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!

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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Days Continuing Hot

In the ordinary weather of summer
with storms rumbling from west to east
like so many freight trains hauling
their cargo of heat and rain,
the dogs sprawl on the back steps, panting,
insects assemble at every window,
and we quarrel again, bombarding
each other with small grievances,
our tempers flashing on and off
in bursts of heat lightning.
In the cooler air of morning,
we drink our coffee amicably enough
and walk down to the sea
which seems to tremble with meaning
and into which we plunge again and again.
The days continue hot.
At dusk the shadows are as blue
as the lips of the children stained
with berries or with the chill
of too much swimming.
So we move another summer closer
to our last summer together—
a time as real and implacable as the sea
out of which we come walking
on wobbly legs as if for the first time,
drying ourselves with rough towels,
shaking the water out of our blinded eyes.

~Linda Pastan, “The Ordinary Weather of Summer” from Carnival Evening: New and Select Poems 1968-1998

I grew up near Puget Sound and only a couple hours from the Washington Pacific Ocean coastline. Our annual trips to the ocean were early morning clamming harvests, usually returning home by noon to process the bounty we had dug up at the shore. Vacations at the beach were a few days spent in a rented cabin at Birch Bay on Puget Sound (now Salish Sea) or on Camano Island. These were short stays, usually no more than two or three nights but it gave our family a chance to live together in a different way.

It wasn’t easy for a family of five to sleep in a tiny two bedroom cabin with very little privacy – we siblings easily got on each other’s nerves as we teased each other or played hyper-competitive card or board games or futilely tried to distance ourselves from one another. We didn’t understand that these few summers in the 60’s were the last opportunities we would spend time together simply to “play”. Storms were on the horizon, our tempers flared when the weather was hot and humid. We had no awareness time was slipping through our fingers.

How this family time at the beach affected my parents is something I can only guess. Their marriage was on shaky ground ten years prior to their separation and divorce, even though we children were oblivious to it at the time. Whether being forced out of their routine was helpful or made their tensions worse, I don’t know. I do know quarreling children, small living quarters and sweaty temperatures can be a challenging combination.

Something about our current heat wave this week places me back to those hot nights in the beach cabins, unable to fall asleep due to a combination of itchy sweat and the world pressing down on me. The crankiness of those family vacations tends to infect my words and attitudes all these decades later.

Although the literal and figurative storms of those years have long since blown over, I still remember the musty smell of those beach cabins that had seen so many different families come and go over the decades, some thriving while others were wobbly and struggling to stay glued together. To the cabins that housed them, they looked all alike. But they weren’t. Only time would tell how well they weathered the storm.

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As the Sky Broke Open

The clouds had made a crimson crown
Above the mountains high.
The stormy sun was going down
In a stormy sky.
Why did you let your eyes so rest on me,
And hold your breath between?
In all the ages this can never be
As if it had not been.
~Mary Elizabeth Coleridge “A Moment”

Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears . . .

Full-lipped flowers
Bitten by the sun
Bleeding rain
Dripping rain like golden honey—
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.

~Jean Toomer “Storm Ending”

A thunderstorm swirled above us last night as we finished our farm chores, dropping noisy raindrops and then passing until the next cloud rolled over and dumped some more. I climbed to the top of our hill and looked out at a busted-up sky trying to mend itself. It was trying to zip itself together again but once fractured, it was broken forever, pouring gold rays of sunbeams like honey onto the landscape.

In that moment of broken sky, I was doused in a Light that breathed golden breath on me, reminding me not to forget:
He is here.

God does not leave us comfortless in the storms of our lives so be not afraid. He is still here in the morning.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t   
be afraid. God does not leave us   
comfortless, so let evening come.
~Jane Kenyon “Let Evening Come”

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: The Storm Will All Be Over

Soon we shall reach the distant shining shore,
Free from all the storms, we’ll rest forevermore.
Safe within the veil, we’ll furl the riven sail,
And the storm will all be over, Hallelujah!

We’ve had two days of intermittent chilly winds with rain and noisy hale storms. I wish I had not left the barn doors wide open after morning chores, as the storm also blew through the barn. Hay, empty buckets, horse halters and cat food were strewn about. The Haflinger horses stood wide-eyed and fretful in their stalls as the hail on the metal roof was deafening.

Once I got the doors closed and secured, all was soon made right. The horses relaxed and got back to their meals and things felt normal again.

The barn is still standing with the roof still on, the horses are where they belong and all seems to be as it was before the barnstorming wind.

Or so it might appear.

This wind heralds another storm beginning this week that hits with such force that I’m knocked off my feet, blown away, and left bruised and breathless. No latches, locks, or barricades are strong enough to protect me from what will come over the next few days.

Today he rides in on a donkey softly, humbly, and wept at what he knew must come.

Tomorrow he curses the fig tree that is all show with plenty of leaves, and no fruit. Then at the temple, he overturns the money-changers’ tables in His fury at their corruption of a holy place.

Tuesday he describes the destruction of Jerusalem that is to happen, yet no one understands.

Wednesday, a woman boldly anoints him with precious oil, as preparation.

On Thursday, he kneels before his friends, pours water over their dusty feet, presides over a simple meal, and later, abandoned, sweats blood in agonized prayer.

By Friday, all culminates in a most perfect storm, transforming everything in its path, leaving nothing untouched, the curtain torn, the veil removed.

The silence on Saturday is deafening.

Next Sunday, the Son rises, sheds his shroud and neatly folds what is no longer needed. He is nearly unrecognizable in his glory.

He calls my name, my heart burns within me at his words and I can never be the same again.

I am, once again, barnstormed to the depths of my soul. Doors flung open wide, my roof pulled off, everything of no consequence blown away and now replaced, renewed and reconciled.

The storm is passing over, again and yet again, year after year, life after life.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.

If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).

In His name, may we sing…

Courage, my soul, and let us journey on,
Tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long.
Thanks be to God, the morning light appears,
And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!

Chorus: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The storm is passing over, Hallelujah!

2. Billows rolling high, and thunder shakes the ground,
Lightnings flash, and tempest all around,
Jesus walks the sea and calms the angry waves,
And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah! [Chorus]

3. The stars have disappeared, and distant lights are dim,
My soul is filled with fears, the seas are breaking in.
I hear the Master cry, “Be not afraid, ’tis I,”
And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
[Chorus]

4. Soon we shall reach the distant shining shore,
Free from all the storms, we’ll rest forevermore.
Safe within the veil, we’ll furl the riven sail,
And the storm will all be over, Hallelujah! [Chorus]

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: The Angry Tide

If we should falter when trouble surrounds us
When the wind and the waves are wild and high
We will look away to Him who rules the waters;
Who speaks His Peace into the angry tide.

~Fernando Ortega

Sweet Jesus, talking 
   his melancholy madness, 
     stood up in the boat 
       and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry. 
   So everybody was saved 
      that night… 

       
         Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes 
   like the wind over the water — 
      sometimes, for days, 
        you don’t think of it.

 Maybe, after the sermon, 
   after the multitude was fed, 
     one or two of them felt 
       the soul slip forth

like a tremor of pure sunlight 
   before exhaustion, 
      that wants to swallow everything, 
         gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy, 
    as they are now, forgetting 
       how the wind tore at the sails 
          before he rose and talked to it —

tender and luminous and demanding 
   as he always was — 
      a thousand times more frightening 
         than the killer storm.
~Mary Oliver from “Maybe”

Could it be?

Could it be that I am more frightened of the power of Christ to say “Peace be still!” to the storm threatening to drown us all (and it heeds His command!) than I am of the waves themselves?

I sleep through my diminishing days, not nearly focused enough on each passing moment that never is to come again.  Those moments crash to shore and then pull back to be lost forever.

I tend to be blinded to what is inevitably coming, how I have tumbled over the years like waves, overcome by their passage.

He is tender and luminous and demanding as He talks to my heart, not just to the relentless stormy destructive sea.

Peace be still!

And so I obey, forgiven, and am saved by grace,
so silky and sorry.

Take heart, my friend. The Lord is with us.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.

If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).

In His name, may we sing…

Take heart, my Friend, we’ll go together
This uncertain road that lies ahead
Our faithful God has always gone before us
And He will lead the Way once again.

Take heart, my Friend, we can walk together
And if our burdens become too great
We can hold up and help one another
In God’s LOVE, in God’s Grace.

Take heart my Friend, the Lord is with us
As He has been all the days of our lives
Our assurance every morning
Our Defender in the Night.

If we should falter when trouble surrounds us
When the wind and the waves are wild and high
We will look away to HIM who rules the waters;
Who speaks His Peace into the angry tide.

He is our Comfort, our Sustainer
He is our Help in time of need
When we wander, He is our Shepherd
He who watches over us NEVER sleeps.

Take heart my friend, the Lord is with us
As He has been all the days of our lives
Our Assurance every morning
Our Defender every night.

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Lean with the Fury

Today, I planted a young Horsechestnut tree.

So slim and flexible
I could have rung my fingers round that skinny trunk.
Oh, you are built to survive a vernal storm.
Listen to me, though—


endure the wind’s force without resistance.
Lean with the fury.


When you’re nearly bowed over
think broad trunk think sturdy bark.
Someday you won’t bend nearly so—


and to that scared little girl
the one I saw yesterday in the department store


hiding under the dress rack
enduring a mother’s torrent—


I’m sorry.
You won’t bend nearly so
after you’re grown.
~Christine Bodine, “late apology to the scared little girl in the department store” from Souvenirs of Myself

I know a psychiatrist colleague, soon to be 80 years old and still seeing patients, who recommends people should aim to be more like a willow than a chestnut tree. His long clinical practice has given him a perspective of who survives and who becomes irretrievably broken when the forces of life hit hard.

I know I am not one to freely yield to the wind or ice storm. More chestnut than willow or birch, I can tend toward inflexibility rather than suppleness.

This means I easily break when anger and fury abound in the world around me, rather than leaning and bending. What’s left is broken pieces awaiting salvage, feeding the flames of the brush pile with all the rest of the rigid and unyielding.

Yea, if I don’t bow like a willow, I fall broken upon the rock.

photo by Harry Rodenberger

I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free,
I will bow and be humble,
Yea, bow like the willow tree.

I will bow, this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and will be broken,
Yea, I’ll fall upon the rock.
Shaker melody

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A Day for Grumbling

I like these cold, gray winter days.
Days like these let you savor a bad mood. 
~Bill Watterson (Creator of Calvin and Hobbes)

Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day—
      I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
       And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
       And I can sing.

~James Weldon Johnson “The Gift to Sing”

I can grumble and complain with the best of them. There is camaraderie in shared grumbling, as well as an exponential increase in dissatisfaction as everyone around me shares their own particular misery. Some relationships are based on just such collaborative complaining.

But I know better. I’ve seen where grousing leads and I feel the ache in my bones when I’m steeped in it. The sky gets grayer, the clouds become thicker, the night is darker–on and on to its overwhelming suffocating conclusion.

I have the privilege to turn away from being bleak and gloomy and choose joy. I can find the single ray of sun and stand steadfastly within it, to sing out that first note and pierce the darkness.

This is not me putting on a “happy face” — instead joy adopts and inhabits me, holds me close in the tough times and won’t abandon me. Though at times it may hide temporarily behind a cloud, I know it is there even when I can’t see it.

So I gently sing my way out of the gloom and clouds, for when I choose joy over grumbling, I find joy has chosen me.

So breaks the sun earth’s rugged chains,
      Wherein rude winter bound her veins;
So grows both stream and source of price,
      That lately fettered were with ice.
So naked trees get crisped heads,
      And colored coats the roughest meads,
And all get vigor, youth, and spright,
      That are but looked on by his light.
~Ben Jonson “So Breaks the Sun”

May we sing together, always.
May our voice be soft.
May our singing be music for others
and may it keep others aloft.
Sing gently, always.
Sing gently as one.
May we stand together, always.
May our voice be strong.
May we hear the singing and
May we always sing along.
Sing gently, always.
Sing gently as one.
~Eric Whitacre

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The River of Light

So we found the end of our journey,
So we stood alive in the river of light,
Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.

~Ted Hughes from the end of his poem “That Morning” from River

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.
~Alberto Rios “When Giving is All We Have”

We were created as creatures of light invited to walk alongside our Creator – joyfully made in His image and gifted with managing a productive and beautiful world.

Yet even this wasn’t enough for us, this garden of wonders. We were free to do what was right in our own eyes rather than live in gratitude, faith and obedience, and made our choice at tremendous cost.

Now we struggle with the reality of daily life in a fallen world, experiencing conflict, disorder, illness and tragedy. Hurricanes bear down on vulnerable people, tornados rip apart towns, fires ravage homes, earthquakes level and destroy, tsunamis flood and overwhelm, pandemics kill indiscriminately.

Yet God has not abandoned us as we deserve. He has gifted Himself to His Created yet again, coming from heaven in a river of light to wash us clean, to invite us once again to walk beside Him, die with Him, live with Him.

What we are asked for in return is simple belief – by acknowledging a God who is greater than anything or anyone, admitting we are thirsty and filthy, in dire need of cleansing.

He is our river of light and life, glorious and ever-flowing.

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