Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pray Without Ceasing

   As some one raised "in the church," I have heard messages on most passages in the Bible at least once over the last 32 years. Sometimes, though, there's a message or just a single point that completely transforms how I see a passage of scripture. Today was one of those days.
   Our pastor is a big fan of series' of messages. He and the pastoral staff do a great job of picking a theme and teaching on various aspects of said theme for a few weeks. The current theme is parables. Our lead pastor and other members of the team have been teaching messages really digging in to those parables most of us have heard many times, and bringing new light or a new depth or dimension to the point of the story. Today's parable is told in Luke 18:1-8. I have always heard this parable taught with the point of praying without ceasing, always coupled with 1 Thessalonians 5:17. The point has always been to literally, "Pound down the gates of Heaven with your prayers," and to not stop until God hears and answers. Be like the widow and just pester-pester-pester God with your prayers until he answer. The message today, though, gave me a brand new insight on this passage, and I couldn't not share it.
   We are not like the widow, and God is not like the judge! Luke 18:6 calls us God's chosen ones. He wants to hear from us, He wants to hear our hearts, our requests, and He wants to answer them quickly. Our answer may not be what we want- it may be yes, it may be no, it may be not right now, but He always, always, always answers quickly. No "pounding down the gates of Heaven" with our prayers required. 
   Now, that's not to say that we shouldn't pray, or that we should disregard the passage in Thessalonians. It just doesn't mean the more times we demand our will from God the better the odds He'll cave and give us our way. God wants to hear from us. He wants to hear from us daily, a conversation never ceasing. Not a list of demands in time of crisis. He wants to hear our hearts every day, even if what is on our hearts has already been poured out to him. Just like with a spouse, He doesn't just want to hear from us when we're in crisis or in need. What kind of relationship is that? No one likes feeling used, and our ears will be more tuned to hearing His actual answers when we are having the never-ceasing dialogue with him. He invites us to tell Him everything, and He is eager to give us the best, whether that's what  we  envisioned as best for our situations or not. We are His chosen whom He is eager to converse with, hear, and answer, and give us the very best. No pestering and gate-pounding required. 

Hear the whole message HERE.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

What's In My Garden?

Mid-June Instagram pic of baby veggies
   I don't know about you, but when I hear the word 'homestead,' the first thing that comes to mind is gardening. Then animals. But firstly, gardening. Perhaps that's why the garden is my main focus of productivity each summer we've been able to plant one. That, and I spent my entire life growing up in upstate New York growing literal acres of vegetables on my parents' dairy farm. Milk cows just aren't in the picture for us right now(though dairy goats aren't out of the question, just not this year), so gardening it is. All spring I've been Instagramming pics of my gardens, both flowers and vegetables, and it's often been the topic of conversation with friends, especially lately as I've been almost begging people to take some of my abundant cucumbers. One friend at church recently said, "You must have an ENORMOUS garden!" It gave me a chuckle. If you want me to be REALLY real, the truth is I'm an awful gardener. No joke, I have NOT figured out how to garden in central Virginia yet. I cannot even begin to describe how different the nuances of gardening are between NY and VA.
Mid-April Instagram of planting with the kidlets and pup
   Firstly, the weather. In NY, we start seeds in late March to prepare for mid to late May or early June planting, depending on the plant. Goodness, we often have major snow storms in April in NY. Here in VA, seeds need to be started in early February to be ready for April planting. If you don't have your garden in by May 1st here, you're officially late and the heat will likely kill your baby plants before they have a chance to really take root. In NY I picked strawberries in June for a local berry farm as a high school summer job after school got out. Here in VA I have yet to catch strawberry season because it's in early to mid-May and my brain is just not thinking berry picking yet! This year my garden was in much closer to "on time" for VA, but still not quite right. I swear next year I'll get it.
   Secondly, the vermin. Oh. My. Gravy. The vermin. So many bugs and pests I've never seen before, my kids could fill multiple notebooks with all the new, plant-devouring bugs and grubs we've discovered down here. Just when I thought I was beating them this year, a new-to-me beast started devouring my flourishing zucchini plants and pumpkin vines from the inside out. Root borers. I hate them. That is all. And the deer. Did I mention deer? Despite living very rural in NY, the deer never bothered the gardens. Here, they don't seem to care if you have dogs at every house, they will graze through your garden and nibble until they're physically chased away. I have discovered they are especially active late at night after an evening rain. Bambi needs to watch himself and his family in my neighborhood, because I'm on to his game. He might end up in my freezer after the next rain. Half joking. Maybe one third. 
May 11 Instagram of the garden, rapidly becoming a weed patch
   Those two are my major gardening hurdles here in Virginia. This year there was a third battle, and that was weeds. Ordinarily, I can keep up, but this year my precious Smooshy was born exactly Two weeks after we put the garden in, That meant that my garden went a solid six weeks without any weeding because before he was born the weeds were no problem, but for easily 4-5 weeks after his birth I could not physically do any weeding and my husband cannot weed at all due to his back injury. I'm still fighting the battle to get it back. 
   So what does my garden look like NOW?! Ha! It's interesting. Our radishes did so well, and we gobbled them up fresh. In hindsight, I'll plant more but in phases(a new planting once a week throughout April) so we'll have another great crop, but not all at once. Our peas had to be planted twice because half a row never grew, then it was too hot by the time the second planting came up so they never bore fruit, and the first half of the row was just snack food for my kids as they played outside every day. Yay for organic gardening! No need to wash the veg before they snack. Good, old-fashioned dirt never killed anyone. Our green beans grew well and we ate them all up fresh. In hindsight, I'll need to plant three times as much to be able to put any up. Clearly we eat a lot of beans. Our turnips, beets, and herbs just never grew. I have no idea why. Two rows the entire length of our garden just never grew. Last year turnips and beets did well, and our herbs did well in their planters on the porch. I need to figure out our root veg issue this year and just stick to raised beds or planters for the herbs. 
Cross your fingers for my newly sprouted squash babies, y'all!
   Our zucchini briefly did well, then started to die out of nowhere. I've since discovered the evil that is root borers destroying them. Next year I'll take preventative measures there, but for now I've replanted. Yep. In July. One of the glories of a long planting season like Virginia has. Really hoping this time we have success. I'm ready and armed with my diatomaceous earth. 

Long row o' tomatoes. 8 plants in all.
   Tomatoes have been another major battle for me to grow. Last year they were doing so well, and just as they began to ripen I woke up one morning to a garden filled with deer prints and every single tomato stripped from the plants. You see why I'm only one third joking now, right? Bambi and his peeps have had it coming for more than a year now. This year I have mostly beat them at their own game by picking the tomatoes just as they begin to turn orange, and putting them in the sun on my porch for a couple days to finish ripening. it seems, though, that they've joined forces with the gross horned tomato worm. I have, though, been able to kill a couple of those, and get a tomato or two a week with plenty of green fruit still growing. 
   With all this battling of the elements, you might think my garden is a total fail. Well, maybe it's a half fail. There's been a lot of learning(with plenty more to go), and actually a lot of success. 

Cucumbers. So. Many. Cucumbers. When I initially planted cucumber seeds in April, nothing sprouted. Not one. So I used my remaining three seeds and planted a hill with them, then bought two seedlings from Southern States(for all you northerners, that's Agway down here ). One seed sprouted and has done well, as have my purchased seedlings. In mid-June, the kiddos and I upcycled a piece of plastic trellis and made an arch for them to climb over. 

So cute, right?! The cucumbers agreed, and in a month took over 1/4 of the garden. Not kidding. This only shows where they were planted. The vines have crawled 6-10 feet in every direction. 
Note to self: Maybe two vines is enough next year.
We eat so many cucumbers every week- easily 2-3 daily, I make another batch of Garlic Dill Pickle slices every Saturday, and still I have been taking 10-15 cucumbers to church every week to give away what we have left before it goes bad. At this point I am harvesting 4-6 cucumbers each day. 

Pumpkins planted where the peas and beans once were

Aside from the one casualty to the squash vine borders, my pumpkins are doing well, too! Hoping that continues. We love pumpkin everything in the fall, and it'd be awesome to be able to freeze homemade, organic pumpkin puree for use for the next year instead of spending a pretty penny on the 28-oz cans of it.

Other successes have been broccoli, but in hindsight I'll plant it in July or August next year for an October harvest to take advantage of the cooler nights. Peppers have done well- though jalapenos far better than the bell peppers. Marigolds have done well, too! I've always been taught to plant them around your squash to keep beetles away. Let me tell ya'- Virginia beetles don't care!!! I'm not kidding. The squash bugs down here have orgies directly on my marigold blossoms.

We have two new projects we're growing as well! The first is watermelon. Four vines and they're going wild. Admittedly they've bee neglected in the weeding, because, well, they're the kids' request and they're doing just fine among the grasses to my scant weeding time is spent on the more essential produce. I'm not sure if you can see it, but those yards of vines wrap all over each other, and there are at least six good-size fruit ripening in there. 

Our other new trial is yams! I guess they grow here? We'll see. We eat tons of sweet potatoes, and though I've never grown them before(It's not a 'thing' in NY), we decided to give it a try. I think they're growing. It's hard to tell. They look like they're doing well from the top, but admittedly I have no idea what they're supposed to look like. Guess we'll see when the leaves start to turn yellow(Google tells me that's when they're ready to pull up) and we give them a tug. 

So there you have it. That's what's in my garden. I am nowhere near a mast gardener, nor is it huge and thriving. Okay, the cucumbers are thriving. Perhaps I have a talent as a very specific kind of gardener? Unless it's raining and too soggy to walk in, I spend at least a few minutes out there daily, pulling some weeds and dusting for bugs with DE as needed. We're already researching, trouble-shooting, and planning for next year's garden. Joel Salatin(homesteading superstar if there ever was one) says, "Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong first." So we're doing it all wrong and learning along the way. Our goal is to one day grow enough to be self sufficient- eating fresh what we need spring through fall, and being able to put up via freezing, canning, and drying enough to sustain us through the winter as well. Any extra we want to feed the community. Starting with cucumbers. And a fence. Or venison. I'll take either or both. 

The whole garden- empty rows, dying pumpkin, weed clumps and all!

Friday, July 22, 2016


   Four years ago right now I just found out I was VERY unexpectedly pregnant with our fourth child. Three years ago right now my husband had just moved 600 miles away while I stayed behind with our four small children to pack up our house and finish out our lease. Two years ago we were in the throes of helping our children adjust to life after the big move, and starting to look ahead toward buying a house and starting our homestead dreams on our own land. One year ago we were moving through what had been the hardest year of our entire lives, both separately and together. I was beginning to come out of the deep hole of of PTSD that had enveloped me after the traumatic loss and birth of our son, followed a few short weeks later by a serious car accident in which my husband sustained permanent spinal injury, and all in all my brain became certain that everyone around me was dying. One year ago we were fast approaching what had been our son's due date- a day I had been dreading since we lost him. Few people who have not experienced the loss of a child during pregnancy realize what a hard thing the due date is. That day that once held such anticipation of joy and bliss becomes a looming reminder on the calendar that you're no longer pregnant, that your baby was born already, and instead of this great anxious anticipation you instead have empty wombs and empty arms.
   What surprised me about my due date coming was the emotional relief I felt after it had passed. Yes, the day was sad. It was another heart-wrenching reminder of how we missed our son, but it was also an end to the waiting. It was like I'd been holding my breath since January 29th, waiting for that due date to come, and after it had passed I could suddenly breathe. I was no longer waiting. I had made it through that painful day, God had STILL sustained me, I had not collapsed in on myself and disintegrated under the weight of the immense grief. I was okay. 
   Today I am sad. I will always carry the grief with me and the struggle with its weight comes in waves, but I'm okay. Most days, in fact, I'm GOOD. But I know August 6th is coming and I am still reminded that my boy was born much sooner than that, and that he lives in Heaven, not our yellow and grey house sitting at the center of our homestead. We have our new guy- our precious rainbow born amidst the heartache- but we still miss our fifth child, our third son, a tiny, short, yet irreplaceable member of our family. 
   Born from the journey of being Asher's mom, came my new calling. I've finished my training through Stillbirthday to be a doula for families in all trimesters, with a specialty in helping families experiencing loss. As odd as it sounds, I am excited to have finished this training. I am so eager to be able to come alongside the next families experiencing such pain, and using the passion in my heart to help them on their journeys. Even beyond my training, I've continued to read as many books as I can on this topic so when the time comes I can feel intellectually equipped while letting my heart lead the way. Every book I read, I feel like I need to read five times over to keep soaking in new information. 
   The book I'm currently reading is Companioning at a Time of Perinatal Loss by J. Heustis and M. Jenkins. I've been in tears so many times over while reading it, for many reasons. Today, as I held my sleeping rainbow, I read a chapter on helping a family create memories during delivery that they can carry with them throughout the rest of their lives without their children. It brought back so many memories from Asher's birth- both the 'wrongs' and the 'rights.' The anesthesiologist in his mid-30's who walked in the room where my husband and I were quietly crying together and the rest of the people milling about acted like it was any other day. That one doctor picked up my chart, read why I was there, then with a deep sadness in his eyes took my hand, held it, asked how old my baby was- though my chart undoubtedly told him, HE wanted to connect with us and treat our baby like an individual- and told us how very sad he was for us. How no one but that one man that day treated it like it was the birth of a child. How all the nurses in post-op were very sweet and comforting while I screamed uncontrollably for my baby as I came out of the haze of general anesthesia while the doctor simply ordered that I be given meds to make me quiet down. How the one nurse who dressed me and gave me discharge paperwork took the time to look in my eyes, see ME, waited for me to look back, and through her own tears told me she was speaking as a mom and not a nurse that it was okay to not be okay, and to ask for help if I needed it. These simple brief moments of human contact are all I remember from the delivery of my son. I never got to touch, see, or smell him, so his ultrasound pictures are all that we have. We have a basket of his memories- a tiny cloth diaper a friend sent us before we knew he'd died, his framed ultrasound pictures, the card from a friend sent on his due date, the card from his memorial service. All of the things that to us are a tangible reminder that he lived. A blanket I bought the week before he was born used to sit in there, too, but for his first birthday this year I transformed it into a stuffed elephant the kids call 'Asher's Elliot.' It was so hard cutting into that precious piece of fabric, but watching my other children ask for it from the mantle, spend hours playing with, holding while they watch TV, and asking for their pictures to be taken with made it well worth it.

All of this together- the good, the bad, and the painful- all reiterate why I am a trained bereavement doula. Some one needs to come, stand in the gap, "hold space," if you will, for the families experiencing such loss. Some one who has been there, is trained how to professionally and personally come along side these families and help them walk this journey. These moments often lost in profound pain and grief are all they have of their children, and to be able to hold this space for them is a profound blessing and honor. (It took me a while to grasp the concept of 'to hold space.' THIS piece explains it beautifully.)

 I apologize for the rambling randomness of this post. I was just so flooded with memories that I had to put down the book and write. Hence what you're reading now. Thanks for traveling with me on this stream of consciousness flow today.