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Crop Damage

It’s only February 3 because I couldn’t fall asleep and am now sitting in the dark at my dining room table at 1:10am. When my mind started into its usual spin tonight, I told myself I’d take time during my son’s Saturday morning hockey practice to do this writing. It was a half-hearted attempt to trick my brain into letting me fall asleep. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

All of this is so hard.

For the past three days, I’ve been dealing with severe headaches that have started to settle in around noon and have grown in intensity throughout the course of the day. At first, my head feels like it’s in a vice grip; then, as if needing to escape the confines of my skull, the pain starts to radiate down into my jaw and straight through to my teeth. It’s not a pleasant sensation, to say the least.

(Note: This post is part of an ongoing series called The View From Here. Please follow this link and start reading at the oldest post, Fear and Trembling.)

My body is sending me strong signals that I am not handling this well and that this pace is not sustainable. At least I’m aware of this, and despite the fact that I’ve already admitted to getting up in the middle of the night to write this, I am honestly doing my best to try and create some space when things start feeling especially overwhelming. Last night, for instance, one of our Board members wanted to gather the team together to continue to talk things through and pray together, but I declined. I let the team know that, as important as it is for us to be able to process things as we try to move forward as a unified team, it was more important for me to spend the night at home with my family.

It’s an ongoing battle.

One of our Board members described the situation we find ourselves in here as “an absolute hailstorm of disaster,” and this past week, I had a thought about this that I think makes it an even more appropriate analogy.

A good friend of mine is the President of Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, one of Canada’s largest apple growers and the creators of Martin’s Apple Chips. Those of us who know him well can appreciate just how little he wanted to appear in a commercial for the company’s newest product, but he absolutely nailed it when, after looking down to read the ingredients list on the bag, he paused, looked straight into the camera and said, “Apples.”

I’ve learned a fair bit about hailstorms from Kevin, since hail is one of the worst dangers that an apple crop can face. Frost is another one—the real big one, I suppose—and a few years ago, I remember standing and praying with him on the sidelines of a baseball diamond in Brantford just after he had received the news that an unusually late frost had caused major damage to their crops. He’s a pretty tough nut to crack, Kevin, but he was in rough shape that night.

Of course, those of us who aren’t in the industry don’t really understand the significance of what it means when an apple grower says their crops took on heavy frost damage. I learned just how little I understood this about a year later when our families were cottaging together and were in the middle of a game of Would You Rather? while seated around a campfire on the May long weekend. I thought I’d pose a clever choice for him that would really test his mettle:

“Okay,” I said, “I’ve got one for Kevin. Would you rather have another crop damaged by frost or never eat another apple for the rest of your life.”

He didn’t hesitate; not even for a second. “I’d never eat another apple.”

Yes, in hindsight I realize that it was an asinine question, especially when we’re trying to have some fun around the campfire and most of the questions had to do with which disgusting food you would rather eat or which embarrassing situation you would rather be in. But in the moment, still distracted by my supposedly-clever question, I kept prodding him, asking about how strange it would be for him to be the President of a company that grows apples but never be able to eat another apple again.

He responded, “Well, put it this way, Brandon, would you give up eating apples if I gave you a million dollars? Because that’s what we’re talking about here.”

Lesson learned. Crop damage is not something you get upset about and then quickly move past. It changes you, maybe even hardens you, as most crises do, and prepares you to do just about anything to avoid going through the same experience again.

But here’s the thing about crop damage: Kevin is a great leader; he’s done a fantastic job taking the reigns of a family-run business—no easy feat; he went back to school to sharpen his business and leadership skills while raising a young family and leading the company through challenging times and seasons of innovation and growth; he’s as fit for this job as anyone out there, and at the very same time, there is absolutely nothing that he can do to prevent his company from sustaining million-dollar losses when the weather decides to act up. Nothing.

An untimely frost can destroy a crop, and so can a hailstorm. His company actually owns a piece of equipment that I can basically guarantee you’ve never heard of before. It’s called a hail cannon. The device is used to disrupt the formation of hailstones with an explosive charge that is fired in the lower chamber of the machine, resulting in a shockwave that travels at the speed of sound into and through cloud formations, breaking up hailstones before they hit the trees and damage the crop. (Are you still with me?)

But even with the most cutting-edge, experimental, costly equipment on the market, the weather is not as predictable as a farmer would like it to be, and an ill-timed hailstorm can drop out of nowhere, giving no time to respond and leaving a crop with irreparable damage.

I realize this isn’t a book on farming, so I’ll wrap up my friend’s story there, but I’ve come to realize that it’s actually quite a compelling analogy for the situation we find ourselves in as a church right now.

A couple of days ago, I told my wife that, as much as I understand the need to be positive and to lead our church through this with a hopeful vision, the truth is I feel like it won’t end well. Yes, I know in my head that we need to see this as a “challenge” and not as a “conflict,” and that the way I lead will set the tone and expectations for the rest of the congregation. But we were talking about this late at night after I got home from yet another evening conversation at the church with yet another couple who cannot see how we can possibly engage this as a genuine conversation—that the only way forward is to make a strong stand against same-sex relationships. At the end of an evening like this, the simple truth is that I don’t think we’re going to make it out without heavy losses. The hail has already started and we’re just going to have to find a way to weather the storm.

So when I got home from the church and filled Melissa in on how the conversation had gone, she drew deep on her years of experience pastoring alongside me to say what she was sure I needed to hear in that broken moment. She told me that if anyone could lead our church well through this season, I could. She told me she believed in me and was confident that I was going to provide the leadership we needed.

As much as I want to accept that, to believe that what she’s saying is true, the real truth is that, just as no apple grower, regardless of his or her business acumen, can prevent a hailstorm from damaging crops, no pastor, regardless of his or her faithfulness, strong leadership, passion—insert whatever noble characteristic you want—no pastor can prevent a hailstorm like this from damaging his or her church. It can’t be done.

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