Thursday, September 18, 2014

How I Became A Farmer's Wife

My husband Neil and I are celebrating our 10th anniversary today, and that got me thinking about how we became the family that we are today.. So I thought I would share our journey together with you.

I was born and raised in a rural Wisconsin farm community, where I spent my childhood growing up on my uncle's dairy farm. My husband was raised in the same community on his family's dairy farm.
I can't say that I remember the first time that I met Neil; I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't know him. Our parents and grandparents knew each other long before we were even a thought. In fact, my grandmother made his parent's wedding cake, our  grandparents square-danced together before we were old enough to walk, and our dads both work for our local Co-op. Despite the fact that we have known each other for so long, we were not high school sweethearts. 
My horse 'Sis' that I spent my summers enjoying in Arkansas.

After high school, I had every intention of getting out of this town as fast as I could. I knew that there was a whole world outside of this little Wisconsin hicktown, and I certainly couldn't see myself marrying a farmer. They never leave home!
I had spent most of my summers growing up traveling to my mom's house in NW Arkansas, and traveling to rodeos from there. I loved horses, loved rodeo, and loved everything about the south. In high school I spent two summers working in various National parks in Texas, and it just showed me that I needed to get out of this town.
Hiking through the mountains in Big Bend National Park

So, soon after I came home from my last summer in Texas, just before starting my senior year of high school, I came up with the best way that I could to permanently get out of dodge. I enlisted in the Army National Guard. I grew up with a lot of friends and family in the military, so it wasn't a crazy idea to anyone. However, it was less than one year after the 9-11 attacks.

My parents met and married in the Air Force. At the time I enlisted, my sister was overseas fighting in Kuwait, and many of my aunts, uncles, cousins and all of my grandfathers served in the Military.
I had always dreamed of being a veterinarian and wanted to attend the University of Findlay-Ohio, a high-end equestrian college, but I knew that I needed financial help if I wanted to complete 8 years of school. The Army offered this to me in the form of a full Army ROTC scholarship. I was to become an officer in the U.S. Army, and was super excited. This was my opportunity to explore the world outside of Wisconsin, I would get to go to the college of my dreams, and it would be paid in full by the U.S. Army. I couldn't wait to finish my senior year and finally get the heck out of Dodge!

The crew that I worked with for my summers in Texas.
Now to bring Neil back into the picture: a few months before graduation, February 16 to be exact, I went roller skating with my church. I went because my aunt was taking my little cousin, and she wanted someone to talk to. It was really meant for the younger kids, so I wasn't at all looking forward to going. Then I got there, and Neil was there with his younger sister. We were the only teenagers. Neil was actually in college already and was home on break. We had hung out in high school a lot since we are both farm kids and were very active in our FFA chapter, in fact his best friend is my cousin. But, I had never really given him much thought when it came to boyfriend material, as I tended to hang out and date the party type of guys. But dating party goers had gotten me in a bit of trouble, and so I had sworn off dating. I was headed out of Dodge, remember?

We spent the day skating together, then we got back to church and he asked if I wanted to go snowmobiling with him at one of my friend's farms (my cousin's girlfriend). We knew that they would be game as it was my cousin's night to milk at his girlfriends farm, and I agreed.

So he picked me up a couple of hours later, and we went snowmobiling. We had so much fun. I had forgotten what it was like to be treated like a lady, as I was treated pretty poorly by some guys, and with Neil there was comfort, security and safety. He completely swept me off my feet. We continued to date, even though he was four hours away at college in Madison, and I was getting ready to leave for Ohio.

Neil taking me to my Senior prom.

Neil would come home most weekends to see me, attend my senior prom with me, and do all my high school events with me. Neil really loved me for me, and I never realized that I could love someone so much. He put up with my crazy, wild side, and supported any adventure I went on. But there was always the Army in the background. We knew that soon I would be leaving, and would be the Army's property any time I wasn't in school. I still very much wanted to go, and actually had gone to Ohio for a couple of weeks right after graduation to complete my ROTC and college orientations.

Three weeks before I was to leave for Ohio for good, Neil got down on one knee and proposed, just as we were saying our good-byes for the week before he headed back to college in Madison. I said Yes of course; I was head over heels in love with this man! I loved everything about him! I loved that he was a faithful Christian man, I loved handing him wrenches, making out with him in the tractor, and all the true love and support that he gave me on a daily basis! Neil loved me too, and desperately wanted a ring on my finger before I left for good. But, a ring on my finger didn't solve anything, it just made things harder to break off when I might be across the world somewhere.

Four days later came a fateful letter in the mail. The army had found something in my medical records that they didn't like. While I was in Texas working one summer, I had a couple of allergy-induced asthma attacks. We didn't know specifically what I was allergic to that caused them, so they wanted me to take some tests and get back to them. So I took the tests and expedited everything, since I was now leaving in less than two weeks. I got the typical 'hurry-up and wait' response from the Army that they are so famous for. The letter they responded with told me that it would take them 60 days to review my results and then they would get back to me with whether or not I could continue my career in the Army. I didn't have 60 days!! I was leaving in 10 days to a $30,000/year college that I didn't know for sure I could pay for anymore.

Neil and I at my high school graduation.
After a lot of conversation with my Commanding Officers, I decided that I would delay my entry another year. I was technically not under contract with the Army since they didn't hold up their end of the contract in a 'timely matter'. So, I quickly applied to the closest university to home, UW-River Falls, and got accepted into the pre-vet program one week before classes started, not knowing where all the money would come from to pay for all eight years, but I had enough saved to give me a good start. 

Neil's prayers (and a few of mine) had been answered. I was staying close to home, at least for another year! One week later I moved myself into the dorms at River Falls and started attending classes. After a semester of Chemistry kicking my butt, I changed my major to Finance (talk about making a complete 180), and started planning a wedding for the following September.

Once that one-year mark came for me to make the final decision about the Army, I had my life planned in an entirely different direction, and chose to give up the military completely. I started having other goals and dreams that I never thought I could have. I started dreaming of a family, and a life of farming in this little Wisconsin hicktown. Mostly, I dreamed of a life with Neil. Before I had Neil in my life, getting married and starting a family was the last thing on my mind. Coming from a broken home, being a mom was something I feared, not something I looked forward to. But once I had Neil by my side, I knew that I could do anything!

I don't think that our relationship would have survived the eight-plus years that I was contracted with the Army, but looking back, God put Neil right in front of my eyes since I was a little girl, showing me what a loving, trusting marriage can be.

Our wedding day.
On September 18, 2004, I married my best friend in a John Deere themed wedding complete with green dresses for the bridesmaids, yellow flowers, and Mary Moo for the cake topper. It took an act of God to show me that this is the man of my dreams, not a buff Army dude, but a hard-working, honest farmer, that would give me all the dreams that I hadn't even dreamt of yet!

Looking back at some of the childhood memories that Neil and I shared showed us that God had a plan for us all along, that we were truly destined to be together:
Neil has given me a life that I thought was only a dream,
including giving me these three beautiful little girls.
This is all my loves, my hopes and dreams right here.
This picture was taken the day my youngest, 

Caroline was born, when Olivia and Allyson got to 
meet their new baby sister for the first time. 
We were finally a complete family!

- I remember going square-dancing once a month with my grandparents, and dancing with Neil, as he would also go dancing with his grandparents.

- When Neil and my cousin were in 8th grade, they had to make a video for history class about the Oregon Trail. In this video, I played Neil's Oregon trail wife!

- When my date left me stranded at my junior prom, Neil took me under his wing, danced with me and took me home afterward.

- While at an FFA bonfire at my cousin's, Neil walked in with another girl, a co-worker. Even though I was standing next to my high school sweetheart, I remember feeling very jealous and even saying something to my best friend.

This is my horse, Savannah, that Neil got me soon after we were married.

God has an amazing way of showing us His plan and I have learned that I just need to trust in Him to guide me through the life here on earth.

Our Happily Ever-After
Jeremiah 29:11-12 "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, 
plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you."