Saturday a week ago my friend Lynn came to spend a week on the farm. She brought her son Drew and her friend Karen and Karen's three children. They drove down from NJ with the van loaded down with tents, sleeping bags and other important stuff like muck shoes. They also brought willing, hard working attitudes, ready to pitch in with whatever task happened to be on the agenda.
The kids were in awe as they wandered around discovering pig, chickens, ducks and cows. Goats and sheep, dogs and cats, so much life and noise, not to mention excrement.
Lynn grew up with the opportunity to spend time with her grandmother on a farm in New York. She was used to a lot of the life here, but not so for the rest of the gang. The kids set up their tents behind the tractor shed and we ran Boaz, the Jacob ram, out of the area. His horns are a bit intimidating. Then everyone joined our children in the evening chores of gathering eggs and putting away animals.
I was a bit nervous about the prospect of having so many people in the house for so many days. Just slinging hash for that many kids three times a day made me concerned, but I shouldn't have worried a bit. Lynn and Karen washed dishes all day long. They swept, helped kids clean rooms, dusted, folded clothes, poured glasses and glasses of milk, ran to the store and cleaned bathrooms. They did not come to be entertained. They came to learn about the basic operation of life on the farm.
Monday is clean out the barn day. Those kids went out and swept and washed down floors, raked and did a great job. I saw our children take pride and joy in their role of farm chore instructor.
Kathryn is 12 yrs old. She is a shy gal, cautious and a bit timid. When she arrived she was a bit nervous around the dogs and cats and other animals. We have some baby chicks and guinea keats in a tub in the breakfast room. Within minutes she went from fear to holding a fluffy baby on her lap, petting it and picking it up. Then she learned to pet and hold Tabby the cat. She learned to rub Brownie's belly (the dog), she practiced milking the goat and worked up to a try at milking Coco, the great big cow. What an amazing week to see her progress.
At first I wondered what we had to offer these friends. I mean, really, all we did was chores all week long, with occasional breaks to play in the barn or the creek. We weeded the garden, we had to make pickles, we didn't have TV, computer games, trips to the mall or Six Flags. But then, as I saw Kathryn face her fears and exclaim to her mother, "Look, Mom! The first time I ever held a cat!" Or "Look, Mom! I can hold a chick!" Or "Look, Mom! I can squirt milk from the cow!", I had to weep. In one week's time this smart little girl learned that she had the confidence and courage to do all sorts of things that previously loomed like great big monsters in the closet. I thought of how those lessons in self-esteem could cross over and change many other aspects of her life as she faces different types of challenges. I was humbled and amazed that this crazy attempt to farm here in the valley could have ripple effects that might make a difference in the world. Small things. But a difference, nonetheless.
Karen teaches Home Economics in their high school. She noticed a dvd on cheesemaking sitting on my bookshelf. One day we had an impromptu lesson on mozzarella making. Karen will go back to school and teach her students that they can transform a jug of milk into creamy mozzarella. In learning that they can perform alchemy in the kitchen, some of those students will go on to learn that they can do all sorts of other amazing things in life as well. The ripple effect.
As we shared our life with our friends I thought of the importance of community. We can't fix many problems. We don't have a lot to offer, but we have ourselves. We are not asked to be something bigger or greater than we are. Just being ourselves is what matters. Lynn, Karen and the kids were able to take from our life and make their life bigger, just like we learn and take from our other friends' experiences and that makes our lives broader, more well-rounded. My kids need to learn from the expertise of our engineer friend, our doctor friend, our farmer friend, our journalist friend, our photographer friend, our computer expert friend, our artist friend, our musician friend, our town friend, our teacher friend.
Maybe this seems silly to some of you out there. I guess it is pretty basic. But for some reason, I was very touched as I considered the ministry we each have. I used to think that ministry had to be something you went off and did. My idea of ministry is evolving. I think that if we are doing what we were created to do, whether that is making beautiful pottery or conquering mathematical equations, we have a ministry that will better someone else's life. How amazing! Letting some little kids from suburban New Jersey squat down with me to squeeze a cow's teat to get some milk is a ministry!
I was pretty tired after our big week on the farm. But quite satisfied and happy with my job.
I must mention that our guests had some of the most well-rounded eaters I have ever seen. This is the season for vegetables and lots of them. We ate turnips and cabbage, onions and green beans, curry and beans. Okra and squash. Goat milk and cow's milk. They ate everything I gave them. Asked for more. It sure is a pleasure to feed guests who eat such a variety of foods. I would never expect it. Even Nora won't eat many of the things I serve. Somehow she manages to live on eggs, bread and milk these days. Kudos to hungry kids who eat what is set before them!!!
PS, I will certainly miss Karen and Lynn sweeping and washing up! So will the kids!