Finding Joy in Sacrifice

There is joy in sacrifice!

This is the overriding message of Lent. There is no Easter without Lent. There is no resurrection without the crown of thorns, the scourging, the carrying of the cross or the crucifixion.

Jesus showed us the way — we must suffer before we can rise!

I came to know this during my first week at Nazareth Farm twenty-three years
ago and rediscover it each time I return to the Farm.

In the summer of 2000, our parish Youth Minister asked if I could chaperone a
group of six high school students for a week of service at a place in West Virginia
called Nazareth Farm. I said, “Sure!”

I knew nothing about Nazareth Farm and thought I would simply be a chaperone driving a van. Little did I know I would be transformed forever! I was not just a chaperone. That week was a little piece of Heaven.

I had no idea agreeing to go on the trip would impact me and my faith life so deeply. However, it would not come easily. The words simplicity, service, community, and prayer became real to me that week. I learned why it’s important to incorporate them into my daily life. My first experience at the Farm was the most difficult, sacrificial, strenuous week of my life, yet it brought more joy than I thought possible.

My life’s goal is seeking eternal life in Heaven, but I know that won’t be easy. We are called to be open to experiences, to love God and love others, to serve others first, and to work toward a right relationship with God. These directives require work; they require sacrifice. During that first week at Nazareth Farm, I came to understand this message.

When we arrived at the Farm – six students and two chaperones – we were greeted by the staff with hugs, smiles, and enthusiasm. While exciting, it made me a bit apprehensive, nervous as to what to expect. After hearing about what we would be doing that week, I wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Ultimately, I found my little piece of Heaven.

One day, my group’s assignment was to cut wood with Butch. Seemed doable, I thought. Butch greeted us with, “Get in your van and follow me.” I followed Butch’s truck, driving a big, awkward 15-passenger van. We turned off the gravel road, drove through a field, and pulled up to a path that ran through a row of trees. Butch stopped, got out of his truck, and informed me, “The path ahead is narrow, but don’t slow down. Keep driving and be sure stay to the right of the path so your van doesn’t slide into the creek.” That was comforting.

I nodded my head nervously. The next few minutes were scary, but we made it through to a clearing. We took a breath and got out of the van.

This day changed my life and my perspective on what’s really important. I’m a city girl, but that day I learned how to use a maul and a gas-powered wood splitter. I also learned I am much stronger and more capable than I ever realized. I have never worked so hard or sweated so much, and yet I loved every minute.

Over lunch, we told Butch about ourselves. He listened carefully and then asked us, “What has been the most challenging thing for you this week?”

The students shared honestly about missing the comforts of home, friends, talking on the phone, showers, and so on. When it came to me, I listed many of the same things the students had already shared. I added that I also missed my morning Diet Coke. This seemed silly to share at the time, but it would become my identity.

Butch Sandora – a friend and neighbor of the Farm for many years – is an honest, straight-forward, hard-working man. He is gruff at times but showed me his thoughtfulness and kindness that day and every other time I had the opportunity to return to Nazareth Farm.

After lunch, we continued splitting wood. Butch left us for a short time, then returned and called us together for a needed break. He pulled a small cooler out of his truck, surprising us with some refreshments. He handed each student a cold drink and the last can out of the cooler was a Diet Coke for me. My face lit up! He looked at me and smiled. From that moment on, I was the Diet Coke Girl. Every trip since, Butch has a Diet Coke waiting for me.

Butch drove back through the treacherous trail just to bring us refreshments. The thoughtfulness of this gruff-on-the-outside man I had just met melted my heart. How sweet!

This was the hardest I had ever worked, but my heart was full of joy. I am an artist, so as a “Thank you” to Butch, I drew a caricature of him – blue work shirt, blue eyes, bandana on his head, and a Diet Coke in his hand. Butch and I have been friends for life.

Over the years, I have returned to Nazareth Farm many times. I served on the Board of Directors for several years. I met and was inspired by the neighbors, staff, and fellow volunteers. They showed me how to live a life here on earth that would lead to eternal life in Heaven.

During the 40 days of Lent, we are called to conversion, to grow through self-sacrifice and love. Often in life, we avoid things that may be challenging or cause us to suffer. However, Jesus showed us the way — we must suffer before we can rise.

Nazareth Farm caused me to grow closer to Jesus. My experience revealed to me that challenges, sacrifices, and suffering can be cleansing, clarifying and rewarding. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to experience a little piece of Heaven – learning to split wood and becoming lifelong friends with Butch Sandora.

Nazareth Farm lives out the message of Lent: There is no Easter without Lent. There is no resurrection without the crown of thorns, the scourging, the carrying of the cross or the crucifixion.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to his Father, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus showed us the way — we must suffer before we can rise!

Carol Wagner, longtime chaperone and past board member