There are days, sometimes whole seasons, where you stare blankly out the window at all that you’ve planted — every dream, every seed, every good deed, every tear-stained prayer.
And it’s all blowing in the wind.
You cross your arms tight around you, like it might be the only way to keep your faith from lurching out of your body.
It happened like that for us, months after my father-in-law died in a hospice bed. He died in winter. We planted seeds in the spring. The plants grew tall. And then? It was autumn, the season of harvest, his favorite. His work boots were still dusty, one tipped over the other by his back door.
His John Deere cap drooped, sad, on a nail.
After he slipped away from us, my husband was left with all this grief, and all this land to tend.
The crops grew tall that year, thickening over the rows so everything green was touching. There was something very beautiful and hopeful about that, like everything was going to be okay.
And then came October. We awoke one morning to find all the crops tucked under a thick, white blanket of snow. Not a single plant had been harvested, but the snow had already come, so cruelly, intruding on all our hope.
I wanted to cry. I lit a candle with the word HOPE on the outside. The match shook when I held it. I tried to pray. I pulled my arms around myself again. We lit more candles. Made comfort food, like pot roasts and mom’s soupy chicken in a 9-by-13 pan.
The house smelled like pumpkin and cinnamon.
Anna couldn’t read yet, but she copied words down onto a piece of paper, because she’d seen me write them into my prayer journal.
She added the smiley face that I didn’t have.
Her daddy kept that piece of paper on the dash of his pickup truck all autumn long.
Lydia wrote out prayers, feeling along the edges of her burgeoning faith. She was eight at the time.
I remember watching her, with her journal spread out in front of her, next to my HOPE candle, as she gripped the pencil tightly, like she could squeeze the lead out of it and will that “mighty wind” to tumble out of the sky.
One afternoon, a farmer from up the road tapped his knuckles on the back door. I found him standing on the doormat, with his fists shoved into a thick quilted jacket with a corduroy collar.
His old eyes looked softer than I’d remembered before.
“Scott home yet?” he asked.
“No,” I told him. “Still doing chores.”
“Well,” the farmer continued. “You just tell him that I stopped by because I want him to know something for certain. I want him to know that the harvest always comes. You’ll let him know?”
I can’t say for sure if I said anything else. I do remember how I didn’t want to cry in front of him.
I was pretty sure that farmer had come by because he knew that my husband needed a man to stand in the place of the father who died, to let the son know everything was going to be okay.
He came to let us know that it was still safe to hope.
When I closed the door, I felt the knots start to untie themselves. I stopped hugging myself so tight. I stirred the soup. Set pottery on the pine table. Kept writing down words in journals, and sometimes I felt like my little Anna: not sure if I could really read what I was writing, but determined to keep stringing letters together, like those letters might sew me together so my faith didn’t fall out.
It would be weeks later, before we saw the man’s promise about the harvest come to pass. The harvest came, and went, just like he said.
We still have the cork from the wine bottle. I wrote on it with Sharpie, so we wouldn’t forget.
And the HOPE candle? It kept on burning.