Growing up on a farm teaches you very early to handle life and death, love, anger, consideration, work ethic, toughness, compassion—essentially the lessons of life. You learn through experience. There are tough lessons when you realize that animals you have fed and cared for every day will leave your care to be slaughtered for food. Or the crop you planted after working the fields dries up and blows away in a drought, causing a ripple effect on your pocket book. Or the hay that you didn’t get in the barn before that summer rainstorm. You learn how to manage risk and how to handle disappointment. You find ways to be resilient. You fail. You succeed. There is an ebb and flow of the cycle of life on the farm.
These challenges are counterbalanced by the miraculous and wonderful. Things like holding a newborn lamb in your arms while feeding it from a milk bottle as you are sitting on the floor register in the kitchen to warm both yourself and the lamb from the early spring cold. Or watching that newborn foal unfold his spindly legs to stand for the first time and wobble around the stall. Or camping out and being wakened by your favorite horse sticking his nose in the tent and sniffing your feet. Or those long walks in the woods with the abundant wildlife of birds and squirrels and rabbits zipping in and out of your view. Or standing under the downspout of the barn during a rainstorm washing off the hard work after getting that last bale of hay in the barn before the rain. These are all treasures that offset the difficult times.
Still today, one of the most difficult times for me is the first week of December. It is strangely the week where three of the men I loved most were buried. They all taught me valuable life lessons about truth, love, honor and justice. My oldest brother Chuck was killed in 1965 by a drunk driver, an accident that impacted many families for the rest of their lives. He was buried on my mother’s birthday December 2. In 1989, my father died unexpectedly and he was buried on December 6. And in 2020, my lifelong best friend Sonny was buried on December 7. It’s almost like there is a portal to heaven that opens up during this time and sweeps away the ones I love. I know that’s not how it works, but you can’t help but think there is something to that last week in November and first week in December.
There can be a great deal of sadness in life. That is, if you allow it to enter in. But what did Christ say in John 10:10, “The thief comes not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Abundant life. That is what we are to seek. Philippians 4:8 advises, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” These are the ingredients of abundant life. Farm life and the love of good parents, siblings and friends taught me that we are not guaranteed easy, but we can choose to remember the good.