Outdoor Easter Sunrise Service on our farm

Easter Sunrise Service at BriarCroft
(formerly Walnut Hill Farm)

sunrise view from our hill

Sunday, April 12, 2009, 7:00 AM Easter Sunrise Service on the hill above our farm

When we purchased Walnut Hill Farm from the Morton Lawrence family in 1990, part of the tradition of this farm was a hilltop non-denominational Easter sunrise service held here for the previous 10+ years.  We have continued that tradition, with an open invitation to families from our surrounding rural neighborhood and communities, as well as our church family from Wiser Lake Chapel, to start Easter morning on our hill with a worship service of celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At our annual Easter Sunrise Service in Whatcom County, we develop a different Easter theme each year through use of scripture readings and songs, led by Dan Gibson. We sit on hay bales on the hill for the worship service, followed by breakfast of cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate and coffee in our barn.  As many of the people who attend come from some distance from all over the county, we try to conclude by 8 AM so they may have time to get to morning church services.

We invite all to come to our farm to participate in this traditional service of celebration.  Please dress warmly with sturdy shoes as you will be walking through wet grass to reach the hilltop.  Bring heavy blankets or sleeping bags to wrap up in if it is a chilly morning.  In case of rain, we meet in the big red hay barn on the farm, so we never cancel this service.

If you would like more information and directions, please email us at briarcroft@clearwire.net.

Dan and Emily Gibson– Nate, Ben and Lea

Teenage Drama




Most parents and teachers, and the high schoolers themselves
Would say their drama doesn’t need rehearsals or a stage
And certainly not an audience,
But every day it still flourishes.

In schools urban or rural,
From gyms to cafeterias,
Theaters to auditoriums,
In venues large and small.

Scripts reviewed and chosen, directors hired
Auditions overflow with sweaty hands, racing hearts
Shaky voices and missed dance steps,
False tears and a few real ones.

What role goes best with which actor?
Who has the work ethic, fewest tardies?
Will the onstage lovers get over
Their disagreements offstage?

The cast parts posted;
Tears flow again in joy and despair
Some cut altogether; others grateful to simply stand on stage.
The leads panic as they read the entire script.

Rehearsals begin and the pruning starts:
Do this, don’t do that, stand here, move there.
Listen! Quiet! Louder! Pay attention! Turn this way!
No coach ever controlled their players so completely.

Weeks go by as awkward adolescents transform
Into gentlemen and ladies, royalty and ruffians,
Peasants and prostitutes, priests and policemen,
Becoming something completely other.

Backstage dressing room plywood walls conceal metamorphosis
From teenager to dowager or glamour queen,
Guys and girls stand side by side at wall length mirrors
Comparing foundation, rouge and mascara.

Stage crew all in black, phantoms moving silently
Amidst the sets and props, creating scenes in shadow.
Tech crew expertly work the sound and light boards
Teaching adults how things work.

Prior to each show opening,
The cast and crew circles, holding hands to
Pray together, singing “Blest Be The Tie”~
Binding together before the stage drama begins.

The curtain rises, the audience responds, the actors connect,
Emerging backstage smiling, energized
By each round of applause, the laughter and hoots,
Confidently bluffing through occasional muffed lines and missed cues.

A story unfolds,  neatly contained in two hours,
The curtain falls, the ovations begin, then
Noisy lobby reception of bouquets and hugs,
Finally the make up and costumes come off.

Back to the world, they amble out into the night
In sweats and flip flops, with hint of residual eyeliner,
Homework still waiting, real life resumes its forward motion
But not nearly as dramatic as before.

Students discovering the curious advantage of living inside
A character of scripted lines and finite existence,
Holding an audience rapt and grateful to buy a ticket
And witness the miracle of a child growing up overnight.

lesmisbenkeelialeapimpernel1benlesmisphotos courtesy of Josh and Tim Scholten



A writer friend just introduced me to an old word that describes a state of contentment in a visceral way.  Using it feels like opening a window in a stuffy room.


the rumbling vibration of a cat’s purr,

flannel sheets warmed when wind and snow blur,

a filling meal of fresh home grown food

a cow chewing cud, eyes closed in serene mood,

the slow wakening after a full night’s sleep,

a pig’s wallow in cool mud so deep,

the low-throated nicker of a mare to her foal,

a tub of smooth water when muscles exert a toll,

the sucking hungry baby in rocking chair bliss,

a cuddle in jammies before bed with a book not to miss.

Bearing Fruit


Spring is rapidly advancing at a furious pace and on my way to the barn, I’ve glanced furtively at our many orchard trees, knowing that I’ll soon lose my best window of opportunity to get our annual pruning done. It’s  “now or never” time–actually not never, but pruning done after new growth already started is potentially damaging and wasteful to the energy the tree is expending this time of year in its rush to push out green from those dead looking branches.

Pruning is one of those tasks that is immensely satisfying–after it’s done–way after. Several years after in some cases. In the case of our fruit trees, which all have an average age of 80 years or more, it is a matter of prune or lose them forever, as they had a long respite from pruning in the 80s before we bought this farm and were growing wild and chaotic. We set to work early on in our tenure on this farm, trying to gently retrain these huge mature apple, cherry and pear trees, but our consistency was lacking and the trees remained on the wild side, defying us, and in two cases, toppling over in windstorms due to their weakened frame. Once we hired additional help, hoping to get ahead of the new growth, but our helper had the “chain saw” approach to pruning and literally scalped several trees into dormancy before we saw what was happening and stopped the savaging.

Instead, the process of retraining a wild tree is slow, meticulous, thoughtful, and expectant. You must study the tree, the setting, know the fruit it is supposed to bear, and begin making decisions before you make cuts. The dead stuff goes first–that’s easy. It’s not useful, it’s taking up space, it’s outta here. It’s the removal of viable branches that takes courage. Like thinning healthy vegetable plants in a garden, I can almost hear the plant utter a little scream as I choose it to be the next one to go. Gardening is not for the faint of heart. So ideally, I choose to trim about a third of the superfluous branches when I prune, rather than taking them all at once, and in three years, I’ll have the tree I hoped for, bearing fruit that is larger, healthier and hardier. Then we’re in maintenance mode. That takes patience, vision, dedication, and love. That’s the ideal world.

The reality is I skip years of pruning work, sometimes several years in a row. Or I make a really dumb error and prune in a way that is counter productive, and it takes several years for the tree to recover. Or, in the case of the scalping, those trees took years to ever bear fruit again–standing embarrassed and naked among their peers. Then there is the clean up process after pruning–if it was just lopping off stuff, I’d be out there doing it right now, but the process of picking up all those discarded branches off the ground, carrying them to a brush pile and burning them takes much more time and effort. That’s where kids
come in very handy.

I see the training work we do with our young horses as a similar process –we are shaping them for their eventual fruitfulness as productive working stock. Even the most wild and untamed of youngsters eventually respond to the gentle process of “pruning” away the unwanted behavior and encouraging the growth of the best behavior. Nipping is not fruitful–it is never encouraged; it is actively discouraged. Kicking belongs on the brush pile. Horse training is not for the faint of heart. Leading quietly and standing tied without a fuss are rewarded with the treat of scratches and rubs. The final product takes years of effort before it bears fruit, but our work is essential otherwise the grown horse may be completely unusable, and discarded like a tree that topples due to its weakness.

Our three children are not just a work in progress, but are about to bear fruit. They’ve been tolerating our shaping, trimming and pruning for years now, and are standing tall and strong and ready to meet the world, to give it all they’ve got, thanks to a sturdy foundation. In our hopes and dreams for them, there are times we  probably pruned a bit in haste, or sometimes neglected to prune enough, but even so, they’ve apparently grown up with few “scars” to show for our mistakes.  Child rearing is not for the faint of heart. Now we turn over the maintenance to the Master Gardener, to keep our children rooted, fed, watered, thriving and fruitful.  This is the ultimate act of faith and love. It is no longer our job to do, but we turn it over to Another, just as my parents did decades ago for me.

I’m still pruned, regularly, often painfully. Sometimes I see the pruning hook coming, knowing the dead branches that I’ve needlessly hung onto must go, and sometimes it comes as a complete surprise, cutting me at my most vulnerable spots. Some years I bear better fruit than other years. Some years, it seems, hardly any at all. Being pruned when you are mature, set in your ways, and a bit opinionated is not for the faint of heart. Yet, I’m still rooted, still fed when hungry and watered when thirsty, and still, amazingly enough, loved. I’ll continue to hang on to the root that chose to feed me and hold me fast in the windstorms of life. Even when my trunk is leaning, my branches broken, my fruit withered, I will know that love sustains, no matter what.

Already But Not Yet

springsunsetcolor(written originally in 2006)
The first full day of spring broke bright, sunny and full of promise.  After a hectic day at work, I turned to my barn chores, rushing to bring the horses in to the barn as the sunset began coloring everything on the farm.  I wanted to take a picture of the paint-streaked sky, but the sun’s descent was faster than I.  By the time I grabbed the camera and headed to the hillside to take photos of the red flushed woods to the east, the amber hue was barely visible as a cloak of gray dusk settled over everything.   I took photos in that mere light and when I loaded them on the computer there reappeared the light I’d lost outside.  Though grainy from the darkness, the red was vibrant and visible after all.  The sun had already set, but not quite yet.

It was an “already but not yet” kind of week.  Spring has already arrived if one looks at the calendar.  Yet there are not the typical signs of full-fledged spring.  The frogs have not begun to chorus at night, the orchard buds are staying stubbornly small, the tulip blossoms are staying tight and green, the grass is only beginning to show growth, the snow is still low in the hills.   So there is a “not yet” feel to spring. We continue to wait, hopeful.

One of our mares seemed “all ready” to deliver her foal last week when we needed to be away for the farm for a couple days, so a “horse sitter” came and stayed until we returned, and but the foal arrival time was “not yet”, so it was an exceedingly boring mare watch for her.

My 85 year old mother spent the week in the hospital after suffering a small stroke which affected her balance and coordination.  Though not a major setback for her physically, it was a blow to her confidence and makes her feel vulnerable to future strokes, which may be worse next time.  She knows, after a long healthy life, she should be “all ready” for the day the Lord takes her home, but it is “not yet” her time.

I am already in the midst of my own life transition with plummeting hormonal levels in my 50s as my teenage daughter’s peak.  I’m most definitely in the proverbial middle of the generational sandwich–whether I’m the meat, the cheese or a condiment is not clear to me. What I do know is that I’m not yet done with this very challenging and compressed part of my life.

Already but not yet.  There is tension in knowing that something profound is happening–a vanishing sunset, a vernal equinox, a life change or transition, but the transformation is not yet complete, and I’m not sure when it will be. I am still unfinished business.

In a few weeks I will be reminded of what is yet to come. I will know the shock of the empty tomb. My heart will burn within me as more is revealed, through the simple act of bread breaking.

It is finished on my behalf.

I’m all ready.

Steaming in the Pile


(yes, another story about manure–sorry!  Given I spend an hour or more a day dealing with it, it tends to absorb my creative energy!)

A mid-March cold snap swept down from northern Canada last week, freezing daffodils in mid-bloom, withering berry plant and orchard branch buds, and causing general mayhem in the Pacific northwest.  After a few weeks of rain and temperate weather up to the high 50’s, 17 degrees felt cruel indeed.

Our barn is fairly draft proof, but in northeasters like this, the water buckets ice up and the manure sits in cold hard piles, like so many round rocks.  It is a great temptation to put off the stall cleaning when the weather is this bitter cold and push the poop to the walls for later pick up when it is warmer.  After all, it doesn’t smell when it is frozen rock hard, and certainly loses its “squish” factor, so the horses seem to not mind too much.  So when I went out this weekend to start the digging out process, there were several days of accumulation to contend with.

As I wheeled the loads out to the manure pile, and dug into the pile to tidy it up, the steam poured out into the frigid air–there was nothing left frozen there.  It was hot and getting hotter–its destruction assured through the composting of so much organic matter.  No wonder the cats find a nice sunny spot to stretch out next to this smoldering mountain of poop.  It is as comfy as a tropical vacation spot.

How often have I similarly piled my metaphorical “poop” in piles to deal with another time?  Frozen it seems innocuous, inoffensive, not worthy of my attention, not enough to bother with.  It is so tempting to pass on cleaning up my messes, by shoving mistakes and errors to one side or “under the carpet” and trying to ignore the growing mounds in my own nest.  Admitting one’s sins and proceeding to clean up after one’s self  is not fashionable in this day and age of not wanting to be judged or to pass judgment.  All types of behavior, even some of the most self-destructive, are tolerated as freedom of expression, and referring to anything as sin is considered impossibly old fashioned.  Our pastor is doing a study series on Christian “respectable sins”, like ungodliness, discontent, pride, etc.   I have a ton of them that accumulate daily that I want to simply pile up and ignore.

Like frozen poop shoved aside and not dealt with, sin eventually warms up.  It starts to stink, and generally becomes obnoxious and overwhelming.  Once it gets big enough, it becomes its own steaming inferno, burning and destroying everything else within. The only safe place for it is to move it far away from where we dwell everyday.

I remember a young mother of three children who died three years ago as the heat of her drug addiction overcame efforts to clean up her life, though she was a Christian believer.  Many family, friends, church family and health care professionals handed her the tools to help scoop up the mess her addiction had left behind, but she chose to shove it into frozen piles around her, unwilling to admit how it was mounding up higher and higher, to the point of blocking any eventual escape.  It consumed her before she could dig free with her rescuers’ help.  It crushed her and her family is still trying to recover.

Such tragedy convinces me we must face our own messes without turning away in our shame.  We must dig ourselves out everyday from our mistakes, ask forgiveness for the harm we cause, and gratefully accept the tools handed to us that make possible the impossible job of getting clean.   We cannot do it by ourselves.  Our wheelbarrow is too small, our shovels too inadequate, our muscles too weak.

Blessed are the barn cleaners, for working together, they will find hope beyond the steaming pile.