As I reflect on our first year here, I am also overwhelmed with a sense of neighborly blessing, gratitude for relationships, and provision. We truly have seen God bless our hearts and bless us in practical ways through our neighbors, family, and both new and old friends as we have settled in.
For a little background, when we lived overseas, our neighbors would often come over with little to no notice and personal space was quite different from the “bubble” of comfortable distance we usually experience in America. I worried when we returned that it might be difficult to make friends with neighbors, due to our famed American independent streaks. I was wrong!
When we purchased our property, we bought it from an owner, that lived across the street from the property, which made me a little uneasy wondering if it would be a good neighbor situation, especially when we hit a few hiccups in the purchasing process. At one point, we didn’t even think we would get a second pass at the property and had moved on to looking elsewhere! I can happily say I am glad for the purchase working out.
The wife was extremely kind to one of our kiddos who struggles with sensory issues. They made a unique friendship and my daughter benefitted from a special experience of learning to care for horses, time spent in gardens, cross-country skiing, wrapped in the warm welcome of a kind neighbor. For a kiddo who sometimes struggles to believe in her likeability, it was a huge blessing to see her excitement for visits with our neighbor. Pre-pandemic, I also relished the opportunity to have someone over for tea and a visit.
The same neighbors grow apples and some produce, and often brought both to our door, invited our children to help with their gardens, and multiple rounds of delicious benefits from raspberry picking. Memories of Kool-Aid, kind words, and the confidence boosting effect of being helpful were sweet. A few times the husband also brought some corn from a nearby farm where he was allowed to glean from and shared the bounty with us. Such nice surprises! They also own a large amount of property, and therefore equipment, more than once plowing us out, as well as helping to hay our fields, and other property and garden helps learning the ins and outs of the property.
Our other neighbors next door own a blueberry farm. Kind and open to our children, our kiddos once again proved a bridge to relationships with others. They laughed at their silliness, and allowed us to glean from their massive blueberry farm after the peak of picking season. The pandemic of 2020 began disrupting our social gathering efforts, but they still would come by every now and then to say hello, and often bearing the gift of berries.
I found myself very grateful also for our adventurous children, who often pursued getting to know our neighbors and connected us all the more. One or our other neighbors I am sure we might never have met was an older woman off the trail on the back 15 acres we rent. One of my kiddos loves to walk the dog that way and decided to take some siblings with them to introduce themselves to her. They have gotten to know her and her puppy well.
I even had a friend my daughter had made whose mother made efforts to connect with us shortly after we moved here, coming to our games night at church. She volunteers at a food distribution, and would come by our home to deliver extra boxes to bless us. Our interactions have been brief and distanced due to the pandemic, but it has been nice to once again, have the opportunity to connect with others through our children.
Another wonderful benefit of landing here in Wisconsin was being close to our parents and sister, as well as a church we went to often when visiting, a home away from our multiple homes when we did independent contracting and missions and moved eleven times in eight years. Josh’s parents and the church have been a wonderful anchor of steadiness in the strange times we are in. We also were able to see and interact more with our sister and her family, which was a huge blessing for the children to get to be with their cousins more regularly. Relationships have their heartaches, but we walk them out together, and to do so in person has been so sweet.
One thing I was surprised by was how we all had opportunities because of our gardens and animals to bless one another. We enjoyed gifting chickens to our family and neighbors. It was exciting to be wrong about my assumptions of what it would be like returning to America.
We also accomplished so much more than we thought we would at the homestead this year. Initially we only planned to grow out 5 feeder sheep, butcher them in the fall, grow a small garden, then perhaps expand to other things the following year. We had unexpected provision to work on multiple additional projects, including obtaining dairy sheep, only slaughtering 2 of our feeders, winterizing and preparing a barn for them and for lambing out, haying, outfitting one of our sheds for a coop area, getting laying hens and a rooster (one who hatched a few chicks of her own!), getting our new Rainbow Eggers, plowing a field and using space to provide room for the organic farm Josh works at to have pumpkin, squash and some other produce, canning, chopping wood, multiple home repairs and painting, and getting our sheep dog and training her. I (Sarah) also had our seventh baby this year, and she is about to turn one year old! Anyone who has witnesses a child as they develop toward toddlerhood can likely attest to the wow-factor the transformation from newborn to one year is. As I think back, it is pretty amazing all that happened outside of our original plan. God is good at providing, and what a bunch He has given us this year!
I look forward to board games around the table, tea, bonfires, suppers, and all the connectedness it feels like this year paused. Despite this, what an incredibly blessed year for relationships. Sometimes I find myself needing to remember all the good and blessing, rather than grumbling about the “should be different”s. It helps my heart to be content with the present, grateful for the past, and continue to hope for the future.