“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) These words are written on a small prayer card given to me by my grandmother when I was young. I read that card many times growing up, but it wasn’t until my young adult life that I really started to learn what it meant and how to do it. Through various trials, the Lord has been showing me a way to a deeper union with Him: trust. Many times God has taken something away from me, only to draw me closer to Him--and often give me something better than what He took. He has called me to trust Him with what He was doing, and be open for what He has next.
At the dawn of our marriage, the Lord put on the hearts of my wife and I the desire to raise much of our own food. The dream was to raise enough money to someday buy a house with enough land to homestead on the side while teaching theology for my day job. Two years ago, we came across the New Catholic Land Movement, and after reading Kevin Ford’s material, I decided to contact him and compliment his work. Much of what he wrote had spoken to my wife and I (in fact, we had backed up to the beginning of his blog in order to read the whole story). Quickly a friendship developed between our families, and (long story short) the Fords invited us to join them on their farm.
This was a big leap for Amanda and me. We were going to leave a comfortable theology teaching job in Austin, TX to move to the-middle-of-nowhere, KS, to become co-owners of a farm (for which neither of us had any experience). Nonetheless, both of us felt God leading us in this direction. All of us had ideas of bringing more families onto the land, and starting an institute for rural Catholic life, where we could pass along not only farming know-how, but theology as well (Kevin is also a former theology teacher). This was it: God was giving us our “in” for the agrarian life. Of course, this was all much sooner than we had expected, but with God, I’ve learned over and over again to just follow His timing, and things will turn out better than I could have ever imagined.
After a year of farming, door after door was closing for getting housing for other families who wanted to move out with us. Dreams of an agrarian Catholic cultural revival in this small town were seeming more and more distant.
Beyond that, farming was getting tougher and tougher. On the heels of the worst drought years on record, we had a spring drought this year. Summer drought is one thing, but spring drought is a farm-killer. Mature plants respond much better to irrigation in the middle of a drought than seeds and seedlings--most of which we couldn’t even get into the ground because there was no rain to soften the soil enough for us to effectively till. If it weren’t for our greenhouses, we wouldn’t have had any spring crops. All of our summer crops were pushed back drastically.
And problems didn’t stop there. A literal plague of grasshoppers (probably multiple millions of them) descended on our farm. This happened last year and wiped out half of our crops. After they died down at the end of last season, we spread NOLO Bait at 10 times the recommended level, we put pigs in some of the areas where they had bred, so they would root up the dirt an eat any grasshopper eggs therein. We also released guinea fowl and ducks on the farm to eat the assaulting insects. Alas, however, they came back worse this year. Not to mention the drastic increase in tomato horn worms and squash bugs.
All told we will probably lose 80-85% of our crops this year. Ugh! Because of this our farm will not be able to bring in enough income to support our families through the rest of the year. We already knew that it would be difficult because we rely mostly on subscriptions to our delivery service, and we were only able to sign up about half the number of patrons we needed to survive the year. As it is, we are already going to have a difficulty giving those few customers enough produce to offset the money they invested. We started seeing the writing on the wall about a month ago. Our two families met for a heart-to-heart discussion, and we decided to pray about where God is leading each of our families (and whether we should close the farm after this season).
Initially, we were shocked, sad, and really felt bad for our customers invested in us and who rely on us for good food. We also didn’t know what we were going to do with the fixer-upper house we bought.
Again, I had to rely on that passage from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” I had to trust God that He brought us to Kansas to farm, and that He allowed the natural disasters to occur to push us on to the next step in His plan for us. I could not “lean on my own understanding.” I don’t have the vision that God has. I could not immediately understand all His motives for allowing what He has allowed. Whatever that plan was, I had to trust that He would make it happen. Thankfully, He has put me through many similar situations (though perhaps not on this scale), so I was a bit prepared. Through this whole ordeal, I’ve felt like His little lamb from Psalm 23:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
I’ve felt God’s assurance close by me this whole time, and I knew that I just needed to trust Him.
Knowing that God often wills for us to help each other in completing His will, I also reached out to some close friends and family who I knew would pray for us. Amanda and I began the novena (nine days of prayer) to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and asked them to pray along with us. The very next day, my friend, Jeremy, told me that the position He just left (in order to attend grad school) had yet to be filled, and that we was going to pass my name along to the pastor. This position is the Director of Student Outreach at St. Mary University Parish on the Campus of Central Michigan University. The following day, the pastor contacted me. In the past, it has always been a good sign of where God is leading me when an opportunity reaches out to me instead of me gaining something on my own. As my former spiritual director advised me, “you paddle, and let God do the steering.” In those situations, I have been forced to be weak (letting God bring the opportunity to me on His own terms and timing) rather than strong (me aggressively pursuing the opportunity). I couldn’t help but think of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Then weak I must be, and be it gladly--for I must realize that whatever God has for me is better than anything I can bring about on my own. Further I dove into my times of prayer, beseeching God for His guidance and clarity (for both me and the parish). If this opportunity panned out, I would be able to fulfill my passion of imparting the faith to young adults (how I got started in ministry/theology back in 2001). Also, I would only be 2 hours from my hometown, with many friends/family (including my best man) within an hour. We would also only be 5 hours from most of Amanda’s family. Up to now, we have never (in our married life) lived less than 6 hours from any family. Through all the places God had brought us, I had always pined for the beauty of Michigan. After having spent the first 31 years of my life in Michigan, I haven’t stepped foot on the sandy shores of a Michigan beach. After spending so many of my summer days swimming in Michigan’s clear, sand-bottom lakes and bays, I have rarely swam in the dirty muck-bottom waters of Iowa, Texas, and Kansas. It would be a dream come true to return to my native land, and to be able to teach my kids to swim in those same waters where I learned. But would it be?
Trust, I must, and wait. Ah! So many of God’s plans involve us waiting, being more and more patient, continually offering up the sacrifice of not knowing and not being able to actively do anything but pray. As the novena went on, we had multiple contacts with the pastor. Then on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he called me and set at ease some of our concerns about how much I could earn--ministry jobs aren’t known for their ability to provide the single income for a family, but he was able to make it work. He also, in that same conversation, offered to “move things to the next step:” an interview via Skype with multiple members of the parish. There was just one hitch: we had to wait two more weeks for one of them to return from vacation. Again, we were back to being refined in the fires of waiting to form the virtue of patience.
This time was not without its own highlights, though. During the novena, our next door neighbor, Aaron (Kevin’s brother) had heard that we were going to move, so he walked over and offered to buy our house. Not only that, but since he’s a carpenter, he offered to buy it “as is,” and he will finish our work, meaning we could stop and focus on more important things. We are still waiting to find out what will happen for my in-laws and their fixer-upper house next door, but I’m sure God has a plan for that, too.
Prayer works, I’m telling you! “Pray, hope, and don’t worry!” - St. Pio
But wait, there’s more: I wrote to an acquaintance I had met through Jeremy, who is a member of the parish. I wanted to know if he knew anything about housing in the area. He responded, and get this: not only does he go to the parish, but the pastor asked him to be on the interview committee, and he happens to own a duplex that might just come up for rent right when we need a place. Not only that, but the other side of the duplex is going to be rented to missionaries with whom I will be working! Yes, God provides:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day. (Matthew 6:25-34)
No wait, there’s still more: A few days later, we found out that Amanda is pregnant! So, counting our little Simon Peter (in Heaven) and Miriam Ruth (on Earth), we have Baby Truelove #3 due March 3rd! We again deepened our prayers.
Amanda came across another novena that was coming up: that to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Both Amanda and I wear the Brown Scapular as a sign of our devotion to Jesus through Mary, who gave the scapular to St. Simon Stock on Mount Carmel July 16th 1251, so this is a prominent Memorial for both of us. We don’t normally pray back-to-back novenas, but this time it seemed appropriate. We prayed both to get the job and for the health of the baby (having lost Simon Peter, we’re particularly sensitive to baby health).
We're still waiting to hear on some opportunities the Fords might have for future employment, but we trust in God's providence there, too.
So let’s recap: God took away the farm, only to bring me: 1) a new job, returning to my passion of teaching theology to one of my favorite age groups, 2) a return to my beloved state of Michigan, 3) a buyer for my house, 4) a potential place to live, and 5) a new baby. God is so good! I encourage you, if you are in any trial now (or in the future): place your trust in Him. Yes, I know it’s scary. I know you’ll probably have to let go of something(s), but He has a plan for you. Yes, He has a plan for you--not just me or some other guy: you. He wants to give you something even better for you (that which will draw you closer to Him and will draw other souls closer to Him through you), if you let Him. The question is: “Are you going to lean on your own understanding, or are you going to trust Him?”
Always trying to trust more and more,