Today’s Trouble, Today’s Joy

Since getting married and leaving my fulltime job as a paramedic and becoming a fulltime wife, I have found my days to be fuller than they ever used to be, busier, richer, and amazingly productive. It is a largely unplanned sort of busyness. Oftentimes it is a busyness brought about by what to other people might be considered inconveniences. It isn’t the kind of productive that puts dollars in the bank, but rather the kind of productive that leads to a happy marriage, healthy relationships, a clean and welcoming and beautified home, a vibrant church and community life, a productive little homestead, and plenty to share with family and friends. It is the kind of productive that leads to life, truly living and experiencing and feeling and tasting and cultivating and nurturing and creating and being.

One of the most beautiful passages of the New Testament is from Matthew 6:25-34, in which Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount spells out the cure for worry. He admonishes His listeners against the futility of worrying. What does worry accomplish for you? You work yourself to death trying to secure your future, but can you really change tomorrow? Do you trust God to provide? Can you make your life longer by worrying? Can you even add an hour to your existence? He reminds His hearers of God’s provision. God clothes the lilies and God feeds the birds. They don’t toil, and yet He provides. It really is a beautiful passage. Jesus concludes this admonition with this well-known statement: “Sufficient for the day is its own troubles.”

How true that is! But I would also say that sufficient for the day are its own joys. In fact, I would actually say that those troubles are often its joy. Trouble and joy are twins.

I think people miss out on a lot of joy because they are trying to stave off trouble (think inconvenience, nuisance, discomfort, changes in plans, something unwanted happening, etc.), or they are trying to manipulate their way into joy without any associated “trouble”. It strikes me that those “troubles” which to a self-occupied or career-centric person would be a nuisance or would be impossible demands to meet (such as one’s day getting turned topsy-turvy by someone else’s needs), those “troubles,” to a person whose life is shaped by spouse, family, and community, are also that person’s joys.

We wake up in the morning and make a plan, and give our attention to what is required of us today. Not tomorrow, not next week, but today. Obviously we have things on our schedule, weeks in advance, but the real question isn’t how best to use my time tomorrow, but how best to use my time today. Who or what needs my attention today? What joy there is in being able to live with an emphasis on those daily tasks that give life shape and meaning, allowing for the flexibility to meet spontaneous demands on my time, building those ties with my spouse, my family, and my community. Maybe it is going with my husband to find those cows that crawled into a neighbor’s pasture. Maybe it is helping with errands or being available to help with babysitting. It might be a spur of the moment picking fruit with my father-in-law, or canning tomatoes. Or jumping into our little fire rig and going to a grassfire across the highway with my husband. Or helping a neighbor work cows. Or a walk with my mom. Or helping shuttle my husband from the stack yards out in the hayfield up to the house after a load of hay was delivered. Or spontaneous coffee with my mother-in-law when taking her a couple dozen eggs on my way into town. Or doctoring an injured or sick animal, a process that always takes longer than anticipated.

We run into trouble when we spend so much time focusing on tomorrow’s troubles and trying to manipulate tomorrow’s joys that we don’t or can’t even experience what is right in front of us.

So I thank God for today’s troubles, and all of its joys.

Ranch Wife Musings: Evening

As I tidy up the kitchen as my last home task of the evening, I get a good view of my little flock of chickens down by their coop, chasing a few last bugs. Clearly they aren’t ready to be tucked in just yet. The horses are visible just on the other side of the barn, having been given their freedom for the night, and sometimes Charlie the Calf comes wandering into the barn yard for a drink of water or maybe thinking I’ll give her one more little scoop of calf creep.

The sky turns orange then pink then lavender as the shadow of our little ridge is cast further and further east, until the last little bit of sunlit prairie has been covered in the comfort of evening shadow.

What a peaceful sight.

I love my little jaunt down to the chicken coop to do the very last of my chores for the day. Pearl comes with me, since she takes her chicken chores very seriously, and usually one or more of the cats run down to the coop with me as well. With an actual pounding of little feet, Yellow Cat (who probably slept all day until five minutes ago) races by, then Grey Cat (who probably worked all day), tearing around, then stopping suddenly and staring at absolutely nothing in the uncanny way cats do.

The chickens chatter contentedly amongst themselves and maybe greet me quietly when I come in to make sure everyone is accounted for. Yep, there’s Amelia, and Alice, and Audrey, and Goldie, and Little Red, Little Red, Little Red, and Little Red. And seven black chickens, including Henrietta, the only one who gets a name because she looks like a vulture. I close the coop windows or open them a crack, depending on the evening temps, and scratch one or two of the friendly birds on their backs before collecting my egg basket and closing the girls in for the night.

Pearl reluctantly joins me on the little walk back up to the house. The cats run and pounce on each other, occasionally scrapping and working out a few feminine feline differences. Rocket the Horse says something sarcastic to Jargon the Horse, or maybe that was Chip putting Rocket in his place.

And everything is still. I love an evening on the rim of the prairie. A distant coyote yelps. A nighthawk calls out high up and out of sight. Maybe there’s the soft roar of the nighthawk’s wings as he swoops and dives. The warmth of the last days of summer melts away and cool night breezes shift around gently, resiny, fresh, and sweet.

This is home.

This Crazy, Wonderful Life

As of yesterday, Brad and I have been married for three months. Wonderful months. In some ways, it hardly seems possible that we’ve been married for that long, and on the other hand it feels as if we’ve always been married. What a blessing and a gift, and how unexpectedly beautiful it has been!

For three months we have looked forward to “when things slow down.” Things will slow down in July, we said. Things will slow down in August, we said. With one thing and another, they surely didn’t slow down, and we’re now in the midst of the whirlwind of fall cow work. Between being a wife, keeping chickens, cultivating a garden, and working alongside my husband, I can safely say I have never been busier! It has been a joy to start getting involved in this community, helping with the county fair, cultivating church relationships, continuing to volunteer with the fire department.

So I’ve been well-occupied. And I can also honestly say I’ve never been happier. Yet in those busy times, it can be easy to do too much looking ahead, and not take the time to sit back and marvel at God’s blessings and how He sustains and provides. Day to day, minute to minute, this life is a blessing, and is amazingly unguaranteed in an earthly sense, but beautifully guaranteed in a Heavenly one. Don’t ever take a minute of this life for granted.

One week I’m bemoaning grasshopper damage in my garden, the next week I’m reaping bounty. One day I’m celebrating the simple joy of a half a dozen eggs, the next day I’m praying my way to the ER with my husband, after a terrifying shop accident. A rough day for any wife (but especially a new one) ended in the sweetness of relief that the ER outcome was stitches and no more, and listening to the music of rain on our roof. One day ended with tears of exhausted relief and the next day began with the sweetness of waking up next to my favorite person and finding 2 inches of rain in our rain guage. So many prayers answered and so much of God’s faithfulness from one sunrise to the next!

One week we’re praying desperately for rain while watching the dams go dry, the next we’re celebrating water in the dams. One day we’re working cows with neighbors, enjoying the camaraderie of the ranching community, the next we’re gathering up my father-un-law from an ATV wreck in a distant pasture and getting him to a waiting ambulance. That same community we enjoyed the day before dropped their whole evening when they heard about the ATV accident, helping at the wreck and then after, shuttling dogs back home, even rounding up my chickens and putting them away. What a wonderful community we live and work in, and how comforting to see the ways in which God provides the right people at the right time to accomplish His plans.

One week we’re feeling the summer slump with less to keep us busy (yet somehow still with plenty to keep us busy), the next week we’re methodically working our way through the ranch, strategizing accomplishing everything while being down a person, and getting ready for a weekend of cow work.

As I’ve mulled over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been struck by the way in which God will bring a significant trial, or a series of them, but wrap them around with His goodness. The last two weeks have been exhausting, emotional, frustrating, uncertain. Yet they have been brim-full of the simplest of pleasures. The purest of joys. The love of a husband, a family and community. What a crazy, wonderful life this is. What a wonderful God we serve.

And it is a glorious thing, to find where you belong, and to be where God wants you to be.

Thankfulness, Like the Rain

We were sitting down for supper last night after a busy Sunday, listening to the sound of rain on our roof. Our weekend was a blur of county fair busyness, fire department busyness, hot weather, and lots of people we don’t get to see very often.

It was a hard week. Not a bad week, just long, hot, and dry. We could gripe about a lot of things. We could gripe about the hot and dry weather we’ve been having. The pastures that are so sparse they almost look grazed out even though they haven’t been grazed yet. Dry dams. Politics. Sturgis rally traffic. Or any other number of things we humans are great at coming up with to complain about.

Or we could find something to be joyful about and thankful for. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness, and once you start finding things to thank God for, it really just keeps going.

Like the rain.

Like a repreive from the heat.

Like that first full dozen eggs I got from my chickens.

Like all of our crazy, loveable critters.

Like getting the chickens moved into their new coop.

Like a weekend full of those once-a-year county fair festivities that wear a person out, but also fill a person up.

Like the community we are so blessed to live and work and worship with.

Like faithful neighbors.

Like a loving, God-provided spouse.

Like a wonderful Sunday evening supper of homegrown steak, zucchini, and dill cucumber salad, a meal entirely harvested from this ranch.

Like a million other things.

So we sat listening to the music of rain on our roof, watching the downpour so heavy we lost the horizon, thanking the good Lord for a much needed wetting-down of this parched piece of earth, thanking God for friends and neighbors and cows and chickens and thanking God for each other.

What a good end to a hard week.

A Full Clothesline and a Full Heart

Think me strange, but I love to do laundry. And I love to utilize my clothesline. Laundry is one of those simple, down-to-earth tasks that really shouldn’t be anything but pleasant and with the right mindset should be very satisfying. I’ve always loved that particular aspect of the summertime, when I can enjoy the mundane task of putting laundry out to dry, slowing down long enough to enjoy the rather aesthetically pleasing sight of a clothesline full of clean clothes or crisp, white, floursack towels, and a few hours later take all of it down again, wind-fresh and sun-dry.

Maybe some find this task frustrating because it never ends, or because it gets in the way of other things. Our cultural mindset can be so productivity-oriented that perhaps we have lost the appreciation for and pride in accomplishing tasks that generally go unnoticed. Certain tasks are viewed as a nuisance and as if they somehow take away effort from “important things.”

Growing up, I loved the Little House books, and I still enjoy them. In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura writes how each day of the week had a specific task to accomplish. One day was baking day, another laundry day, etc. What with modern technology, we are able to speed up so many of those tasks that used to take up the better part of a day and so in a sense have lost respect for those tasks. What a loss, especially for women. Rather than taking pride in homemaking tasks that would be sorely missed if they didn’t happen, women try to squeeze those boring, household chores in around all the other dozens of super important things they are trying to accomplish in a day. I happen to thoroughly enjoy those boring, household tasks, and love a task that requires me to slow down and think and gives me a few moments of enjoying the sunlight and fresh air. And I refuse to see as illegitimate or unimportant those tasks that make a house a home.

Some may say, and I can appreciate this, that not everyone has that freedom to enjoy those tasks. I get it, and I feel very blessed that I am able to enjoy being a wife and a help meet and work with my husband. But a lot of times, we lose those things we allow to be lost. And we allow to be lost those things that we choose not to value.

Colossians 3 talks about earthly thinking versus heavenly thinking, putting off what is earthly, such as evil desires, covetousness, idolatry, and putting on those things that are of God, such as compassion and kindness and humility and patience, and love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Col. 3:14). How often does our discontent or lack of enjoyment of the tasks God gives us stem from selfish desires? Probably every time. What if the “peace of Christ” really did rule in our hearts (v. 15), and we really were thankful as admonished? And what if we took to heart verse 17: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” If in every task, whatever we did, we actually worked heartily as for the Lord, wouldn’t that transform our attitude towards so many things?

The first time I did laundry as a wife brought a smile to my face (and I’m still smiling). Truly, what a momentous occasion! I honestly never thought I’d see a husband’s work shirts and stained work jeans (never to completely come clean) up on the clothesline next to my own, but there they are. I didn’t think I’d have a husband to be making laundry for me to do. I had lost hope of finding a man to love, or of ever being able to be that help-meet, that homemaker, that keeper at home. But now every time I do laundry and hang up one of those faded, snap-front Western shirts, or jeans snagged by barbed wire or stained from working on the tractor, I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness and His generosity.

So I enjoy my household tasks even more than I used to, and say a little prayer of thanks while I do them.

What a gift.

Imprints of Joy

I have been blessed with some healthy, youthful genetics. It was something I definitely took for granted and maybe even resented at times in my twenties. They are the kind of genetics that caused (and still cause) people to mistake me for a much younger age than I actually am. Sometimes it irked me, but as I hit my thirties, I gained an appreciation for those genes, and no longer feel inclined to complain.

Society worships youth and youthfulness. This is painfully apparent in Hollywood, the magazine covers in the checkout line at the grocery stores, and the foolish young people in places of political influence. But youth doesn’t last, so people spend a lot of time trying to erase or postpone the effects of time and age, whether it be lines on the face, sagging of skin, or greying of hair. But a couple of months ago, I noticed the existence of some faint, new lines around my eyes and near my mouth, and I smiled. Grinned, actually.

Those lines deepened.

I smiled, because it occurred to me that those lines appeared on my face over the last few months or a year because of joy, because of happiness, because of laughter. In the last year, God has filled my life with so much of those things that they left their permanent imprint, a forever reminder of God’s goodness in giving joy.

It is rather twisted that people, women in particular, want to stave off the visual imprints of happiness and laughter. Rather than embracing the evidence of the joy God has placed in their lives, women mourn the “marring” of their features. But I think there is just about nothing as beautiful as a joyful face, sparkling eyes crinkled up with a smile, and when the smiles have been frequent enough and the crinkles deep enough, they never completely go away.

Proverbs 17:22 says that a joyful heart is good medicine, and Proverbs 15:13 says that a glad heart makes a cheerful face. Galatians 5 lists joy as the second of the fruit of the spirit. Joy is a gift from God, and is a natural result of a relationship with Him.

I think back over the last several years, and the deep, pervasive loneliness and depression I struggled with, the feelings of isolation and lack of belonging. Then I think over the last year, and in spite of some of the hardest of circumstances, I have never loved as deeply, or smiled and laughed as much. God used my loneliness and depression to help me find contentment, and then to bring me to a place of greater joy than I would have had, had I not walked through those difficult times. To have had so much rich purpose infused into my life and to be truly convinced of God’s good purpose and plan while seeing the fruit of patience and contentment, has been so refreshing and healing. And to have a life partner with whom I can laugh, and laugh some more, and the sight of whom brings a smile to my face, so much of a smile that the smile never completely goes away….What a gift.

So when you look in the mirror and are tempted to regret the passing of time, instead thank your Maker you’ve had so much to smile about that that smile lingers next to your eyes and at the corners of your mouth, and embrace those little imprints of joy, those reminders of how richly you’ve been blessed!