Today is gray and cold, the Kansas prairie slumbering in monochrome, as I make my way across the pasture. The air feels good in my lungs, the walk invigorating. I need to do this more often in winter, I tell myself as I head toward the tree line on the western side of our property, empty branches stenciled across a silent sky.
This morning, I’m looking beyond what lies in wait, what can still be found here and now in the beautiful, as we anticipate another season of color, out of sight but surely on its way again. For now, I am looking for the life that's out there. What I can save in winter.
There are livestock births we didn’t plan on happening. Again.
I keep saying I want off the merry-go-round. I need a break from the toil of farm life. From being responsible for so much. For caring so deeply for so much.
I don’t want any more life here!
My husband and I have been talking about the possibility of moving back to the city, or closer to it, and there is no way that can happen until we’ve gotten things under control here.
There is no way that can happen without God’s help.
I’ve been talking to him about this. Wanting to know his plans for us. Because to follow those plans, is to bring heaven down to earth, to dance in the joy of provision. But sometimes, it’s hard to know his plans. Sometimes, they aren’t so obvious.
Sometimes, he leaves it up to us to decide.
And I’ve been frustrated with that. What I’ve felt has been a lack of leading by him. But in one moment of clarity in conversation recently, I got a response. Yes, I heard his voice within me. It wasn’t loud but it was clear. And it came in the form of a question.
“When you take your kids out for ice cream, do you make the flavor decision for them? Do you tell them they should have chocolate over vanilla, or do you let them choose?”
“Well. That is a good point. But entirely unhelpful in this moment!” I told him. And then I asked him, “But tell me, what would you choose?”
He didn’t answer. But I do think I heard a chuckle. Evidently, God likes both.
I, however, was still in a state of confusion over how I should feel about my question at hand--this land. Was it an incredible gift we should fight to hold on to? I knew we should scale down our livestock operation, but would that be enough? Or, should we find something a bit easier, and smaller to manage, closer to the city?
And what about the wide-open space with front porch views to the horizon? The big sky and quiet, starry nights? What about our children and grandchildren?
What about the work? The battles? The death?
What about filthy cars and flat tires all the time? No reliable internet and long drives to and from all activities?
Okay, so those are just a few of the reasons we were considering a move, and not necessarily the most important ones.
The answers are not so clear cut. Chocolate or vanilla?
I haven’t any earthly idea. I think God is telling us he supports whatever decision we make in this case.
But I did ask him to start taking animals, without any suffering involved, if that was what was best for us.
Last season, when our female goats had found a way to connect with our bucks, I asked him for all babies born to be male. That way we could more easily part with them. That way I would know. I would see it as a sign to halt all operations. (On a dairy farm, females are everything.)
We had ten babies born. All male. What were the chances?
And then, last, but not least, two more. Females. Hmm.
God was still leaving a door cracked. “Either way,” he seemed to say.
Sometimes, we should be open to his direction only. Sometimes, we should make decisions for ourselves. He did give us free will, after all. Intelligence. And emotion.
This last fall, we were down to three bucks left, and they were two fenced pastures away from the girls on the north side of our property. However, they breached those fences and got in with the girls and I cried like a baby when I found them. I knew they’d gotten to quick work.
Yesterday provided evidence I was correct.
Kevin, my husband, acted quickly in response to my melt down got rid of them while I was at work in the city.
That was five months ago.
Last month, two chickens died, leaving us only three hens and a rooster, and in the last few weeks, I found two of our strong, healthy, young dogs had died in their sleep. It seemed as if they had simply slipped away. No signs of trauma, they appeared to be peacefully resting. The German Shepherd up by the back door and the Rottweiler in his Igloo.
And it was heartbreaking, you know? I cried. I hate death. It happens so often here.
But it’s happening less.
Until yesterday. When I found a doe baaing loudly after losing her babies. Long-eared black and white Bailey had delivered two darling babies with long, black ears, both girls. And another doe had delivered a fluffy white boy. I found him, dead, this morning, settled comfortably in a pile of hay. I don’t think his mom fed him overnight.
So I’m walking the property this morning. Trying to rescue life. I don’t want it. But I can’t not protect it, there is something so sacred about it. Something that draws me in.
And I find more of it, but this time alive! Two little babies on the cold, wind-swept plain, who have been protected by our Great Pyrenees overnight, it seems. Bowser is attending to them, their mother not far away. One is a black and white girl with short ears and the other is a small boy, with long, airplane ears and tawny fur. They are already dry and standing. They had to have arrived before what little light the sun now offers did.
I pick the tiny boy up first and hold him in my jacket, against my chest. I pick the girl up too and walk with them across the pasture, calling the mom and the other goats behind me as I make my way to the barn.
As I do, those little hearts beat against mine, their warmth floods my chest with a sweetness that radiates out to my body and limbs and I think, for the millionth time, I will fight for this.
I will always fight for it.
I may not want it, but I will care for it, as long as I am called to. I don’t know what will happen in the future. I don’t even know if these two will make it through the night.
But I do know I have a God who is here with me in the wait. I will shed tears again, and again. And it’s okay. Because the One who created these and me, catches each one and holds it to his own heart.
I don’t always understand, but he does. And that makes everything okay in each and every wait. Each decision making process.
I know it will involve trust and intelligence. Emotion too. There will undoubtedly be tears. But I know Kevin and I will make the right one.
Because God, as always, has our backs.