Read first: Psalm 126
It is safe to say that where I am from is an extremely rural or what we called, a “farm” town. My high school was wedged in the middle of a cornfield where it was not uncommon to be stuck behind a tractor on the way to school. One of my favorite routines was taking the hidden backroad to school every morning. It was hilly and sparsely paved, so much so that my father nicknamed it “Roller Coaster Road.” I memorized every curve, turn and pothole and could probably drive down it blindfolded without missing a beat or deflating a tire. The farmhouses felt like friends and the trees burned in autumnal bliss; so lovely were those leaves that lined that lane.
Although I did not grow up on a functioning farm, one of my best friends did. Her parents were extremely well known cattle ranchers, living on vast, beautiful acreage. They had many animals but tended primarily to cows. Some of my best days were lived on that farm. I loved coming as I was, in my messy clothes, to help sweet Karen after school with her daily tasks. One of my favorite memories includes a time when a gaggle of us decided to take the gator (John Deer’s version of a golf cart, functioning as a mini truck) for a joyride through the pastures (they had hundreds of cows). There was some left over feed on the back of the gator and for some reason I can’t remember, someone decided to throw it like confetti into the pasture. In that moment, hundreds of eyes and hooves turned toward us. That’s right, we were caught up in a real life stampede, cows chasing our little gator for more food. With the gator’s gas pedal to the floor and thrill pulsing through our veins, we screamed and laughed all in a moment’s brace. We felt safe over scared, more alive than dead.
In the midst of our sojourn, we feel the tiredness creep in. We feel the weight of the surprises and derailments press down on our core. I think we’ve all touched the point where we feel the shallowness of our breaths, that there just might not be anything left. When I read Psalm 126, I see a visual representation of endurance and daily living– that eventually our weeping and sowing will spring forth shouts of joy and gladness. That even in the drought, God’s abundance still prevails and produces, even if we don’t get to see it. Spending time with my friend Karen on her farm revealed to me the way discipline and daily rhythms calloused her hands but how easily her heart combusted when met with joy. The tiring, dirty, exhausting work, her attachment to the animals, then the weeping that followed when they were sold at the county fair, all got juxtaposed to the surprise birthday parties in the barn, sprints across the hay bales, riding horses through the creek and all those “joy” rides on the gator. When the two met, it made it all worth it.
There seems to be a cycle at work here. In the cycle of doing the work we were set to do, of putting one foot in front of the other on a path that might sometimes feel frivolous, we are met in the middle with the combustion of abundance and life. When it feels like God can’t possibly grow anything out of this concrete-like life, I look to this Psalm, like the tiny crack in the concrete that still has room for something to grow. That space feels thin and narrow but I believe that’s where we live most of the time–it’s an unlikely space where we grow many calluses and many flowers. I love how the Message version of Psalm 126 says this, “So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.” At this point in the journey, we must fight. We must relentlessly fight to know and believe that God is a God of gentleness and gladness. He wants and desires good things over our lives. When we go home, we will have an armload of blessing all garnered from what seemed like an impossible space to flourish—and that gives depth to my once shallow breaths.