Never Got Wet

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.
~Ada Limón “The Raincoat”

When I was 13, I grew too quickly. My spine developed a thoracic scoliosis (curvature) — after inspecting my back as I bent over to touch my toes, my pediatrician referred me to a pediatric orthopedic specialist an hour away from my home town.

The question was whether I would need to have a metal rod surgically placed along my spine to prevent it from more misalignment or whether I would need to wear a back brace like a turtle. The least intervention would be physical therapy to try to keep my back and abdominal muscles as strong as possible to limit the curvature.

Since my father didn’t have much flexibility in his work schedule, my mother had to drive me to the “big city” for my appointments – as a nervous driver, she did it only because she knew it was necessary to get the medical opinion needed. She asked me to read aloud to her from whatever book I was reading at the time – I don’t think she listened closely but I think she knew it would keep me occupied while she navigated traffic.

At first, we went every three months for new xrays. The orthopedist would draw on my bare back and on my spine xrays with a black marker, calculating my curves and angles with his protractor, watching for a trend of worsening as I grew taller. He reassured us that I hadn’t yet reached a critical level of deviation requiring more aggressive treatment.

Eventually my growth rate slowed down and the specialist dismissed me from further visits, wishing me well. He told me I would certainly be somewhat “crooked” for the rest of my life, and it would inevitably worsen in my later years. I continued to visit PT for regular visits; my mom would patiently wait in the car as I sweated my way through the regimen.

The orthopedist was right about the curvature of my aging spine. I am not only a couple inches shorter now, but my rib cage and chest wall is asymmetric affecting my ability to stand up totally straight. Just last week, I had an xray of my collar bones as even those joints have developed wear and tear changes. I consider being crooked a small price to pay for avoiding a serious surgery or a miserable brace as a teenager.

What I didn’t understand at the time was the commitment my mother made to make sure I got the care I needed, even if it meant great inconvenience in her life, even if she was awake at night worried about the outcome of the appointments, even if the financial burden was significant for my family. She, like so many parents with children with significant medical or psychological challenges, gave up her wants and wishes to make sure I received what I needed. As a kid, I just assumed that’s what a mom does. Later, as a mom myself, I realized it is what moms do, but often at significant personal cost. As a physician, I saw many young people whose parents couldn’t make the commitment to see they got the care they needed, and it showed.

I was one blessed by parents who did what their kids needed to thrive.

My mom constantly offered me her raincoat so I wouldn’t get wet. Meanwhile she was being drenched.

Thank you, Mom, for making sure I was covered by your love. I still am.

Original Barnstorming artwork note cards available as a gift to you with a $50 donation to support Barnstorming – information here

Dreaming of Rain

Mine, O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain
~Gerard Manley Hopkins  “Thou art indeed just, Lord”

it rained in my sleep
and in the morning the fields were wet

I dreamed of artillery
of the thunder of horses

in the morning the fields were strewn
with twigs and leaves

as if after a battle
or a sudden journey

I went to sleep in the summer
I dreamed of rain

in the morning the fields were wet
and it was autumn

~Linda Pastan “September” from Carnival Evening

Even though we are experiencing outlandishly brilliant and sunny late summer weather, I am longing for rain – it has been much too long without a decent soaking and I’m antsy and anxious when the ground is all dust and the air is in need of a good cleansing.

It’s true that my spirit can be just as dry and dusty as the ground, and my roots are parched. I know the need for a drenching renewal isn’t just for the soil.

Lord of Life,
send your refreshing rain to quench my continual thirst.
Reach down with your torrential Love and bathe my roots.

Original Barnstorming artwork note cards available as a gift to you with a $50 donation to support Barnstorming – information here
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A Wet and Trembling Solstice

The light stretched and tangy, up on its horse
and riding through the ripening meadows,
buzzing the leaves and the
birds who’ve been at it for hours.
Light that in its excess has become something else.
The way you look from a hill’s highest point,
your head full of chlorophyll,
heart shucking winter like a clayload of guilt,
like pollen with its open fire policy
compensating loss. You exceed yourself,
tanked on the light and the birds
who’ve been singing forever.
~Donna Kane from Summer Solstice

Green was the silence, wet was the light
the month of June trembled like a butterfly
~Pablo Neruda from “Sonnet XL”

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—

but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,
dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,
and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.
~Billy Collins “Morning”

Early this morning, the northern hemisphere transitioned to summer, but aside from the date on the calendar, here it would be difficult to prove otherwise.  It has been unseasonably cool and wet, the skies stony gray, the rivers running full and fast, the ground peppered with puddles. Rain has chosen to fall at night, hiding behind the cover of darkness as if ashamed of itself.   As it should be.

What all this moisture will yield is acres and acres of towering grass growth, more grass than imaginable, more grass than we can keep mowed,  burying the horses up to their backs as they dive head long into the pasture.  The Haflingers don’t need to lower their necks to graze,  choosing instead to simply strip off the ripe tops of the grasses as they forge paths through five foot forage.   It is like children at a birthday party swiping the frosting off cupcake after cupcake, licking their fingers as they go.  Instead of icing, the horses’ muzzles are smeared with dandelion fluff,  grass seed and buttercup petals.

Here in the northwest, June can tend to shroud its promise of longer days under clouds.  Outdoor weddings brace for rain and wind with a supply of umbrellas, graduation potlucks are served on covered porches and Fourth of July picnics stay inside, sheltered and dry. 

Despite the cool and wet, people here still have that universal wary anticipation of solstice as it signals the slow inexorable return of darkness from which we have not yet fully recovered.

I got up early this morning to witness the beginning of summer just to see what might happen. You never know what might be just over the horizon as we round this corner to face the darkening.

Trembling, I splash through this squishy morning, quivering like a wet butterfly emerging from its cocoon ready to unfurl its wings to dry, but unsure how to fly and uncertain of the new world that awaits.  In fact the dark empty cocoon can look mighty inviting on a rainy June night or during a loud mid-day thunderstorm.   If I could manage to squeeze myself back in, it might be worth a try.

After all, there is no place like home, sweet (but damp) home.

Daylight comes and nighttime goes, nighttime falls, day flies
Round and round the cycle goes,
we live and then we die and then we live and then we die.
The seasons of my life go round, the sunshine and the rain
The fallow and the fruitful days,
the joy and then the pain and then the joy and then the pain.
As light below, so light above, so light in all we see

The light is in the act of love, the light that sets us free,
yes, it’s the light that sets free.
Daylight comes…
~Libby Roderick

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Buttercups and Velvet Bums

A week ago I had a fire
To warm my feet, my hands and face;
Cold winds, that never make a friend,
Crept in and out of every place.


Today the fields are rich in grass,
And buttercups in thousands grow;
I’ll show the world where I have been–
With gold-dust seen on either shoe.


Till to my garden back I come,
Where bumble-bees for hours and hours
Sit on their soft, fat, velvet bums,
To wriggle out of hollow flowers.

~William Henry Davies “All in June”

This has been the coldest wettest June in decades here in the Pacific Northwest: we have the stove lit for warmth, the fields are too wet to till, the gardens lie idle because planted seeds will rot. Despite the chill, the buzzing pollinators have been out doing their important work in fields of buttercups where the Haflinger horses graze, sometimes getting too soppy in the rain to return to their hives. It is hard work to move those chunky bodies with those little tiny wings – but they manage.

The Haflingers and bumblebees have something in common — pudgy generous backsides. There is nothing quite as deceptive as a bumblebee bum – fat, soft, velvety….yet with a sting in the middle. I know this from personal experience: I sat down on one as a kid wearing a bathing suit and never forgot it.

But all is forgiven. I now appreciate bumblebee bums. They make me feel less self-conscious about my fluffy horses’ hind ends …
and my own.

photo by Andrea Nipges (Z’s Happy Bees)

Some things that fly there be,—             
Birds, hours, the bumble-bee:  
Of these no elegy.
~Emily Dickinson from “XIV”

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Bowing Low to Wind and Rain

Light and wind are running
over the headed grass
as though the hill had
melted and now flowed.
~Wendell Berry “June Wind” from New Collected Poems

The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
~Robert Frost “Lodged”

All that I serve will die, all my delights,
the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,
the silent lilies standing in the woods,
the woods, the hill, the whole earth, all
will burn in man’s evil, or dwindle
in its own age. Let the world bring on me
the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may know
my little light taken from me into the seed
of the beginning and the end, so I may bow
to mystery, and take my stand on the earth
like a tree in a field, passing without haste
or regret toward what will be, my life
a patient willing descent into the grass.
~Wendell Berry “The Wish to be Generous” from Collected Poems

The abundant grasses in the surrounding hay fields were hit hard with heavy rainfall and wind yesterday, collapsing under the weight of the pelting moisture.  Countless four foot tall tender stems are now lodged and flattened in undulating bent-over waves of green, embracing the earth from which they arose.  If the rain continues as predicted over the next several days, the grass may not recover, unable to dry out enough to stand upright again, nor are the fields dry enough to bring tractors and equipment to the rescue. 

It is ironic to lose a crop from too much of a good thing– lush growth demands, but often cannot withstand, quenching rains.  It has matured too fast, rising up too lush, too overcome with itself so that it can no longer stand. The grass keels over in community, broken and crumpled, likely now unsuitable for cutting or baling into hay, and unless chopped quickly into silage to ferment for winter cattle feed, it must melt back into the soil again.

However–if there are dry spells amid the showers over the next few days, with a breeze to lift the soaked heads and squeeze out the wet sponge created by layered forage–the lodged crop may survive and rise back up. It may be raised and lifted again, pushing up to meet the sun, its stems strengthening and straightening.

What once was so heavy laden and down-trodden might lighten;
what was silent could once again move and sing and wave with the wind.

The hill pasture, an open place among the trees,
tilts into the valley. The clovers and tall grasses
are in bloom. Along the foot of the hill
dark floodwater moves down the river.
The sun sets. Ahead of nightfall the birds sing.
I have climbed up to water the horses
and now sit and rest, high on the hillside,
letting the day gather and pass. Below me
cattle graze out across the wide fields of the bottomlands,
slow and preoccupied as stars. In this world
men are making plans, wearing themselves out,
spending their lives, in order to kill each other.

~Wendell Berry “In This World” from Farming: A Handbook

What stood will stand, though all be fallen,
The good return that time has stolen.
Though creatures groan in misery,
Their flesh prefigures liberty
To end travail and bring to birth
Their new perfection in new earth.
At word of that enlivening
Let the trees of the woods all sing
And every field rejoice, let praise
Rise up out of the ground like grass.
What stood, whole in every piecemeal
Thing that stood, will stand though all
Fall–field and woods and all in them
Rejoin the primal Sabbath’s hymn.
~Wendell Berry, from “Sabbaths” (North Point Press, 1987)
.

From The Nicene Creed

Et expecto resurrectionem motuorum.
Et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen. Alleluia. 

And I look for the resurrection of the dead,
And the life of the world to come. Amen. Alleluia

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But For Rain…

Every valley drinks,
        Every dell and hollow:
    Where the kind rain sinks and sinks,
        Green of Spring will follow.
 
    Yet a lapse of weeks
        Buds will burst their edges,
    Strip their wool-coats, glue-coats, streaks,
        In the woods and hedges;

    But for fattening rain
        We should have no flowers,
    Never a bud or leaf again
        But for soaking showers;

    We should find no moss
        In the shadiest places,
    Find no waving meadow grass
        Pied with broad-eyed daisies:
 
    But miles of barren sand,

        With never a son or daughter,
    Not a lily on the land,
        Or lily on the water.
~Christina Georgina Rossetti from “Winter Rain” from  Poems of Christina Rossetti (1904)


Reading the news of ongoing drought in the U.S. Southwest being the worst in over a thousand years, I look at our over-filled Northwest rain gauges with renewed appreciation and gratitude. We’ve had more “fattening” rain than typical over the last several months, which at times resulted in devastating flooding and damage, impacting hundreds of homes and businesses. Yet, but for rain, we too would become miles and miles of barren sand, with nothing able to thrive and grow, no sons or daughters or the beauty of the lilies.

I love our “kind” rain: the wet, the drizzle, the mist, the gray, the clouds, the mud, the moss, the slosh and the “evening dews and damps.”

“In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea…”
The rain transfigures us all.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
                       His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
                       His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
                       Since God is marching on.”

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
                       Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
                       While God is marching on.
~Julia Ward Howe (published 1862)

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A Cache of Love

January’s drop-down menu
leaves everything to the imagination:
splotch the ice, splice the light,
remake the spirit…

Just get on with it,
doing what you have to do
with the gray palette that lies
to hand. The sun’s coming soon.

A future, then, of warmth and runoff,
and old faces surprised to see us.
A cache of love, I’d call it,
opened up, vernal, refreshed.
~Sidney Burris “Runoff”

When I reach the end of January in all its grayest pallor, it is hard to imagine another six weeks of winter ahead. It can feel like nature offers only a few options, take your pick: a soupy foggy morning, a drizzly mid-day, a crisp northeast wind, an unexpected snow flurry, a soggy evening.

Every once in awhile the January drop-down menu will add a special surprise: icy spikes on grass blades, frozen droplets on birch branches, hair ice on wood, crystallized weeds like jewelry in the sun, a pink flannel blanket sunrise, an ocean-of-orange sunset.

Then I realize January’s gray palette is merely preparation for what has been hidden from me the whole time. There is Love cached away, and as it is revealed, it will not let me go.

photo of hair ice in King County, Washington taken by Laura Reifel

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thy ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seeks me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

~George Matheson

(“O Love” was inspired by the words of Scottish minister, George Matheson in 1882. Blinded at the age of nineteen, his fiancé called off their engagement and his sister cared for him as he endured new challenges.  Years later, on the eve of his sister’s wedding, he faced the painful reminder of his own heartache and loss as he penned the words to this hymn.) from ElaineHagenborg.com

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We Were All Beautiful Once

Everything in the garden is dead, killed by a sudden hard
freeze, the beans, the tomatoes, fruit still clinging to the
branches. It’s all heaped up ready to go to the compost
pile: rhubarb leaves, nasturtiums, pea vines, even the
geraniums. It’s too bad. The garden was so beautiful,
green and fresh, but then we were all beautiful once.
Everything dies, we understand. But the mind of the
observer, which cannot imagine not imagining, goes on.
The dynasties are cut down like the generations of grass,
the bodies blacken and turn into coal. The waters rise and
cover the earth and the mind broods on the face of the
deep, and learns nothing.
~Louis Jenkins, “Freeze” from Where Your House is Near: New and Selected Poems

This week was our first hard freeze of autumn, following on the heels of the worst flooding in a half century in our county. The land and all that grows here experienced a one-two punch – when the waters pulled back into the streams and rivers, what was left behind looked frozen, soaked and miserable. The people whose homes were devastated are so much more than miserable; they are mudding out by removing everything down to the studs to try to begin again. With hundreds of volunteers and disaster teams helping, there are piles of kitchen appliances, dry wall, carpet and every household item along the main streets of nearby towns, waiting to be hauled off.

Surveying our dying garden is small potatoes in comparison to a flooded town only a few miles away. The memories of how beautiful our garden was a 2-3 months ago is nothing in contrast to the families who lost their stored heirlooms and cherished memories to the muck and mire of deep waters.

But we are a resilient community. We are people of persistence and creativity and there will eventually be beauty again here. Driving on a newly opened road beside the still-surging river where a few days ago several feet of water covered a cornfield, I spotted a trumpeter swan, standing in glorious spotless white, picking her way through the mud-stained cornstalks, hoping to find something of value left behind in the devastation.

There is still hope; it did not wash away. We only need to use our imagination to find it.

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Most Poignant of All

In the years to come they will say,
“They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.”
November has come to the forest,
To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen.
The year fades with the white frost
On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows,
Where the deer tracks were black in the morning.
Ice forms in the shadows;
Disheveled maples hang over the water;
Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream.
Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold.
The yellow maple leaves eddy above them,
The glittering leaves of the cottonwood,
The olive, velvety alder leaves,
The scarlet dogwood leaves,
Most poignant of all.


In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.
~Kenneth Rexroth, “Falling Leaves and Early Snow” from The Collected Shorter Poems.


These photos of our farm are from last week, before an atmospheric river fell in torrents from the sky. The downpour precipitated melting of new-fallen snow in the nearby Cascade mountains and foothills, with subsequent cresting of the rivers and streams in lower mainland British Columbia and our local counties over the weekend.

Before the storm hit us, these pictures depict a flood of golden sunshine in the late afternoon. It was the kind of saturation of light we all were needing, unaware that our skies and ground would soon be over-saturated with far too much water in a few days.

Our communities, both north and south of our nearby Canadian border, continue to reel from this unprecedented flood event, with roads impassable due to standing water and landslides, as well as whole towns evacuated by boat and homes and businesses will be uninhabitable for weeks, if not months.

The sun has returned now that the river in the sky has dried up, having dumped its load. We now wait for the waters and the misery to recede.

The scarlet red of the dying dogwood leaves are poignant indeed, but nothing like the poignancy of communities pulling together to restore normalcy after disaster. Churches have quickly become places of refuge for those who have no home this week and in the weeks to come.

Bless those who are able to help, if not with boats and muscle, then with donations:

The Whatcom Community Foundation Resilience Fund is targeting the local efforts as well as support of the Red Cross, critical in meeting all disaster needs everywhere.

Thank you for reading and praying for restoration for the affected Canadians and Americans.

Fallen Like the Trees

A gracious Sabbath stood here while they stood
Who gave our rest a haven.
Now fallen, they are given
To labor and distress.
These times we know much evil, little good
To steady us in faith
And comfort when our losses press
Hard on us, and we choose,
In panic or despair or both,
To keep what we will lose.

For we are fallen like the trees, our peace
Broken, and so we must
Love where we cannot trust,
Trust where we cannot know,
And must await the wayward-coming grace
That joins living and dead,
Taking us where we would not go–
Into the boundless dark.
When what was made has been unmade
The Maker comes to His work.

~Wendell Berry “Sabbaths, II”

This day, our community is recovering from yesterday’s devastating flooding with landslides and trees having fallen over power lines and roads.

Our local folks are miserable on top of the misery imposed by nearly two years of pandemic restrictions, supply chain issues, and now damage to homes, businesses and land.

Front line responders and health care workers step up yet again when needed but they are exhausted too – their branches torn away, their roots weakened by summer drought and now tested in the wind and storm water swirling about them.

So many fallen, so many broken, so many who feel they cannot trust their footing any longer. We feel our foundations slip away; we are unmade.

The Maker sets to work. He holds together what is asunder. He props up and restores with Love, through His people and through His Spirit within them.

Once again, we can Love when we cannot Trust. We can Trust what we cannot Know.

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