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

Independence In the Middle

As we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day last week, I was struck by the beauty that happens when we all take a break from being so staunchly in our respective corners and join each other hand in hand in the middle. Stars and stripes. Parades and fireworks. Sunshine and barbecues. For a moment, with all of our beautiful differences, we were one.

And then it was July 5.

More than ever, we are in love with being outraged. We argue about immigration, tariffs, guns, the economy, religion. If there is a side to be had, we will find it. We have become amazingly adept at drawing lines and determining who is in and who is out. We see it on the right and on the left. No one is immune.

Where is the middle?

Conversations about meaningful and important topics have become difficult because we go into them having already determined that we are right and that the other side is wrong. While we might ask, “Why do you think that?”, all too often we have stopped listening and are ready to pounce with our rebuttal before the question has left our lips.

Trust me, I know this is not easy. Especially when both sides feel like they have so very much at stake. But the real beauty is in the middle. In trying to understand why someone feels disenfranchised or left behind. In trying to understand why someone is adamant about their position on open borders or immigration reform.

We all come from a distinct point of view that is formed by our experiences, our environments, our tribe. And we can’t all be right, which also means, hilariously enough, that  we can’t all be wrong. So how in the world do we move forward?

We all take one giant step toward the middle.

I think back to my school days and remember the dreaded group project. Oh my stars, I cannot stress how much I absolutely detested group projects. In this crazy exercise, we each had to do our part to succeed. Torture, sheer torture.

Inevitably, I would volunteer (ahem … demand) to take on much more than my share because I just knew if I trusted others that the project would go south and my grade would suffer. But let’s just call it what it was, I was terrified of losing control.

Some folks in my class loved having me as a partner; it meant less work for them. Others, I’m sure, were not so thrilled as we vied for control. But how much more would I have learned if we collectively shared our work and our ideas?  How much more meaningful would those relationships have been with my classmates if I had taken a step toward the middle?

And if in the end we had gotten a B, or heaven forbid a C, instead of an A, what would I have really lost? Imagine if if in my compromise I had gained knowledge, friendship, and let go of some stress in the process. Success isn’t always an A. (And yes my overachiever self has had to work years to come to this place.)

I see our love of taking sides in a similar way. We all want control. We all want to be right. And when we think that’s in danger, we retreat to our corners mad as hornets. Here’s the deal, I know the problems facing our world and our country are not simple. Congress is in gridlock, we’re marching in the streets every month for some new injustice, and we have become professionals at being outraged.

But in the end, if we’re honest, outrage is easy. And quite frankly, exhausting. Action is so much harder. Listening is harder, yet. The first move is taking one step toward the middle. Having real conversations with your neighbors. Understanding the deep down why of their beliefs. Finding just one little thing you can agree on and then building from there. Maybe even find a joint cause and volunteer together. It’s amazing how you will see the heart of another when you are giving back shoulder to shoulder.

We are not all going to get what we want. It’s impossible. But together we can embrace a little of that Independence Day spirit every day, when we find our common ground and move forward, one step at a time.

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

 

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

What’s in a Word?

As we welcome November and the promise of cooler weather, turkey leftovers, and family gatherings, we also enter the official spokes-month for gratitude.  A time when we take a personal inventory of all that we are grateful for – from people to things, jobs to homes, children to critters.  All of us have something to be thankful for, even in our darkest moments, and for many of us we can swell up with a feeling of being blessed.

But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this word blessed.  No doubt it’s trending right now – you can find it on everything from dish towels to picture frames.  And it’s a perfectly good word.  But it’s also a word that I think we sometimes get mixed up with grateful.

You see, blessed is a passive word, whereas grateful is an active word.  Someone gives you a blessing, but you have to take an action to be grateful.  Being grateful is a decision.  We are fond of saying that God has blessed us.  And trust me, I wholeheartedly believe He has, but maybe just not in the way we think.

Now if you feel like I’m on the edge of blasphemy here, please stick with me. I promise this will turn out okay.  

Let’s say you have a beautiful home and a good job.  It’s easy to say, “I’m so blessed.”  But here’s the flip side.  Is the person who lost their job not blessed?  The person who is working two jobs just to make ends meet less blessed?  

Or think about how often you’ve heard the phrase, “I’m blessed with good health.”  Great, but does that mean the person who has cancer is not blessed?  That they somehow incurred wrath from somewhere?

I can hear you thinking, “No way.  That’s not what I meant at all.”  

And I’m with you.  What we really mean is that we are grateful for our homes, our jobs, our health.  And we would never want our gratitude to be confused for the belief that we have somehow received divine preference over our neighbors.

Blessings are something that we, the collective humanity, share.  Nature and life itself are blessings.  Things we can all enjoy.  I, personally, don’t believe they are doled out to a few, and I don’t believe they always look like we would expect them to.

And while this may seem like a game of semantics, words really do matter. (Yes, I was an English major, so humor me with this one for moment.)  Think about someone whose world is falling apart.  If you are busy talking about your blessings, things that are received, where does that leave them?  It leaves them feeling like they are walking around under a dark cloud, out of sorts, out of favor.

Rather, share your gratitude.  Your zest to acknowledge all that is beautiful, from the smallest to the greatest moments.  Trust me, I am a recovering blessing user myself.  I used to liberally smatter blessings here, there, and everywhere.  But after reading an article about the importance of our words, I realized I was truly filled with gratitude.  I wanted to wish people a beautiful day, a day with at least one moment of happy, and leave blessings to the big guy.

So as you start to make your plans for family dinners, school activities, and get togethers with friends, I encourage you to think about those words that are most meaningful for you and those you love.  How will they impact others?  How can you share your gratitude?  

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

Critter Stories · Farmtastic Stories

Smokey’s Eye

No, this is not a post about smudged eye makeup trends.  It’s about our soft-hearted fella of a horse and his journey back to health.

For those of you who follow us on Facebook and Instagram, back in the spring, you saw pics of our big grey mustang Smokey in the equine (a.k.a. horsey) hospital with an eye injury.  This is his story.

Horses are fun-loving creatures with big personalities, big bodies, and some times they can get themselves into big trouble.  Because we live on a farm with trees and fences and stalls, sometimes these precious babies injury themselves.  And try as you might, you simply just can’t fool-proof your farm.  (I mean, seriously, we’ve got horses who can open gates, but that is for another time.)

One spring evening at feeding time, Smokey moseyed up to his stall as usual for a snack.  But this time, something wasn’t quite right. He had his right eye shut tight, tears streaming down his cheek.

After a little eyelid wrangling, we could see he had something going on with the eyeball itself, and made an after hours call to the vet.  Two things to note here. First, trying to pry open a horse’s eye against his will, oh holy cats that is not easy.  It’s a crazy combination of eyelids of steel and a bobbing head.  Second, as we’ve said before, these things don’t happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Nope, if we are going to injure ourselves, we’re going to do it right. No sense in playing games.

It was quickly determined the next morning that he had, in fact, scratched the eye. Drat!  The remedy?  Eye meds four times a day should do the trick.  Did you see my comment above about strong eyelids?  Well it got to be a game. We’d look out and see him with his eye wide open. He’d see us, and yep, you guessed it, he’d slam it shut.  Quite honestly, he was just tired of us messing with him.

Seven days went by, and the vet came back out and determined that not enough progress was being made.  Smokey was at risk of going blind in that eye. In order to save his vision, he would have to go the horsey hospital where they could put an IV system through his eyelid and dispense medication directly to the eye.  (Oh if I could have reasoned with this big beast and told him what was coming, he may have opened his eyelids big and wide.)

My Farmtastic Life - Smokey the mustang heals from an eye injury
Smokey bending down to sniff and be petted. I sat on the floor of his stall, talking to him.

So off he went.  It was slow going.  And after a week, not only did he still have the eye issue, Smokey decided he didn’t want to eat much and developed a fever.  Not eat?  That horse has never missed a meal.

Here’s the deal. Horses are herd animals, and mustangs especially. Smokey was born in the wild to a herd, and ever since he arrived at the farm he had his band of fellas, one bossy mare, and two ornery donkeys.  Smokey doesn’t leave the farm.  It’s his sanctuary.  He hates change and snorts and blows at anything different just to let you know he’s paying attention. Heck, once our farrier (that’s a horse pedicure giver for our city friends) showed up in a different vehicle, and Smokey was all about letting us know something changed.  He’s observant. To a fault.

So Cowboy and I decided we had to go visit our fella and see if we could help figure out what had him down.  I had the wild idea that maybe if we could bring him a sense of home, he’d relax.  So I took an old towel and trudged out to the pasture rubbing down all the horses to capture their scents.  Yes, they all looked at me funny, quite suspicious, and probably convinced I was just a bit nuts.  Cowboy also thought I was slightly off my rocker, but as he always does, he just obliged me.

My Farmtastic Life - Smokey the mustang healing from an eye injury
Smokey sniffing his towel and finding comfort in the scents of home.

Off to the vet we went, towel in hand.  Oh if I could just adequately describe that moment.  Smokey sniffed and sniffed.  He touched his nose to the towel. He visibly perked up.  He would move his nose to the towel and then back to take a bite of hay.  He was eating!!!  He softened to our touch. He was relaxing. My heart was aching for our big grey soulstang – he missed his herd, the people and the four-legged ones.

So Cowboy and I made a promise to him.  For the rest of his stay, no matter how long it took, every day one of us would try our best to make the 60-plus mile round trip to talk to him, to brush him, to comfort him.  And just like magic, it worked.  Slowly but surely, he settled in, his appetite returned, the fever left, and he healed.  It took nearly three weeks, but Smokey still had his sight and an even bigger heart.

My Farmastic Life - Smokey the mustang heads home
The veterinary staff getting ready to load Smokey up for the trip home. Let’s just say, this fella is not a the easiest loader. (The patches on his neck were from his IVs. Such a fashion statement.)

These horses continue to teach us so much.  No one wants to be alone in this world, and when we’re hurting and scared the most is when we need the touch, the scent, the spirit of home.  And if we soak in the healing, we too will be able to see again.

P.S.  Big thanks to our amazing vets, especially Dr. Imel, at Peak Performance Equine Hospital.  They are simply the best.  They allowed us to visit Smokey as often as possible, texted us with morning updates, and took the best possible care of our fella.  We will be eternally grateful.

 

 

 

 

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Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

Church on the Porch

I grew up in church. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, I was there.  Sunday school, choir practice, youth group, sermons, lots and lots of sermons.  It’s where my best friends were, and it was the lense I learned to see the world through.    

Throughout our years together, Cowboy and I have attended quite the menagerie of churches.  We’ve seen the beauty and, unfortunately, some of the really ugly. We’ve been members, participants, told we couldn’t be members, or worse only one of us could join. (If you know us at all, you know we’re a packaged deal.  For better or worse, you get both of us.) We’ve taught Sunday school, volunteered, and attended Bible studies.

And right now, we are officially on a break. There, I said it out loud.  We are churchless.  Without a church. Without a denomination.  

But what does that mean?  Does it mean our faith in God is diminished?  Does it mean we love less?  Does it mean we are no longer Christians? Nope, absolutely, 100 percent no. In fact, for us, I would even dare to say that our faith in God, our love, and commitment to what it really means to be a Christ follower is stronger than ever before.

When it comes to church, we have not found the right fit for us, a place that speaks to us, a group where our core values line up.  It doesn’t mean it’s not out there, it just means we haven’t found it, and so instead of continuing the exhausting search, we are taking a break.  

So what do you do on a break? You have church on the porch.  We are intentionally taking time to sit on the porch and soak in the awe and wonder of God’s creation that surrounds us.  

Watching the horses laze around the pasture, while dogs nap in the yard. Watching bees and dragonflies buzz through the air, as hummingbirds hover at the feeders. Marveling that a single Basil plant growing out of an old horse trough can smell so fragrant and get so huge.  Feeling the breezes on skin warmed by the sun. And being grateful, oh so grateful.  Not because everything is perfect, because that will never be the case, but because we’ve let go of the perfect in return for finding peace and joy in the moment.

My Farmtastic Life - Maybelle rests in the shade of a Basil plant
A fellow church on the porch attendee, Maybelle rests in the shade of a Basil plant.

Observing our surroundings is just one part of church on the porch.  There is reading, discussing, listening to music, inspiration of all kinds.  For me, church on the porch brings clarity to my crazy thoughts, a deep rooted grace of sorts.  The conversations are special, personal, and helpful.  Oh, and most importantly judging is banned from the porch. Curiousity is welcomed.

Sometimes church on the porch happens on a random Thursday evening. Sometimes it’s a glorious Sunday morning.  Sometimes once a week and sometimes more often.  Sometimes for 15 minutes and other times for hours.  There are no rules.  Just time to revel, to meditate, to laugh.  (Laughing is totally okay during church on the porch, in fact it’s encouraged.)

So if you are struggling right now to find the place you fit, don’t be afraid to do what is best to nurture your soul and explore your faith.  It may not look very traditional, but what you may find is oh so spiritual.

P.S. I absolutely love to read.  Right now I’m working through a series of Rob Bell books, including: What Is the Bible?, Velvet Elvis, Love Wins, and How to Be Here.  If you need a little inspiration and are looking for a more expansive, inclusive view of God, I highly recommend these as a great place to start.

P.P.S.  Please don’t take this as encouragement to leave your church if it is working for you.  We think that is a beautiful thing.  This a personal story of finding a new way to express our own faith, while struggling to fit within the traditional boundaries and options present for us.

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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