like worn leather

This morning felt like fall. It isn’t fall, not for another six days. This morning, however, there was a coolness in the breeze that announced she was nearly here.

We moved to this farm in spring, almost 7 years ago now. It wasn’t a farm then. It was a broken-down foreclosure settled on four overgrown acres. This old house wore her neglect and abuse like a mourner’s shawl. Graffitied swear words screamed across her bricks, and every single inch of her inner walls were covered in stained old wallpaper. 

She was a mess, the kind that sends those with lack of vision running with their noses scrunched in disgust. We had vision. We also had an impossibly low budget, and she was what we could afford. When we stood in the driveway in grey January, we decided to go for it. In our optimism, we thought maybe we could love her back to life. 

We signed the paperwork in April.

In the months between placing our offer and unloading the U-Haul, we used to come break into the house, wiggling the back door that didn’t lock correctly. We’d pack lunches and eat them on the dining room floor, dreaming of everything it would be. I would walk through the debris littered woods and imagine all those things I’d always wanted: chickens, gardens, dairy goats, hogs, bees. 

Oh, it felt an eternity away, but I hoped surely the fact that we had found a place we could actually afford meant it was possible. For years I’d wondered if it ever would be.

I called her my blank homestead then. I saw her as a stark white canvas waiting to be splashed with the fulfillment of my dreams.

When we moved in, the geese were making their trip back up north. I woke up on my first morning at my new blank homestead and sat on the front porch, listening to them sing on the pond across the street. I cried then, so enamored with my new life in the country. 

We spent the summer making the house livable, scraping wallpaper, painting, plumbing. We cut down dead trees and cleared the growth away from the fences. We hauled load after load of garbage away. Aside from tending two small raised garden beds and foraging for blackberries along the roadsides, we did nothing that felt like homesteading. It was excruciating for this impatient girl. 

Then fall came.

The geese made their return trip and while they sang from the pond, we tended our first flock of chickens. Shortly after, we brought home a potbelly pig, a gift for our oldest sons 9th birthday. Then the goats came, two bottle babies called Maggie and Eli. We acquired them late one night when I saw a post on a group pleading for help after their mother died of milk fever. It has been a gradual unfolding. The beauty was laid on the canvas in layers.

This morning felt like fall. The geese have made their bi-annual appearance. Morning after morning, new flocks stop at our neighbor’s pond as they migrate further south to where it will be warm through the winter.

I heard them yesterday, as I walked through our woods. These woods are thinned and domesticated now, no longer the overgrown wilderness they once were. Now, our flocks and herds keep the underbrush down. I paused at the highpoint and looked over my farm. She isn’t blank anymore. She is adorned. Productive. Beautiful. Loved. She is the fulfillment of my dreams.

The high tunnel is pregnant with what will feed us this winter. The goats are pregnant with the next generation of our herds. The hogs are growing fatter by the day and the spring hens are all beginning to lay, making egg collection a daily search for discovery.

Those geese start singing though, and I can’t help but remember those early, crisp, fall mornings. Those mornings, when the pantry was lined with goods canned from the farmers market. Those mornings, when we fed barely-feathered chicks and I dreamed of the day I’d have a full egg basket. Those mornings, when I feared this farm being functional and productive would require far more resources that I would ever have. 

God has been unthinkably faithful to us on this journey. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed this canvas would have taken on the beauty that it has. Never would I have thought my wildest dreams would one day feel small. Here I am though, on an almost-fall morning, weaving that desperation and hope from six years ago into to the abundance and overflow that exists now. 

For years, I felt an intense fear that one day I would wake up and it would feel commonplace. That somehow, I might walk the woods as if I had always had them at my disposal. Like maybe I’d reach a point where the rooster’s crows would fail to move my heart. I was terrified that my beautiful life would become something I might call ordinary. And I was sure if that happened, it would mean the worst of me. I was certain that if I allowed it to feel normal, my sense of gratitude and wonder would wither in the die as the garden does after the first freezing night in October. 

This summer, something shifted. I heard a rooster crow and it didn’t register. I brought in bushels of harvest and I did not cry. I walked through the woods, carrying kitchen scraps to the pigs and when I dumped them over the fence, I did not thrill at the silly, smacking noise their piggy mouths make when they are happily eating. 

I panicked, feeling as if my fear was coming true. I began to pray, pleading with the Lord, “Please don’t let me lose the wonder of it. Do not let it be ordinary.”

Nana and Poppy (Miah’s grandparents) came to stay with us this summer for an extended visit. Since they’ve been here, we celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Sixty-five years. Can you imagine?

Their love is like worn leather. It’s soft and broken in. Functional and comfortable. It doesn't have the flash of sequins or the flare of a brand new pair of jeans,, but it’s something harder earned. It is concrete, unyielding. She makes his tea reflexively, doesn't have to fuss over the details. How many times has she brewed it? Thousands at least. He shuffles after her in the kitchen, embarrassing her with kisses. How many times has he planted his lips on her? Millions maybe. 

Transitioning from the early stages of love to the more solid passion of maturity was hard for me in marriage. I thought I was losing something. I thought I was growing dull. I panicked at the idea of ordinary. Then I learned what a gift it was to have the kind of friendship where you know a person’s heart with the same certainty that you know the freckle on your own right thigh. I learned that real passion is not a flash in the pan, but rather the never-ending embers that engulf every bit of fuel laid upon them. I learned that a kiss that is as familiar as breathing is harder won, and more valuable than gold.

This morning, when fall whispered on the breeze that she was on her way and a v-formation of geese flew over my house, I did not panic for the thrill that was lost. I did not wistfully wish I might relive those early days of unmet desire. Instead, I thanked God that the jars lining the shelves are filled with the fruit of my own labor. I praised Him that I can milk a goat in six minutes and that my children take their snack time in the garden rows, picking food as if it’s commonplace. This is, after all, everything I’d hoped for. When I dreamed of it, I hoped only to obtain it, but God had different plans. He intended for me to not only have it, but to wear it, to break it in. To let it mold to my curves like worn leather.

So, this morning, I said a different prayer of gratitude. “Thank you, Abba, that this is mine. Thank you for making this beautiful life concrete. For it to be gloriously ordinary, concretely commonplace, wooing in it's certainly is more than I even thought to ask for.”

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