words and images: Jessica Sowards
When I look back over my thirty-two years and attempt to sequence them, there are a couple of great divides. Befores and afters. The kind of life-altering happenings that redefine the way you think about everything. Kids and marriage and Jesus are the obvious ones. I’ve walked through these. But one of my greatest divides came in getting our farm.
I wrote an article for Do South® magazine during the summer of 2014 about our transition into country living. In fact, I began the journey of contributing to this beautiful publication the very month we unpacked the boxes on our four little acres of Arkansas woods. The article, four years ago, was called “Becoming Country.” When I read it now, I can’t help but reflect on what an important season that was, and how much has changed in the meantime.
Of course, I’ve learned skills. The girl that typed out that article did not have calloused hands. She didn’t know how to milk a goat or grow a garden. She didn’t make butter or bake bread or have a pantry full of canned and fermented jars of food. She had never even owned a chicken. But skills are rarely redefining by themselves. No, what redefines us is when the skills become habits, routines, regularities. We become redefined when life shifts, and with it, our hearts shift, and before we know it, the plumb line of who we are is somewhere different than it used to be.
The girl who wrote that article was just learning how to move at the pace of the created world, immersed as she had always been in the man-made one. She didn’t know how to navigate loss. She didn’t know how to work so hard it hurt. She did not understand the patience that comes with being yielded to the seasons. But now she does. That is to say, now I do. My heart has settled firmly into the plumb line God laid on this little farm.
Redefining is a process. The old definition must first be erased. Then the new one comes in, sometimes all at once and sometimes bit by bit. With reverence and wonder and awe, I’ve been rewritten. Sometimes in the unassuming times of routine, and sometimes in one fell swoop of revelation.
These days, the alarm screams early and by the time the sun rises above the tree line, I’m already walking the rows of my garden, getting chores done before the heat settles in. Most days, I don’t sit down at the table for breakfast until after the garden is cared for and the goats are milked. Usually, it’s sautéed greens and eggs I brought in as souvenirs from the morning, and though it is a delicious routine, it is altogether ordinary to eat a plate of food I grew in my yard. Here I see my new definition becoming concrete.
Sometimes it’s more romantic. I can occasionally be found frozen in wonder over the beautiful details of my dream come true. I cannot count the times I’ve sat in awe on the chicken coop floor, running my fingers across the smooth blue and green shells of eggs. I’ve witnessed birth, then leaned against the barn walls, tears of joy streaming my face and arms full of a wet and wriggling newborn goat kid with long velveteen ears. Then there are the times in the garden. I think the garden has carved me more than all the rest of the farm combined.
I often feel the presence of God there, but one particular encounter stands out in my memory. It wasn’t the booming-voice-from-the-sky kind of encounter often depicted in movies. It was a July evening, and I’d melted into a puddle in a canvas camp chair right in the middle of the raised beds.
I was surrounded by hundreds of plants that just months before had been a bunch of seeds in my hand. They were heavy with fruit, and they were demanding hours a day in attention to prune and protect them from pests. I don’t remember exactly what was weighing on me that day—maybe it was just the hard work and the heat—but I remember feeling slightly deflated as I leaned back in that chair and engaged in the kind of comfortable prayer I’ve found fits the garden perfectly.
I asked Him, “Why, if you are seated in the Heaven described in the book of Revelation, and you love me like you say, why did you seat me in the world that is so completely foreign to where you are? I want to live a life of worship and wonder, but I can’t even fathom You. I can’t even fathom Your throne room. Why did You design it this way?”
In the still small voice that sometimes pricks my heart, a question rose in my thoughts. “What is His favorite color?” It was a bit of a startling question in its simplicity, one I’d never really pondered. My eyes opened, and before I knew it, I’d surveyed my scene and answered aloud, “By the looks of it, I’d venture to guess You are rather fond of green.” Then, as if by response, a scripture came to mind from Revelation 4, the very description of the throne room I’d just been thinking of. The verse describes the throne as being surrounded by a rainbow with the appearance of an emerald. I’ve always found that to be a terribly confusing verse. How can a rainbow be green?
But on that hot, sticky evening, in a half-broken folding chair, I looked around. My garden was an explosion of green. The grass needed to be cut, and the light shining through the trees seemed to have a greenish tint. Moss grew up the side of the chicken coop, and weeds broke through every nook and cranny of the whole place. It all moved and swayed in the breeze, all so very green and so very alive that even the air seemed pregnant with it. And my mind was redefined, and I understood in that moment how a rainbow could be called emerald and how my world wasn’t so far away from His after all.
I don’t know what the next four years will hold. I imagine my redefinition is hardly even underway. How often we assume the lines of our great divides are clear when really they are not. Either way, I’ll be here, crying over eggs and walking with my Maker in a garden, sharing the whole process with anyone who decides to read along.