I mentioned one of these paths in my last posting, my annual retreat at Demontreville. It was on this particular retreat that, as I planned my 1, 3, 5, and 10 year goals, I realized that I wanted to be working with my wife 10 years down the road. On retreat I reflected that I had grown complacent with the creeping separateness of our independent careers and I felt uneasy and disappointed about this. So, I wrote down the goal that in 10 years Christelle and I would be working together.
After retreat, I told her about this goal and she echoed similar unease and disappointment at our lack of unity in work. Therefore we set about the task of figuring out how we could work together. Could she work at the bookstore? No. Could I work in St. Croix Birth and Parenting? No. We tried for weeks to think of work we could do together passionately. Then one morning at breakfast we were discussing our desire to work together with our children and one of many ideas we presented to them was that we could have a family farm. We were leaning toward this, but we wanted to know what the children thought of the idea, without any pressure from us. Of all the ideas, they all unanimously and eagerly chanted, "Live on a farm!" That was it! Farming had long been read and dreamed about from the beginning of our relationship but we had never determinedly taken up the pursuit of it.
That changed last winter as we planned, dreamed, and prayed for a way to be farmers together. Not wanting to keep the future of the business in limbo indefinitely, I set a deadline of June 30 for us to find a possible farming location, after which, if we did not find a suitable place, we would stop searching, at least for 2012. Meanwhile at the same time, I was exploring the other path that opened up in the fall of 2011 through Loome Theological Booksellers.
I received an email on behalf of Lady Chadwick, widow of Sir Henry Chadwick, refined and august church historian, late of Oxford, England, that she would like to sell her husband’s library. An exploratory survey of the library was undertaken in November. An offer for the library was made at that time and accepted by December. A purchase inquiry into the library was made in January. A return trip to Oxford to show the library was made in March. A formal offer to buy the library was presented in April. The offer was accepted by June. Plans were made in August to return to Oxford to pack the library . . .
Then I re-read A Severe Mercy and found that the apartment, which Sheldon and Davey dubbed fondly The Studio, was nearly across the street, on Pusey Lane, from the house in Oxford where the Chadwick library was housed.
The Studio was where Sheldon and Davey became Christians. It was their faith, born a mere 100 yards from the home of the Chadwick library, which later led Sheldon into the Catholic Church. Sheldon's conversion (experienced by us vicariously through his second book, Under the Mercy) was the inspiration and proximate cause of our entering the Catholic Church (and subsequently having plenty of children to live on the farm with us) in 1999. The desire to raise our children in a wholesome environment led to moving to Stillwater and taking work at Loome Theological Booksellers in 2001, which ultimately led to purchasing Loome in 2008. Ownership of the bookstore led to me being in the position to handle the Chadwick library when it came up for sale. The monies and hope from the sale of this library made it possible to move to Claret Farm. (Intriguingly, the date we first heard of the availability of Claret Farm happened in fact to be June 30th--since, as you know, God is "rarely early, but never late".) This all followed on the heels of our deciding to be farmers together, because of Sheldon and Davey’s inspiring (though flawed, as all marriages are to some extent) example of togetherness.
Got it? See the connection? It might take a couple of re-readings. I’ve mulled over the many strands woven into the birth of Claret Farm and they are so interwoven that it is almost...miraculous. It all goes together with an irrepressible sense of providential purpose and leading, but the connection is there and real between Oxford, England and Claret Farm.
On this most recent trip to Oxford, I had hoped to pray at the place on Pusey Lane, almost within eyesight of the front door of the Chadwick house, to thank God for the good he did 60 years ago in The Studio and the good fruit that it is bearing in my family’s life. My opportunity to do so (and take these pictures) came oddly, because, after I ran an errand, my colleague didn’t answer my insistent knocks and shouts at the door to let me in the Chadwick house. I knocked off and on, with greater strength and bewilderment, for about 10 minutes before I gave up and walked across the street to Pusey Lane to pray. Fifteen minutes later, after sweet prayer and pictures, I was back at the Chadwick house and my colleague let me in after my first humble knock with: “Had you been knocking a long time?" He had been there the original time I had knocked, but simply did not hear me.
Divine providence: a mysterious wind that blew us here. What remains is the working out of WHY we are here. Obviously, part of the why is to bring our paths closer together, as a married couple and as a family, yet we feel keenly that all of these strands of providence have woven a cloth bigger than us. May God continue to lead us, as we remain under the mercy.