Saturday, January 01, 2005

Christmas 2003


There are many ways that I could begin this seasonal greeting. Often Advent dawns on Bentley Farm with a burst of joyous enthusiasm. The carols, the many candle lights, the oxen pulling a bobsled of smiling children through that fresh first snow often usher feelings of euphoric happiness. We speak of joy and hope, peace and goodwill unto all men and once again remember that life has more meaning than the small cracks of everyday living allow us to realize. But I do not wish to be another clanging cymbal, masking the weariness of this life with a hurried, “Merry Christmas.” God became man because the hurt in our lives was real. The gift of Immanuel speaks to the life that knows its need for a hope as real as the hurt. It is as Isaiah foretold it, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” I greet you this season, mindful that God With Us is not a phrase of abstract hope but the very gift that offers wholeness to the brokenness of our lives and to the reality of our sickness, healing.

Two years of life in Oregon, away from the family at Bentley Farm, certainly opened my eyes to the prominence of “the-way-things-ought-not-to-be.” My return home has provided much rejuvenation. Family is a haven of sorts, a place for a remembrance that love can and does exist in the world.


Dad missed me a lot when I was gone. I missed him a lot too. If asked about the highlight of his year, Dad will recall the trip that the nine family members made from New York to Oregon for my graduation from George Fox University. For several months preceeding this trip Dad would call me and always say, “I’m coming to take you home with me, baby. You’ll be ours again.” My heart has so much love in it for Dad. Dad has always been a man of commitment to high ideals, even bringing some to believe that his middle initials, N.N., stand for No Nonsense. And while Dad has certainly not compromised his ideals with time, I was very aware, in coming home, of a patience and a gentleness that trust in the sovereignty of God has added to his deterministic idealism. When Dad and I were hiking in the Shawangunks this summer he made the comment that one of the most encouraging things for him is to see are the ways that, in every day life, people respond with a “Yes” to God. This made an impression on me, especially given that Dad spends the in and out of his days working with criminals who often have a much less than encouraging past. When Dad was five he had determined that he wanted to be a lawyer and a farmer. The farmer side of Dad increasingly takes form as his sons get older and start embracing new projects. Dad has almost become the hired hand of my brothers. Now that Isaac and Nathaniel can drive the tractors, Dad gets the sometimes less than desirable job of stacking the hay in humid one-hundred degree barns. But Dad doesn’t mind a good day’s work. In fact, whenever one of us starts to complain about a job, Dad always says with a little smirk, “Tell me one job that I don’t like.” I think that we’ve yet to answer that question.


Mom possesses so many gifts of tenderness. Mom is an especially good listener. All nine of us would readily agree to this, and when nine people agree that someone is a good listener, you know that someone does a lot of listening! Dad and I are the biggest talkers and often it does happen that we get slightly possessive of Mom’s very gracious ears. The problem occurs when I am on the phone with Mom and Dad can’t hear the conversation. Somewhere in the conversation comes the sad voice in the background, “Jan, I want to be with you too.” When I am physically home the problem isn’t quite the same. Mom and I will be talking with our feet up on the fireplace and somewhere in the conversation Dad will poke his head in and ask what is going on. This is our cue to invite him into the conversation, which we do gladly. Truth be told, Dad is usually just the first one waiting to be invited into the conversation. Given enough time, the crowd of Angells, gathered around the fireplace grows until all ten are accounted for. But Mom would say that she loves it, just as she would say that she finds joy and meaning in all of the other incredible acts of service that she does for the family. She does more food service now than ever due to the new Amish table that seats anywhere from two to twenty people. She likes the twenty people idea much better than the two, and so a visitor to our kitchen might think it consists of predominantly table and food. But that idea always meets well with the nine of us. Yet one not need this big table to experience Mom’s generosity, for Mom’s kindnesses usually extend to hot hay wagons with gifts of lemonade and cookies. A big change for Mom this year was that all of her children have reached a stage of literacy. That may sound funny, but it is a big jump, signifying the changing nature of our family. One of Mom’s best friends since third grade came to visit this summer, which was a fun occasion for all of us. In addition, this year has been a special time for Mom to enjoy her siblings; she was especially grateful, this year, for the return of her brother Mark, a trip to DC to visit her brother Jeff, the many visits of her sister Joanne, and the soon anticipated arrival of her brother Scott from Azerbaijan.

Sarah Elizabeth

While a lot could be said about the many changes that this last year has held for me, I think that simply saying that I am close to home summarizes them all. After a whirlwind of graduating and welcoming my two special Oregon friends, Kristiane and Trina, to the East Coast for a tour of Bentley Farm, New York City, Boston and Washington DC, I settled down on the farm for the summer meanwhile working at the Bangall Country Store. In the beginning of August I moved to a suburb of Binghamton, NY. I was hired with a National Science Foundation Grant to teach third-grade science in two Binghamton School District classrooms. This job has been wonderful. At times I think that I learn more teaching third-grade than I do in my graduate chemistry classes at Binghamton University. It has been a different experience to live alone; I am so grateful to be close to family and I am often able to at least make it home for church on the farm.

Isaac Merrill

Isaac has to be the hardest working guys I have ever met. I was astounded, this summer, by the hours that he put into farming. The responsibility of the farm rested pretty squarely on his shoulders this year. There has been a lot of change on the farm due to Farmer Henry’s recent struggle with cancer. It has been a difficult experience to see the duo that was always Henry and Isaac change its nature and form. What was always such a vivid physical partnership (whether it be in the barns doing the chores, in the fields: one mowing, one raking, fixing the old farm equipment together, or restoring old buggies) can now be characterized by a very young man holding the hand of an elderly man on his bed. It is so hard to see the suffering of someone whom we all love so dearly. Isaac has certainly risen to the occasion and continued to keep the farm operating. This has been in addition to starting college. Isaac decided to go to Dutchess Community College and study biology. He hopes to transfer into an agricultural program when he is done. He works so hard on his schoolwork. He is determined to do everything that he does to its fullest. I often get calls from him as he works on perfecting his papers, wanting to know if a certain paragraph would sound best with which of the three sentences that he has carefully developed. Isaac takes a break from school only to continue to help on the farm or with a house project. I have come to believe that there is nothing that Isaac can’t fix. From electrical wiring, to plumbing, to car, tractor and lawnmower engines, he does it all. Isaac is very generous when he is working and often works with many of the younger children crowded around him. Luke has especially learned many of Isaac’s mechanical skills. Thankfully, between his summer semester and fall semester he was able to spend the last week of August with his heifers at the Dutchess County Fair.

Nathaniel Newlin

Nathaniel describes the best sense of the word “classic.” He, too, started attending Dutchess Community College this year. He thought that he might be interested in a history major, but has since chosen to follow his love of math to pursue an engineering major. But he surely doesn’t forget his historically minded side and definitely continues to follow politics very closely. Whereas college prohibits him from turning on the radio to catch the news every hour, he continues to be very faithful to this love. Along with Nathaniel’s historical/political side comes his love of baseball. He actually got me to drive him down to the Bronx and take him to one of several Yankees games that he attended this year. He was a very committed fan, following every move more closely than a cat watches a mouse. I was amazed. His cheering that was louder and longer than anyone else’s in the whole stadium; he even had me standing and cheering, which is a big accomplishment given that baseball does not usually excite me. The game was a ton of fun, but I must confess that I am thankful that Nate is getting his license soon because driving in New York City doesn’t easily fit into my comfort zone. Nathaniel has a very original sense of humor and is very sensitive to all of the things that are going on around him. If someone is the least bit perturbed by something that has is done, he is always desirous of a quick reconciliation. Nate is a thinker. He has the mind of an apologetic and the tenderness of a mother; a rare combination.

Luke Sewell

Luke has taken on a new role as he is often the oldest male home. He has taken over that which Isaac has had to let go of to attend college. This translates to a lot of responsibility on the farm. He is very strong, and I always love to see what he can do. Luke is a confidently small guy and it is to be understood that his size does not stop him from doing anything. One of my favorite memories from this summer was driving down to the farm to find Luke fixing the hay baler. The only problem was that all I could see of Luke were his feet that were barely sticking out on the kicker. The rest of Luke was a mix of a lot of hay and hard work. He continues to be the faithful caretaker of seventy chickens. This is a hard job. Not only does Luke have to work with the chickens, but he also has many dozens of eggs a day to wash, sort and clean. But this is a good job for Luke, and very slowly he has even made some money selling his eggs, which is a rare accomplishment in farming these days. More exciting than having money is spending it. Normally, Luke would save his money, but he is starting up a little side business mowing lawns and wanted to buy a motor for an old mower that we have. He shopped for this motor for about a month and finally found the exact motor that he wanted on an E-bay auction. He had a certain money limit, though, and was very concerned that he would be outbid. I have never seen someone more nervous about an auction and more jubilant about winning, than Luke in the moments preceding and proceeding the time of this sale. In addition to being the proud owner of a 12hp engine, Luke also now owns his own chainsaw and loves any project involving cutting wood. He hopes to own a sawmill in his adult life. I can guarantee that he will be the best saw mill owner that there will ever be given how faithful he is to that chain saw.

Hannah Grace

Hannah and Luke are still each other’s side-kicks. They work together a lot, Hannah usually spearheading the academic division and Luke the manual labor division. Hannah has very definite opinions on the way that things ought to be and will stick by her cause till the end. I always love listening to her express her ideas, especially since her expression is much more poignant than mine tends to be. When I am not home she makes sure that we have dates to talk on the telephone. She knows more about what is going on in the community and the lives of all of our friends than the town crier of days gone by ever knew. Hannah is a very dedicated student and is very self-disciplined in her studies. She is certain of her desire to study biology when she goes to college. Hannah has become a traveler this year. Not only did she get to see Portland and the surrounding suburbs when she attended my graduation, but she also traveled with me down to southern Oregon to briefly hike (what I believed to be one of the most beautiful places in the Northwest) the Rogue River Trail. In the summer she flew to Minnesota to visit Mom’s family and a friend in Wisconsin. Her trip back was unique. She flew into Chicago to visit some other family friends and then took a sleeper car back home with Grandma. This fall she and Mom went down to Washington D.C. and had several very full days of touring all of the museums and galleries, meanwhile visiting Uncle Jeff.

Jacob Elliot

Jacob has been characteristically described in the past as the one up to tricks. While Jacob has not managed to masquerade that irresistible smile that turns his eyes into crescent moons, he has definitely laid aside some of his more mischievous tricks. He is especially fond of working with Dad, and where Dad is there Jacob is too. Jacob likes to talk. So, where Dad is working, there is Jacob talking. Jacob does have many fun things to talk about and does not forget that his older sister needs someone to talk to, as she is living alone in an apartment after all. Many a voicemail say, “Hi this is Jacob. Give me a call as soon as you can.” I must say that the ensuing conversations are usually fairly short, but nevertheless Jacob always has something important to say. Jacob has become increasingly dedicated in his reading. Dad promised Jacob that when he had learned to read the first chapter of Farmer Boy perfectly, he would be awarded with his own calf. Jacob met the challenge this year and is now happily in possession of a calf that he bought at an auction in Rutland, Vermont this fall. Owning one’s own calf is a key milestone in the journey toward manhood at Bentley Farm and Jacob is a noble recipient of this good mark. He is working on training this calf very faithfully.

Rebecca Faith

Rebecca is a very loved sister. She does a lot of special things for all of us, can always be counted on to help when an extra hand is needed, no matter what the task. She is very versatile in her helping abilities and can clean, entertain younger children, organize and farm very well. When I make it home for part of the weekend I can always look forward to Rebecca’s enthusiastic response to my arrival. After a quick greeting she usually wants me to immediately do science experiments with her. We have had some fun times, making water travel against gravity, and across empty jail cells; building buzzing sound machines; playing with goop that is both solid and liquid; and taking quizzes and tests that I give my third grade students. Rebecca does a lot of reading and I usually get frequent phone updates on the progress that she has made in a particular book. But best of all, Becca fits like a puzzle piece in my lap, such that whenever I see her she certainly fills a special love debt carved out just for her.

Caleb Henley

Caleb has a very unique role in the family. He is the youngest. I guess that seems overtly obvious. But I always wondered what it would be like to be the youngest in a family of eight, especially since I was never younger than any of my other siblings. I can only guess that it is a very unique role given that it seems that Caleb storehouses all of the energy that age has taken from the rest of us. When I was six, I remember that my energies were devoted to toys, books, and little games and that my conversations reflected my involvement with these toys, games and books. Not so with Caleb. He has seven older brothers and sisters that talk about a whole lot more than toys, games and books. Caleb refuses to be left out of these conversations. What he lacks in experience he certainly tries to make up in insistence that he is right. During any family conversation you will find that Caleb holds the most definite opinion about the way things should be (rivaled only by Hannah). He has a very sharp mind and exercises it by asking for spontaneous word problems in math. He has listened to countless chapter books on tape this year, finally to learn that he could read himself. This has been a great excitement to him and when asked about his highlight of the year he immediately thinks of the fact that he too can now read from the Bible during our morning Bible reading.

Merry Christmas

Truly these reflections remind me that family does provide a refuge of hope. Yet I am also very mindful that God desires us to hide ourselves solely in Him like I so often retreat from the weariness of this world to the nine open arms at Bentley Farm. I imagine that the day will come when there will be no refuge but Christ, no haven but the mercy of God. And surely that day is here already. Family is a beautiful type or shadow of this refuge. But certainly not the substance. For upon Christ “was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” That is the hope.