A few years ago a summer edition of Southern Living came in the mail, featuring a big lady in a short pencil skirt, standing in the middle of a young okra patch. She was supposed to be a truck farmer, but we deduced that either 1) she was not or 2) the supreme cost of showing America her legs was weighed at the time and considered worth the suffering. I’d love to hear her after-thoughts on that, because, friends, okra is itchy. My mama’s exact quote after a quick glance was “She gonna be et up!”
A farm in the South in late July is a microcosm of the Fall (you know, the Big One). We try to make it look nice, but there’s only so much we can do.
On Pinterest, I often see pictures of chickens in a lush garden. It looks so wholesome, doesn’t it? But the chickens will eat your plants, destroy your mulch, poop in your walkways, and, worse of all, they will eat all the good bugs. An organic garden depends on it’s good bugs. So why does the photographer (or the farmer a minute before the photographer arrives) do this dreadful thing? Well, because the chicken pen is a mess. Chickens are gross. They made the ‘clean’ list only by the skin of their measly egg-tooth. They have no respect for our aesthetics and cleaning the chicken coop is that one chore that never seems critical until a guest comes to look at it.
We have puppies just now. The anticipation of their arrival was like the thrill of every holiday in my life boiled down to sauce. I may be in danger of prematurely using up my feeling of excitement, but their advent did not disappoint. They are beautiful. I love the way they pile on top of each other and fall asleep limp. I love how naturally motherhood comes to dogs (God loves dogs) and how long our strung-tight Border Collie will lay still to feed them. It’s truly beautiful, but not picturesque, because 1) the kennel is near the chicken coop and 2) honey, we’ve got fleas.
We’ve got fleas to the point of someone asking me what I did last week, and me standing there like a stuffed wombat, trying to think of something besides fleas, to the point of “no I can’t come, sorry, I have to give flea baths”, to the point of ads popping up on the screen for new and improved flea med formulas. Yep. It’s bad. It was a mild winter. We’re in the trees, and have no shortage of hosts, wild and domestic. I could list other reasons and research to find more, but really this is just the rural version of post-fall reality. Fleas. I remember my cousin saying incredulously when when he came to visit many years ago: No WiFi? No Sweet-n-Low? He had no idea.
Summertime work can be frustrating. The objective shifts from thriving and advancing to maintaining and surviving. The work is no less important (maybe more so) but it is far more humbling. It’s the kind of work you’re ashamed to share, hesitant to own and glad to get rid of. But if I don’t push-on in this work, I’m a fraud. It doesn’t matter that I have grand plans for another fountain, a black walnut field, a dinner party, a guest house and a camp-out when we light the big brush piles, if I don’t muck out the stalls, water the chickens, empty the dishwasher, mop the floor and yes, give flea baths— even though I will be doing all those things again at least by tomorrow. A Sara Groves song calls this setting up the pins for knocking them down. It’s the kind of work women have a lot of, in every season, and it’s where I experience much sanctification (read: aggravation). Because, of all things, I want very much to be doing, to be used and actively engaged in meaningful work. I told my dear friend, Sarah, this years ago. “Are you sure you just don’t want be seen doing those things?” she asked. Words evade me in express what could easily be communicated in the emoji of the face-palm.
This month the curse seemed to bear down on me in every way, and the humility of how little I was accomplishing of any value could be illustrated in the day I found myself on my hands and knees, trying to identify the source of an unwholesome smell in someone else’s kitchen. No one was around to appreciate my efforts and no one was bothered by the smell. In dirty clothes and foggy glasses, I was moving around the floor, sniffing, like a four-legged Marco Polo, doggedly pursuing the stench, until it was found, at last: a rogue rotting potato, rolled under the refrigerator. It didn’t feel like a contribution against the forces of darkness. It felt lowly. The word loser came to mind, from the long forsaken halls of sixth grade.
My sister, Jesse, and I sat in a burger joint, waiting for her husband to meet us for an appointment. I was with her as chauffeur, body guard and glad sharer of the heaping pile of free pickles on the plate between us, though only one of us was pregnant. Her third baby will come in the spring- three in three years- and in three years of marriage, they are living between three houses, one that doesn’t have running water. Her husband is working to start a business, clear land, build a house, and is currently hand-drilling a well. She is potty training and heart training, packing bags, unpacking them and packing them again. A full time street evangelist posted on Facebook something to the effect of: If you are telling your children about the Great Commission, but not actually living it by going out, you are a hypocrite.
Am I doing enough? She asked me. Why can’t I get ahead? Why aren’t I out there evangelizing? Why can’t I even get dinner on the table?
I would have like to’ve, and maybe should’ve, had just the right answer to this, but instead I made like a good little Narcissist and said pitifully, “Meeee too.” Thankfully (as my grandmother frequently has occasion to tell me) the Lord looks out for children and fools. Jesse moved to answer my confusion and fears in a way she wouldn’t have for herself. “You can’t do every good thing, Sarie. Even Jesus didn’t do that.”
What is my job? I’m a personal assistant, a Girl-Friday. On a good day, I answer phones, sweep floors, set tables, plant fields, wipe noses, stock freezers, and sniff-out potatoes that don’t belong to me. On a bad day, I don’t appreciate it. I’m a servant. My job is simple. I do the will of Him who sent me. And if you are a Christian, dear reader, that’s your job too. It may be lovely, and you should take a picture if you can. It may be ugly, even repulsive, at times. You may not have puppies or peonies in a vase or a baby in your womb. It may be lovely and lowly simultaneously. It may be hard to distinguish between the two. I think that’s the truth for most of us.
So take your bare legs in the okra patch and throw your chickens in the garden if you want. We understand. The curse will find us all. There’s no need to photograph it. At the end of the day, the oft-quoted adage will ring true: You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
If this strikes you as bad news, all I can say is: Meeee too, sister. But take heart. You and I, this day, we can do the will of Him who sent us. We can do the work our hands find to do, and do it with all our might. And we can get up tomorrow morning and do it all again, God helping us.