March 2010 marks my 15th anniversary of writing for Grainews. Marie Salway passed away on March 15th, 1995. Marie had written the Butter Side Up column in this paper for over 17 years and she asked me to take her space. I can still remember thinking, “Wow, 17 years is a long time… and here we are 15 years later!”
This column is a re-work of the very first column I wrote, and the message is still as important today. I would like to dedicate this anniversary piece to all the farm families who need to re-gain a sense of hope for their futures. The families struggling with huge debt, livestock pressures, family conflict, and deep despair. The folks who are thinking of “letting go” of the cattle or hogs, reviewing the dream for the next generation on their farm, and looking for hope for their future well-being.
Planting Barley seed on Palm Sunday is a spring tradition at our house. Green barley sprouts burst forth to nestle coloured eggs, symbolizing new life as we celebrate Easter’s message of hope. I love Spring on the farm, the anticipation of a new crop year, with fervent hope that the combination of proper cultivation, and waiting on the heavens will produce a bumper harvest.
Some of my friends are not hopeful for spring. They see it as a time to endure long stretches of tension. A sense of abandonment from their spouse pervades their thinking. They fear signs of emotional problems like insomnia, anxiety, and excessive moodiness.
Spring seeding tensions can become an opportunity to asses our emotional well being and make some changes. Dr. William C. Menninger’s Seven Criteria for Emotional Maturity offers steps for living better emotionally:
- Face reality. If we are healthy, we have, through necessity, learned how to accept frustration with a fair degree of grace. Farm families need to exercise much grace and patience while waiting for warm soil or tractor repairs! Being able to deal constructively with the realities of seeding-time setbacks means we’ve gleaned those character traits that help us persevere with a positive attitude during tough times.
- Adapt to change. “Change is inevitable, growth is optional”. A life-threatening illness, an accident, or a family member’s depression are all things our family has had to deal with during spring seeding. Someone once said, “When you realize life is hard, it gets so much easier.” People who are depressed need medical treatment and your support; they need to hear your message of hope and friendship. Go to www.reasontolive.ca or call the Manitoba Suicide line 1-877-435-7170.
- Control anxieties. Level with yourself. Be honest with who you are. Get professional counseling (www.paccc.ca) to deal with your escape-like defense mechanisms. After a long day in the field, a farmer may rationalize staring at the TV rather than spending time with family. Blaming others for your own faults or problems is another defense mechanism that can lead to unjustified conflict.
- Give of yourself. The world could use a lot more givers with a servant attitude. What is your passion or vision? To plant straight rows.(easy now with auto-steer) or nurture healthy, giving children? Keep your passions alive for emotional well-being. Think of the folks you could invite over to your kitchen table for Easter dinner.
- Consider others. Check some of the personality traits affecting your capacity to relate with hope to others. Are you sincere? Evaluate your integrity, honesty, fairness, dependability and ability to accept criticism or correction. Check out the source. If there is truth to the criticism, make some adjustment. If the criticism is unfounded, move ahead. Give the gift of consideration and affirmation to your clan.
- Curb hostility. Steel-toed boots have probably saved a few feet when tires are kicked in frustration. Direct hostile energy into constructive outlets –like golf or baseball. Guilt and unreasonable feelings of inferiority are signs of hostility turned inward. Anger comes from hurt, fear or frustration that is not resolved. We are hostile when we are unkind, inconsiderate or thoughtless. Meals to the field during seeding could be delivered with warmth, grace and humour. Don’t be hostile if you aren’t thanked for the task or the meal is set aside. Get that freezer stocked now!
- Learn to care. The most important yardstick for living better emotionally is the capacity to love—that is, caring. Care for yourself, love yourself, and love others with deep caring .
Planting a good crop takes planning, patience, perseverance, passion, and the blessings of providence. These ingredients will also help the seed of hope flourish in your family. We are about to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the hope of eternal life in heaven, and our model for ultimate forgiveness.
Planting the seed of hope is a conscious choice each one of us makes every day. We choose our outlook, our behaviour and our response to the stresses around us that spring brings us. Please don’t wallow in your despair alone. Reach out to a trusted family member or friend. Talk to your pastor or mental health worker in confidence.
Understand that your life can be renewed, but it will take some healing time, opportunity for growth exists, but it may take some intentional work with support to find a new sense of hope for your farm future.
Strong families communicate, connect and celebrate. Have a wonderful time with your family and friends this Easter. Practice forgiveness, even if you are not “religious”. My relationship with Jesus gives me deep hope for the future, and I’m not afraid to tell you that He is my best friend. I choose to be rich in relationship towards God, and other people.
Thanks to the many readers over the past 15 years who have sent me seeds of encouragement via letters, emails, seminar feedback, and phone calls. Let’s have another 15 years of growing strong ahead.
Happy Spring and Happy Easter!