words and images: Jessica Sowards
I feel the need to disclose a nasty truth about myself. It’s not a skeleton rattling in the closet or a deep and dark secret. It’s not some furtive, hidden sin. It’s just one of those matter-of-fact truths that is more easily dealt with when stated honestly.
I am not a hard worker, not by nature anyway. I never have been. I mean, I do work. I do hard work. I would even say I have grown in my life to a place where I could even be classified as industrious. What with a huge family, a farm, ministry, and writing, my to-do list is great and terrible if ignored even for a weekend. But my industry was grown by necessity and fueled by obligation. I do not enjoy hard work, as much as I do like the respite of having it done. I have never been one of those people who chuckle about cleaning as stress-relief or revels in a physically exhaustive task to let off steam.
No, actually, I earned my childhood nickname of Messy Jessie. My room was a cluttered sty, littered with horse figurines and doodles and half-filled journals. Much to my mother’s chagrin, it didn’t bother me one bit. I rather liked taking it easy then, and truth is, I still do. Of course, I do what needs to be done, but when life gets overwhelming, I much prefer retreating to the bed with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a book. And even the book gets abandoned sometimes, especially if it means having to get out of bed to turn on the light. Yes, I admit I am often woefully lazy, slow moving and completely unmotivated when I resort to doing what I feel like doing.
I picked a bad life for this nature. The worst kind of life for the lazy, one with five sons and a yard full of critters and deadlines and meetings and weekends of traveling with little sleep. It’s a good life, and I love it. It challenges the worst parts of me to become better. The lazy nature is still there, though, being constantly combated and daily crucified.
I tell you all of this because when I talk about my animals and my farm, I don’t want you to fall into some grave misperception that I do this because of some weird enjoyment of hard work. I don’t. I like the farm. I love the animals. But the hard work is simply the cost that has to be paid. The work, in itself, is no perk.
You see, there’s another natural trait that’s ingrained in me. One that has overcome the laziness. I am an animal person. I thought it was a learned thing until my older two sons were born. In them, I saw polar opposites when it came to affection for animals. Jackson, from the point that his eyes could focus and before he had even gained control of his infantile grasp, adored any and every animal that dared come near him. Asher, born just eighteen months later, squawked in terror instead of squealing with joy when approached by the very same creatures.
Now, at eleven and nine, the two boys are still the same. Asher has grown to tolerate cats in small doses and enjoys a walk around the farm as long as he isn’t required to interact too much. Jackson, on the other hand, asked for a potbelly pig for his birthday and would choose a farm chore over a house chore any day. It’s just a trait. He is an animal person, and it overcomes his desire to lie around. He treks out multiple times a day to feed and play with his pet pig. He calls a dog his best friend. He is an animal person, and I am too.
Of course, I don’t remember being a dog-loving baby. I don’t know exactly when my animal loving antics began influencing my decisions. While I may have been Messy Jessie who had to have teeth pulled to clean the bedroom or rake the leaves, I absolutely do remember that from the get-go, the one thing that could overrule the desire to be lazy was a furry, soft critter.
My first ambitions as a child were to be an “animal doctor” or a “real farmer.” My collection of plastic horses challenged the inventory of any Toys R Us. Upon turning twelve, my first act as a preteen was to sign up as a volunteer at the animal shelter. There I spent the afterschool hours for two straight years, cleaning kennels and falling in love with hundreds of cats and dogs (and the occasional rescue baby raccoon or squirrel).
It didn’t stop in childhood. The boy-crazy teenage years were marked with multiple abandoned puppies brought home from gas stations and starving kittens pulled from dumpsters or sewer pipes or wherever else I found them. Then the boy-crazy teenager grew into a woman and a mother. I stopped bringing home strays but continued to volunteer at the local animal shelter, offering photography services for online listings to help animals find homes. As an adult, I showed perfect restraint when it came to animal ownership and had pretty much embraced the fact that I enjoyed lazy days and had my hands full with my handful of kids.
I seemed content. I seemed resolved to cater to my nature and take the easy road. But there was an aching sadness, a void in the region of my heart that was truly created to nurture creation. It would rear its head occasionally. A time or two, in late night conversations with my husband, tears would roll over a dog I used to have, and I would voice that suppressed desire for a life full of animals. By morning I’d have the emotions in check, a firm grip on the resolve that lazy girls don’t need a bunch of chores. And then, we bought our farm.
It wasn’t a farm when we bought it. We owned one cat the day we put in an offer on the place. Then we were owners of one cat and four acres. No fences. No outbuildings. Just a house on four acres with a handful of kids and a cat. And there, in the empty expanse of backyard, the gauntlet was thrown down between the farm girl and lazy Messy Jessie.
Isn’t it strange how often our own deepest desires seem to be contradicted by our very nature? Isn’t it interesting that God often puts us in a position to yearn so deeply, causing us to face our nay-sayers to obtain our dreams?
Isn’t it strange how often our own deepest desires seem to be contradicted by our very nature? Isn’t it interesting that God often puts us in a position to yearn so deeply, causing us to face our naysayers to obtain our dreams? Isn’t it even more interesting that those same dreams cause us to go toe-to-toe with ourselves?
It was a long and hard battle. Lifelong dreams have a way of overcoming deeply rooted habits, though. Today I’m a farm girl. In a couple of months, I’ll aid goats as they give birth. Countless chickens color my yard and this winter we brought home our first horses. I cried the day we picked them up from the slaughter pen. With the help of Southern States Equine Savers, we rescued them from being shipped to Mexico for meat consumption. As I sat in the pasture that November afternoon, I watched those beautiful creatures with their runny noses and long road to recovery and I cried and cried. They would be a lot of hard work, but they would be worth it.
The mornings are early. Rain or shine, I walk the farm with Ruth, my funny dog I found in a ditch as an eight-week-old puppy. Some evenings, I get in the shower and watch the water swirling by my feet turn black with dirt. Some days I shovel muck from chicken coops until every muscle in my shoulders and back screams. Some nights I get out of bed just as I start to doze because I forgot to close the greenhouse or move the eggs around in the incubator.
My discipline is growing. I still hate the hard work, but I’m getting better at it. My family is getting better at it. I’ve learned hard lessons in procrastination and laziness because the stakes are high when dealing with living things. But the mistakes I’ve made and paid a high cost for, I’ve only made once.
I’m still bad at staying up on laundry. I still take to the bed with Ben and Jerry’s when it all feels overwhelming. But against my nature, I am industrious. Because for every ingrained flaw, I think there is some deeply rooted desire to drive us beyond ourselves. Take it from me, Messy Jessie, the lazy farm girl. If I can overcome the worst of me, anyone can.
Follow Jessica on her blog @thehodgepodgedarling.blogspot.com