Many years ago, before my homesteading days, I read The Shack. The entire book rocked my world, but there was one chapter in particular that spoke to me so profoundly, so intimately, that I read it again and again, marking up the pages with a red pen as the words just seemed to come alive to me.
That chapter being A Long Time Ago, in a Garden Far, Far Away…
“As he rounded the trees, he saw for the first time a magnificent garden and orchard somehow contained within a plot of land hardly larger than an acre. For whatever reason, Mack had expected a perfectly manicured and ordered English garden. This was not that!
It was chaos in color. His eyes tried unsuccessfully to find some order in this blatant disregard for certainty. Dazzling sprays of flowers were blasted through patches of randomly planted vegetables and herbs, vegetation the likes of which Mack had never seen. It was confusing, stunning, and incredibly beautiful.
‘From above it’s a fractal,’ Sarayu said over her shoulder with an air of pleasure.
‘A what?’ asked Mack absentmindedly, his mind still trying to grapple with and control the pandemonium of sight and the movements of hues and shades. Every step he took changed whatever patterns he for an instant thought he had seen, and nothing was like it had been.
‘A fractal… something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified. A fractal is almost infinitely complex. I love fractals, so I put them everywhere.’
‘Looks like a mess to me,’ muttered Mack under his breath.”
Come alongside, if you will, as I share with ya’ll some of the mess, the fractals, that make up the seemingly simple and orderly life we live here on the farm…
Rewind back to 2004. Two years married, two precious babies under the age of two. Bad decisions catching up with me. With us.
Brad and I lived in town in a little house that my sweet granddaddy had helped me to fix up. Oh how I loved that little house. He and I poured lots of time and energy and love into that place. Many memories were made that will forever overshadow the heartache that would soon follow.
As a result of those bad decisions, we would lose that house in the spring of 2004.
I was heartbroken, for many reasons, and completely unsure of what the future held for our young and struggling family.
We took country rides a lot, always dreaming about what it would be like to have a place away from the noise of town. Brad had a dream of building, with his own hands, a home for us on that land. I thought he was crazy. 🙂
But one day, as we were riding and dreaming, we happened upon six acres and a tiny mobile home. And God practically threw it in our laps.
It was an escape for us. An escape to peace and quiet and away from the whispers and judgmental glares of those who knew our story.
We immediately branded our new place “the sanctuary”, because that’s what it was. A place of refuge and safety. For me and Brad. For our girls. But we hadn’t the faintest idea of just how far that name would go. And the thought of homesteading? Well, that was nowhere remotely close to even being a thought.
Upon our move to the country, a sweet elderly couple from across the way befriended us. They began to visit us regularly, bringing fresh eggs, vegetables from their garden and m&ms for the girls. But most of all, they brought us friendship and through that we began to learn what “community” was all about.
In the meantime, our baby girl was born and Brad went to work offshore to provide for our family. I quickly became overwhelmed with being a single mom while he was gone. The amount of time it left me alone with all the duties of being momma and daddy was too much to bear, and to be completely raw with ya’ll, I resented him deeply for his decisions. I had a full time job as well, and could not keep up the house, the kids and with six acres while he was gone.
I wanted to move back to town. Where I had reinforcement. And stores. And convenience…
But Brad didn’t take the bait.
So, one day while he was off in the Gulf of Mexico, I was walking around in the overgrown yard thinking, “Something’s gotta give…
“What are we doing out here?”
“Why do we even have all this land??”
“I don’t even have a lawnmower, for crying out loud!!”
Actually, I had never even mowed a yard before. Sad, yes. But true.
Sometime after that, this was given to me — “The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land He is giving you.” (Deut. 28:8)
I remember thinking, “Uh, okay. We don’t have a barn. And right now I just wanna set a match to this place. Move me back to town!!”
And then, “But you were created in a garden for a reason, Erin.”
Hmm. Pullin’ out the big guns now, are ya? Well, I’m not biting. Nope. That’s what we have neighbors for. And grocery stores.
So, in 2008, we built our first garden… 🙂
It was beautiful and I was hooked. I felt purposeful for the first time in a long while. The garden quickly became my happy place. A place where the world and problems and all my other duties ceased to exist.
That rocked on and one day my sweet neighbor asked me if I wanted to learn how to can vegetables. Yes!! So we canned snap beans. Jars and jars of snap beans in the midst of my tiny trailer kitchen. It was nostalgic, sitting there around the table, the whistling of the canner in the background, her telling me stories of how, when she was a young girl, they canned on a wood burning stove.
The following year, we began homeschooling, got some chickens, and those sweet little neighbors of ours introduced us to fresh cow milk. I never will forget when Mr. Ray called and said, “Hey Punkin’, you interested in some raw milk?”
Now, I was quickly becoming a country girl, but “raw milk” had me so confused! But, I obliged, and through that I was introduced to another wise woman who would inspire me and grow me tremendously.
One day, in December 2010, upon visiting that wise woman, she asked me if I was ready for a milk cow of my own. Brad and I had talked about it, but we were also about to begin the ever adventuresome project of building our own house, and had decided we should wait. Until after the house was built.
Well, one month later, in January of 2011, we welcomed Bess the Jersey cow to our growing farm. 🙂
That was the single worst year of my entire life. I had never – NEVER – milked a cow. And SHE had never been milked. She had a two week old calf and fire in her eyes. Talk about a rodeo. I feel quite certain that all of eternity sat around with their popcorn, placing bets on how much milk I could get in the bucket before Bess stuck her foot in it.
Oh, but there were soon many, many things God would teach me through that cow. The first being the memorization of James 1:2-4 – “Consider it pure joy, my sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
I quoted that durn scripture nearly every day while milking her. Mostly through my clenched teeth.
He taught me how to let go of my need for control, and taught me self control in its place.
He taught me to replace “I can’t” with “I CAN.”
There were a multitude of other lessons learned. Too many to recall. I wish I had journaled them all.
We began building our house, with our own hands, in the summer of 2011, in the midst of Bessie’s first year with us, and would continue building it for the next five years. Much of our blood, sweat and tears was poured into those years. Literally.
During that time also came a bigger garden, increased knowledge, more canning, more learning, more understanding, more growth, lots of reading, a more vivid purpose to live fully. Chickens have come and gone and come again. Yearly calves have stolen our hearts and we have made the shift to unschooling our girls.
Early this year, through much prayer and consideration, we welcomed four Nubian dairy goats to our farm and said goodbye to our Jersey girl of six years, rehoming her with a sweet family to be their first milk cow.
2017 has also been our first year to raise and butcher meat birds. We’ve welcome a few hives of honeybees, expanded our gardening efforts and are dreaming of even more ways to encourage and inspire and teach…
The growth that has occurred in our family, through farm life, is exponential. But for myself, personally, it’s simply nothing short of a miracle.
Ya know, many people refer to this life as “the simple life.” The definition of simple being “that which is easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty.”
This life is far from that. We get up before dawn and we work hard. Every. Single. Day. Difficult lessons are learned. We lose crops. Animals get sick and die. Predators attack. Cows repeatedly cross ditches in search of greener, unfenced pastures. Things happen that you are not equipped to deal with and things happen that you just can’t explain. But so goes life.
It’s all part of the fractals…
At the end of that chapter in The Shack, Mack has been helping Sarayu clean out an area of the garden. She thanks him, and he says…
“I didn’t do that much, really. I mean, look at this mess.” His gaze moved over the garden that surrounded them. “But it really is beautiful, and full of you, Sarayu. Even though it seems like lots of work still needs to be done, I feel strangely at home and comfortable here.”
The two looked at each other and grinned.
Sarayu stepped toward him until she had invaded his personal space. “And well you should, because this garden is your soul. This mess is you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems like a mess, but to me, I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive — a living fractal.”
Wow. A perfect pattern. Emerging and growing and alive.
“And when I study the amount of complexity in a fractal — zooming in closer and closer, yet never losing any resolution or altering its appearance in any way — I am reminded that the same painstaking detail went into God’s plan for my life. I break out in praise. And then I want to zoom in a bit more.”
Humble blessings to you all… 🙂