Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Destination: Harmony; Population: Me & You

Harmony can be an elusive ideal we spend a lifetime chasing.

But, for me, Harmony is only a mere two and a half hour drive to the California coast. A nice leisurely meandering through farmland and rolling hills will deposit me in a small town consisting of exactly one street.

The city of Harmony, CA was founded by Swiss immigrants in 1869 who started dairy farms and a dairy processing operation. There was much infighting and rivalries that led to the operation changing many hands and even caused a death. In the early 1900's, parties involved agreed to call a truce and changed the name of their town to Harmony as a symbolic gesture of that decision.

Unfortunately, the harmony did not last and the town eventually died out almost completely. There were a few swells in population with the largest occurring in the 1970s by craftsman who had "found" the little town and wanted to create a place that would foster artistry and simple living.

Today Harmony sits all but unoccupied with a small population that sees a handful of tourists and a slew of photographers and engaged couples seeking for a unique photo op.

I was reminded of this place this morning as I read Psalm 133 as part of my morning quiet time. I have heard some of these beautiful verses before but I don't remember ever reading them in context and getting the full picture of what harmony looks like.

"How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony. For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron's head that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. 
Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion, and there the LORD has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting." 
- Psalm 133:1-3 (NLT)

The dictionary defines harmony as: agreement or accord, a consistent, orderly or pleasing arrangements of parts, congruity.

The biblical concept of harmony goes back to creation and the Garden of Eden. Upon reading the early chapters of Genesis, we can see that God created the world and humanity to live together in harmony.

Harmony is wonderful and pleasant.

One of the immediate effects of the Original Sin of Eve and Adam eating from the forbidden tree was disharmony, disagreement and discord.

And this continued to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain and throughout the remainder of the Bible, and the struggle for harmony remains to this day.

Being in a room that is filled with disharmony is literally palpable. The air becomes charged with it. You don't have to know the cause to know that it is present in the room. I would not describe that sensation as pleasant or wonderful.

It is awkward and feels...well, wrong because it's not how God designed for us to live. And that's because...

Harmony is precious.

I would argue that harmony is in short supply these days. Everyone seems to have a cause, a stance, a platform or an agenda. People are not afraid to lay waste to others via social media or even face to face.

Things that are in short supply become very rare and therefore, very precious -- much like the anointing oil described in this passage.

And that oil was likely very costly and highly-valued.

After all, we read constantly in the Old Testament that God required the very best to be used for his Temple and in worship.

In fact in Exodus 30:28-33, God gives Moses a recipe for this sacred oil and warns that it should only be used in specific uses and in fact, unauthorized use of it would result in being cut off from God and His people.

I think it's safe to say that God took this process of anointing seriously. It was not a merely symbolic act. And because of this, I see that God takes harmony seriously too. He says that harmony is as precious to Him as that sacred oil and that....

Harmony should completely saturate us.

We should be so full of harmony that it literally saturates our lives from top to bottom. What a beautiful image the psalmist gives us of that saturation in this passage.

"...harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron's head that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe." (v. 2)

While I have never personally seen someone anointed with oil to this extent (we tend to dab a bit on the forehead in church services these days), I know a little about how oil gets into every nook and cranny when it's poured out.

I have unloaded groceries only to find that the cooking oil had spilled out and coated everything in the bag. It had saturated every label and groove of each and every item with which it has come into contact.

I searched and was not able to find an estimation of how much oil you would need to pour out upon a person's head in order for it to run down a person's face and into the very bottom hem of a their clothing. But I would imagine it would be quite a bit. Maybe even several gallons.

The person who was anointed would literally spend hours either letting the oil soak in and/or trying to wash it out of clothing and body parts.

That's a lot of oil.

The sheer quantity of oil (an over-abundance one could argue) not only consecrated the owner, but also meant whatever he or she touched would then also become holy.

"You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy." (Ex 30:29)

A modern day picture would be of pouring out so much lotion that you have to share it with someone else because you literally cannot absorb it all into your own skin.

But it's not just about those we come into direct contact with.

Harmony can refresh even those lives whom we don't directly come into contact.

Do you believe that you can live a life so saturated with harmony that it rubs off on other people? And maybe even people you don't know?

In verse 3 of this psalm, it talks about the concept of harmony having indirect affects:

"Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion, and there the LORD has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting." (v. 3)

As I was reading about this passage, many commentators pointed out that due to distance, it would not have been feasible for the dew from the moisture-rich Mount Hermon to directly fall upon the mountains of the dry and dusty mountains of Zion. However, most agree that the dew would have collected and formed streams and tributaries that would have flowed down and eventually affected Mount Hermon.

I believe this shows us a wonderful picture of the distance harmony can overcome. I also believe it to be a sacred mandate for those who profess to follow Christ. We should always seek to operate out of a place of harmony.

Because it's in this place of harmony where God has "pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting."

And that's precisely where I want to be.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Dream Saga Series: Enjoying the Bounty

It's June on the farm, and it's been amazing to live here during the slide from spring into summer and enjoy some literal fruits of the season.

Last year at this time, we had just closed on the sale of our former home and were starting a rent-back period of one month. On June 1st of last year, we had been out to this lovely farmhouse, but had not decided to make the leap. That would come a few days later.

When we did make the offer and were in escrow and came out for inspections and visits, we enjoyed some of the fruit off the trees. However, by the time we moved into the house in late July, we had lost much of the grape and stone fruit harvest to the birds.

Baby birds nesting in one of our citrus trees

But not this year! This year we pruned trees and hung CDs from branches and watered and watered and the other night I had my very first apricot from our trees. And it was pure heaven! I hope I never lose the joy and wonder about being able to step out my front door and pick fruit right off the tree and eat it.

I have been busy in other ways as well. We have had citrus coming out of our ears for the last few months. I have made lemon curd, juiced and frozen lemons for lemonade in the summer. I've made lemon sorbet, lemon cupcakes, lemon chicken and lemoncello. My first batch is currently soaking in the rindy goodness in a dark cabinet.

I have made orange juice a plenty, eaten a ton of oranges and made orange sherbet (oh my...so good!)

I have been able to walk around and see the buds, flowers and beginnings of the fall fruits. It's amazing to see the green pods of the walnut tree that will eventually shrivel and reveal the nut inside. The blooms on the persimmon trees are spectacular too.

And a first all around for this property are the tiny olives on the olive tree. We have been diligently watering the tree to coax it to produce its fruit. We plan to process the olives (and maybe oil) in the fall.

And in my forty plus years, I have never seen the flower of pomegranate tree that will eventually turn into the delicious fruit. 

We have welcomed more animals to the farm as well. We decided to let every female animal get pregnant and have at least one litter/baby and then assess things. (Disclaimer: No humans getting pregnant over here!)

Our only female cat, Ashley, had four kittens several weeks ago and they are at that adorable frolicking stage.

We've been telling the kids all along that we are not going to be able to keep all four kittens -- since we already have three cats on the farm. But I am finding that I am having a hard time thinking about separating the kittens from their momma who is still nursing them so patiently. It's hard to not get attached.

Speaking of babies, we had a tough time finding chicks this spring to replenish our flock that fell prey to our dog(s). We went from ten chickens to six and we missed our egg production as well as the ones that got chomped. 

We decided to turn it into a homeschooling science project and borrowed a homeschool friend's incubator. We incubated a dozen Araucana eggs that we got from another homeschool family -- mostly because of their unusual green color.

We put the eggs in, plugged in the incubator and let it do the work. All we did was add water -- literally. Twenty-one days later, the first chick started pipping his shell. It was pretty amazing to see the process and literal struggle for life. Happily, ten out of twelve chicks hatched. One we helped along too early and it didn't make it, and one never matured.

We kept them in a dog crate inside for several weeks and the kids and cats were mesmerized.

Eventually, I got tired of the smell and the pine shavings everywhere, so we put them outside in a separate enclosure that we built and they are happily enjoying more space, while letting our other chickens get used to them.

We are not sure about the gender yet and we haven't decided on whether we will keep any roosters, but for now, everyone is happy, healthy and warm. We are looking forward to their eggs in another five months or so!

We also attempted to breed our female goats last month with a billy goat. They stayed at his place for three weeks and while we are not 100% certain, I think that at least one of them is pregnant. It takes three months and one week for gestation, so I suppose we will see in mid-August.

Of course, there is a never-ending amount of farm chores to do. We have been swimming in weeds and wild grass for the last few months and have been trying to get that under control. We also need to disk part of our property to cut down on any fire hazards. We are trying to figure out if hiring someone to do it makes more sense than getting our own equipment -- since we will be doing this every year (and maybe twice a year).

We also have a list (or accurately, *I* have a list of improvements that I would like to do around the farm to make it even more usable and fun for entertaining.

Since we really need to burn up some of the tree branches and growth we have been cutting and pruning back, I decided we need a fire pit that can do that, be a gathering place for s'mores and campfire songs and also give us some ashes for the chickens to take their dust baths in (it's good for them).

So, after buying the wrong kind of brick, the hubs helped me figure out what I did wrong and ordered the right kind of pavers so we could build this little beauty that we ended up putting to use that very night for our daughter's birthday slumber party s'more fest.

I am looking forward to more peaches (the birds got some of the first harvest) and apricots. The plums and grapes should be ready in another few weeks.

And by then, we will be at about the same point as we were when we moved out here last summer. However, this year we won't have floors to sand and refinish. We won't be packing up stuff and moving it and unpacking it.

We are going to have a lazy summer of swimming, eating fruit, building tree swings and a fort. I will get around to organizing some of the places where stuff got crammed last year and I will enjoy each day without getting crazy stressed out.

We will read books in the hammock and take cool drinks of water out of our outdoor water fountain.

But most of all, we will be together on our farm and continue making memories that will endure.