I remember working at Youth Haven Ranch as a teenager. Waking early to shower, and walking on my own to the giant red barn, a new addition to the campground since I’d attended as a camper. The dew on the grass competing with the beauty of the steam rising out over the field in the distance. The birds calling out to welcome anyone willing to rise early enough to wish them good morning. Coffee was not yet in the vocabulary of my palette.
With difficulties at home, it meant the world to have the confidence of Kyle, Mike, Bob, Dave, Joe, Scott and the others. These men who were leaders of the camp, placed me in oversight of the “Petting Farm” for the entire summer of 1998. Each morning I’d rise early to great the midwestern Michigan beauty that exists as an island between streams of somewhere in the sprawling farmland, otherwise known as a “campground”. I, neither “city kid” nor “country boy”, but rather a conglomerate of “raised by church-going single mother” and “growing up on a highway”, would open up the barn every morning.
Thomas Merton echoed the Psalmists who spoke of all creation having special knowledge of God, and an awareness of the divine. The personified versions of these animals knew not only God, but could have significant discourse with me on passages of scripture, drama from home, or the latest girl counselor I might be crushing on that summer. Norma, the cow, was particularly wise and would share her insight with me – providing I allowed her to escape to the grassy fields before Jack – the lone donkey. As you might expect, he was little help anyways, always laughing when I’d ask his opinion.
The exuberance each animal met the dawn with, running out of their stalls to stretch, run, and snack, was equaled each week by new sets of young people – each eager to pretend for a week – that life was simple. It was a campground for economically and socially disenfranchised kids. Shedding the fear, the instability, and the harsh climates of home – by the 3rd day most kids understood they were safe and loved here. The animals knew the same as I entered the barn each morning, to care for their stall and feed them.
I attempted to begin most mornings, once the animals had been let out and immediate needs cared for, soaking in the silence of the big red barn. Breathing slow at the start of the day, I would go over the schedule of what groups would visit, and read some of the scripture from a recent message at the chapel times. I was experiencing for an entire summer, what many of the children there tasted for only a week – the desirable simplicity of life. To understand sabbath was less a day of the week, and more an invitation to rest and be content.
I want my kids to know that contentedness. Shoot, I want the world to know that contentedness. In my best moments today – I have it. The contentment Mary and Joseph felt when they laid their firstborn son in an animal food-trough, surrounded by the sights and smells of the barn. The breathing slow. Not knowing what tomorrow might look like, but holding enough in this moment to outweigh any anxiety that may threaten to surface.
There is so much to hold in this moment. You are beloved. You are enough. You are capable. You are able to contribute to the lives of others. Your smile can be a candle-light in the dark day of another.
There may be weeds growing – but there is so much wheat.
May you discover how it grows even today.