Ranching isn’t for the faint of heart. The best of the beauty of life can be tangled up with gut-wrenching sadness. The beauty of a maternal cow with a healthy calf and the light in her eyes can quickly be marred by the heartrending sight of a mother cow refusing to leave the side of her dead calf, or the lost look in the eyes of a mama who finally walked away. A successful save can happen one minute and a tragic outcome can happen the next. But, frankly, truly living life with your eyes and heart wide open isn’t for the faint of heart, regardless of occupation. Ranching is just one manifestation of that.
Because sometimes things do go wrong, sometimes tragically and horribly wrong. Calves die in the cold. We have a year, or three, of hardly any moisture. Freak accidents happen, leaving everyone bewildered and shaken. You are up for hours in the middle of the night with a cow, only to lose her calf and maybe even her. Faithful dogs die. Other loved animals die. Friends die. Hearts break. We suffer sickness or injury. Relationships aren’t what they should be. Vehicles break down and financial hardships threaten one’s sense of security. I could list off any number of tragic circumstances, big or small, that everyone can relate to, to a certain extent.
But it makes me think. Why is it so easy to list off the bad stuff? Why are we so slow to see all the goodness in life? Is it really because there is so much bad? Or is it rather, as I suspect, that what we see has an awful lot to do with what we are looking for?
We are really good, to a sad and destructive fault, at waiting for moments of big triumph or of obvious good to celebrate. Frankly, that sets us up for never celebrating at all! We go about our day oblivious to, sometimes willfully, the beauty and the joy and the blessings that really, really do outweigh the bad, fixating instead, like a cat toying with a mouse, on every little thing (or big thing) that goes wrong and drowning in the frustration and the heartache. Because there is frustration and heartache.
But what about the twenty cows that calved without incident, providentially missing the worst of storms and cold?
Or the baby calf on the warmer that was a successful save?
Or the calf we found before it could get chilled down, the calf that is now happily dried off and nursing in the calving shed?
What about the tiny blessings of animals to love and be loved by?
Or the bigger blessings of family, or friends, or spouse?
What about the blessing of working alongside family members?
What about the community we live and work in, faithful friends and neighbors?
What about the few inches of snow and the gift of moisture?
We should be reveling in gratitude from the moment we wake up! Giving thanks for another sunrise. Giving thanks for a new day. We should be giving thanks over the simple and exquisite pleasure of a cup of coffee, whether it starts the day or warms cold hands halfway through the morning.
Yet all too often our daily habit is to sit and stare fixedly at every little thing that goes wrong, until that’s all we see, and then sink down in devastation at those bigger trials that God had the audacity to allow! (As our minds think, imagining that God owes us anything at all!)
Oftentimes God’s blessings are intertwined with reminders that we still do live in a world of hardship, and that we don’t call our own shots. We aren’t masters of our own destiny. We don’t decide our fate. Those are lies of the devil. Instead, and so much better, we rest in the hands of a God who loves us! Rather than kicking against the trouble He does allow, we are much better to sit back and give thanks for the good that He lavishes instead, for “every good and perfect gift” that He gives. And He has liberally rained little blessings in our lives to remind us of how kind He is.
So I want to train my heart and mind to see and appreciate and, yes, to rejoice in those little things. Things that maybe only mean anything to me.
Like the warmth of a kitten purring on my shoulder. Or irresistible puppy snuggles. The aroma of fresh bread, and the tart-sweet of plum butter from this summer.
Because it doesn’t start with being more thankful for the big things. That really takes no effort. It starts in our gratitude for and joy in the littlest things. And that takes time. And effort. And sometimes sacrifice. We have to slow down long enough to see them.
Things like the first handful of tomato seedlings that have sprouted.
The beautiful calves that have been born.
Baskets of eggs.
Flurries of activity at the bird feeder.
Like enough clothing to go for a winter walk.
Like the winsome eyes of a border collie pup.
Like the pleasure of sharing a home-cooked meal.
Like the comfort of a hug. Like groceries in my fridge. Like propane to heat the house.
Like good mama cows with the best of the instincts God gives to His creatures.
Like a hand to hold.
Because sometimes life is hard. Because sometimes, without a heart tuned to see the littlest joys and littlest pleasures and littlest graces, we’d be overwhelmed by “what ifs” and “whys” and pain and sadness. Because there is plenty of that sort of thing. But there is also plenty of joy. And that’s why I write about it. To remind myself, and hopefully to share that joy with other people as well.
Life isn’t made up of big events. It is made up of millions of small ones, good and bad. We can choose to focus on the good, or we can blind ourselves to the good by focusing on the bad, like throwing dirt in our eyes. We’re not pretending the bad doesn’t exist, anymore than we pretend there isn’t dirt. We’re just keeping it out of our eyes.
And those joys, those blessings, those graces, multiply and overflow and crowd out the discontent, the frustration or anger, because gratitude to God creates more gratitude to God. Joy in life begets more joy in life. A heart tuned to God’s goodness and His gifts will see His goodness and gifts where other people might not.
That’s why the little things matter.