Yes, I know it’s already into February, but it’s taken me a few weeks to put my thoughts together about 2017. It’s hard to believe so much can be packed into one year, but 2017 will go down in our history of being a time when we know God went before us, behind and beside us, and often just plain ol’ carried us.
Coming into the winter of 2017, Milt and I knew we had a big year ahead of us. Planning had started for a new building and we were just a wee bit overwhelmed at the prospect of the Eclipse. As we are trying to get geared up to make that all happen, in February our daughter and fiancé picked their wedding date—July of 2017.
As we launched into our long list of plans—wedding, eclipse, building, gaga ball construction, new roof on the stage– we enlisted help and then we had the busiest Spring season we have had yet. Our now annual Easter Egg Hunt was lots of fun and then lots of school groups came to make tacos with us—straight from the farm! Some teachers chose us as their “fun field trip,” without anything “educational” on their visits and they played mini-golf, gaga ball, and enjoyed feeding animals and all that the farm has to offer. Those teachers who came for that field trip told us it was the best day ever for them—watching their students just play and have fun together. We hope they might see that as an annual trip for their classrooms. How thankful we were to see them enjoying the fruits of our labors—we love it when people just have fun!
As Milt planted corn and managed the upkeep of the farm and Janie was in full swing wedding mode, our contractors started construction on the café in late May. Customers continued to visit the farm and plans were ramping up for the Eclipse. Our phone rang constantly inquiring about the camping or viewing on the farm. We used Eventbrite for the first time and we couldn’t have pulled that together without our staff. In fact, our staff continued to help us keep things pulled together as there was just a lot to do.
As time just seemed to speed up as we got closer to a wedding (July 22) and the Eclipse (August 21), in early July, life took a very difficult turn. My (Janie’s) Mama (Grandmom to most) was diagnosed with leukemia. She had been sick off and on since the first of the year and we finally had a diagnosis. We had great hope that she would make it to the wedding, but a hospital visit immediately prior to the wedding prevented her from being there. A beautiful day was a bittersweet day as we watched our precious daughter marry the love of her life, while Grandmom and Granddad couldn’t be there. But God was there, and we love our new son-in-law. After the wedding we made a visit home to see my parents to visit and show pictures from the wedding and then we were back home to spend the next 4 weeks getting ready for the grand opening of the Café and the Eclipse.
The team from Hunt Brothers showed up and we trained with them in preparation for our grand opening/ribbon cutting on August 8. Our community showed up in support and to enjoy free pizza given away all day by Hunt Brothers to celebrate our new Café, announcing to the community that they can now get Hunt Brothers Pizza and wings at Christian Way Cafe! It was a hit. People loved the pizza and the Café.
But now we only had a few short weeks to be ready for the Eclipse. The phone calls were non stop. People now were figuring out they best be getting their reservations. We recruited more help and soon Eclipse weekend was here! The campground was ready, the Café was stocked, the extra porta-potties were in place and the phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing….oh how it rang non stop….
Our first campers arrived Friday morning—a dad and son from Louisville and they began to set up their tent. Then here came a massive motor home up the driveway. It was the test—would it make it across that field, now a campground, to its home for the weekend? Jim got his rig backed into his spot and he and his mom stayed there until Tuesday. The day brought back such memories for me. As a child/teenager my family camped all over the US. What fun it was to be the campground director as I showed people to their campsites. Flashbacks of all the campsites we had stayed came rolling in….
I could get really sidetracked talking about the Eclipse weekend, but that may just need to be another blog…
Eclipse weekend was wonderful. So many great people. Wonderful employees and friends who came to help us. A beautiful worship service and flag retirement ceremonies by the Boy Scout troop who came to help us for the weekend. Then on Monday—the incredible experience of a full solar eclipse. The wonders of God and His majesty were in full force that day! Listening to the crowd react to that event was so beautiful: One thousand people on our farm—all looking in one direction—up. Watching the same miracle together and being amazed. Truly a spiritual moment—truly a great moment for mankind. Unified in one focus. Oh, if only we could remain that way!
Immediately after our guests departed, we made a trip back to East Tennessee to see Mama. The doctors had determined that the leukemia was so advanced that treatments would have to be quite aggressive and Mama chose not to have them. She wanted her last days to be as good as possible. That visit was hard because in my spirit, I knew it would be my last time home while Mama was still here. It was a good visit, but that good bye was so very hard…
I struggled to come back and to try to be “business as usual.” I was here but it wasn’t easy. I called home often and yet each call just was harder and harder. I struggled with guilt about not going home to be there with Mama but she kept saying, “You all have a job to do. Your Dad and your sister are taking great care of me. You need to keep making people happy.” But happy just didn’t seem to be that important.
Until God….until God shared something with me that helped me understand what this was all about. You see someone shared a story with me of a woman who had visited the farm. She had heard me share the Gospel message with the pumpkin and realized she needed to change her life. This mother got herself in church and found a relationship with Jesus. And it was just in time, because just a few weeks prior to my hearing this story—this young mother died. And now (just maybe because she heard me tell the Gospel), she found a saving relationship with Jesus and is worshipping at His feet for all of eternity. Praise Him!
And then the whisper came, “This My child, is My plan for you. Your Mama is fine. She’s Mine. And soon she will be in eternity with Me, but my sheep—many of them are still lost and you need to tell them about Me…I’ve got your Mama safe. Please tell My sheep…”
Every day I had to remind myself of that whisper. Every day I called home and listened as the days drew closer for Mama to go Home. And every day I watched for chances to tell others about Jesus. How He died for our sins. And then He rose again to give us Hope. To give us Life. To give us Abundant Life. It’s not about rules, it’s about a relationship. And just like He will with you, He walked beside me. In front of me and sometimes He just carried me.
Another milestone occurred in September as I flew to Texas to pin pilot wings on our son, Craig, an officer in the Air Force. Milt stayed home to keep the farm going and I truly enjoyed my time with my son. I am so proud of his choice to service our country, but it wasn’t easy to fly home and leave him there.
Fall was hard. Soon into the season we learned that our pumpkins had multiple diseases and were quickly rotting in the field. So we began the hard task of buying pumpkins. They aren’t hard to buy in the sense that we have great sources of produce auctions in Fairview, but it’s hard to lay out the cash again to buy a crop you have already paid to grow. But in faith we persevered. Looking back it almost is a blur. And more often than not when someone asked me how I was, the tears came. It all seemed too much.
But God—He stayed so very close. Customers came. Not quite as many as in years past, but I’m sure God sent what we could handle. Our staff was supportive. They carried things when we weren’t so focused. And then the call came. Wednesday, October 18, in the wee hours of the morning, when the phone rang, I knew my daddy would be on the other end of that call. “She’s not suffering any more, sweetheart.” No, she wasn’t, because Mama went Home—to be at the feet of her precious Savior.
I called our children and asked God for the strength to get thru the day. We knew we had a busy day and Jesus whispered once again, “tell My sheep…” The school buses rolled in and I walked to greet the teachers like I do everyday. She knew my Mama was sick, but I knew the teacher wasn’t ready for my words, “Mama went Home this morning.” “Oh, Janie, I wish we had known. How can we do things differently today?” I heard the whisper and I said….”But you don’t understand, Suzanne, I have to tell them. We aren’t going to let the enemy win this one. It’s exactly where my Mama would want me to be.”
For those four days Jesus carried me. I shared the Gospel. With school groups, with a young couple sitting on the front porch. With the grandmother hurting because she had lost her adult child and was trying to raise the grandchild. On Harvest Praise, as we used that day to honor Mom, the Lord gave me the strength to share the Gospel in hopes that someone heard the Truth that eternity with Jesus could be theirs too.
Jennifer, Garth and Rachael came home and helped the day of Harvest Praise and we left before the day was over to head home to Kingsport. Craig flew in to Tennessee from Texas and we gathered to honor our Mother, Grandmom, wife and friend. And again God carried us.
If I had known on January 1, 2017 what was coming for that year, I would have been like a groundhog looking for my hole on Groundhog Day. Never mind my shadow, I just want to hide and skip the year. But God… but the promises of God are not available only on the good days or the easy days. They are available every day. And there is no mistake, that in one of the most difficult years our family has walked thru, we have been strengthened. We have heard His Words of comfort. His promises to never leave nor forsake us are true. We have come through the fire. Your prayers have made a difference. Your kind words, your acts of kindness have made a difference.
Many years ago the Lord gave us a purpose—we are to “sow seeds for tomorrow’s Harvest.” That might look like a farmer’s motto, but it’s also a Shepherd’s. His seeds are His Words and He wants us to tell His sheep about Him. And then somebody has to water those seeds, those baby sheep need tending. We all have a job to do.
So our prayer as we look forward from 2017? We want 2018 to be another year of telling His sheep, and we hope you will join us—to tell His sheep, or water the seeds or tend those baby sheep. And no matter the year we have ahead of us…He’s got this. And for that we are so very thankful. To Him be all the praise! AMEN.