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.

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.

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!

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.

2021 | A Year in Review

The last time I did a year in review was at the beginning of 2020, and apparently 2020 was crazy enough I never felt like doing a year in review following it. I was rereading a few posts from that timeframe, the beginning of that year, and had to chuckle to myself. 2020 began with so much optimism, and a few short months later the world was turned upside down. We can plan and dream all we want, but if we aren’t planning and dreaming with the heart conviction that God is the One Who is ultimately ordering and ordaining everything, we are bound to be disappointed. Massively.

But if, on the other hand, we look ahead with eagerness to embrace whatever it might be that God brings about, we will be ready for that time of growing and challenge.

This March 1st marked seven years since we drove up to this little cabin I’m sitting in now, unpacked ourselves, and called this place home. Seven years. In Biblical contexts, the number seven is associated with perfection and completion. How fitting.

As I think about the seven years since moving to South Dakota, it occurs to me that every year has been fraught with challenges. This last year has been, however, the year of the most stark extremes, sometimes the extremes interwoven and indistinguishable.

The year began with massive change and ended with massive change. It began in a sense of chaos yet confidence, and ended in a sense of…well, a different kind of chaos and confidence. My world got turned upside down a year ago, and got turned upside down again in December. But the year that began with a knuckling down and facing the future head-on has ended in a peaceful and optimistic outlook on the coming years. Loneliness and contented resignation have been replaced by companionship and peace. A lonely heart warmed. An empty hand clasped tight. Unkissed lips tasting the sweetness of a kiss. The future’s uncertainty no longer looks bleak. Emptiness has been filled up.

I began working fulltime as a firefighter-medic for a city fire department in January of last year, while up to my ears in paramedic school. Talking about one’s world being turned upside down. Although I have it on good authority that others have had it much worse in paramedic school, I’m honestly not sure how I managed to survive those months, other than because “you can do anything short term.”

All too often, a 24 hour shift on the ambulance (probably not sleeping) would be followed by 24 hours to recover and hit my books hard, followed by 12 or 24 hours of clinicals or ambulance ride time, and then back to my regular 24 hour shift. At times I was driving an hour and a half to start a student shift at 6:30 in the morning, dealing with the uncertainties of weather and bad roads. Also, as I was able, I was also responding to calls for the volunteer department I serve on. Incidentally, it was on one such fire in February, a cold, nasty haybale fire, that I learned the important fact that a certain rancher (another volunteer firefighter) I’d always admired was as single as I was. Whaddya know.

I finished up paramedic school in June, and went into the summer with a sense of relief that that was over, and already bracing for the next thing, a three-month long fire academy that would take me out of my routine, away from my colleagues and partners, off the streets where I was becoming very comfortable as an EMT and new paramedic, and put me through the ringer physically and mentally. I braced for that and prepped physically.

As my summer rolled to a close, those sparks from the haybale fire in February finally kindled a flame. God brought into my life in the most timely of ways the kindest and most supportive man I’ve ever met. Never in a thousand years had I expected to find someone so well suited for me, or to whom I was so well suited. We enjoyed roughly a month of almost uninterrupted courtship, with my every-third-day 24-hour shift the only interruption. We made the most of that time. We enjoyed beautiful weather, coffee before my shifts, hiking, working cows, and countless other things, and in three weeks our relationship had deepened beyond what I would have thought possible in months or years. In a matter of a few weeks, I had a best friend, a favorite person, and I knew without the shadow of a doubt that I’d marry him. And I mean without the shadow of a doubt. I’ve never known something with such certainty.

The fire academy started at the end of August and finished up at the end of November. It was three intense months that left me exhausted in more ways than one, and during which I am so thankful I had a kind, compassionate man to lean on. I went back on the streets as a paramedic in late November.

And in December, into all of the work-related craziness, that sweet, simplest love turned into a beautiful ring on my finger and a wedding to take place in June.

As I write this and think back over the last year, my mind is spinning a little. How very much can change in a year’s time! What exactly was I doing a year ago? What were my dreams, my hopes? Did I have any anymore? Or had I effectively sidelined many hopes and dreams for a career that often leaves people rung out and used up? Where did I picture myself, five years down the road? Was I excited? I know I was exhausted, exhausted but resolute, and determined to face the future head-on and conquer it. That’s not really the same as excited, or optimistic. Occasionally in conversation I refer to having made some “survival decisions,” and although that sounds a little dramatic, that was my frame of mind. The hope and optimism and peace that God has blessed me with through our courtship and into our engagement are balm to the soul. I’m no longer looking at the bleak-seeming future and trusting God for survival. I’m looking into the future, thanking God that I’m thriving.

And then I look back seven years and my mind spins a little more. But standing that far back, I can begin to see the bigger picture of God’s unfolding plan, the seeds planted then that have begun to bear fruit, the dreams and desires that have stirred in my soul for decades even, just now poking their little leaves above the soil of the garden of my life. Glancing back through pages of this blog, I see that again and again. I see hopes and desires spelled out or hinted at from 7 years ago, when I first started this blog, just now being answered and brought to life. Everything happens for a reason, and that reason ultimately is that we have a sovereign God who loves us and loves to do that which brings good to His children.

If you had told me a year ago that right now I’d be counting down the days until I marry the love of my life (88 days!), planning a garden, learning how to drive a tractor, eagerly waiting for an order of chicks to get here in April, helping my rancher in this calving season, buzzing around on four-wheelers with him checking cows and doing chores, and caring for little calves needing extra TLC, I’d have called you crazy. And yet.

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia is when Susan, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, asks Mr. and Mrs. Beaver if Aslan is a tame lion. The Beavers laugh and say to the children that of course he isn’t tame! But he is good. And then like Martin Luther’s chastisement of Erasmus, “Your thoughts of God are too human.” Our God is neither tame nor human. But He is good.

And so, what a crazy year it was. What a crazy, wonderful year.