A Decent Little Cottage

Imagine yourself as a living house. 
God comes in to rebuild that house. 
At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. 
He is getting the drains right
and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; 

you knew that those jobs needed doing
and so you are not surprised. 

But presently He starts
knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably 

and does not seem to make any sense. 
What on earth is He up to? 
The explanation is that He is building
quite a different house from the one you thought of – 

throwing out a new wing here, 
putting on an extra floor there, 
running up towers, 
making courtyards. 
You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: 
but He is building a palace. 
He intends to come and live in it Himself.
~C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

Whether bunker or cottage or palace,
when I seek shelter, safety or simplicity,
it is not enough.
I am not a dwelling for God
until His remodel project is finished~

He puts down His chisel, hammer and saw,
sees what He has salvaged from the junk heap,
looks me over
and declares it good.

My father’s treehouse is twenty seven years old this summer, lonesome and empty high up in the black walnut tree in our front yard. It remains a constant reminder of my father’s own abandoned Swiss Family Robinson dreams.

Over the years, it has been the setting for a local children’s TV show, laser tag wars, sleep overs and tea parties, even my writer’s retreat with a deck side view of the Cascades to the east, the Canadian Coastal Range to the north and Puget Sound to the west. Now it is a sad shell no longer considered safe to visit, as the support branches in its century-old tree are weakening with age and time. It is on our list of farm restoration projects, but other falling down buildings must be prioritized first.

My father’s dream began in February 1995 when our sons were 8 and 6 years old and our daughter just 2. We had plenty of recycled lumber on our old farm and an idea about what to build. My dad, retired from his desk job and having recently survived a lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, had many previous daunting building projects to his credit, and a few in his mind that he was yet to get to. He was eager to see what he could construct for his grandkids by spring time. He doodled out some sketches of what might work in the tree, and contemplated the physics of a 73 year old man scaling a tree vs. building it on the ground and hoisting it up mostly completed. I got more nervous the more I thought about it and hoped we could consider a project less risky, and praying the weather wouldn’t clear enough for construction to start any time soon.

The weather did clear just as my father’s health faded. His cancer relapsed and he was sidelined with a series of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations and treatment courses. He hung on to that hope of getting the treehouse going by summer, still thinking it through in his mind, still evaluating what he would need to buy to supplement the materials already gathered and piled beneath the tree. In the mean time he lost physical strength day by day.

I decided his dream needed to proceed as he fought his battle, so I borrowed library books on treehouses, and hired two college age brothers who lived down the road to get things started. I figured if my dad got well enough to build again, at least the risky stuff could be already done by the young guys. These brothers took their job very seriously. They pored over the books, took my dad’s plans, worked through the details and started in. They shinnied up the tree, put up pulleys on the high branches and placed the beams, hoisting them by pulling on the ropes with their car bumper. It was working great until the car bumper came off.

I kept my dad updated with photos and stories. It was a diversion for him, but the far off look in his eye told me he wasn’t going to be building anything in this world ever again. He was gone by July. The treehouse was completed a month later. It was everything my dad had dreamed of, and more. It had a deck surrounded by a protective railing, a trap door, and staircase up the trunk. We had an open tree celebration and had 15 friends and neighbors up there at once. I’m sure dad was sipping lemonade with us as well, enjoying the view.

Now all these years later, the treehouse is tilting on its foundation as the main weight-bearing branch is weakening with age. We’ve declared it condemned, not wanting to risk an accident.  As I look out my front window, it remains a daily reminder of past dreams fulfilled and those yet unfulfilled. Much like my father’s body, the old walnut tree is weakening, hanging on by the roots, but its muscle strength is failing. It will, inevitably come down in one of our frequent fierce windstorms, just as its nearby partner did a few years ago.

The treehouse dream branched out in another way. One of the construction team brothers decided to try building his own as a place to live in his woods, using a Douglas Fir tree as the center support and creating an octagon, two stories, 30 feet off the ground. He worked on it for two years and moved in, later marrying someone who decided a treehouse was just fine with her, and for 20+ years, they’ve been raising five children there.  The treehouse kids are old enough to come work for me on our farm, a full circle feeling for me.  This next generation is carrying on a Swiss Family Robinson dream that began in my father’s mind and our front yard.

I still have a whole list full of dreams myself, some realized and some deferred by time, resources and the limits of my imagination. I feel the clock ticking too, knowing that the years and the seasons slip by me faster and faster as I near the age my father was when he first learned he had cancer. It would be a blessing to me to see others live out the dreams I have held so close.

Like my father, I will some day teeter in the wind like our old tree, barely hanging on. When ready to fall to the ground, I’ll reach out with my branches and hand off my dreams too. The time will have come to let them go. Thank you, Dad, for handing me yours.

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A Restless Sabbath Love

The old church leans awry and looks quite odd,
But it is beautiful to us, and God.

~Stephen Paulus “The Old Church”

A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.

But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.
~R.S. Thomas “The Chapel”

It’s just a boarded-up shack with a tower
Under the blazing summer sky
On a back road seldom traveled
Where the shadows of tall trees
Graze peacefully like a row of gallows…

The congregation may still be at prayer.
Farm folk from flyspecked photos
Standing in rows with their heads bowed
As if listening to your approaching steps.
So slow they are, you must be asking yourself
How come we are here one minute
And in the very next gone forever?
Try the locked door, then knock once.

High above you, there is the leaning spire
Still feeling the blow of the last storm.
And then the silence of the afternoon . . .
Even the unbeliever must feel its force.

~Charles Simic, from “Wooden Church” from The Voice at 3:00 A.M.

The church knelt heavy
above us as we attended Sunday School,
circled by age group and hunkered
on little wood folding chairs
where we gave our nickels, said
our verses, heard the stories, sang
the solid, swinging songs.

It could have been God above
in the pews, His restless love sifting
with dust from the joists. We little
seeds swelled in the stone cellar, bursting
to grow toward the light
.

Maybe it was that I liked how, upstairs, outside,
an avid sun stormed down, burning the sharp-
edged shadows back to their buildings, or
how the winter air knifed
after the dreamy basement.

Maybe the day we learned whatever
would have kept me believing
I was just watching light
poke from the high, small window
and tilt to the floor where I could make it
a gold strap on my shoe, wrap
my ankle, embrace
any part of me.
~Maureen Ash “Church Basement”

Mom,
You raised your hands while we sang this morning
like I’ve never known you to,
but I guess until recently I’ve never really known you in a church that let you feel alive.

Were you tired of hiding,
or just tired?

Thank you for letting yourself be seen.

Thank you, Lord, for her.
~Griffin Messer from “An Analysis of Worship Today”

There is so much wrong with churches overall,
comprised as they are of fallen people
with broken wings and fractured faith,
we who look odd and lean awry,
so keen to find flaws in one another
when we are cracked open and spilling with our own.

Yet what is right with the church is
who we pray to, why we sing and absorb the Word-
we are visible people joined together as a body
so bloodied, bruised, being healed
despite our thoroughly motley messiness.

Our Lord of Heaven and Earth
rains down His restless love upon our heads
no matter how humble a building we worship in,
or how we look or feel today.

We are simply grateful to be alive,
to raise our hands, to kneel and bow
in a house God calls His own.

The old church leans nearby a well-worn road,
Upon a hill that has no grass or tree,
The winds from off the prairie now unload
The dust they bring around it fitfully.

The path that leads up to the open door
Is worn and grayed by many toiling feet
Of us who listen to the Bible lore
And once again the old-time hymns repeat.

And ev’ry Sabbath morning we are still
Returning to the altar waiting there.
A hush, a prayer, a pause, and voices fill
The Master’s House with a triumphant air.

The old church leans awry and looks quite odd,
But it is beautiful to us and God.
~Stephen Paulus

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Like Wild Animals

…the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning.

All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.

And the first job each morning consists in shoving them all back;
in listening to that other voice,
taking that other point of view,
letting that other, larger, stronger life come flowing in.

And so on, all day.
~C.S. Lewis
from Mere Christianity

When I feel my faith wavering and doubts begin to overwhelm,
it takes determination to keep those wild animals at bay;
they leap and snarl and roar with hungry expectation and entitlement,
yet I seek only prayerful calm and quiet.

Rather than throw myself recklessly to the lions and tigers,
feeding their relentless appetites,
I step back, take a deep breath,
and watch them purr as they nap.

photo by Tomomi Gibson

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: This Fearful Fallen Place

Whatever’s the matter
Whatever’s been done

I will be your home
In this fearful fallen place
~Michael Card


Through the bright darkness of Lent,
as He himself hangs dying, suffering on our behalf,
this is Christ’s message to each of us who asks:
when we want to be remembered,
when we truly and wholly ask for forgiveness
for whatever is the matter,
for whatever we have done,
we find our only hope and comfort is in Him.
He brings us home from this fearful fallen place.
Homeless no longer, lost no longer, forgotten no longer.

Home.

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…

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: When I Am Alone


When I am alone, give me Jesus
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus
~Jeremy Camp

God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be –
in our sin, in our suffering and death.
We are no longer alone;
God is with us.
We are no longer homeless;
a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. 
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I have found, over the years, I don’t do alone well.  Never have.  I’ve always preferred plenty of activity around me, planning gatherings and communal meals, and filling up my days to the brim with all manner of socializing. 

I don’t prefer my own company. There is no glossing over my flaws nor distracting myself from where I fall short.  Alone is an unforgiving mirror reflecting back what I keep myself too busy to see.

Most people around the world have experienced unprecedented aloneness during the last two years of social isolation. As we tentatively emerge from our COVID cocoons due to dropping case rates, “being together” can still feel somewhat risky and unfamiliar, especially when reading headlines of new variant surges on the horizon.

Despite this, despite two years of isolation, worry and concern:
I have never been truly alone.

I need not fear all this world with its unending troubles:

Give me Jesus.
God 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…

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: Night and Day

Day and night
A fragrance of hope
Day and night
She pleads for the lost and broken
Day and night

Until He comes
~Keith and Kristyn Getty

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2: 36-38

What’s enough? Countless times I’ve watched the sun rise like God’s tender mercy to gently lift the dark blanket from the earth, and countless more times I’ve watched the sun set in such a splendiferous farewell that it must reflect the fringe on God’s robe. I’ve seen the sky define blue and endless. I’ve watched rivers run to the sea, full as life runs to God. I’ve felt the sea roll in on the eternal note of mystery and assurance.

I’ve scratched the ears of dogs, laughed at the ballet of cats. I’ve heard the cry and gurgle of the newborn, played with children, rocked with grandmothers, learned from hundreds of teachers, some of them homeless, poor, and uneducated. 

I’ve been loved and forgiven beyond all deserving, and all breath to tell of it, by family and friends and God.

I’ve been shaken, changed, and blessed a thousand times — and still — by the prophets, and by Christ. I’ve felt the touch of God, each time before I realized that’s what it was. I’ve shared in the cantankerous yet remarkable family of faith called the church. I’m conscious of being conscious and alive. And all that’s just for starters.

How much does it take to praise God? I have a couple of trips around the Milky Way past enough for that, no matter if I never receive another thing.

So I best get on with it . . . and praise God that I can.
— Ted Loder from The Haunt of Grace

Unlike Anna the prophet, I tend to forget, in my ever-inward focus, I was created for worship and to give all glory to God.  I was given a mouth to sing, hands to clasp, eyes to witness His wonders, profound forgiveness through day and night, night and day.

Unlike Anna who waited so long, I’m not sure I would recognize the touch of God.

May I – praying alongside others who are also flawed and broken – be a fragrance of hope, praising God that we are able to praise Him.

What greater reason is there to exist?

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…

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: Against Every Cruel, Merciless Power

I arise today through the strength of heaven
Light of sun, radiance of moon
Splendor of fire, speed of lightning
Swiftness of wind, depth of the sea
Stability of earth, firmness of rock

I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me
God’s eye to look before me
God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s way to lie before me
God’s shield to protect me

From all who shall wish me ill
Afar and a-near
Alone and in a multitude
Against every cruel, merciless power
That may oppose my body and soul

~from “The Deer’s Cry”

photo by Bob Tjoelker

A cruel and merciless dictator dominates the headlines, not because he is unique in the course of world history, but because the toll of his actions are witnessed by the world in real time. We flinch and cringe at every directed missile hit and explosion of citizens’ property and lives to dust and ash.

What makes this evolving war so compelling to those of us who watch from a distance is the powerful resistance of the Ukrainian leader and his brave countrymen who will not submit to cruelty and destruction.

“…even if you destroy all our cathedrals and churches, you will not destroy our sincere faith in God, in Ukraine. Faith in people. We will restore every house, every street, every city. And we say to Russia: …you will repay everything you did against Ukraine. In full. And we will not forget those who perished, and God won’t…
~President Volodymyr Zelensky (March 2022)

St. Patrick, in the fifth century, returned to Ireland to face merciless cruelty and violence in defense of his Christian faith. His story lives on centuries later while those who persecuted him are relegated to the ash heap of history.

History repeats itself; there always will be cruel men who seek merciless power over others.

Yet God is, was, and always will be. So we sing:

God’s eye to look before me
God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s way to lie before me
God’s shield to protect me

~from St. Patrick’s breastplate prayer

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…

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in me, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me, Christ with me.
Text from Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: Holding Fast

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast.

I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path;
For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.

~Ada Habershon

Many a night I woke to the murmur of paper and knew (Dad) was up, sitting in the kitchen with frayed King James – oh, but he worked that book; he held to it like a rope ladder.
~Leif Enger in Peace Like a River

Some nights of sleep are like that. 

My footing underneath is loose and my feet are slipping.  I have the distinct feeling of plummeting while lying completely still in bed.  I have the need to grab hold of something, anything, in order to avoid free falling… to what?  to where?  My dream is so vivid, the sudden descent so visceral, I wake sweating with my heart racing.

So I grab fast to the Word because it holds fast to me –a woven rope of faith– frayed though it may be with nicks and scars and scorches, meant for clinging for safety. 

It is a ladder to security, challenging to ascend, difficult to hold on to without accumulating blisters and scrapes along the way.  The going is tough, sometimes too daunting for my limitations.  The familiar ground below appears farther and farther away but I have a safety harness on.

So I keep going, hand over hand, page over page, word beside word.  There is only up now.  It is the only way.

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…

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path;
For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.
He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast;
For my Saviour loves me so, He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight, He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost; His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast.
For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast;

Justice has been satisfied; He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life, He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight, When He comes at last!

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: We Can Only Wonder

O God beyond all praising, we worship you today
and sing the love amazing that songs cannot repay;
for we can only wonder at every gift you send…
~Michael Perry

This is why I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders. The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise.

…To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that.  Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale.  A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’  in the same spirit in which he says ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’

Because we know what is coming behind the crocus.

The spring comes slowly down the way, but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.  There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not.

We can. 

We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on…to which He is calling us.

It remains with us whether to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.
~C. S. Lewis from “God in the Dock”

You, who are beyond our understanding,
have made yourself understandable to us in Jesus Christ.
You, who are the uncreated God,
have made yourself a creature for us.
You, who are the untouchable One,
have made yourself touchable to us.
You, who are most high,
make us capable of understanding your amazing love
and the wonderful things you have done for us.
Make us able to understand the mystery of your incarnation,
the mystery of your life, example and doctrine,
the mystery of your cross and passion,
the mystery of your resurrection and ascension.
~Angela of Foligno (1248-1309)– prayer

My husband, with help from our neighbor kids and our son who was visiting for Christmas several years ago, prepared soil beds on our farm and planted hundreds of spring bulbs, including over two hundred crocus.  We were called to this action, especially in the midst of winter – to plan for, to anticipate, to long for spring, year after year.

We, God’s children, become part of the promise that winter is not forever.

The larger bulbs – the tulips, the daffodils – have no choice but to respond to spring – the expanding light calls to them as the soil begins to warm.  But the crocus are a mystery, sprouting earlier when there is not yet reason to surface.  Snow is still on the ground.  Frost still crisps everything at night.  Yet they come forth from the soil even when everything is still weeping winter.

What wondrous love comes behind the crocus?

We are called to rise up from the dark to enter the light.
We are called to become part of the mystery.

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…

1 O God beyond all praising, we worship you today
and sing the love amazing that songs cannot repay;
for we can only wonder at every gift you send,
at blessings without number and mercies without end:
we lift our hearts before you and wait upon your word,
we honour and adore you, our great and mighty Lord.

2 Then hear, O gracious Saviour, accept the love we bring,
that we who know your favour may serve you as our king;
and whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
we’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.

The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: When It’s All Been Said and Done

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

~James Cowan

We don’t know when we will be done with this world – some have a bit of warning and others disappear unexpectedly in the course of an ordinary day like any other.

We all should consider ourselves warned. When it’s all been said and done, have we spent our time on what is truly meaningful or are we determined to accumulate stuff and status?

Christ lived His life for us. He was “all in” from the beginning and knew His destiny. We are called to live like Him.

When it all is said and done, what matters is love for His truth.

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…

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth
Did I live my life for you

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I’ve done for love’s reward
Will stand the test of time

Lord your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
And find purest gold in miry clay
Making sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and ever after
For you’ve shown me Heaven’s my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth
Did I live my life for you
Lord I’ll live my life for you

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