May I be brutally honest with you?
I hit a wall on our November “staycation” — not a literal wall, but an emotional hard stop.
This fall, Kevin and I really needed a break, but both of us were too exhausted and decision-fatigued to plan a trip. You see, 2019 has felt like a bit of a slog.
Earlier, our smokehouse which was only 10 years old decided to give up the ghost, deemed unrepairable, and we had to scrounge $80,000 to buy a new one which will arrive in early 2020. Ugh! We’re trying to get out of debt, not create more!
Throughout 2019, we had to make some tough decisions about Partner Producers, new staff hires, budgets, lost wholesale accounts, and a slew of other little things that started to feel like big things when the days became long and sleep was short. Perspective is everything, isn’t it?
Anyway, we decided on a “staycation” in November. We’ve never done that before, but hey, how hard can it be? We would go to Elk Ridge Resort for a couple days, then come home and enjoy some local restaurants, Christmas shopping and maybe catch a movie or two. It would be date night every night for an entire week, right?
Well . . . it turns out that a staycation was a brutal test of self-control for us farming workaholics — and we failed miserably. I don’t recommend staycations for farmers whose butcher shop and barns are within 150 steps of their house!
Coupled with our workaholic revelations, a combination of election exhaustion, climate change anxiety and a healthy dose of entrepreneurial burnout over the past year(s) finally caught up with me — and I had time to actually sit and think about it.
Farming issues aside, the past few months have overwhelmed me with a sense of pervading unease and precarious uncertainty in the world. I was searching for a “win” and couldn’t find it anywhere.
I dealt with mild postpartum depression years ago and I’ve always been one to pick myself up, dust myself off and move forward after a setback, but this felt different.
What I realized was that I had lost hope and the belief in possibility and felt a foreboding sense of lovelessness in the world.
I was so miserable and down, I wasn’t sure I could face Christmas with its expectations of merriment, light and frivolity.
But since then, miraculously, a book, a blog and a podcast brought me exactly what I needed to hear in a matter of days.
The first thing I read was Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly”. In her chapter on wholehearted parenting, she writes that letting children experience struggle and adversity without leaping in to rescue them is one of the most vulnerable and bravest things a parent can do for their kids.
The reason this is good for our children is that “Hope is a function of struggle. And if we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle” (page 239).
Ms. Brown goes on to point out that “hope isn’t an emotion; it’s a way of thinking, a cognitive process”. C.R. Snyder’s research on hope says that hope is a “thought process” — when we can set goals, figure out how to achieve them, develop a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t work out, and we believe in ourselves — we find hope! (page 239-240).
The surprising thing? Hope is learned! That means if hope is a function of struggle, I can learn to hope again by making a plan, creating alternatives to overcome obstacles and believing in myself. I don’t have to wait for someone else to give me hope, I can create it!
I have agency! I’ve heard it said that “fate is a terrible writer” and if we allow fate to write our life story, it will not end well. Instead, I will work alongside fate to determine my best life outcome, dealing with roadblocks and overcoming them — because I am able! That is hope.
A few days later, a re-post of Brene Brown’s October 9, 2019 post “Doubling Down on Love” reminded me that Love is my fuel for living.
Somehow, Love vacated my brain with all the political divisiveness, nationalism, racism, sexism and fear running rampant in our world and in the media. Without Love, my hope was stifled and I was left an angry and empty shell.
You see, I believe in a higher power, an energy, a life force, that is greater than us. I believe it is LOVE. I also call it God.
I do believe that in the end, Love wins and that Love is for everyone. I believe this so strongly in fact, that I have a little “M” stylized in the shape of a heart tattooed on my torso to remind me of Love. But, for most of this past year, Love felt very far away.
I am finding my way back to Love again. Brene Brown quotes bell hooks:
“Individuals who choose to love can and do alter our lives in ways that honor the primacy of a love ethic. We do this by choosing to work with individuals we admire and respect; by committing to give our all to relationships; by embracing a global vision wherein we see our lives and our fate as intimately connected to those of everyone else on the planet. Commitment to a love ethic transforms our lives by offering us a different set of values to live by. In large and small ways, we make choices based on a belief that honesty, openness, and personal integrity need to be expressed in public and private decisions.”
Darkness Doesn’t Last Always
Lastly, in this season of short daylight hours, darkness pervades our days. A meditation from Fr. Richard Rohr landed in my inbox this week. He writes “Advent is a time of waiting, a time of hoping without knowing . . . take time to allow the Advent darkness to do its work as well.” (Waiting and Unknowing, Sunday, December 1, 2019)
He goes on to write that at times in our lives, we all take “ . . . a dark journey, a path where we must discover for ourselves that grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness are absolutely necessary for survival in an uncertain world. You only need enough clarity to know how to live without certitude! . . . People who live in this way never stop growing, are not easily defeated, are wise and compassionate, and frankly, are fun to live with. They have a quiet and confident joy.”
Yes, yes and YES! That is what I want!
My period of darkness and doubt was, and is, a good and necessary teacher. Because of that, I re-commit myself to:
- Creating margin, white space, on my calendar for reflection and rejuvenation so I can always circle back to Love.
- Reading novels, listening to podcasts and reading blogs that delight my imagination and trigger creativity.
- Making sleep a priority. A rested body and mind can handle adversity so much better.
- Making physical activity a priority — and not just farm work!
- Making self-care a priority — physical, spiritual and emotional. It’s not selfish to take time for what I need. In fact, I will serve our staff and customers at a higher level when I am well and rested.
The holidays can be a difficult time for many people as the sparkle, hype and expectations exacerbate feelings of uncertainty and hopelessness. We need to sit with it, not run from it, but rather name it and work through it.
Because of my own struggles with darkness, maybe I am better equipped to feel the struggles of others and be Light for them on their path.
In the dark,
Brighter than many ever see.
Through the soul’s own mastery.
And now the world receives
From her dower:
The message of the strength
Of inner power.
—Langston Hughes 
 Langston Hughes, “Helen Keller,” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, ed. Arnold Rampersad, assoc. ed David Roessel (Alfred A. Knopf: 1994), 146. Copyright 1994 by the Langston Hughes Estate.