August Update: On not-so-heroic failures, marriage, and a poem

It’s been a heck of a summer, which I will try to sum up as briefly as possible.

We moved to Fredericksburg on June 24, and started work at Lockhart Family Farm a week or so later. As a new startup, the margins were always going to be tight – we knew that. But then a little over a month ago, we lost nearly half of our turkeys to coyotes, and thus a large chunk of income for the farm.

Needless to say, this put a big dent in the farm’s precarious budget, to the point that, in order to find a way to pay our wages and stay afloat, the Lockharts (who had already cut their salaries) were planning to take on additional part-time jobs. We felt awkward at this: that it would put too much strain on the people who are actually a necessity to the farm for the benefit of those who aren’t. So (with their agreement and blessing) we decided to release ourselves from our contracts and cease to be Lockhart Family Farm employees.

The date we set was the end of August, which was yesterday. We now have no jobs. Don’t you just love adventures? We don’t.

This is not the first time that the metaphorical rug has been swept from under our feet and our best laid plans have done the thing that best laid plans often do – in Cornwall (2010-12) and in Charleston (2012-13) our attempts to set achievable goals and work towards them were also thwarted. It leaves us feeling halfway between bemusement and despair, wondering whether we really are this spectacularly bad at making life decisions, or whether this is what following God (which is what we are attempting to do) looks like.

bookofheroicfailures

We’re working on our own version of this book…

There is a lot I could say, and this month we have run the entire gamut of emotional responses – from real despair and depression about having lost a livelihood from which we were hoping to build our lives and expand our family, to excitement for the opportunities that are hopefully ahead of us, to plain ole’ worry about where (and when) the next paycheck will come. There have been sleepless nights of crying out to God together, and there have been days of having a little more hope and trust in him than we did the previous day (although I want to point out that it has not been an upwards or linear trajectory).  It’s been really, really hard. We still feel quite bewildered, but we are trying to carry on the best we can.

The one thing that stands out to me through all of this is that David and I love each other more than we did two months ago. I don’t know if it’s because of all the shit we’ve been trudging through lately (literally and figuratively), or if it’s because we’re approaching four years of marriage and are finally figuring things out a bit. Please understand that I really dislike sentimentality of all kinds and am hesitant to write about marriage in a gooey type of way because (a) marriage is fucking hard, and (b) feelings come and go on any given day/month/year. But this love that I’m standing on, that is keeping me going, is nothing of my own doing (or David’s). I think it is the grace of God in very very hard time. And for that I am grateful.

I will leave you with a poem that David wrote for me for our anniversary last year, which has been in my mind lately.

You are
My spar
To cling to;
To hold when the waves get too much,
And my feet lose touch
With the safe sand.

For you have crossed oceans
Buffeted, burned,
But still buoyant.

Driftwood from a distant tree
Drifted to me;
To clutch
And not let go.

Let’s take our dogs to the beach
Running in the bluster,
Skipping over the tide.
To find
Other isolated sticks,
Spars washed up
From their wearying wanderings.

Pile them together with ours
And strike a match.
See the flames reach into the night.
The centrepiece
Of the feast.

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On food, life and death

mrpigEarly this morning, our first Tamworth pig – this beautiful guy above – was slaughtered. David has gone to the butcher to pick up the head, trotters, and possibly other bits to make some sort of bizarre concoction that I’m sure is delicious but that needs a name other than “head cheese”.

This week we have been talking about having integrity whilst eating meat: being fully aware that a living creature – a beautiful miracle of a living thing – is giving up its life (by my hand) in order that I might eat and live. It’s both a heavy and beautiful thought, and we want to linger in it rather than forgetting about it and moving straight on to the pâté.

Joel Salatin rather brilliantly says:

The fact that life requires sacrifice has profound spiritual ramifications. In order for something to live, something else must die. And that should provide us a lesson in how we serve one another and the creation and Creator around us. Everything is eating and being eaten, the perpetual sacrifice of one thing creates life for the next. To see this as regenerative is both mature and normal. To see it as violence that must be stopped is both abnormal and juvenile…

The life well lived bestows upon the sacrifice its sacredness. And so how the chicken or carrot or cabbage lives define the life’s value consummated in the act of death-chomping, masticating, burying in our intestines to regenerate flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. That no life can exist without sacrifice is a profound physical and spiritual truth. And the better the life, the greater the sacrifice.  (from Folks, This Ain’t Normal)

Going back to my anthropology days, it reminds me of the Yup’ik (a native tribe in Western Alaska) Bladder Festival. The Yup’ik believed that the soul of an animal resided in its bladder, and when an animal’s body died to provide food for the hunter, its soul would stay alive in the bladder until it was returned to the sea. The Yup’ik would save the bladders of all the animals they killed over a year, and every winter they would hold a festival in celebration of the animals’ souls before releasing the bladders back to the sea. It was essentially a celebration of the cycle of life, a recognition that there can be no life without sacrifice, and a respect for the connectedness of humans to the earth. Pretty good theology, if you ask me. “To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge,” according to Joel Salatin, is downright crazy. To not be aware of this cycle of life and death, with all of its injustices and paradoxes, is a lesser way of living.

Yesterday we said a prayer for our pig, thanking him for his gift to us and hoping that he enjoyed a peaceful last day alive. And we will continue to think of him every time we eat his flesh, which will be often and with great enjoyment.

Settling in

image

We’ve been in Fredericksburg for just over three weeks now, and our life here is very slowly beginning to take shape. David is doing most of the farm work at the moment, which is evenly split between “on the farm” labour and “off the farm” planning, sales and marketing. I have been meeting with the owner of a fitness studio downtown about potentially working with him as a trainer, as well as looking for other work. The rest of the time I am trying not to miss kiting too much… although I have gone twice since I’ve been here (SCORE!).

Because David was able to spend a few weeks here before I came, we basically had a little community of friends waiting for us when we arrived. Our neighborhood is very friendly, and this is the first place we’ve lived together where we actually know most of our neighbors (and see them regularly).  Downtown Fredericksburg, which is not huge but has enough to keep us entertained, is a 5 minute bike ride/15 minute walk from our front door. Our church is about a 10 minute walk from our house and already feels like we’ve been there forever (it probably helps that the leader lives around the corner from us!). We even seem to have started a tradition of Sunday afternoon hookah and hangout…

sundayhookah

That may or may not be our church leader to the right

Although home life is pretty good, there are still a lot of uncertainties. What are we actually doing here? What is the big picture? We know we mainly came here because of David’s opportunities to work with/for the Anglican church and Fresh Expressions. But we (I) also feel like we’ve given up a lot moving away from my family, the beach, and a good job. Have we just made a really stupid mistake in taking this risk and giving up our tiniest bit of security? On bad days I am full of fear and anxiety about it because I can’t see the way ahead and frankly don’t trust that God will show up. On better days I am reminded/challenged that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen. That living by faith implies not being able to see ahead, because if you could see, then you wouldn’t really need faith to believe in the first place.

Me on a good day

One of the better days

All of this is especially challenging because for the last 10 years or so, my faith life has looked a lot like the picture on the top of the page. Rocky. Deserted. I’ve struggled to believe that God is good and that he’s on my side. I’ve had my good days and bad days, sure, but for the most part there has been a huge silence/absence from him in all my/our major life decisions, which has been disorienting, confusing, and discouraging to say the least.

Do things feel different now? Maybe. While I’m not going to win any competitions for my amount of faith or produce any Gandalf-like fireworks with my prayers, it does feel like there’s a very, very slight breeze (pardon the wind metaphor) blowing the dust from this dry soul. And it does seem like there’s an very, very tiny, elusive hint of a Voice calling us on, encouraging us to keep going and keep hoping. That possibly what we hope for may yet come true.