South Texas Surprises

On December 1 we started a workamping job on a ranch in South Texas and were met with quite a few surprises.

AS TX picHaving never even been to a ranch in South Texas before, we knew we had a lot to learn, but I can honestly say we weren’t really prepared for some of the surprises that met us there. Not all of the surprises were good ones, but we did our best to turn each one into a learning opportunity. Here are just a few things we learned during our time there.

  • Hard work is valuable, even if it’s something I don’t like to do. When we arrived, I fully expected that working on a ranch would involve lots of the outdoor stuff we love to do. And while Matthew was able to do a bit of that, my job was working in a kitchen, serving meals, scrubbing pots and scraping food. Being someone who would rather be doing basically anything else rather than cooking or cleaning inside at any given moment, this reality was quite a shock, and I definitely shed a few thousand tears. But in the end I had to remind myself that although I had absolutely no talent or desire for it (and still don’t) and no idea that I would ever have a foodservice job, God knew it all along and so there must be something to learn through the experience. Although I’m still processing, and probably will be for a long time, I can say that something I came away with was that working hard comes pretty easy when I’m doing things I love to do, or in the wide open outdoors, but when circumstances are different, I don’t do so well. Yet, I still need to be committed to doing a good job, the best I can at least, because working hard is valuable in its own right.
  • Leisure time is a gift. We were raised by hardworking parents who taught us the value of a hard day’s work and likewise the value of rest and relaxation with our family and friends. But that really isn’t the way it works everywhere. In fact, some people don’t understand folks like us who like days off to spend with our family. And while very limited down-time doesn’t really allow enough space for a person to build a marriage or invest in their children, or write, or read, or even think straight, I had to remind myself that although I only lived that way for a little over a month, little to no down-time is a reality for some people week after week, year after year. I believe I can now see how, sadly, work becomes life for so many people who have never known any other way, and this might explain their attitude towards the rest of us. I am so thankful to have been taught the value of rest and relaxation with my family and friends, and the value of leisure time to rest, and I am so fortunate to have the choice to be able to get back to a place where those things are the norm rather than the exception. I hope I never take weekends and leisure time for granted again.
  • There are many different ways to enjoy nature. We love to enjoy creation through outdoor exercise and exploration – hiking, biking or walking for a few hours each day, but since free time was very limited on the ranch, we had to learn that there are other ways to enjoy nature too, like walking outside and immediately having our breath taken away by the sunset, or catching a glimpse of the wonder in our child’s eyes at seeing roadrunners for the first time. I honestly am overjoyed to now be back to the great outdoors – the mountains, the ocean, and the forests full of trees, but I found the desert beautiful in its own way as well, and I learned that we can find beauty when we look for it.
  • We may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. We take seasonal workamping jobs to help fund our travels, to give us an opportunity to become part of different communities across the nation, to learn new things, and to meet new people, and with every single job we fully expect to make new friends extremely easy, which we always have, and that makes our life on the road so much fun – for us and for the kids. We love to learn from people and share our life with them, talking about all kinds of things, sharing meals, and getting to know all kinds of people from all kinds of places. However, in Texas we were quickly reminded that, surprisingly, we’re just not everyone’s cup of tea. Maybe people are supposed to know that about themselves, but I think we normally try to ignore it, because every time someone treats us badly or just doesn’t like us, we are completely shocked. However, I had to remind myself that if I say this traveling thing is all about showing love to people and learning all we can, then we must value all kinds of people regardless of how they treat us or how different they are from us in attitudes, values, personalities, behavior, or education. Last month it was more difficult than we’ve ever known before, but nonetheless we had to keep reminding ourselves that we do not have the right to be ugly, rude, or mean, even if that would be the easy response. Kindness is something we must choose, and thankfully we can choose it by God’s grace. So, although there were definitely growing pains in this area, we can confidently say that there has been growing along with the pain, so we’re thankful for it.
  • Learning and homeschool are way more than books. I love to teach; I have always loved to teach ever since I can remember. As a child I would set up my bedroom like a classroom and teach my baby dolls all kinds of new things (and even my little sister when she’d let me). So when I became the mother of real babies, I knew I wanted to teach them myself – to watch them learn to read, to see them write their names for the first time, to witness the magic of writing a research paper or discovering that x and y can be more than just letters for the first time. And so, our family homeschool is quite structured most days. I keep detailed records about what we do, how many days are “school days” and how many aren’t, and I even have backup lists for my lists. But when we found ourselves with such a strenuous work schedule and almost no instruction time during our stay there, I quickly had to adapt, adjust, and think about school a little more broadly. With family time limited, every opportunity together had to be used for encouragement, discovery, and development. We read books together at all times of the night, called out spelling words while washing dishes, played educational board games while eating our dinner, and talked about math questions long after we all should have been in bed. We also watched roadrunners race through the roads, listened to coyotes call day and night, practiced ping pong, spotted deer, hogs, doves, quail, javelinas, and turkeys, and even learned a few cooking tricks from a very talented chef! Honestly, I don’t see myself giving up the math quizzes and workbooks any time soon, but I certainly have learned in a new way that education is way more than just books, and I’m thankful for a new depth to that knowledge.
  • Pride is not beautiful. I have never thought of myself as a proud person, but the moment I learned that my new job involved food service and cleaning some really nasty stuff, I found myself in quite a personal predicament. I immediately wanted to run away and go back to my “real job” – the one where I wear nice clothes and earn good money and am respected for my resume and computer skills and spreadsheets and editing talent. I just wanted to shout from the rooftops, “I don’t do things like this! I am supposed to be workamping to enjoy the great outdoors and do cool and different stuff in breathtaking places – not scrub food from people’s plates and fry their chips!” But I knew I couldn’t say that kind of thing, because pride is not a mark of beauty. In fact, pride is pretty ugly, and it’s an ugly side of myself I saw a lot of last month. I had to do the menial stuff, and I had to realize that I am not too good to be doing it – someone has to, and it might as well be me. Also, I had to realize that I could do it with a smile on my face, and even though I really didn’t enjoy it, I could try to find some fun in it as well. So, would I choose to work in a kitchen? No, I don’t think so, but I’m glad it happened because through it I discovered something I needed to work on about myself. And also, I believe this experience made me even more compassionate, respect, and understanding for the men and women who are just as smart, just as talented, just as capable, and perhaps just as miserable in the kitchen as I was, but who have no other way to support their families, so they do it day after day, year after year. Two-fold lesson for sure.
  • Thankfulness is healing.  On the really hard days, finding something to be thankful for completely changed our perspective. Like the time we saw our first real live gigantic cactus and our first roadrunner in person! Because of this experience, we have become more thankful for every single second we get to spend together as a family. We are thankful to have been raised by parents who value education, thankful that our children have 4 grandparents who value learning and support our children’s education in any way they can. We are thankful for the opportunity to see God’s grace and begin to see things His way, realizing that some people never make that choice. We are thankful that, even though there are people who don’t care for us and therefore treat us badly, there are plenty of people in the world who love us, people who feel their world is a better place because we’re in it, thankful that even though some people may never understand where we are coming from, we can still hold our heads high and try to do our best. Thankful for our health, that we are able to work and play together. Thankful for the life-long lessons that sometimes come in the form of difficult surprises. Thankful for a fresh start to every new day. Thankful that when something doesn’t work out, God always brings along something even better that does, maybe even something we wouldn’t have stumbled upon if we hadn’t been tripped up by that difficult thing in the first place. And even though that can be extremely difficult to see at the time, it sure is exhilarating when that new and better thing comes along. In this case, it happens to be an opportunity to earn income apart from workamping that will free up loads of other travel options for our family, and we are extremely thankful in ways we probably wouldn’t be without going through the hard time.
  • The battle for good cell service continues. It seems that nearly every state has a dead spot for cell service, and that dead spot is where we end up workamping for a few months or more. South Texas was no exception. We know we should be accustomed to this reality by now, but we’re still surprised every single time there’s no service – every single time. One of these days our children and grandchildren will laugh at us for having to put up with no cell service, and I have to admit that I’ll be glad when those days are here (especially if we’re still trying to earn income online and video chat with family and friends). In the meantime, we’ll bite that expensive bullet and jump on the cell booster band wagon and stop complaining about it. Lesson learned.
  • Some things just don’t work out. I love the Holiday season, even this past one when we had to work nearly every single day through it. I love celebrating the start of a new year, and my prayer for 2016 is that it’s the best year so far – for you – for us – for everyone on the planet. But over the past month we were misunderstood a lot, with most of our best efforts turning around for the worst. I lost my temper a good bit,  I made quite a few mistakes, and I became so frustrated at so many ridiculous things (way more than usual), which made me so thankful that every single day is a fresh start. Every single day we all have the opportunity to do good. Every single day we all have the opportunity to be different – to be better than we were yesterday. Every single day we can help someone, we can choose to smile, we can choose to show kindness, we can choose to love. Some things just don’t work out, and although my little ol’ self wishes it weren’t true, it is, and not only is it true, it’s actually okay. There is another day, another chance, another job, another group of friends, even, and the not-working-out part is okay too. This is probably the most valuable thing we learned in Texas, and I hope we never forget it.

So, overall, we are not disappointed that we chose the South Texas workamping position, even though in the end we were not able to finish it. In fact, we are glad for the challenge, glad for the life lessons, glad for the surprises, glad for the sandpaper that will make us perhaps a little more polished, and although it was probably the most challenging month and a half since we set out on this Wandering Nation journey, the most challenging work situation and relationship troubles by far, we still have so much to be thankful for, and we know that the difficult months only make the good ones that much better.

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