Swiss chard with bright, red stems and dark green/purple leaves. - Farm Dreaming

Farm Dreams

Once, my step-mom Adrienne asked me, “What would your ideal day look like, when you think of the farm and writing?”

I paused a minute and said, “At least half time on the farming. Maybe 60/40 farm to computer.”

I hadn’t really thought about that before, but once I said it, I felt that vibration of truth first spoken, and I knew I needed to lean into that dream.

When I think about getting to spend 60 percent of my time working on farm things, I imagine:

  • A field of lavender in front of the barn.
  • Swaths of cut flowers intermixed with the lavender.
  • A beautiful, tended vegetable garden with flowers blooming by the cucumbers and beans.
  • A farmyard that is largely self-sustaining in wildflower meadows and meditations gardens with a patch of lawn for Milo to play and big beds of flowers and shrubs to give color and cover to our bird friends.
  • A vivacious farm stand with eggs, flowers, and vegetables for sale at the price our neighbors can pay, and a Little Free Library that gives free books away by the hundreds each year.

When I pair that vibrating glory of a dream with the other dream of my life – to write books and read books for living (something I already do) – I get such a sense of wonder and hope about the future that I can hardly wait.

To get us further toward that goal, I’m devoting a great deal of time and energy to writing books and promoting those books. Right now, my income from editing and coaching is what supports the farm, so if we want to expand what we do, my income needs to expand. (Philip’s salary covers our day-to-day living expenses and keeps Milo in teethers, which are SO necessary right now.) So I’m going to write more books more quickly – while doing my very best to not sacrifice quality or truth in the pages.

Cover of Silence at the Lock shows a young, white woman standing in front of a canal lock in spring.

My newest book, Silence at the Lock, comes out on April 2. It’s the final book in my Steele Secrets trilogy and tells the story of Mary Steele, a young, white woman, who meets the ghost of Sarah, a young, black woman who was murdered when trying to stop her mother’s lynching. It’s a book of magical realism and history, a book about justice and truth-telling and community.

Anyone who pre-orders the book gets some great bonuses, including:

  • a free copy of the first book in the series, Steele Secrets.
  • a chance to win one of three signed sets of the whole series.
  • an original illustration by Corey Egbert that was inspired by my book.

If you or someone you love might enjoy the book, I’d be so grateful for your pre-order. You can get all the information about the book, see a sneak peek of Corey’s image, and find links to pre-order here.

Dreams, friends, they are powerful things. I’ve followed them for years now, and the life I live is a result of obedience to the gift of the dream. I’m dreaming hard again, and I’m so grateful that you have travelled with me all these days of dreaming.

The cover of Christie Purifoy's book Placemaker.

Lessons of Placemaking

The first farm we owned – south of here in Nelson County, Virginia – was much younger than our current place, younger by like 100 years. But it was still old – 100 years of living in a space changes it. There, the changes weren’t great. The sewer pipes came out right under the back porch. The previous owners had used the hill below the farmhouse as a dump for, maybe, generations. The hillside above the house had been timbered but then never cleaned up, so tree tops were lying everywhere.

In short, it was a mess, and on the days when I spent most of my time outside carefully picking up broken bottles and digging sheets of aluminum foil out of the dirt, I was angry. This place had not been stewarded well.

So we made it our mission to leave it better than when we bought it. We cleaned up all the trash we could, and when our goats arrived, we unleashed them on the underbrush and overgrown pasture so that they could bring it back to health. We did MASSIVE burns – I’m sure you could see them from space – of the felled tree tops and discarded logs, and we dug out the discarded oil cans and car parts that littered the side yard.

In the three years that we called that place home, we cleaned it, landscaped it, and tended it as well as we could. We built a chicken coop and a matching workshop. We added a lean-to with a green roof (and we got married under it). We put in raised beds and fenced out the deer. We planted hollys as a natural screen between our house and the neighbors. We leveled a place in front of the house and added a shade garden with bleeding heart and variegated fern under the silver maple.

The day we sold it, I cried. Hard. But I knew we were making a good move, and most of all, I knew we had done well by that mountain homestead.

**

In Christie Purifoy’s book Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace*, she tells the stories of all the places she has lived, particularly her settled place – Maplehurt, a century-old farmhouse in southern Pennsylvania. She waxes lyric about the trees she has loved – and reminds me what I really want a deciduous magnolia for our yard, and she laments the amount of time and money it takes to care for a place well.

But most of all, she minds me that placemaking is an honor and a blessed responsibility. To beautify a piece of land or an apartment or a rented house at the back of a farm, that is to do holy work.

“Who are the placemakers? They are the ones who gaze out over emptiness and, sometimes through tears, see shimmering possibility.”

— Christie Purifoy

**

At my first-ever apartment on Second Street in Harrisburg, PA, I built a garden in an nearly-abandoned courtyard behind our building. As far as I could tell, the only use the space got was when the tenants took our garbage out, wanted to smoke, or wanted to sunbathe in privacy.

We didn’t really need the space to be beautiful, honestly, because we lived two blocks from the park that ran the length of the Susquehanna, but I needed to beautify it.

So I asked our landlady if I could mulch it and tend her roses – I knew NOTHING about tending roses but got a lesson from Dad – and I went to work. I carried bags of mulch down the narrow alleyway. I stripped out weeds and seedlings dropped by sparrows. I planted a few flowers along the side of the neighboring building.

It wasn’t much – not what it could have been – but the place looked tended, and soon, I saw people sitting out there to just talk or read. A little seclusion in a busy city.

**

This spring, my big task is to build – by hand-digging – permanent raised beds in our vegetable garden. This space has been garden for nigh on 200 years. I saw it when we first visited this new farm – I knew it was home instantly – and I have been dreaming that garden into fruition for years. This is the year I make it happen.

I’ll start in the greenhouse, digging out the good soil and piling it to the edges to help with drainage and weed control (The ground ivy is laughing already). Next, I’ll build two center beds, leaving the dug out rows as pathways. Then, I”ll wheelbarrow in the wood chips the tree trimmers have gifted us before I plant some cold crops.

After, the bulk of the garden will get the same treatment. It’s going to be an immense amount of work, and it will mean the sacrifice of lots of other things, especially on weekends when Philip is home to help me wrangle the wild man that is our 9-month-old. It will mean fewer outings, and a lot of hot baths to ease my aching body.

But it will be worth it in every way because this is what it means to be a placemaker. To see the potential in a place and to love it – as best we are able – into being. I can’t wait to begin.

If you’d like to read Christie’s book, Placemaker, I’d love to give someone a copy. Just comment below with a story about a place you’ve lived and loved, and next week, I’ll randomly choose one winner to receive this gorgeous book.  

Join us May 18, 2019 for a night of story and song
Also, Christie and Jason Harrod will be here on our farm on May 18th for a night of words and song. The suggested donation is just $20, and the evening starts at 5pm with a potluck supper. The show will begin at 7. I hope you can make it. 


Taking Joy for Ourselves

Taking Joy For Ourselves

[M]aking and tending good and beautiful places is not a dishonorable retreat. – Christie Purifoy

When I first began talking about this dream of a farm, I was on fire with it – the visions of gardens and animals, the quietness of the space, the rooms of the farmhouse that shifted in feel as the sun passed overhead. I had sketched a timberframe with a huge great room and a wing that was for guests and a space of my own across the house, aware I needed a retreat even in my own home.

I always knew this place would be for other people, too, but mostly, then and now, I knew it was going to be a place for me, a place for my family, a place God was giving us to cultivate and tend, to steward . . . a place for us.

But when I began sharing this vision, a well-intentioned friend told me that my dream was beautiful, was good only if it was extended to a place of service, that it would only be selfish if it was just for me. She was sharing the wisdom that so much of the Christian church that we were both brought up in shared – that good is only found in service to other people. I believed that lie for a long time.

In the past few months, though, I’ve found myself reminded that God wants to give me good things simply because God loves me. This place  – this fifteen acres of quiet – will always be for other people, too, but first and foremost, it is God’s gift for Philip, for me, for Milo. There is no selfishness there. I am not hoarding the gift or hiding away in it. I am relishing it, treasuring it, living it in as I fully am – introvert, lover of silence and solitude, nature walker, contemplator.

One of the ways I am being gentled back into this truth – this truth that does not demand I be a constant host and, thus, less than I am actually made to be – is through Christie Purifoy’s amazing book Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace.* Her words are reminding me that hospitality does not have to be about hosting, about having people in this space all the time. Her words are reminding me that hospitality can be about beauty for the sake of itself and beauty shown and shared but not always physically.

This morning, I am going to order pounds of sunflower seed so that when the warmth comes, Philip, Milo, and I can plant them in a wide swath of golden up by the road. It is our hope that everyone who drives by will take joy in that ephemeral beauty as they drive by.

We will host our annual writer’s retreat in June and open the bunk room for guests come April. And in late April, we’ll invite everyone down for our annual yard sale and look forward to greeting our neighbors, especially those of you who have always waned to come down the lane but just needed a reason. On May 18th, Christie Purifoy and Jason Harrod will be here for a night of music and story, and you are all invited. Plus, of course, there’s lots of opportunities to sit at the dining room table over tea. (Get the details on all our events here.)

But mostly, we’ll be here – the three of us – watching the chickens get closer and closer to trying out their swing, tending the tiny shoots of dill in the basement, and walking the land with our hound dogs. We’ll be taking joy in the gift we’ve been given, my friends. We’ll be taking joy.

As you show up to your joy, your work will come to you.

Don’t be scared that Joy is selfish. She has gifts for the whole world in her pockets.— Laura Jean Truman (@LauraJeanTruman) January 24, 2019

Every day, I try to post a picture – or three – from the farm over on Instagram. A little way to share the beauty we’re cultivating here. We’d love to have you join us there.

All Places Tell Stories – A Guest Post by Ashley Hales

I met Ashley Hales a few years ago through a group for woman writers who are Christians. I was immediately impressed by her soft, strong spirit, so today, I am thrilled to bring you an excerpt from her new book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs.* As someone who loathes the suburbs with an active passion and who, like Ashley herself, considers herself only able to live in the city or, much more preferably, in the rural world, this book reminds me of something important  – God shows up everywhere. Enjoy Ashley’s words and wisdom. 
All Places Tell Stories - A Guest Post by Ashley HalesFor a woman who craved the cultural hub of a city or the idyllic freedom of a rural life, I bristled about a move to the suburbs. I was happy in Salt Lake City. The city was booming: ski resorts were a short drive away, diversity was increasing as more immigrants moved in, and restaurants were popping up with award-winning international cuisines downtown.

Moving home held out its charms: I was excited about proximity to family, how a newer house meant less things falling apart than in our old house, and we wouldn’t have to learn a new place. But, I wondered, how would I find belonging in the suburbs where everyone—even their houses—looked the same?

I craved sustainability, depth, meaning, nuance—the things you find in a city, I reasoned, or at least in the type of rural life championed by Wendell Berry. How did this move fit; how could I fit? Underneath this superiority was a deep fear that I couldn’t cut it: I wasn’t pretty enough or successful enough. Could I find belonging in the suburbs, or would I be a misfit?

I’m comforted by the biblical precedent of God’s people laughing at his plans—backing into corners and running off in the opposite direction. I feel kin to Jonah, thinking he was too good for a place; to Sarah, laughing that God could do the impossible; to Moses, thinking he didn’t have the right skill set to serve God’s people; to Joshua, who was afraid; to David, who followed his feelings, which lead to adultery and murder; to Peter, who said he’d always come through and then ran away; to Paul, who desperately wanted to do everything right. The list goes on. In each story, God restores.

So I took a deep breath, said goodbye, and closed the door to our life in Salt Lake City. This was it—we were moving to the suburbs.

I realized as the moving truck pulled away from our Salt Lake City home, I couldn’t use my place to make me feel special and unique. I’d turned my nose up at the suburbs, thinking they were only superficial and image obsessed, and their residents were unconcerned with real problems. But I knew there was more, and I knew I was called to love not only individual people but also my place. Moving home to the suburbs, I longed to discern how to faithfully live in the land of too much.

I used to think nothing of my suburban childhood, how each “city” bled into the other, without distinctiveness. I enjoyed the chain stores and was used to driving everywhere. Only when I grew older and moved away did I see how each place formed my loves. Each place fashions what we value. Places form our loves.

Are the suburbs really the “geography of nowhere” that Harold Kunstler calls them? Could a land of commuters, tract homes, strip malls, and ease actually malform our souls? And if we’re Christians, how might we live a full Christian life in the suburbs—do we even notice how the suburbs shape our souls? Should we feel guilty for our privilege, or should we just move?

More than 50 percent of Americans live in suburbs, and many of them desire to live a Christian life. Yet often the suburbs are ignored (“Your place doesn’t matter, we’re all going to heaven anyway”), denigrated and demeaned (“You’re selfish if you live in a suburb; you only care about your own safety and advancement”), or seen as a cop-out to a faithful Christian life (“If you really loved God, you’d move to Africa or work in an impoverished area”). From books to Hollywood jokes, the suburbs aren’t supposed to be good for our souls.

Even David Goetz’s popular book, Death by Suburb, though helpful, presumes suburban life is toxic for your soul—as if suburbia were uniquely broken by the weight of sin. The suburbs—like any place—exhibit both the goodness of God’s creative acts (in desiring to foster community, beauty, rest, hospitality, family) and sin (in focusing on image, materialism, and individualism to the exclusion of others). We cannot be quick to dismiss the suburbs out of hand.

In what they center and in what they hide, all places tell stories through their geography, architecture, and city planning. After World War II, suburbs popped up across America. They were places upwardly mobile middle-class residents would retreat to in their version of a country manor house placed at a reasonable distance away from the city, where (usually) men worked.

Houses became status markers. Cars and commuting became more prevalent. Women increasingly stayed home, removed from the bustle of city life. As suburbs grew, they became whiter and richer: their racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity wasn’t just lowered, the suburbs “built inequality to last.”

Today, each suburb is different: some are receiving previous urban dwellers who can’t afford city life when they have a family; others are the result of “white flight”; still others are more affluent and cost-prohibitive than the cities they orbit. Many are growing in their racial, political, and socioeconomic diversity.

But each suburb in its own way evangelizes for the good life: a life of safety, beauty, comfort, and ease. Suburbs, like all places, reflect both our good, God-given desires to create home, and also the brokenness of a place in their geography, entry systems, and laws. Thankfully, the good news of the gospel is never defined by a ZIP code.

The gospel story both helps us see the idols of our suburbs and brings hope for an abundant life not contingent on our circumstances. We make our home by stories, it’s said that author Flannery O’Connor wrote. In my move to the suburbs, I knew I needed a new story to bring me back home. Daily, I need a new narrative to help me find both the holy in the suburbs and a story bigger and better than my cul-de-sac.

–Taken from Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2018 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

All Places Tell Stories - A Guest Post by Ashley HalesAshley Hales is a PhD, writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mother. Her first book is: Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much (IVP). Connect with Ashley at aahales.com or @aahales on social media.