Our Miz Hope-girl, she kicked me out of the kitchen, out of the house, while she made the cake.
While the girl grinds up flour, I go out to wheat fields.
Ride a few rounds with the kid in the tractor.
While he tells me about all the mistakes he made, tells me about how he’d jammed the grain buggy auger and they’d spent 27 minutes unplugging it (he timed it, because the boy knew that getting it done mattered and we’re not playing games here) and how they had to pail up the wheat that spilled like his blatant failure there at the end of the field. I get it, boy.
He’d bit his lip hard when he told me all that. Trying to stop what he could feel coming, but I could see how his eyes brimmed anyway.
I turned away — give the boy time to be brave.
He said it himself, how after he’d been in too high a gear going uphill, with not enough throttle, and how he’d stalled it and the tractor and him and one heaping full wagon of wheat had started slipping backward down the hill —-
and I’d closed my eyes tight at that point in the story, as if that could somehow ridiculously stop the whole mess from happening —-
and he’d pressed all his paltry weight of 11 years down on those brakes, but he ended up jack knifing the wagon and tractor real bad by the bottom of the hill. I nod but I don’t say it what I’ve felt right up there under the lung:
Go in high gear without enough soul fuel will stall and jack knife your life every single time, boy.
Sure, it can look like you’re harvesting a wheat crop but the point is that we’re raising men here. We’re raising future men who know how to work and future women who know how to dig deep and kids who know that you’ve got to have dirt under your fingernails to plant good things and procrastination can be a sin that sends you only a lot of sorrow.
Malakai’s working long days and into the night, running the tractor alongside the combine and his Dad and Shalom’s running the auger on the home farm, and Levi’s hauling wagons full of wheat from each farm back to Shalom and the bins.
It’s worth living a life so you’re kids can see it: there’s a lot of happiness in this world that depends on being brave enough to keep working when it’d be easier to quit.
Nothing good gets started without getting to work. And nothing great gets finished without staying at the work.
And no one express-ships the prize to you. You have to actually work to win it.
We work this many hours getting a harvest off and the kids know it not at a cerebral level but in their aching muscles: Laziness looks like a friend, but only work can invite you home.
Most opportunities come to you dressed in a pair of thread-bare Wranglers and sweating like work and you’ll miss them if you’re too afraid of callouses and plowing through like a horse.
And none of us here have really got time for being bored. There is only time for work and time for love —- and that is usually one in the same thing. There is no time after that.
“I don’t know if I can be a farmer, Mama —“ Malakai leans over from the steering wheel, whispers it to me quiet as the tractor idles. “Don’t know if I’m tough enough for everything that you get wrong.”
Don’t I know that, son. And I lay my hand gently on the back of the boy’s slender neck. Sometimes somebody says only a handful of words and they reach out and touch you not with their hands but their heart.
Yeah, kid —- we work but not as ones who do not know the relief of grace. We work hard but not as ones who grow hard. We work with our hands but what we’re ultimately always working out is our salvation.
“You know —“ I run my hand through Kai’s mop of hair. “We all get things wrong, Kai — we get things wrong, things seem to go wrong, even — or mostly —- we are wrong. But it’s not about growing tough enough to take life… It’s about staying open enough to life to receive it.”
Future men, future women need to know how to work —- and they need to know how to work out their salvation. It’s not about growing tough — it’s about growing open to life as it comes and simply growing.
How do you tell a farm boy that one of the most important things in life is this: To thrive is to surrender to a kind of openness. To surrender control and trust One who is in control —- though you will be taken beyond what you can control and into a kind of brokenness, a brokenness that will hurt and yet be kind. A painful grace.
This is the essence of really living, what it means to essentially be alive: surrender unshielded to the unknown — because there is a deeper Love that is Knowable.
And it is only possible to know the touch of His deeper love when you live without armour, when you live a vulnerable exposure. Work hard, boy — but don’t grow tough. Because at the end of the day? Jesus wants our worship more than our work.
It’s an old and universal truth: You are made of dust because you are made to grow.
You are made of dust because you are made to move in this world like a reed, not like a rock.
You were made to feel, you were made to bend vulnerable in wind, you were made to have the courage to reach for the sun.
It’s what the fields of wheat tell you: You were made to grow and that only happens if you are fragile and brave enough to break.
Sure, they’ll go ahead and loudly tell you need to be like a rock, that you’ll need to harden up to live in a harsh world, that you’ll need to be impenetrable, that you’ll need to be unmoved, but no one ever felt any of the really living that way. Live as hard as a rock long enough and there’s hardly any point to breathing. Rocks don’t. They’re dead.
It’s thin-skinned reeds that bravely breathe in their own way. It’s tender reeds that are deeply rooted. It’s only reeds reach for sun.
Rocks are formidable and reeds are fragile — and one is perfectly dead and only the other is exquisitely alive. Humanity’s particular beauty is only possible because of its fragility.
Your Beauty is not in your formidableness but in your fragility.
I tell Kai this. The boy brims and nods and the boy’s a mess like his mother but I’ll take him anyway, keep taking him anyway.
The thing is —- when you already have a rock, you can live the beauty of a reed.
Malakai hauls wheat wagons till 9:30 on a Saturday night, then heads to the barn and feeds a couple hundred sows.
The Farmer and Levi finish up in the field, get the wagons away, the auger down, the bin sealed up, all the tractors home and in the shed, and drag in the back door sometime between 11:50pm and the Lord’s day, a 20 hour day for the man and his boys.
The Esther Generation had beat him to the finish line, won the harvest race, raised $120,000 for the eternal harvest and set their sisters free. And I murmur it into the earthiness of his shoulder, “Best ever.”
Come Sunday, our Miz Hope-girl, she’s fills bowls up of her chicken salad, and a heap of fresh kale chips that she taken straight from garden to oven to plate, and these pans full of sweet potato fries that she’s made late into the night for a picnic of 17, 12 kids and a grandma, 2 sisters and our good men. It’s a thing to watch how she moves over her offering.
Humble work always becomes a work of art when signed with love.
We eat her cake.
There is cake and kale chips and vulnerable laughter and celebrating the way the work of all the people can be given for the harvest.
That all the people together can do hard and holy things and change the world, that all the people together can break and give themselves like bread and they’re the ones whose lives are a feast, that all our small work together is what does big and beautiful work in the world.
That all the people opening up rock hard places and giving into the wind of the Spirit, however it blows, are the reeds that make their lives yield the most.
After I finish my plate, after I wink and tell Malakai & Hope that when we get to heaven I want to sit at the table where they’re just serving kale chips —
the Farmer, he pulls me in.
And we laugh — because there is still hope to do the good work we’re called to and to bravely love and let ourselves be loved and trust enough to open up to life as it comes. We are called to move through life as reeds not rocks.
And yeah, we linger in a hope like that, like courageous fools, till the light ebbs out of the sky and the moon opens in its willing surrender.
You can see it in all the ditches along all the roads, all the way Home —
All the fragile reeds reaching and thriving in the silvered light.