As with all the best things in life, I have someone else to thank for my introduction to what has become for my family a refuge, a place of prayer and learning, and deep friendship: The Farmhouse.
It was my erstwhile co-worker, now best friend and godmother of my children, Bonnie, who discovered this quiet place of solitude and hope. She was tasked with finding a location for a retreat and, to my everlasting thankfulness, settled on this small place in the middle of nowhere, southern Indiana, run by Drs. Brad and Kara Pickens.1 So we brought our small cadre of student leaders down late one night and were greeted by… Matt Polley.
I know. Major downer.
Oh you haven’t met? Well, Matt is an ex-youth pastor (now of Inglorious Pasterds Podcast infamy) and fellow board member of The Farmhouse.2 As my students huddled in the Pickens’ entryway, we were informed by this bearded man in a yellow I am the Walrus t-shirt that Dr. Pickens was away teaching a seminar and he, Matt, would be leading us through our prayers for the first two days
The retreat was 2 1/2 days.
Jokes aside, Matt did a fantastic job with the material, introducing our students to the practice of lectio divina, or the “divine readings,” a contemplative or “spiritual” reading of the Bible and now my favorite way of encountering Scripture. When the lanky and also bewhiskered Brad finally showed up Sunday morning, we all felt he was probably too serious for us. We needed our previous guide back, with his baritone voice and Beatles shirts. Goo goo g’joob.
The most memorable moment of that weekend was the conversation I had with Matt and Brad’s parents, whose house is on the same land and better suited to hosting large groups. As we drank coffee in the breakfast nook, I began my now-common litany of complaints against the Christian Church: its saccharine worship services, shallow eucharistic theology, cyclical hermeneutic, and sentimental teachings, to name a few. Matt, who knew these issues all too well, laughed darkly and said, “Wait till you meet Brad. He’s literally writing a book about this.”
Well I did eventually meet Brad and have read portions of the book in its dissertation form. I’ve eaten at his table, sat in his office, and read bedtime stories to his child. He introduced me to my favorite saint, Ephrem the Syrian, and has been a store of knowledge, music, and book recommendations, and simple friendship for years. It’s not a stretch when we say that the proximity of The Farmhouse to the south and Bonnie to the north were major factors in our decision to relocate to Bloomington.
It was in the Pickens’ home we sat after losing the ministry in Muncie, sharing tears, food and drink, and music.
It was The Farmhouse that provided all the retreats I planned for students both in Muncie and when we started over in Warrensburg, Missouri.
And Brad was the one I sat with on the front porch, looking into the sultry September midnight, asking how we could have possibly lost another ministry.
Some places provide space for silence, prayer, or learning. Some provide peace in times of crisis. Some provide friendship.
The Farmhouse has been all this and more to my family. We’re thankful beyond words for Brad and Kara (and Hazel!), for the rest of the Pickens family, and the Farmhouse board. Our lives, ministry, and especially our marriage owe much of their continuation to this beautiful place and we are forever grateful.
Soooo don’t wait, schedule your retreat today!
1. Yeah, they both have doctorates. From Glasgow, Scotland. Not intimidating at all.↩
2. I finally broke through the smoke-stained ceiling and entered into this elite group just last year.↩