words: Jessica Sowards
images:courtesy Jessica and Jeremiah Sowards
When I need to get away, get quiet and talk to God, I go sit in my chicken yard. Being in ministry, I’ve talked to a lot of people about how they spend time with God. But I’ve yet to find another person who seeks the company of fowl to draw closer to their Maker.
It’s OK. This walk is different for everyone. For me, it involves chickens, goats, rabbits, a bunch of sons and a husband in Muck® boots and coveralls.
I always wanted a little farm. From when I was a girl all the way to adulthood, I’ve dreamed of this life. I prayed for it. I hoped for it in that deep-rooted way of longing that causes a physical ache in the general vicinity of the heart. When I finally got it, it completely took me by surprise. One day we had a plan for five more years of city living and the next day we made an offer on a glorious mess twenty-five minutes outside of town.
I remember the day before we closed. It was a Tuesday and we stood on the back porch of a house we didn’t yet own. I was crying, and I told my husband, Jeremiah, “It’s a blank homestead.”
Twenty-four hours later it was ours and we went to work.
For the first several months, it was a nameless place. We didn’t call it a farm. The boxes of back-to-the-land books covering everything from butchering pigs to organic gardening stayed in the basement. Jeremiah focused on the endless list of projects that come with buying a foreclosure, and I fought off the impatience of having your dream handed to you and having to wait to open it.
Then, one day in August, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I saw an ad on a Facebook livestock swap. That night, I brought home a cardboard box with thirty-one fluffy, peeping Rhode Island Red chicks. It was a bit of a fiasco. Before it was all said and done, I learned one very important lesson. Patience is a virtue, and getting out ahead of the rational plan makes for a lot of work.
An inordinate ratio of those birds turned out to be roosters. Eighteen of thirty-one to be exact, which was seventeen more roosters than we wanted. So we watched YouTube videos on processing chickens and invited some friends over to join us. It was on that cold and drizzly November morning, while I stood at a table with a boning knife and red feathers clinging to my skin, the thought crossed my mind, We have arrived. This is what real homesteaders do.
It’s grown exponentially since then. By sheer determination and the favor of God, our little nameless foreclosure now has earned the right to be called a farm, Roots and Refuge. Because the main reason I wanted this life was for my kids. I wanted them to know the world differently. I wanted them to have deep roots in hard work and God’s creation before they had to face the manmade world. And I wanted them to always have a refuge, when everything else got too heavy. I wanted to give them, and anyone who wanted to come cry sanctuary, a place to simply be.
A red wire basket stays on the corner of the kitchen counter, only moving to make the trek down to the chicken coop in the hand of a child and carry eggs back up. It is one of the very few forms of instant gratification on our farm. Being in the building stage means that most of our endeavors aren’t yet producing, but that red basket brings up a dozen eggs a day, brown and blue shelled with yolks as orange as a pumpkin.
Our plans for everything else are as vast as our imagination and much more vast than our bank account. But with approximately 140 chickens (most very young), two goats, two dogs and ten rabbits, the gratification will quickly grow. Soon there will be different types of meat, goat’s milk and homemade cheese. Raised garden beds are underway and, if things go as hoped, we will be preparing food baskets for families in just a couple of years.
It’s hard work, this life. Sometimes it’s largely overwhelming. It feels like there is never enough money, never enough sleep, never enough of us to make this happen. But it works out. It’s enough. And it’s so worth it.
We are fortunate to have so many people to share with. It tickles me beyond words to see an old friend come over after a workday in a corporate office to trade her heels in for borrowed rubber boots and help with evening chores. It makes it worth the mess to see another friend’s foster son gathering eggs, marveling and amazed at the realness of it all. And it breaks my heart to know there are so many people who would love to have a shot at a homestead, but will spend their whole life harboring the same dream but never getting the opportunity to sink their hands into it. So I share when I can. I offer sanctuary. I give as much as I can from what God has given me.
I am able to do this because I have found my sanctuary here. In my chicken yard. No matter how much heaviness I carry through that green gate, I can sit down amongst those silly birds and feel it lifting, being replaced with joy. I wanted this for so very long.
I spend time with God there. I mean, He’s everywhere. I could find Him literally anywhere I go. But instead, I seek Him in the chicken yard, because that is where I remember that He really knows my heart. Watching them scratch and peck in the grass takes me back to all the prayers I prayed asking for just this. And it emboldens me to pray more, because He answers.
I don’t claim to have everything right. The hard lessons are being learned every day. We have suffered losses and setbacks. We’ve wanted to give up. But since we pushed through, I no longer doubt the feasibility of growth and new dreams. Every day, our roots grow deeper. Every day, I pause while doing chores and revel in the peace of this refuge.
Every morning, I wake up to an incredible view of everything I ever wanted. Roots and Refuge. It’s a good place to be.