A farmer's currency

Are you where you expected to be?

I've heard people talk about where they are, and how different it is from what they'd imagined. Sweeter. Richer. Harder, but better. That's how I feel about our family and our farm. Most mornings, I walk downhill along the wooded path that leads from our front porch to our garden. Where the trees part and the path widens to an open acre. An acre of rye grass and planted seeds, row crops and field cover. Trellises for the coming pea shoots. Paths for feet, little and big. 

A garden as described brings to mind a picture, which stretches beyond the frame you see. The rows of sturdy growth speak of months prior, of sowing and tilling and waiting for the last bit of frost to lift. Of that one last snow that surprised our fields, and spoiled first seeds. The clean lines are pleasing to the eye, yet almost certainly are the product of hundreds of thousands of weeds, removed. Some growth is a year in the making.

Mornings are spent for this growth. A farmer's currency. 

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I stood in our garden the other morning, feeling the humidity thick on all sides. I stood up from finishing the weeding of one row of corn. Looking to the right, I nodded contentedly at rows done. I looked to the left, and sighed at the many rows yet to come. Yet, what choice is there? If I want to help the good things grow, I must pick up my bucket of weeds, kneel down, and start again.

This is the rhythm and truth of a life lived in the direction of love. Few moments look like the highlight reels. Most things look as regular as an unremarkable morning with the fact of weeds right before you. In the tasks at work, in the soaring and straining of relationships, when we wish for five more minutes of sleep because the day to come holds more than we think we can bear - it's a choice to take up our buckets and keep believing that life is growing and worth our working. That the growth requires our participation.

Once upon a time, I told a story about a day with my husband, when our hearts were weary and impossibly unwavering all in one beat. We drove six children to a field to pick strawberries. I do not say 'our' children, because at that time, not all of them were ours. Half foster, half biological, but every hand and tongue and smile the same in the rows protected with straw and ripe with red berries. It wasn't their job to wonder if this was the only or last time we would take this bent over posture together. Yet, when we went home that night and taught slender fingers how to slice and smash whole fruits into jam, I couldn't separate the searing line between ache and joy. They were one in the same. The simplest moment produced a shelf of mason jars, and I wondered - when we opened them, would all six children be there to taste?

I now call seven children mine, these years later. And we've come upon our third season of canning jam. Our third season of taking what is before us, now from our own strawberry plants, and blessing them into a jar that will remind us of summer when all is white and still. But first come the efforts of tending, so that the fruit has the chance to grow. 

When you're this close to the ground, you can focus on one of two things. That, back sore and knees dirty, the work seems endless and hard. Or, that only on your knees, hands dedicated between plants, can you notice the first things sprouting. The first flowers of fruit. The first fruition of efforts. It is a position of privileged first noticing. The first witness to growth. To life. 

Hard is not for nothing. 

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How often do we look to the rows ahead, and measure them against the fewer rows done? The work we've put our hands to seems, suddenly, not enough. The joy we felt each time we cleared another inch, uncovered another beautiful sprout, lost to the thought of how much awaits us. Wasn't it just right there, when we were bent down, seeing what was right before us? I can't ask that it always feel beautiful, but I do believe there is always something beautiful to be found. And I can't promise that the weary work of what you're in won't threaten to consume you. Yet I promise, there is a deep love for you that will consume any threat your up against.

It is between the weeds, when we commit ourselves to the moment by moment, that we see the goodness. Fleeting and fragile as it may be. Even when we are navigating something raw, something painful, something dry, and we have to work a little harder to see what's there. Do we even have the heart to start the work at all? Brow sweaty, knees weak, can we believe there is something growing at all?

Bend Down. Get Close. See Growth.

I consider the hard things I've walked through. And, of course, gardening becomes my metaphor. I think of our marriage and how we started off young, six jobs between us and bone tired daily. I think of my young brother, moving in with us before we knew a thing about parenting. I think of our church, and the stretch marks she bears. I think of our children. I think of strawberries. I can see how this beautiful, vibrant chaos we have wasn't created overnight. It was given but it was also earned. Earned by belief and faith and tears and effort.

We start, row by row, and you and I get to choose. We get to choose what we let grow. A garden doesn't make itself. And the gardener is never alone. 

A garden doesn’t make itself. And the garden is never alone.
— Amanda Whiting

Later, that evening, I set dinner dishes to the side, slipped on my boots and walked down that path again. My dad, still at work weeding the potatoes, stopped as I approached. He leaned on his hoe and wiped his brow. My gaze stretched across all that was yet to do, but my feet carried me to the rows of peas. I bent down, noticing a large clump of stray grass growing between plants. There on my knees, I noticed the tiniest sliver of a new pea pod growing. Then another. Then more. I picked two, large enough for eating, and brought one over to my dad. 

"They're sweet." He said, after a long pause. The break from weeding rewarded. "They're good."

Bend Down. Get Close. See Growth.

The incomprehensible parts of life will not be balmed by platitudes. The greatest work we will ever do, I believe, is the life of the minute. The work of the thing set before us. Oh, yes, dream and plan. But also, believe in that which you're doing right here. That this place can be sweet. This in this place, you are good.

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