Back To The Land – I

Proverbs 3:5-8

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

I had memorized the first two verses of this featured Scripture several years before my decision that got my family into trouble! Those two verses should have been enough! Here is Proverbs 3:5 through 8:

     Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your 
     own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He 
     will direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; 
     fear the LORD and depart from evil. It will be health to 
     your flesh, and strength to your bones.

So what decision did I make? First, some background:

  • The first ten years of my life I was raised on a 208 acre dairy farm in the township of Sharon, located in the northwest corner of Connecticut. Sharon Mountain, on which our farm was situated, was part of the beautiful Berkshire Mountains. I loved that farm – the cows, calves, chickens, barn cats, and our Collie dog – everything about it! And I thrilled to the history of the area, the barn built in the 1820’s, the Victorian style house, the signs of ancient Indians we discovered here and there in the woods and pastures. I explored every nook and carnny of that propery, and had many secret places!
  • But in my tenth year my father left us, running off with another woman. The three Norton boys, ages 14, 12, and 10 (I am the youngest) were too young to take over the farm. My mother couldn’t manage the work. She was in her 50’s and not in good health. So we sold the farm the next spring.
  • I felt my life was pulled out from under me! My dream was to someday take over that farm and continue being a dairy farmer! I cried during the auction when the livestock were sold (about 60 head including heifers and calves – even my pet calf, Curly). Everything was up for sale, including machinery and tools. Nothing was left except an empty barn and out-buildings! We had to move a couple of months later when the new owners were soon to move in.
  • The teenage years that followed were hard! I felt rootless! I rebelled, using alcohol to medicate my feelings of failure and being rootless. I ran with the wrong crowed and got into some trouble, being arrested twice. I bought into the thinking of those acquainted with our situation – “Those Norton boys and never going to amount to anything!
  • I joined the Air Force at age 18; and at Keesler Air Force Base where I was training to be a radar technician, a miracle happened! I found salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ! …or should I say, He found me! It was the start of my Christian life!
  • I met my future wife, Hope, and we were married eight weeks later, just a week after I was discharged from the Air Force.
  • After exploring a few vocations, I came up empty! I felt the Lord was leading me into the pastorate, and I enrolled in Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit near Scranton, Pennsylvania, receiving after two years my Associate Degree in Bible. But then what?
  • God opened the opportunity to pastor my first church, First Baptist Church of Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania. Hope and I moved into the church parsonage, and a few months later, our daughter was born. I was there for four years, preaching, teaching, and loveing my people. But I questioned whether I was to continue being a pastor! I still felt rootless! And I never lost the desire to get back to the land and be a farmer!
  • On our last vacation as pastor of the Johnsonburg church in August of 1976, Hope and I parked our tiny camper at Lackawanna State Park while we searched for a place to live near Scranton. And this brings us to that fateful decision I made!

We looked at a few offerings for sale before we found what I were looking for – a 17 acre property near Lenoxville, about 20 miles north of Scranton. I remember my first impression:

  • The seclusion of the property! The driveway continued from the end of a half-mile dirt road. We couldn’t see the nearest neighbor. What we could see was horses in the field on a hill across the brook at the bottom of the property.
  • There was the remains of a house, uninhabitable, but good for storage. A dug well was in the front yard, under majestic pines. Up the hill a bit was an older mobile home, in need of repair, but livable. A small shed was also on the property. My first impression – this was a dream come true! I love it! We will become Back to the Landpeople! By the way, this was the mid-seventies, and especially the younger generation was emphasizing the Back to the Landmovement!
  • The seller agreed to a thousand dollar deposit, then we would rent with an option to buy within a year. The price was $17,000.

I remember after our first look at the property, we went back to our camper, Hope and I talking it over. I even prayed about it – but my prayer was dangerous! I prayed something like this:

     “God, this place is perfect! I want it! I want to get back 
     to the land! Please, Lord, let me have it.” Then I got 
     bolder: “God, I want this property. I don’t care what You 
     want, I want it!” 

And I could almost hear Him say, “You want it? You got it!” Oh, did I ever live to regret that!

Remember the first part of our featured Scripture, verses 5 and 6? “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart…Was I trusting Him? Sometimes, but not this time!
  • …and lean not on your own understanding…I was wanting what I wanted, and I wasn’t about to let anything, even the Lord, get in the way of what I wanted!
  • …in all your ways acknowledge Him…” Well, in some ways I was acknowledging that He was my Lord, the One whom I was to obey! But in this case, I was wanting what I wanted – that 17 acre farmette!
  • …and He will direct your paths.” Oh, I wanted God to direct……to direct His blessing on the choice that I was making!

I will share in future Gems what resulted from my decision (Hope, perhaps reluctantly,
was going along with it) – but it sure wasn’t God’s leading!

And when He isn’t the One who directs your paths……
Watch out! You are headed for trouble!