Winter is coming. Not in a Game of Thrones way. Before I sound trendy, I’ll admit, the closest I’ve come to GoT is the picture of the intense guy on a throne, with this tagline: Winter is coming.
It’s a great tagline, and I’m shamelessly stealing it here.
Winter is coming, here, in East Tennessee, with no dragons in sight. The farm looks like a small slice of death right now. Maybe that’s harsh. At least, if you haven’t visited before, and today was the first time you saw the farm, you’d be discouraged.
The front field looks forgotten. Like that tumbledown house you pass, and wonder how long before it comes down in the middle of the night, and who would notice if it did?
These are the remnants of a flourishing harvest, the ghost town of summer. Enormous summer squashes, that went unpicked, rotted slowly on the ground. Okra stalks, 7 and 8 feet tall, dry, and brittle to the touch. The weeds thrive, overtaking the shriveled sweet and hot peppers. And bare rows, strips of brown dirt, where we dug sweet potatoes, and left nothing in their wake, no green whatsoever. It’s all gone, they’re all dead, give up hope! it cries.
Two swaths of field, our fall fields, fare slightly better. With small, struggling greens, kale reaching for the sun we’re not getting, collards and Swiss chard frozen at their current unblemished, yet diminutive size, broccoli with just the smallest of stalks developed – even these large patches that we’re tending, and working don’t encourage.
Forget both those fields.
Now, instead of channeling our energy into the forgotten summer field, and knowing there’s not much we can do for the fall field, except weed, and pray, we work the high tunnels.
Inside these plastic tunnels, that’s where our hope lies for winter. Clean out the remnants from spring and summer growth; till the soil; amend; plant again. Hope the plastic covering these high metal rails protects against cold, snow, too much rain. Pray this shelter gives our food a chance to survive.
We work less right now, and the days are shorter. Our winter shows the smallest crop yield, and that’s mostly out of our control. However. There’s still work to be done, and growth keeps going.
We’ll get these greens in the ground, and then we look after them. Run water on them before they get dry. Cover them up when a freeze happens. Keep the high tunnels doors pulled shut tight, fostering as much heat as possible.
There’s work to be done, even in the in-between season. Most of us don’t get a break from life, regardless of what hardship, what challenge, what junk gets thrown our way. Nor do we get a reprieve from the slow, the quiet, the same ol’, same ol’. Onward, that’s the only direction any of us can ever go.
Finding good work in the unyielding season, there’s a gift in that. Nurturing along small goals, tiny dreams, everyday hopes can be so fulfilling. I wouldn’t tell you a winter harvest, with 4 to 5 bags of each green, if that, beef, and yet another bushel of sweet potatoes looks as spectacular as the spring-summer harvest table we’ll lay out in 5 months time.
But we picked every one of those little green leaves, and they grew against tremendous odds, and through tremendous care, and that’s reason to give thanks.
If you’re in a season yielding little fruit, or taking tremendous energy to yield anything at all, I’m encouraging you here, take heart. Keep going. Yes, bigger yields are coming. But don’t dismiss those little yields while you wait.
So often, in my experience, the smallest gains have been those I appreciate the most. Losing those first 5 pounds, walking that first half mile, buying that first house, however humble it might be.
It takes the most effort to start in the cold, and the dark, and to keep going. Ecclesiastes reminds us:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.3:1 (ESV)
If you’re walking through this fall, feeling discouraged, and working bare ground for little yield, I’m asking you, celebrate those small yields. This season matters, too, and what you gain from it might prove more fruitful than the harvest you’ll reap in spring and summer.
This world-famous text from Ecclesiastes is encouraging. Here’s what it’s not: telling us to grin and bare it, because a party is coming. At least I’m not reading that at all.
There’s a time for every experience, every emotion, in our lives. None better than the others, at least not by these standards, but all there.
Who’s to say you can’t reap as much, maybe more, from those hard seasons? The seasons to break down, to weep, and to mourn, these are beautiful seasons. Throughout my life, I’ve been most shaped by these harder experiences. And in my last few years, walking with the Lord, I’ve built my strongest relationship with Him during these slow, dark times.
So today, I’m suggesting to you, hold Eccelsiastes 3 1-8. And also remember the less song-catchy verse a little farther down:
. . . also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.3:13 (ESV)
All his toil. Now, I grant you, being asked to take pleasure in all your toil – that’s throwing down a challenge. I grimace when I read it.
Accept it anyway. Take the challenge. See how you do.
Just being willing to find the gifts cans yield such important results.
That’s my plan for this coming winter. Maybe we’ll have some lovely winter crops. Maybe not. Our work is to tend them as best we can. God handles the rest.
If you visited the farm today, and you’d never seen the farm before, you’d leave disappointed. You might not realize how critical this season is too. So much of farming lies in trusting when there’s not much to trust, not much to look at, little evidence of growth. The in-between time is where we live right now. So I’m holding onto Ecclesiastes, and this reminder about our work:
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.3:12-13 (ESV)