Thursday, September 14, 2017

King of Glory

Psalm 24

The King of Glory

A Psalm of David.

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,[a]

    the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
    and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?

    And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not lift up his soul to what is false
    and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
    and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek the face of the God of Jacob.[b] Selah
Lift up your heads, O gates!

    And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord, strong and mighty,
    the Lordmighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
    And lift them up, O ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord of hosts,
                         he is the King of glory! Selah

I just saw a photo that was taken this morning from a hotel room overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It was captioned, "These waters have been walked on at least twice."

There have been a few times in my life where I enjoyed the privilege of walking somewhere with some serious historical significance. Most of these experiences are when visiting a National Historic Site. I remember visiting Bunker Hill in Boston and Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro.

But sometimes I have visited places of particular, personal interest to me. One of my favorite places that I have ever visited was the piece of land where my dear grandmother grew up. Then it was an 81-acre pig farm that her German immigrant parents managed. Her father was in charge of the workers and her mother fed them all two meals each day at the large table in their home on the farm. Today it is a wildlife refuge and event center in a very upscale New Jersey neighborhood. A small historic marker mentioning the previous use of the property is all that remains to remind us of what life was like in that tiny portion of the world during that minuscule sliver of time.  Much has changed over the decades. All of the original buildings have been demolished. A 2.5-acre pond was excavated and new buildings were erected. But when I stand there and look around, I can see my grandmother climbing onto the roof of the long-gone barn and sliding down into the giant mounds of fluffy white snow just like she did in the childhood stories she used to share with me.

To look around now in our modern day it is hard to imagine what these places would have looked like through time. Sometimes I try to dream up what it would be like to press the rewind button and travel backward through history, watching everything work back to the beginning - back to the Garden. To watch the landscape change as we move further away from here and now. To see the changing styles of the clothing worn by the people living throughout time. Observe technology diminishing. It gives me goosebumps, chills, and an exciting, fluttery feeling in my chest.

But to contemplate what it would be like to stand before such a place as the Sea of Galilee and consider that Jesus, the God-man, walked there before me is too much for this simple mind to behold. The Christ. The One who created all things. The only begotten Son of the Father. He who humbled Himself to death, even death on a cross. He who bore MY sins in HIS body on the tree so that I might be forgiven, loved, and called a daughter of God. He once walked here, on this planet, in the body of a mortal man. He once felt the physical pains of hunger, thirst, and the cruelest invention of humanity.

It is too much. The injustice of it. The only One who never sinned punished for all of the sins ever committed in the past and ever to be committed in the future. And yet, through this, justice was served in the only way to make it possible for any person to escape the much-deserved torment of eternal damnation. And if it were not enough to escape this torturous sentence, we are given the unthinkable privilege of being made brothers and sisters with Christ Himself, and heirs to the throne of God!

And so, tonight, I am very keenly aware of how disparaging the difference is between how much love and allegiance I owe Him and how much love and allegiance I show Him.

Earlier today I was meditating on John 14.

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (v. 21)

"If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me." (v. 23, 24)

"but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father." (v. 31)

I am moved tremendously as I look at this picture and think of how close Jesus feels. To look at a place where I know he lived His earthly life in a human body. Where he ate and drank. Where he slept and worked. Where he laughed and cried. Where he went away quietly to commune with His Father and where he hung out with the sinners and publicans. So close I can almost see Him walking there now.

But what now? How will I choose to allow that to impact me? Lord, have mercy on me! Too often I am like the man who beholds his face in a mirror and then turns and forgets what he looks like. Search me and know my heart, Lord. Forgive me where I am erring and grant me true repentance. Help me to see my desperate need for your constant intervention in my life and in my soul. My heart is deceitfully wicked, above all things. Who can know it? But You can and do. And You are in the business of changing hearts. O God of Jacob, would You do Your work in me! Grant me clean hands and a pure heart, that in that day I may look upon Your face and finally find peace and joy and rest untold!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Heavens Declare: Great American Eclipse 2017

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard. 
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which come out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
Psalm 19:1-6

Just over one year ago, I learned that our farm lay in the path of totality for the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017. I marked it on our calendar and anxiously awaited the day. Because of this exciting celestial event, I chose to focus on astronomy this year for our science lessons. What a way to kick off a new subject at the beginning of a new school year, right?! 

Our local media really hyped up the eclipse. They kept projecting that it would bring tens of thousands of people flooding into the cities and towns along the path of totality through our state. Accommodations for tourists were nonexistent, being booked up more than a month prior. Traffic was expected to be so bad on the day of the eclipse that I was literally having nightmares that we were stuck on the highway in bumper to bumper conditions with complete cloud cover for totality!

We had planned to try to drive up to a small town in Kentucky that was right on the line of longest duration and look for a church parking lot or park to watch from. This town was in the middle of  2 smaller highways that we knew we could hop on to "chase" the eclipse if our spot got clouded out. We hoped to avoid the crowds and traffic this way.

Several weeks before the eclipse we began to read books and watch documentaries explaining how an eclipse happens, what to watch for, and learned eclipse terminology such as "Bailey's Beads, Diamond Ring, and Shadow Bands". We acted out the beautiful celestial dance our planet, moon, and sun are forever taking part in as they move in space. We "acted out" a solar eclipse with a flashlight and fruit. It was a lot of fun and we became very excited as we anticipated the actual event.

The kids and I thought it was ironic how many times people in the news, on the documentaries, and even the books we read kept saying the same thing. That it is the most amazing "coincidence" that we can even see a solar eclipse at all! 

A solar eclipse is one of the ways that creation (nature) testifies of its Creator. It is simply not logical to suggest that all of "this" came about by a series of coincidental circumstances or accidents. It was lovingly designed and scheduled by a generous benefactor. And we all know this to be true, whether or not we would like to admit it. Romans 1:20-21 says that we are all are able to glimpse the attributes of God which can be clearly seen in nature, namely, God's eternal power and divine nature. If you're interested, here is a great article that dives more deeply into this concept.

Within the first ten minutes of watching Countdown to the Eclipse, a documentary you can find on Amazon, we heard the following statements:

"The fact that a total solar eclipse is possible at all is due to our special position in the solar system." 

"Although the moon is much smaller than the sun, it's also much closer to us. And, in fact, it's about 400 times smaller but it's also 400 times closer. So, when we look at how big they appear in the sky they are about the same size." 

"It's an amazing coincidence that the apparent size of the sun and the moon in the sky is almost equal. On any other planet, that's not true. In fact, that must be a rare occurrence throughout the galaxy." 

It is not a coincidence at all. Each solar eclipse is hand-crafted by God Himself. The Lord, who created the heavenly bodies on the fourth day and set the moon and planets in orbit, created this amazing eclipse we were so blessed to witness. The Psalms are full of references to the sun, moon, and stars bringing God glory. Psalm 148:3 says, "Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!" And Psalm 89:5 says, "The heavens will praise Your wonders, O Lord." As the sun and moon, and even the stars and planets we were able to see, were praising God so were we! How awesome is this God, who is grand enough to create such beauty and detail and yet would stoop to love such wretched creatures as we humans are. And that is exactly why He is so deserving of our love, devotion, and honor.

"We love because He first loved us." -1 John 4:19

In the week before the eclipse, Josh helped me by researching and creating solar filters for our cameras and binoculars. He also shopped for our picnic lunch. The kids helped me gather and pack the food, blankets, chairs, and educational materials we planned to take with us. Just before leaving, I rushed over to the chicken coop to put up the trail cam on a nearby maple tree. I was hoping to catch the confusion of our feathered friends as the sun "set" and "rose" within mere moments at 1:30 in the afternoon. Once the animals were well-fed and watered, we were buckled in and heading north.

We changed our plans last minute as we watched the weather forecast changing moment to moment. We decided that our best chance was to head towards Springfield, TN. I was not feeling well and was hoping to not have to deal with the crowds they were expecting there so, as we neared the town, I was desperately searching for good areas to park. We ended up unintentionally driving through Springfield, and when we saw how empty it was, kept right on going. Where was everyone for this once-in-a-lifetime event? 

I saw a sign for the county fairgrounds and suggested that it might be a good place to set up camp. Josh turned to follow the sign. That's when we saw a great big church up on a hill with a great view. I knew there would be a nice breeze coming up that hill and the grass looked so soft and inviting. Once glance at each other and it was settled. 

We were quickly given permission to view the eclipse from the hill behind the church building and even generously invited to use the restroom inside as needed. They were very kind to us there at North Springfield Baptist Church. 

Everyone unloaded the van and helped get set up. Even Gideon helped carry things up the hill. James, Josh, and I set up our canopy and then the girls helped me spread blankets and put up lawn chairs. Once we were settled and everyone had eclipse papers to color and write on, two sweet ladies joined us. We learned that they lived very close to us even though we were easily an hour away from home! I don't think that we would have had such an enjoyable experience if they weren't there with us that day. We exchanged phone numbers, shared our eclipse photos with them, and made plans to have them over for a visit sometime soon. 

I was surprised at how well Gideon did with keeping his glasses on each time he looked up at the sun. It had really concerned me that he would not want to use them, but he did great until about 5 minutes before totality. I think there was so much excitement, he just simply forgot. He's such a curious child that he just HAD to look at what everyone else was jabbering on about and forgot to hold the glasses over his eyes. I reminded him and helped him as best as I could while nursing Job to keep him from staring at it a well. Josh was set up about 15 feet away from us taking photographs of the whole thing. He managed to take several hundred pictures. All of the eclipse photos in this blog are his. 

The thing that struck me most about viewing the eclipse was how eerie the light was just before and after totality. It really felt like something out of a science fiction movie. Naturally, it was like nothing I had ever seen before since this was my first eclipse. We also observed something that we found to be quite amazing. The afternoon had been very hot, in the 90's. You could hear the insects chirping and buzzing, telling everyone how warm it was in the grass. But as soon as the eclipse began and the temperature started to drop a bit, those bugs stopped making noise and the crickets began to sound! Also, we had not seen any birds until the eclipse began. Once the moon had just started to shade the sun we noticed quite a number of barn swallows swooping low over the hill looking for bugs to eat. 

The whole thing was over so quickly. Our farm sat on the very edge of path of totality. I am very glad that we didn't stay home because while we would have been able to see it, our experience would have been significantly shorter.

When we did arrive home Josh and I were really excited to look at our pictures and see what the trail cam captured while we were away. We were very pleased with many of the shots Josh took with my Nikon using his solar filters. Unfortunately, something went wrong when I set up the trail cam and it did not capture any video. I was forced to ask the chickens directly about their experience but they wouldn't tell me a thing. Who knew chickens were so secretive?

Our family is already planning a vacation so that we can travel to see the next one to occur in the United States! 

"When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?" -Psalm 8:3-4

Friday, June 23, 2017

Long Overdue Update

A pollinator is a happy sight!

Phew! It's been a wild ride these last few years. So many things have changed since my last blog post. I am amazed that anyone with children has time to blog. Some homeschooling friends brought their children over yesterday for a playdate and we were commenting on how there are so many things that must be done each day, it is impossible to complete our To-Do Lists. One of the hardest jobs we have is rightly prioritizing our duties. When educating my 5 children (who are with me 24/7), nourishing my family with home-cooked meals, managing a household of 7 and all that comes with it are about all I can manage each day (and some days I can't manage to do these things myself), blogging definitely isn't anywhere close to making the list of things to get done. Having said that, I do hope to update the blog a little more frequently, but only as I can without any added burden to myself and my family.

So, let's catch up!

Tip Resting on a Log During a Hike

Dottie Found a Cozy Place to Snuggle
Last spring, we had been setting out mouse traps for weeks because we had a serious mouse issue. The traps would catch one here or there, but I knew it wasn't even making a dent in the mouse population. One night I woke up with a mouse on my shoulder and decided I was going to get cats! I knew I wanted two cats so they could keep each other company, and if one ran away or was snatched by a hawk or an owl we still had one left. I knew I wanted calico cats. And I knew I wanted females since they are better mousers. I found out that one of my neighbor's had some kittens to give away and stopped in to see if any were calico. Sure enough, there were two calico girls. I took them home and everyone fell in love with them. Except for Josh. But, even he has to admit, since we brought them home we have had no more mice in the house! They are good cats. 

Baby Guineas 
The guineas that were in our basement last year are all gone. We lost many of them to predators. We found that while they are very fun to have on a farm, they are not good to have if you have nearby neighbors. Since our house is located on the front edge of our 70 acres we have two very close neighbors. It is impossible to prevent guineas from wandering onto their property. Josh and his parents had to catch the guineas and clip their wings to get them to stay inside their fence in the pasture. After that they mostly resided peacefully for the summer in their contained paddock until one by one they were wiped out. When their population dwindled down to the single-digits, the few that remained escaped their confines and roamed free. They lasted about 3 days and then were seen or heard from no more. 

Young Narrangansett Turkeys
We also raised a bunch of turkeys and ate one for Thanksgiving! It was great! It is amazing that the turkey species still exists. I think it disproves the "Survival of the Fittest" theory. The only way, in my opinion, that there are still turkeys walking the earth are because God has mercifully spared them from their own stupidity and allowed us to domesticate them. I can't tell you how many of our turkeys drowned in their own waterer or strangled themselves in the poultry netting.
Gideon Petting a Turkey Chick

JoyAnna and her day old ducklings

JoyAnna raised some ducks. A bunch went into the freezer and a couple flew away. The ducks were lots of fun and grew so very quickly. The chicks that we were expecting arrived and brought lots of joy! Many went into our freezer, James sold a bunch, and the rest were coyote food. Butchering chickens really wasn't so bad emotionally. But butchering the ducks was a lot harder. They are so much cuter and are so gentle and docile. And delicious. We just had to keep reminding ourselves about how delicious the ducks are. And they were!

We kept a small flock of foundation chickens over the winter and spring. Mainly New Hampshire Reds and Ameracaunas. My laying hens are finally laying a really great amount of eggs. All different colors too. They are just beautiful. It's so interesting to live with chickens. When a hen lays an egg, she sits up in the nesting box making quite a ruckus. I suppose it must be like giving birth every day. (I am so glad I am not a chicken!) All the other hens sit around her and cheer her on! It's like our chicken tractor turns into a delivery room every morning and afternoon when the ladies decide to lay. Listening to the amount of noise associated with laying eggs makes me appreciate the gift of eggs so much more. I had never stopped to think of the sacrifice of the hen when buying a carton of eggs at the store before I owned chickens. Granted, hens will lay whether or not we eat their eggs, but just knowing how they get to our table makes me so much more thankful for my dear chickens.
New Hampshires and Guineas in the Backyard

We incubated and hatched a couple large batches of chicks from our own flock with the hopes of having extras to sell, but it just didn't work out. The first batch has given us 15 mixed-breed chickens that are juveniles now. The second batch of 30 eggs died a week before their hatch-day when the incubator got unplugged overnight. And the third batch gave us nearly four dozen purebred New Hampshire Reds and Ameracaunas. Three weeks ago we picked up 8 Welsummer pullets at the farm store (they were marked down to $1 a bird!) and 6 pheasants (marked down to $2 a bird!). The Welsummers will give us a brown egg with dark brown speckles and the pheasants are Josh's special project.

We finally bred the rabbits. By "bred the rabbits", I mean "released them into a rabbit tractor and allowed them to make babies at their own discretion." (Which they pretty much did immediately! You can watch our YouTube video of that above.) Josh completed an awesome rabbit tractor that he had painstakingly researched and designed.  Eventually, they will move down into the pasture.

Sassafrass and Magnolia, our Silver Fox does, gave us two great big litters of kits. This was our first time breeding anything besides chickens and we lost a number of them. There was a design flaw in the cage and the babies were actually able to wiggle under the slats in the bottom. As soon as we realized what was happening, we moved the does and their kits back into their cages in the barnage (our barn/garage). Unfortunately, an animal was able to steal some kits through the cages and we lost a few more.

In the three days after giving birth and before we moved the does and kits into the barnage, the does became pregnant again! We did not realize that this was possible and had no clue that they were pregnant until one morning James found a newborn kit on the ground under the rabbit cages. By that time Magnolia's whole litter has died and half of Sassy's litter also. They never looked or acted pregnant. We had removed the nesting boxes as soon as the first litter could climb out and move around the cage easily so there was no warm, snug place to deliver the new kits. It was an awful experience having to pry the cold, dead babies off of the wire bottom of the cages. The ones that were alive were immediately brought into the house where I tucked them into my shirt to warm them. From the two combined litters, seventeen kits were born. Only three survived. We have learned so much in such a short amount of time. The learning curve has been high, and the losses so sad and painful, but we are doing our best to make adjustments along the way and give our animals the highest quality of life that we can.
Payer, Tart, Cinnamon, and Spice

In February, we bought a mama Nubian goat and her 2 kids; 2 doelings, and a buckling. I never really liked goats. James has had his heart set on raising goats and so I knew we would eventually get some for him. I certainly never planned to be very involved with them. We found a great deal and some great stock and bought them from a private family-run dairy operation. Their previous owners had allowed their herd to grow too large and needed to downsize. We brought the goats home in our minivan. Moments after arriving in the pitch dark of night, mama goat broke loose from us and ran away. It was a heartbreaking scene with her kids bawling for her to come back and give them milk.

Cinnamon in our Minivan 
After searching for awhile with the chorus of coyotes surrounding our farm we had to face the odds that she was never going to be reunited with her babies. Josh drove to the farm store to buy goat milk replacer to feed the babies. (We later learned that they were old enough to be weaned.) We texted neighbors, talked to Tommy at the dump, we searched and searched, we posted on a local lost and found Facebook page, and plastered every telephone pole up and down the road with Lost Goat posters. Seriously. Finally, a man called a few days later to say that he saw her running across the road near our house and had gone into the woods of neighbor's farm.

The next morning Josh went out to search for her and actually found her and brought her home. She was dehydrated, had diarrhea, one half of her bag looked deflated, and she was very cold and upset, but definitely seemed to be quite relieved to be back with her babies. I spent the next couple of weeks living in the goat pen getting to know her and the kids. I think we have a special bond now. In fact, she has escaped her paddock two more times since the first fiasco but has only allowed me to get close enough to catch hold of her collar.

At first, the goats looked a little dull. Cinnamon, or "Mama", as I affectionately call her, was especially thin and unhealthy looking. She seemed very skittish and ornery. I really didn't like her at all. I considered her a problem goat and was afraid that she would teach her children all manner of escape methods and bad manners. Today, when I look at them I see different goats. They are always wagging their tails, their coats and eyes are so shiny and bright, and they are just happy and filling out very nicely. Josh and I were discussing the change in their condition tonight and feel confident enough to share with you that we believe the game-changing difference has been rotational grazing in our pasture. (Now, when I use the term pasture, I use it very loosely. Our overgrown pasture consists mainly of such lovely plants as poison ivy and wild blackberry brambles.)

We believe that they must have been dealing with some major parasite issues that, perhaps because they have been given access to a wide variety of native "weeds", some of which may be natural de-wormers, and are only allowed to browse in the same area for 5 days at most, this has greatly decreased their worm-load. We have also added alfalfa pellets and black sunflower seeds to their feed and offer free choice minerals and baking soda to them. We continue to look for ways to improve their health.

About a month after bringing home our first four goats, we purchased another unrelated buckling for breeding to our does. He came from a small homestead where the family really took excellent care of him. He was bottle-fed and has much better manners than the other goats. We chose him because his mother was an excellent milker who had no problems kidding and we really liked his coloring. Our other goats are mainly brown and two are brown and white spotted. We were hoping to get a good variety of colors and markings by adding him to the herd with his mostly black coat. After we brought him home we built two paddocks and separated the does and bucks.

During one of our moving days where we lock the does in their mobile pen and allow the boys to be free in order to move the fence to fresh pasture, Cinnamon's buck, Payer, figured out how to lift the bar that locked their pen closed. He managed to release the does for a goat party in the pasture! James was mowing the perimeter of the new paddock so they could step-in the portable goat fence and wasn't aware that any of this was going on. Thankfully, Josh was able to get James' attention and they caught the girls and put them back in the pen. Payer immediately went and opened the door again while Josh was standing right there! It was pretty comical.

A few weeks ago we noticed that Cinnamon was really looking much healthier and behaving differently. She was much more friendly and warm with us and she wasn't looking thin and dull anymore. I noted that she seemed to be glowing. Ha! We think that she must have been in heat the day of the goat party and Payer impregnated her. She continues to grow bigger and her bag is filling in again. If I remember correctly, her previous owner told us that she always give 3 kids. So, our little herd of five could grow to be a herd of 8 early this fall! We are very excited! Here is a video I took this morning of Cinnamon. What do you think? Do you think she is pregnant?

So now that you've been brought up to date on the major events on the farm, I will share a little about our family.

Job Andrew, our 5th child, was born April 15, 2016. With 4 older siblings loving on him he is spoiled rotten! He toddles and climbs everywhere he can possibly get. The more dangerous the situation, the better. He is giving me gray hair. But he's absolutely adorable. It's really is great to have a baby in the house again.

Baby Job 

Job, Gideon, and James, Fall 2016
We have continued to homeschool. James will be entering 4th grade this year, JoyAnna will be a 2nd grader, and Lydia will be a 1st grader. I am so thankful that we can choose our educational focuses. This year is the first year that I will be tailor-making their curriculum and one of the things that we will be focusing on as a family will be Stewardship and Service through home economics, homesteading and handicrafts. They are learning so much caring for the animals and the land that God has entrusted us with. There is math as they figure the proper amount of feed and the dimensions of the paddocks so they can lay out the fencing correctly. There is science as they watch a cicada attached to the side of the goat pen breaking out of its old skin, just like they witnessed this morning! There is reading as they look up the proper way to care for newborn rabbits and what is the best feed for the doe's so they can produce high-quality milk for their young. I could go on and on...

JoyAnna, Lydia, and Tip, Fall 2016
As a family, these past few months have been the most difficult we have ever experienced. My health has been a wild rollercoaster, Josh lost his job, our marriage was on the brink of divorce, we took in a relative who was in need, and the future looked terribly bleak for us. But, by God's grace, through it all He has been teaching us what it really looks like to walk with Him in the darkness, uncertainty, and pain. He has bound up terrible wounds. He has breathed new life into our spirits. And He has given us an amazing hope.

Not a hope that we won't have to sell the farm. Not a hope that we will have a happy, thriving marriage. Not a hope that our children will be healthy and happy and grow into well-adjusted adults who contribute to society and love Jesus with all of their hearts. But a hope that we have Jesus. A hope that He understands our hurts and our needs better than even we do. A hope that when our world seems to be crashing down all around us, He is our fortress, a very present help in time of trouble. That He will work ALL of these things out for our good and His glory because, by His mercy, we love God and have been called according to His purposes. Now that all of the illusions I had created in my life have been stripped away it is easy to see that all along He has been my only hope. Despite trying to put my hope in other things (my husband, my children, the roof that keeps the rain off of my head, the food in the fridge...), the only real hope I ever had was in Christ alone. Now I can sing "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name!" Because Christ is the ONLY solid rock.

All other ground is sinking sand.

December 2016