Our family, our farm, our lifestyle seemed to be right out of a Little House novel. Our lovely wood home, on the edge of the creek, gave us so much more than shelter. The sprawling landscape provided endless days of tree-climbing, frog-finding fun for the children in the summer and rolling hills to sled down in the long Wisconsin winters. Inside on any given day there would be bread baking in the oven and school lessons being worked out on the kitchen table. The collie-mix dog dutifully protected the flocks of ducks and chickens as well as the sheep herd.
The pony grazed in the pasture past the creek and the milk goats seemed to be continually plotting their next naughty adventure.
Life was busy as we worked and played in the beautiful place we called home. Joy could be seen in every direction reflected in the change of the seasons. Joy could be heard in the laughter of children and the creak of the tree swing pulling relentlessly against the branches of the old oak, bearing handily the weight of both children and the child-like. Joy was the aroma of apple blossoms in the spring, the sheep pen in the summer, the damp, fallen leaves in autumn, and the wood stove hard at work in the winter. Joy was in the sight of freshly shorn sheep on sheering day, and the smiles of friends who came to celebrate the annual spring ritual. Joy was in the taste of marshmallows roasted to perfection over the summer campfire and the jars of summertime-fresh strawberry jam opened up on a chilly January morning and spread heavily on fresh, warm bread.
Joy was in our hearts and the heart of our family was the joy we shared.
Then came an exceptionally long, cold winter and with it came the virus that penetrated deep within the lungs of my husband, the man who worked endless hours on and off the farm to support our family. The virus turned into pneumonia and his body fought hard. It became literally the fight of his life, and the illness lingered on until it manifested into disease. The disease was relentless. Fear and worry were daily companions and joy seemed very far away. After many, many months we realized the miracle of modern medicine and healing began. While the disease was strong, the immune system – and Grace – were stronger and slowly health was regained. Work resumed and we looked forward to a new normal.
Outwardly the body seemed strong but long-term, heavy medication use comes at a price and internally the muscles had been weakened. During the course of routine labor the snap of his bicep tendon was audible and the pain excruciating. Surgery and months of therapy were required. The tendon healed but life would never be the same. Too much time was needed to heal, too many days of work were missed and so too many mortgage payments went unpaid. Before long, in the heat of summer, our life was foreclosed. Packing boxes replaced swinging under the oak. In disbelief we sold the pony, the sheep and the goats. Joy was now what we were giving away. The beloved cat was gifted to little Sophia who was just big enough to carry her new furry friend. The young hens went to the widower Old Farmer George who lived alone and who later would tell us how he delighted in watching “his girls” peck in the yard. Little joys became our comfort as we sorted out our lives and gave away some of the pieces.
I still remember the day we drove down the gravel drive for the last time and headed toward a stretch of life stained with mourning and uncertainty. Life had changed quickly and severely. Where we once relied on our skills and our land we now relied on the generosity of friends and strangers. The roof over our heads was now borrowed and the living space ‘severely cozy’ for our large family. Joy now had to work hard to find us and to reveal its presence in the tiniest parts of life. We sought comfort in our faith and in friendships and were grateful to find it! We turned inward and toward each other and we shared a sadness, and then a healing, unique to our family. The seasons turned and rhythms emerged which carried our family into the newness. Each milestone celebrated brought sweet relief as more joy entered in. It took four years and four moves before we were able to settle into a home of our own again. Life looks much different today as we garden on our small country lot and walk the collie-mix dog along cement sidewalks. Some of the children who fed the sheep and milked the goats now study at faraway universities while others continue to work out lessons on the kitchen table. We are grateful for new beginnings and good health and are noticing that the painful memories have given way and reveal the joy that was always beneath them. Thankfully, joy continues to be in our hearts, and the heart of our family continues to be the joy we share.
Michaeleen Hinca is the editor of the seasonal newsletter and Publicity Coordinator for LifeWays North America. She is a graduate of LifeWays Class of 2000 and has been homeschooling her children for 14 years (so far!). Michaeleen and her family live at the end of a country road in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin where they contemplate joy in the little things.