, right?

But friends, we need to pause. We need to be still. We need to reflect. We need to ask for help – no, pray for help. And be consistent in patiently waiting for it.

We need The Silence.

And who knows…it just might become the most beautiful sound we’ve ever heard.

tumblr_meo5wdcZli1r7of8jo1_500.png

left-arrow

> Less Than. <

Let’s backtrack to about third grade, here.

It was math time. My teacher was explaining inequalities on the whiteboard. You know – the greater than, less than, equal too stuff. The “alligator eats the bigger number and points to the little number” analogy. (To this day sometimes I swear I still have to think real hard about which way to face that arrow, but that’s neither here nor there…)

The problem wasn’t that I didn’t understand what she was teaching me. It wasn’t even that I failed the quiz. I actually did really well with this, especially with a little bit of practice. I even got one of those scented smiley face stickers on my guided practice homework for doing a good job! The problem was that I took that simple third grade math lesson and applied it to my entire life, exactly in all the ways that you’re not supposed to.

I started comparing myself to others around me, to the point where I felt like the smaller number the alligator was picking on.

The Less Than.

And you know what? Between you and me, I still sometimes catch myself doing it to this day.

But I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that I’m not the only one who looks at my reflection through the Mirror of Comparative Oppression. We all do it sometimes, even if we don’t realize it. But some of us can take it a little too far to the point where it consumes our minds and completely diminishes or even destroys our self-image and confidence.

And I hear you, it’s rough. Especially when we see That Girl. You know, the one who has that really cute Michael Kors designer handbag we eyeball every time we walk by that store in the mall, tan and toned legs, better hair, less acne, no love handles, and a zillion and one friends. Or how about That Guy, who has a convertible in his three-car garage, an 8 pack, runs five miles a day, and can bench press 220 at the gym. The “Old Me” in that pre-motherhood photo that reminds us we will never again have that much energy or be able to wear our favorite pair of jeans anymore. That co-worker who always gets the promotions and awards while we’re left on the sidelines unnoticed. That friend who is married, has four beautiful kids, and travels the world while we’re sitting alone and single and barren in the dark, talking to our five cats on a Friday night. Or that person who always seems to spew all things rainbows, butterflies, and confetti when sometimes all we feel is depression, loneliness, and guilt creeping in.

Some people call it jealousy. Some people call it insecurity. But I call it forgetfulness.

Because friend, when did we forget who we are and who we belong to?

I also call it blindness.

Because friend, we have no idea how those people we constantly compare and contrast ourselves with got to where they are, nor the struggles they had to face to get there.

And I also call it nonsense.

Because friend, we HAVE to STOP DOING IT.

One of my favorite passages of scripture to reference when I am feeling this way is Ephesians 2:19-22.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”

What a perfect proclamation that we don’t have to second guess ourselves, be better than someone else, or put pressure on ourselves to be something more than what we are because in His eyes we are exactly what He designed us to be – His! He assures us that if we trust Him enough to build our self-image through His eyes instead of our own, we will feel Him dwelling in our hearts and know that we are so, so loved and way more than enough.

So the next time you feel unloved, unimportant, or insecure and want to start comparing yourself to That Girl and That Guy and pointing that alligator sign away from you, remember to whom you belong.

Because you are so much more to Him than a Less Than.

untitled.png

purple-arrow

Yes, God.

My favorite thing to do is to go where I’ve never been.

There is nothing more liberating to me than packing a bag, hanging a map, throwing a dart, jumping on a plane or driving cross-country, and seeing how the adventure of it all unfolds. (Peace out, reality.)

Okay, so maybe I don’t really throw a dart and am perhaps a little too reliant on Mapquest rather than totally “winging it”, but the point is – I LOVE LOVE LOVE traveling to new places. It’s absolutely exhilarating – experiencing once-in a lifetime opportunities that I can’t otherwise experience in Smalltown, USA  Missouri. Like parasailing the Gulf of Mexico. White water rafting in the Smoky Mountains. Scaling a waterfall by hot air balloon. Standing on a lighthouse balcony at sunset. Getting lost in the New York City metro. Hiking the Great Wall of China. Camping and horseback riding in the Rockies. Every single journey is always so different and unforgettable! Not to mention all the great local dive-ins I get to eat at and all the picturesque scenery I capture with my Nikon. And I love experiencing it all with the accompaniment of friends, family, or especially my husband – who’s bucket list just so happens to also include traveling all 50 states together in our married life! (#ourkindofrelationshipgoals)

But here’s the  crazy thing. The contradiction. The paradox, or whatever you call it. For someone who is supposedly so wanderlust and adventurous, I often find myself at the awkward crossroads between self-doubt and insecurity when the Man Upstairs is convicting me to do something out of my comfort zone that follows His will for my life.

Anyone else relate?

It’s a terrifying thing when God asks us to trust fully in Him and follow wherever He wants to lead us. We fear the unknown because we’re not the ones navigating the GPS, driving the car, booking the flights and hotels, or deciding where to take the next pit stop and eat dinner. We don’t know how or where our journey will unfold and we stress about it every mile we tread and every state line we cross along the way because we are too caught up in pursuing what WE want…rather than listening to what HE COMMANDS.

So, here’s what we have to do.

We have to stop doubting. Stop fearing. Stop trying to plan every little detail out. Stop trying to find an alternate route when God challenges us to get off the beaten path and off-road it a little. And instead start trusting Him to be our personal tour guide. I believe they call this having faith.

You see, He’s already mapped it all out. He knows all the places to go and sights to see. He knows exactly when and where we will reach our final destination. He even knows all the roadblocks, detours, and traffic jams we will have to face before we get there. But, He is always in control. Of it all. And all we have to learn to do is say “Yes, God.”

And then kick back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful ride.

purple-arrow

wanderlust.jpgleft-arrow

Loving the Storm.

Raise your hand if you remember the big ice storm in ‘07. Now raise your hand if you actually kind of enjoyed it.

Am I the only one with my hand still in the air?

Here’s the thing. Those two and a half weeks were rough, I’ll give you that. I mean, I was in seventh grade at the time and didn’t know there was a whole other world out there that existed without Hannah Montana, a CD player, microwaved popcorn, MySpace, and my hair straightener.

If I close my eyes real hard I can still picture, hear, and feel everything. The icicles. The yard that looked as if it was plastered and painted with white-out. The bitter cold. The way my breath clouded up and floated away to the sky forever. The slow droning of the occasional car that was brave enough to trek the icy side roads and 65 Highway. The darkness, except for a mere flame from that apple-cinnamon candle from Dollar General that helped us navigate our way around the house and lit the way for the longest Monopoly game ever played in history, to my knowledge. The ticking of the propane heater. The awful smell of baby wipes that we had to use for “sponge baths” because there was no running water. The snap, crackle, and pop of the maple tree in the front yard as its once-beautiful branches came crashing down to the frozen earth.

It was an experience like none other, for sure. The Ultimate Primitive Challenge, 2007 Edition. 

But as strange as it sounds, those were some of the most memorable days I’ve had so far in this life. For two and a half weeks straight I lived a life that was spent conversing face to face with my family, my friend, and her family that stayed with us instead of talking on the phone. Of playing board games and card games instead of updating my Facebook status. Of building a virtual campground with blanket tents in our living room instead of watching the Disney Channel. Of cooking every meal on a tiny open flame propane grill instead of a microwave. Of using the front porch as a refrigerator. Of shaving my legs and brushing my teeth with the leftovers of a half empty water bottle and surprisingly being totally okay with it. (And missing school all those days was a nice side bonus, as well).

The point is, that was hands-down the worst storm I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime – yet it turned out to yield one of the greatest blessings, memories, and life-lessons.

And I wonder – as I’m sitting here writing this blog ten years later at the kitchen table looking out the window as another ice storm is brewing – if God is trying to teach me something even deeper about “loving the storm”.

Friend, I don’t know what struggles and storms you are battling in your own life, and I can assure you that I have had plenty of my own. (That’s a blog for another time). But I do know this – if you truly, truly listen and adjust your perspective a little, you will find grace and wisdom to get you through it. You will find blessings. You will find strength and peace. You will find creativity. You will find beauty.

You will find appreciation for the things that really matter most and learn what it means to simplify.

So don’t be afraid. Don’t stress. Don’t ask God why this is happening to you or throw your hands up in despair. Just have faith. Listen. Trust Him. Be brave.

And learn to love the storm.

purple-arrow