Monday, February 20, 2017

Puppy Love

Let’s get a puppy! He said.
Actually… let’s get TWO puppies! He said.
Let’s breed the two puppies! He said.
I couldn’t say “No.” I literally could not say no to this seemingly simple request because, as so many of you know, a lifetime ago I made a seemingly simple request of him and I got my way easily…  (“Can I get a cow?”  “Can we use it as a family milk cow??” (He said yes. And he did all the work.)) so of course, I said, “Sure!”
We got the 2 puppies, the puppies the farmer has always wanted. Australian Cattle Dogs, aka Blue Heelers, are a rare sight in the south. They are working dogs, mainly for cattle and sheep, and they are smart, quick, loyal, and loyal. Yes, that’s a double dose of loyal! They love their owner fiercely and unashamedly. We were lucky enough to find a male and female born within 6 weeks of each other and brought them home. They have been precious to us! Despite Cody having a bad water moccasin bite and Teagan having a torn paw, the two of them managed to find themselves expecting a litter of little ones early December.  I read up on puppy delivery, peppered our vet with questions, googled, worried, and prayed. I admit, as usual, I spent a little more time worrying than praying despite advice to do otherwise. Poor Teagan, she didn’t even know what was coming her way. I couldn’t warn her! I wanted to say, “Teagan, sweetie, I just want you to know that you are going to do amazing! It’s all going to work out fine! I’m going to help you!” But she just stared at me as if to say, “Can I have another scoop of dog food?”
The day arrived when she was finally in labor. It was fast, it was relatively uneventful, it was perfect, and by the time it was all over, I was completely exhausted and giddy. I was honestly like a new Dad! So proud, and mainly so happy I didn’t have to do any of the actual work! Teagan did great, and all 6 puppies were delivered healthy and strong, weighing in at 8 ounces each.  Funny thing was, she had 5 boys and only 1 little girl. Our family has some sort of boy majority cloud hovering over it. We wrote down all the markings they each had so we could tell them apart, and from that night on, we called them by their number. The kids were all a part of this and we were all so happy that we had said yes to puppies.
That honeymoon lasted about 2 weeks.
For the 8 weeks that you raise puppies with their mother, you encounter such a similar roller-coaster to raising humans. There are moments of pure bliss followed by pure frustration. Worry, fear, concern all mixed with pride, love, and laughter. They all stole our hearts and they were so precious to see as they grew from helpless white fur balls to rowdy grey and black sock-stealers. There was stacks and stacks of newspaper that were used and many band-aids to heal the bites from razor sharp teeth. Teagan was an excellent mother while Cody was mostly afraid of the babies and kept his distance. The kids all did their share of putting down fresh newspaper, feeding, watering, playing, and petting. We were exhausted but we were so proud.
8 weeks went by so quickly. Suddenly, it was time for the new adoptive parents to come claim their fur-baby. The best part of our whole experience was honestly, the joy that the new owners had over their puppy. As I said earlier, this breed is unusual and sometimes hard to find. Each of the new owners had been wanting and waiting for this puppy for a long time and it was a wonderful feeling to put them in the loving arms of the family who was so excited to take them home.
I wondered if Teagan would know they were gone and possibly miss them. Nope. Not even a whimper. Life goes on! That was our only litter, and we are so pleased with how it all worked out. One and done, as they say!

We hear back from the new owners every now and then, and get pictures of the puppy growing and changing. It is the highlight of our day when we do. Puppy love…so glad we said yes to yet another experience on the farm that helped us grow and change.   We love our “grand-pups!”  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Life Continues

This past weekend sure proved that January’s in Florida are not a time to be thinking we are beyond the scope of bizarre weather.  A friend of mine posted on Facebook: “In the last 2 weeks we've had: 20-85 degree weather, a hard freeze, A/C and heat on (within a few days of each other), hail, a wind storm, tornados, thousands without power due to crazy storm, boots/sweaters/flip flops/shorts. You win Florida!” This sums it up perfectly!
Sunday afternoon, the farm family was in the middle of our usual Sunday afternoon activities: the boys were watching footbalThis past weekend sure proved that January’s in Florida are not a time to be thinking we are beyond the scope of bizarre weather.  A friend of mine posted on Facebook: “In the last 2 weeks we've had: 20-85 degree weather, a hard freeze, A/C and heat on (within a few days of each other), hail, a wind storm, tornados, thousands without power due to crazy storm, boots/sweaters/flip flops/shorts. You win Florida!” This sums it up perfectly! 
Sunday afternoon, the farm family was in the middle of our usual Sunday afternoon activities: the boys were watching football, and the girls were not. The weather had been bad, but thankfully we still had power and we were enjoying all the wonderful pleasures of life that power brings. Namely, lights, refrigeration, and technology. As soon as the third flicker of electricity surged through the house, everything went quiet, dim, and still. Nothing humming, buzzing, talking, beeping, or ringing. I immediately looked outside our large window overlooking a pasture and pond. A bird flew across the sky effortlessly, the Spanish moss swayed higher through the blowing wind, and the grey clouds tumbled around each other. Life continued, on planet Earth. 
The kids scattered around the house like little ants, suddenly fearful of daylight and in desperate need of flashlights. We found the candles and lighters, and set them out for later.  The big boys brought out a board game and set up shop in the dining room. I snuggled on the couch with the littlest one and we read a stack of books together. Our daughter did yoga. The farmer went to move a giant tree that had fallen across our road. Life continued inside our home. 
It was suddenly dinner time and without power and without water, the options are slim for an ill-prepared family of 6.  The farmer to the rescue once again, headed to town. The lines were impossibly long at Burger King, but it was thankfully open and saved us from starvation.  We ate at our table with lots of candles, several flashlights, and a gallon of bottled water. 
Without hot running water, the kids were ready for bed in 30 seconds. Changing clothes and hopping into bed is a much shorter routine than normal. 3 out of 4 kids were asleep at 8:30 pm. The still and quiet house was dark without technology blaring at us. Our minds were calm and somewhat empty without being able to see the demands of urgency.  Life was moving so slowly. Life seemed easy. 
The last several days have been marked by complete chaos online. If you aren’t part of the social media addiction that plagues our world today, consider yourself blessed. Our country is painfully divided, with brother against brother, and no end in sight. It’s been horribly sad, honestly. It doesn’t make me hopeful, it doesn’t make me happy about our future, it makes me incredibly disappointed that this is our reality. This is not purely about American politics my friends, this is about the condition of our innermost souls. 
I needed a break from the deep thoughts that were plaguing my mind. And from 4pm-9pm, (BIG thank you to Tri-County Co-Op linemen!) inside my comfortable modern-convenience laden home, I received that break.  Life continued with my family being together. Life pressed on with flashlights and hamburgers. Life thrived without a schedule or squeaky clean boys. That unhurried 5 hours was the best blessing of my week: to feel deep inside of me that darkness can be shut out by focusing on your present blessings. Darkness can be pushed aside by slowing down, powering down. The light crept back in when contentment became our only option.  
I drank coffee this morning, ran the dishwasher, and everyone bathed. Back to 2017. Life continues, on planet Earth. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Year In Review

March 2016

Until this year, 2016, I don’t think I had many reasons to pause and reflect on the question so many ask themselves, “Was this a good year? Or a bad year?” I am not ashamed or unwilling to admit that I’ve had 37 good years. I am a very blessed woman and because of circumstances I was born into, favor God has shown me, choices I’ve made, and paths that have opened up to me based on all those things, I am willing to say that there hasn’t been an end-of-December reflection that has turned up anything other than “Thank you Lord for a wonderful year!” attitude.
But this was my 38th year.  And there were circumstances in the works for me and my family that were not only beyond my control, but also out of my imagination that the realm of possibility for me could include them. Finding out that stage 4 cancer was living inside my Dad, and then just 8 weeks later, losing the strongest man, the funniest and smartest man, and the most relentlessly encouraging man just wasn’t on my radar when the calendar turned over to January 1, 2016.
And yet, here I am, at the end of the calendar, looking back and wondering to myself, “Was this a good year? Or a bad year?” It’s a fair question for me now. Now that I’ve suffered. Now that I’ve been tested. Now that I’ve finally lost.
I have a very interesting job that came across my path, totally unplanned, 2 years ago. I am responsible for the marketing and fundraising at Community Leadership Academy, the school that my children have been a part of since 2010. I work for a group of people who are certainly the most challenging group of people I’ve ever been around, and they love to work hard, serve others, and lay awake at night imagining new ways to do those things. My boss is Peter Boulware. He had a very successful college football career at FSU followed by a 9 year professional football career with the Baltimore Ravens. He and his wife believe that God has called them to lead in our community by being examples of true godly leaders. They started the school I mentioned in 2009. I am extremely blessed to now be on their admin team at the school. And being a part of his team means that I get to do some pretty unique things, one of which was to meet and spend an evening last March with Coach Bobby Bowden. Not only was this the highlight of 2016 for me, it truly impacted my entire life and I will never forget the stories of that night. I didn’t just hear him speak to a crowd of 400 that night, Stephen and I were Coach Bowden’s personal assistants, so to speak, and we were very closely engaged with him for several hours. I’ve never been around a celebrity in that way, so this was a real treat for me (despite being a Gator fan!) and definitely a perk of my job that I didn’t anticipate when I took it.
So many take-away’s from the night with Coach Bowden, there are too many to recount. But I will share one line he said to Stephen during the car ride home from our event. “Son, I’ll tell you what. The best jobs I ever had were the ones I didn’t apply for.” Of course, he’s speaking mainly of his coaching career at FSU, but there were others he was remembering as well.
I’ve thought about that line many times, and what it means for me. It’s been 4 months now since Dad and I said our final goodbye. I certainly didn’t ask to go through this experience. I most certainly didn’t seek out or desire to go through grief the way I have. I didn’t invite this. I didn’t pray for this. I didn’t apply for this. And yet, and I write this with tears, I can say that the last 4 months have been good. They have been filled with intense outpouring of love for my family. I have spent more time with my immediate and extended family that ever before (and we were a close family before this!). I have learned lessons that I would have never before considered. I have become empathetic toward people I wasn’t able to truly connect with before. Most importantly, I have grown and changed. And as much as we fight it sometimes, change is inevitable. Growth is optional. It’s been a hard choice to grow because of this, but I know it is how Dad would have wanted me to respond.

Coach Bowden was right…take what life gives you and go with it. It may be hard, it may not be fun at times, but it also may end up being the very thing that you look back on and feel appreciation and even fondness for because of what it did for you. I miss Dad every day, I want him here with us every day, and I still cry. Sadness and happiness can happen at once, I’m learning, and so I am proud to say that 2016 has been a good year. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Time for Every Matter Under Heaven

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2; 4)  
Of course we all understand that the seasons are inevitable. It is a simple fact about planet Earth that we are taught at a very young age:  Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall will all come upon us without our prompting the planet to do so. It is part of the balance that God created, and we have learned through several thousands of years to adapt to these seasons and make preparations and accommodations for them.
Its 2016 and I live in a first-world country, so my preparations for fall and winter are fairly easy. I go up to my attic, I retrieve the fall wreath for my front door, I sift through the bins of the boy’s clothes to find their pants and light jackets, and I move the pool bag filled with bathing suits to the back of the hall closet (I want to keep it within reach because, well, we live in Florida and there is always a chance that swimming could happen no matter what month it is).  I don’t have to make sure our freezer is stocked or that there is enough fire wood. These things are of course nice to have on hand, but for the most part, we are not living in fear of the chance of not surviving the upcoming season change. We take for granted that our basic needs can be meet with a simple trip to the big box store. The farmer and I have a saying whenever we leave on a trip, “Whatever we forgot we can go to Wal-Mart and get!” Life has become pretty easy for Americans.
Most people’s livelihood no longer depends on the seasons of weather and daylight change. For most, the promise of fall is simply a welcome breeze after a long hot summer. The seasons changing on a farm, however, are a different concept all together. When your livelihood and your income depend on a real harvest of real crops that are affected by the real weather that happened during the preceding months, you learn that the seasons are more important that the smell of a new candle or changing the wreath on your door.  Sometimes harvest time is exciting and promising when the farmer knows his crop yields are high. Other times, the opposite is true, and the crop has to be brought in anyway, but there is disappointment. The cycle will pick up again, always with hope and anticipation of what will come of the new work that is done. 
As I get further and deeper into a brand new season that I’ve never experienced before, the season of grief over the loss of my Dad, I am seeing a new meaning to the cycle of seasons. When the appointed time of my Dad’s death happened to our family, the sharp change in our emotional climate was brand new.  Within grief, there are many conflicting feelings that sometimes happen alongside each other. There are times when all at once, I can feel extreme surprise that my Dad is in fact dead; happiness that I really knew my Dad for the complex and amazing person he was; sadness that my Dad is no longer here to be with us on my son’s 11th birthday; wishing he could read this and all my future writings and then hear him tell me how much he enjoyed them; and also laughter and happiness remembering Dad’s jokes and sense of humor at random times; and finally, slight hope that maybe Dad is really still here..... it's a completely new set of seasons. I didn’t know my calendar for 2016 would hold these types of changes in weather, but I trust they are a cycle. I do trust that they have “a time” and they will change. I will change with them and I will learn to adapt and grow through them. 

So many people have told me their own story of losing their parent, and it’s been such an encouragement to me to see that these seasons of grief behave like the seasons of Earth. There is ebb and flow, joy and pain, times to be happy, and times to mourn. I can’t thank all of you enough for your words of kindness and support to our family during our new season. Dad has entered a new season as well, and as I type that, I’m smiling…because I know the weather there is fabulous. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On June 29, 2016 my Dad began an 8 week journey toward his home-going. At the onset of it, we thought we had more time. We were told we had more time. We definitely prayed for more time. But God’s ways are not our ways, and most of the time that concept is fine with me. In this case, it’s a one-day-at-a-time lesson I’m learning as I realize the finality of my father’s death.   On August 29, at 4:30 in the morning, Dad passed from the ordinary, natural world as we know it, into the extraordinary, supernatural realm where there is no more pain, no more bondage, no more need. 

I’ve spent so much time over the past two months driving back and forth from the farm to Palm Bay, where my parents live. Each trip was different, each trip meant a further decline for Dad, and looking back on it I see now that it was very obvious that we didn’t have much time left with him. Each time I would come home to Monticello, I felt like I could exhale and process what I had just experienced with my parents and my sister. Coming back home meant peace for me. It meant that I was safe, back in a place where I could take a long walk at night and pray.  It was when I returned to the farm, after spending the last week of Dad’s life at his side, that I was able to put part of the puzzle together of one of the biggest lessons I learned from Dad the last 8 weeks.  I decided to share it at his funeral.

Here is what I told the crowd of 350 people who came to Dad’s service:

You can tell what is deep inside of a person, at their very core, when they experience circumstances in which every ounce of control is taken from them. I have worked with the elderly for 16 years as an occupational Therapist in nursing homes. I have been watching people in this phase of life deal with the harsh reality that they have no way to be in control over most of their life any more. And what comes out in those situations is what is deep inside a person, the traits about yourself that you cannot hide.

9 weeks ago, my Dad walked into the hospital with dehydration. He left 5 days later with a devastating diagnosis of stage 4 sarcoma that was possibly treatable, but definitely incurable.  He was told he could not drive, he could no longer work, he needed someone else to manage his medications, and that he could not be left alone. Everything was taken from my Dad that day, and within a matter of days, Tom Babington had his mantra set for this new journey: “Glorify God. Stay in the Game” For my Dad, what rose up in him when everything was taken from him, was relentless optimism, fierce faith, and an even deeper love for God and his family.

4 weeks ago, when we were told that there would not be any more treatment options for Dad because his body was not responding well, he was once again in a situation that was beyond our control. We wanted the treatment to work and give us more time, but it seemed that wasn’t our reality. He took it all in stride, did not miss a beat, and kept on encouraging others around him, kept on staying in the game, glorifying God.

2 weeks ago, he entered the hospital with blood clots and we once again faced another setback. It was clear at that time that we had reached a point where Dad was facing the final lap of his race. Every day of his last week on Earth he spent blessing his family with advice, words of encouragement, and love. He even continued to thank the doctors, nurses, and all staff for their hard work and devotion to his care.

Dad is one of a kind. He impacted others every day. He proved that what you say to others, how you treat others, and how you focus on others truly matters. It impacts people. It touches people. It shows them the love of God.

We talk so much about living well….. but I want to tell you today there is such a thing as dying well. And my Dad did BOTH.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dirt Road Diploma

Soybeans, about a month before harvest
My 20th High School reunion was this past weekend. I was fortunate to have had an excellent high school education and also classmates who truly loved and cared for each other, and seeing them this weekend just made me more grateful for the foundation I had through my education. I am from Palm Bay, about an hour south of Cape Canaveral. This area I grew up in has about 200,000 people living there now. When the farmer and I were dating, he would tell people I was from “South Florida,” and I would always correct him and say “Central Florida”…but now, there really isn’t much of a difference. When I travel there, as soon as I get on I-75 South, the landscape begins to change, the dirt roads turn to pavement, and the green space dwindles. 
                When I came to Monticello for the first time in 1997, I fell in love. Yes, I fell in love with the farmer, but I also fell in love with the countryside. I didn’t know Florida held these rural landscapes! I was in the true south, where polite strangers smile and the canopy roads create beauty like I hadn’t seen before.  I started a journey then of learning a way of life that although I didn’t grow up knowing, it seemed familiar to me. I still don’t know why that was, but I am grateful it was so, and that I have the chance to live here and make a life here.
                I’ve changed so much being in the real south now. Ya’ll already know how much I’ve learned about cows and chickens and snakes. I’ve discovered how beautiful nights can be. I’ve seen stars and rainbows, both brighter than they ever are in a city. I’ve watched my kids trample through woods and streams, all the while completely aware of wildlife, poison ivy, and safety (country kids just know stuff). I’ve felt more safe, more accepted, and more fulfilled; all in a place that seems foreign to city dwellers.

A Monticello native, Jamie Kinsey, told me recently, “I may not have gone to college- but I do have a dirt road diploma and I’m proud of that!” And that was such a perfect way of describing and encompassing all of what happens to you out here in rural America.  I guess you can say I’m well on my way to earning my dirt road diploma. I’ve found it’s so much like formal education-  It’s not easy; its not free; it isn’t for the weak. In the words of John Denver, “Thank God I’m a country boy!” or in this case- girl- but you get the point.  Life on the dirt roads changes you, forms you, completes you. Grateful and thankful for my education and diplomas, both from paper and experience, both past and present. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Up and Ahead

The farmer has long days this time of year, which means the farmer’s wife also has long days this time of year. They are physically long, but they are also mentally long. The amount of rain isn’t right. The sun is too hot. The machines aren’t new. The plants aren’t behaving. The markets aren’t behaving. The public fusses and complains about the way agriculture is doing (or not doing) it’s job. The kids want more fun, more toys. Mama wants more quiet, and cleaner floors.  The hand that does the feeding gets bitten, instead of thanked.

I remember the boss I had at my first real job out of college said to me, “There is no glamor in this job. And no thank-you’s”.  I was speechless. Deep down inside, at 22 with my degree in hand, I wanted glamor. I wanted a thank you. I definitely wanted money and as much happiness it could buy me. Obviously I was too young to know that these were all the wrong ways to achieve a content life.
The thankless jobs are all around us. I can rattle off so many…educators, medical professions, military, law enforcement, politics, agriculture…now that I think about it, I don’t know if I can name many jobs that are glamorous and full of appreciation! This is the reality of the world we live in. Recent events in our country that are fueled by violence, ignorance, arrogance, and bad judgement threaten to leave us feeling hopeless.  The downward spiral of negativity takes us to the exact destination where it always ends up: discontentment.

I wonder, how can we change this? How can we break free from the negative forces that weigh heavy in our culture? Our simple part is gratitude.  Life has to show you through your thankless job, your dashed dream, your lack of money that there is more. Learning that lesson isn’t for the weak- it takes strength to rise out of those types of expectations. It takes strength to put your contentment in moments of gratitude. It takes experiences to give you perspective. And it takes gratitude to give you peace. Looking up and ahead instead of down and around.

I don’t know what the next year holds for me, for my family. With my Dad enduring a difficult diagnosis of Stage IV Melanoma throughout his body, I don’t know what each day of the future will look like. (Of course none of us really do, but we sure fool ourselves into planning and plotting every detail as best as we can, don’t we?) Because of the simple fact that if I don’t smile, I will cry, I have had to come up with practical ways to keep my tears from overtaking me.  Everyday, I write down a list of what I am grateful for. Throughout my day, I look and point out what makes me smile, who shows me love and grace, and I tell my kids, “Look! Isn’t that wonderful?” Say those things out loud, tell your friends and family how much something meant to you, look someone in the eye and say, “I really appreciate what you did.” Gratitude moves you from a selfish place to a giving place. It turns dark moments into hope, and it helps others do the same.