Thursday, February 10, 2011

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

This morning is a lot like the other mornings this week. The temperature is a bitter -2 and I am pulling on my overalls, face mask, work gloves, hat, and boots in preparation to battle the cold and the wood-burning furnace. This is normally my husband's job, but he's taking classes for his job this week in a different state. The wood seems heavier than usual and I have to pry it loose with an ax because it's frozen solid! I try to hold my breath because of the smoke. The shoulder that I hurt several weeks ago is hurting again. I am expecting another little one, too, so I may be tired because of that. I could complain about my circumstances, but, I'm keeping the home fires burning.

Our week has been filled with taking care of the children, music lessons, a dentist appointment, grocery shopping and home schooling. I could easily excuse myself from all of the errands and the extra driving. I could declare this a week off of our studies. I could be slack with the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, the dishes(we can use paper plates, right?) and generally keeping the house tidy. With my husband gone, I could certainly sit back and just relax, but I'm keeping the home fires burning.

The Cambridge Idioms Dictionary defines the phrase "keep the home fires burning": to keep your home pleasant and in good order while people who usually live with you are away, especially at war. My husband is not at war, but he did serve in the military for many years. When we married, he was serving and for the first five years of our marriage, he was stationed in various places. At first, he was on shift work at a nuclear power plant in Idaho. We then moved to Bremerton, Washington, where he was assigned to a carrier. There were many months of what they called work-ups where they would train at sea in preparation for the long six month deployments. During those long deployments, I had to keep up with the housework, and the 4 acres. I maintained the cars and managed our bills. I wanted to make the old home we were renting pleasant to live in, so I added little touches here and there to improve it. Dried flowers, candles and my grandmother's homemade aprons and doilies did wonders to that old place. A mop and a bucket sure helped, too. I was keeping the home fires burning.

The small farm we were renting had a nice pasture, so I decided to board some sheep for a local sheep breeder. He raised Horned Dorsets. I was able to earn some extra money and help someone at the same time. There was much to learn about sheep which I soon realized.

Part of the rickety old fence came down on one occasion and I had to quickly herd those rams, yes rams, back into the pasture. They were attempting to walk down our long driveway and onto the busy road! As the rams grew older, they were getting bigger. I was told not to befriend them too much, because it could prove very inconvenient for me later on. I understood that all too well. When they were very young, I would walk with them and even play my flute while they gathered around. David played harp to his sheep, so why not flute? There was one deaf lamb that seemed to get into trouble often. Every night, I would call the sheep into their barn, but since this little guy couldn't hear when I called I had to search for him, often with a flashlight in hand. Many times, I found him stuck in the blackberry bushes, caught by his horns. One day, when the sheep were bigger, I was walking in the pasture with them like I had done many times. All of a sudden, they decided it would be fun to cuddle with me. By this time, it wasn't cuddling. I managed to whisper a prayer and scaled the fence faster than you can say, lamb chops! I wasn't close to the gate, so the fence was my only way out.

From the time the rams were small, they loved to hear our old screen door open because that meant I was coming to feed them. As the months went by, this became very difficult. They were much larger and would try to butt and crowd me as I poured the feed. I would try to wait for feeding times when they were far away from the barn, but they would still hear that door and come running. The barn stood in the inner pasture which had a gate attached and I soon learned a technique to protect myself at feeding times. If I closed the gate early enough, I could pour the feed without them in the barn. When they heard me, they would run up to the closed gate, pressing their faces against it, just waiting to enter. When I was done, I would stand back while I opened the gate and would watch the stampede. One particular day, I forgot to close the gate. It soon became feeding time and they were getting dangerously close. Tiptoeing out the door, I hurriedly ran into the inner pasture, but one looked up from the ground, then another and another and they were soon running full speed towards the gate. I reached the gate just in time and slam, it was closed. The sheep were thwarted and I was out of breath, but safe. I'm sure if any of our neighbors saw this adventure, they would have been laughing. I was keeping the home fires burning and staying in shape!

Besides sheep, I had much more to learn living as a young Navy wife. Our home had oil heat, but the furnace broke down a number of times, so we used the wood stove that was in our small kitchen. It kept the house very toasty, but then, the windstorm of 1995 hit the West Coast. That meant power outages, damage to the sheep barn, blown tarps that covered my wood, rain, and then, very wet wood. My husband was deployed again during all of the excitement. And, there I was, hammering shingles back onto the roof of the sheep barn, chopping more wood and trying to keep enough dry to burn in the wood stove. But, I was keeping the home fires burning.

Throughout our married life, I've had to keep the home fires burning. Whether my husband was on a ship, sitting in a week long class for work or just gone for the day, as a wife and mother God commands me to keep going. I am not to do these things just because it's expected. I admit there are times that I just go through the motions, sometimes complaining about my work, but this is not what God desires. As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23-24, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." So, I'm keeping the home fires burning, not only for my husband and my children. I am keeping them burning for the Lord.

Yes, life is really hard. We have our difficult days, sometimes even months and years, but instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we have to choose to praise Him. God is good. He is faithful. He always provides what we need, even it's it only for the next half hour. The saying, "God doesn't give you more than you can handle" is not very accurate. It should be more like, "God doesn't give you anything you can handle". It's only through God, that we can persevere. It's only through Him that we have hope. And, it's only through Him that we can have the power to offer up praise to Him. I cannot keep these fires burning without Him. With Him, I will go on and I will praise the One who gives me strength.

"Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth.
Thine own dear Presence to cheer and to guide.
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness.
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me."