Bittersweet Farm Journal This Week
There’s really not a hint of spring around these parts yet, but the grip of winter is weakening for sure. We’ve been so busy getting adjusted to our new life here that I am embarrassed to admit that Hazard and I took our first real walk today (Saturday). I noticed that the ground around our home is not flat. You notice that more when you walk around than when you drive around. Hazard and I enjoyed a good vigorous stroll.
My new friend named David is teaching me about birds. I’m learning how to attract them to our little farm and how to identify them by sight and by song. I’m tuning my ear to notice them. On our walk I saw Canada Geese flying overhead in formation honking their way along. I heard a pigeon cooing off in the fence row and down at the edge of a pond I think I heard a red-winged blackbird calling. There were a few others, but I’m still a novice.
The other night I was driving out to the farm from my study listening to the radio when the announcer said: “Expect delays if you are traveling to the Upper Peninsula tonight. The Mackinaw Bridge is closed due to ice falling from the suspension cables.”
When I arrived home I stepped out of my car and heard a loud bird call overhead. I turned my head up to see a large solitary bird with a long neck and a wide wingspan high over Bittersweet Farm flying easily northwest. The sight of the bird somehow enlivened my spirit and sent me on a mission to discover the name of such a wonderful creature. It had a loud rattle-like call. It was a Sand Hill Crane in flight.
When I am afield with my dog and looking out on woods and fields and looking back on our little farm from far away my heart breaks into grateful worship. My walk was interrupted by a welcome call. A young man who has come to follow Christ since we came to Bethel called. God is setting him free from from drug-addiction. He was eager to meet for some fellowship and encouragement next week. So my worship walk was interrupted by another form of worship.
As I write its after nightfall and I’m up in my quiet corner of the house. I can hear the wind picking up and rain is beginning to fall. It should rain through the night an then blow through the morning, but by tomorrow evening the sun will be back. Maybe Lois and I will take a drive in the country. Maybe I will take another worship walk. I know Hazard will be willing. I’ll take my new field glasses this time to see if I can see some of the things I hear.
Around the Table
When we moved to our new farmhouse out on Bittersweet Farm we knew we needed to do something about our oak dinning room table. We’ve had it for well over 28 years. It is still sturdy but the finish needed refreshing. About a week after we moved in Lois went to work on it, bringing a new luster to an old heirloom. Things of value always have a story attached to them, don’t they? It’s been a while since I told the story behind that table. To read it again is remarkable when you see what God has done in the last year bringing us to Bethel and to Bittersweet Farm. Here is the story from almost thirty years ago:
I am privileged to do the pastorate along rural lanes and country-side and in quaint villages and small towns. My parish is a beautiful one. This time of the year the gentle hills and glens of Knox county are ribboned with ripening crops and rich with the colors of autumn.
Robert Frost wrote of “being versed in country things…”, that is an ambition of mine. I love the old places in the country best. Bank barns and big family homes back long, tree-lined lanes. Houses with character and a history. Not cookie-cutter track-houses but unique homes with their own personality and atmosphere.
Our good neighbors, the Wheelers, have a home like that. It is nestled in a ravine back a quarter-mile lane in the middle of a one hundred acre farm. On the back porch is a sturdy wrought iron triangular dinner bell.
I can imagine little children, grimy with play, running for the house at the sound of that bell. Their daddy, coming in from the field, hangs his cap on a hook inside the back porch and rolls up his sleeves. He scrubs for dinner then cups his hands to drink the cold water. He takes his place at the head of the table and with all the family holding hands bows his head and says a humble, sincere prayer of thanksgiving. The aroma of good food and coffee is on the air. The home is marked by the bounty of God.
We don’t live at the end of a lane in a spacious farm house. We don’t have a dinner bell. I don’t work in the fields. But there are a couple things about his little scenario that we have been able to duplicate.
Every time we sit down to eat as a family, we join hands around a beautiful solid oak dinning-room table. I think if I tell you the story behind how we got that table and what we plan to do with it you will be strengthened in your resolve to have a godly home.
It is an unusual story involving the Amish and the Japanese, Athens and Tokyo, a lady who calls herself Anne, A niece of Sam and his cousin, the Honda Motor Company, and Disney World.
The table didn’t cost me a penny. Lois doesn’t have a job but she paid for it. One day, looking for an outlet for some home-made craft items, Lois called a friend named Joanna (who calls herself Anne). Anne/Joanna put her in touch with a lady from Athens (Ohio) who had a contract with the Honda Motor Company to supply American-made dolls for a promotion sponsored by Disney World in Tokyo. Lois called the lady from Athens, who told her she would buy all the dolls she could make. There was, however a stipulation. The deadline for the order was less than a week away.
We set a goal to make sixty dolls in three days. The whole family worked together. The oldest children stuffed doll arms and legs and torsos with polyester batting. I stuffed and stitched doll pantaloons. Lois did the rest. I helped with meals. We stayed up all night most of two nights. I carefully maintained my office hours and took care of my calls and study and meetings and administrative duties, but when the deadline came we delivered on our end of the bargain. Thirty days later a check for over six-hundred dollars arrived in the mail.
We went shopping for a table. The retail stores wanted more than we could afford but I could tell the tables were made locally. Not knowing how to locate the Amish man who make the tables, I stopped an Amish lady on the street in Sugarcreek and asked if she knew anyone who built custom furniture. She said; “Oh yes, my cousin, Sam Mast does. He lives near Mount Hope.”
We drove to Mount Hope. At a little country store we stopped again. I asked the girl at the counter if she knew where Sam Mast lived. From the middle aisle of the store a voice said; “Sam Mast is my uncle.” She told us how to find his house.
We drove to his home and described the table we wanted. Solid Oak. Five legs. Simple but sturdy. Bow-back chairs on the ends and benches on the sides. Light finish. Five leaves so it would open to ten feet. We held our breath as he looked up the price. All together it came to $600.00 dollars!
The man who custom-built our table was named Sam Mast. He signed and dated our table on August 10, 1990. We loaded the whole family in the van and went to beautiful Holmes County to pick it up. The big table should be in our family for generations.
So you see, it’s not just a functional thing. Our table is a testament to the goodness and the faithfulness of God to our family. Maybe you can join us some day out on Bittersweet Farm and gather with us around our table.
Summit Township, Michigan
February 25, 2018