Day #7 – Why I Clicked…

On January 11, 2018, in Photo, by Chris

Day #7/365: Taking down the Christmas decorations at the farm can be especially bittersweet, mostly because there’s that question in the back your mind… Are we doing this again next year?

Julia and I went out to the farm late last week to help dad take down the Christmas decorations. We always put the wreath out on the front of the house (it’s the neighbors’ waypoint to let them know that the holiday has truly begun), but this year we got a little more ambitious with a tree and many of the decorations that we’d kept in storage – some of it for years.

It was definitely worth the effort. Christmas had a special twinkle on the farm this year. Seeing Julia’s face light up when I turned on the Christmas tree or wound up a music box was rocket fuel for my soul.

But now it was January, and the time had come to take it all down. The boxes were pulled out and filled with the trappings of Christmas joy.

First, the big wreath that hangs on the farm house every year was unplugged, lowered to the ground and put in the shed. And then the Christmas tree was taken down.

Finally, there were the heirlooms that were my mother’s. Her Santa Claus figurines left the shelves of the china cabinet and the handmade wreaths that had hung in the windows for years found their way back into their boxes and were taken to the attic.

And through it all, the nagging question remained: How many more Christmases will we spend at the farm?

Strangely, it was a bittersweet mixture of nostalgia and gratitude of ever having known this marvelous place that welled up inside of me. And as Julia helped me carry a borrowed wreath back to the car, I turned her around to face me and got this shot.

The look on her face mirrored my feelings as I considered the twofold blessing of a life giving Christmas season and a wondrous place to spend it.

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Christmas Greetings from the Farm

On December 24, 2017, in Commentary, Life, by Chris

It’s Christmas Eve at the farm on Willow Road. Those of you who have followed these posts over the years know what a marvelous pause the farm is in the life of our family. Time seems to get so compressed in the weeks before Christmas and all of the preparations and engagements that compel us to make just one more commitment.

But now we’re at the place of my birth, with bad cell coverage, no television, no internet and no distractions. We can simply be together to prepare meals, try to make a dent in the Christmas cookie supply (still working on that), visit the neighbors and take in the luxurious quiet of the land lying fallow and still.

There was a light blanket of snow when we got in yesterday; but the sun melted most of it away in the afternoon, painting the trees across the field in rich ambers and butternut. We woke up, though, to a completely different situation. The snow started around noon as we were wrapping up one of our many visits to our neighbors and friends; and by mid-afternoon, it seemed we had a good old fashioned snow storm on our hands.

It’s still coming down as I write this. I even excused myself from dinner preparations to take a walk in the woods to experience its silence. There was little to break the hiss of the landing snowflakes, except a couple of neighborhood dogs in distant conversation and an intrepid nuthatch winging about the trees in search of her next morsel.

I wish I could share some insight or encouragement that I found in that solitude and silence – some neatly-tied-up-in-a-bow wisdom that will lift your spirits. Those of you with whom I am in more intimate contact will know that it’s not been that kind of year for me. It’s been “dig deep” time for months now, and I’m honestly wondering how I’m going to bounce back from it.

I was out in the cold until I couldn’t feel my hands, but the same frustrations were with me. So let me lay them out in all of their embarrassing glory:

Frustration at my father’s increasing frailty of mind and body.

Frustration at the growing developmental gap between Julia and her peers.

Frustration at the marriages blowing up around me and the inevitable collateral damage visited upon the youngers.

Frustration at officiating the funerals of good men struck down far too soon.

Frustration over the seemingly intractable divisiveness we find in every domain of life.

And despair over a world that seems – in my current experience, at least – to be devolving into chaos and selfishness more than growing into something life giving and beautiful.

A wise friend told me once that sometimes the spiritual walk is putting “one damn foot in front of another.” But that roiling anger that I and many others wrestle with seems to make everything in life just a little tougher.

So I’m going to let you listen in on a conversation I’ve been having with myself of late – sometimes half heartedly, sometimes with a bit more conviction. It orbits around an oracle of Old Testament prophecy that I’ve clung to for the past few months:

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

For this season, I am clinging to an idea proposed eight centuries ago:

As bad as a situation can be, I’m not alone in it. It might not be the “salvation” I would choose, but God is always working to reconcile, redeem and remake. Even in my worst and most embarrassing moments, he is audacious enough to like me anyway.

Now comes the big one (for me anyway). God’s love can calm my gnawing tendency to project a catastrophe into every situation, give me perspective and discernment to know when I can and cannot do something about whatever frustration presents. And by the way, the ones I enumerated above, I have no control over whatsoever.

This love comes out in a song of life and beauty that still confounds me – even after twenty years in pursuit of understanding it more. I still struggle with truly receiving love like that; but it’s reflected in the steadfast loyalty I have known in my relationships and the whimsy of the little exchanges with Julia. I’m borne from my despair in the intentional practice of gratitude for those small gifts of clarity.

The season we celebrate brought all of this even more into life with God actually living among us in our frustration and fear. And it is the hope that there might be a larger, more redeeming story piercing into the mess of ours that I cling to. I bid you peace in the knowledge that we don’t have to have it all figured out (I know – that kills me too), and that there might be Love living among us as we put one foot in front of another.

Or I could simply say, Merry Christmas.

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Day #225 – Why I Clicked…

On August 18, 2017, in Life, Personal, by Chris

Editor’s note: Many of you have enjoyed my Pic of the Day for quite a few years now. I’m starting something new to select certain images and give a little more backstory on why I chose to share it. Let’s see how this goes! I hope you enjoy it…

Day #225/365: The corn crop, leaves curled to conserve moisture versus a sky too stingy with its rain. Both want the thing the other is unwilling to give. This season’s yield may be disappointing.

We were out at the farm, just checking things out last weekend. The bright orange day lilies on the roadside had long since dried up; and all that remained was the lavender of the chicory, dusty thistle and the tired but stubborn green of mid-August.

I’ll be the first to admit that my eye is still quite novice, even after the years I’ve spent watching my neighbors planting and harvesting. But you could see it as you passed field after field on the way in, if you knew what to look for.

The corn had dutifully tasseled out, but the normally broad leaves were curled and thin. There wasn’t the lush embrace between stalks. Each seemed to keep to itself even in the close planted rows, like strangers in an elevator protecting their personal space.

Upon a closer look, the cobs on each stalk seemed… shorter. There would be less space to hold the very thing my friends were planting for. And it all came into focus.

The July rain hadn’t come for the corn.

All is not lost, though. There will be a harvest; but the yield will be smaller in comparison to years past. If the drought is widespread, the corn prices may tick up and soften the blow a bit. And my friends will hit it again next season and hope for better.

I looked through my camera lens at the blue sky relentlessly tugging at the corn for its moisture, almost pulling the stalk out of the ground with its force. And the corn stubbornly clinging to the soil, drawing from wherever it could for the sustenance it needed.

The tension is clear and mirrors the struggle these families endure year after year with joy, coaxing life from the earth.

And I clicked.

My longtime friend Kirk says, “July rain for corn, August rain for soybeans.”

Let’s hope that greedy sky is kinder to the beans.

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