We returned home from a wonderful weekend in Kansas City at a Scriptorium. It was an uplifting time and although we drove late into the night, we were all filled with joy. Upon returning to the farm, the weather had turned very rough. The winds were whipping, rain was driving into our home sideways and the weather map showed no signs of slowing down through the night.
We lay awake thinking of our 100+ five-week-old Freedom Ranger chickens out on the pasture in their shelter. The shelter has an open end to it and that end, we knew, was facing north. The wind was driving from the north. Wet, with temperatures dropping and driving wind are a death sentence for young chickens. But what was worse was our vision of what would likely happen. That 300 lb. chicken shelter, when the wind catches it just right, can be blown over or blown to a new part of the pasture. Facing north, we lay in bed praying but still thinking… the chickens are doomed. The poor things. What was happening out there? The sound of the wind kept us up considering these things.
After prayers for mercy, we finally got up to do something about it at 2:30am. It is pitch black outside at night in the country and the rain was still lightly falling and the wind was still whipping. Shingles flew off our roof and a section of our barn’s sun roof was ripped. We ventured out into the cold, wet night with raingear and headlamps. We arrived at the pasture and sure enough, the chicken pen had been lifted and turned to face a new direction. We slipped and stepped on dead chickens as the darkness nearly blinded us to anything except what was right in front of our headlamps. It was as terrible scene.
We then found a pile of chickens alive, huddled together in the rain trying to keep safe. We gathered them up 2 by 2 as we slipped in the muddy mess and we huddled them into the pen (now facing a new direction.) We added straw to keep them dry (no easy task in 40 mph winds!) and we put tarps on the open end to keep the wind out.
In the morning, I woke with the sun, dreading going out to see the aftermath in clear daylight. I was sure it looked like a warzone. But out we went and see what was left. Electric fencing damaged and about 17 dead chickens lay around the pasture. Those inside were doing well but a few had suffered injuries so we took them to the barn hospital pen. Seeing those lost is not only sad to see (we hate to see animals suffer needlessly!) but also, this is a huge financial hit for us as farmers. We have fed expensive, organic food to them and to lose 17 before harvest is devastating to us. After the cleanup, we remembered the same verse over and over: “The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Taketh Away… Blessed be the name of the Lord!” Indeed, we have much to be grateful for and we quickly remembered that. We are grateful we were able to save around 80 of the original 100 chickens.
The stories you usually hear from us about farming are beautiful. The days filled with sunshine. The plants in the garden and greenhouses growing tall and strong. The hens are happily grazing the sun-filled pastures. The family farm with generations working together, slowly taking shape from what it once was to something new entirely. The relationships nurtured and strengthened through working together. The stunningly gorgeous harvests. The new structures built. The exciting stuff is what we love to share with the outside world. And in farming, there are dozens of exciting things happening on the farm each and every week. One crop is waning as another is racing to replace it. There’s a lot of good and beauty to share.
But for every five stories of success, there is another of hardship. There are pest and disease issues, equipment failures and bad decisions on our part. There are perplexing zoning codes and rules, crazy tax laws, severe weather and unexpected events. We farmers don’t like to share these struggles with the outside world, be they minor or cataclysmic. In part, it’s because we as a group just don’t want to be complainers. We know the work we chose is hard, and we tend to pick ourselves up, figure out a way to fix things and move forward. We don’t want to waste time burdening people with our day-to-day struggles (because, trust me, sometimes there are daily struggles!) We fiercely try to be independent and assume we can find a solution on our own. In fact, we sometimes welcome the challenge… sometimes.
But it’s a sad world to work to always learn more, work hard, share more and encourage others … but fail in private. That’s not the right way to live! Real growth can be found in our mistakes and struggles. Deep friendships can be built many times through the most difficult times. In many ways, our struggles can become our the place we find the most beauty.
It’s no wonder that Scripture encourages us to look to the farmer as an example. When Paul tells Timothy to be strong in the grace of Christ, he points specifically toward the hard-working farmer. When he exhorts the Galatian churches toward endurance, he speaks of perennial planting and patient waiting for an inevitable harvest.
As farmers, we look at a failed crop (or lost chickens) as a tangible reminder that the harvest inevitably belongs to the Lord. The farmer must be faithful to lay the groundwork for the harvest, but the harvest cannot be forced; it can only happen through the Lord’s providence.
Yet in all we do every day, our thoughts are on the harvest! The reward is always in sight. There is joy in the harvest, and the greatest satisfaction belongs to the one who carefully cultivated it all along the way. The hard-working farmer, as Paul says in 2 Tim 2:6, is the one “who ought to have the first share of the crops.” I’ve taken that to mean that the farmer eats of his labor. But it also means so much more.
Joy results in long-term faithfulness. We can be content in our work and in seeing what it has produced over the years. We can learn the secret joy of trusting God’s providence and experiencing his constant goodness. But there is also joy for us in what we cannot see. One tiny seed in the ground becomes a huge plant that produces a thousand-fold of seeds. The harvest multiplies itself and goes out into the world in a way that we will never see with our own eyes. But just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
In your work, in your weariness, look to the farmer. Let us all keep the deep-root, big picture in mind. If we don’t give up, one day we will enjoy the final harvest and its bountiful rewards.