The Blessing
Day 1 of things afoot on the farm

When Everyone Else Seems to be Winning — and You feel like a bit of a Loser

A Holy Experience

And today dawns and we’ll try to get some photos of the happy crazy that’s afoot in this neck of the woods — so stay tuned! {Might you pray for the Farmer and I today?} So we’re pulling up another chair this morning on the front porch for some shimmering story-telling from fellow farmer’s wife and very good friend, Jennifer Dukes Leewords I really needed this morning.  {Isn’t it a wild grace to be a community here together — I’m being so encouraged by this gathering of friends at the farm!  And maybe pictures to follow soon?

I rest my chin on the farm gate, and exhale in one long breath while two baby calves with saucer-like eyes stare back at my daughter and me.

It’s a showdown.

And these cows simply won’t budge.

We cajole. We gently splash at the water in their five-gallon buckets. We even sing a sweet, silly tune: “Daisy, Daisy don’t be la-zyyyy! Come drink from your pail of waaaa-ter!”

But those two unyielding, black calves with wet noses simply blink long eyelashes at us.

What they say about horses is also true for cows: You can lead them to water, but you can’t make them drink.

My daughter, Lydia, wears worry on her knitted brow. Will these calves ever learn to drink from a bucket? She kneels down, swirling water in a bucket with her index finger. I rub her back.

“It’s OK, hon. We’ll try again tomorrow, all right?” I hand her an oversized bottle of milk-replacer to feed Sherbert, and I hold another bottle for Daisy. They come to us, ravenously. I look down my arm at Lydia and reassure: “They’ll learn. They’ll wean eventually.”

I wear a wide smile, speaking with the calm confidence of someone who knows what she’s doing. But it’s a slippery confidence. Because –snap—just like that, it’s gone.

An old familiar ache rises up inside of me. Sure, that ache is partly about my inability to get two stubborn calves to cooperate. But more, it’s an opening for old doubts about myself to resurface.

It’s a way for my mind to entertain a hundred different ways I fall short. It’s a gateway to reconsider all the ways that I think I don’t measure up in this world. And this world overflows with scorecards to let you know you’re falling short.

There are scorecards that might make you think that life is a game, and you’re already a loser.

My husband—the real farmer on this farm—has never made me feel that way. He lets me try new things, like bottle-feeding calves with our daughters. He simply laughs and shakes his head when I retell the story of how I got myself and Daisy tangled up in the gate with the rope halter, that rope having somehow wrapped itself around the calf’s neck before my daring rescue.

No. It’s not my husband pitching out high expectations. It’s not the neighbors, or my pastor, or my best friend, or my girls. It’s me, with all my niggling insecurities tangling themselves like rope halters around the heart.

The truth is, I’ve felt a little clumsy as a farmer’s wife. Scratch that. I’ve felt two-left-footed with life in general.

I replay blunders. I anticipate failure. I confess this to you: I compare myself to other women. And when I do, I fall on the short side of things whether it’s true or not. In my writing life, I second-guess and self-doubt. I wonder why I should say anything if it’s been written before—or been written better. As a wife and mother, I see the holes, the shortcomings. I tally up missed opportunities.

On the farm, I remind myself that I can’t operate a tractor or haul grain into town, like  other wives do. I don’t know much about animal breeds or markets, like I think I “should.”

And I can’t figure out simple tasks, like how to get a calf to drink from a bucket.

Two tails twitch. Wide, begging calf eyes plead, “More.”

Both bottles have been sucked dry now. Lydia and I walk up the hill, to wash up before breakfast.

I turn on the faucet, and wash bottles. I rinse with water, watching it all swirl down the drain.

And it feels like a sort of inner cleansing, an act of faith, to stand here at that sink, watching dirty water drain away. It’s an inner turning, a refocusing, a flipping over.

I have to remind myself daily what I already know: Focus on the Father, not my flaws. Look to the Savior, not the self. The Messiah, not the mirror.

And this is the power of the Gospel: Water cleanses, through the Word.

But this is also true: the patient Father can lead His child to water, but He doesn’t make her drink it.

He holds water out, as if in cupped hands. He bids us, come.

And at the edge of this sink, I drink from those hands. I preach the Gospel from a self-pulpit. I repeat memorized Scripture, about who I am, about how I’ve been fashioned by God, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that will bring His Kingdom glory, here-below. There is no earthly yardstick, rating system, ticker or scale to measure that sort of thing.

The water runs clean, and I confess it here, to this King with open hands. I confess how I have downplayed the inventive way that He molded singular me. I can feel it now, how when I shift the focus to Truth, anxiety drains away.

The Lord didn’t ask for gold-star performances in this life. He didn’t ask me to prove my significance to the world. Or to prove myself to Him. He didn’t ask me to prove anything at all. He is the One who approves, declaring us beloved while we were yet sinners. He asks now only for my heart, my willingness, my hands—even when my hands haven’t seemed all that useful.

Just then, it dawns on me. My hands. 

I turn off the faucet, and walk back down the hill, to two stubborn calves who won’t drink the water.

I open the creaky gate, step inside and call out for them. I kneel at the side of a five-gallon bucket, dip my hands in water, and hold those hands straight out—cupped—under the wet nose of a baby calf.

And, right then, from cupped hands held out on a June morning in Iowa, a baby learns to drink.

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Jennifer Dukes Lee and her husband raise two girls and acres of corn and soybeans on their Iowa farm. Jennifer, a journalist and college writing instructor, used to cover crime, politics, and natural disasters. Now she uses her reporting skills to chase after the redemptive story of Christ. She is currently working on her first book, with Tyndale Momentum.

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