The Fire

Aren’t we all our most reflective selves at the end of a year? Everywhere we turn, folks are remembering and reviewing and resolving.  Certain markers in life cause us all to pull back and allow ourselves a broader view of the space in which we circulate.  We can count on a new year to be one of those.

All I know to do with my writing is be honest.  And there is a reason my writing has been a bit, well, constipated for the last ten months.  I have been exhausted beyond words.  About that many months ago, I quit a job I loved because things there got a bit awkward, and thank goodness I did because, though I didn’t know it at the time, my year was about to launch into a realm of busy-ness and difficulty that makes me grateful I didn’t see it coming.

This isn’t a poor-me post.  Before you quit reading because you don’t want to hear me complain about circumstances that sound ridiculous in the re-telling, just know that much.  Nope, I have nothing to complain about.  But if I could take you through all the shiny pictures on my phone from this last year, you’d see pictures of smiles and travels and guests and stunning scenery and grandbabies and all kinds of adventures.  And if you saw a picture of my heart, it would look super-glued and scotch-taped and sore and pushing through to create an outward smile.

Never in my life have I had an entire year of hard.  Up until this one, I’ve had years where I looked back and thought “Wow, there was a hard part in there!” but 2018 was more like, “Every single memory has a tainted backstory.” And not just for me, but for our whole family! Throughout this year, I didn’t find myself feeling sad, I felt myself having to power through as all the things around me that I held dear felt like they were crumbling and nothing I knew was secure — but One.

First a little story.  In the last three years, I have found a new hobby and you could NOT have convinced me that my animal-loving heart or my warmth-loving body would ever in a gajillion years enjoy suiting up in winter gear every day as fall turns to frigid winter and using various weapons to try to shoot a deer.  I’d have laughed at you.  But I found a new side of myself as Alison, the sitter-and-waiter.  And Alison, the harvester of beautiful organic meat.  And Alison, the defender of does — because if you didn’t know it before today, bucks are jerks.  I’m talking raping murderers of fawns, and mean as sin.  So I only shoot the big, mean ones.  Or attempt to.  And in the meantime, I visit with squirrels and birds, snowshoe hares, and beautiful does and fawns and the occasional wolf or bear.  I hone my eyesight to see every movement.  I settle into the woods and into my new instincts and train myself to sit so very still and listen and not fill every moment with busy-ness and plans and noise.  It is a process.  A long process.  And I’m super proud of it.  Two years ago, I shot my first deer.  It changed me.  I did a THING! and it impressed the heck out of myself and just about everyone who knows me.  (insert chuckle)  I didn’t enjoy the taking of a life.  BUT, I appreciated greatly the sacrifice that was given to nourish my family.  And, dang it, my shot through iron sites at 80+ yards that dropped a buck immediately was stinking impressive, if I do say so myself.

So this year, after having been skunked last year, the pressure was on.  We had a fabulous apple year meaning our orchards were bringing in some serious hoofed traffic. HUGE bucks were on our game cams.  Even before I could be out there for bow season, we were studying patterns and tracks and racks, and I was naming the boys I wanted to harvest.  Chocolate Rain and Mr. Big were my goals.  I was out in my stand most of bow season and almost every single day of rifle season — sometimes twice a day.  I literally didn’t go anywhere for almost a month except my deer stand.  I was so committed and ready.  I saw so many does, I couldn’t even count them.  So many fawns became my unknowing pets.  I knew who hung out with whom.  I knew which apples they liked best.  I knew what the sound of a little buck crunching his food sounded like and could hear and sense in an uncanny way, the approach of a deer.  I won’t tell you all the stories except that one day, I did shoot my beautiful buck.  And tracked him with my sweet man and eventually my son who came to help.  It was a good kill shot, but he ran far and fast and by the time he collapsed, our also-hunting neighbor found him and collected him (if you are him, and you read this, you’re welcome).  By dark, we had exhausted ourselves in the deep snow and dark and trudged up and down and far and wide in all our gear with our guns to a point of exhaustion I’ve only known a few times in my life with absolutely nothing to show for it.  When the four hunters in the family were done with the season and no one had gotten a deer for all our efforts and time and struggles, I found myself saying to God (because you talk to Him extra in the quiet), “Seems like it would have been easy to send me my big buck!  I tried so hard! What in the world?!  Can you just let me know why this had to be so hard?”

And like a thought-bubble of words that pinged around my head, I knew these words, “Was it enough that I found you faithful?”

Imagine my slack-jawed mouth shutting.

This year, a couple low points had me feeling like a failure as a parent in a brand new way, had me sobbing in physical pain that I haven’t known before, had me spent emotionally to a point I couldn’t describe, had me begging God to heal my daughter as she struggled to want to survive through a long battle for her health — she crawled into her Momma’s lap, a fragile wisp of herself with her bones protruding through her skin and pressed her ear to my heart as I held her in a way I hadn’t since she was tiny.  My sweet man and I had to trust God for basics and look to Him for answers in brand new ways this year — a battle between questioning every choice we’d made to get to this point, and choosing to stand and hold our ground.  We’ve stood for our family and our own mental health as never before — brand new and awful battles.

We gathered our family for the last few hours of 2018 to begin a new and not-so-new tradition.  We started our evening with lots of food and fellowship as always.  We took communion together as part of our tradition.  Then, we took a look back on our collective year.  The level of pain in each of my childrens’ and sweet man’s eyes and we tried to, each and all, find the good parts was a bit much.  And for Miss Merry Sunshine here, it was unusual to be the one who couldn’t come up with one solid, beautiful untainted memory of my own.  And then at the end of everyone else’s recollections, I found it.

At the worst of things, December 19th, 2018 my family said, ENOUGH!!  One of my children called an impromptu meeting at my son’s house and though it was late and we’d all had a long day and some of us had to travel almost two hours to get there, we all worshiped and prepared our hearts to storm some spiritual gates.   We arrived and settled the babies down and gathered in his kitchen and literally linked arms and began praising.  We had gone from despair that day to all-eyes-up.  We cast off everything ugly.  We claimed health and supernatural peace.  We anointed each other with oil and prayed for specific needs.  We broke spiritual chains, and prepared ourselves for a new beginning.  God met us there as we’ve never known before.  He heard His kids needing Him.  He surrounded and uplifted and strengthened and restored and healed.  And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like watching your grown children anoint their father with oil and pray over him.

Since 2010 when we took our big journey into the unknown, we began marking moments with altars. So on New Year’s Eve, we met and had prepared a giant altar behind the barn and went out there in a blizzard.  We gathered with words written on paper that needed to burn.  And as a family, we put it all to death.  All of it is done.

During the heat of my battle this year, a new and dear friend of mine gave me words that  have resonated in a way, I’ll cling to for the rest of my days.  She reminded me that when three men went into the blazing furnace as they stood firm for what they knew, that the only things that burned in that inferno were the things which had bound them.  Just let that sit there.

fire 2

I had things that bound me this year — things I didn’t even realize were stuck on me.  I had folks to forgive and ask forgiveness from.  I had some pride in my *rightest* way of doing things.  I had misplaced security in things that weren’t secure at all.

As each of these layers were revealed to me, I had a responsibility to dig in, gear up, be still, sit in the quiet, study my surroundings, train myself to know what is real and what is dangerous, be willing to take risks, be brave, stand in what I know, use the weapons I have, and know that at the end of it all, all that matters is if He finds me faithful.  It is enough.

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At Least I’m Warm…

I just completed a feat that made me give myself a little pat on the back.  This girl spent two weeks in archery season and two weeks in rifle season trudging through the woods and up a ladder and into a stand waiting for a big buck.  Through wind and sleet and snow (no hail), I sat and froze my bippy.

Somewhere in there, I decided that it’s not surprising that I love this hobby.  I am the same girl that made and loved tree forts, spent every afternoon in the woods after school, and loves to stockpile food.  I also love and respect firearms and the shooting of them.  🙂 And after getting my deer last year, I was hooked.  I look at the whole thing with ultimate respect — the giving of life so my family can eat.  And I thoroughly enjoy the process of waiting and watching Deer TV — the slowest show you’ll ever watch in your life.

hunting pic 2

I love how the experience changes me.  It begins each day with a wardrobe change from work clothes into hurriedly changed warm-weather gear, my backpack, my rifle, and it transforms me into one who sits still.  One who sets her phone down and breathes.  One who has chapped hands and face and hat hair.  One who returns breathless each night with stories of sunsets and deer and maybe a squirrel who jumped into my stand with me or a woodpecker who knocked at my door and scared the willies out of me.  It might involve stories of pee-pee pants as I learned that my new device which allows girls to urinate on the go does not work unless one completely drops her pants.  Quit laughing.  I had to sit in said pee-pee pants for over and hour so as not to disturb the deer.  This is how tough I am.

It reminded me of the famous family story that gets told and quoted time and again at our house.  We were on a family trip and we were at a restaurant and it was a location that should have been warm so when our clothes were inadequate to keep us warm, I had a shivery baby.  I think she was about five and so so cold.  We were at a Japanese steakhouse so we were at a table with strangers — all of us facing each other.  My little one managed to spill an entire bowl of hot soup in her lap.  I say, with all gentleness, that at that age, this particular little one may have typically had a rather strong and dramatic reaction to soup in the lap.  This time, with everyone looking on, she surprised us all by simply saying, “Well.  At least I’m warm!”

That phrase gets repeated over and over around here when things seem dire and we choose to look at the bright side.

With two days left in hunting season, our meat freezer died.  Sadly, it had died a couple days before we realized it and by the time we noticed, we had already lost a lot of meat — specifically, almost an entire deer, almost an entire grass-fed cow, almost a whole pig that we had purchased, 5 chickens and more.

Needless to say, with Christmas coming, having just finished 6 birthdays, and with a pretty neat tax bill due, the timing — and the basement — stunk.  “Well, we have two days left to get a deer!  So let’s get a deer!” we said.

No deer.  Yeah.

We had prayed and we had asked and no deer.  So many collective hours freezing and waiting and watching over the course of 2 months, and nothing.  We left our stands the last night and met at the geese and duck and chicken coops to do chores and fist bumped each other — proud of how hard we’d tried.  Determined to put a good face on things.  And with the most thankful of hearts for all we have.

Friends, we don’t have a happy ending yet.  Usually, this is the part where I tell you something neat like I hit a deer on the way home from work and look at that!  Provision!! Or how one just walked up to my door and died and woohoo!  Meat for everyone!  God has done those type of things for us before.  Checks in the mail at the very moment we needed it.  Business deals that go through when things felt really dire.

This time, the miracle is that we have joy anyway.  Even when things are frustrating and we can’t see the ending for the curves in the way, we firmly believe God has something just beyond our sight-line that is waiting to come into our view and finish the story in the way only He can.  He has proven Himself more times than I could possibly count.  Our family is healthy and happy and together and we have warm homes and will have a beautiful Christmas.  Things are not dire.  They are just inconvenient.  We are 100% choosing to be thankful for everything and excited to see what is in store.  We aren’t even allowing ourselves to complain or worry.  Just not gonna do it.

Because, sometimes, the soup (or maybe the pee-pee) just spills all over your clothes.  But at least you’re warm.