An old Farmer’s Rant

BB & fireA friend of mine, an aging wanted-to-be farmer, recently shared with me a piece of his own Red Zone Thinking. We were relaxing in front of the fire in our hearthstone wood stove, and this is the gist of what he shared.

“You know, there was a time when my contentment was being shattered by bitterness. From scratch I had developed our farm for the future of our family. It was for our children to experience a better life, and hopefully for their children, too, for all of us to work together on this property, being good stewards of God’s land, out of the clutches of this crazy materialistic world! But then all my children moved away to live in the city, of all places. Now my wife and I are retired empty-nesters out here on this acreage, but I can’t do the farm work by myself anymore because of my health. So the farm is going to sit idle. After my children graduated college and got married, rather than coming back here to live near us on a part of this land, to eventually make the farm their own, they all moved away, and too far away to be of any help. There have been days that I felt like it was all just a waste.”

He then paused for a sip of coffee, and after a long quiet stare into the fire, he continued:

“But then I remembered. I had done the very same thing to my parents, especially to my father. After college, I got married, and instead of moving up closer to them, my wife and I moved farther away. And I ended up doing something he never dreamed I’d do—he never wanted me to do—we built a house on a portion of my wife’s family rural property, and of all things we tried to develop it into a self-sustaining farm! Like my father, I had no experience in farming whatsoever, but we gave it a shot, in many ways so that our boys could experience the rural farm life. But now I look back and think I understand the sadness I often saw in my father’s eyes whenever we and our kids would make the occasional trips up to visit with them. I guess I’ve learned how, in an ironic sense of God’s humor, I’ve been “hoisted with my own petard.”

“Our decisions were never a rejection of my parents or even their wisdom. I just thought we were trying to follow God’s will, and busy trying to do the best we could with everything we had on our plates. We were given an opportunity to live on this rural land, and we thought it would be a great place to raise our kids, and it was.”

He took another long sip and meditative gaze into the fire.

“Contentment for me involves apologizing in prayer to my departed parents for any heartaches my obtuseness may have caused them, and it likewise involves letting go of any bitterness the devil might tempt me to feel toward my children. We were blessed to have lived together on this land, and I pray that they learn to be content where they believe—where I believe—God has now called them to live. And I pray God continues to give my wife and I the grace to learn to grow in contentment on this fine rural land that He has given us for our retirement.”

In my own Red Zone thinking, as I consider what Marilyn and I need to do out here as empty-nesters on our forty-acres in the years ahead, there are some things I have come to learn. Just because we live out here on this rural property, or because we established this farm for our boys and brought them up on this land, does not therefore automatically mean that God has called any of us to be farmers. There are myriads of publications and web-blogs exhorting people to return to the farm, to save our country by re-establishing traditional American small farm culture, and to avoid the coming Tribulation by becoming self-sufficient and off-the-grid—and I can’t deny that there were times I at least tried to preach and live this separatist agrarian gospel, and I whole-heartedly agree there is great value and hope in it.

Our 3 sonsBut now I see that we must not douse ourselves or especially our children with false guilt over their supposed responsibility to take over this farm [or might I add, any family business]. We may have done all this for them, which is truly generous and charitable and humble, but we need to remember that they need to be free to discern whether or not this is what God is calling them to do. It may be that God called us to live and to bring our sons up on the farm, in a rural enclave where they could receive the blessings of a more traditional, rural education and culture less tainted by the craziness, wokeness, and apostasy of the surrounding culture—but not necessarily so they themselves would remain in this rural safe stronghold, but so that they would be better prepared to go forth and live and preach the gospel in the midst of a lost world.

I see that this has happened with our three sons. Actually in spite of my many, many short-comings, and my wife’s and my less-than-perfect attempts at parenting, all three of our sons look back and (at least) say they loved growing up out here on our rural “cottage farm,” which, though together we tried to develop it into a self-sustaining, even profitable farm, barely qualifies even as a “hobby farm”. But it was increasingly obvious all along that continuing on the farm, even taking it over after I had entered into the Red Zone, was not where their hearts were leading them.

JM & catOur oldest son, JonMarc, was eleven when we moved from the city to our new house out in the country. At first, we weren’t thinking of transforming our retreat in the woods away from the city into a working farm. But very quickly we decided that this was why God had called us out here. From the beginning, JonMarc was involved with every improvement and edition to our “farmness”. He helped me build our large chicken condominium (with all hand, non-electric tools, mind you); he learned with me how to raise chickens, sheep, dairy cows, and pigs; and he was my main partner in sharing the responsibilities of daily milking and most everything else on the farm.

But he also had many other interests. He and his brothers were homeschooled, which gave them plenty of time to absorb and enjoy the gift of this rural respite. JonMarc, though, was also hungry for outside activities, at our parish, with other Christian farming families, in athletics at the local community and high school, and especially in community theatre.

It never crossed my mind to press him into taking over the farm because I never sensed this was what he was called to do. He first attended the Pontifical College Josephinum to discern priesthood, but after just one semester he discerned this was not where God was calling him. He knew he was called to be a father. He transferred to several other schools to major in philosophy, and while he was at a secular JM & Tstate university, he became active in the on-campus Catholic outreach. There he met his future wife, Teresa, who was serving as a missionary with that outreach. Eventually they got married, are about to give us our sixth grandchild, and both remain active in serving our Lord and His Church. JonMarc runs the CHNetwork for me as its Executive Director and both he and Teresa are very involved in diocesan, parish, and local ministries. They also use the media for outreach to other couples and are becoming active in leading Catholic pilgrimages.

When you bring up a son in the ways of the Lord, you eventually have to let him go to be what the Lord wants him to be.

Peter & BullOur second son, Peter, also says he loved growing up on the farm. He was seven when we moved here. He was always there beside his older brother trying to give a hand on everything we did. He was active in 4H raising bees, he helped with all the other farm work, and I especially remember him helping me deliver and care for Suffolk lambs and Jersey calves. And he too was involved in all the same off-farm activities as his older brother—church, sports, and theatre—and he too did not give obvious signs that God was calling him to remain on this farm.

He attended a Catholic university where he came of age and matured greatly. Like his brother, he majored in philosophy, and was particularly active in music. Upon graduation, he became the music Fr Peterdirector at the very Newman Center where JonMarc and Teresa had met and used to serve. But then he surprised us all with the news that he believed God was calling him to become a priest. The diocese of Toledo affirmed this call, sent him to six years of study at Saint Meinrad Benedictine Seminary, and now he is an ordained Catholic priest, serving the Lord as a parochial vicar.

When you bring up a son in the ways of the Lord, you eventually have to let him go to be what the Lord wants him to be.

Richard on horseOur youngest son, Richard, was a different challenge than our other two boys. He was three when we moved to the farm, and he landed running! He was always there beside his brothers trying to help, but more often than not, he saw everything we did as an invitation for fun. While his brothers and I milked the cow, he was riding one of the sheep around the crowded barn. When his mother went out to gather eggs, he was there with a switch to chaise them.

But in time we discovered that Richard had unexpected disabilities that made it obvious that farm work was not where he was being called. And besides, work today on a small farm requires a person to be a bit of an introvert, for the work demands that you spend most of your time alone out somewhere on the back R & Kacres fixing fallen fences, clearing clogged culverts, or chasing chambering chickens. Richard was always an extrovert and needed people. He had followed his brothers in all their outside activists, especially in community theatre. But in the end, his disabilities have made finding his vocation difficult. Probably the biggest blessing in his life has been meeting his future wife, Katie. They are now recently married and both trying to discern their place in life, and though they may move into my wife’s mother’s vacant house near us here on this property, it is still unlikely that his particular abilities will allow him to consider “taking over the farm” after I truly enter the Red Zone and “retire.”

When you bring up a son in the ways of the Lord, you eventually have to let him go to be what the Lord wants him to be.

JM, P & R

Now Marilyn and I are empty nesters out here on our forty-acres. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’ve freed ourselves, at least for the winter, from responsibilities for any livestock—and during the recent frigid snow and ice storm, I’m SO glad I didn’t have to wander out precariously onto our hills to drag hay to starving cattle or to punch holes into frozen stock tanks! Now, our main responsibilities on this cottage farm involve stoking our wood stove, herding seven chickens and seven cats, while M & Mplanning for whatever we might be able to handle in the coming year. We might bring in some feeder calves, we might add two piglets, we might add some ducks, we might erect a make-shift greenhouse from a pile of old sliding doors, we might cut lots of paths through our woods for the grandkids to enjoy, we might add a pond, and we might even expand our garden. Or, we might do nothing at all.

Truth is, contrary to what the books and web-blogs have tried to convince me, I’ve never really felt God has called me to focus all my gifts on this rural property as a farmer. Ever since I was twelve, I’ve either been a student or working some job. For the past 45-years I’ve been involved in some kind of Christian ministry. The past 29+ years I’ve led the Coming Home Network, and for nearly 25-years I’ve hosted the Journey Home television and radio program on EWTN. This has involved leadership, writing, speaking, traveling, and even spending some long hours with a few bishops and priests! And all this while my family and I were trying to make a go at it out here on these forty acres—well, actually far more often with Marilyn trying to herd the boys to hold down the fort and keep up with my usually failing farming experiments.

view from hillThe truth is I consider it one of the greatest gifts God has given me to have the privilege to live out here on this rural acreage in the Appalachian foothills of Southeastern Ohio. Every day I’m grateful for this, especially as I watch the free-roaming birds, deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other native residents who have allowed us to share some space on this their property.

But especially now, as I’m more cognizant of entering the Red Zone, I think back on all we’ve done here, together, and am now finally letting myself be free of the false guilt I’ve put upon myself to be something I really have never been—a farmer. I have grown to have the highest respect for farmers. As Thomas Aquinas himself admitted, they are truly gifted men and women, at the top of human society, and worthy of our praise! And frankly, I am not worthy to be called one. I’ve tried, and by God’s grace and mercy, we’ve actually accomplished quite a bit on this land—though I’d never for a second think I ought to start a Youtube Channel telling anyone how they ought to farm! Ridiculous!

fire in stoveSome of  you might have guessed, but I lied to you earlier. I have no old farmer friend who was ranting in front of my hearth fire—that was me. I had indeed once succumb to the temptation of bitterness, but by His mercy, I have come to appreciate what I have shared with you in this post. I’ve grown to see that God had called Marilyn and I out to this rural property not to become farmers, but for the opportunity to discover, through farming, together with our sons, what the gospel of Jesus Christ is really all about. It’s certainly about faith, the sacraments, the Church, and all that, of course. But it’s mostly about love and humility, forgiveness and humility, detachment, simplicity, sacrifice, and humility, courage and others-centeredness, and did I mention, humility?

When you discover by grace the Lord Jesus and try to live according to His ways, you eventually have to let go so that you can become what the Lord wants you to be.

14 thoughts on “An old Farmer’s Rant

  1. I was the “black sheep” of my family, not becoming what I thought my parents wanted me to be. Yet, God blessed me with a wonderful wife and children. We have never wanted for anything really, and the only thing we really want is for a happy family. Sometimes, we have to let ourselves become what our Lord calls us to be. In the end, my parents were not disappointed but rather, we’ll-pleased. I love your writing. Thanks! Peace!

    1. Thanks, Tad! As you know, Jesus warned us that following Him meant sometimes being “black sheep.” My dad didn’t understand why I would leave engineering to go to seminary to become a pastor. And you might imagine years later that he considered me, too, a “black sheep” when my family and I left the Protestant ministry to become Catholic. But my father was alway supportive and I’ve always been grateful for this, God bless him!

  2. Beautifully said, Marcus! You may not be a farmer in the fullest sense, but you certainly have “tilled the soil” for me through the Journey Home program. I had a reversion experience in 2011 and started watching EWTN shortly after. Discovering the JHN helped me tremendously in appreciating and understanding all that the Catholic Church teaches. It still is one of my favorite programs on EWTN.

  3. Marcus, you are truly blessed with a great writing style, and honesty of purpose, and amazing children (indicative of Godly parents) that I truly admire. I am so happy to hear that Peter became a priest! Great photos! Your story and your family’s rural life is amazingly similar to mine and that of my 6 siblings, including Mickey, who as you know went back to the rural life on his ranch.

    I have been trying to get back to that rural life for 7 years after coming to Denver from Durango 9 years ago. Your insights helped me put into perspective some of my experience and that of my blessed parents, as seen from the youngest brother’s 20+ years on the farm in the desert of NM. I started to reminisce about my siblings leaving home every year after I was 7, leaving me and dad with the up-keep and responsibilities, while making me an uncle and brother-in-law by the age of 12. Then came those heart-ache memories, helping to sell the farm after 30 years and moving my parents to another life in a small town near Ignacio, while watching my father’s dreams fade away.

    I would be honored to reconnect with you, Marcus, and get to know Marilyn. Let’s chat! Pray for LifeGuard and it’s fund-raiser tonight!

  4. Hello Marcus,

    Your post was a very poignant and beautiful reminder of my own situation. We have watched you on EWTN for many years, and have mutual friends in Shawn and Beth Dougherty, from whom I know you you gleaned a lot of your farming skills and, I am sure benefitted especially from their insight and energy!

    My wife and I are veterinarians, she from western PA and I from Australia, and we now live near Ligonier, east of Pittsburgh, a few miles from where she grew up. So we are both retired professionals and also “recovering farmers”. Like you, we wanted our family to live in a rural enclave of “Farm, Friends, and Faith”, and have gradually expanded our land to where we retired onto 35 acres here, and intended to farm sheep, chickens and vegetables. Our 8 homeschooled children are pursuing a variety of professions, from law enforcement, nursing, psychology, mechanic etc…. But although none have seemingly wanted to be professional farmers, all have appreciated the life that led them to where they are now, and credit the rural life with teaching them invaluable lessons about self reliance and ingenuity. And my oldest daughter and husband has just moved onto a 50 acre farm with cattle less than a mile from where we live; all the while emphasizing that they will not make a living from the farm!

    So our aspirations have been, like you, dampened by age, illness (nothing major – just covid, flu, gout (uggh) etc..) and a need to help our children as they forge their way to heaven. We have, in parallel with you, come to grips with change into a more passive acceptance of our situation, and have decided to embrace a life of helping our children mature into future citizens of Heaven, rather than being embroiled in the earlier, and appropriate, desire to drive, forge, succeed and expand. We certainly are never going to want to move away from the country, but we are beginning a new way of living, of thinking about where we fit into the whole tapestry of life that your post has touched. Arrival of our first grandchild was probably the greatest and most pleasant stimulus for us to begin this change.

    God Bless you and your family Marcus, and give our regards to Beth and Shawn!

  5. My wife and I have been experiencing the same. Two of our three children now have families and California is very difficult for the youth. It hurts thinking I may only see them two or three times a year if they go through with their plans, but it’s the same thing that my wife and my great-great grandparents went through when they saw the majority of their families move to the U.S. from Mexico, and what the two/three generations before experienced as well when those ancestors moved from places unknown to Mexico. I guess the biggest difference is that I can communicate with my kids from wherever they are daily. My grandfather saw his parents only twice before they died.

    So now it’s our turn. But it feels more…I don’t know, something to me. Last year I found out I have breast cancer and while it looks like all is good, there’s a sense that my days are really numbered and to not have the kids and grandkids about me is soul breaking.

    Well, we’ll survive…and adapt. And enjoy them a thousand times more when we see them… and really enjoy the BBQ of Texas and the potatoes of Idaho!

    Gob bless you and your family Mr. Grodi and thank you for your work in the fields of the Lord.

  6. Wonderful essay, full of facts & humbleness.

    Your conclusion is a principle Husband teaches in •The Class• ——we MUST put aside what we think we should be/do, and just follow God’s lead.

    It’s how I came Home to Mother Church (from the Baptist church). I had become increasingly uneasy in my church, and finally put everything aside, asking God to show me Truth.

    WOW. Nobody could be as shocked as I was to being drawn closer & closer to the Catholic church.

  7. Thank you for sharing your Journey guided by our Lord, Marcus! The mind of man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps! The Proverbs are His wisdom and wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord!

  8. “A farm” an area of land to grow crops and or livestock. i believe God led you to that forty acres to just that. Not so much for the food and animals per say but the crops etc. but the crops of faith. I see non commitment of your boys to succeed you in taking over the farm as a fulfillment of to spread your desire of Evangelism. JonMarc with The Journey Home and Coming Home Network, Peter with his commitment to the priesthood, and it’s only a matter of time when HE makes known Richard’s role in spreading HIS word and bringing people to God. Thank you for the many years of my favorite show ever on tv. TJH.

    1. Dear Ray, thank you for your kind words of encouragement. It’s hard to express the how much I appreciate your thoughts. I’ve backed off from posting on this blogsite, for several reasons, and almost forgot that anyone could still read it or was reading it! Thank you for taking the time. Guess I bette think about updating it! God bless!

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