Nesting

In spite of a beautiful set of heirloom nesting boxes, compliments of my husband’s grandma’s chicken coop, my chickens are determined to lay their eggs in a certain corner of their coop on the ledge of the floor sill, tucked behind the bin I store their feed in. A few days ago, I didn’t find any eggs and assumed they all just took a day, but the next morning I found a stash of four eggs in this choice corner, three of which were broken, with a chicken getting ready to deposit another in the same place.

I took away the feed sacks they were clumsily using as a sort of nest, tried to block the corner off, with the only end result that two chickens still managed to squeeze into that space and lay their eggs, one of which rolled off the floor sill and cracked. Foiled, by a critter with a brain the size of a lima bean.

Since they were insistent, I played along, if for no other reason than to keep the eggs from getting broken. I was also suspicious they were then eating the broken ones and was eager to nip that unsavory proclivity in the bud. So I made a makeshift nesting box with a 5-gallon bucket tipped on its side, and also did the golf balls in nesting box trick to try to con them into laying where I wanted them to lay. A few hens have seemingly caught on to the nesting boxes, with a little encouragement (i.e. actually placing them in the boxes and then babysitting them) and have used the nesting boxes without supervision since then, but there are apparently four hens that literally wait in line for that special corner, since all the eggs today were placed oh-so-nicely in the bucket, not in the nesting boxes.

I’ll keep working on getting them in the nesting boxes, but as long as they aren’t cannibalizing their own eggs, I honestly don’t really care where they feel compelled to put them. And if they’re patient enough to wait in line until their friend is done in that special corner, well, bless their little hearts.

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.

The Last of Winter, the First of Spring

According to the calendar, spring has arrived, but in western South Dakota, we know better than to put too much store in that! For us, winter lingers sometimes into June, but we’ve begun to taste the springtime and I’m itching for those warmer temperatures, those springtime tasks, mud instead of ice, warm dirt, growing things, and baby animals!

Our relatively mild winter was punctuated with days and weeks of unseasonable warmth, and then punctuated again with unseasonable, bitter cold. And, as always, it starts to feel like it has always been winter, sometime around the middle of February. Those little tastes of springtime that tantalize and taunt us every year, tease us with the warmth that is so close, so close. And we are so ready for springtime, and we’re praying for rain, or a good spring snowstorm to bring some much-needed moisture to the parched landscape.

Of all the seasonal changes, perhaps the most bewildering and wonderful is the change from winter to spring, from the time of slumber and death to a time of waking and birth, from a time of fading to a time of renewal, from surviving to thriving, a time of preparation and planning to a time of action and initiation.

Everything that is easy to accomplish in warm weather is a challenge in the winter, especially when the temperatures plummet and snow and ice freeze us in. A five-minute outdoor task takes fifteen minutes to prepare for inside, and twenty minutes to warm back up after coming inside again. A snowstorm wreaks havoc on travel when you live 30 miles outside of town, or your driveway is a mile long. The ground is frozen solid, everything seems poised to break, the cold creeps into the house until the best way to get some heat going is by turning on the oven and opening the door. An unfortunate calf born in the middle of a frigid cold snap is a struggle to keep alive.

And through the sleepiness and struggle of winter, we dream of spring. We dream of spring, and begin preparing. Gardens are planned, seeds are ordered, harvests are imagined, and a million other projects start forming in the mind, ready to send into action when the cold snap breaks, or when the snow is gone, or when the ground melts. Ranchers watch their cows get heavier and heavier, and pray for a good calving season.

And then at last, spring arrives. We see it on the calendar, and we see a 10 days at time of forecasts for temperatures in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. We see the first shoots of green grass. We feel the first raindrops. We feel the first truly warm breezes and smell the earth warming up. Rock-hard, icy ground turns into a mud slick, and how wonderful the mud smells! The multiple layers of jackets and sweaters diminish to the ease of a shirt and light jacket, stocking caps are replaced with ball caps, and I always cherish the first day I can wear a tank top and sandals!

The garden beds begin to soften under their preparatory layer of plastic. The first load of laundry is hung on the clothesline outside. The first meadowlarks appear. Seeds are started. Those calves that were unlucky enough to be born into the cold snap are now a month old, frisky, and thriving.

What a transformation!

In the winter, we are forced to slow down. It is a sabbath of seasons, in a sense. We are forced to slow down from the seemingly self-sufficient business of the rest of the year and only do those things that are necessary, limited by the cold, the frozen ground, the shorter days. It is an exercise in trusting God for the day-to-day necessities in the day-to-day struggles. And then in the springtime, God turns that trust into joyful action.

Happy springtime, friends! And pray for rain!

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.

Glimpse of History

There is something haunting about the beauty of these creatures. It is strange to see animals so muscled and powerful bedded down quietly in the tall grass, blinking sleepily in the bright sunlight, staring curiously at the intruders then losing interest, their massive horns spread broadly beyond the width of their shoulders. Only their horns are visible when they hunker down in the warm grass. IMG_4069IMG_3982IMG_3957IMG_3978Perhaps what is haunting is the feeling that even a barbed wire fence is no match for their strength. Or, perhaps it is the feeling that I’m staring into their eyes and getting a glimpse of history. Perhaps both.

Laura Elizabeth