Harvest: A Mystery of Sacrifice and Life

Just thinking…….

What do Willie Loman, Iowa corn and Jesus have in common? Read on….

October.  It’s harvest time here in southern Iowa.  Because of greater than average rainfall this summer, the harvest promises to be bountiful.    As I drive out of town, clouds of dust show where the farmers are working.


Great machines roll through the fields and huge trucks carry away the grain.  This picture was taken of the harvest on the flat prairie fields in our area, where the corn meets the horizon miles away.


(Photo by Brenda Burkhiser Jeffers)

The concept of harvest is ancient.  Early civilizations knew the importance of planting and harvesting in order to live.  For centuries, it was painstaking work by hand or with animals.  Even today, the crops are harvested this way by the Amish in our area.

th-10    th-4

While modern machinery is huge, it was not long ago that harvesting machinery was relatively modest and not very technical.

th    th-7

But whether large or small, or ancient or new, the harvest must go on.  It is essential in this circle of life.

My father was a farmer.  His farm was small and hilly.  He worked with small old machinery.  But in the end, he did what farmers have done in the past….. bring in the harvest….. and what farmers do today…… bring in the harvest.

After the spring planting, and as the summer months go by, the farmer eyes the skies, prays for the right amount of rain at the right time, hopes the markets stay steady, readies his machinery and tools, and prepares the trucks, bins and barns.  He chops the weeds that choke out the good grain.  He holds his breath as storm clouds gather in the west.  And then at just the right time, the tractors, combines and corn pickers head out to the fields.

My father would harvest well into the night.  We would take sandwiches and mason jars of water out to the fields for him.   There was a narrow window of time between rains where he could safely harvest .  I remember times when it rained too much, turning the fields into mud pits.  And Dad had to wait until the ground froze to finish the harvest.


Despite  growing up on a farm and knowing the drama of the farm, I did not become a farmer.  I became a teacher, instructing my students in literature, composition, speech, theater, and journalism.  It was a different kind of drama.   One of my favorite pieces to discuss with my students was Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.    Willie Loman was tragic, and as a farmer’s daughter, I could see some aspects of Willie’s actions that my city students could not see.

Corn.   How did it go from this  th-9

to this corn sprout

to this  cornplant

to this  th-8

to this  th-5.

None of it could happen if the kernel did not die.  The kernel had to be put into the dark soil, with the right amount of heat and moisture, and then the kernel died.   Out of that death, came the sprout that developed into the stalk of corn.

Willie Loman understood this cycle of life.  He had spent his life in failure: failure as a father, failure as a faithful husband, and failure as a salesman.  His past was painful, his present was fragile and he could not see a future.  In his horribly distorted reasoning, he decided to plant a garden.  It is dark, and he traces rows in the small yard which receives little sunlight.  He drops in the seeds, mumbling to himself about giving his sons another chance.  In a few minutes, Willie will leave home and have a deliberate car accident.  He dies, like the seed.  His damaged mind  had begun to equate the seed, dying in order to bring new life,  with his death, which he believed would bring new life to his no-good sons.willieloman

Willie had an idea of this circle of life, but he left out one very important part:  his life insurance.   He did not pay his premium.   And so his sacrifice of himself came to nothing.  There would be no life insurance to give his sons a new start in life.  There would be no harvest.


Jesus said, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!.”  (John 4:35)

I don’t know what grain Jesus might have been referring to in this verse.  th-6  Here in Iowa, whether it is corn, wheat, or beans, the plants get lighter and lighter as the harvest approaches.  The fields are no longer green.  But Jesus was not referring to plants; he was referring to a world filled with people who needed to know about Him.  Look!  There they are!  Go and harvest!

I’ve been going in a few different directions with this concept of harvest.

 Let me try to tie the strands together.  

1.  When the kernel of corn dies, there is a sacrifice of form.  The corn no longer is the intact kernel.  But the result of that sacrifice (the harvest) cannot occur without the preparation and wisdom of the farmer.  And even there, the farmer must make his own sacrifices of time and labor in order to bring in the crop.

2.  When Willie Loman died, there was a sacrifice of life.  His body and soul were no longer intact.  But the desired harvest of that sacrifice would not happen because Willie had not prepared with wisdom concerning his life insurance.

3.  When Christ died on the cross, there was a sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16).   The fields of humans are ready for His message of life.  But that complete harvest won’t happen without the preparation of believers to share Christ’s message.  And  yes, it calls for sacrifice on the part of believers:  sacrifice of money, time, and labor.

Harvest.  Life.  Sacrifice.  It’s all one.   The sacrifice of one seed to bring forth many seeds, which will continue to nurture life.  The sacrifice of One who was both God and man,  to bring forth many people into eternal life.


O Father…..   Let me not be a Willie Loman, understanding some aspects of life, but not grasping the part that would give meaning to his sacrifice.  Let me not be a Willie Loman, operating in darkness and not in light.  Let me not be a Willie Loman, who lacked wisdom and preparation for the harvest he desired.  Father, equip me with Your wisdom.  Give me courage to go to the harvest, and not let Christ’s death be for nothing.  

To God Be The Glory…..



Mother’s Day, One Week Later

Just thinking…….

Mother’s Day was a week ago today, and I’m just now getting up the nerve to write about it. My mind fashioned all these words and phrases that I was going to say, and then it fell flat and I chickened out. Mother’s Day is tough for me to write about.

It’s not that I had a bad mom. Far far from that. Mom was a caring down to earth parent who sacrificed mightily for us. I’ll never be able to thank her enough for how she raised me. She is still alive, but going blind and has several health problems. But I’m blessed to still have a mom at my age.

And it’s not that I had a bad mom-in-law. I loved my mom-in-law like my own mom, and never doubted her love and care for me. She gave me the precious gift of my husband, and I am forever grateful that she mothered him as she did.

No, none of that. The mom that scares me is….. me. I look at my mom and my mother-in-law, and think, “I’ll never measure up to them.” Sometimes I think I’m in the running for the worst mother of the year.

Is this common for us moms? Do we doubt outselves, compare ourselves, chastise ourselves for our puny incompetent mothering? Am I alone in this?

I didn’t give birth; I adopted. Right there I felt second rate. All around me were girls and women having baby after baby, and I just cried every month. I couldn’t go to to baby showers for friends because I’d cry. Roe v. Wade made me furious, in part, because I would have loved the chance to carry a baby and couldn’t. Well meaning folks would jokingly ask when we planned to start a family. I would just stare at them and then turn and walk off, crying.

When we received the call that a baby boy was waiting for us to pick up, I got all stuttery. The agency had told us that it would be 5 years at the least before any babies would be available. So we didn’t put a nursery together or accumulate any baby things. I didn’t want to look at those cute little things for 5 years and feel the emptiness. So when the call came after just a year of waiting, we had 4 hours to put it all together and pick up the baby. As we drove to the agency, the Hubs kept hyperventilating, and I kept thinking, “Can I do this? Can I do this? Will I be a good mom?”

When the agency worker put the fat little baby into my arms, the child looked up at me and started to cry. I put him into the Hub’s arms, and the baby cooed and fell asleep. I had just failed my first mommy test.

I was a stay at home mom for the first couple of years. The budget was really tight and I missed the teaching job that I had. My mom had stayed home and raised all of us. Was I bad mom for wanting to teach again? I enjoyed our sweet baby, and we had fun together during those years.

But when a chance came for a job where I could take my 2 year old along, I jumped at it. It was a good deal. My child had playmates at the child care center, and I was just down the the hall. Really, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.

When he was in first grade, I went back to full time teaching. My child and I had the same hours, the same vacations. We were not in the same building, but he was in the same building as the Hubs. I thought, again, that we had a good situation. But teachers keep strange hours. I would come home with hours of papers to grade. So I was at home with our child, but still…………. Mommy guilt again.

Our child was active, not hyperactive, but active. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body, but his impulsiveness would get him into trouble. It wasn’t bad stuff, but things like trying to jump through a fork in a tree…… and miscalculating. He ended up in the emergency room more than once from all those little stunts. Was I a bad mom because he ran full force at life and got hurt? He had a bone tumor that stunted growth of one leg slightly. When he complained of pain, I thought he was just trying to get out of cleaning his room. More guilt….. (extended surgery was successful, by the way, and he was a star track runner in high school, whew….)

Then there were the learning disabilities. I was a teacher, for crying out loud, and I didn’t even see the disabilities. How could I have missed this? Those years of his struggles in school: could it have been better if I had just seen the disability earlier? badmombadmom……

He’s made good choices and bad choices in life. While I take little credit for the good, I shoulder the blame for the bad. Don’t we all make bad choices? Yes, but I should have…..

So for Mother’s Day, I presented my self with a big box of blame and guilt and worries. I wrapped it all with droopy black ribbon and told myself that it was all I deserved. I was a flop of a mother. I had ruined his life. Then he came and hugged me, and gave me bags of wild mushrooms that he had picked and cleaned. And he breaded and fried them, and I feasted on this gift. I looked at his three little children and feasted on that gift.

Yeah, I was a bad mom, no doubt about it. I am tops at looking back and pointing out every mistake that I ever made. Worst mother of the year award? I am standing up and moving forward to receive it. And that’s why it is difficult for me to write about Mother’s Day. I just can’t seem to forgive myself for not being perfect. I have a hard time believing that I really did try to do my best, even when I failed.

Father, I thank You that I didn’t have to be perfect to come to You. Help me accept myself as You accept me. Help to grow in faith and love. Help me to be a better mother and to know that it’s OK to do my best. Amen

To God be the glory……

PS: I wrote this in 2009, but just now getting up the nerve to publish……

Published in: on February 20, 2011 at 2:18 am  Comments (1)  
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