Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away

My father climbs into the silo.
He has come, rung by rung,
up the wooden trail that scales
that tall belly of cement.

It’s winter, twenty below zero,
He can hear the wind overhead.
The silage beneath his boots
is so frozen it has no smell.

My father takes up a pick-ax
and chops away a layer of silage.
He works neatly, counter-clockwise
under a yellow light,

then lifts the chunks with a pitchfork
and throws them down the chute.
They break as they fall
and rattle far below.

His breath comes out in clouds,
his fingers begin to ache, but
he skims off another layer
where the frost is forming

and begins to sing, “You are my
sunshine, my only sunshine.”
~Joyce Sutphen, “Silo Solo” from First Words

Farmers gotta be tough. There is no taking a day off from chores. The critters need to eat and their beds cleaned even during the coldest and hottest days. Farmers rise before the sun and return to the house long after the sun sets. They need a positive outlook to keep going – knowing there is sunshine somewhere even when the skies are gray, their fingers are aching from the cold, and their back hurts.

I come from a long line of farmers on both sides – my mother was the daughter of wheat farmers and my father was the son of subsistence stump farmers who had to supplement their income with outside jobs as a cook and in lumber mills. Both my parents went to college; their parents wanted something better for them than they had. Both my parents had professions but still chose to live on a farm – daily milkings, crops in the garden and fields, raising animals for meat.

My husband’s story is similar, with both parents working on and off the farm. Dan milked cows with his dad and as a before-school job in the mornings.

We still chose to live on a farm to raise our children and commit to the daily work, no matter the weather, on sunlit days and blowing snow days and gray muddy days. And now, when our grandchildren visit, we introduce them to the routine and rhythms of farm life, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, and through it all, we are grateful for the values that follow through the generations of farming people.

And one of our favorite songs to sing to our grandchildren is “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” a song originally written about a horse named “Sunshine.

For the farmer and the rest of us, it is the Sun that sustains our days and its promise of return that sustains our nights.

You’ll never know, dears, how much we love you.
Please don’t take our sunshine away.

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Thanks to Blowing Snow

May the wind always be in her hair
May the sky always be wide with hope above her
And may all the hills be an exhilaration
the trials but a trail,
all the stones but stairs to God.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts…
~Ann Voskamp from “A Prayer for a Daughter”

Nate and Ben and brand new baby Lea
Daddy and Lea
Mommy and Lea

“I have noticed,” she said slowly, “that time does not really exist for mothers, with regard to their children. It does not matter greatly how old the child is – in the blink of an eye, the mother can see the child again as she was when she was born, when she learned to walk, as she was at any age — at any time, even when the child is fully grown….”
~Diana Gabaldon from Voyager

Just checking to see if she is real…

Your rolling and stretching had grown quieter that stormy winter night
thirty years ago, but still no labor came as it should.
Already a week overdue post-Christmas,
you clung to amnion and womb, not yet ready.
Then as the wind blew more wicked
and snow flew sideways, landing in piling drifts,
the roads became more impassable, nearly impossible to traverse.

So your dad and I tried,
concerned about your stillness and my advanced age,
worried about being stranded on the farm far from town.
When a neighbor came to stay with your brothers overnight,
we headed down the road
and our car got stuck in a snowpile in the deep darkness,
our tires spinning, whining against the snow.
Another neighbor’s earth mover dug us out to freedom.

You floated silent and still, knowing your time was not yet.

Creeping slowly through the dark night blizzard,
we arrived to the warm glow of the hospital,
your heartbeat checked out steady, all seemed fine.

I slept not at all.

The morning’s sun glistened off sculptured snow as
your heart ominously slowed.
You and I were jostled, turned, oxygenated, but nothing changed.
You beat even more slowly,
threatening to let go your tenuous grip on life.

The nurses’ eyes told me we had trouble.
The doctor, grim faced, announced
delivery must happen quickly,
taking you now, hoping we were not too late.
I was rolled, numbed, stunned,
clasping your father’s hand, closing my eyes,
not wanting to see the bustle around me,
trying not to hear the shouted orders,
the tension in the voices,
the quiet at the moment of opening
when it was unknown what would be found.

And then you cried. A hearty healthy husky cry,
a welcomed song of life uninterrupted.
Perturbed and disturbed from the warmth of womb,
to the cold shock of a bright lit operating room,
your first vocal solo brought applause
from the surrounding audience who admired your purplish pink skin,
your shock of damp red hair, your blue eyes squeezed tight,
then blinking open, wondering and wondrous,
emerging and saved from a storm within and without.

You were brought wrapped for me to see and touch
before you were whisked away to be checked over thoroughly,
your father trailing behind the parade to the nursery.
I closed my eyes, swirling in a brain blizzard of what-ifs.

If no snow storm had come,
you would have fallen asleep forever within my womb,
no longer nurtured by my aging and failing placenta,
cut off from what you needed to stay alive.
There would have been only our soft weeping,
knowing what could have been if we had only known,
if God had provided a sign to go for help.

So you were saved by a providential storm
and dug out from a drift:
I celebrate when I hear your voice singing-
your students love you as their teacher and mentor,
you are a thread born to knit and mend hearts,
all because of a night of blowing snow.

My annual retelling of the most remarkable day of my life thirty years ago today when our daughter Eleanor (“Lea”) Sarah Gibson was born, hale and hearty because the good Lord sent a wind and snow storm to blow us into the hospital in time to save her. She is now married to her true love Brian–another gift sent from the Lord; we know you will be awesome parents when your turn comes!

Last Ebbing Light

Clouded with snow
The cold winds blow,
And shrill on leafless bough
The robin with its burning breast
Alone sings now.

   The rayless sun,
Day’s journey done,
Sheds its last ebbing light
On fields in leagues of beauty spread
Unearthly white.

   Thick draws the dark,
And spark by spark,
The frost-fires kindle, and soon
Over that sea of frozen foam
Floats the white moon.
~ Walter De la Mare, “Winter” from  By Heart

Roused by a faint glow
between closed slats
of window blinds
at midnight

Our bedroom suffused
in ethereal glow
from a moon-white sky,
mixing a million stars and snowflakes

A snow light covers all,
settling gently around us,
tucking in the drifting corners
of a downy comforter

while heaven comes to earth,
plumps the pillows,
cushions the landscape,
and illuminates our longing hearts.

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Here We All Are…

There’s nothing romantic about the Christmas story. If anything, it offers a slice of a brutal world in which a child is born on the street, so to speak, with next to nothing in the way of rights and security, and not even a home.

He whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas said, even as a grown man, “I have nothing. I am nowhere at home. Even at night, I have no place to rest or lay my head”.…But now this man from Nazareth comes to us and invites us to mirror God’s image, and shows us how. He says: you too can become light, as God is light. Because what is all around you is not hell, but rather a world waiting to be filled with hope and faith.
~Jörg Zink, from Türen zum Fest.

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are…

~W.H.Auden from “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio”

As we drove down the freeway through Seattle yesterday for a Christmas gathering of far-flung family members, I couldn’t help but flinch seeing the stark reality of ramshackle shelters and tents perched in the most precarious places along the roadside. This has been a week of freezing rain and ice, wind and snow for most of our country; here are people trying to survive in the lowliest of places through the worst of conditions. Surely, if this is not hell on earth, it is close to it. A merry Christmas indeed.

Suffering is never far off from where we are, whether we are confronted with homelessness, or it finds its way into our own lives, unbidden and overwhelming. In few weeks we begin the observance of Lent to remember the sacrifice and suffering of the Man born as a homeless baby into loving arms, having come from Loving Arms to rescue the lost.

So recently filled with Christmas feasting and cheer, I’m reminded of the struggle to find home, warmth, love and nurture in a world that can be so cruel, dark and cold.

The Babe has come to quake the gates of hell – here we all are, feeling the ground shaking…


This little Babe so few days old 
is come to rifle Satan's fold;
all hell doth at his presence quake 
though he himself for cold do shake;
for in this weak unarmèd wise 
the gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field, 
his naked breast stands for a shield;
his battering shot are babish cries, 
his arrows looks of weeping eyes,
his martial ensigns Cold and Need 
and feeble Flesh his warrior's steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall, 
his bulwark but a broken wall;
the crib his trench, haystacks his stakes; 
of shepherds he his muster makes;
and thus, as sure his foe to wound,
the angels' trump alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight, 
stick to the tents that he hath pight.
Within his crib is surest ward, 
this little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, 
then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

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A Fading Fire

Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by.
I muse at how its being puts blissful back
With yellowy moisture mild night’s blear-all black,
Or to-fro tender trambeams truckle at the eye.
By that window what task what fingers ply,
I plod wondering, a-wanting, just for lack
Of answer the eagerer a-wanting Jessy or Jack
There God to aggrándise, God to glorify.—

Come you indoors, come home; your fading fire
Mend first and vital candle in close heart’s vault:
You there are master, do your own desire;
What hinders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault
In a neighbour deft-handed? Are you that liar
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?

~Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Candle Indoors”

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night, 
That interests our eyes. And who goes there? 
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where, 
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light? 

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare: 
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite. 

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind. 

Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Lantern Out of Doors

photo by Josh Scholten

Now burn, new born to the world,
Doubled-naturèd name,
The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame,
Mid-numbered he in three of the thunder-throne!

Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;
Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;
A released shower, let flash to the shire,
not a lightning of fíre hard-hurled.

Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us,
be a crimson-cresseted east…
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland”

In three days, we have gone from a sub-zero wind chill ice storm from the north to a balmy 60 degree storm from the south, both winds taking out our power and plunging us into a deeper darker night.

Rather than resort to generator power immediately, I break the darkness with candle light. It is only a brief respite as candles burn down, batteries die, and we’re back in darkness again until the power lines are patched and the transformers restored.

Sometimes the Advent and Christmas season can feel like that: a recharge for my faith that has gone dark and cold, a fire lit under me to banish creeping doubt and discouragement. I need more than Advent rituals and Christmas traditions to keep the darkness in its place beyond today.

God doesn’t need beeswax or batteries to keep His Light on.
He just needs us: our trust, our love, our desire for understanding, our need for Him.

We are the candles that shine forth in the world to light the way for those around us who are floundering in the dark.

And that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about…

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Dawn on our Darkness: Frost Arrests the Beauty

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

~Dr. Rowan Williams “Advent Calendar”

He arrives when we are at our loneliest
and most discouraged,
a flash of brilliance,
an emergence of new life
when all seems hopeless, dead and dying.

He arrives to comfort and console us
with His Words and reminder:
all is not lost
all is not sadness

There is work yet to be done.

Even now, after all we’ve been through-
even now, as we are shrouded with new hope
and arrested by His beauty.

This year’s Advent theme “Dawn on our Darkness” is taken from this 19th century Christmas hymn:

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid.
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
~Reginald Heber -from “Brightest and Best”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
~Howard Thurman

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Frost of Adversity

There is an arid Pleasure –
As different from Joy –
As Frost is different from Dew –
Like Element – are they –

Yet one – rejoices Flowers –
And one – the Flowers abhor –
The finest Honey – curdled –
Is worthless – to the Bee –
~Emily Dickinson

Remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity.
~Charles Spurgeon

Even when hard times leave us frozen solid,
completely immobilized
and too cold to touch,
there is hope and healing,
in the warming immensity
of the goodness of God.

Even when life’s chill leaves us aching,
longing for relief,
the coming thaw is real
because God is good.

Even when we’re flattened,
stepped on, broken into fragments —
the pieces left are the beginning
of who we will become,
becoming whole again
because God is good.

Frost lasts not forever.
Sunlight makes us glisten and glitter
as ice melts down to droplets.
We are a reflection of the goodness of God:
His eyes and ears,
heart and soul,
hands and feet.
Even more so,
we become His tears
as God weeps in His goodness.

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Tenderness for Ordinary Things

Last evening,
As I drove into this small valley,
I saw a low-hanging cloud
Wandering through the trees.
It circled like a school of fish
Around the dun-colored hay bales.
Reaching out its foggy hands
To stroke the legs of a perfect doe
Quietly grazing in a neighbor’s mule pasture
I stopped the car
And stepping out into the blue twilight,
A wet mist brushed my face,
And then it was gone.
It was not unfriendly,
But it was not inclined to tell its secrets.
I am in love with the untamed things,
The cloud, the doe,
Water, air and light.
I am filled with such tenderness
For ordinary things:
The practical mule, the pasture,
A perfect spiral of gathered hay.
And although I should not be,
Consistent as it is,
I am always surprised
By the way my heart will open
So completely and unexpectedly,
With a rush and an ache,
Like a sip of cold water
On a tender tooth.
~Carrie Newcomer “In the Hayfield”

I realize that nothing in this life is actually ordinary – at times I could weep over the unordinariness that is around me.

The light falls a certain way, the colors astound, the animals grace the fields with their contentment, the birds become overture, the air is perfumed with rain or blossom.

How can I not ache with this knowledge? How can I not feel the tenderness of my heart feeling so full, it could burst at any moment?

Truly extraordinary to be able to give myself over to this.

Light pools like spilled water on the floor
Cold air slips like silk beneath the door
The sky feels like a grey wool cap
Pulled down round my ears that near

All the ridge is lined with stands of beech
At the tops they’re swaying quietly
So elegant and raw without their leaves
All of these I see

I catch a memory a scent another short glimpse
Like someone leaned over and gave my forehead a kiss
I give myself to this

There’s a hidden spring back where it’s hard to find
Someone used it years ago to make moonshine
This forest has a different sense of time
Than yours or mine

I catch a memory a scent another short glimpse
Like someone leaned over and gave my forehead a kiss
I give myself to this

There’s a soil horizon
Layers beneath the trees
A sign of outward grace
Unraveling

One bird sits and sings an aching song
One turning leaf, ten circles on the pond
Two careful does wait silently beyond
Then they’re gone they’re gone

I catch a memory a scent another short glimpse
Like someone leaned over and gave my forehead a kiss
I give myself to this
~Carrie Newcomer

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These Dark Days of Autumn Rain

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
     Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
     She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
     She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
     Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
     The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
     And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
     The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
     And they are better for her praise.
~Robert Frost “My November Guest”

November,
this month of rapid darkening,
transforms itself
to a recounting of gratitude
of our daily thanksgiving and blessings~~
it is good to dwell on our gifts.

Even so, it is right
to invite Sorrow
to sit in silence with us,
her tears ever-blending with ours.

These deepening days
of bare stripped branches
feed our growing need
for the covering grace
of His coming light.

The mountains are steep and the valley’s low
And already I’m weary but I have so far to go
Oh, and sorrow holds my hand and suffering sings me songs
But when I close my eyes I know to whom I belong
And who makes me strong
And I will be free, I will be free to run the mountains
I will be free, free to drink from the living fountain
Oh, I’ll never turn back ’cause he awaits for me
Oh, I will be free
A wise man, a rich man in pauper’s clothes
A shepherd to lead us through the land of woes
Though many battles I have lost so many rivers yet to cross
But my eyes behold the Son who bore my loss and who paid the cost
I will be free, I will be free to run the mountains
I will be free, oh, free to drink from the living fountain
Oh, I’ll never turn back ’cause He awaits for me, oh
Oh, I will be free, oh
Oh and I’ll dance on silver moonlight and I’ll walk through velvet fields
Oh, and I’ll run into the arms the arms that set me free
Oh, I will be free to run the mountains, I will be free
Free to drink from the living fountain
Oh, I’ll never turn back ’cause He awaits, oh
I’ll never turn back
Don’t you ever turn back
‘Cause someday, someday we’re gonna see
That we will be free
Songwriter: Cindy Lavonne Morgan

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Pearls of Early Dew

October is the treasurer of the year,
And all the months pay bounty to her store;
The fields and orchards still their tribute bear,
And fill her brimming coffers more and more.
But she, with youthful lavishness,
Spends all her wealth in gaudy dress,
And decks herself in garments bold
Of scarlet, purple, red, and gold.

She heedeth not how swift the hours fly,
But smiles and sings her happy life along;
She only sees above a shining sky;
She only hears the breezes’ voice in song.
Her garments trail the woodlands through,
And gather pearls of early dew
That sparkle, till the roguish Sun
Creeps up and steals them every one.

But what cares she that jewels should be lost,
When all of Nature’s bounteous wealth is hers?
Though princely fortunes may have been their cost,
Not one regret her calm demeanor stirs.
Whole-hearted, happy, careless, free,
She lives her life out joyously,
Nor cares when Frost stalks o’er her way
And turns her auburn locks to gray.
~Paul Laurence Dunbar “October”

Frost arrives this week
as pearls of dew freeze into place, dangling –
strings of liquid gems transform to icy diamonds.

A rich and mellow October gives way
to crisp and colorless November –
a sorrowful undressing.

All fades to gray; so do I.

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