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It’s been a bad week for chickens here at Country Haven.

I was once again awakened at 3:00 this morning by a chicken calling for help.  Rosie once again refused to accompany me to the barn.  I was once again too late to save our bird.

The coop door had been closed, but the raccoon had somehow gotten inside.  This is the first time we’ve had this problem in the coop, and the wheels in my head are turning to figure out a solution.  I just can’t stop thinking about those poor birds out there.  Sitting ducks!  They were so flighty and nervous out there tonight; I bet egg production will be at fifty percent this week.  Can’t say as I blame them.  Most of us are much more productive when we aren’t under attack.

The good news is that there is one raccoon in the live trap we set.  This means that we’re making progress.  I don’t look forward to dealing with it in the morning, but it has to be done.  For now, it can sit out there and think about what it’s done.  Thieving varmint.

Do you remember what I said about the raccoons would be back…with diligence…and in greater numbers?  Even though we had shut the door, those critters are back and willing to work a bit for what had started as a free meal.  It’s a lot more difficult to get rid of them once they’ve seen a weakness.  Just like sin.  We invite it in, sometimes unintentionally but carelessly, and it grows.  Each day that it goes unchecked is a day that it grows in strength.

So, tomorrow will be a day of dealing with the consequences.  Get rid of our catch. Secure the coop.  Re-set the trap.  Make sure to put Rosie in the barn before bed.

 

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Shut the Door!

I am so mad.

It is almost 3:30 in the morning, and I can’t sleep.  My mind is whirring, my blood is pounding, and I am mad, mad, mad!

About an hour ago, I was awakened by a terrified squawking from one of our chickens.  As soon as the sound registered in my sleep-drugged brain, I slipped on my shoes, grabbed a flashlight and ran out to the barn, calling for our dog, Rosie, the whole way.  Sure enough, there was a raccoon with one of our Black Australorps.

I yelled at it while it just stared at me, dying hen at its feet.  Ugh!  We were separated by two rows of fencing, and I had nothing with which to do battle.  (Though I confess that I fought the urge to hurl Dave’s new-from-Christmas heavy-duty Maglite at the thieving varmint!)  I yelled at the raccoon again, and it slowly sauntered off…choosing to hide under the coop.

Great.  The enemy is now camping out under the very foundation of its prey.

Just as I suspected, the chickens had not been properly tucked in last night.  Despite the fact that our neighbors just lost two young birds…and it’s most assuredly peak raccoon season…and reminders had been given, we had left the henhouse wide open.

With one last look at my now-dead hen, I shut the flap door on the coop.  On a hunch, I checked the garage on my way back to the house.  Sure enough, Rosie was still cozily curled up in her favorite spot.  She had completely ignored my calls for help.  She pulled back her ears and wagged her tail guiltily when I found her, and she refused to make eye contact when I quietly scolded her.

Dave asked if I was all right as I crawled back into bed, and I briefly gave him the synopsis.  He groggily commiserated with me, rolled over and was soon snoring.

But I couldn’t go back to sleep.  I was just plain mad…and I was mostly mad at the raccoon!  It was out there right now enjoying its middle-of-the-night meal!  As the wheels in my heard turned the situation over, I wondered at my position.  Why was I so angry at a raccoon?

We had left the door wide open.

No matter what excuses are made, we were ultimately the ones to blame.  The death of that hen is our fault, not the raccoon’s.  If we’d done what we needed to do to protect our flock, that Black Australorp and I would be both fast asleep right now.

There’s a proverb that speaks to this situation:  Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.  (Proverbs 25:28)

Ahem.

We lacked the foresight, the discipline, the self-control to secure our property last night, and the result was death.  And, beyond that, the raccoons will be back.  Once they know that a meal can be had, they will diligently return in greater numbers until the flock is completely wiped out…or until we stop them.  And, to be honest, the most effective method is not just shutting the flap before we go to bed.  The predators will increase in boldness, watching for opportunities at dusk and dawn when the chickens have been released.  We must trap and kill the raccoons to stop the problem.  More death will result.

I wish I could say that my lack of self-control has only wreaked havoc in the henhouse.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  When we neglect to nurture self-control, our lives are opened up to all kinds of mayhem.  If you’re like me, you often respond in anger toward the situation before you face the truth that your own action (or inaction) have put you in this position.  Its price takes an especially high toll when the consequences are paid by the people we love.  If you think about it, virtually every broken relationship stems from someone’s lack of self-control.  Addiction.  Verbal assault.  Betrayal.  Disrespect.

We–and our entire families–are made vulnerable when we fail to practice the basic tenets of self-discipline.  That’s a hard truth, isn’t it?

It’s also hard to admit that, once we’ve opened the door just once, the opposition digs in its claws and becomes stronger.  Sin grows, folks.  Whether we’re talking about abusing a substance, watching trash, speaking harshly, spreading a rumor or overeating, sin grows.  The more room we give it in our lives, the more room it takes, eventually claiming space in the lives of the people we love.  Maybe we knew we should shut the door, we wanted to shut the door, we really did mean to shut the door…but we left it wide open.

Dear friends, what door are you leaving wide open in your life right now?  What price are you asking your loved ones to pay?  What guilty pleasure is no longer worth the cost?  The door can still be shut.  The predator can still be stopped.  The prey can still be protected.  Stop making excuses.  Stop justifying sin.  Sleep in the peace you’ve been offered.  Resolve to shut that door!

Heavenly Father, You know what doors we need to close, and You freely offer us Your strength to close them.  Please help us choose what is right over what seems easy.  One step at a time.  Thank You for the fruit of Your Spirit and for the healing You bring.

Zucchini Pinwheels

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Zucchini pinwheels may not be pretty, but they sure are yummy!

The yearly avalanche of zucchini is in the near future at our place.  Right now, we’re getting about one every other day, but we will soon be finding six or eight every time we walk by the garden!

So, to battle Zucchini Boredom, I am always on the lookout for new recipes.  Plus, variety is the spice of life…right?

4 zucchini (6-7 inches in length), sliced lengthwise as thinly as possible
salt & pepper to taste
1 bar cream cheese, softened
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
a smattering of your favorite herbs, fresh or dried
oil for brushing on zucchini
toothpicks (if desired)

Brush zucchini with oil, then sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Grill or roast until very soft (but not falling apart).

Put cooked zucchini slices on towel so that moisture is absorbed while zucchini cools completely.

Combine cream cheese, garlic and herbs.  Spread along length of one side of each zucchini slice.  Roll into pinwheel and secure with a toothpick.  Or, if you’d like to skip the toothpicks, just pop them into your mouth as soon as they’re rolled (like my friend, Sarah, and I did last night).

 

Chili-Glazed Green Beans

I recently tried this tasty recipe on a group of women in my house.  By the time my husband got home to give ’em a taste test, there was not a bean left in the skillet.  So, I made them for my family this week, and they were a hit.

I found the recipe in The Happy Cook by Daphne Oz.  I’ve adapted it for our family, and I am listing the recipe as I made it.

1 T. Asian chili sauce
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. honey
1 T. grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs. green beans, ends trimmed
1 T. sesame oil
1/2 c. roasted, salted peanuts

In small bowl, combine chili sauce, soy sauce, honey, ginger and garlic.

Bring medium saucepan of water to boil and blanch beans 4-8 minutes, depending on how soft you like them.  Remove beans and put in ice water bath to stop cooking.

Heat large skillet over high heat for 2 minutes.  Add oil, heating until it shimmers, then add beans.  Cook on high, shaking the pan often, until the beans begin to color and blister (about 3-5 minutes).

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The blistering and coloring will give the beans added flavor.

Add sauce mixture to the skillet and toss beans to coat.  Cook for about a minute, then transfer to serving dish.  Top with peanuts and serve hot.  (I served them from the skillet for my informal gathering, and we discovered that they’re quite tasty even when not piping hot.)

Lunch with Connie

 

IMG_8156I had the lovely opportunity to have lunch with my friend, Connie, yesterday.  We enjoy one another’s company a good deal, which is quite fortunate since we’re next-door neighbors.

Connie and I both like to laugh a lot, and we both have a high propensity for crying when our hearts are touched.  Sometimes, we laugh and cry at the same time.  It’s therapeutic.

We have many of the same interests:  people, gardening, eating and raising chickens.  We also discovered yesterday that we both really like Michigan Cherry coffee and honey-roasted nut butter.  Our biggest interest in common, though, is Jesus.  We love Him, and we both like to share how He is working in our lives and in the lives of our families.  I like this about Connie.  She doesn’t stand on ceremony when it comes to sharing her heart.  She talks about God as though He is her treasured friend, and she even shares the tough things of life that most people don’t want to talk about.  I have never seen hopelessness in Connie, because she continually recognizes that Christ is her Hope.

She’s good for me that way.

Since Connie is old enough to be my mother (sorry, Connie…), I greatly appreciate her perspective on the various stages of parenting I’ve encountered over the past several years.  I tend to look too closely at one thorny shrub and forget the whole forest of healthy, beautiful trees around it.  Yes, the thorns need dealt with, but we also need to give thanks for all of that hardwood!  (Can I get an amen?!)  I often leave Connie’s presence thanking God for the trees.  Yesterday was no exception.

My kids are growing up.  My approach to mothering is changing.  The way I approach my 18-year-old must be different from the way I deal with my 14-year-old.  And, since this is my first time ever having an 18-year-old, I must determine, kind of on the fly, what that’s going to look like each day.  (My poor first child has been a guinea pig on so many levels!)  Add that to the fact that my 16-year-old acts a good bit differently than the last 16-year-old I had, and I can easily get confused and overwhelmed, because holy cow!  My kids are going to be out in the cold, hard world in no time at all!  I have so intentionally mothered for so long, but I am now seeing that there are so many other lessons I wanted to teach them and memories I wanted to make with them!  (And, yes, I’m crying…again.)

So.  Back to my friend, Connie.  When I told her of my worries yesterday, and how I keep trying to not worry, she gave me some of her straight-shootin’ advice:

Trista, you’ve just gotta trust Him.  Every time you find yourself worrying, just say, “I trust you, Lord”.

Well, there it is.  Thank you, Connie.

This morning, after repenting of my energy-draining, joy-sucking, habit-forming worry, I told the Lord I trusted Him with three of my biggest fears.  (Because that’s what worry is, folks.  It’s fear.  And the Word of God tells us not to fear 365 times, which means that there is one “fear not” for every day of the year.)

I then opened my Bible to John 14 and found a timely promise:

If you love Me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth…the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
–John 14:15-17a, 26-27

This beautiful passage promises a holy Counselor for us, free of charge.  The Holy Spirit speaks into our hearts, never leaving us to navigate uncertain waters on our own.  We are also assured that we can have the peace of God in this life.  We get to choose whether or not our hearts are troubled, whether or not we live in fear.  We just need to lean more firmly into the Holy Spirit for guidance and for peace.  We are not alone.  (Can I get another amen?!)

Thank You, Lord, for the friends you’ve placed around me.  Thank You for working in and through them to effect Your will in my life.  Thank You for being an active part of this phase of my parenting and for your vested interest in the lives of my children.  Thank You, too, for your precious Spirit, which You have poured out into the lives of Your people to teach us, guide us and encourage us, giving us what we need before we even know we need it.
I trust You.

Freedom Flow

A friend reminded me of a verse this morning, and it really hit the spot for my heart today.  I told her I would meditate on it while I was going about my business in the garden.

The verse is Acts 2:17, which says, “In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams’.”

As I was pulling weeds, mulching plants and smashing squash bugs today, there were two things that were continually brought to my mind regarding this promise.  The first one is that God is so good.  He has already given us what we need–often well before we even know that we need it.  This, my friends, is grace.  The older I get, the more meaningful grace is to me, because, as I know God better, my understanding of how weak I am in comparison to His strength is increased.  I am just so very…small…and yet He provides everything I need and so very much more.  Lord, please open our eyes so that we can see Your good gifts; help us not take them for granted.

The second thing that was repeatedly brought to my attention as I pondered this verse is the phrase “pour out my Spirit”.  This doesn’t sound stingy, folks.  God is not trickling, dribbling, finger-splashing His Spirit on us.  He is pouring it out.  It’s running down our faces, soaking into our pores, cascading down our shoulders.  It’s puddling at our feet, people!  God is standing over us, completely drenching us with the Power of His Holy Spirit.

Wow.

So, brothers and sisters, we have a choice.  What do we do with this spiritual waterfall–this shower of power?  Do we take cover under some place safe, some place familiar, some place where we have more control and watch from a distance?  Or, maybe we put up an umbrella to keep us dry, saving us from a socially awkward soaking.  Perhaps we just ignore it, refusing to acknowledge that it’s even for us.  After all, we know we’re saved.  What more could He possibly want to give us?

Or do we cup our hands and drink deeply of this opportunity that we cannot understand?  Do we stand out in the downpour of a Power we cannot fathom and let it soak into our souls, changing us, washing us, leading us into deeper water with God Almighty?

There is something terrifying about that kind of raw power.  It’s bigger than we can comprehend, and yet it is ours–not for our own gain, but for His.  We must become lesser so that He may become greater.  This pouring out erodes the human-ness in us, rounding us out with the greatness of our God.  It washes away the grit from our hearts and helps us to see things with the eyes of Christ.  It gives us discernment.  Wisdom.  Clarity of purpose and sweet counsel.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  Lord, thank You for giving us what we need to be free in You.

Cutting Back

I spent most of my morning weed-eating my garden.

Ack.

Between dysfunctional tillers, time away from our farm and lots and lots of rain, the weeds are quickly taking over.  With all of the rain we’ve gotten in the past 48 hours (more than 3″), the garden was too wet for me to even get our push mower in between the rows.  So, I figured weed-eating would be a good alternative.  I guess there’s a first time for everything.

I think I was able to save most of our crops, aside from our kale and Swiss chard.  Fortunately, there is time to re-plant them and still enjoy a harvest.  One of our plantings of beets is a little iffy; let’s hope they rebound, because they’re one of our favorites.

Before yet another pop-up thunderstorm sent me scurrying to the house, I also worked at pruning our tomato plants.  Each year, we try to remove every downward limb on every plant to allow more sunlight into the center of the vine.  This also makes harvesting easier on both us and the fruit.  It’s always a bummer to have to practically juice a tomato just to get it of where it’s been wedged between interior branches.  Pruning is frustrating to me because, if we wait long enough, I end up pruning branches that have little yellow blossoms or even tiny green tomatoes already started.  It seems like such a waste to throw them out!  The truth is, though, that eliminating these little starts actually increases the harvest.  The tomatoes are likely to be bigger and of a better quality than they would be if we left all of those downward branches to bear.  Plus, a lot of the fruit would just be more difficult to harvest.

Jesus spoke a lot about garden stuff.  He is the vine and we are the branches.  Sometimes there are things growing in our lives that need to be cut back.  When we allow Him to “prune” some of the activities/habits/behaviors that drain us of valuable energy, He will often give us a higher yield of quality “fruit”.  The Bible says that the fruits of His Spirit are things like love, joy, peace, patience and self-control.  There’s not a person I know who couldn’t use more of some of those things at one time or another.

As I was weeding and pruning today, I was reminded that I have been planted, by God, to yield a good harvest.  It’s one He has prepared for me, and He is equipping me for that yield daily.  When I spend time with Him, He is planting His truths in my heart, plucking harmful lies from my mind and pruning the unnecessary out of my life.  These lessons He teaches me aren’t always comfortable (some are downright painful!), and sometimes (okay, many times) I must let go of something that is good before I am able to gain something that is better.  This process is one of the conundrums of the Christian faith.  The Bible calls it dying to ourselves.  It comes with the understanding that Christ can shine brighter when we step out of His way.

Lord, please help me to step out of Your way.  I see so many things that can be done in and through my life, but I acknowledge that I certainly don’t see everything…and I may not always see the best thing.  I submit myself to You again today.  Grow in me something so beautiful that the world will know that only You could have possibly grown it.