Counting it joy

When things are hard

When did we start thinking things needed to be quick and easy? Nothing’s quick or easy if we’re going to really learn something.

I was thinking about this when I came across this picture, taken in 1978. I’m posing behind my mom’s mom’s cooking stove.  I remember Mom telling me to go stand there, thinking the stove was nothing extra special, and wondering why she wanted a picture of it while I put my hands in the pockets of my new, blue, velour hooded sweatshirt.

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It didn’t seem picture-worthy to me in those days of 24 images on a roll (a roll that you developed when it was full in a few months). It was just part of my childhood. We spent Thanksgiving week in the old farmhouse many years in a row. The men would squeeze into my Uncle Roger’s old Bronco and go deer hunting all day, every day. We’d listen to stories about their escapades, sing songs while my dad strummed his guitar, and play cards all evening, every evening.

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To cook a meal, a fire had to be started in the belly of the stove. And between my mom and Aunt Naomi they put some amazing meals on that small metal farm table every evening from a stove that had no dials to turn, but required more or less logs fed into it to regulate the temperature.

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I would trudge through cow fields, maneuvering around the patties and over the cow bridge, to borrow ingredients from my Aunt Sandy when needed. And I’d pump water often. There was no faucet to turn on, and no hot water on demand. I would stand at the big white ceramic sink and pump the huge handle until cold well water came gushing out into a big pan. Then the pan went to the stove to boil if we needed warm water.

But the meal was eaten quickly and cards put aside on the evenings when their hunting had been successful.

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Then we’d spend the evening in my Uncle Roger’s cement-block basement. The deer was skinned, cut expertly by men who learned the cuts of the deer in their youth, then sliced, chopped, ground, and wrapped. It took all evening, with every able body manning a station at one of many tables set up on the concrete floor. It was cold. Bloody. Smelly. But it was truly one of the most beloved ways I ever spent an evening in my childhood. I liked the camaraderie. I liked standing elbow-to-elbow with cousins wrapping, taping, and labeling each cut of meat. I liked watching the mixing up and grinding of the don’t-know-what-to-do-with-that meat to make scrapple. I never even thought of how laborious and tiring it was to put a little meat in the freezer to feed all three families in the long, cold days of winter. Just like I didn’t know why Mom wanted a picture of the wood-burning kitchen stove. I didn’t know that what I was a part of was a quickly dying, self-sustaining way of life. It never bothered anyone in the damp basement on numerous nights that week that nothing about providing their own food for their families was quick. Or easy.

All of that–cold well water pumped at the sink, log after log fed to the cooking fire, and cold hands cutting and wrapping winter’s meals– all of it was just the way things were when we went to the country. And I loved Thanksgiving week on the farm. So the stove with no dials and the sink with no faucet were second nature to me, and I would have never asked for a picture of any of it. I sure am glad Mom thought to take a few.

So when the sweet lady who labored over that hot wood stove for hours every day, every Thanksgiving week, with her sister, in the kitchen where they had grown up doing the very same thing every day to help their mother, when she called me a few weeks ago to tell me she had cancer,  well, it was a bad day. But God never promises quick and easy.

The past few weeks of doctors’ visits have been hard, but, praise God, they have given lots of positive news. For now, we get a respite. We get to appreciate every day we’re given in this respite in a way we never would have appreciated them before.

I’m very thankful to report that biopsies have defined Mom’s cancer as a “simple” one as far as cancers go, and the treatment plan is much easier than we had first thought. So appreciating each other is something we get to drag out, and even do in complicated ways for, Lord willing, many years to come.

Nope, nothing enriching is quick and easy. And that’s the way life is supposed to be. One day at a time to love and enjoy, sometimes without even realizing just how hard it is because you’re so thankful for it. So no matter what difficult phone call you receive or sad news you might face today, try to count it all joy.

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“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1: 2-4

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