Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business, and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before; so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and you will not be dependent on anybody.” I Thessalonians 4:11
They called this land “The Quiet Life Farm.” Though native Texans, they had retired here from Denver – he was an aerospace engineer, and she had worked as an administrator. Their dream was to be good stewards of a land they believed to be entrusted to them by God. First, they built a cabin, then they fashioned their home in the style of an old German farmhouse. They did much of the work themselves. They planted a forest of trees, ran an irrigation system throughout the property, and put up lots of bird feeders and bird baths. A sprinkler system filled most of the bird baths every morning. Their motto (and lifestyle) was taken from Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians: lead a quiet life, work with your hands, mind your own business, and don’t be dependent on anyone else if you can do it yourself. Over time (twenty years), they found themselves with an entire day’s worth of chores almost daily while not getting any younger, so they decided to move on; find something smaller and more manageable elsewhere in Texas. They worried about those who might follow them on this land – concerned that they would be much more extravagant and would not appreciate the simplicity of their style or the ethos of their stewardship. They feared (given the popularity of this part of Texas, and especially this booming small town), that the new owners might come in and demolish what they had created, take down too many trees, erect a monstrosity of an abode, and forget about the needs of the birds. Melanie and Larry began to pray that the right people would be led here, and would honor their sense of stewardship and simplicity.
At that same time, my wife Sandy and I began to pray that God would lead us to the appointed place – that our next move would be God-directed. We looked at many options in many places, and nothing felt quite right. I told Sandy that, when we found “our place,” we would look at each other and smile, knowing within our heart of hearts that this was “it.” We were drawn to Round Top: the beauty of the countryside, and the dynamic arts, music, culinary and design scene that was unfolding. The simplicity of the lifestyle and slower pace was deeply attractive. Looking online, we could see that prices were quickly escalating beyond our means and thought we would have to look elsewhere. We had some ideas about what we were looking for –rolling hills, lots of trees, maybe a pond, definitely a guest house where creative friends could come and write, paint, or compose, a small, charming, house with some character, enough land for our dogs to romp and roam, maybe a barn where I could pretend to be working on projects, and perhaps eventually turn it into a Texas-style icehouse – maybe a Padre’s East. We imagined that here I would write more, and Sandy would create more, and we would certainly love more. We wanted a place where we could not only slow down and live a more quiet life, but where we also could stretch our wings and reach out and fly – even taking others with us on a spiritual path more liberating, more Jesus-centered, more creative, collaborative, authentic, and beautiful. We had no idea how much we’d love the birds. We drove up to the place for the very first time, rounded the pond and took a quick peak inside the house. Somewhere between the main house, guest house, and bird feeders, we looked at each other and smiled, knowing that we’d finally come “home.”
We are city mice, not country mice. So life in the country, where wild animals roam, snakes curl up in your flower beds, water comes from a well, and things happen much more slowly – all that took some getting used to. In fact, when Larry and Melanie gave us the mini-tour, sometimes known as a “walk-through,” our heads started spinning. But our connection was deep, and only deepened over time. When we finally had a moment to catch our breath and take a more in-depth look at the property, I had all kinds of questions – and that was just about the irrigation system! I called them and they immediately responded: “We’ll be there in three hours, and we’ll walk the property with you and explain things in more detail.” They are that kind of quality human beings – not to mention Christians. We are slowly starting to come to grips with life in the country on ten acres. It’s mostly awesome, but occasionally challenging, and both Sandy and I have found ourselves out of our comfort zones on more than one occasion – an occurrence that is most assuredly good for the soul. We take great comfort in knowing that the previous owners, rather “stewards,” are just a phone call or text away, and are always happy and willing to talk (or walk) us through anything and everything – they’d likely even be more than willing to drive here and instruct us in-person. During our transition, when we were back and forth between Louisiana and Texas, but mostly in Louisiana, the rains came, and property became overgrown, and the birds occasionally had to go without seeds or clean baths for a few days. We were devastated and weren’t sure whether our lack of good stewardship was more disappointing to God, or to our new friends. But, we’ve vowed to take good care of this land and all the creatures that inhabit it henceforth from this day forward, and to welcome humans here who can reconnect with their Creator and with creation, walking (or flying) away from here renewed, refreshed, and blessed.
This land connects Sandy and me to Larry and Melanie. But more deeply connecting is prayer. We know that they prayed us here. And our prayer connection has only increased. During the terrible freeze, when temperatures plummeted to an unheard-of eight degrees, they prayed for this property. Miraculously, we had only minimal damage. When Melanie faced a health challenge, Sandy and I remembered her in our daily prayers. She’s doing well, and her road to recovery is looking bright and positive. We feel their presence and prayers here every day. When the birds sing, as they so often do, sometimes in a great symphony of song, we remember them and give thanks for them – for the wonderful example they set here, and for their dream of a place where people who follow Jesus can live simply, freely and faithfully.
Of course, our vision is slightly different than theirs. We will continue their tradition of stellar stewardship. But their one quiet cat is about to give way to five boisterous canine beasts. We are expanding our former garage into “Howlelujah Hall,” a place of fellowship, music and lots of howling. We envision it as a great gathering place for all our family members, two-legged and four-legged alike. We brought our piano, so there will be concerts and parties for certain. And the Astros, Saints, Longhorns, Tigers and Aggies (we are ecumenical in this household) will be celebrated on the big screen above the new fireplace. It’ll still be quiet around here most of the time, just a little more “howly,” but certainly not more “holy” than it was before. The birds will be fed and watered and will be free to come and go as they please – just as God intended. Quiet Life Farm, meet The Free Bird Ranch. God’s got a plan, and we are so blessed to be a part of it, and to have inherited it from such wonderful new friends.
William “Father Bill” Miller is an Episcopal priest living in Round Top, Texas with his lovely wife Sandy and their five lively dogs. He is the author of three popular and critically-acclaimed books: “The Gospel According to Sam,” “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God,” and “The Last Howlelujah.” He is the founding priest of Saint Cecilia’s – A Creative Spiritual Community – a new church plant in Round Top that celebrates the arts (coming fall of 2021). He and Sandy will also be developing Free Bird Ranch Ministries, hosting retreats, concerts, and wellness events in Round Top. Stay tuned!