Tag Archive | Heifer International

An Odd Gift

Some forty years ago, I received a really odd gift from my parents. I had recently graduated from college and was living in a small town in Connecticut. I had become a high school English teacher. My parents gave me, as a gift, their used manure spreader. It wasn’t a particularly practical gift for me. Since I was in the process of furnishing my first apartment, lots of other gifts would have been much more practical.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is kind of what my manure spreader looked like. It was definitely the oddest gift I ever received.

I can still picture Mom and Dad grinning at me when they told me about their gift. Dad had just retired from farming (mostly). He had sold the cows, and they no longer had chickens. Mom had already retired from her secretarial job in Madison, and they planned to spend a couple winter months down south each year as long as they could travel.

As a retired farmer, Dad no longer had a need for his manure spreader, nor most of his other farming equipment. However, my sister Nancy’s school-age kids were becoming more and more interested in farming after having moved to a 7-acre farmette a few miles from Cambridge. Dad gave them his old red “H” tractor to get them started with farming.

The old

The old “H” tractor

Dad gave his smaller and newer Ford tractor to my brother Danny with the understanding that he could still use it when he needed it. Danny was starting up a landscaping business and could make good use of the Ford.

Working up the soil for his last garden

Dad driving his little Ford tractor – working up the soil for his last garden – 1991

My parents felt they couldn’t just give the tractors to Nancy and Danny and not give me anything, so they decided I should get the manure spreader. Fortunately, Nancy’s kids had recently bought a small herd of goats to inhabit their barn. They quickly learned they needed a manure spreader, so I was able to sell it to them for a couple hundred dollars – which enabled me to buy more furnishings for my apartment in Connecticut. The gift proved to be practical after all.

manure spreader and tractor 4

Manure spreader and tractor working together again.

What brought this gift to mind again was a trip that Mim and I took to Minnesota last weekend. It was Mim’s 50th class reunion from Kenyon High School. For about five hours on Friday we drove through western Wisconsin and southern Minnesota farmland to get to Kenyon. We saw lots of fields of golden ripe corn and soybeans ready to be harvested, many fields in the process of being harvested, and a few fields that were already bare. As we drove by some of the bare fields, Mim asked, “What’s that awful smell?” I agreed the smell was very strong and unpleasant. Then I saw a truck and some tubing in one of those fields and I figured it out. They were spreading aged, liquefied, and concentrated manure from the large dairy operations on the fields to begin to fertilize the ground for next year’s crops.

Mim and I talked about how it used to smell back in the 1950s and 1960s when farmers spread manure on their harvested fields. The odor wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t nearly as strong as what we smelled on Friday. But what we smelled, and figured out, brought back very pleasant memories of the most unusual gift of my lifetime – a used manure spreader. Mim said I had never told her that story before. Even though we’ve lived together almost 43 years, I guess we still don’t know quite everything about each other.

Spending many hours in the car last weekend gave me lots of time to think. One of the things I thought about after telling Mim this story is GIFTS – gifts I have received, gifts I have given, and gifts I know about that other people have given or received.

Heifer CatalogThe children in the Sunday school of the Presbyterian Church in Cambridge where I play the organ a couple Sundays a month, regularly raise money and also invite the congregation to join them in making donations, and then they go shopping in the Heifer International catalog and decide which gifts to buy for families that need just those gifts – chickens, ducks, rabbits, honeybees, goats, or even a heifer.

Similarly, the Lutheran Church (ELCA) on the national level has created a program called “Good Gifts” where you can donate money and choose farm animals to give to a family in need. Last year, instead of giving Christmas presents to the people who work for us in our assisted living business, we donated money to the “Good Gifts” program in their name, so that a needy family somewhere in the world could receive a cow to help them live a better life. I know one year my brother’s grandchildren “gave him” several different farm animals for Christmas through the “Good Gifts” program. He was happier with those gifts than anything else he was given for Christmas that year.

After spending quite a bit of time last weekend thinking about odd gifts, practical gifts, generous gifts, and the whole concept of giving gifts, I encourage anyone to do the same thing – to think about your lifetime of giving and receiving gifts. I really enjoyed remembering the gift of the manure spreader, and lots of other good gift stories of my lifetime. It reminded me of James 1:17, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above …” [New Revised Standard Version]

I guess thinking about gifts ties in nicely with my word for 2015 – gratitude. I’m grateful to God for the many gifts I have received in my lifetime – even the manure spreader, and especially the gift of the foul smell this weekend that brought back these wonderful memories. I’m also grateful to God for the opportunities I’ve had to give gifts and be able to share joy (my special word for 2014) through gift-giving.

2 children w goats

These children received the gift of a goat through Heifer International. Through these gifts they also received the gift of milk, and the gift of hope for a brighter future.

A Christmas Letter from Abbey

Abbey-Marian

This morning as I was sitting at my desk Abbey came over to me and sat down. “Mom,” she said. “I have a favor to ask.”

“What’s that?” I responded.

“Will you help me write a Christmas letter to send to all my friends? I don’t have fingers like you have, and it’s really hard for me to type.”

“I guess I can help you, Abbey, but why do you want to write a Christmas letter?”

Edith and Abbey sharing a special moment together on the couch.

Edith and Abbey sharing a special moment together on the couch a few years ago.

“I want to keep in touch with my friends. I have some really good friends that I don’t see very often any more, and I want to let them know I still think about them, that I miss them, and that I’m thankful that they have been part of my life. You know, sometimes we see people all the time, and we become really close. And then, something changes, and we don’t see them very much any more. Remember when Edith used to live with us? Margaret and Don and Holly, Cammi and Lizzy came to see us a lot during those four years. When Mary lived with us, we saw a lot of Laura and Steve and some other wonderful relatives. I really want to keep in touch with all these friends and many more. Sending them a Christmas letter is a good way to do it – that is if you will help me.”

Abbey Snowman and Tree 2“Okay, Abbey. I’ll help you. How should we do this?”

“I’ll dictate, and you type. You can be my secretary, Mom.”

“Okay. Dictate away…”

Dear Friends,

It’s here! Time to get ready for Christmas! On Thanksgiving I spent the morning going through my mom’s address book, thinking about each one of my friends, and thanking God for bringing each dog, person, and even cat friend into my life. On Friday, I jumped into the Christmas Spirit along with everyone else.I didn’t go out shopping, but I studied my favorite catalogs over and over again – the World Vision and Heifer International catalogs. I’d love to pick out ducks and chicks and rabbits and goats and even cows to give to people who need them, and buy these gifts in the names of each of my friends. But unfortunately, I’m mostly dreaming about it. My allowance doesn’t add up fast enough to be as generous as I’d like.

Christmas music is filling the house, and I love it. When my moms aren’t singing and playing the piano, the seasonal music channel on TV is on to be sure we don’t forget that Christmas is coming. Our Christmas tree isn’t up yet, but I heard my moms talking about when to decorate. AND they also talked about baking cookies! I can hardly wait for those smells to begin!

Abbey Profile 2As I look back over last year to bring you all up to date on my life, I think my biggest news is that my moms got married. That may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but to me, and to them, it’s important. Some of the other dogs in the neighborhood make fun of me for not having a real family. I know that’s not true. My family is just as real as their family, and it always has been. Now I can prove it. I can show my moms’ marriage certificate to the other dogs. I know it’s all about love, but it’s nice to have proof that our family is just as legal as theirs.

The other big news is that I am finally starting to look like an older dog. My hair is graying, and getting thinner, and I stumble sometimes when I walk. If I had only two legs, like some of you, I’d probably use a cane, but with four legs I do pretty well. Whenever I lay down, I move slowly so I don’t jar my hips too much. It hurts to get old, no matter what your species. But the good part of aging is making good use of all the wisdom I’ve learned from my life experiences. I try to act humbly, but I know I’m the wisest dog in the neighborhood.

Some of my wisdom comes from music, and thinking about the words of some beautiful songs. My mom got another new hymnal this year, and I discovered this song in it. I just love the images. It’s such a comforting song. That’s why I want to share it with you. It’s my Christmas present to you (along with perhaps a couple ducks given in your name to World Vision.) Merry Christmas!

IF I FLY AS BIRDS AT DAWNING

If I fly as birds at dawning, travel to the farthest sea,
You are there, my God, my Refuge, there to hold me lovingly.
In my time of desolation help me feel Your presence near.
Send a light amid the darkness, bringing hope to calm my fear.

In my mother’s womb You formed me, piece by piece with tender care.
Secretly You placed within me words of life for me to share.
God, Your thoughts for me are boundless, more than I can ever know.
They will comfort me forever. What a debt to You I owe!

Keep me faithful, full of wonder, as my days on earth unroll.
Walk beside me, and protect me from those who would wound my soul.
Search me, test my inmost being, Root out all my selfish ways.
Lead me on to life eternal. I will praise you all my days.

Words by Edith Sinclair Downing. ©2009 Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc.

Merry Christmas and Lots of Love and Joy!

Abbey

P.S.  On a somewhat lighter note, one of my God-given responsibilities as a canine is to be a guardian of comfort and joy. With that in mind, I also want to share another hymn. This is from my own hymnal, HOLIDAY HOUNDS by Laurie Loughlin, © 1996.

Thanks, Mom!

Thanks, Mom!

DOG, REST YE MERRY, GENTLE ONE

Dog, rest ye merry, gentle one,
And when you wake, we’ll play.
Then you can jump on all the guests
Who come for Christmas Day,
And save us all from feeling sad
If our thoughts go astray,
Oooh, guardian of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
Oooh, guardian of comfort and joy.

(Tune: “ God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”)