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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Who Is In Your Corner?

They don't get the glory and they are not in many of the pictures you see on the walls or on social media.  For every ribbon, buckle, monogrammed jacket, and picture of a grinning kid  and their animal, there is a whole crew of behind the scenes people it took to get them there!  

Let's start with the people behind the cameras.

It is a long day at a livestock show!  And, at most of them you will see someone standing in a ring with a camera in hand.  It may be a professional, or it may be a volunteer parent.  It may be a college student volunteering their time.  The end result is going to be some awesome shots of our kids we just can't get from the stands or the sidelines.

You'll also notice there are some sharp dressed kids out in the ring.  So, you can bet for every livestock exhibitor there was someone at home up in the early hours of the morning to  make sure everything was ready.  Long after the trucks and trailers are loaded and everyone is in bed, there are more than a few parents (or sometimes grandparents!) up late pressing the clothes, packing the snacks, and double checking to make sure everything is set for the next day.

If you haven't been around the show circuit, then you may not realize these animals do not just walk in the ring from the pen or the pasture.  There is a whole lot of work that goes in to them daily, and there is a whole lot of prep that goes on the day of a show!  From grooming to pep talks there is an entire behind-the-scenes world going on outside the arena and it takes a team of people to make it happen.  Some people actually hire "fitters" to come help, sometimes it is just relying on other parents on your team, and some of the breeders are awesome enough to come help out at shows.  One thing is for sure, no matter how many years we do this, we always find someone to learn something from who has been in it longer or has learned something we haven't.  (Probably through trial-and-error!) 

I'll never quit seeing the magnitude of several men standing around one pen, talking about an animal and helping each other decide what the next steps need to be to succeed, even though this animal is competing against theirs.  Their bodies aching and tired at the end of a long week, helping each other load trailers and haul each other's animals back home.  I feel so blessed for my kids to grow up surrounded by these men, watching them help each other, kid each other, pat each other on the back, and help take care of each other's children.  I am glad for the kids who may not see this at home, that they get to see these men in the barn!

I watch in awe as year after year parents come back who don't have to. Their children have graduated, and here they still are.  They're helping prep animals, organizing concession, helping with the booster club, and imparting their knowledge to the parents who are learning.

What do I say about the Ag Teachers?  I'm amazed at the time and energy they put in to their jobs.  You'll see them in the pictures, but you won't notice them.  They're in the corners.  They're opening gates, giving instruction, directing animals so the picture looks just right, clipping hair, giving shots, traveling to houses to check on a sick animal, answering a text from a parent, trying to brush off the latest critique about how they are running their program, and making their own kids wait until ours are taken care of. 

Their days are long and they don't get a lot of glory for it.  It isn't like an athletic coach where they win state and they get an article in the paper and Gatorade splashed on their heads with the whole town watching from the sidelines.  Their glory is in small moments when they watch a kid who they know has worked so hard and against odds has achieved a goal.  Because at least it's the case in our little town that our Ag teachers have probably worked just as hard to help them meet that goal.  I love to watch their faces when someone on our team gets a good win - you can see the pride beaming off of them.  In all honesty, it looks the same when my kid wins as it does when it's their own.  And, that is something truly special.     

And, if I am going to talk about the Ag teachers, I can't forget their families.  If an Ag teacher is in the arena when his or her own child is about to show, who is in charge of prep?  Our teachers' wives get left with a lot of duties I'm sure none of us ever even know about.  Making sure our "potluck" lunches are organized, being in charge of the school ice chest and table, pulling trailers... the list goes on and on. 

The point of all this is that I'm thankful.  I'm thankful for all these people I've mentioned (among countless I've left out), for my husband who works selflessly to make this all happen for our kids, for the businesses who support us, the friends who surround us and congratulate our wins, the grandparents who pick up so much slack, and the "non-show" friends who don't hold it against us that we can't socialize for a few months out of the year (and sort of smell bad sometimes)!  For all the many people it takes just to organize and put on these shows!  All these people are the people "in my kids' corners" helping to shape them in to awesome people and I just feel so grateful and incredibly blessed.  

And I want to remind everyone: When you're basking in the glory of your success, never forget to look and see who's in your corner - and thank them.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Moment in the Ring

Will I have a long, sappy post every show season now?  Maybe!  We are in my oldest child's last few years of school, so these moments get more and more precious as we go.

I watched her through the screen of my phone (while videoing) and with my own eyes, simultaneously as almost in slow motion the judge stretched his hand out to her as his choice for grand champion swine.  Keep in mind, this is just our local show and doesn't count for much in the whole scheme of things besides a cool monogrammed vest and bragging rites.  But, we have never won grand champion anything!  The grin on her face.  She turned to no one in particular and the grin she had was not the one that usually belongs to my 16 and a half year old daughter who almost 20 people that day told me didn't recognize her due to the fact that she just looks so grown up now.  

No, that was the grin of my 9 year old freckled faced girl, holding a lead rope to a calf big enough to drag her around the ring.  All the feminine, teenage, miss america-esque  grace that she uses to artfully maneuver pigs around an arena drained right from her body as she - for just the briefest of moments - let her pig walk ahead as her shoulders relaxed and she just relished the fact that she'd won it all.

Sissy with her second calf. Winter, 2010 (10 years old)

So many in the audience don't know.  They don't know this is her 8th local show and we usually end up towards the back of the placings there.  (We have some pretty good competition in our little town!)  They haven't watched her get up in the mornings and work every evening since she was 8 years old.  They haven't seen that for this one magnificent moment there are a hundred times she's had to hide her discouragement in a ring.  They haven't seen the rope burn on her hands from trying to hang on to that 1,300 pound calf we just couldn't ever really break, the ice she has broken in the freezing cold mornings, the times she's given up doing normal kid stuff because she has animals to take care of, the tears she has cried over a pig that got hurt.  This pig in particular.  This pig we thought probably wouldn't even make it because it hurt it's leg right after we got it this fall.  They don't know she has walked and fed another pig all Fall and Winter long that we can't even show because it had health issues and won't make weight at our County and Regional shows.  

Sissy with her very first calf in the Spring of 2009 (8 years old)

This moment was a culmination of so many other moments and it was over in a flash.  Somehow, though, this time in the ring where she won breed champion and went on to win grand was enough.  It was over so quickly but it will stay with all of us forever and it is enough to make us all go back to the barn and keep going.  For those of us who have been around since she was just a little girl, it was a tearful and proud moment we absolutely relished in.  She knows as well as we all do, it may not ever happen again.  And as we watched that almost woman turn around and grin, we all saw more than just that moment - we saw all the years leading up to it.  We saw the tears, sweat, hope, disappointment, hard work, and grit it has taken to stay with this thing we call livestock showing.  

And, somehow we've loved every moment in the ring.     

"The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops." -2 Timothy 2:6

Sissy winning Grand with her cross at local - Feb, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sharing Pastures

What is it about show season that turns me in to a mushy, emotional mess? (Well, more so than usual!) Yesterday my daughter won Grand Champion Swine at our local show. This may not be a huge deal for everyone, but for us it was MAJOR. I was, as usual, trying to capture every moment possible in a photograph.

This photograph, in particular, stood out to me. This is a picture of my ex- husband's girlfriend's dad. We found out not long after they started dating that her parents lived directly behind us - a couple of pastures separates the back of our houses.

Although my ex and his girlfriend have been together for quite some time and my children have met her parents and been around them quite a bit, and my husband had talked with him on several occasion, I finally met her dad this Winter when we were out back working with our pigs. (Actually, I had yesterday's makeup on and had literally JUST given a pig an enema but that's a whole different blog post!) He introduced himself and told me he didn't want things to be awkward given our situation. (You know, his daughter dating my ex-husband!)

I'm fairly certain I laughed out loud a little on that one. Our whole situation is so different from most. I don't feel the least bit of animosity or awkwardness towards my ex's girlfriend just because she's with him. The only thing that would ever cause that, for me, is the mistreatment of my children. I reassured her dad of the fact that it wasn't awkward at all, and that I was actually happy that his daughter was the choice he'd made in partner. We talked for a long time and he reiterated to me that our kids are welcome at their house any time and that we are free to use their pasture for our daily pig walking.

Yesterday at our local show my kids had quite the fan club. They had 3 sets of grandparents (yes, I said THREE), 3 sets of aunts and uncles, and a host of cousins. Also, my ex-husband's girlfriend's parents came and sat through almost an entire livestock show.

Yes, two of my children are a product of divorce. But, in the metaphorical pastures of their lives  I have tried so very very hard (although I know I have failed at times) to sow love and forgiveness. It's moments like yesterday when I watch them reaping so much love from all angles, I know my toil and sacrifices were worth it. When I watch other people "open their pastures" up to them, as well. The people who don't have to! Who have no obligation to. Yes, my kids saw some heartache at a young age, but God took it and restored them and has reaped on their heads a double portion of love. Just like I prayed He would so many years ago.

Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.
Isaiah 61:7

Friday, February 10, 2017

Who am I

This post has been in my heart for over two months, but I just couldn't get it to my head and in to words. Big feelings are funny that way.
In the last study my small group went through, we were challenged to ask God to show us who He wants us to be - exactly what He made us to do. I had a hard time with that for some reason.
At the very end of last year I had the opportunity to travel to a conference for work. The location happened to be seaside and nowhere on earth speaks to my soul quite like the ocean. I tried to coax my husband in to tagging along so we could hang out in the evenings when I wasn't working, but he isn't much on travel so I wasn't surprised when he showed no interest. Disappointed, but not surprised. On the way there I got an incredible invitation, though. God asked me if I'd spend this magnificent trip with Him instead.
On the first full day of our trip we went down to the beach access at our hotel. I waded in to the water and kept back to myself a little, in awe of the beauty around me. And, timidly, in my mind, I asked the question: "Lord, who do you want me to be?  Who am I?"
And my answer was so clear. He said to me, "Remember when you were a little girl? Remember your heart back then? Before the world told you to not love so much, to not be so sensitive, to not be so open, to look out for number one? Before things happened to make you put walls up around the heart I created in you specifically to do my work in this world? That's who I want you to be."
And as I stood ankle deep in that salty water, with the sun beaming down on me, watching the waves roll in from the blue horizon, I fought back the tears that welled in my eyes. That was a tall order. That's what I was afraid of. I have spent years crusting over that super soft shell I was made with in order to fit in here.

Fast forward a few months and I'm sitting here at almost 11;00 PM with no sign of sleep in sight.  I have a huge fever blister, my family hates me just a little bit, I've almost cried 5 times today, and I think I've said 3 cuss words - out loud - where people can hear me.  There were witnesses.  (It's a big deal for me, y'all.  As much as I'd love to say I'm a little edgy and rogue, I tend to just stay on the vanilla side of life... )  My left arm has felt a tiny bit weak for about 3 days (but, I'm truly just ignoring it.  If I keep flexing my hand periodically, I should be fine!) and I've just about created a bald spot in the back of my head from incessantly twisting my hair the way I do when I'm nervous.  Those who know me are laughing now because they're picturing it; those who've been around me lately are shaking their head because they've watched it go from slightly-annoying-but-endearing-habit into hyper-drive-maybe-she-should-be-medicated-that-is-distracting-twitch.   But, I predicted all this about 30 days ago when I knew our grant refunding application was due at work at the same time we were preparing for our federal review at the same time we had some other major things going on at the same time my children are gearing up for their big livestock showing events for the year.  (Because why on earth would things ever NOT fall all at the same time?  WHY?)

Last night I went to my small group at church and last night I did not want to go to church because last night I was grumpy and hateful and I wanted to stay at home.  (Also, please see aforementioned stress-induced fever blister.)  Last night I listened to Beth Moore talk about the high costs we sometimes pay for loving people, but that we can't let those costs deter us because the dividends are worth it.  And, the losses are what make the rewards so sweet.  Oh, goodness, I'm paraphrasing here, because she is such a powerful speaker, but that was the whole theme and it resonated so much with me.  It could be tied to so many things in life and to so many relationships.  And, let me tell you that since my beautifully spiritual ocean experience, I've been attacked in the area of trying to be open and not protect myself from being hurt!  But oddly enough, I relate it so much to my work.

This morning I observed in a classroom and I sat back and watched as these extraordinary women (I used to be one of them, now I just manage these extraordinary people!) care for all these little humans who are all under the age of 3.  I guess if you've never done this and if you've never truly just given your heart to it, you can't understand it.  You can't understand how very closely you can hold someone else's child to your heart every day and care for them and love them so similarly to your own flesh and blood.  I watched those babies playing without a care in the world and I felt my smile automatically forming on my face and I felt like my heart might just bust open right then and there.  I don't even know all their names!  I don't know their stories.  I don't love them in the way I used to love my kids in my classroom. I don't love them the way I loved the children I had in my child care home for 3 years and rocked to sleep every single day.  (Those parents know they could drop any one of those kids off at my house to this day and I'd just finish raising them as my own!)  I'm not with them day in and day out, but I still love them.  I love them enough that the thought that they'd come to our school and have anything less than a day full of love, safety, fun and full bellies is something I can't even stand.  I love them enough that I watched them playing and the thought that any one of them would grow up and not just have every opportunity in front of them breaks my heart.  

I know the statistics.  That's the cost of what we do. The cost is loving a child who isn't yours and having them  leave your care and not knowing if they are going to be okay.  It's living with the hope that somehow what you did in those few months or years is enough to make a difference, because you'll never know.  And, then opening your heart up to the next child who comes along and loving them just as much even though you know your heart will break again.  It's pulling my hair out over a refunding grant application because I want the best for the handful of kids in this world we can maybe, just maybe, make things better for. Because I want the best for the extraordinary staff who I watch do things like work one-on-one with children who have special needs - certainly not for the pay - but because, even though they know the cost of the love they give, they just keep giving.  For the administrative staff I've spent hours on the phone with tonight because our jobs will never just be jobs to us.

This is our calling.

Some of it is beautiful.  Watching toddlers learn the concept of absorption today completely by accident and seeing their teacher take advantage of a teachable moment in a meaningful way.  Oh!  I could watch it all day.  Some of it messy.  Finger paint.  Potty accidents.  Co-worker drama. Snot.  Comes with the territory!  Some of it is gut-wrenching.  Real-life stuff that we don't know how to help children or families deal with, but we try.  Talking a newly divorced mom through her situation as she cries, helping a child work through the feelings of losing a loved one, helping a grandfather install a car seat who has just had to take over custody of his grandchildren... 

Getting in the trenches and opening your heart up every single day to people who need you is hard.  The stakes are high.  Over time, it can be easy to wonder if the dividends are worth the cost.  Today, as I just sat and watched in a classroom of infants and toddlers, that's all it took for me.  When I was a little girl, I wanted to save the world.  I don't remember when I finally let go of that dream,   but today as I looked at the little classroom I was observing I knew my tiny corner of the world is worth it all to me.  And, the little girl in me who wanted to make the world a better place for all the kids in the whole world will stay up all night long, if need be, to finish the grant application for the few hundred right here where I'm at. And, I will try very hard to quit pulling my hair out, because of 2 Peter 1:3
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises...

His divine power is is easy to feel when you are standing by the ocean with the magnificent waves spraying your face.  It's harder when you are tired and weary and your heart is just a little bit broken but you have to go on anyway.  But, aren't those words so amazing?  He has called us to HIS OWN glory and excellence. And that is who I am.  His little girl, all grown up now.  A little bit broken from this old world, a little bit tired, but rejoicing in the fact that he will equip me with HIS OWN excellence for the work he has handcrafted my heart to do.  That is who I am. Bald spot and all!