In the echoes of the warm, spring wind, I hear the last laugh of 2021’s cicadas. For months, I’ve put off the simplest, yet most annoying chore at the farm: picking up sticks.
When all the snow, rain, mud, and excuses evaporated, the boys and I hunched over the yard and began picking up more branches than you could shake a stick at. Stick after stick, we made small talk and scientific observations about the bark. Some sticks were marked with the flexible, bright new growth. Others were old and moldy, and snapped into pieces if not gently laid to rest in the wagon. As you might guess, the excitement and discovery with such a chore is thin. Far more delight rolled smoothly on four new wheels, but I can be what some may call “a stick in the mud.”
“Don’t run with the wagon, all the sticks are falling out!”
“Pay attention, and quit letting the wagon roll down the hill!”
My favorite: “Stop rolling that chicken around, and help your mother!”
Work. Is it a dirty, four-letter word? Or is it holy? I’m still trying to get the earth out from under my nails and the debris of mulched leaves off our socks, but I see holiness in work. Work creates so many opportunities for virtue—honesty, integrity, self-discipline, perseverance, fortitude, charity—and out here in the sticks, there’s always work to be done.
In the beginning, God planted a garden and put man in charge of it. Adam was “to till it and keep it,” (Genesis 2:15). In other words, God’s will for Adam and mankind was to work. Like all good things, work is frequently perverted, and the Deity of Production is worshipped. Relationships and health are sacrificed up and down the professional ladder and on the altar of efficiency, but that doesn’t mean that all goodness is gone.
The boys and I empty another wagon load of sticks onto the burn pile. Soon, we’ll till up this land and begin to plant seeds for a garden. We’ll pull weeds until the fruit of our labor, the work of human hands, is ready to be harvested. It’s work, different and much the same as when my husband serves our community at the local bank, or when a nurse clocks in at the hospital, or when a teacher reads students a living book. Work is good.
Stick after stick, like beads of a rosary, I started offering prayers with each pickup.
“May my boys grow to be strong men of faith. Please, God, protect them. May they always know how much they’re loved…”
Even before Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to that rugged cross, our Lord’s hands were familiar with wood and nails. The Son of a poor carpenter dignified labor all the more with His participation in humanity. Oh, how He loves us.
“For Ukraine,” my son dropped a huge branch into the wagon.
“For the conversion of Russia,” the other prayed.
“For the hungry.” Twigs fell.
“For the poor.”
Sometimes, I’m in awe of the moments I witness. Sweat dotted their messy hairlines, rosy cheeks puffed full of fresh air.
The next day, we went back to work. I busied myself with chickens and sheep and told the boys to start on the sticks.
Would we know work without play? At the top of the driveway, my oldest decided the workday would be more interesting if he was a racecar driver. Pulling his feet into the wagon and swiveling the wheels side to side with the handle, he prepared for launch. I imagine those blue eyes stared down the curving hill with wild anticipation and thrill. Presumably, there was no concern for brakes or helmets. Little brother thought he’d drawn the short stick when his job was to push. Then the wagon hit warp speed.
I’d like to think the chore reinforced the lesson to “always stick together,” but when Lightening McQueen was only a little scraped and a lot shaken, and the new wagon was busted into pieces, the little one hid behind the burn pile. Little angels… Evel Knievels… Kids keep us humble.
Without a wagon, the work was slower, though I don’t think anyone minded the pace. It was good and honest, and, yes, sticks keep falling.
“For all the workers, Lord.”