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-in-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!

Pearl’s Chickens

The chicken farming business has gone remarkably well, I’d say. The little chicks have very quickly turned into adult chickens and are an endless source of amusement.

It really is nice to have a patient husband who actually gets a kick out of me and my chickens, and who has generously facilitated the project. The last couple of weeks, our big afternoon and evening project has been getting a permanent chicken coop built, but for now, the chickens are in a “waste not, want not” sort of establishment. It has worked. Quite well. Brad thinks it is hideous. I think it is rather charming, in an eye-sore sort of way.

We pieced it together from an old coop that used to house a few guineas, back when my man was a kiddo, and which has definitely seen better days. We added a few roosting bars and a way to hang a feeder indoors, and scrapped together a run from some old panels of fencing. My sister in Illinois scavenged a few 3 gallon waterers from a client of hers, and some old bedsheets provided the needed shade in the heat we’ve been having. I will admit the bedsheets added an extra flair of hideousness. But they work.

Brad’s little cow dog, Pearl, has taken an intense liking to the chickens, and Brad says we get the same look on our face when we go down to “check the chickens,” which is Pearl’s cue for fun. Her bunny-hunting has taken a bit of a back seat to her new priority, which is chicken watching. They’ve been doing a little free-ranging and grasshopper management, when Pearl doesn’t obsessively round them up and put them away. I think she likes to have them all where she can see them, since on multiple occasions I’ve caught her flushing them out of the coop itself. She would sit and watch them for hours if she could. Actually, I think she really does sit and watch them for hours. I think she thinks they’re hers.

Yep, Pearl and I have a lot of fun with our chickens.

And Then I Became a Ranch Wife

It was seven and a half weeks ago that I said “I do” to my now husband in front of 350 witnesses and under a light rain shower, and then the weeks blinked by. They say rain on your wedding day means good luck. If I believed in luck, I’d agree. But rain on my wedding day was a reminder of all of God’s goodness and faithfulness, providing rain and also providing sunshine, providing both through storms and through breaks in the clouds, providing in each changing season, and in each season of life, providing in ways I couldn’t ever have thought possible.

Our wedding was a beautiful, handmade get-together, literally thanks to our families, our churches, and our ranching community, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be. We were blown away by how many people wanted to help, and are so thankful for the people in our lives who bring such richness and meaning.

And then the wedding was over and our life began.

If you had told me a year ago that right now I’d be coming up on two months of being married, I really would have thought you were crazy. I had honestly resigned myself to being a single woman and was throwing myself into a new career as a firefighter-paramedic with a busy urban fire department. That tall, lean rancher who had caught my eye years before on the volunteer fire department had caught my eye again, but I never imagined we’d be husband and wife ten months later. I never imagined that God would so quickly satisfy those longings to be a wife, those longings for companionship, or satisfy that loneliness. I never imagined that the very real contentment God had given me in my singleness would so quickly turn to joy in marriage. So take heart, single friend…Take heart, knowing that there is a God who sees and hears your quietest prayers. He even hears the longings you never had the courage to fully acknowledge.

What a whirlwind of newness and joy and growth and busyness these last almost two months have been, with a husband and partner I don’t deserve and whom I love with all my heart.

Spring and into summer is a busy time on the ranch, and we’ve had a few additional projects in the works as well, keeping us extra busy, but we took some time last weekend to celebrate. We celebrated our “we saw the light” anniversary, the one-year anniversary of our first date. It is absolutely astounding what God can accomplish in the span of what amounts to a few short months. But then again, why should it be surprising? The same God who brought about His Creation plan in six days can accomplish whatever He wills whenever He wills it! But I’m still amazed.

The companionship He can bring to loneliness, the peace He can bring to sorrow, the healing He can bring to hurt.

The dreams He can realize out of the blue.

The amazing answers to prayer He can bring about in the blink of an eye.

So this firefighter-paramedic became a ranch wife. Muck boots have replaced tactical boots. Jeans have replaced Nomex. Leather gloves have replaced nitrile ones. Carhartt replaced 511. Coveralls replaced turnouts. Old dreams have reawakened. Early morning coffee, evening devotions, cow work, building fence, gardening, digging in the dirt, chasing chickens, cutting weeds, keeping house, doing dishes, laundry, laundry, and more laundry. A friend asked me a few days ago if anything has particularly surprised me about marriage. I told her, “How much I absolutely love being a wife.”

Life is sweet.

God is good.