Ruin Is a Gift
Our new lambs–Tino, Sweet Pea, Butterbean, and Truffle
Please bear with this somewhat stream of consciousness post. I kept going around and around about what to say, how to say it, and whether to even say it. But here it is. Suffering at the hands of someone you love and who is supposed to love you, is well….beyond comprehension. It’s a darkness that’s excessively difficult to wrap your mind around. It’s a black, depressing, despair-producing thing that oppresses your soul and annihilates your spirit. It’s an enormous black hole that extinguishes your energy, light, and laughter to such a degree that it leaves you unable to breath.
Farmguy and I have been coping with a challenging, and perhaps, somewhat surreal situation for a very long time. However, in July 2016, it became intolerable. This situation didn’t have anything to do with our personal relationship, but it certainly had a negative impact on it and our quality of life. After all of the love, labor, and resources spent restoring our 200-year-old family home (including a 200-year-old cottage and barn), we were considering leaving Green Hill Farm. It was an unbelievable and painful place to find ourselves. But, there we were.
Of course, nothing is simple. There were many moving parts, and moving house is much easier than moving farm. We had chickens, sheep, tractors, hay and the question of where to put them all to consider. With frustration and resignation, we decided to wait. In the past, I’ve put up with a lot for a long time, but when I’m done, I’m done. That’s why backing down from addressing the emotional tsunami of outrage and devastation was one of the hardest things I had to do. I just wanted to leave, but couldn’t. This reality weighed on me even further.
I decided if I couldn’t move to a different place, I would just make this place look different. So, on Christmas Eve 2016, with the help of Farmguy and a cousin, we rearranged every room in the house and cottage with the exception of our dining room. I felt somewhat empowered in a powerless situation; but, even though we’d moved almost every piece of furniture we owned, the heavy weight on my heart was still firmly in place.
The next several months were the blackest and grimmest I’ve ever known. I just kept replaying memories over and over in my mind; and, like an onion, peeling back layers upon layers of transgressions. I was finally able to see the truth, and it grieved me to my core. The gravity of despair and defeat crushed me like a ten ton boulder. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t paint. The cold, dark winter reflected my state of mind.
In February, we started looking at houses for sale. But, the question kept coming up: “What are we going to do with the sheep?” A neighborhood wouldn’t allow them, and anyplace in the countryside would have to have a barn; or, we would need to build one. There was also the option of renting a nearby pasture. We certainly couldn’t sell the woollies—they were pets. I was emotionally exhausted and just didn’t have the energy to think about starting over…recreating everything we’d spent over a decade building. Although we loved Green Hill Farm, our day-to-day life was bittersweet. So, back and forth we went. We hated the idea of living somewhere without the sheep, but keeping them with us meant we couldn’t leave. We felt trapped.
We finally found a place in the nearby town of Bedford that seemed perfect. It was in the city area, but just across the county line. There was lots of land and the property was zoned for horses and chickens. However, we would have to get special approval for the sheep. There was a flicker of hope. When we couldn’t get zoning, I was disheartened, but determined to proceed. Farmguy asked me, again, “Are you sure you want to do this? We will have to move the sheep someplace where you won’t see them daily, and you will be selling your ancestral home.” His words pierced my heart. I didn’t think I could do it, but my sanity and emotional wellbeing were teetering in the balance. The anguish of walking away from something that we had worked so hard to achieve, and that I loved immeasurably, was beyond words.
Although we made the decision to start negotiations with the seller through our agent, our actions hadn’t really sunk in completely. A day or so later, while out of town, we received a phone call that there were other buyers interested in the house and that we would need to make another, higher offer. All of a sudden, the situation became soberingly real. By electronically signing and emailing this new offer, I would be potentially letting go of Green Hill Farm forever. And even though the idea of losing it was almost unbearable, the pain of staying was worse. I sat on the edge of the bed, voice tremoring, as I spoke over the phone to our agent who understood the reasons we were moving. My face was wet and my sight blurred by the deluge of salty water puddling in my eyes. She kindly asked if she could pray with me. I took a deep breath and listened to her comforting words. And, for the first time, I had a sense of peace as I embraced faith—in God, and in myself. I decided to let go—not just of the farm, but momentarily, of my heartache and fear.
Twenty-four hours later, we learned that the contract had been declined due to various reasons. It was now mid-March, and we were exhausted as well as emotionally and mentally spent. Greatly needing a break and wanting to celebrate Farmguy’s birthday, we decided to get out of town for a while.
Having time away left us somewhat recalibrated. When we returned, signs of spring were everywhere, and the dark days of winter seemed to be waning. The new season had begun to transform the farm into a beautiful and uplifting place. In that moment, we were grateful that by the grace of God…and thanks to our sheep, our house buying efforts had failed. The act of letting go and having faith had empowered me. And, even though I still had months of vacillating emotions of sadness and anger to process, our home didn’t feel as much like a prison to me. For the first time, I actually looked at it and didn’t feel oppressed. At that point, the heavy weight on my heart began to shift …just a little bit.
Letting go is a funny thing. It sounds so easy…”just let it go!” I write about letting go fairly often on my blog, mainly as a reminder to myself. The truth is…I have a hard time letting go. As Farmguy says, “You don’t let go of NOTHIN‘!” It’s true; I forgive, but I don’t forget. The other thing is this: I’m kind and respectful to others, and I don’t understand when that behavior isn’t reciprocated. However, at this point in life, I don’t try to understand anymore. When it’s not, I just move on.
Even though I tried to stay busy with the farm, volunteer work, and helping Farmguy create and plan upcoming client events, it became evident that letting go was going to take a lot of work, especially since I was still coping with feelings of hopelessness. I realized that continuing to sit under a blanket with our newly adopted puppy, Bizou, while grieving was not the answer—ruminating on things too long is never a good idea; however, embracing a solution is not always easy, either. I’d never experienced this depth of heartache, and I really didn’t know if I’d ever feel normal again. Although I tried to keep up with reading and creating posts for my blog, I still didn’t feel like writing, and I hadn’t painted in months.
I remember sitting on the sofa one day feeling low. I made a cup of tea and picked up a book about Paris. As I flipped through it, a fabulous photograph of a man and woman kissing on a balcony over the city caught my attention. I looked at it for a moment and continued turning the pages. After a while, I went back to the photo. I really liked the composition, and it occurred to me that it would make a lovely painting. But, I immediately heard a little voice saying, “That’s way too hard for you to paint. It has people and buildings and cars, and you’ve never painted any of those things. Plus, all of that perspective would be a nightmare!” I paused and considered. But, I was so tired of feeling miserable and defeated, and then, I heard another little voice that said, “You can paint this, and if you don’t try, you’ll never know. Anyway, if it stinks, paint over it. Just get up and do it for heaven’s sake.” So, I found the biggest canvas I had in the house, pulled my paints and supplies together, and got started. When Farmguy came home, he walked over and exclaimed, “I love it! That’s going in my office when it’s finished.” The painting was still a long way from being done, and I knew some input from my art teacher would be helpful. I called her that evening, asking if I could resume my classes. As I hung up the phone, the heaviness in my heart lighten once more.
Although I was feeling better, I wasn’t myself, yet. Grief is a funny thing. It ebbs and flows. You can think you’re making progress, and then a memory or emotion washes over you with such ferocity that it leaves you wrung out and listless. I wavered between despair and outrage, each time, feeling completely worn out and battered. I was trying to get back to the land of the living, but it was hard. I remember standing in art class one night, surrounded by other students who were painting away. I stood there, paintbrush in hand, feeling heartbroken. Sadness welled up inside of me like the six atmospheres of pressure inside of a Champagne bottle—moments away from exploding in a torrent of tears. I know my teacher must have wondered what in the world was wrong with me as I stood there for two hours painting the same area on the handle of a watering can.
Normally, it takes anywhere from several hours to several days for me to complete a painting. But at the time, I was having a lot of trouble concentrating. I knew I had to stay the course as this engagement in activity was a part my salvation. With determination, I began a new painting of a Tuscan landscape for a friend in Italy. I wasn’t in a good place emotionally, but I kept painting, working a little at a time over a number of months. Thanks to my kind and patient art teacher and the thought of giving the painting to my friend in person, I was inspired to finally finish it.
As I struggled along, I felt my life being hijacked and defined by this hateful situation, and I despised it. I decided that defeat was not an option; it was time to take back control of my life. That’s when I spoke to Farmguy about enrolling in a Wine Spirit and Education Trust (WSET 2) intensive wine course to earn our level 2 sommelier certification. He agreed, and we signed up and started studying. I was still fighting depression which negatively impacted my ability to focus and memorize the huge amounts of material required for the exam, but I managed to muster enough resolve to get through it . Last summer, we took our exam and received certification as WSET Level 2 sommeliers. With the news of this accomplishment, my heart swelled with joy. Something I hadn’t experienced in a while.
Although we loved our home and viewed it in a more positive light, we continued to have conflicting feelings about staying. We found that looking at other properties and land for sale often reminded us of the reasons worth remaining at Green Hill Farm. Over the past decade, we’d worked incredibly hard to create the perfect place for ourselves and animals. Our farm has stunning mountain views as well as pastures that surround the house, enabling us see the sheep and chickens from almost every window. There’s also the charm of the recently restored barn, the unusual barrel vault ceilings in the bedrooms, and the farm’s history. All things that can’t easily be reproduced.
I would just like to share that this exercise of feeling grateful for what I have and reminding myself of why I love this place is the reason I started my blog four years ago. Every time I posted a positive experience, story, or beautiful photo of our farm or animals and my readers enjoyed it, I was encouraged to persevere. During this entire process, what I came to understand was this: I loved my home more than I hated what had happened, and I would be damned if I’d give it up.
I don’t know if it’s true that time heals all wounds, but it certainly helps. The basic issues at Green Hill Farm haven’t changed. But, I have. I’ve learned that every person and every experience is meant to teach a lesson: How to be stronger, when to trust your intuition, how to be more self-loving, when to let go, or why you want to be nothing like a particular person. I also learned that every day is a new opportunity to change your life. You have the power to say, “This is not how my story ends.” You have the power to rewrite your destiny.
I’ve sensed a transformation over the last several months and now truly feel at peace with our home and farm. My joy for writing and painting has returned as well. Farmguy and I even adopted four new lambs this spring as well as completed our WSET Level 3 sommelier certification.
And, last fall, after doing research on wine consumption demographics, I got an idea to embark on a little adventure. In December, I applied for a Trademark for a wine business and received approval for it in April. My business, called Everyday Sommelier will be comprised of a wine shop, wine education classes, private events, and wine destination travel—both local/regional and abroad. I’m also excited to announce that the Everyday Sommelier website and blog should be operational sometime soon, offering lots of wine-related information, including weekly tasting notes and wine destination travel posts as well as a calendar of events. Watch this space! 😉
Happily, I was able to deliver the “Tuscan Landscape” painting in person that I had completed during my darkest time. Originally, Farmguy and I were planning a trip to Italy together, but after driving to Washington D.C. every week for our three month wine course, he needed to be at home for a while. So, he encouraged me to go without him. Feeling a little nervous, because I hadn’t traveled abroad without Farmguy in twenty years, I invited a friend to join me. She responded immediately with an enthusiastic “YES!” And, by the end of the day, we had booked plane tickets and hotel rooms. As I got ready for bed that night, I thought, “Oh, $h!t! What have I done?” In the end, it was one of the best experiences; and, two years ago, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Stepping out of my comfort zone was worth the anxiety, and I was so glad I followed through with my vision of delivering this special painting in person.
There are many good things that have been born out of my ruin, and I’m thankful for them all. I’m especially thankful to God for delivering me from the hell of the past two years and placing kind people and wonderful opportunities on my path. You may be wondering why I’m sharing this with you. Well, mainly because it’s part of my healing process. But, also, I hope my experience of loss, suffering, faith, and perseverance may help or inspire someone else.
Here’s the thing: OUR FAITH MUST BE BIGGER THAN OUR FEAR—fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of not being loved, fear of getting lost, fear of not being enough…fear of whatever! When we find ourselves broken into a million little pieces, we must find the strength to rebuild. And, in rebuilding, we discover we’ve been put back together as a wiser, stronger, and happier version of ourselves.
“Birds flying high
You know how I feel
Sun in the sky
You know how I feel
Reeds driftin’ on by
You know how I feel
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
And I’m feeling good…”
The Cotswolds, England