I never dreamed cancer and a breakdown would return me to farming, but that’s what happened. The month I was diagnosed with melanoma, we lost our health insurance due to the rise of Obamacare. We had to pay out of pocket for my treatment, and then just a few months later, I had a breakdown. The medical bills gutted us.
For a couple of years, we paid the hospital every month. I called them our mortgage payments because it felt like we were making a living to make that payment. I have to say I learned gratitude during those years of driving every month to the hospital billing office.
“You’re always happy,” the woman who took the payment said to me one day. Most people come in here not happy.”
“I’m alive to pay this bill. I thank God for that,” I told her.
Her eyes widened and then she smiled too. “Well, that’s a good way of looking at it,” she said.
Every month when I saw her, I prayed for her. And when I’d walk through the door, she would smile back at me. Once in a while, when someone else was at her desk and she was off that day, I was disappointed. I’m sure I could have mailed in my payment, but this became a walk of remembrance for me and a visitation to her. When I made my last payment, she congratulated me but looked kind of sad. “I’m going to miss you coming in here,” she said.
“I will miss you,” I told her. And I meant it. She’d become someone special in my life. I asked the Lord to take care of her. And I know He will.
“Are you ready to farm?” My brother, Patrick, asked me that first summer we were flat broke and wondering how we’d survive. Patrick was determined to return our whole family to farming. West Butte Orchards was his dream first.
“I guess I am,” I said, feeling defeated. I didn’t want to farm. I wanted to be an author, but my dad always says you can dream in one hand and poop in the other (he doesn’t say poop, of course) and see which hand fills up first.
My dreams of penning books weren’t going to pay our medical bills, so before we knew it, we were selling fruit at the farmer’s markets. Me trying not to cry because my leg hurt so bad.
Even now, five years after surgery to remove the melanoma, my leg still aches after too many hours on my feet packing our fruit. The pain reminds me I’m alive. God spared my life, healed my body, and now we are summer farmers.
That hard year after cancer, we moved our horses to my parents’ ranch, and put in our own orchards. The days of riding through the grassy fields for fun were over. We planted trees. It was time to work extra hard. And God has met us in this hard place. Each year we’ve been blessed with more fruit. Our summers are now a blur of sweat and peaches.
Last June, Scott left his teaching job to just farm and maybe do some substitute teaching in the wintertime, and football coaching because our boys wanted to play the game. We’d finally paid off our medical bills but health insurance has remained a problem for us. Our Obamacare doubled in price again this past winter, about the same time frost hit our orchards and wiped out all our early fruit.
“You are in charge of the weather. What are you doing?” I asked the Lord with tears on my face as I walked out into our frozen orchard in February. “How will we get by this year?” My dream of becoming an author was slowly forming, but mostly I was still giving my books away on Amazon trying to build a readership.
“Maybe the freeze is God’s way of saying I need to keep teaching,” Scott said when I was crying over our frozen blooms. A day later, Scott accepted a long-term substitute position at Sutter High School and soon after this was invited to coach freshman football there. It was perfect timing, considering we would not have any fruit to sell until late June if we were lucky.
I don’t believe in luck.
I believe in God’s providence. Because of that providence Scott’s teaching paychecks covered us until our later fruit ripened this summer. What I thought was really bad– the frost hitting our orchard– made Scott want to keep teaching. Now more change is on the horizon. It looks like Scott will return to teaching full time this year. If all goes as planned, he begins work as a junior high teacher at Brittan School this week. The gift here is that Scott will get to teach our younger crew of kids. Just a few weeks ago, he said to me, “I regret not getting to teach our boys the way I was able to be our older kids’ teacher when they were in school.”
Sixteen years ago, Scott left his demanding career as a Counterdrug Commander and Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the Army to focus on our family. He had thousands of hours in the cockpit. He wanted thousands of hours with his kids. He became a teacher to be a better father. Getting to drive to the same school every day with our first three kids, and then be their teacher, was so rewarding for him. When he brought this up, I replied, “God knows what He’s doing with us. The Lord will take care of our boys at school and you will still get to coach them in football.” Then we said a little prayer, thanking the Good Lord for all He’s done for us and all He was going to do.
Even then, while we were praying, God had a plan we didn’t know about. The Lord was about to open the door for Scott to continue to teach his own sons as well as other kids. My husband is unique in that he really likes junior highers. This is an awkward, challenging age, but Scott enjoys newbie teenagers. He says it’s a formative age and loves helping turn children into responsible young people.
With our boys headed back to Brittan, Scott will be teaching Joseph, our 8th grader this year. Hopefully, he will eventually teach our younger boys too.
With Scott away from the farm, it will be Bella, Santos, and me finishing this year’s harvest.
Bella and Santos are incredible, they’ve become a part of our family, but the three of us can only do so much. “We can’t put a band-aid on this,” Scott said last night. “We are going to have to hire more help on the farm.”
Three weeks out of knee replacement surgery, Oma says she’s coming back to work. Knowing my mom, she will probably be in the packing shed with her two bionic knees next week, which is fitting since she’s always been the bionic woman.
I will miss working with Scott and the boys. This is what makes our farming situation so unique, gathering as a family to harvest our fruit the way my grandparents did their peach crop when I was a kid. Everybody helped. That’s just the way it was done.
When family and friends visit us during harvest season, we put them to work. They don’t seem to mind, even though we pay them in peaches. Marty, Scott’s amazing stepmom visited us yesterday and picked peaches with Scott and the boys while Scott’s adopted dad, the incomparable Colonel Fields packed boxes with me. I usually sort, pack, and deliver our fruit. Picking is my least favorite part of our orchard work. I don’t usually do it, except on Friday evenings, which we dubbed our date in the orchard while gathering fruit for our Saturday farmer’s market.
I’m discovering that when bad things happen this is usually just dirt thrown over us to plant something new in our lives. We recently had some photos taken in the orchard for my upcoming new book: Farming Grace. I’m currently working with a memoir specialist who is helping me sort out my story of returning to faith and the farm. This is my first nonfiction book and just like with my other novels, I’m learning as I go.
Isn’t this really what life is all about? Learning as we go? And trusting that God is in control even when bad things happen to us because God promises to work everything together for the good of those who love Him, Romans 8:28.