How did I get here? That’s what I wondered nine years ago, wading through waist-high weeds and the moist summer Indiana air that swarmed with mosquitoes. I knew what I was doing there: I was meeting with our builder and talking about the house we were building. But how I got there was completely beside me.
I looked through the tall grasses and weeds and spotted my bobble-headed wife. Her head bounced up through the weeds, down into the tall grass. She stepped back onto the sort-of farm lane above the creek, a huge smile stretched across her face. “Isn’t this gorgeous?” she asked. “Aren’t you just so excited? This is paradise.” Excited and paradise were words that had not occurred to me. Hot. Sweaty. Itchy. Debt-laden. Those words occurred to me, but not excited and paradise.
Nancy’s a farm girl, and this land was part of her family’s farm. I grew up a city boy. I like the city. I work in the city. Now, here I was, miles away from my downtown office and over fifteen hundred feet away from the closest road with no blacktop in sight. How did I get here?
I wonder if Adam wondered the same thing upon finding himself waking in Eden. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” Yes, the Bible says, “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food,” which must have made for a lovely sight, but I still keep wondering if Adam asked himself, How did I get HERE?
Since that day – and all the chain-sawing, stump-pulling, poison ivy-treating, tree seedling-planting, prairie-seeding, bush honeysuckle battling, et al --what I’ve discovered is that this is not entirely the right question. It’s not the right question because “How did I get here” implies that my being where I am is all about me. It’s not. It is about me, but not all about me. It’s also about:
· our families
· wildlife crawling across the land
· the home we open up to others in hospitality
· and all the other connections I have
I knew this truth intellectually, but it’s only as I begin being “the man not born to farming,” that I’ve struggled to come to grips with it. I’m not the center of even my universe. As Nancy reminds me, it’s only one–six billionth about me.
My tending the land reminds me of the communal nature of my life. Moving to this piece of land and building a house on it allowed Nancy could to be close to her father and some of her literal roots. It also gave me a literal space in which to follow my leading to form a worship-sharing group. It also forced me to slow my life by spending hours in a tractor seat or walking in the woods rooting out invasive plants and learning to watch good things grow.
This farming stuff invites me to live in harmony with a sentiment by Gordon Matthews:
We must learn to put our trust in God and the leadings of the Spirit. I am only slowly learning to dwell in the place where leadings come from. That is a place of love and joy and peace, even in the midst of pain. The more I dwell in that place, the easier it is to smile, because I am no longer afraid.
If we dwell in the presence of God, we shall be led by the spirit. We do well to remember that being led by the spirit depends not so much upon God, who is always there to lead us, as upon our willingness to be led. We need to be willing to be led into the dark as well as through green pastures and by still waters. We do not need to be afraid of the dark, because God is there. Let us walk with a smile into the dark.
Now, walking with a smile into the dark—the unexpected place of the farm for me—is not something that comes easily to me. Even after nine years of getting ready to move here and seven years of actually turning the land into a wildlife preserve. I’m the sorta guy who still looks over my shoulder to see who’s following me up the stairs when I shut off the basement light.
Yet, walking (or driving a tractor) into the metaphoric dark with a smile reminds me that life is not all about us. Life is about me and God and. . .