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Amish Insights on Family Life
This Month’s Question:
With so many things in life demanding our attention, how do you keep family a priority?
Ivan Keim & Jerry D. Miller
Ivan: Much is said these days about “Family Time.” What comes to mind is some far-off vacation spot where we can unplug and spend time with the family. Sometimes we tend to forget that the time we spend with our family every day is our best opportunity to create family time.
I grew up on a farm where there was always plenty to keep us occupied. At a young age, we all have the tendency to fantasize about other opportunities “out there.” I would dream of being Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, or some other young lad that “had it made.” At the time not realizing that these would be the moments that would be tomorrow’s memories.
We were all part of the daily routine on the farm. Each morning we would groggily pull ourselves out of bed after being awakened by Dad from the bottom of the stairs. We headed to the barn, where we were greeted by the clanging of the milk cans being prepared to receive the morning's harvest. The cows munched on the feed that was set before them to appease them while we sat next to them extracting their milk by hand.
Every morning and evening this process would be duplicated, all while the conversation flowed from one person to the next. Anything from plans for the day to the most recent happenings in the community. We were sharing life together. The cows needed to be milked morning and evening, and because we were doing it by hand, we needed all available persons. Dad would milk the wild heifer that would try at every angle to kick the bucket of milk and get rid of this person who was intruding into her life—which had been pretty easy up to now.
At eight to ten years old, us younger children would get to try our hand at milking. With our little straw hats perched atop our noggins, milk stool in one hand, and the stainless-steel milk pail in the other, we would nervously sit down next to old Dolly. She was the cow that would usher us into the milking world. She patiently munched away at her feed seemingly unaware that somebody had sat down next to her. Occasionally she would swat at a fly with her tail, accidentally swishing our hats off our heads.
While the rest of the family labored away in the cow stable, the younger siblings were attending to their own chores. They fed milk to the hungry calf. The rabbit hutch behind the barn housed “their” rabbits. They would keep an eye on Mama Rabbit because soon she would have a nest full of bunnies. The younger sister had her own little milk stool that she would perch atop in the middle of the cow stable. Her feet barely touched the floor while she played with the barn cats. The little kitty enjoys rubbing around the bottom of her legs, all the time purring her happy tune. Occasionally she would get up and push the youngest member of the family on the baby swing that was mounted from the barn beam.
This is FAMILY TIME. We are all together, and we are accomplishing LIFE together. We can get a feeling of satisfaction as another day is completed. The local YMCA or ball field cannot bring meaning and fulfillment to us like life on the farm (or homestead) can bring.
Even though we may not get together every morning and evening to milk the cows, we still have lots of opportunities to spend time on the homestead with our family. We can work together in the garden, pick strawberries, cut firewood, forage for morels, butcher chickens, the list could go on and on. This week it was time to move the cows to another pasture. One of the children was rolling up the electric fence while the others were extracting posts from the ground. The same process happened in reverse as we installed the fence in the new area. Oh, the look of accomplishment on our daughter’s face when she was able to use the pipe post pounder to drive in the iron posts. She wrestled the pipe over the post and brought it down with full force, inching the post into the ground. We were doing an ordinary project, but we were having fun because we were learning new things, and we were together as a family.
One of our daughter’s friends remarked that it sounds like you have a lot of fun at home. Her reply was, “Yes, we have fun, but it is a lot of work.” Homesteading is not easy, but the good far outweighs the bad as we have family time together.
At the end of the day, we can wind down on the front porch with a cool glass of milk and watch the sun descend behind the tree line. We are thankful for another day that we could spend with the people that we love, doing the things that we love, and enjoying the nature that was created by a God who loves us. He created His earth, plants, and animals for us to dress and keep, while in turn, it provides food for our nourishment.
Jerry: The word “priority” came into the English language in the 1400s. According to author Greg McKeown, who wrote the book Essentialism, it remained exactly that until the 1960s when computers lit the scene, and the word became plural. I’m talking about a singular priority, but we now are bigger than life and can have multiple priorities. When the CEO in a company meeting talks of priority 1, priority 2, priority 3, and so on, this gives the impression of many things being priority but actually means nothing is. So it is with the word “multitasking” which first appeared in a 1965 report from IBM describing the abilities of its most recent computer. The word now gets thrown around freely with the idea that, if you can’t multitask, you are a real dunce—which would be fine, but in reality, the human brain is not wired to multitask.
In a 2003 study, it was found that the typical person checks his email every 5 minutes. On average it takes 64 seconds to resume the previous task after checking your email. In other words, because of email, a person wastes one out of every six minutes. This, in the business world, is called the switching cost. The disruption in performance as we switch from one task to another sounds like redeeming the time, does it not? We'd do very well to simply accept Jesus’ teaching when He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”1
The myth of multitasking is exactly that. A myth. Yes, I know a busy young mother who is harried and harassed with school children, preschoolers, and a baby on the hip gets the feeling she just doesn’t reach around, but let's always remember, if we seek first, the rest of life falls into place. I have a sneaking suspicion that the same sincerity we as adults use in serving our God, a young child senses simply in the way a busy parent relates to him or her. Remember, the Lord does not demand perfection, He demands sincerity or genuineness. It has been said the only thing a person can take to Heaven is his children. In the light of eternity, many of the things we deem so important tend to recede. No, the house doesn’t always have to be tip-top, and the fences can wait to be mowed.
I am reminded of an incident that happened years ago to me as a young father. We were visiting a neighboring district for church, and our son Kevin, who was 3 years old at the time, was struggling mightily with behaving in church. Three times I stepped outside to try and convince him that behaving was in his best interest. After church, one of the ministers—an older fellow for whom I had a high regard—stepped up to me, laid a huge work-calloused hand on my shoulder, and said, “I want to give you some advice.” I braced myself for some deep theological revelation. He simply said, “Jerry, whatever you do, don’t give up.” Possibly the best advice I ever received. Twelve years later, Kevin died in a farm accident. In the ensuing weeks, so many times I thought of those words: Don’t ever give up.
Yes, this life with its many responsibilities pulls us in many different directions. Yet, our genuineness in serving God shines through to our families, and they don’t demand perfection—only sincerity. //
1) Matthew 6:33
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Ivan, Emma, and their four children live on a 12-acre homestead where they strive to raise as much of their own food as possible. Each year they have a large garden, harvest from their orchard, use raw milk from their own cow, and process chicken, turkey, beef, and pigs for their freezers. Ivan is a minister in the local Amish community. He builds tiny homes and animal shelters for a living. His models can be seen on tinyhomeliving.com or by calling 330-852-8800.
Jerry and Gloria Miller, along with their six children, operate Gloria’s home farm, a 173-acre organic dairy. They milk between 60 and 70 cows with a few small cottage industries supplementing the farm income. Jerry is a deacon in his local Amish church.