Farmtastic Faves · Farmtastic Reads

Farmtastic Faves – Barking to the Choir

This farmgirl loves a good book – whether that book makes you laugh, cry, refreshes your soul, dances with your imagination, or teaches you a history lesson.  Books are just the bees knees.  We’ve had our Farmtastic Faves section for a while, and we think it desperately needs a Farmtastic Reads section.  So in an effort to share one of my absolute all time favorite things – STORIES – here goes.

First up in the Farmtastic Reads category …


Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship – Gregory Boyle

I must admit, up until about a year ago, the chances of me making it through any nonfiction book were slim to none.  For years, my reading was limited to mystery fiction, and I wasn’t really open to exploring much else.  It was my guilty pleasure. Last year, a wise soul turned me onto Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, then Love Wins by Rob Bell, and well my bookshelves – virtual and real – are so much broader, deeper, and richer for it.

With my reading horizons expanded, I’ve found that I am usually reading a book or five (thank you Kindle), and in that mix is always something that speaks to the broader sense of humanity, spirituality, and the divine.  On the recommendation of a friend on Instagram, I added Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship to my list.

Filled with engaging, uplifting, and at times gut wrenching stories of men and women coming out of gang life and into the fullness of seeing their own value and divinity, Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit Priest affectionately known as Father G, reaches straight into the heart of our shared humanity.  He deftly weaves his personal observations and experiences with lessons that we can all take to heart.

You know it’s a good book when you and your highlighter become besties as you try to soak up every last nugget of truth, hoping that just a tiny bit of the goodness you are experiencing will stick to your core.

Father G doesn’t mince words.  He sheds the formality and the perfection facade common in many religious circles and writings, not afraid of using strong language and slang to make his point, and to simply remind us all of the realness and the emotion of life.  Father G strips away the sterileness that modern Christianity can often be wrapped in, and shares the gritty truth about trauma, loss, and hope.  In short, he takes us back to the original story of Jesus – connectedness and kindness, compassion and love.

My emotions ran the gamut while reading this book. At one point, so moved by a former gang member’s story of loss and redemption that I found myself crying. At other times laughing out loud at the sheer smart and witty dialogue of these former gang members who were coming to see the beauty of their true selves, often for the first time.

You’ll also get a feel (or more accurately all the feels) for Homeboy Industries, started by Father G in 1988 as an answer to the question, ““Can we improve the health and safety of our community through jobs and education rather than through suppression and incarceration?”1

Barking to the Choir is a neon reminder that we  make it far too easy to write off the other in our world – the gang member, the mentally ill, the poor.  We’ve come to believe everything is a simple choice, while forgetting the impact of heartbreak, trauma, and fear on the human spirt .  That we are all fragile, and strength comes in our kinship, in our ability to see and be seen for who we really are. Father G puts these truths front and center and reminds us all that we are the choir.

This is Father G’s second book, and believe you me within an hour of finishing this one, I  ordered his first one, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.  Come on Amazon Prime speedy delivery, this farmgirl has some soulful reading to do!

1 – History of Homeboy Industries

Featured image Amazon.

 

 

 

 

Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

Heat Wave Wisdom

The other day, I was in the grocery store chatting it up as I was waiting in line.  The conversation inevitably turned to the weather and the impending, much-earlier-than-normal heat wave. When the lady in front of me said with a smile, “It’s going to drive up my electric bill.  It’s going to be tough, but we’ll make it work.”

It was a seemingly innocent statement, but it stuck with me.  Yes, I know that the more you have to run the air conditioner the higher the electric bill. (Trust me, I know August is when the meter runs constantly.)  But there was something simpler, more earnest in her statement.

She was having to consciously think about choices. How much does she run the air conditioner?  How much will her bill be? What would she have to trade in order to get the amount of cool, comfortable air she’d need?  Would she have to work extra shifts to cover the unexpected expense from an early heat wave? Was this a sign that her entire summer would cost her more?

We continued chatting about the upcoming weekend, the glorious freedom of a Saturday without plans, and then just like that we went our separate ways.  But it’s been nearly a week, and I’m still thinking about her.

I’m also thinking about my own situation.  That a heat wave is more of a nuisance and less of financial hurdle.  And then I think about all of the other seemingly mundane things that I do on a regular basis.

I fill up  my car with gas, buy groceries, turn the air conditioner down to frigid to sleep, take the critters to the vet.  I don’t stop to wonder if I should fill up the car all the way. I don’t weigh out what I should and shouldn’t’ buy at the grocery store, although Cowboy would tell you it’s so much cheaper when I stick to the list. I just do what I need to do.

And then it hits me, all of this day-to-day living that I don’t have to think about is a gift.  Sure, Cowboy and I work hard, but so do most people I know. Working hard is not a guarantee. It’s not a free pass from thinking about the little things.  

Don’t get me wrong, Cowboy and I have to make a budget and live within our means.  We talk about things like how much money gas costs or what we should budget for necessary house maintenance or how much hay the horses will eat in a year.  But we don’t have to make hard choices like having enough to eat versus melting in the hot Texas sun.

I am reminded that we live in a community of amazing and diverse people. And sometimes there are those amongst us that need a hand, and we should be willing and able to give it.  It can be as simple as picking up a few extra canned goods at the grocery and donating them to your local food bank, or leaving an extra nice tip for a waitress who is working her tail off to serve you.  It’s things like checking on your elderly neighbors and just spending a few minutes of time to make sure they are okay and to show that you care.

We’re all in this life together, and sometimes it just takes the simplest sentence in the grocery store line to give us the reminder we need, to jolt us out of our comfort zone. If we will just walk around with our eyes wide open, we will find so many ways to share, care, and give.  And you just never know when that simplest act of kindness can change someone’s day or even their life.

Featured image © Cherries – stock.adobe.com.  Standard license.

Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

The Sun, The Water, and Hope

August has shown us the best of humanity, and through tears of joy and sorrow, it has offered us hope.  We so desperately need hope.  We need to believe in the goodness of the human spirit, in what unites us all – our raw, deep down humanity, our will to survive and thrive.

Earlier this month, we saw people lining up, camping, and gazing skyward in unity at the beauty and wonder of the eclipse.  Caught up in the awe of nature, of science, of God’s creation. We now see people launching boats in streets swollen with water to rescue strangers, animal rescuers descending to make room for displaced critters, and people around the world donating in ways big and small to help those in South Texas with hurricane Harvey.  It is these images that give us hope.

Admittedly, this Texas farmgirl has been glued to the news in the mornings and evenings, keeping a watchful eye on my Twitter feed throughout the day, and checking on friends in Houston as they wait and watch.  Doing my best to go through the workday, but in the back of my mind thinking all the while about what is important in this life.  Watching as the dogs and cats and horses and donkeys laze around the farm unaware of the world in peril, getting some sort of peace observing their peace and knowing Cowboy and I would do anything to safeguard our little zoo.

My faith in God is such an important part of my personal journey, and continues to grow and expand as I watch these beautiful moments when we come together with the best that we are, offering all that we have in order to help a fellow soul.

My Farmtastic Life - The sun, the water, and hope. The beauty of humanity when we all come together.
There is nothing more beautiful than connecting to your fellow humans – reach out, hold someone’s hand, say a prayer, offer a hug.

When I first sat down to write this post, I wanted to talk about how we’ve all gotten into an us vs. them mentality, and how it is pulling us apart.  How at some point, all of us are part of a them group to someone.

Even today as my fellow Texans are fighting to survive, I watched as ultra conservative religious leaders took the opportunity to launch the Nashville Statement – targeted to isolate and condemn our LGBTQ friends and those of us who love them.  And again, my heart broke as all I could think was, “Really?  Seriously? This is what we are spending our time on?  Why oh why are we not lifting up our neighbors?  Jesus was and is the ultimate in love, and we are so missing the point.”

And while I could argue until I am out of breath as to why this latest attempt to divide us is wrong and heartbreaking and ill timed on so many levels, it’s become clear to me that we simply cannot give hate or those who look to divide us any more airtime. It is enough. Silence may be our greatest gift to each other.  If no one is listening to the dividers, then they no longer become dividers, and we become the uniters.

The beauty of our world is that we can all communicate quickly, loudly, and hopefully thoughtfully.  The curse is that we can all communicate quickly, loudly, and if not careful not so thoughtfully.

So as we watch the tragedies that surround us, let us share the beautiful stories.  Let us link our hands with our neighbors in comfort and solidarity.  Let us remember that there is far more good than evil.  We just have to make our voices thoughtfully and beautifully heard.

P.S. If like me you grew up in a church that had a limited view of love and are looking for a breath of fresh air, might I suggest checking out Love Wins by Rob Bell.  You might just find a little respite for your soul.

P.P.S. There are lots of ways to help those who have suffered and are suffering from the effects of Hurricane Harvey.  Whether you want to help families, babies, the elderly, or critters find a spot that speaks to your heart and offer your hand. See list from Texas Monthly. #TexasStrong

P.P.P.S. For all of those who have checked on us at the farm during this storm, thank you for thinking of us.  The farm was never in danger, as we are several hours from the coast.  However, knowing you care means a lot.  God bless!

P.P.P.P.S. A version of this post was published in the Glen Rose Reporter.  This farmgirl is delighted to serve as a community columnist.

 

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Adventures Away From the Farm · Farmtastic Stories

Musical Cars

This weekend I was lucky enough to have a dear friend visit the farm for a farmgirl getaway weekend.  We floated in the pool, took pics of the critters, explored the surrounding small towns, and ate some scrumptious goodies (boy did we do some sampling).  We bonded, laughed, shared personal stories, and discovered that our lives are similar in ways we never imagined. To say it was a great weekend is an understatement.  

And as quickly as she arrived, it was time to say goodbye.  And that is when I saw my friend show grace, compassion, and humor beyond measure.  (We’ll call that lesson one in this tale of three lessons.)

A few things you need to know to put this next part in perspective:

  1. We live nearly two hours from the airport, so leaving on time is imperative for making flights.  
  2. I have a bit of a sensitive, and at times, unpredictable stomach.  And as we all know, when stomachs command your attention, well there is just no arguing.
  3. My friend had a morning flight.

We had decided we needed to leave at 7:15 a.m. in order for her to her make her flight home. As I mentioned above, we had partaken in some amazing food the day before as we sampled our way through Hico, Texas. At 4 a.m. on the morning of departure all that sampling demanded that I pay the price and the gurgling and cramping started.  (We’ll just stop right there with those details, for all of our sakes.)  

Surely I would feel better by 7:15 a.m.  I just had to.  To boot, Cowboy had been out at a prior commitment and would be on his way home at this time, so he could not take her.  Uber – well let’s just get serious for a minute.  We live out, way out.  So clearly I had to get it together.

So we loaded into the car, and not even 5 miles into the 90 mile drive I started with the deep breathing trying to calm my queasy stomach. Think lamaze breathing – not my finest moment. My sweet friend never showed one ounce of concern for her flight, but rather was more concerned about me.   God bless her.

“We’ll make it. But I might have to make a pit stop at my parents’ house. We’ll pass them on the way,” I squeaked out between huffs and puffs.

I slammed into my parents’ driveway, flew out the car and woke the house up at 7:30 a.m. as I dashed to the watercloset, leaving my dear sweet gracious gal pal waiting in the car.

Then lesson number two came from this grand adventure – my family will do anything for each other.  My dad got dressed lickety split and said, “Let me take her. I can make it.  You need to stay where you are going to be okay.”

Musical cars here we come.  So my smiling friend hugged me goodbye, swapped her stuff to Dad’s truck, and off they went.  Now to say my guilt was running high was an understatement.  This was my friend.  I wanted to take her to the airport.  

After 15 minutes of hand wringing, I learned my dad and friend were still in town at the gas station filling up.  My stomach seemed to be calming down, and I knew I needed to get her to the airport ASAP.  So, you guessed it, I sped to the gas station and we swapped cars once again.  We were on our way bumping and speeding along, laughing at the craziness.  

Then Cowboy called. He was tracking me on my phone and saw that I had stopped at my parents.  He knew I wasn’t feeling well.  He was just 20 minutes up the road, headed our way, and he could take over and get her there faster than any of us. Plus, Cowboy knows about 20 ways to get from point A to point B, so if we had any chance of helping her make her flight, he was the man for the job.

So the third lesson of the trip, the lesson I know the best, Cowboy is AMAZING.  We met up, swapped once more (man her luggage had the frequent flyer miles going at this point), hugged (again) and said goodbye (again – with loads of laughter), and Cowboy got her all the way to the airport in plenty of time.  And I’m super glad he did, because I didn’t even make it all the way back to the farm before my stomach commanded yet another scenic side trip.

Not one time did my friend complain. Not one time did she make me feel guilty.  In fact she told me later how much she enjoyed her visits with my dad and Cowboy.  Gosh, I just adore her.

Folks, that is true grace and compassion in action across the board.  To say that I am grateful, well that is an understatement.  It was a reminder of the friends and family in my life that are blessings to me each day.  

You just never know when a little bit of patience, love, and willingness to chip in is going to touch someone deep down where it counts.  Oh, and let’s just say I’m back on a diet of grilled chicken, rice, and veggies. Yum! 

Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

Easter Donkey – Take 2

Two years ago I wrote about our Easter Donkeys.  This year as Easter approaches, these sweet donkeys have even more meaning to me.  I’ve reworked the original story a bit an added in some thoughts on how this symbol of grace, compassion, and kindness touches me today.  Happy reading.

Easter is one of our favorite times on the farm.  The wildflowers are blooming, spring grasses are coming in, and all of the critters are feeling frisky.  In addition, it’s a time to reflect on our faith and God’s grace.

How do donkeys fit into that?

We’ve had our donkeys for nearly seven years. The first year we had them, a friend said to us, “Oh how exciting, you have Jesus donkeys!”  We were shocked and wondered what in the world were Jesus donkeys.  

A little Googling solves most mysteries these days, and it’s become one of our favorite stories to share at Easter.  The legend of the Easter donkey, as interpreted by this farmgirl, goes something like this …

A sweet donkey carried Jesus through town on Palm Sunday.  The donkey was in awe of Jesus, most especially his kindness and compassion.  One week later, that same little donkey was in the crowd as Jesus was crucified.  He couldn’t believe the cruelty and torture that had befallen his new friend.  

The donkey was broken hearted.  But he loved Jesus and to honor his friend he stayed until the end.  As Jesus took his last breath, tears fell from the donkey’s eyes.  The skies went dark, and the shadow of the cross fell across the donkey’s back.  

Forevermore the donkey would carry the cross as a symbol of his devotion to Jesus and as a message of God’s grace, compassion, and kindness.

Sure enough, our sweet donkeys have a dark brown stripe that goes down their spines and a matching horizontal stripe across their shoulders, forming a beautiful cross.

This cross reminds me of the crosses that we often wear as jewelry or on clothing as a symbol of our own faith.  I’m also reminded that in this time of immense turmoil and side taking that God doesn’t choose sides.  He loves us all.

Sometimes we’ve used the cross to send a message.  To shout our faith from the rooftops.  As the animals so often do around the farm, they’ve given me a different perspective.  The cross is truly a symbol of sacrifice, grace, and the ultimate compassion.

My Farmtastic Life - Sweetie Pie the donkey and her Easter Cross
Sweetie Pie shows off her Easter cross – a reminder of grace, compassion, and kindness.

Now when I wear a cross, I wear it not as a message to all that I am a Christian, but as a personal reminder that I owe my fellow man compassion and kindness, for the ultimate grace was shown to me.

As you celebrate this Easter and spring season, no matter your faith, we wish you comfort and peace.  As you think about the symbols that are important to you, may you see them not just for the story that they tell to others, but also for what they say to you.  
This Easter Sunday on the farm, we’ll be spending a little extra time with our donkeys. Remembering why our faith is important to us, how grateful we are for the grace we’ve received, and most importantly focusing on the kindness we owe our fellow man.

P.S. – A version of this post was published in The Glen Rose Reporter.  This farmgirl is delighted to serve as a community columnist.