Most of my life, a barn has stood a few dozen yards from my back door. As a small child, I learned to ride a tricycle on the wooden planks of the chicken coop, sat on the bony back of a Guernsey cow while my father milked by hand, found new litters of kittens in cobweb-filled hideaways, and leaped with abandon into stacks of loose hay in a massive loft.
As a young girl, I preferred to clean stalls rather than my bedroom. The acoustics in the barn were first rate for singing loud and the horses and cows never covered their ears, although the dog would usually howl. A hay loft was the perfect spot for hiding a writing journal and reading books. It was a place for quiet contemplation and sometimes fervent prayer when I was worried: a sanctuary for turbulent adolescence.
Through college and medical training, I managed to live over twelve years in the city without access to a barn or the critters that lived inside. I searched for plenty of surrogate retreats: the library stacks, empty chapels within the hospitals I worked, even a remote mountainous wildlife refuge in central Africa.
It is hard to ignore one’s genetic destiny to struggle as a steward of the land through the challenges of economics and weather. My blood runs with DNA of wheat and lentil growers, loggers, cattle ranchers, dairy farmers, work horse teamsters, and flower and vegetable gardeners. A farm eventually called me to come back home and so I heeded, bringing along a husband (from a dairy farming background himself), and eventually there followed three children.
It hasn’t always been pastoral and sublime on the farm. It’s a lot like life itself.
Recently, a sudden southerly wind hit our farm one winter night, powerfully gusting up to 60 miles an hour and slamming the house with drenching rain as we prepared to go to bed. Chores in the barn had been finished hours before, but as we had not been expecting a storm, the north/south center aisle doors were still open, banging and rattling as they were buffeted in the wind. I quickly dressed to go latch the doors for the night, but the tempest had already done its damage. Hay, empty buckets, horse blankets, tack and cat food had flown down the aisle, while the horses stood wide-eyed and fretful in their stalls. A storm was blowing inside the barn as well as outside. This was not the safe haven a barn was meant to be. It took all my strength to roll the doors shut, latch them tight, take a deep breath and then survey the damage.
It took some time to clean up the mess. The wind continued to bash at the doors, but it no longer could touch anything inside. The horses relaxed and got back to their evening meal though the noise coming from outside was deafening. I headed back to the house and slept fitfully listening to the wind blow all night, wondering if the barn roof might pull off in a gust, exposing everything within.
Yet in daylight the following morning, all was calm. The barn was still there, the roof still on, the horses where they belong and all inside was even tidier than before the barnstorm. Or so it appeared.
Like my sturdily built barn, I’m buffeted by the sudden gales of mid-life. My doors have been flung open wide, my roof pulled off, at times everything blown away, leaving me reeling. More and more often, I need restoration, renewal and reconciliation. And so I set to work to fix up my life with all the skill I can muster: setting things right where they’ve been upended, painting a fresh coat where chipped and dulled, shoring up rotted foundations. If only I can get it done well enough, with sufficient perseverance, I surely will recover from the latest blow.
But my hard work and determination is not enough. It is never enough. I am never finished.
The only true sanctuary isn’t found in a weather-beaten barn of rough-hewn old growth timbers vulnerable to the winds of life.
The barnstorming happens within me, in the depths of my soul, comforted only by the encompassing and salvaging arms of God. There I am held, transformed and restored, grateful beyond measure.