Please welcome today’s guest writer, Cristina Starvo. Cristina graduated from Calvin in 2011 with a major in communications. When she left Michigan in search of her next adventure in 2013, she was hardly prepared to stumble upon Bend, OR and feel like she had come home. She works full-time at a local shop but still has plenty of time to enjoy the simpler things in life, like sunrises and mountaintops and puppies.

I hadn’t planned on landing in Bend, Oregon and instantly feeling like I had found home, but I did.

I found home on the crumbly mountaintops of the Cascades and the endless trails that thread their way through them. I found it in the alpenglow that stained the glassy lakes at sunrise, and I stumbled upon it on a quiet little farm tucked away just north of town.

At the farm are four horses, two goats, two dogs, a cat, and two people. The barn itself stands between the house and the pastures, and it’s the kind of place where if you stand still, close your eyes, and breathe deep, the rest of the world melts away. This place and all its residents have become like family and have taught me a thing or two about life.

. . .

Whenever I get the chance, I’ll do farm chores when I’m out there because 1) I’m pretty sure I was born to be a farmer and 2) there’s always work to be done—and about eighty percent of it is what I call “poop management.” There’s so much to do with poop on a farm: you can scoop it, spread it, pick it, muck it, drag it, dump it, and sometimes, when they think you’re not looking, the dogs will eat it. Horses poop something like eight to eleven times a day. Multiply that by four, and it’s the Sisyphean farm chore, though once you get the hang of it, it’s quite cathartic.

Then there’s the goats. I’ll never forget one of my first encounters with them.

You know that scene from Indiana Jones where an impossibly large boulder rolls on the heels of the beloved protagonist as he runs for his life through a cave? It was like that, only, instead of Harrison Ford, it’s me, and instead of a boulder, it’s two goats running across a pasture, hell-bent on taking me down.

Don’t let social media and viral videos fool you with their narrative about goats being cute, fuzzy animals that frolic and flip and occasionally—hilariously—wear pajamas.

It’s false.

Urban and Serendipity are a combined 300 pounds of pure personality, armed with thick skulls they’re fond of hurling at my body with impressive velocity. Serendipity is considerably smaller in stature but downright pugnacious; and, ironically, I’ve never found our interactions to be of fortunate happenstance. The most intimidating thing about Urban is his girth, but quite honestly, his goofy attempts at affection are almost endearing.

The first time Serendipity and I stood face to face, she rose up on her hind legs with her head cocked for a kill shot. I did what I knew best: I ran.

I dodged the initial attack, but every time I’d stop my retreat, Serendipity would let out her battle cry, tuck her head, and charge me. And then there was Urban with his mouth full of grass, galumphing along in an effort to keep up, his magnificent, white beard swaying back and forth.

I’ve since then proffered my fair share of food bribes to earn favor and secure safe passage in their proximity. They almost tolerate me now.

Time on the farm never ceases to make me smile, which is why for a while I used to consider it the perfect place to escape to when “the real world” became overwhelming, a bad habit I formed as a kid. I’m notorious for burying emotions and avoiding adversity and never dealing with things because all of that was too risky. It was a solid tactic.

Until it wasn’t. A funny thing happens when you think you’re invincible. Suddenly, you’re not. My failure to deal with a long-time, lingering depression and an abandoned faith finally caught up with me almost a year ago and knocked me on my ass, leaving me confused and scared and at a loss for what to do.

I tried pushing it all down again (maybe I just wasn’t burying this stuff deep enough?) and every time my friends would invite me out to their farm, I’d accept, still trying to outrun my issues, kinda like I (tried to) outrun the goats.

Spoiler alert: that didn’t work.

As I spent more time out there, however, there was a shift. The farm became less a place for me to run away from the things that scared me most and more a place I’d have the courage to face them. It was a place that shone bits of light and revealed pockets of meaning in the muddled mess I was navigating. The courage was nothing I mustered up on my own but instead a testament to God providing a place I felt strong enough to dig in and learn—learn to embrace imperfection, to accept grace, to keep hoping, and to love a God who loves me. For that, I will always be grateful.

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