I have a confession to make—I’m a horrible blogger. But in my defense, why write when you’re pretty sure no one is going to read it? That’s why it caught me completely by surprise when a good friend of mine, Russell Smith, shared a link to my blog on Facebook the other day. Thank you, Russ! My blogging dreams had sailed off without me, and truthfully, I’d completely forgotten about them. So, maybe this is just for you my friend, or maybe someday others will read it too, but either way, you got me thinking about the last few months, and I realized…I have quite the story to tell! J
Once upon a time there was a stubborn guy who was very impatient…well, that sounds boring. How about this: Two men walked into a bar…no, that has nothing to do with my story. Oh I got it! I’ll start with a completely different story, and then somehow connect it to why Tiffany and I are now homeschooling our children in the forest and living off crawdads and pollywogs. Now that sounds a lot better!
I heard a story once, the truthfulness of which may be hard to prove. I tried asking Siri to verify the details, but we’re having a hard time communicating at the moment. Anyway, I researched the suggested method that produced the outcome of this story (I’m leaving it vague on purpose so I don’t spoil the ending), and I found the facts to be supportive of the claim. So if you’re not willing to take this completely on faith, at least believe me that the flavor of this story is good even though I’m not sure where the ingredients came from...maybe it was Mexico.
The story goes something like this: An individual was once flying a small plane (sorry, can’t give them any kind of identification or someone will find me biased), and under a series of unfortunate events became trapped in a most unfavorable situation. (This is a great example of how my brain works. Can’t recall the details…only the end.) Before the circumstance could be reversed, the plane began to spin out of control and plummeted to the earth. (This is where the story gets really good.) Of course, the natural response for anyone would be to jerk the yoke back and forth, stomp on the pedals, and scream at the top of their lungs, but as the plane fell out of the sky this person had a strong impression to just let go!
This story reminds me of a time when unwise decisions and uncontrolled speed collided to lift my old step-side Ford onto two wheels…. Now, I won’t say who was driving, but like the plane in this story the situation with my truck got a little out of control. Without revealing incriminating evidence, I can tell you with certainty that the last thing a person wants to do when fear grips the heart is to let go of the wheel. But in defiance of common sense and natural selection, the pilot of the small aircraft decided to listen to the prompting and let go of the yoke. This is when a miracle happened! The plane suddenly quit spinning and the pilot was able to pull it safely out of its nose dive! This is the whole point I’ve been trying to get to for the last three paragraphs. Oh, and do you want to learn an interesting side note? Well, you’re getting it anyway. I found from my research that, not only should you throttle back and let go of the steering device when your small plane begins to spin out of control, you should also press the rudder pedal that is the most difficult to push! Cool, right?!
So, now to splice this awesome story to mine. When Tiffany and I left the farm in January, it felt much like leaving paradise in a plane with no charted course and no final destination. Oh sure, there was a great thrill as we gained momentum and lifted off the ground. We were going to see the world! But as our family started pushing through thick clouds of doubt, I suddenly realized…I didn’t know how to fly a plane!
Facts started fogging up the windshield. I’m thirty five years old with little schooling, limited skills, and no career plan. My hands began to quiver on the yoke. When I turned to look at my beautiful wife she was ginning at me nervously, but her eyes were full of terror. Our five kids were bouncing happily in the back seats as they stared out the windows and watched our plane begin to spiral toward the earth!
“WHAT?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”
…If you haven’t figured it out, this is a metaphor. We didn’t really leave the farm in a plane, but our life, like a plane ride through a hurricane, has been filled with great turbulence since we left Snowflake. Most days it’s extremely difficult to not reach out in panic when we start spinning out of control, but every time we listen to that still small voice and let go, without fail, peace fills our hearts and the plane quits spinning.
Sometime around April, Tiffany’s sister Stephanie asked for some help to run the kitchen of the Wiltbank family’s guest ranch, called Sprucedale. It was only going to be for a few weeks in June, and we both agreed it would be a fun experience for us and the kids if we could get away from the valley heat before the kiddos started school again in the fall.
The last week before the summer break began the temperature in Mesa rocketed past a hundred degrees. Before the weekend was over we had our Suburban and Corolla packed to the ceiling with clothes and kids, and we were headed outta town. We stopped in Snowflake for a few days to help my family with the annual branding. It was so delightful to be back…and so painful to leave…but our hopes were still afloat as we looked forward to a few weeks of fun at Sprucedale.
When you leave Snowflake, heading south, you first pass through the sister town of Taylor, and a few miles later a beautiful green valley opens up to your left dotted with small farms and fish ponds. This is Shumway. As you climb out of this stunning scene, shaggy-bark Junipers quickly give way to towering Ponderosa Pines. By the time the pavement takes you through Show low and Pinetop/Lakeside, the forested foothills have led you, almost unknowingly into the White Mountains.
Few roads have views as breathtaking as Arizona Highways 260 and 273. If you ever have the privilege of taking this drive, sooner or later you’ll find yourself passing the deep blue water of Big Lake. If one is able to overcome the temptation to stop and fish, a mile or so later one will find the dirt road responsible for transporting many yearning hearts to Sprucedale Guest Ranch.
When we crossed the bridge at Black River the kids were starting to get antsy, and by the time we turned onto Wiltbank Road they were ready to jump out the window. Winding our way along Beaver Creek, we finally rounded the bend that hides Sprucedale from the world. The historic log cabins, main lodge, and old barns seem to capture a bygone age of timeless simplicity. With smiles on our faces we crossed over the cattle guard.
We knew the work would be hard, but we had plans to play even harder. A few weeks would pass so quickly, and we wanted to enjoy every minute. At the time I was still working hourly on the train crew, but the commute from Sprucedale to St. Johns is much shorter than from Mesa, and the drive is stunning, so it worked perfectly into our plan.
Within a few days of being at our summer getaway we heard news that Chip Eisley, Sprucedale’s head cook, had submitted an application for a job to run a restaurant at a large power plant, and if he got the position he would most likely not be able to finish the season with Sprucedale. This was heavy news for us. Not that heavy is bad, we just realized the consequences of that possibility would also affect our lives. About this same time my boss called to say I’d been put on salary! The cross hairs for the heat seeking missiles on our little family plane were suddenly lining up on an unexpected target. A few weeks later Chip got the job and Tiffany was asked by her brother Whitney to take Chip’s place as the head cook. We closed our eyes, and pulled the trigger.
With help from family we packed up the few belongings we’d left behind at my mother-in-law's place, and began to look for a house in St. Johns. Because my job is now more stable Tiffany and I both thought this small town would be the best place to live once the summer was over. Payments for a house are usually less than rent, so with great excitement we started looking for some dirt to sink our roots into. Three different times we tried to buy a home. Once we were even sighing the papers to submit a bid when the house was pulled out from beneath us. Finally we took a step back, took a deep breath, and let go again. God had been trying to help us, but we were so excited to finally have a destination for our lives we were ready to jump out of the plane without a parachute! But for some reason God didn’t want us to exit the plane that way, so when our plane stopped spinning, once again we grabbed the yoke and waited for further instruction.
We didn’t have to wait very long. When Tiffany’s older brother Billy heard we were unsure what we should do he asked if we’d stay at Sprucedale through the fall to help him cook for some big game hunters and a few family reunions. In all her years of helping with Sprucedale, Tiffany has never stayed at the ranch through the fall but had always wanted to. She started to get really excited. Then my mother-in-law, Esther, asked if we wanted to go in with her to build a cabin, and I started to get really excited! As we contemplated our new options we realized if we stayed we’d also be able to homeschool our children, and we’d been talking about trying that for years. God had provided a way for us to achieve multiple dreams in one safe landing, and we would’ve missed it had we jumped from the plane prematurely.
Even as I write this I’m stunned to look back and realize how much God has been in our life. When we let go of the farm, He gave us wings. When we were willing to let go of “our” best plan, God showed us a far better direction to fly. And when we finally let go of our personal desires, our loving Father in Heaven provided a way for us to fulfill some of our greatest dreams. Through all our experiences in the last six months, every time we released the steering of our lives and turned to the Lord, He has always pulled us out of a dive and taken us to greater heights.
Most of the summer my role has been to entertain the kids and keep them out of mom’s hair, and what an absolute joy it has been! I’ve never played more ball and pushed more swings in my life, and the sweet memories our family has accumulated this summer are piled high.
The last two weeks Tiffany has been shorthanded because most of her kitchen help had to go back to school, so I’ve had the opportunity to put on an apron and let my wife boss me around. It may sound like self-inflicted torture to you…but, honestly, they’ve been the best weeks of my entire summer.
It stunned me to see how hard this amazing woman works. The kitchen, main lodge, and laundry room are difficult enough to just keep clean, but on top of that Tiffany cooks the best meals I’ve ever tasted, and usually they’re for a ranch full of people! It was a very humbling experience to be outworked by my wife. I’m serious! When I wanted a break, she kept going! It didn’t matter if she wasn’t feeling well or if her feet were killing her, she always worked until the job was done. This experience alone increased my love and appreciation for this amazing girl ten times over. I am, without doubt, the luckiest man in the world. When this life is over, if she still feels I deserve her as my companion, my eternity will be sweet indeed!
As for the rest of life, I’m still working on the train crew three days on, three days off. It’s fun driving a train and uncoupling cars every now and again, but I sure love the time this job allows me to write. I’ve started my third book and hope to have it finished before the end of the year, but I’m in no hurry. The best part of writing at work is when I get to close my laptop, clock out, and go home. Yes, for now Sprucedale is home. For how long? We’re not sure. But we know when the next storm comes, and life starts to spin again, if we let go and rely on the Savior, He will lead us safely to our next step in life.