This family photo was as forced as the smiles on our faces. Behind each of our smiles was exhaustion, disappointment, frustration, stress and the faith of the tiniest mustard seed.
This picture was taken as a reminder of our first year with steers and how we failed and took a hard hit. It was taken to be looked back on as the year that almost broke us – but didn’t. The year that taught us empathy and compassion for those who will encounter the same in years to come. We would look back at this photograph and celebrate, remembering this moment… and see there was more than five people in this photo.
We are not a family that comes from a background or even heavy support from a family in agriculture. And, financially we are your average american family that makes sure our kids have what they need, but not always much more. The decision to put our children into 4H and FFA was met with hesitation and if it weren’t for the option of a 4H or FFA loan it would have been impossible. So, when we learned early Wednesday morning that only 1 of our 3 steers made weight you can imagine our heartbreak.
Still though, I remained strong as my husband was angry and as Gracie and Cole were devastated. I told myself then that God had a plan, that “God doesn’t bankrupt a family for no reason.” And, I believed that. Bankrupt is a heavy term on such a small scale but to us this felt insurmountable. A mountain we would never be able to climb or move alone.
You can’t see in this photograph the heartbreak Gracie felt when the certified weigher called her back to see the numbers on the scale. The look on her face when he told her that her steer was 13lbs away from making weight and could not sell. There is no sign of the tears she cried feeling as though the past ten months and over five hundred hours of work was for nothing.
This photograph doesn’t show the same heartbreak for Cole who received the same news as Gracie, except he was only short by ten pounds. It doesn’t show that he worked mercilessly with a steer who weighed the least when we bought him and gained the most out of all three.
You can’t see behind Gage’s smile that he would have easily handed his steer over to his brother or sister because it’s been a rough and long ten months. Each showing or work day was exhausting. He had taken a physical beating from his steer dragging his 76lb body around the ring time and time again. And, he was done.
You can’t see the financial stress on mine or Matt’s face. The fights that followed not just during the project but once we learned only 1 of the 3 would be selling to earn a return on their hard work and dedication. Or that emotionally, I broke down the day before over what appeared to be about open-toed shoes but was really about so much more. You can’t see that I was not only upset at but also questioning God… all you see is a family smiling and moving forward.
I’ve been angry with God two times in my life and as quickly as I had remained strong for my family, I became weak and my husband became strong. We traded places. Anger and frustration took over as we had recently began tithing and making that a priority and it was proving to be difficult in general and then this happened. We do not waste our money, we work hard and try to live a giving and kind life. But here we were getting knocked down… again! What lesson was God teaching us and when would we finally catch a break?
Intermittently while being angry crosses would appear. I could easily see a cross in everything and a sense of peace would temporarily take over. Families around us stepped up and helped our children in a variety of ways to ensure we had items needed for fair, lessons in fitting, grooming etc. Things money could never have afforded, a pouring of such blessing that it overflowed what we needed or could hold. God’s promise of tithing, Malachi 3:10-11 isn’t an overpouring of just a financial blessing, it’s a blessing in all forms. In these bible verses God challenges his followers to trust him with a certain amount and in return promises to return blessings in unimaginable ways.
While my faith was hanging by a thread, behind the scenes God was wrapping it with leather and twine. As we stood and took this picture as a family of five – we smiled. You can’t see God in this picture, but he’s there. You can’t see the families, advisors and friends who loaned us equipment, property, time or energy but they’re in this photo too. You can’t see the community who stands behind and supports our youth in this photo, but they too are there. This is a photo of support and not of failure.
Within minutes of taking this photograph two men walked up and offered both our children who didn’t make weight an amount that more than covered the costs of their loans and also provided a cushion enough for next year’s project. These men were impressed with our children, their buyers letters, the way they presented themselves and their attitudes. And at the auction a local company bought Gage’s steer affording the same blessing and opportunity.
These men blessed our family. That local business blessed our family. And, we will never forget the moments that followed this photograph for all the years to come.