A Letter to My Neice on Her First Birthday

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Dear Annie,

Today, you woke up to find your house filled with cake, balloons, and presents. Grandma and Grandpa are there, too, having driven 12 hours just to see you. Mommy dressed you in a new shirt and Daddy hung pink and purple decorations.

Today, we celebrate the day you were born.

It’s also a day to remember, and to feel deeply, that you are wanted. It’s one day of the year that says directly to you, “You, Annie Grace, are invited into life.”

It may not seem important now. All this inviting stuff. I mean, presents are way more exciting, right? But someday, it will be important for you to know, to remember, to celebrate at least once a year, that you belong here. In this world. At this time and place.

As you get older, get more accustomed to this thing we call “life,” you’ll discover our culture isn’t one of inclusion. Blame it on American individualism or simply on poor manners. Whatever the source, we aren’t a culture known for welcoming others into our life. It’s seen in the postage-stamp yards that surround the houses of suburbia. It’s why people in populous cities experience deep loneliness. And it’s why even churches have a hard time opening their doors to the unfamiliar and the strange.

But your experience of “un-belonging” will be much more personal. You’ll feel it be the day you’re picked last to play on a dodge ball team in gym class. You’ll experience it when when a girlfriend betrays you and talks behind your back. And again when a coworker tells you that your work isn’t good enough or when you are losing hope, waiting for Mr. Right.

On those days, in those moments, it will be so easy to think that the world does not want you. That you don’t belong in this crazy place filled with disappointment, hurt and fatigue.

Which is why today is so incredibly important. And every birthday to come. And not for the presents and the balloons and the parties. And not for even “turning another year older.” Your birthday is important because it’s a day for you to remember—and for those in your life to affirm—that God chose you. Of the billion other people He could have created, God decided to invite you into life, to be conceived, to be born. To show up.

And I, for one, am so glad you’re here.


This post was inspired, in part, by Emily Freeman’s wise words on Chatting at the Sky:

You have been given your life, what you hold in your hands, the ground beneath your feet. You have been asked to show up. How do I know? Because you were born. Show up as you are, not as you think you ought to be.Don’t run from your calling, no matter what it is….There isn’t one great thing you were made to do. There is one great God you were made to glorify….Throughout your life, you’ll do that in a million little ways.

Published: Edible Kansas City Magazine

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Last summer, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Kansas City. Aside from spending time becoming acquainted with a great guy, I made myself useful and photographed Food Now—a fun, festive foodie event held in the city’s West Bottoms. Turns out, one of my images from that evening now graces the cover of Edible Kansas City. On the back cover is a Food Now photograph, advertising this year’s event.

A big shout out and thank you to Tamara at EdibleKC for making this happen!

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In Pursuit of Passion

Everywhere I turn, I see my generation as a collective, passionate people. We are passionate about photography. About music. About the perfect brew. Passionate about Uganda and sustainable agriculture and travel. Passionate about Red vs. Blue and the Blackhawks and skinny blue jeans.

But most of all, it seems, we are passionate about passion itself.

Growing up, us Millennials—the moniker given to my generation—feasted on a diet saturated in encouragement to “discover our true passions.” Whenever we asked “What should I do with my life?” our teachers and parents often advised us to “follow your passion” wherever that may lead. (1)

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed this Millennial-specific career advice working itself out in two distinct ways. On one hand, there is no shortage of twenty-somethings espousing unusually strong passions for everything and anything, from the grandiose to the mundane. People in this group tend to be the creative, artist-type. The entrepreneurs, using and exaggerating their passions to serve as a selling point for their wares, a raison d’être for their business and being.

Take, for example, the photographer—an entrepreneurial enterprise with which I am well-acquainted. Visit the website of any young photographer and their “About Me” paragraph will read like a script: “I bought my first camera when I was seven and have been passionate about taking pictures ever since.” Or the indie coffee shop owner that claims “coffee preparation is my passion.” Or the not-for-profit director who claims to be part of a “group of passionate and determined creative problem-solvers who want to make a difference.” (2)

In all of these endeavors, it’s not so much the end goal that matters but being able to boast a sense of passion while getting there. In many ways, passion has become a generational code-word to validate our pursuits—the profitable and not-so-profitable, the purposeful and not-so-purposeful. Because we were challenged to “pursue our passions,” admitting to doing anything less admits failure. And so we’ve forced ourselves to become passionate about everything, not because we ABSOLUTELY love these things and certainly not because they are worthy of our passions but because a claim to passion allows us to claim some measure of success—at least by the Millennial’s definition.

Then there is a second group in my generation who heard the same advice to “follow your passion” but have yet to find their passion. While the first group consists of creative entrepreneurs, this group is made up of the philosophers and academics, those who realize passion should follow value rather than define value. Of course, this approach makes passion a hard-to-find commodity. While their peers are out finding passions in fake mustaches and Instagram, this second group is waiting for passion to find them.

And wait we do. We wait while working at jobs beneath our level of education. We wait while floating from overseas teaching gigs to yearlong mission trips. And even some of us simply sit and wait. In all of these situations, the goal is to delay commitment to any one career that may—but very likely may not—be our passion. We’d rather fail by “doing nothing” than fail by pursuing something less-than our passion.

GUILTY AS CHARGED
I must confess that, in true Millennial form, I’m a guilty member of both groups. On my good days, I can muster enough energy to pronounce myself passionate about many things—photography, farming, blogging and good design. What’s more, I’m lucky enough to be pursuing each of these “passions” with little holding me back.

And then there are my bad days. Days when my passion still seems “out there” and “waiting to be discovered.” Days when I wake up waiting for that reason to get out of bed in the morning, for that “calling” and “purpose” to use its mighty force to pull me to my feet.

And on the on the rare, in-between days, I’m able to see both approaches to life for what they are: the first approach is an offensive one based in self-validation and not a little bit of vainglory; the second approach a defensive one based in fear.

And on those days, in a right frame of mind, I realize that neither approach lies in tandem with the message of the Gospel I claim to believe.

CHRIST’S PASSION 
This doesn’t mean that the pursuit of passion goes to the wayside in the Gospel story (Millennials don’t have it all wrong). What this does mean, I think, is that when pursuing the life of a Christian, instead of asking ourselves “What is my passion?” we should ask the question, “What is Christ’s passion?”

The entire last week of Christ’s life is dubbed in Catholic circles “Christ’s Passion.” (3) Perhaps it’s a bit juvenile of me to play with words like this, but I fancy the suggestion that Christ’s passion—His gets-strongly-excited-about-can’t stop-thinking-about-wakes-up-to-talk-about passion—is the same as His Passion—His death-on-a-cross-for-the-redemption-of-mankind passion.

I imagine that if believers—especially us Millenials—started aligning our passions with Christ’s Passion, we’d discover incredible freedom in our own pursuit of passion.

For those of us seeking to legitimize ourselves and our pursuits by claiming them as “our passions,” a change of focus toward Christ’s passion gives us all the validation we could ever need—Christ’s death on the cross in our stead is justification enough for all that we are and all that we do.

For those of us still waiting to discover our passion before we commit to what only may be the “right” or “wrong” endeavor, Christ’s passion lets us know that there is grace enough to cover all our doubts.

So, as it turns out, teachers, parents, and pastors were right to teach my generation to pursue passion. What they failed to teach—or we failed to learn—is that it’s not our passion we should pursue, but Christ’s.

And in Christ’s Passion there is no failure.

FOOTNOTES

  1. This September 2008 article from the Harvard Business Review reports the steady growth of the phrase “follow your passion” as standard career advice during the 1990s—precisely when my generation came of age.
  2. Direct quotations from actual websites.
  3. Truth be told, it wasn’t until after the 13th century, that the word word “passion” referred to anything but to Christ’s death on a cross. Whats more, it would take another 300 years for the meaning of “passion” to expand to its current, nuanced meanings. This article from Slate Magazine explains how the word “passion” evolved to its current Catholic and non-Catholic meanings.

 

Fair Oaks Dairy Farm Tour

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Anyone who drives between Indianapolis and Chicago should know well the billboards advertising Fair Oaks Dairy Farm that sideline I-65. I’ve personally driven past the exit for Fair Oaks Farms a countless number of times, always with a thought in my mind to stop and visit. Two weekends ago, I finally made good on that thought.

Located in northwest Indiana, this dairy farm is the “largest agritourism destination in America.” Large doesn’t even begin to describe Fair Oaks Farm. And “agritourism” is somewhat a misnomer, too. In reality, the farm is a massive cow-themed amusement park focused on enticing families (and, more importantly, their kids) to dairy heaven.

There is plenty that could be said of this expansive enterprise, but several resources (see “Further Reading” below) give fair account of what you might expect to see—and feel—if you were to visit Fair Oaks Farm. For now, I’ll simply allow my images give you a visual sneak peak.

Have you visited Fair Oaks Farm? Share your experience in the comments.

FURTHER READING:

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A view of the barns and water retention tank.

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A view of the barns and water retention tank.

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The barns (on left) house the thousands of dairy cows at Fair Oaks Farm. The brick building (lower right) houses the “milking rotunda.”

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From a panoramic window, visitors can look down upon the entire milking rotunda. TV screens play a video detailing the milking process at the farm.

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Cows enter the milking rotunda, are hooked up to a milking machine, and take a circular ride. The milking machine automatically falls off the udder when there is no more milk. At the end of the “ride,” cows enter back into the barn.

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All of the milk is immediately stored in these large milk tanks, located just off of the milking rotunda.

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Behind the main Visitor’s Center at Fair Oaks Farm is a well-manicured “amusement park” arena, complete with games, gardens, and go-karts. On the right, a large cow welcomes visitors to the “Birthing Barn.”

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A large space enclosed with by glass offers a panoramic view to a live birth of a cow.

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A newborn calf drinks from his mother in the stadium-styled “Birthing Barn” at Fair Oaks Farm.

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A baby (female) heifer sits in her shelter outside the main barns at Fair Oaks Farm in Northwest, Indiana. The baby cows stay in these pens for two years after which they are brought in with the larger herd and bred.

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Fair Oaks Farm draws crowds of families to tour the farm, attracting kids with a moon walk and climbing wall outside of their main Visitor’s Center.

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More games and kid-friendly attractions fill the Visitor’s Center at Fair Oaks Farm. Kid-centric media (playing on large screens on the milk carton in back) inform kids why drinking milk is important.

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Visitors can try their hand at “milking” a cow (left) and take a ride around the “cow-ousel.”

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Ice cream—and other treats—are available at the Fair Oaks Farm Cafe.

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The gift shop offers patrons a piece of Fair Oaks Farm to take home.