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Reflections from Ihm Home Farm

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” —Matthew 11:28

Many of you probably do not know that Dan Ihm, one of Hillcrest’s faithful musicians, even has a wife, as I have made it to church about five times in as many years…

Five years ago, Dan and I moved our family from a bungalow on a small lot in town to a farmette between DeKalb and Malta, where our roosters crow as they please and the chickens…and children…can range free. It has been a while now since an angry neighbor has come to our door with a bucket of balls that landed on his side of the fence at the hands of my boys.

The stories of the saints and angels of my Catholic childhood offered, for me, a way to see God at work through others. As I grew, the challenges of being among people often overwhelmed me, and, though I am a helper at heart, I chose small circles for interaction and found the greatest comfort in nature.

As a child who preferred holding the jump rope’s end while others took their turns at “Mary Mack”, I began finding contentment in solitude. I learned that God is in the garden. He’s in every nondescript sunrise, in the tiniest bud on the lowest branch of the wild rose bush, in the weakest pine seedling that stretches for its spot of afternoon sun. He is in the mountains, the streams and the skies. He’s also in the glorious hundred-year-old maple that provides us with an abundance of sap for maple syrup, in the robust clusters of grapes that delight all the farm inhabitants, and, for certain, in the cotton-candy-pink and creamsicle orange stripes of the most magical sunset.

Three or four years into our fostering journey, we committed to permanency for a little boy. At the time, we had no way to know the depths of the challenges that our family would face due to overwhelming chaos and fallout of mental illness and trauma, where a day’s end becomes a crossed finish line in a race where survival mode is constant.

God is with us as we watch our near-teenage son dissolve in his own emotions because he cannot understand why he has to do school work at home. He is with us as we intervene to hold him through his violent rage, which cannot be tempered through reason, which is understood only by God.

Continuing along a journey that has led to countless consults, therapies, medications, and physical and emotional struggles is exhausting. The farm, though, has offered the best medicine for the anger, the grief, and the unrest…in the form of water fights, dirt bike racing, cap gun battles with brothers…discovering the season’s first blueberry, and in peeking at a newborn chick that has just hatched under the warmth of a mother hen.

It was a rare occasion that I actually made it to church on a Sunday morning even before the virus ordered us home. In this time, the needs and overwhelming behaviors of our children have caused me to look more deeply at my place on this earth, and to experience God through the life around me, in the faces of grief and hope. I truly see God in my children.

Is this really God’s will? This has been an arduous journey. This isn’t what I expected. But, I remember God’s messengers that I learned about as a little girl. I remind myself that this is the hand of God, who is with us in our celebration, who is with us in our despair.

He is with us as the church benches are full on a Sunday morning, and He is with us in the darkness of our solitude, when we are alone, by shelter-at-home orders or by our own choosing.

In perfect honesty, I must say that “having” to stay home has been a bit of a relief for me. I know others may not see it as that, but in a way, it normalizes my isolation. Declined invitations from friends, fast food drive-thru or carry out dinners only, and staying home from church on Sunday; I no longer have reason for excuses.

The days are often hard. Looking back, though, I know that they are not as hard as they once were. Perhaps this is a time where it is clear that our constants are God and nature. We have been given rest, rest that we didn’t even know we needed.

“I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.” —Leviticus 26:4

The sun is out now after a hard spring rain. The blooms here at the farm are ready to burst, and one of the hens is expecting two eggs to hatch in the upcoming days. Soon, my dear Dan will be playing live music at church once again. And one day, I hope to be able to join him.

—Written for Hillcrest Covenant Church, DeKalb, IL

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