Ark Building


I’ve got a bad case of the drearies. Rain has fallen heavily for just four days, with balmy temperatures up to 50 degrees, right after three weeks of freezing temperatures, ice and multiple feet of snow. As a result we have a state of emergency in our county with flooding in places that have not been flooded in decades, if ever. There are many people unable to leave their homes due to roads that have become rivers and some have had to sadly abandon their flooded homes. The drive time to work has been tripled because the detours are zigzagging all over the county.

Even those of us who are natives become overwhelmed by rain and moisture that clings to everything and everyone, blocking daylight so thoroughly that we leave for work in the dark and return in the dark despite lengthening days. The continuing rain is not predicted to end anytime soon, so I wonder about hitting the proverbial 40 days of rain. Indeed, it’s time to build an ark. Otherwise we may be left treading water as it rises around us.

Along with the local rivers and streams overflowing their banks, there is a new lake in our lower field. We have this little problem with our barn, located strategically at the bottom of a hillside. Four of our twelve stalls have standing water, so the Haflingers are bunking in the remainder, happy to be out of the wet, but insulted at prolonged confinement as there is no place to go outside without mud and mire. Regular flakes of hay bribe them into complacency. Things can’t be too bad when the best part of the day involves eating…

Ah, but it takes it’s toll on our psyches. Wet cold dankness without reprieve can be hard on man and beast. We are all waiting, waiting, wishing for something different, wanting relief. The Haflingers wait for their freedom from confinement and desire the sun on their backs once again, but settle for the memory of the sun and pastures as it is tossed in the form of flakes of dried field grass under their noses. I imagine they breathe deeply into that hay and reminisce about those warm lazy days in the pasture with every mouthful.

What do I wait for? I am discontent, antsy and eager for a respite from this. No one tosses a flake of hay to me to keep me from complaining, though it just might work if it was served with hot chocolate with whipped cream topping.

Actually, the waiting, the anticipation is for something beyond the temporary satisfaction of hunger or thirst. It is a far deeper need, and a greater want and desire. Our longing for light in our deepest darkest times can urge us forward, to prepare us for what comes next.

And it can come from the most unlikely source. It can come from a barn, bedded in hay, tucked in a manger. That baby whose birth we celebrated two weeks ago is the ark that keeps us afloat in the flood.

In our dreariest of moments, we must wait and prepare. The sun will return, surround us, dry us out and warm us, and we will be ready. In the mean time, I’ll crawl into the manger and tuck myself in and breathe deeply of the hay, pondering the promise of summer.

So I don’t plan to build an ark after all. I’m buoyed,  held up and here to stay: soppy, saturated, and drenched with the showering of life.


Delivered from a Drift


Sixteen years ago tonight I was a one week overdue, way too old pregnant lady, staring out the window at a 60 mile per hour northeaster, with horizontal snow.  I was pondering whether I’d be delivering my own baby at home since it was looking more and more dismal that the roads would be passable with the piling snowdrifts.  Recognizing some very minor early hints of labor, I called my obstetrician in town 10 miles away, and begged that I be allowed to come in “preventatively” to the hospital, so I wouldn’t have to sweat it out wondering if I would make it or not in time, or deliver in the middle of a snowdrift along the way.

Our faithful neighbor Sara Watson came with her daughter Kara to stay with the boys, and got quick lessons in how to run the generator if the power went out.  Dan and I set out in the dark, with chains on our little Toyota, and hoped we could skim through the drifts.  We crept down the road trying to feel our way in the white out conditions.  A mile from home we high centered in a three foot drift with snow banks up to 6 feet on either side and sat there, completely helpless.  Dan starting digging around the tires, but it was fruitless.  So he hiked down a long driveway to a neighbor and asked if they had a tractor to pull us out.  Better than a tractor, they had a bulldozer!  Out they came and dozed away the snow around us so we were free to move ahead to the main roads and get to the hospital.  Once there, I was checked and all was well, with no imminent signs of labor so we tucked in for the night, anticipating induction in the morning to get labor started in earnest and finally have this long awaited baby.

In the morning, as they checked my baby’s heartbeat, something was amiss even before induction was initiated.  I had no change in how I was feeling and no serious contractions, but the baby’s heart rate was lower than the previous night with some ominous dips that herald stress and potential problems.  They shifted me around, gave me oxygen but nothing seemed to help.  It was not a good sign and as a family doctor who had done many deliveries myself, I knew it all too well and began to panic.  A quick ultrasound showed a marked decrease in amniotic fluid, another sign of a failing placenta and/or a baby with significant defects, so things started to look even more urgent.  Within minutes, our decision was made for us–the heart rate dropped to a perilous 20-30 and stayed there.  I got much calmer when I knew I had to accept whatever was to happen, as there was no changing the outcome, whatever it would be.  It is not a natural thing for me to relinquish control but in such a circumstance, I was merely the vessel and I had to believe I had the strength to cope with whatever lay before me.  An emergency C section was done and  15 minutes later, Eleanor Sarah Gibson was born, looking pink and vigorous when what we expected was a blue, floppy and critically stressed infant.  Lea, as we nicknamed her,  had given us an early warning that she was one sensitive kid to things not being right, in this case with her blood supply (my placenta was officially declared “senile”–not a nice term to hear when you are 38 ) and 16 years later, she still has a very sensitive emotional barometer when things aren’t quite “right” but I can appreciate it for what it is.

The storm saved her.  Clear and simple.  This nasty nuisance of a drifting-white out-conditions-northeaster compelled me to go into the hospital when I ordinarily would have waited it out at home as long as possible, certainly causing her to be compromised or stillborn as I went through labor unmonitored.  I marvel at this now, pondering these things in my heart.  My daughter knows this story and understands that she is a healthy 16 year old because of a windstorm on that frosty night.  She even knows the exact spot on our road where the “Lea drift” was and the neighbor who helped bail her worried parents out of trouble.  When the wind blows and the snow drifts, we will always remember and celebrate her life when others are grumbling about the hassle, the cold, the inconvenience, and yes, even the danger. She positively beams on days like this, knowing she was touched by the grace of a God that was watching over her that night.  It wasn’t deserved, or earned,  but simply happened.  Too much to fathom and too much to comprehend.

Happy Birthday, Lea, the snowdrift baby.  I love you!!   Mom

‘Tis the Season to be Grumbly


Originally written in December 2003–in the last week, with all the avalanche news and tragic deaths, I remembered this story in particular and thought I’d share it.

We are in our darkest of dark days today in our corner of the world–about 16 hours of darkness underwhelming our senses, restricting, confining and defining us in our little circles of artificial light that we depend on so mightily. Yesterday, we had a sudden power outage at home around 5 PM, and our bright, noisy, Christmas-tree-lit carol-playing house was suddenly plunged into pitch blackness and silence. Each family member groped around blindly, looking for elusive candles and flashlights in the dark, each running our toes and knees into things, and then found that each of us had to share a little circle of light to navigate. Dinner, which was almost ready in the oven, was eaten gratefully by candlelight, and became a sacrament of sorts as we huddled around our advent candles, now burning out of necessity, not just in a ceremony of anticipation.

The light this morning is just now finally coming up in the southeastern sky, blending the gray of the ubiquitous clouds with the mist over the fields and barns here on the farm and over the mountain peaks and waters of the bay in the distance. Even the Haflingers are gray in this light. It all melts together with the deep green of the forests and fields–a blended water-saturated pallet struck by rays of piercing rosy light here and there, creating alpenglow on the distant mountain snow, and sporadic pools of brightness in our barnyard.

It is so tempting to be consumed and lost in these dark days, stumbling from one obligation to the next, one foot in front of the other, bumping and bruising ourselves and each other in our blindness. Lines are long at the stores, impatience runs high, people coughing and shivering with the spreading flu virus, others stricken by loneliness and desperation. So much grumbling in the dark.

I had a conversation with a remarkable young college student recovering at the hospital this week reminding me about the self-absorbance of grumbling. A week ago she was snowshoeing with two companions in the bright sun above the clouds at the foot of nearby Mt. Baker. A sudden avalanche buried all three–she remembers the roar and then the deathly quiet of being covered up, and the deep darkness that surrounded her. She was buried hunched over, with the weight of the snow above her too much to break through. She had a pocket of air beneath her and in this crouching kneeling position, she could only pray–not move, not shout, not anything else. Only God was with her in that small dark place. She believes that 45 minutes later, rescuers dug her out to safety from beneath that three feet of snow. In actuality, it was 24 hours later but she had been wrapped in the cocoon of her prayers, and miraculously, kept safe and warm enough to survive. Her hands and legs, blackish purple when she was pulled out of the snow, turned pink with the rewarming process at the hospital, and a day later, when I visited her, she glowed with a light that came only from within–it kept her alive.

One of her friends died in that avalanche, never having a chance of survival because of how she was trapped and covered with the suffocating snow. The other friend struggled for the full 24 hours to free himself, bravely fighting the dark and the cold to reach the light, courageously finding help to try to rescue his friends.

At times we must fight with the dark–wrestle it and rale against it, being bruised and beaten up in the process, but so necessary to save ourselves and others from being consumed. At other times we must kneel in the darkness and wait– praying, hoping, knowing the light is to come, one way or the other. Grateful, grace-filled, not grumbling.

May the Light find you this week in your moments of darkness.

Rest Assured


(originally written New Year’s Day 2007 and adapted for today, which is starting out far more peacefully–at least so far…)

A split instant can change everything. We all know this, but to truly understand it is another thing. I think I must have been due for the lesson.

Things have been a bit busy on the farm during this past holiday week, in addition to our routine chores and work responsibilities. Add in family gatherings and potlucks with friends, more than usual church events, and the natural expected holiday increase in my hospital work in the drug and alcohol unit, and I have been feeling a bit stretched.

On New Year’s Eve I was at church helping get dinner ready for about four dozen people who were going to stay after worship service to see in the New Year together. I was late to get to the sanctuary to play piano for hymn singing and was hurrying in the dark between buildings when I took a misstep off the edge of the sidewalk and fell forward, crashing right into the concrete steps up to the church. I cracked my forehead a good one. I didn’t get knocked out, but my forehead bore an impressive dent. I had the impending sense of “I’m in trouble now” and fully expected to pass out, but I didn’t. My second thought was “I guess I won’t be playing piano because I’d bleed all over the keys” and then the third thought was “the emergency room doctors are going to think I was falling down drunk on New Year’s Eve.” Nope, stone cold sober~~ just incredibly klutzy. Thankfully I had help right away. My husband took me to the hospital where I got stitched up with some 30 sutures and no evidence of a skull fracture. The ER staff who I know very well because they call me regularly to care for their detox patients, teased me relentlessly about “one of the deepest forehead lacs seen yet on New Year’s Eve”. Needless to say today I have quite a headache and will have a pretty nasty scar that will add a few new lines to my forehead but am grateful that I didn’t do more damage to myself.

Once I got home from ER, thinking the worst was over, my husband and two out of three kids started in with vomiting and diarrhea during the night. I have to say this is impeccable timing for the stomach virus that has been passing through our community to hit our family and they are all still miserably sick. I sit here wondering when my turn is coming. Happy New Year!

Times like this require a sense of humor and some perspective about the potential reasons why I needed a knock on the head:

This incident has proven that I am as hard headed as people regularly describe me. Concrete did not win against this noggin. I’m ashamed to say I’ll be even prouder now about my thick skull.

The plastic surgeon told me he’d need to stretch my skin on my forehead a bit to create an even wound closure, so when I raise my eyebrows or furrow my brow, I won’t have the same number of symmetric wrinkles once it is healed. Ah, too bad. He offered to stretch up the other side too while he was at it and I turned him down flat. In fact he told me to not furrow or raise my eyebrow while it is healing–hah, try that for a day under these circumstances!

I knew there was a reason I still wear bangs at age 52. Now I have justification.

This proves that it doesn’t take being under the influence to do something this stupid, unless the “influence” is congenital awkwardness.

Okay, I can try to make light of it but it is not always possible to understand how a split second can change a life, or even take a life. I am just not able to wrap my brain, protected as it is by my thick skull, around how bad things can happen to us when we least expect them. I do know that my travails are puny and pitiful compared to what some people face every day. My sister’s husband died instantly falling off a ladder last August. A good friend was hit from behind while biking home from work, and is now, months later, only beginning to walk again.

I got off easily with a bruised swollen face.

My son Nate showed me lyrics to a song his college choir sung in concert recently, written by a perfectly healthy 24 year old high school music director, Layton DeVries, from Lansing, Michigan a few weeks before he died as a result of injuries in a car accident. He could never have known what was coming so soon for him, yet he had an understanding far beyond his years. I am grateful to Layton that his words are reassuring to me this morning, the first rather traumatic day of a New Year which is blessed despite all that is happening to me and around me.

“O child, child of God, rest assured, the Lord is with you.
When you wake up in the morning and the sun is shining down, the Lord watches over every step you take.
When the world has knocked you down and you don’t know which way to turn, rest assured, the Lord is with you.
When your friends have turned against you and you feel all alone, the Lord watches over every move you make.
He will always be right there to protect and love his child, rest assured, the Lord is with you.
When darkness drifts around you, and your eyes close in sleep, the Lord watches over every breath you take.
And when death comes near to bring you home, you have no need to fear.
Rest assured, the Lord is with you. “