But I don’t LIKE it…lessons on chores and love.

It’s Holy week, which means our house is a busy one, two pastors preparing sermons for the best celebration of the year, Easter!  This year, life on the farm provided a deeper understanding of the kind of love Jesus shares with us over and over and over again.  Here is an excerpt from my Maundy Thursday sermon this Holy Week…

As a family, Grant, the kids and I all had the goal of adding some animals to our acreage this past year.  We began with cats last March to help tend to the mouse population. Then, in July we added a pregnant dairy cow (who is due any day now).  In August, we added one puppy to tend to the dwindling cat population because of the coyotes.  That puppy died suddenly of unknown causes, so we replaced it with two more puppies (probably a husband’s mercy, or weak moment, to an insanely grieving wife)!  And in August, we added two beef cows to keep the dairy cow company. That’s a lot! I’d say we did pretty well accomplishing our goal, don’t you think?!  And I’d have to say it’s been really fun for all of us to have the barn full of our little and big friends.  Our whole family enjoys chore time in the barn.  Well, most of the time.

We purchased all of our animals while the weather was pleasant for a reason, so we could get used to taking care of them while the conditions were favorable!  Because eventually, the temps started to drop, the kids had to pile on insulated overalls and chore coats.  And that adjustment went ok, but I have to admit it wasn’t without its rocky moments.  Right around January, the brutal cold and wind set in and they were enough to take your breath away.  But the animals still needed fed.  So, we had mercy on the kids, we made a deal with them, the deal was this: as soon as the temperature dropped below double digits, whether it was due to wind or just the plain temperature, Daddy would do the chores for us, keeping us all safe and warm and happy.  

So, this little deal went over pretty well with the kids (and me), until we hit a really long spell of single digits and wind chill days.  I don’t remember what part of winter it was exactly, late January, maybe February.  But, what I do remember is that Grant did chores, by himself, twice a day without complaining, for I’m pretty sure what may have been at least a few weeks straight.  We were all grateful, and warm, thanks to him.  Until the day came when we all had to re-enter the choring routine.  

The first day the temp finally reached the teens and we all headed out to put on our chore gear.  And what do you think happened?!  What came out of my sweet children’s mouths was NOT gratitude, like they had when Dad did chores for them, but complaint after complaint!  “I’m cold” “I don’t want to go” “I don’t like this,” wah, wah, wah, lots and lots of whining (I guess I’m not the only stubborn one in the family)! Words that had rarely left their mouths before were pouring out like a flood!  Forget any memory of all the days they were spared from the most brutal cold, there was not an ounce of gratitude. And I was mad at my little ungrateful bunch, just plain mad!!

Until I realized this was a perfect opportunity for a little lesson.  A lesson on love.  In a rare and wise mommy moment, that must have come from on high, I launched into an object lesson with hopes that something would stick, and maybe, just maybe the complaints might stop. Here is how it went:

“Hey kids, do you love those animals of yours?”  And of course they replied “Yes, yes, we do!”  “Oh good!  Now, do you LIKE taking care of them in the cold?”  Which, of course, I already knew the answer to this one, but they replied anyway: “NO way, we don’t!” So I continued: “OK, how about your daddy. Do you think HE likes taking care of the animals in the cold??” There was some hesitation to that answer, because Daddy of course never complains about it.  So I chimed in…“Let me tell you what, if it wasn’t clear to you before….Daddy DOES NOT like taking care of the animals in the cold!  But he does it anyway. Why do you think he does that?”  At this point there were a few light bulbs going off, and the answers were approaching what I was looking for, so I continued….  “Daddy feeds the animals and scoops the manure in the bitter cold, and let’s you stay in here because he loves the animals, but even more so because he loves you and me!  He does it to serve us, because that’s what real love does-real love serves others! So, let me recap.  Your daddy DOES NOT, I repeat DOES NOT like choring when it is bone chilling cold outside, but because he loves us, he does it anyway.  Love does things that may not be pleasant or enjoyable, because love, real love serves.  So, kids, let me ask you again: Do you love those animals out there?  OK, well then, let’s go serve them.”  

Now, I wish I could tell you that my kids never complained again after that.  After all, they are human, but at least we got a chance to talk about true love, the kind that serves the other.  And if they remember one thing when they have to haul out to the barn the next time it’s miserable outside, I hope they remember they do it out of love.  And maybe, just maybe that will translate to something else later in life if we are lucky.

This kind of object lesson about love is exactly what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples in The gospel of John chapter 13. Jesus knew he was about to die. He had had plenty of opportunities to teach his disciples, to minister to them and the crowds, to show them what his love and the love of his father looked like. But right about the time they will face the biggest challenge of their lives, losing Jesus to death and the grave, he does something remarkable.  He gives the disciples this little object lesson on real love, the kind of love that serves the other.  The kind of love that washes feet.  It goes like this:

John 13:3-5  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table,took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

Now, before we glorify the whole washing feet thing, I want you to imagine what feet might have been exposed to back in Jesus time.  What do you think the most widely used method of transportation was during Jesus’ time?  You got it, your own two feet!  Now, the climate in the area where Jesus lived and traveled was fairly mild.  Low daytime temperatures in the Holy Land were around 50 degrees in the winter.  So what kinds of shoes do you think people wore back then? Yup, sandals!  And what kinds of materials do you think the roads were made of back then? Asphalt, concrete, gravel? Nope, just plain dirt!  

So, NOW imagine, what kind of feet Jesus was about to wash.  You know sandal season is quickly approaching, most people nowadays like their feet presentable, maybe even pedicured if they are going to expose them to others.  But this was far from the case with the disciples!  It was the norm that feet were one of the dirtiest parts of someone’s body back then, that’s why it was customary for a servant of the household to wash a guest’s feet before they entered someone’s home.  Yes, that’s right, a servant, not the master of the household. They were the ones who prepared the food, cooked, cleaned, served and of course, washed the feet of the guests as they arrived.  Not unlike today, when those who do some of the dirtiest jobs are the lowest on the pay grade.

Yet Jesus takes it upon himself to grab a towel and serve those He loved the most.  We’ve already figured out that the job itself was a disgusting one, washing feet that had dirt caked on them.  And now, it’s really clear that the role of the person washing feet wasn’t a high profile one either, it was a lowly servant. So I have to believe that Jesus himself didn’t pick up this towel and wash feet because he LIKED doing it, or because he really desired such a role. But he did it out of love-real love, the kind of love that serves!  

The rest of the days of our Holy Week are filled with examples of Jesus taking up his cross, the undesirable, wretched roles all because he loves us! The story of the God who loves in the form of service, not power or coercion or even fame.  I invite you to see this love show up, not just in the washing of feet, but in the many ways God serves us with a sacrificial love so that we might live!  I hope this Easter you will see God’s serving love for you in new ways. John 3:16 says it well… “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that we who believe in him would not perish but have life eternal.”    

Happy Easter from the Woodley family farm to yours!    

I’ll go, KICKING AND SCREAMING! How my stubborn turned into willing…

It’s been just over a year since my husband Grant and I moved into an acreage just outside his hometown and began our adventures in farming and pastoring two rural churches. People look at our posts and our adventures and think it’s charming, and it is in many ways. But the road to get here wasn’t all glorious and smooth. The journey has been a long one, one which I was sometimes willing to take, other times not so much. We both thought it was time to begin sharing our story about how we came to this point and what we are learning along the way.

Four years ago, I said these exact words to Grant: “You will not move me to Clarion Iowa, and if you try, I will go kicking and screaming!”  What a charming and supportive thing for a wife to say…I’m not sure what inspired such a great start to a healthy dialogue on my part, but clearly, I wasn’t open to the possibility at that time. Lucky for my husband, he didn’t have to put up with me kicking and screaming, I came willingly, but it took time and God working on a number of my reservations to get me here.

Before I married Grant, I knew he was a farmer.  He told me before we began dating that he owned part of the land in the family operation. When Grant and I married, we lived in North Carolina, we were both attending Duke Divinity School, so farm work and farm land all the way back in Iowa seemed a distant thing, which was just how I liked it.  I considered Grant a “yearly” farmer then: he would take a day or two to do the farm books with his dad each year while we were home on Christmas break.

Fast forward a few years, when we moved to Minnesota.  As we moved within closer range to the family farm, the time involved in the farm operation slowly increased.  At this point,  I considered Grant a “quarterly” farmer. He would go and do farm books in Dec, then spend a few days during planting and harvesting helping with labor, and perhaps a visit in the summer just for fun.  This arrangement still worked for me (most of the time). We had one baby at the time, and trips to the farm were a lot of work lugging all the baby gear. But, we enjoyed giving our son a taste of the farm experience in small increments.

Then we moved to Iowa, and you can imagine what happened to our involvement on the farm. We still lived an hour and a half away, but now we had three children.  As soon as our kids were preschool age and above, our time on the farm increased yet again.  We became “monthly farmers”, making trips in one way shape or form every month to help and participate. Still, there was a healthy distance between our home and the Woodley family farm operation. Our time visiting the farm was enjoyable, like a field trip. I still wasn’t convinced we should move there.

Grant had always spoken so highly of hometown.  I used to tease him that he truly believed Clarion was the center of the earth, that “all good things come from Clarion.” Once, during our graduate school days in Minnesota, I even tried to disprove his “idealistic” tendencies towards his hometown by writing my research paper on Clarion, Iowa. My hope was not that I would see how great it was, but that I uncover the little tarnishing pieces that Grant somehow missed with his rosy colored glasses. How charitable of me, right!?

Unfortunately, my little research project backfired, and I discovered much of what Grant claimed was great about his hometown was true!  Dang!  Now, don’t get me wrong, the town still had challenges, like any other town, but overall, I was impressed. So, I did what any stubborn wife would do, I held on to the ONE, yes I repeat ONE, fact about Clarion Iowa that I could not get over: they did not have an indoor pool.  Ridiculous, I know, but I had to cling to something. You see, I joined the swim team at the age of 6 and never turned back. Swimming wasn’t just something I liked, it was like breathing to me. So, yes, Clarion may be a terrific place, but there is no indoor pool.  Well, that’s unfortunate, I guess we can’t ever live there.  And that was the end of story as far as I was concerned.

But then our life changed dramatically.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and our fast paced life slowed to a crawl.  When I began chemo treatments, I decided to shave my head on my own terms to make it fun. But then the day came when my cute buzzed hair began coming out in clumps. This was harder emotionally than I thought it would be. Grant swooped in with a grand distraction and drove me to his parent’s farmhouse. I didn’t have much energy, so I grabbed a blanket and a pillow and laid in the grass under a tree, listening to Grant and his dad in the nearby shop. The birds were chirping, the breeze was blowing and my hair was falling out as it blew.  I suddenly had a soothing peace in the midst of a really hard day, one that couldn’t have come from myself. In that picturesque moment lying in the grass, watching the breeze blow my hair and the clouds through the air, I somehow knew my heart was endeared to Clarion Iowa. For whatever reason, that day I felt like I was “home”.  

When I finished all my surgeries and my treatments, we weren’t the same people. Cancer changed our whole family, for the good in many ways.  Our priorities changed and we were less cautious about pursuing the dreams we had for our family, and farming had become a part of that dream. Much to my (and my husband’s) surprise I started looking at acreages for sale near Clarion in my free time. I followed this nudge to start looking, and irony of all ironies, one of the first acreages I spotted had an INDOOR POOL! I laughed to myself, because the ONE thing that I held onto as an impossible barrier for moving to Clarion had just been moved.  We didn’t end up buying that particular acreage, but the house with the indoor pool was just what I needed to help us move forward. Now, not only was I endeared to Clarion, but I was willing (not kicking or screaming) for our family to take a leap of faith and call it our home.

Perhaps I’m the queen of denial, or simply stubborn enough that I often get in God’s way, but I just didn’t put the pieces together as the time actively farming increased over the years.  After we moved to the farm, I quipped to a friend, saying: “Can you believe where we ended up?! I never would have imagined we would live here!?” She simply replied: “Um, I could see this all along.” Prophetic gifting or not, I said “why in the world didn’t you TELL ME!?” But the funny thing is, I’m pretty sure she did, more than a few times, I just didn’t believe her.  And people would say to my parents, “I bet you never imagined Nicole would be a farmer and live on an acreage.” And that’s when my mother piped up: “I’m actually not surprised at all, she loved going to her uncle’s farm every year when she was little.  Every time we would leave she would cry and plead on the way home: “Can’t we please move to a farm?”

Call me the queen of denial, call me stubborn, call me whatever you want (good thing my husband still thinks I’m charming), but it takes a lot of patience for me to come around. Thankfully, God encountered a few people with a few excuses and some stubborn streaks (much like myself), who held onto more than one little thing as barriers to the good plans God might have for them. This is comforting, because by golly, if God sees through their stubborn hearts, He can do the same with mine. That’s why I love the story of Sarah and Abraham: because God plants a dream in Abraham and Sarah’s life, and many years later, in the midst of their reservations and their denial, it comes to fruition.

In Genesis chapter 12, God hides a promise in Abraham’s heart, when he is 75 years old.  God says: I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing.” In chapter 15, Abraham starts to have his reservations. He says: “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless… you have given me no offspring.”  Then, after who knows how much more time has passed, we find this great little story in chapter 18 of the Lord appearing to Abraham, when he is “advanced in age.”  The Lord’s messenger reminds Abraham he will have a son. Sarah is long past the age of childbearing, and she is listening in on this little conversation and we are told she laughs.  Yep, that’s right she laughs! She, like me, gave God a one liner: Sorry God, last I checked, old women don’t have babies! That’s unfortunate, I guess Abraham won’t be a father. Yes, that’s right, Sarah held onto the ONE thing that she believed to be an impossible barrier for moving forward into God’s promises for her. I love her!

Yet, in the midst of reservations and denial, God’s dream for them comes to fruition in time, (lots and lots of time) and their son Isaac is born to an impossibly old woman. I think God has all kinds of dreams for our lives. Some of them are big fulfilling dreams that change the course of our lives and happiness, some of them are everyday contentment kinds of dreams. After all, He knew us even before we were formed in our mother’s womb. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Yet, sometimes we manage to cling to the ONE thing that keeps us from moving forward in faith, whether that’s old age for childbearing, or as silly as amenities of a new hometown, rather than the many confirmations he has placed in our lives to help us move forward in faith. There is always something dangling out there that we can hold onto instead of embracing the dreams that could provide more than we could possibly imagine on our own.

Yet, it’s remarkable to me that God takes an infinite amount of time to work with us, rather than against us, to help us see His many confirmations in our own reservations, if we are willing.  There are many more stories about God at work confirming our family’s path to get here, this is just one. I’m grateful that God didn’t give up on his dream for Abraham and Sarah, even when Sarah laughed at them. Because surely, if God didn’t give up on Sarah, He doesn’t give up on me, even when my stubborn streak kicks in and I say things like “I will go kicking and screaming” or a great many other statements that involved me sticking my foot in my mouth.

With just over a year under our belts, I can’t imagine life any other way. We have made it through a complete cycle helping plant and harvest on the family farm, we have transformed our overgrown acreage from 4 acres of weeds to a recognizable yard with a functional barn and pasture filled with three cows (one pregnant, due in April), two (huge!) great Pyrenees pups and a half a dozen cats. I love most parts of our farm life scenario. But thinking about the journey to get to that point, I just have to laugh!  But now, instead of laughing at God’s plans, I’d like to think I laugh in amazement, that God seems to be more creative and more entertaining than I would have ever imagined…and I love to watch it unfold!