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The Path Before Us

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Dolly Sods West Virginia

We have been frequenting the new path through the woods almost every day now, while the weather holds.  We headed out last night for a late night adventure-  over the bridge and into the woods for a campfire and conversation.  It is always funny to me how a campfire brings out talk that can never happen at home on the couch.  We walked side by side back home and stopped, at a distance, and looked at the small house sitting on the edge of the field.  The warm glow of the Christmas lights through the window made me feel happy.  We looked back down the field, to the spot where all of this started, the location of our ‘camp’ three years ago.  We began to talk about the craziness of it all.  I remember so vividly laying in the tent while we were waiting to do the groundwork, still finalizing the drawing of the house- sketched again and again on graph paper, erased and re-drawn so many times the paper was worn thin.  We laughed about how many people told us we were crazy, that it couldn’t be done.  “You cannot move to a field and live in a tent”, they said.  “You cannot build a house like that”.  But here is the thing about us- we can do whatever it is that we say we can do.

I do not mean that to sound prideful, or arrogant, because it isn’t meant that way at all.   God certainly guides and provides each step of the way.  As we stood looking at the house, we began to talk, again, about this process.  We began to look back and realize that God knows so much more than we can ever give him credit for.  When we began to reminisce, we realized that our path has been laid out before us for quite some time.  Everything that has transpired has led us here, to this spot, at this particular moment in time.  I know, this sounds kind of like some hippie mumbo-jumbo, but believe me, it is most definitely not!  We started thinking backwards about all of the events of our lives that landed us here, building this house, and we had a difficult time knowing where to stop.  Every decision, every event, every consequence was all part of the plan that brought us to this moment in time.

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West Virginia

Before we met, Dave and I separately wanted to have land and build our own house, and then we found each other and began pursuing the same dream.  Before we left for Nome, we bought land in Talkeetna, Alaska, with every intention of building our homestead there.  Forced out of our rental home on December 1st, the beginning of a harsh and unforgiving winter just South of the Arctic circle, we moved into a seasonal summer home out in the tundra- uninsulated, no running water, and 1 mile off the main road.  The challenges we faced there made us second-guess our desire to homestead in Talkeetna.  We felt that perhaps we should be somewhere less remote.  This was the first time we became aware that following a dream was not the same as attaining it.  Seeing the dream become reality was much harder than just moving through life pretending that the dream is all there is.  When we left Alaska, we went with no direction- just the trailer and some abstract ideas of where we might want to go.  We landed in West Virginia, again camping (aka homeless) while we waited for the plan to become more clear.  So many things happened during our time there that led us here.  In the quiet of night, God’s voice whispers to us all, and it seems that Dave and I were listening and making decisions based on what he wanted for us, even if we did not know that we were hearing his voice at the time.

The funny thing about a dream, is that the coming true part is really not as glamorous as the movies want you to believe.  This has been hard.  Super hard.  But as we stood in the field, looking at the glow from the windows, we knew, without a doubt, that this is EXACTLY where God wanted us to stand.  We spent most of our adult lives dreaming, and planning, and then making it happen.  This is the first time that neither one of us has a plan for what is next.  It is really quite exciting, because we both are aware of the fact that God has amazing things planned for us, and coming here, stripping away our desires, our idea of what WE wanted for our lives, opens up a whole new world of adventures that is led by what HE wants for our lives.

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Triple Creek- Nome, Alaska

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Our First Thanksgiving at Home

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We sat around the table feasting on yummy food and I realized that this was our first Thanksgiving at the homestead.  We got a much needed reprieve in the cold weather and the kids spent most of the week outside.  Everyone was around the table laughing, talking, and eating, and my heart was full.  This has been the most amazing week for us.  My father-in-law was able to come and help us build a bridge across the creek and for some reason, that bridge meant so much more to us than just a way across the creek.  We have already cleared about a quarter of an acre of trail around the property and we have been out every day with the kids.  Our boys are so much happier and easier to handle now that they are romping in the woods.  Suddenly, with the construction of that bridge, everything seems to be coming together for us.  What a difference it makes to walk across that creek and into the woods!  I never imagined that a few days work, two 40-foot telephone poles, and 40 treated 2×6 boards would  open up such a world of possibilities.  Mt heart feels full and happy!  We were sitting at the table last night and we asked our six-year-old what his favorite part of the week was.  His answer echoed all of our own answers, “eating Thanksgiving dinner with Grandpa and Gigi, and hiking out in the woods together”.  I feel so blessed and so thankful that we have finally made it to this point and can actually appreciate what it is we have here!

 

Bridge Building

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We have been going full bore on the house to try and finish the major projects before winter hit.  All we had left before we were going to take a winter break was the closet door, some trim upstairs, and some sort of temporary stair railing.  Then Algebra happened.  Dave has been going to school on top of everything else we have been doing, and his eight-week Algebra class started and everything else stopped!  We faced the tough decision of either stopping the work on the house and passing Algebra, or dropping Algebra and finishing the house.  I voted for passing Algebra.  Every fiber of my being wanted to scream out to forget Algebra- who really needs that stuff anyway?  But sometimes we have to make decisions that have nothing to do with what we really want and more to do with what is best for the team.  The house can wait….  Dave said that sometimes he feels like our motto should be the Latin phrase, “Auribus Teneo Lupum”.  I tend to agree.  If you are not familiar with this phrase, it basically means that you have the wolf by his ears, so he can not bite you, but you cannot hold him by his ears forever.  Essentially, either decision that you make will have consequences, and none of the decisions is really all that great.  I do not mean this in a negative way, just realistic, that our time here, building this house, has been inundated with all sorts of decisions like this. So, in line with this phrase, we decided to drag out the house project and subsequent refinancing of debt in order to ensure that Dave can finish Algebra and still graduate in the Spring.

Since we have had some down time while Dave works on school (Haha!), we decided it was time to get to work building a bridge across the creek!  I wish the photos were better, but we have been weeks without true sunshine and cloudy photos just do not turn out as well.  We rented a trailer for our two wheel drive farm truck, picked up some 40 foot telephone poles, got the truck stuck in the field, hauled it out with our other truck, pulled the poles over to the creek with the also two-wheel drive tractor, pushed the poles across the creek with the same tractor, and await the come-along to come along in the mail so that we can finish hauling them across the rest of the way.  Once complete, we can buy the decking, fasten it to the poles, build a side railing, and off we go through the woods!  For three years now we have lived on the edge of the field with 25 acres of woods at our backs, with no way to access the woods without walking all the way down to the road and back up on the other side of the creek.  We decided it was way overdue to build a bridge and start making trails so that we can use the property for some desperately needed recreation!  In true Sims fashion, we spent a free day working instead of lounging about.  This is the kind of work that feels good, though, because it will get us access to the rest of the property!  Sometimes it is nice to pause the projects that never seem finished in order to complete a task that is immediately beneficial!  It was really sweet for me to get to watch our oldest steering the tractor while sitting on his Papa’s lap.  I have memories of driving the same model tractor while sitting in my Grandpa and Uncles laps!

 

Garden Harvest in Spite of Madness

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We had a good year in the garden despite my serious lack of attention.  We planted early (the middle of May in Zone 3b) and promptly left to go on a two-week vacation.  We eagerly strained our necks coming down the driveway to see if anything had survived the lack of daily watering and attention.   Everything but the strawberries survived and thrived.  Days turned into weeks and I often found myself neglecting the garden when I should have been mulching, weeding, loving.  I was too busy, though, weeding, mulching, and loving my own three little people plants.  I wandered out into the garden every now and again to see what was happening, but I did not spend the hours upon hours that I used to spend.  Somehow, in spite of my attention, the garden provided us with an amazing abundance of food.  We have canned salsa, canned spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, frozen beans, carrots, and zucchini ready for making relish.  The cupboard has onions, potatoes, and oodles and oodles of roasted sunflower seeds.  The still plywood counter top boasts butternut squash, and the pumpkins are on the stairs awaiting carving.  There is applesauce, spiced apples, pineapple zucchini, and zucchini lemon pie filling.  A bag of still crunchy carrots sits in the fridge, ready for little hands to grab and munch.  The crisper drawer is full of the last of the corn, ready for boiling and rolling in butter and salt.

The garden looks lonely now, covered in brown leftovers and a few remaining pumpkins.  It is hard for me to believe that the garden could have provided us with so much food, for so little work.  It seems a little bit wrong.  Autumn is my favorite season, and this year is no different.  I love to see the last of the produce going into jars, bags, or boxes.  This will be the first year that we will get to carve pumpkins from our own garden- the kids have already picked out their favorites.  I will not say that I am ready for winter, but this year, for the first time, I look around and see what we have done and do not feel so overwhelmed by  all that still needs to be accomplished.

The kids are in bed after a late night by the fire, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and watching the stars and northern lights.  The downstairs is almost done, the upstairs just awaiting carpet and trim.  The scented candle burns on the newly installed cherry windowsill.  Our little house on the edge of the field is finally starting to feel like a home.

 

The Risk and The Reward

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Ecclesiastes 11:
Invest in Many Ventures
1Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
2Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
3If clouds are full of water,
they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
4Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
5As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed
Or know how life (or the spirit) / enters the body being formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.

 

The Bible contains so many references to risk, and includes so many stories of people that must take huge risks to reap huge rewards.  When we came here, we felt so solid in God’s calling, so certain that our risk in giving up everything would reap benefits that we could not yet see.  We felt so sure that there was a deeper purpose for us here and building the house and starting our homestead were just the tip of the iceberg for what God would do for us.  It was a huge risk.  We literally sold everything and drove away with just what we could fit in the trailers (and maybe some at my parents)!!  We camped in a field and watched it rain and rain and rain while we attempted to plan how we were going to build.  So many times in so many ways, we were at the end of one rope or another, yet we prayed, and believed, and we made it through. So many times we could have literally been homeless, without shelter, or heat, or water, or food.  Although I know that not all risk is rewarded with success, I also know that there is never a reward without some risk.   Risk and reward. We gave up everything to come here and build OUR dream.  But once we realized that everything we needed was in God’s hands,  we really were never at risk of losing anything. We made a commitment when we came here, to put God at the center of our lives and build our house, and our family, around that faith.  Since being here, we have realized that none of this even matters without God, and that all of this could fade away, and we would still receive the reward of spending eternity with Jesus!

As we come closer and closer to completion on the house, I am constantly reminded of the risk and reward of what we have done, and see all around me the many ways that God has blessed us.  We came here with the child-like faith that God would provide for us.  Many people saw us as irresponsible, maybe a little crazy, and might have wondered if we would fail.  There were times that we wondered these things as well!  Our intentions when coming here were to risk everything to return to our lives and live each day with faith the size of a mustard seed.  We wanted to slow down, and stop barreling down the highway of technology and progress so that we could teach our children how to survive in a world that feels increasingly unsafe.  We really wanted to restructure our lives and put our faith in God first.  I feel like we were somewhat misguided initially with our vision of life here, because we often fought the knowledge that none of it was possible on our own, but ultimately, it led us down the path that perhaps God intended all along- to bring us back to the realization that the ‘reward’ in all of this was not that we were able to accomplish our dream, but that none of this even matters without centering our family, our lives, and our daily existence around God.  Had we not sold everything and driven here (the risk), we would never have realized what God really wants for our lives (the reward).

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In Ecclesiastes 11, the first six verses, the Bible talks about risk. These verses to me talk about what we cannot control, what we do not know, and what we can do anyway if we believe in a power outside of ourselves.  Verse 3 of Ecclesiastes 11 says, “If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth.“ This verse makes me laugh when I think about the rain and the many things in this building process that have slowed down or been impossible because of the rain.  No matter how much we wanted sunshine and dry weather, the clouds did not ask our permission before they made things wet. When it rained, it rained, and there was nothing we could do about it.  Just as obvious was the statement in verse 3: “Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie.”  Life happens. We are learning to deal with it and move on!

Not only do we not really control everything (anything), but we do not know everything (anything) either!   Verse 5 of Ecclesiastes 11 says, “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”  Verse 6 of Ecclesiastes 11 closes the section by again urging us to take risks and not to be paralyzed by fear of failure.

Life is a risk. The Bible is pretty clear about that. I find it very easy to be anxious and frustrated when I forget  who holds the future.  I don’t know everything or control everything, but God does. So there are basically two options:  either get frustrated at the fact that I am not God, or else put my faith in the Lord and rejoice that God is God. Trust him. Life is an adventure, full of challenges and risks, and faith helps us to take those risks.

The last few days have really brought all of this home for me.  Yesterday we took time off from building to just BE.  The kids were lined up at the counter, helping me make dinner.  We had a great day playing at the beach, catching frogs, and stomping around in the creek.  I realized just how wonderful it was to have this space to be living in together, and everyone was clamoring to help me make dinner!  After dinner, the kids were climbing all over my husband and giving him hugs while I cleaned up. Tonight, again, I was struck by the many blessings of what we have here.  My husband was sitting on the couch playing the Ukelele while the boys played together upstairs.  I had our youngest in the kitchen, ‘helping’ me get ready for dinner.  We all sat down together (as we do every night) and prayed together.  This is the reward.  After three years, it is all starting to come to light for me.  And let me tell you, it was so worth the risk!

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Garden Bounty

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Somehow, between all of the millions of things we did this Spring, we still managed to put in a garden.  We literally worked every day to get it planted the week before we left for vacation, and then we were gone for two weeks, and prayed that it would still be there when we got back.  We rigged up an anti-deer fence, anti,bunny fence, and watered the new plants.  We pulled in the driveway two weeks later and it was all we could do not to run straight out to the garden and see what survived.  Guess what?  EVERYTHING!  We have munched on snap peas, enjoyed fresh salad greens, and the boys eat the carrots whole.  Zucchini bread, zucchini relish, diced onion, summer squash  boats, radish and carrots dipped in sweet chili sauce.  The boys check almost daily for the emergence of green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and their beloved pumpkins.

I feel like there was some mistake, because the garden that I almost virtually ignored in the beginning has exploded into a crazy jungle of food-producing madness.  I can barely walk the rows between the tomato plants taller than I am and the various squash plants that are creeping across walkways.  I look for deeper meaning and hope that our spirits can grow this wild and wooly with little attention.  I love watching the kids beg me for fresh carrots while I am making dinner.  Looking forward to next year when we can add chickens and maybe goats to our funny farm.  As we enjoyed the cool evening by the fire, I feel secure in the knowledge that God is with us.

Eyes of a Child

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So I asked for a different set of glasses in my last post, and continued to pray about it after I posted.  My new set of glasses came in the form of my older brother who said something extremely powerful and wise beyond what I have ever given him credit for (who ever gives their older brother credit, right?).  He reminded me that I regularly post photos and updates about all of the wonderful things we are doing in a daily basis and that my last post was not in line with what he saw of my life from outside the fish bowl.

He said,  “I think when it comes to happiness, we never ‘arrive’.  It’s more of a process than a product.”

This comment hit me in a profound way and I realized that I too often look at life like a fish in a fish bowl.  I look around and if the water is clean, I see clean water, but if the water is dirty, I forget that it was ever clean.  When I get overwhelmed, I tend to only see what is right in front of me.  I may see the shark, but not notice the hole that I can wiggle into to get away from the shark, or the escape route that might be right beyond.  We spent so long dreaming about our land, dreaming of our house, and the life that we are now living.  We have always viewed our happiness as contingent on that dream, and because of that, we got caught up in a cycle that found us chasing something that we have always had and just could not see.  I think part of this is our culture.  We are taught to ‘pursue happiness’ to ‘be successful’, like it is something that we have to attain.  This goal becomes our purpose in life, instead of our purpose in life being LIFE.

To further reiterate this point in my life, I was driving in to work this morning and there it was, blaring at me from the True Value sign…….Life is all about the Nuts and Bolts……. The nuts and bolts that hold everything together.  This is where we went wrong.  We got so caught up in the product that we forgot to enjoy the process. Shakespeare must have also thought about this and said: “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing”.

And as C.S. Lewis puts it, “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn.”  We are on the final stretch of finishing the house, we have learned so much- about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, our faith, and our path.  Thanks to my big brother for helping me to look up and see what is really around me, even in my darkest, toughest moments.  I am going to strive to see my life, our property, this PROCESS, through the eyes of my children.  Where I see problems, they see opportunity.  Where I see tasks, they see adventure.  They are happy simply because they are HERE.

Meg

“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”
John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live in

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