Thursday, July 27, 2017

When Life feels Unfair- Lessons learned from Livestock


Recently, my 9 year old son earned first place in showmanship at our county fair. This is remarkable if you know my son because he does not come by this naturally. He has a hard time with competition, and to be honest, his very spirit seems to rebel against the idea of hard work. This win did not come easy for him. He has worked for two and a half years learning what showmanship is all about. He has lost, and I mean REALLY lost, many showmanship classes. He has been in tears after a show. He has yelled at us when we offer advice. He has attended workshops. He has watched youtube videos. He has spent his summer mornings out in the show barn while other kids his age are watching cartoons.

And after he won, a fellow 4H leader made the comment to me that “It isn’t really fair when kids who show in all of these other sheep shows around the country come to these county fairs and win, when the other kids are just learning.”

I’m sorry… what? I didn’t reply in that moment, not out of a desire to be kind, but because I was truly too stunned to know what to say!

When we talk about being fair, I think we really mean that it feels as though justice is not being done. When we work hard, we all want to be rewarded. When we follow the rules, and do our best, it should be enough. When we put in the effort, we want to win the trophy. And when we don’t, life doesn’t feel fair.

But that is not what Justice is. Justice at its core is rooted in God’s own character. Where we fall in line with God and His Will, there is justice. Winning or losing have nothing to do with justice in and of itself.

Now when someone harms an animal in order to win a show, that is injustice. If someone hurts another competitor to win, that is injustice. If there is a bribe involved, that is injustice. Working harder than others is not being unfair. Being better than someone else at something is not being unfair. Not being rewarded with a trophy just because you have worked hard is not unfair.

When my kids say something isn’t fair, they absolutely do not mean that there has been a perversion of justice. They actually mean that life didn’t hand them what they felt like they deserved. It’s so easy to see it when it’s your own child. But it’s harder when it’s us. When it’s our spirit crying out about justice. But honestly. In my heart, I know that When I say something isn’t fair, most often what I mean is that we are not getting what we feel we deserve.

I constantly struggle with my own competitive, fallen nature, and trying to teach my kids righteousness, justice, and grace.  I want to live out my values in the midst of everything we do, and showing livestock is no exception. And to be honest, there have been times when I have sat and watched people win and I have thought to myself “that doesn’t seem fair!” And maybe sometimes justice isn’t being done, but I would guess that most often it’s actually my entitlement of wanting to see justice done in my own way.

A movie we saw recently ended with a pep talk by a gymnastics coach and she said "I have to let you girls in on a secret. Everything I've been trying to tell you, this isn't about gymnastics, this is about life." 


Not everyone lives on a farm, and not everyone has a desire to raise livestock, but I am learning that this isn't just about showing sheep. This is life.

I don’t have this child raising thing all figured out yet, but I am certain that I do not want to pass on to my kids a legacy of a life lived with a constant feeling of entitlement. Sometimes we work hard, and we win. And sometimes we work hard, and we lose. That is no more than we deserve. And it most certainly is fair.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I Think We Should Quit- a Lesson from Livestock

Saturday morning, at 6am, right before heading off to the state fair, Reid and I had the chance to catch a cup of coffee, alone! Did I mention that we had no kids with us while drinking our cup of coffee?? It was a miracle.

And as anyone with little kids know, when they are around you have to watch every single word you say. A carelessly spoken word about someone gets repeated at an inopportune moment. A slip of the tongue, and soon your 6 year old is saying "That's total crap!" at anyone within 50 feet. So while we were alone for this cup of coffee, I really took off the filter.

"Why don't we just quit showing sheep? This is total insanity. We can't win against people that have been raising sheep for 40 years! Think of how much money it will take to ever really be an established breeder! I think we should get out now."

(Yes, this is an embarassing look into the mind of someone who has quit every hard thing that has ever come my way.)

Unfortunately for me, the judge of *Our* breeding sheep show was sitting at the table next to us. And overheard every word. And laughed. Not the best first impression. #ShootMe

But, Reid is shockingly patient with me. And he perseveres through anything. In 11 years, I have not ever seen him quit anything. Including our marriage, which trust me, is no walk in the park when you are married to a habitual quitter.

He didn't laugh at me, he didn't tell me that my frustrations were unfounded, and the next day when we competed (and did not win! and I don't mean, almost won, I mean did.not.win.) he didn't try to make me feel better while I went on and on about why we should probably just quit because losing is so painful.

Instead, he just got back to work. He made plans to change up how we are feeding them. He planned out his breeding schedule with our new rams the day that we got home. 

Somehow, adversity makes him better. Competition makes him more determined. Losing makes him more diligent.

On our drive home, he told the kids how proud of them he was. They worked hard. They did their best. They didn't complain when our sheep didn't win. They didn't blame the judge. They didn't wonder if other people had cheated by dating their lambs incorrectly. They didn't grumble or whine at all.


It's a humbling moment when you see that your spouse has managed to teach your kids something that you have been incapable of learning or teaching them yourself. 

Livestock showing really, truly, isn't about winning.... although, I bet winning is awful nice... But it's about the humility that comes when you don't win. And most importantly, it's about what happens AFTER the show is over. It's about the passion to do better. To be better. To work harder. 

I know that perseverance is learned. And like all things that are ever mastered, they are learned over time through practice. It's ironic that you can only learn to not give up by continuing to have failures and practicing the art of not quitting. And yet, in only one year, I can see how far my kids have come. 

And I know that in their spiritual life, waiting for God to answer a prayer that seems impossible or unheard, or persevering in their marriages during the hard days that come, or in their careers when encountering difficult tasks... this is the lesson that I want them to learn the most. More than filling them up with math facts. More than mastering geography or writing clearly, I want them to learn the art of not quitting.

I know that livestock is only one way to accomplish this, but in a generation of young adults and children afraid to try and to fail, and even more afraid to let their children try and fail, I am so grateful that we found our way.

Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.





Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bravery despite Imperfection

I love the farm. And I love my husband, but...

Today, the weather in Wisconsin is cold. Icy rain cold with gusts of winds strong enough to knock my youngest off his feet and into the muddy freezing puddles. A few of our sheep are unlucky enough to be stuck outside without shelter temporarily, as we assumed Spring was on its way (no lambs, no pregnant ewes, don't report me to some animal welfare agency!)

My lovely husband sort of halfheartedly mentioned on his way out the door this morning that he thought we should find a way to get them in the barn today, but didn't have time to worry about it before work. And off he went. And left me here with freezing cold sheep AND children I am in charge of tending. I put my battle gear on before his truck even left the driveway. 

On my own, I went up to the barn to attempt a pen rearrangement. Knowing that I would obviously not excel at this task. I am no farm woman! This involves moving gates, water, feed, but worst of all jobs....It involves literally moving sheep around. I'm talking about CATCHING the sheep. With your arms!

One pen has a couple of lambs that we are weaning from their mamas. So they're not the happiest lambs. And we haven't really worked with them at all yet, so they are not friendliest lambs either. Cold, tired, and grumpy already, I begin my attempts at catching said lambs. By myself. Children I'm supposed to be tending are down in the house. One lamb literally leaps over my head, through one of the gates into the water pail. I can't make this stuff up. It's freezing and she JUMPS INTO THE WATER TUB! This is not a heated jacuzzi, this is freezing cold 2 feet deep water. 

Don't worry, I finally do catch this lamb (incidentally, her name is actually trouble. How apt!)

The next lamb I'm up against is a large ram lamb. I don't know how he got this big already. His mom is a crazy milk machine. And he is wild. I'm doing all of the things the man has told me to do... don't look directly at them. Wait until they are facing the corner of the pen. Move slowly. Grab a leg. Ugh. I won't go into details but this story ends with me on the ground with the buck in the arms, barely. So now I'm not just covered in icy rain or snow, I also have manure and hay stuck everywhere. I won't bore you with the rest of the details, but suffice to say that I am dirty, smelly, cold and I have a huge cut above my knee that's bleeding.

But, I did it! By myself! ALL by myself! And everyone is in the barn, warm(ish) and with shelter.

I didn't even get out of the barn before I start hearing in my head all of the things that my husband will say.  I got the lambs too worked up. Too much stress on the ewes. I shouldn't have put the weaned lambs where I put them. I forgot some important piece of the puzzle that will destroy the livestock. But do you know what he said??? He said, "Good job. That's what I would have done."

Besides amusing my family with tales of the woes of farming, which they are always asking for, I have been mulling over this all day. The way I went into the conversation with my husband looking for a fight. The way I went up and did a job that I felt under qualified for. 

A lovely friend of mine today said we should be teaching our daughters to be brave, not perfect. Brave.... Not Perfect. My fear of failure was almost big enough that I would have left sheep out in the freezing rain, for fear that I wouldn't get them in the barn the right way. My fear of failure has been so large that I have quit things, so many things. Gymnastics, piano, computer science, volleyball... if I couldn't be perfect, I didn't want to try.

What a sad legacy to pass on to our children. So whether you live on a farm or live in a big ol' city, let's find ways to teach our children to be brave tomorrow! After all, the worst that can happen is you end up covered in poop.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Unreasonable Faith

This week, I was challenged by a sermon that asked if we have taken any steps of faith recently. Any steps that are uncomfortable and truly pushing you to “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5) All week, I’ve been worrying that maybe my steps have been guided my logic, my husband, and financial security instead of God’s Divine Will. My life feels so plain. So regular, that it’s hard to feel like I’m taking steps of faith!

As Shakespeare said, nothing is more ordinary than the desire to be extraordinary. Most tasks feel mundane and unimportant in life, and I am constantly being pulled in two different directions. Wanting to play it safe and be comfortable and wanting to take some huge giant step of faith to prove that I’m genuine. When I mentioned this to my husband, his reaction was disbelief.

“Why do you think everything has to be unreasonable in order to be a step of faith? Faith can be reasonable too. What do you think we are doing, every day?” 

This literally has never occurred to me. I see people (on facebook) going across the ocean on mission trips, making large contributions to great organizations, or selling their possessions to live more simply and I think, OH! THERE is a person living by faith! But, there is more to living by faith than making grand gestures.

I recently stepped out of a ministry that was pretty fun, because I sensed that God wasn’t calling me to it. Reid and I took over leadership of a different ministry completely outside of our comfort zones. I’m homeschooling two kids because God has called me to.

In my own marriage relationship, which is ideally to be a parallel of Christ and the Church, there were grand gestures in the beginning. And those were nice, they let me know that Reid was really serious about me. But what has mattered much more is that every day he has woken up, went to work, paid our bills. He comes home, every evening. Every night, he has laid beside me and put his arm around me. Every morning he has coffee with me and talks about our day ahead. Every child that had to be fed, he… ok. Well he did not do that. But he did encourage me while I fed each of these children! His dreams have become part of my dreams, and mine have become his. There might not be crazy huge gestures often any more, but I have a deep trust in him that if there is a need for a grand gesture, he won’t say no. This is how I know he loves me. The little things, the daily things have become the huge things, they are what prove to me that his love is genuine. 


God doesn’t NEED us to make grand gestures on His behalf. He is completely capable of doing huge things. What He does require is our obedience. In ALL of the things He calls us to. Sometimes, I’m sure those things are huge. But most of the time, I’d hesitantly say 99% of the time, they are the small things. Our attitude towards our spouse and children. Our willingness to learn from others. Our ability to set ourselves aside every morning. To open the bible and seek after God first. To Know His character by learning to love others right in front of us. To be fiscally responsible with the resources that He has given to us. I hate to be cliché, but, these things are NOT the little things. They are the huge things. They are way harder than a mission trip. They are way harder than making a one-time grand gesture. These are the things that God has called us to. That our bodies would be a living sacrifice to Him. Daily, in all of the little things right in front of us.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  CS Lewis



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The absence of Love

There is a certain temptation that always seems to find itself in my path. You know what I mean, don't you? The one thing that is desirable to you... maybe it's the lure of money, jealousy, gossip, pride, whatever it is, it always seems to find you, doesn't it?

I write a lot about sin, and think a lot about sin, because it's something I'm always grappling with. No amount of bible studies, sermons, accountability groups, or Sunday school classes can keep you from living in the real, beautiful, fallen, imperfect world.

In my early walk with authentic Christianity, I thought if I learned the rules well enough, I could avoid everything I ought to avoid... and Just when I would start to think that I have everything mastered, temptation would trip me up all over again.

Today, when temptation knocked on my door, however, it was.. dare I say...easy to close the door. It didn't feel like dying to myself, it didn't even feel painful, it felt freeing.

"Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud."

Sin is missing the mark of God, missing the bulls eye of perfection. We miss the mark all the time. We miss the very heart of God.

Isn't that really what sin is? We are missing the heart of God, to truly love Him and one another. And not just the people we want to love on.

"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

"For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." He didn't die just for the people who were good, the people He liked, the people were trying to follow the rules. He died for us all while we were yet sinners. While I was still avoiding Him, while I was hiding from Him, while I was rebelling against Him, He died for me anyways.

Today, when the snake came disguised as a friend, and made the forbidden apple look shiny and desirable, it was easy to close the door, because my first thought was not of myself, the things I wanted, it was of someone else. It was of someone very dear to me that I could hurt with my actions. And my love for them, not the shiny drunk love, but the real, God-supplied Love, made it easy to close the door.

Imagine if our love for others; our neighbors, our spouses, our children, the strangers living on the wrong side of the tracks, was Real. If our love was authentic. If our love wasn't supplied by emotion, but by a Loving God. A God who is a God of Grace. A God of Undeserved Favor. For if we ourselves know we are undeserving of His Love, and yet have accepted it anyways, how can we not extend that to everyone we cross paths with? Despite our jealousy, our fears, our frustrations, our anger, our hatred... Despite our sinful heart.

"And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart." (Ezekiel 36)

"Love is not rude. It is not self seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always perseveres."





Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mastering Sin

Thanksgiving is nearly here. And as I begin trying to rid myself of the thanklessness that often overshadows the blessings, I find myself growing in self control, and joy, and peace.

This week in our Sunday school class, the teens walked through the story of Cain and Abel. A story which I have known for years, but settled into my heart this week.

As Cain struggles with feelings of jealousy and anger, God comes to him. Speaks to him directly, though we don't have details, I can imagine it vividly. Cain is feeling rejected, jealous of God's favor towards his brother. I'd guess that there are deeper rooted issues, though I'm certainly adding my own back story here, but given Cain's enormous reaction, this probably isn't the first time Cain has felt slighted.

But God doesn't walk away, leaving him to seethe in his frustration. He comes to Cain. While Cain is angry, God speaks to him gently, lovingly. "Why are you angry? Why has your countenance fallen?"  I don't imagine these words are spoken in anger, but love, from a God who fully knows Cain. Knows Cain's next move already.

The Lord warns him, "if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

Cain says nothing. In his heart, he is already rebelling against the God who loves him enough to come warn him personally. A God who doesn't reject Cain, even knowing the anger and murder that is already in his heart. So Cain hides his thoughts, nurses the pain.

So many times, I have set down a path knowing the road leads to destruction. But I begin down it anyways. Slowly, at first. Maybe it's just an angry word. A resentful heart. I feel God's Spirit stirring in me, warning me. But, like Eve, Cain, David... I continue, justifying my actions. I ignore the stirring. I ignore God pleading with me "sin is crouching at your door." I feed it, scraps, like a pet sitting under my table. I become attached to the hurt, the jealousy. Every time I feed it, it grows a little larger, begging to be fed again and again.

I keep telling myself my feelings are justified. And the sin grows larger, controlling more of my thoughts.

But God is still there. He is there beside me, just like He was in the garden, asking Adam and Eve where they were hiding. Asking Cain, "Where is your brother?"

It's me who is hiding. Trying to keep the sin hidden under the table.

God tells us, "you must master it." The more you deny it, the less power it has. Sin desires you. It desires to control your life, to control your relationship with God.

Either you are mastering your sin, or it's mastering you.

Every time we give in to an angry, resentful, jealous spirit, we try to hide a little more of ourselves from an all knowing, all powerful, personal God who fully knows you.

God pleads with us to do what is right. To master our anger. He gives us his Spirit to help guide us. He wants us to be in constant communication with Him so that we can know His perfect will for our lives. Not hide from Him. Not set on a path that leads to pain.

This week, I am beginning to physically count my blessings. I began a list in my kitchen. When I feel myself nursing a feeling of exhaustion, anger or hurt, I force myself to think of the blessing in it and write it down. This morning, for example, as D had an emotional period and found himself in tears over something, I wrote, I am so grateful that God has given me this child and allowed me to stay home with him, where his feelings are safe. Where he doesn't have to hide them, where he doesn't suffer from anxiety or fear of retribution.

I am thankful that God has washed me clean. That he comes to me even in my sin and pleads with me to master my sin. That he quietly invites me into conversation with him. I am thankful that I have the freedom to choose my path. Even more thankful that as I know Him better, His perfect will for me becomes more evident, and my path becomes more even.

Are you hiding anything from God today? Are you nursing anger? Resentment? Are you angry with your spouse, do you feel unappreciated? Are you exhausted and feel like there is no rest in sight?

I would challenge you to begin this with me. This week, today, right now, as you read this. Start a list. As you focus on the blessings, your feelings of anger lose power over you. You begin to master your flesh.You're free from the control of sin, and joy and peace begin blossoming in your heart.

From my family to yours. Happy Thanks-giving.





Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ancient Greece

There is so much fascinating history during the Ancient Greek period. D loved this period in history and we spent a solid two weeks on it, and I bet we revisit this in two-three years and add a LOT of information!

 We started by adding this period in history to our giant timeline. I have a timeline that spans almost an entire wall, with pictures of each unit we study, so it's very visual. The end of the timeline is when C was born, so it is large. We also found Greece on the map, and talked about how Ancient Greece was MUCH larger than the land that Greece has now.

 Our library has so many great resources for history, I am just impressed by how well equipped we are to teach our children so much, for free!!! There were at least four books that were "Hands on activities to study Ancient Greece" ! Amazing.

 One of our favorite books to read was Hour of the Olympics, the Magic Tree House book. It covers a lot of information, as well as being a really easy read. D would say his favorite was the true story, comic-book version of Alexander the Great. I do NOT like "graphic novels" but D sat and listened to me read 100 pages of comics in one sitting. And somehow retained it. Crazy.

 And of course, the activities. The activities were AWESOME!

 We had our own version of the "Pentathalon" Olympic event. Our events were: Relay race, jumping, javelin throwing, discus, and Knucklebones (a real game that kids played in Greece!) to replace boxing....



 Jumping!



We made our own olympic torch out of a pencil, paper, and a cardboard flame to pass during our relay race.




 This is knuckebones. VERY similar to the game marbles, but you'd use dried out bones or stones. Try to get the closest to the middle circle without getting knocked out!


 Javelin throwing! We used a broom stick. Kids loved this!


 We used a big, heavy ball to throw for discus, kids had a little trouble with that one.....but still begged me to have more olympic games for days afterwards!

We also learned that the Greeks used Mosaics to decorate their floors, so we made our own mosaic pan/coffee cup coasters. We just poured glue into an old lid, and decorated with beads, seeds, and beans. Very fun.





My favorite activity was reading about the story of the Trojan Horse. There are lots of great historical, and fictional accounts of Homer's famous poem. This lent itself to a lot of discussions about what poems are, what legends are, and how they often get fact and fiction mixed up! The boys made up a lot of rhyming poems, which I loved listening to (though they were absolutely ridiculous lol!) and, building our OWN Trojan Horse and re-enacting the story!!! Loved Loved this. This is the reason I homeschool. We used cardboard boxes. Cut a hole out of the bottom, and duct taped it to the wagon. Our garage door served as the wall surrounding Troy. D wanted to be Odysseus, obviously. I was stuck being a poor helpless Trojan who fell asleep. Somehow, I'm always getting stuck as the bad guy! We played this in our authentic costumes of course.


We read about Greek Jewelry making, and made our own stone necklaces using rocks we found, clear nailpolish, and copper wire. The kids then used their jewelry for "trading."


After this, we read a book about the creation of Greek coins to make trading easier! We made our own coins out of clay, and the kids bought a whole lot of treats from my cupboard. Don't worry, I then used all their coins to purchase a warhorse and take over their cities.


They each made their own sword and Greek shields.


Can you see that D painted a bull on his?? He did that all on his own! I was so proud! A Bull stood for strength.

 Yumm... Our Greek snacks. Shortbread cookies with Ricotta Cheese and honey. Greek Yogurt with honey and crushed almonds. A Hit!

After our Greek unit, I asked D if he wanted to take a break to study the ocean (which he is interested in!) to which he replied "No way! I want to keep studying Greece and Rome!"

<3