Through hard work, perseverance and a faith in God, you can live your dreams. – Ben Carson
On an extended weekend to attend my 45th high school reunion in Rooks County, Kansas, we added a day in order to visit Jewell County. This is the land to which my mother’s father’s family immigrated from northern Germany and homesteaded in the 1860s. My maternal grandparents farmed there and I visited often as I grew up.
The weekend was beautiful. The weather had been kind with an abundance of rain, minimal severe weather and, for Kansas, moderate temperatures. Fields remained green, ponds and lakes full, and late summer crops were looking very happy. It was twenty-four hours of peace and quiet.
As a child, “We are going to the farm”, was the code for a two-hour trek in order to eat farm fresh meals, hang out in the barn, feed cows, chickens and other critters. It also meant hanging out with granddad as he milked cows and then grandma as she separated the cream from the milk.
Eggs were gathered, gardens tended and life was enjoyed. I never actually lived on the farm, but visited often enough that I can still find this place I knew just by spotting the limestone bluffs one mile north of hi-way 36. To this day I could not give verbal instructions on how to find the place, but can drive right to it.
Bringing the Past into the Present
When I visited as a child, I was aware that my grandparents did not have the daily conveniences we knew such as. indoor plumbing or central Heat and air conditioning. This mean that:
- Outhouses, chamber pots and hauling buckets of water up the hill from the well for everything were lessons in conservation. Sometimes the cistern next to the house was full which made a small hand pump on the kitchen counter next to the sink usable, but not for drinking – ever.
- In winter, a pot belly wood stove in the living room at the base of the stairs heated the house, sort of. Most of the time when it was really cold only the front room and kitchen were heated. Doors to the other parts of the house were opened just before bed, after we had changed into night-clothes near the stove. We then scampered upstairs and snuggled into bed under comforters made from scraps of wool. I still have and use one of those comforters, still having a faint aroma of a wood fire and moth balls.
- In summer, air conditioning was open doors at night, sleeping on the screened in porch and electric fans.
- Everything we ate came from the farm or farms near by. As I recall sugar, seasoning and spices, and tobacco (for granddad), were the primary things purchased.
There was no judgment or poverty thinking about they way they lived. At least not for me. There was always more than enough food, water, heat and air. It took effort to get it by cooperating with nature.
The Good Life
In my view they lived a good life. It was not easy, by any means, but it was good. Built on knowing what the earth, God’s creation could and would provide when you knew what to do, it felt sturdy. However, knowing the boundaries of risk was crucial:
- How to read the skies, seasons and the scent in the air for changes in the weather. The farmers almanac was almost a text book.
- Learning to “hear” the language of the horse by watching her ears were poised. To let her know by your voice and touch when you were passing behind. It only took one kick in my chest to remember this the rest of my life!
- Learning to respect moving parts of machinery and how to fill a tank of gas without setting off a spark. Stories of neighbor’s tragic outcomes were relayed to reinforce these kinds of lessons and instructions.
There is something about interacting with creation that educates, centers one’s focus and brings a kind of wholeness that nothing else does.
Perseverance and Adversity
This kind of life required commitment. To find a pace that is sustainable, while at the same time pressing through in certain seasons. Seasons of planting and harvest; seasons of adversity. One season can be anticipated the other usually comes unexpectedly. Both can be prepared for.
The planting and harvest preparation can be anticipated, time scheduled and tools sharpened. Seed can be purchased, ground tilled and help employed. Adversity, on the other hand, how does one prepare for that? Why would you even want to think about it?
Adversity With Two Faces
There are two kinds of adversity. The kind that challenges, stretches and, as a result, is naturally wearing. Planting and harvesting, learning a new skill or training to run a marathon, all create adversity. We may not think of it that way because these are in the context of a choice we made.
The other kind comes from the side-swipes in life and can range from someone backing into us at Walmart or the untimely death of someone dear to us. Dealing with both requires perseverance. I suggest that choosing to participate with intention in the first kind of adversity prepares one for the second kind by exercising the perseverance muscle.
Back to the Farm
You see, my grand-parents, great grand-parents and even great great grand-parents (the ones who established the homestead) were doing this without even knowing that was what they were doing. Daily life required an exercise in perseverance so that when the second kind of adversity came, and it did, many times, they were able to keep on.
They were able to overcome and in just living life they passed on to future generations, me, that persevering DNA. When I visit the land of my ancestors, I am grateful they endured. They laid the foundation for a solid stonebridge on which I could travel. So here are a couple of things to consider:
First, prepare by choosing a persevering activity or goal. Take a class, learn a new skill, step up your daily physical activity and push yourself. It could be as simple as pressing to get to bed on time so you get a good night of sleep! That alone goes a long way in aiding perseverance.
Second, avoid expecting the side-swipe kind of adversity, that is counterproductive, but don’t be surprised when it comes. When it does, re-frame the unexpected by asking, what does this make possible? The stories of good coming out of tragedy are as old as Genesis. and Redemption itself.
What activity or goal will you embrace this week to exercise your perseverance muscle?