A few days ago, my Cliff and I saddled our horses and drove to the back pasture. The plan was to ride through the cattle, checking for sickness, etc. Maybe that would take an hour or so, then move some mineral tubs and go home by noon.
As you ranch wives know – things rarely go as expected! As we were driving there – we passed a bunch of pairs that were happily grazing in the neighbors’ pasture! Oh boy. That means a gate open or fence down, somewhere.
We drove up to the property line and parked. Backed our horses out of the trailer and mounted up. Sure enough, there was a big section of really trashy fence. The cows had just walked over it, and they’d scattered across the neighbors’ pasture.
We gathered a few pair that were near the gate, pushed them through, and then called our daughter to come help. She brought extra fencing supplies with the ATV, so Cliff could fix the fence. While he was working on the holes, Jenni used his horse to help me start gathering the strays. They had drifted down the hill, so of course we had to push them uphill to get them back to where they were supposed to be.
We spent all morning gathering strays, and then went home for a quick lunch. Afterwards, we went back with another horse, and all three of us worked at bringing them all back. We went up and down that hill three times, then worked on cleaning out the aspen groves, and then we tried pushing them further back into the home pasture, so they wouldn’t mash the fence down till we had a chance to fix it better.
This all sounds very straightforward, but as you ranch women know – it was anything but straightforward! The easiest way to move cattle is to drive them along a fence. But, if you push calves too hard, they pop right under or through the fence! Cows will go through too, but calves are really problematic.
If you are moving cow/calf pairs, they tend to get separated. The mamas are calling for their calves, or trying to turn around and go back. Calves are poky – they get tired sooner, and they just stop moving. Soon you have a bunch of calves at the back that you have to really work to keep moving. And, there is always that one high-headed cow that tries to run everywhere except where she is supposed to! We take it easy and quiet, but sometimes they just don’t move well.
As I was riding along behind those cows, I had to think about how many times I have strayed from God. I think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, so I push through the fence to get to it. And when God tries to herd me back, I resist. I try to turn back, I bawl, I poke along, and even try to jump back through the fence!
But God doesn’t give up.
We spent 7 hours on horseback, gathering all those strays. I would have spent longer if necessary. Those cows are our bread and butter, and we do what it takes to keep them healthy and safe. (we also try to be good neighbors!) So yes, we spend whatever time it takes. That wreck* happened on a Saturday… on Monday we were back out, gathering and moving a few more pairs. We would have went out as many times as needed till they were all in the correct pasture.
So it is with God. He will not stop. He doesn’t give up on us. He will continue putting a little pressure on us, till we come home. If we go through the fence again – He will come after us again. More pressure from the flanks, more guidance. He makes the way home the easiest thing. That gate is the only place where the pressure eases.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
We have a tendency to wander off, out of His will, off the path of Life.
We allow some small grievances to grow in our heart,
we want ‘just a little bit of my own way’,
we begin to love money or
we get a bit proud of who we are,
what we have accomplished, and so on.
Each wandering begins small. A small hole in the fence, so to speak. But that hole gets bigger – and sometimes we even take our friends along. So, God send His cowboys to gather us back home. His Spirit works through pastors, friends, spouses, the Bible — God wants to bring us home. He will not tire of the job. And those who love God and His family will not tire of it, either.
Have you been straying from God? Do you feel His pressure to come back home? He won’t stop. He never tires and never sleeps. He will arrange your life to keep you headed back to the gate. You can try to run off, like a high-headed cow, but He is faster than you! Of course He won’t force you, He gives us free choice. But He will make the gate the best place to be.
You are worth His time, and you are worth my time. You are worth a place at the table.
Come on home, my friend.
If you need a listening ear, please feel free to message me.
*when things go wrong on a ranch, we call it a wreck. Whether it means a bunch of cows got out, a horse that bucked someone off, an accident, or whatever.
Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” Matthew 14:28-33
The ‘water’ in our life can take many forms. Health problems, financial difficulties, marital tension, relational problems, family issues… the list goes on.
Peter recognized Jesus in the midst of his storm. He saw Jesus, and he wanted Jesus! Notice Peter didn’t ask Jesus to quiet the storm. He just said “command me to come to You.” Peter wanted to be with Jesus.
What an example! He didn’t care about the storm, he wanted to be in the presence of Jesus more than he wanted the storm to be still. I want to be like that – to look UP. To look above the storms and wild waves of my life, and see Jesus – walking on top of the water.
Have you seen Jesus in your storm?Have you asked, with your small faith, to come to Him? He offers the same power to us, that He did to Peter.
“Come!” Jesus command rings out with power you can grab on to. Grab hold, my friend! He will not let you drown. But don’t take your eyes off Him – even for a second. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and you will walk above the waves of your stormy sea. Water is for walking on, after all!
I often identify with the impulsive, passionate personality of Peter. He would shoot off at the mouth, get angry, even lie. Then – almost immediately – he would be remorseful, repentant, and fall at Jesus’ feet in love and adoration. I know that feeling. Oh, how often I get in trouble with my impulsive, passionate nature! Yet Jesus is always there to rebuke, instruct, and love. He keeps tenderly, lovingly, gently drawing me to Himself.
Even though Peter was not the model disciple (as we would think), he was the only one who walked on the water with Jesus. He failed miserably many times; in anger he cut off the soldier’s ear, in fear he denied knew Jesus, in despair went back to his nets when Jesus was crucified. Yet Jesus saw his faith, small though it was. Jesus still loved him and gave him power. Peter was the one to whom Jesus said “Come!”
We may not look put together, we may be messy and have a lot of work to do yet. But if we love Jesus deeply and passionately, and have faith – we too, can walk on the waves.
Let’s lift our eyes above the stormy waves, and cry out to our Lord to save us. To help us. To give us wisdom. He will, you know.
Yes to sippy cups and stinky diapers.
Yes to interruptions and hours of rocking.
Yes to car seat struggles and bedtime tears.
Yes to sticky hands and food in hair.
Yes to higher cost of food and not fitting in the truck.
Yes to court hearings, worker meetings, and awkward parent meetings.
Yes to doctor appointments, WIC appointments, and not being able to use a sitter.
We said yes to foster care.
Yes to chubby hands clasped tightly around mine.
Yes to first shy kisses and tentative hugs.
Yes to beautiful smiles and gorgeous eyes.
Yes to another daughter or another son.
Yes to laughter and giggles and someone who adores you.
Yes to extra love and extra snuggles.
Yes to praying another soul – another family – towards the kingdom of God.
Yes to someone to dance with.
Yes to tight neck-hugs.
Yes to showing this wonderful world to another innocent soul.
Yes to God’s way of bringing us more fully into His likeness.
We said yes to foster care.
NOTE: Foster care is not glamorous. It does not mean we are special or extraordinary. But, by the grace of God we have been given this opportunity to share His lavish love, and His lavish gifts. I struggle at times with giving of myself. I am basically selfish. God has been using this avenue to break me and teach me. Like Jason Johnson says: “We don’t strut into their stories with a cape on our back; we crawl in with a cross on our back.” – Jason Johnson Blog
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? Matthew 6:25-26
In my last Journey of Faith post, I told you how I overcame discouragement and loneliness. And how we found out that my husband would lose his job in a few weeks…
It was early January, cold and snowy. We were living in an old, drafty farmhouse that was hard to heat. (we had moved from the trailer house into a farmhouse in the country, in October) We put a blanket over the staircase, moved the kids’ beds downstairs, and heated only the living room and kitchen. Propane was costing us 450.00 every 4-5 weeks to heat our house – it was eating up our small budget too fast. I remember at one point wondering how we were going to survive the winter without begging for money!
But I learned once again that God never fails His children! He is always faithful to supply our needs. We trusted Him, Cliff worked hard, I tried to be as thrifty as I could, and we always had food to eat. One time a man came to church – just a visitor – and after church he took Cliff out to his vehicle and gave us bags and boxes of food. Produce, mostly, and some dried beans. All from his garden! He said he had ‘way too much garden veggies, and wanted to bless someone with it! As far as I know, he never came back to church – I am certain he was an angel. We ate squash, potatoes, carrots, beans, and many other good vegetables for weeks. Sometimes there would be an envelope in our mailbox with a little cash in it. I wish I knew who felt prompted by God to give – we never asked for money or talked about our finances. I would like to thank those dear saints for being sensitive to the Holy Spirit in their lives!
Well, back to the lay-off… When we heard that we’d be out of a job in a couple weeks, we honestly were stumped. What does a person do who gets laid off in the middle of winter with literally no savings, no college degree, no nothing?!
God answered our prayers in a powerful, amazing way!
My sister and her husband used to work on a ranch near Cheyenne, WY, and we used to visit them there. Through them, we learned to know a young man who ran cattle on a couple ranches in WY. Well, when we were considering what to do for a job, Cliff remembered that young man, and decided to call him up.
When Cliff asked him if he had any job openings, the man answered: “Yes, I just leased a new ranch this month and need a another guy to help run it. You can start next week.”
We were blown away! God had lined up the perfect job for us at the exact time we needed it. I tell you, friends, God does things like this all the time. We aren’t special or anything. But I have trained myself to see God’s hand in everything. You can do that too. Write it down. Or tell someone. Don’t say: “Well that was pretty neat!” and forget about it. Notice when God works a miracle for you. Praise Him! Thank Him!
“…for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” Matt. 6:8S
So on Monday morning, Cliff packed a sleeping bag and a suitcase and drove up to Wyoming to start his new job. I stayed in CO and started packing. I packed up all our belongings as best I could between caring for three little ones. (the kids were 1, 3 and 5) On Saturday, Cliff came home and we loaded most of our belongings into our trusty pink horse-trailer and headed north.
On Monday, I took the kids and drove down with the truck and trailer for the final load. My sister came along to help, since she was visiting for awhile. She helped me clean the house and pack up the remaining things.
Ranch life was good. Cliff enjoyed the work, the salary was better than we had ever enjoyed before, (that’s not saying much, but while you won’t get rich on a ranch, at least you have a house!) and we all loved the wide open spaces of Wyoming!
Three short months after we moved to Wyoming, our faith was tested in a very different and difficult manner. Our youngest child, Andy, was playing near the irrigation canal and drowned. It was by far the most trying circumstance we had to face. But as always, God brought us through that, too. I am thankful for the grace of God that is give in every situation. I did struggle quite a bit with guilt over Andy’s death. Then I had to learn to graciously respond to people’s ignorant but well-meaning comments. Each part of the trial forced me to lean on God more, and dig deeper in His Word and His wisdom.
If you want to read the story of Andy, you can find it here. Andy
That was ten years ago. We have been living in Wyoming and working on ranches and we still like Wyoming! It is our favorite state, despite the brutal winters and mosquito-laden summers. We lived on that first ranch (the X-Bar) for 4.5 years, then moved to a ranch north of Cheyenne for 5 years, and currently we are on a ranch in the mountains west of Laramie.
Our children are blessed to grow up in this wonderful ranching community, learning to rope and ride and care for animals. Cliff still enjoys ranching, he also owns a small leather business on the side where he makes saddles, chaps, and other gear for working cowboys.
After our son died, I started reading about foster care, and slowly my heart was drawn to the amazing work of being a safe place for kids who are removed from their homes. After 5 years of my reading and dreaming, we were licensed as a foster home, and received our first placement in May, 2015. Foster care was never Cliff’s dream, but he supported my dream. After 7 kids coming through our home, I can say the honeymoon period is over, haha! but I still have an incredible burden for these kids and this work. Even when it is the hardest, I am reminded how precious each child is to our God, how much He cares about them.
Our life looks so much different than I ever thought it would, but God’s plans are always best. So many things He said “No” to, and that was best. Then He said “Yes” to many wonderful things that I could never have dreamed of! I am learning to take each experience from His hand of love, and be thankful.
If this series has blessed or encouraged you in any way, I would love if you leave a comment and tell me why! Thank you to all who have replied to my stories and encouraged me to write it.
For the past several years, I have been writing little encouragements for Christian moms, and sharing them on my personal social media. I have had some requests from my friends to put them all in one place for them to access and share.
So, in honor of World Book Day, I am releasing my brand-new book on Amazon this week! You can buy the print version for 6.99 right here:
If you prefer the ebook version, you can buy that as well. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free! If not, you can buy the Kindle version for 0.99 this week only! Next week the price will go up a bit. This is launch week special!
You can buy the Kindle version here:
There are 31 short devotionals, each with a corresponding Bible verse to meditate on during the day. This little book is written specifically to moms with small children – in the thick of mothering.
I know how difficult it can be to care for babies and toddlers, how never-ending it can seem! The sleepless nights, the crunchy floors, the squabbling amongst siblings. There’s never enough ‘mom’ to reach around, and by the time you get to eat your food is cold.
It’s no joke! But then, the rewards are great, too. The wet kisses, the endless supply of dandelions, the first “Mama”! The moments when they are sleeping so peacefully and you just know you have the most beautiful, precious child in the whole wide world!
I have cared for 8 babies over the years, 5 of my own and 3 foster babies. These meditations came from my own musings, as I face various battles in my mind; battles against Self and sin. I find that there is layer after layer of selfishness, laziness, and pride in my heart.
I hope you are blessed by this little work of love, and may God encourages your heart through these pages.
“and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24
When one lives in far-flung places, it is very easy to skip out on Sunday meetin’s. The reasons are valid, or at least understandable. There are pressures and responsibilities that people who work 9-5 just don’t understand. Agriculture has unique challenges that make getting away difficult.
First, it’s too far. Well yes, it is. You may need to spend lots of time and money to drive to a church. You may not be able to sleep in Sunday morning; you may need to get up while all your city buddies are still snoozing. This can seem like too much to ask, but we all know how early we rise, and how far we drive to a branding or a great bull sale, am I right?!
Secondly,we always have something urgent to do. This one is my personal enemy. I have heard this excuse (not from my husband) and I dislike it. Yes, there will always be something to do. There always is, when you live on a ranch. There are 101 things that need our attention, preferably yesterday. But you gotta choose, okay? That ditch can be dug on Monday, that bunch can be moved later. (unless they’re in the neighbor’s pasture – then get it done now!) Trust me, most of the pressing stuff can wait. It’s a mindset. Trigger warning: what I am gonna say next may make you upset!
We love our life and we’re happy to sacrifice everything for the ranch. But that’s not so healthy, really. We need to have friends and interests that include things off the ranch. This is one reason so many kids are running away from the ranch when they turn 18. They want nothing to do with our obsession. I can’t blame ’em.
Third,we do try, but then get stuck. This one can be comical, like the time we were headed to church one Sunday morning and noticed one of our bulls standing inside a round-bale feeder! We tried to tip it up, but that bull wasn’t standing around to allow that! He hightailed it up the hill, feeder bouncing along!
I could tell more stories of how we’ve been held up last-minute from church or other plans. It seems the ranch knows when you want to leave. It finds all sorts of weird delays to throw at you. You have to be careful what you allow. It will suck you back into the craziness if you let it. Before you go saddle up or start the tractor – stop! Think; is it a matter of life or death for livestock? If not, it can probably wait a few hours.
Fourth, there’s mostly hypocrites in church anyway. Sadly, there are many hypocrites in church. Churches also often have some gossips, cliques, power-grabbers, and lazy back-seat warmers, too. Which one are you? Are you on fire for God, willing to serve your brothers and sisters in the church? Or are you just wanting to get your blessing for the week and go home? The problem starts with us. How often am I a hypocrite? Have I ever said “I’m praying for you!” but forgotten to actually pray? Hypocrite.
Have I ever acted or talked like my marriage was great, but we actually argued on the way to church? Hypocrite. Have I pretended to be a faithful reader of God’s Word, but actually only read the verse of the day? Hypocrite.
Sadly, the church does seem to bring that out in us, I don’t know why. But the fact is, there are hypocrites everywhere, so don’t blame your staying home on that. Yes, Christians should live higher lives than celebrities or actors or sports people. They should. But they often don’t. Because the church is US, folks. Just ordinary people like me and you. And if I am a hypocrite – even once, then others can blame it on the church. If you are a ever, ever a hypocrite – even once – then someone may be using you as their excuse.
Lastly, I can worship God here on the ranch, surrounded by His nature. This one sounds so good. Anyone who has watched the sunrise over the hills, or walked though a fresh-cut hay field, or stopped to listen to the call of a bird on a warm summer evening knows the sense of awe that comes over you.
But friends, that isn’t church. Yes, Jesus preached on a hillside. When you have a crowd of 5,000 following you, feel free to have church on the hillside.
Church is about fellowship with other local believers. Encouraging one another in the faith. Speaking truth from different view points, so you stay balanced. Support in difficult times, and praise together in the good.
You just can’t get that alone. You can learn many things from God while you are alone on the ranch. Many lessons in nature, many neat truths from Scripture. But those cows aren’t gonna ask you how your week has been. The pony isn’t going to say: “Hey, let’s pray about that thing in your life.” The dog, much as he loves you, is never going to say “Come over and eat tacos with us tonight.”
There are so many blessings you can get from being a regular, committed part of a church. I know – many churches aren’t functioning correctly. In the effort to not step on toes, they have made everything bland and generic and unhelpful. But go anyways. Ask God to lead you to a place where you can go and find fellowship. Even if it is 1-2 other people in your home, who also love the Lord and have a vision to grow His kingdom. “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”Matt. 18:20
We need other faithful Christian friends to keep us sharp.
Bonus: we have nothing in common with those city folk. Well, Jesus came from Heaven, and yet He found a way to fellowship with us earthlings! So… I guess we can manage to get outside our little world and find fellowship with people who live in the concrete jungle! Seriously though, it is great to be with other ranch folk. But don’t pick a church by the clothes the pastor wears. Find one that sticks close to truth. Cowboy church is great – IF it’s great. But slapping a hat on your head does not mean your theology is sound. Be wise.
You may feel like it isn’t worth the effort, but I can tell you that if you find other like-minded Christians to fellowship with on a regular basis, you will grow. You will be encouraged. It will be worth every commitment and sacrifice. Give your best to God, and He will bless you spiritually.
What are some obstacles you face, that make it difficult to make to church?
We had been living in Pueblo, CO for about 8 months when we heard about a church that might be a good fit. My husband and I believe strongly that a disciple of Jesus needs to have regular fellowship with other like-minded believers. Commitment to a local church is something we take seriously. We want to be a part of a church family – somewhere we can be accountable to other believers in a closer way than we are with random christians we meet occasionally. We don’t want to be seat-warmers, slipping in and out quietly without anyone really knowing us.
Jesus preached to multitudes; but He had the 12 that He interacted with on a deeper level, teaching, sharing food, traveling. It seems that in following His example, one should try pretty hard to find and integrate with a local church. We need community, people to do life with, people who have the same vision and goals in their walk with God. Not perfectly alike, mind you, but similar.
Well, we hadn’t found a church fellowship that really spoke life to us in Pueblo – so we were cautiously willing to check out a church in Northern CO. This was a church that we had visited years earlier, but we didn’t know much about it. We knew a couple people there, but again – mostly strangers. So, one bright Sunday morning, I woke the kids early, and dressed them for church, and we piled in our minivan and headed north.
After not being part of a church for over a year, it was like water on dry ground to listen to that sermon! The pastor’s words poured life and truth and love. My eyes filled with tears; I can still remember that morning. We fellowshipped with the church folk afterwards, at their potluck lunch. We talked about how much we enjoyed it on our long drive back home.
We visited again soon, and after the second visit, we knew. Well, actually, after the first visit I knew that we were supposed to move there. But the second visit was a definite confirmation. But we didn’t have any extra money to take off work and drive up to look for work or housing. We weren’t sure what to do. But then one of the men from the church (he was one of the pastors) called us and told us he found Cliff a job in construction, and he found us a house! ( he’d negotiated a 6 month lease for us, if we were interested.)
Well, with that kind of support, what could we say but yes?! The pastor paid the down-payment on the house for us, and set up the job. He also gathered church folk to be there to help us unload furniture when we moved, and brought us food. This was not a wealthy man, by the way. Just an ordinary, hard-working man with 7 kids of his own. He never said much, but his life spoke more to me than most pastors I have listened to in my life.
We moved to Weld County, CO in March, 2006. It was good to be a part of a church where the sermons gave life, the fellowship was sweet.
But we were still broke. I think Cliff made 13 or 14 dollars an hour, building houses. He is a good carpenter, but he doesn’t really enjoy it. After nearly a year on a ranch, it was even less appealing. But he didn’t complain – just worked hard for our family. I stayed home and did a little custom sewing, stretched our money as best I could. I did struggle with loneliness, because we lived 45 minutes from the church and from most of our friends. I didn’t know people very well yet, and we didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend on gas to drive around.
But, God taught me one of my most treasured lessons while we lived in that trailer-house in Weld County. A few months after we moved, I started feeling unwell. Nothing I could put my finger on, just tired, sometimes nauseous, aches and pains. I worried and fretted about it. I knew it must be diabetes or cancer or something! I googled it, worried some more, and finally had a breakthrough: God showed me that it was because I was lonely, discontent, and verging on depression. Between finances, having three small children, a new church, a new community… I wasn’t handling it all very well. I was stewing and worrying and nervous, instead of trusting in God. I don’t even know when or how it dawned on me, but at some point I realized it was not a health issue at all but merely my body mirroring what was going on in my head.
I had basically made myself sick from discontent and worry. I wanted a house in the country… I didn’t want to have money troubles… I missed my sister… I felt out-of-place at this new church… Bottom line: it was sin. It was like the parable of the Sower – some of the seed fell on good ground, but it was choked out by the cares and troubles of this world. (Matthew 13) I truly wanted to be a disciple of Jesus, but I allowed circumstances to cloud my vision, hiding the sunshine of God’s glory. When plants grow with little sun, they get sickly and weak. And so do people.
I came to realize that my happiness could not depend on external circumstances, but had to come from within. I had to focus on Christ, and let the stuff of this world fade out a little. I realized that you can actually become physically ill from worry and discontent. I can’t tell you five steps to victory – it was subtle changes. It was waking up and forcing myself to get up and read the Word of God and praise Him. It was refusing to allow my thoughts to dwell on myself, but to start looking out and up. Out at others who I could bless, and up to God who was and is always worthy of praise and honor!! In a few weeks, I was happier and felt better than I ever had. I had no health problem! It felt like a miracle to me, and indeed – isn’t it always a miracle when God gets a hold of a person’s life and transforms them??!!
If you have slid off the path, fallen in a pit, or are choked up with the weeds of this old world – get up! Take courage! God is on your side! He wants you to be happy and fulfilled in Him. When your gaze is on Jesus, there is nothing in this world that can harm you or entice you. Discontent comes from taking our eyes off our precious Saviour. Start praising God. Look for ways to bless others in your life. Place every trial and problem in God’s hands. You probably can’t fix it anyways, so why hang onto it?
Anyways, we lived in Northern CO for nearly a year. Then one day in early January, Cliff’s boss told him that he didn’t have enough work for Cliff. He said that he would have to let Cliff go in two weeks.
Now what?!? We couldn’t afford to go very long without a job, but winter is slow in construction, and where would we find another job? The news was a bit of a shock, for sure.
We lived in Missouri for 5 years, and had many experiences, good and bad.
Three children were born to us, a girl – then two boys.
Cliff’s dad passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 45.
We built a small house mostly by ourselves. It was on my mother-in-law’s property.
Cliff started a small rock-laying business on the side.
Then he started a leather tack business in our living room. (still going today!)
Building our tiny house! 2005
It was during this time that I grew a lot in the areas of patience, self-control, and unselfishness. Not that I am perfect by any means, (!!!) but the day-to-day responsibilities of being a mother and a wife taught me a lot.
Making ends meet when we lived on $400-500 per week, struggling to pay dental bills and vehicle breakdowns and appliance failures. Thanks to my naturally thrifty nature, and my mother’s example, I often made 20.00 last for a weeks worth of groceries for the two of us. The babies were always breastfed and the toddlers – well, you know how little they eat!
Our little family back in 2005.
We ate a lot of beans and potatoes, and Cliff shot a deer or two every fall. Often neighbors would give us extra deer they’d shot. One fall we bought a pig and butchered it. That was a huge treat! I cured the bacon myself, to save on butcher house costs. It was great! The Lord blessed us tremendously during that time. I found a man who had lots of grapevines he didn’t use, so my friend and I would go pick bushels of grapes and can the juice. I bought ‘seconds’ of apples and peaches and canned them. I had a generous neighbor who gave me her extra green beans to can, and corn to freeze.
My sister and her husband; Marcel.
One year we went on a vacation to Idaho to visit my sister and her family on a ranch. When we got back, my garden was destroyed by the neighbor’s goat herd! I felt pretty defeated, but we made out ok. It was a lot of work gone, though!
I gave birth to several of our children at home, and midwives are not covered by insurance, even if we would’ve had it. (we didn’t) We paid for years for our babies. ($4,000 was a common rate) With one of our sons, we were blessed to be able to trade work towards the cost of the delivery. Cliff worked on their house in the evenings, in trade. (The midwife was a friend, so we were very thankful.)
I say all this – not for pity – but to share the goodness of God who never leaves us, and always provides for us! Always!! Along with learning to be a mother, I was learning to trust God. It was hard, financially. We were always tight. But I grew up like that, so it wasn’t new to me. In fact, I didn’t know any other way to live.
Such a good daddy!
It was difficult having 3 babies so close together, too. Each time, I got pregnant when my baby was 11 months old. So the three of them were all 21 months apart. At one point I had a 3 year old, a 1 year old, and a newborn! I get quite sick when I am pregnant, so there were many days where I would lie on the couch, nauseated, while my toddler(s) got into mischief. I had two babies in diapers, twice.
As a kid, I had always been my dad’s right-hand-man, so to speak, and never did get along very well in the house. So the transition to a full-time homemaker was a learning curve. The constant stream of dirty dishes, the constant exhaustion from being pregnant and having toddlers, the ever-needy children, the endless laundry and cooking that needed doing… it all wore on me.
My first two babies.
Cliff and Andy.
I loved being a mother, but I had to learn to pull on my big girl boots and just do it. My mother was very practical, and she raised us to have emotional control – which I am ever so thankful for! I knew the only thing to do was get up and do what needed doing.
I can tell you; you don’t need afternoon wine, or chocolate, or me-time, or girls’ nights or anything else our self-inclined society tells you. You need a reverent fear of God and His Word. You need to take control of your thoughts and put to death your selfish desires, and do what needs doing. “I die daily,” the Scripture says. (1 Cor 15)
Death isn’t fun! Death isn’t easy! Death is hard and painful. But the result is sweet acceptance and submission to God’s will. In my case; the raising and nurturing of a family. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with me-time and chocolate. Those things have their (limited) place. But please don’t turn to things to replace what God wants to do in you. He will mature you and grow you in ways you never knew possible, if you are willing to be purified. Seek God, above all! Read His word daily. Die to Self, live for Jesus. God is able to give you ALL you need, I can assure you.
When our 3rd baby was very young, our church went through an upheaval. Due to uncontrollable (by us) circumstances, we were left without a church. It was the first time I felt a bit lost and betrayed. We wanted to serve God, and know Him. Why would He jerk out the church from under us? Why would He leave us hanging, so to speak? I was confused. I wanted to move to Pennsylvania to a church where some of our friends were. I didn’t want to look for another church! I sure didn’t want to sit alone. But sit alone we did – for a while.
Then one day, Cliff was talking to his cowboy friend (my sister’s husband) on the phone. When he hung up, he asked me: “How would you like to move to Colorado and work for Marcel on his cattle operation?”
Of course I wanted to! They talked some more, and I wasn’t sure if it would work out. Maybe August, they said?
It was July, and I had the prettiest garden ever. The tomatoes were just starting to ripen when we got a call. Marcel (my bro-in-law) was taking a trip and needed someone to watch the cattle while they were gone. Could we come out in a week?
Well of course we could! We packed up our belongings and stuffed them into the front of the horsetrailer. We packed the truckbed and minivan full, too. There was just enough room for three carseats. We loaded our horse into the back end of the 4-horse trailer, and headed out one evening. Like any parent of small children – we knew if we travelled at night, they would sleep a good portion of the trip. Since we had a 5 month old baby, we knew it would be best if he was sleeping a lot of the way, since we both had to drive.
I drove the minivan and he drove the truck & trailer. We drove all night, stopping once for a short nap-break for me. I was so tired. I fought sleep so bad! When the sun rose, we were in CO and the scenery had changed. So that was better. I stayed awake pretty good for the rest of the trip. We pulled in to my sister’s place before noon, and I was sleep-drunk. But the babies were awake and hyper by then, so I sat in the cool grass and watched them play. The dry desert air of Pueblo was invigorating!
We lived in Pueblo for 9 months. Cliff rode and did care on yearlings with his brother-in-law. I thoroughly enjoyed living close to my sister, for the first time since I’d been married. We did everything together! We went shopping, canned peaches, did laundry, even went on a double date once, when our men found a sitter for our assorted toddlers! 😀 It was a special time in our lives. I had missed my family, and this living-a-mile-apart was so special.
Cowboys roping and doctoring a yearling.
It wasn’t easy… as inexperienced ranch hands, and working for a small outfit, we didn’t earn much at all. (1,200/month, plus free housing) The cost of living was higher in CO than it had been in MO. Gas had skyrocketed to over four dollars a gallon, and we were still driving junky vehicles that broke down a lot. Those nine months were the toughest, financially, that we have experienced, to date. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say that it was hard. But you know what? God is a good Father. Often, just when money was due, we somehow got the money. We were given food and hand-me-downs, and we never went hungry. Again, I learned that God always provides, that He will always take care of you.
Horsey rides are the best! (Jenni)
Your faith can grow in these situations, more than when you are ‘sitting pretty’. But let it be known that being poor is NOT romantic! I have had several people in my life, different times and places, ask me “how it feels?” And, that they think it would be kind of sweet and fun to be poor… “Just working hard together!” “Growing in faith!”
Please don’t tell me that lack of money is somehow desirable. All that tells me is you’ve never tried to decide whether to pay your electric bill or buy food. You’ve never gone 6 months with the same razor because you couldn’t afford a new one. That you’ve never looked in your purse and scraped together enough coins to buy a jug of milk. There is nothing – let me repeat – NOTHING romantic about being poor. If you think there is, you probably haven’t been poor enough! 😉 It is definitely a faith-builder, but I would never ask for poverty.
Now I want you to know – we enjoyed life! We weren’t trudging along, depressed and worried constantly. We had our worries and troubles, almost daily, but we were living and working on a ranch, and that was our dream! We worked and played and went to church on Sunday. We didn’t eat out, go to movies, or heat all our bedrooms, but we lived just fine.
Speaking of church… at this time, we were attending my sister’s church most of the time. Not because we were particularly drawn to it, but because it was convenient. We visited several other churches in the area, but nothing really caught our attention. We didn’t know what God had for us.
We prayed about it, and sometimes I felt discouraged, because it seemed like we wouldn’t ever find a church that was right for us. We wanted something with life and vision. We didn’t just want to go to church on Sunday – we wanted to be part of a church family, one that wanted to follow Christ passionately! We kept looking.
It was around 4 pm when our sweet daughter entered the world with that special newborn cry. I, who had never been too baby-crazy, looked down at her scrunched-up face and fell in love – as all mothers do! I was pretty sure I could feel my heart swelling with love, and the enormity of my emotion was overwhelming.
We took her back to my in-law’s house, and surrounded by family, we discovered the joys of night-wakings and first smiles. We were living in one bedroom, and my husband worked with his father during this time. My mother-in-law and the teen daughters operated a small bakery/sandwich shop, and I stayed home with my baby.
It was during this time that we started going to the same small church that my in-laws attended. It was a 2 hour drive one way to church. Not because there weren’t churches closer; this was the Bible Belt, after all. But this small country church had something the others didn’t: it had life. We drove to church every Sunday morning and home every Sunday afternoon. Thankfully, the folks at church were extremely hospitable, and we rarely left without a dinner (lunch) invitation. And usually a supper invite as well. Or more often, the dinner would stretch out to afternoon popcorn and games, then on into supper.
This church was pastored by a man whose teaching I hadn’t heard before. He preached often about the power of the Holy Spirit. Not about jumping and screaming and being slain in the spirit. But the power of the Holy Spirit… the power in a Christian’s life to overcome sin. I hung on every word. I hadn’t heard such life-changing stuff since Youth Bible school!
Some of the biggest lessons I learned there were:
—Temptation is not the same as sin. Satan puts thoughts in your head, and that is not sin. But if you yield to those thoughts, that is sin. Wow! That was life-changing for me! It took away all guilt I had for not being able to stop thoughts from popping in my head.
—To have power in your life, you must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8 I prayed specifically to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day, and I learned to ask for His help in each moment of temptation. I fell a lot in the beginning. But over time, as I followed the Bible’s teaching and grew in understanding, my ‘new man’ grew stronger and the ‘old man’ became weaker. Romans 6:6, Eph. 4:22-24
Two rules I learned that helped me overcome sin; 1. sincerely repenting each time, and 2. asking forgiveness each time the sin involved another person. My biggest problem is sinning with my tongue, so I had a lot of uncomfortable conversations with people! But when you go to the person and ask forgiveness, the very awkwardness of it will help you ‘think before you speak’ in the future.
Who is the Holy Spirit? He is simply the third Person of the Trinity: the Spirit of Christ. Romans 8:9
We moved to the community where this church was located, several months after our daughter was born, and we lived there 4 years. During that time, the pastor became a true spiritual father to us. He taught us many truths from God’s Word. He shepherded us as a young married couple, being an example with his life. His wife is a godly woman who taught me many things about living in a Christlike manner. I watched her ways, her speech, and her example. To this day, I text or call her when I am feeling overwhelmed! What a need there is for godly women to teach and mentor the younger women!
There were several very Godly women in that church who took me under their wing, and taught me how to mother, how to be a wife, how to cook and clean and be a better sister in the church. Sometimes I look back on those years and wince, as I remember all the dumb things I did and said as a young wife and mom in her early 20’s. Oh, goodness. So much immaturity! But no one chided me; they simply loved me and cared for me and gently taught me. My mother-in-law was one of the most important. I am so blessed with the mother I found in her! She was there when my own mother was far away, and I learned so much from her.
Thanks for sticking with me on this journey of faith. It has been good for me to go back and remember all the goodness of the Lord; all the mighty things He has done for me! There is nothing good in me – ONLY in Him!!
At last I had begun to see what a real relationship with Jesus was like! It started simply; by talking to Him throughout the day, about everything. I was purposely, consciously, training my mind to constantly turn to God during the day. To ‘set my mind on things above, not on things of this earth’. Colossians 3:2 I was not finished struggling against sin, but I was starting to see growth in several areas. I finally had hope. I had the promise of help and victory.
Day after day, I pored over the Bible and prayed earnestly for God to help me gain victory over my anger, selfishness, and discouragement. Up until now, the Bible had been quite dry and boring. It seemed almost sinful to admit that – and I wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone. But now! Now the Bible was like fresh, cool water on a parched desert. It came alive in my hands, and I feasted hungrily on the Bread of Life!
I don’t know if any of my family or friends could tell a difference. I’m sure Mom could – poor mom had to put up with me during my hard, temper-fraught years. As God changed my heart, I grew to respect and love my mom. I started trying to make life easier for her, instead of trying to get by with as little work as possible. I still flew off the handle at people, I still had a sharp tongue and a scornful attitude, often. But I saw these for the wicked sins they are, and began praying about them and fighting Self.
The next three years I attended the same Youth Conference. Each year I learned more about Jesus Christ, and more about how to walk by the Spirit, and not the flesh. Each year I came home determined to be a light and example to my friends, to help them see the wonderful new truths I was learning. But each year I came home and realized that we were not on the same wavelength, so to speak. The church I attended put a lot of focus on our Christian heritage, and a good moral life, but they didn’t have power! Or if they did, I never heard about it. Every Sunday it was the same testimony of struggling with the same old sins. They preached that Jesus would forgive your sins (and He will!) and that each day was a new beginning (and it is!) but I wanted more! I saw people who had real joy on their faces and testified of changed lives! That’s what I wanted.
So I kept on seeking, learning, reading. I also became disillusioned with the Mennonite culture in general. I loved my church – I really did! But they didn’t seem to be able to offer me much. And frankly all their rules and expectations were grating on me. Not that they were hard to keep; I had no problem keeping them. I never got into trouble with the leaders; I was a ‘good kid’. But the rules were not in Scripture, and the only thing they accomplished – as far as I could see – was burden people with unnecessary loads, and turn away those raised in a different culture. OR, they attracted people who saw it as some sort of ‘Laura Ingalls’ idyllic lifestyle. The reason given for the rules was to keep us from danger. To keep us from falling into sin. But there is a wonderful verse in Jude that says God can keep us from falling! How wonderful it is that anyone anywhere can be kept from falling by the power of the Holy Spirit within us! We don’t need to depend on man-made rules. (verse 24)
Of course, Mennonites are just like any other culture: There are wonderful people who love the Lord, and there are some who have wicked, unrepentant hearts. The problem I saw, was that if your heart was evil, you could still be a good Mennonite. You can hide heart stuff real easy when the church focuses on your appearance. Human beings are wonderful hypocrites. We are all pros at putting up a front! I include myself in this, by the way.
In 1998, my oldest brother died, about a week or two after Youth Conference. I was devastated. It was my first taste of death. But God ministered to my heart in such a special way, that it became a cornerstone for my Christian life. Ever since, I look back and remember how loved I felt at that dark time. You can read about that experience here: This Day in my History.
Well, when I was 18, my family took a 3 month visit to Belize, a small country in Central America. To give a bit of history, my mom is related to some Mennonite missionaries that run several missions in the southern part of the country. When my parents were younger, they went several times to the mission to help while the missionaries were on furlough in the States. The last time they went, I was 4 years old. I had vague memories, and my sister – who was 6 that time – she also had a few memories. But we wanted to go again and see the mission as adults. My dream was to be a missionary like Amy Carmicheal, so I think my dad was trying to give us a mission experience without us leaving him to get it! 😀
A village school in Belize.
Our family planned to road trip through Mexico to Belize, and there was this friend of the family who decided he wanted to go along. He’d spent almost a year at the same mission doing volunteer work, and had friends down there. So one cold January day, we headed to Belize.
What does this all have to do with my faith? Well, two things. 1. It opened my eyes to the problems that come when you try to impose Mennonite culture on 3rd world natives. (doesn’t work very well) and 2. That family friend who went along, asked me to marry him! 😀 Yes, it was Cliff, and it was in that hot, tropical country that we started dating. And we started dating because one day we had a long talk about Christianity, churches, and our longings for a church that taught more. We both had the same longings and desires, spiritually, and we were both kind of unsure where we wanted to be.
When we went home 3 months later, my church was going through a major church split. Caught up in my new romance, I never did get all the details, and I really didn’t care. I had been wanting to leave the Mennonite church, and here was the perfect opportunity. I gave a letter of withdrawing my membership, and, considering the confusion that church was in at the time, I guess it didn’t get much attention. I didn’t go to church the Sunday it was read publicly, so I don’t really know how that went down. But anyways. I want to say again how much I loved my church. It was real hard for me to leave it. I had close friends there who had poured time into my life. Friends who I am still indebted to, and whom I respect. But it just wasn’t meeting my deep heart cry for life and growth.
Our wedding day, year 2000. I was 19, and Cliff was 22.
At our wedding reception.
Cliff and I got married in November. (can you hear the happy church bells pealing? 😉 ) And we honored my mother by having a traditional Mennonite wedding. But when we got back from our Arizona honeymoon, we began attending a little non-denominational church. Most of the members were former Mennonites, so we felt comfortable, yet it had some life that we had been missing. We attended that small church for a few months, then circumstances forced us to move in with my in-laws several hours away. We started attending their small church and eventually moved there.
Our first home.
I want to share another major, life-changing truth that I learned there; next time!