My life flows on in endless song Above earth’s lamentation I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn That hails a new creation Through all the tumult and the strife I hear that music ringing It finds an echo in my soul How can I keep from singing? ~Robert Lowry
We recently returned from an out of state visit with two grandsons, ages two and six months. They love being sung to – they rock and bop to melodies and rhythms and then relax to sleep listening to us sing the quiet evening hymns we sang to his father at night.
They will see so much in their lifetimes that we can’t even imagine. Already in their short time on earth there have been plenty of cataclysmic events, and without a doubt, more are in store.
No matter what comes, we pray they will always hear their parents’ and four grandparents’ voices resounding inside their heads when things get rough. The hymns and the prayers said over them will give them calm and confidence in the face of troubles, tumult and strife.
God’s reality and truth are shared with them in songs and words every day, and as they someday raise children of their own, how can they keep from singing that out whenever it is most needed?
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…
My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation. I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
Refrain: No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing. It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?
What though my joys and comforts die, I know my Savior liveth. What though the darkness gather round? Songs in the night he giveth.
I lift mine eyes the cloud grows thin I see the blue above it And day by day this pathway smooths Since first I learned to love it
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing! All things are mine since I am his! How can I keep from singing?
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Old friend now there is no one alive who remembers when you were young it was high summer when I first saw you in the blaze of day most of my life ago with the dry grass whispering in your shade and already you had lived through wars and echoes of wars around your silence through days of parting and seasons of absence with the house emptying as the years went their way until it was home to bats and swallows and still when spring climbed toward summer you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened you and the seasons spoke the same language and all these years I have looked through your limbs to the river below and the roofs and the night and you were the way I saw the world ~W.S. Merwin “Elegy for a Walnut Tree” from The Moon Before Morning
We bought this old farm over thirty years ago: the Lawrence family’s “Walnut Hill Farm”~ a front yard lined with several tall black walnut trees brought as seedlings in a suitcase from Ohio in the ought-1900’s.
These trees have thrived over 100 years on this hilltop farm overlooking the Canadian mountains to the north, the Nooksack River valley to the west, the Cascade peaks to the east, each prolific in leaves and prodigious in fruit.
In the tallest, we had a treehouse built high up where the view through the limbs and leaves takes our breath away: for only a little while we are perched above and beyond this world, and that never fails to make us smile.
A book of beauty in words and photography, available for order here:
“I make them warm to keep my family from freezing; I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking.” –From the journal of a prairie woman, 1870
To keep a husband and five children warm, she quilts them covers thick as drifts against the door. Through every fleshy square white threads needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours count each small suture that holds together the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life. She pieces each one beautiful, and summer bright to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers the scraps grow to green birds and purple improbable leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold between the double stars, the wedding rings. ~Luci Shaw “Quiltmaker”
Perhaps the world was made this way: piecemeal, the parts fitting together exactly as if made for one another~ the unique, disparate and separate coming together in a glorious harmony.
The point of its creation is forever functional and full of love – a blanket of warmth and security for generations to come. Our legacy is to preserve this beauty arising from scraps, this broken stitched to broken in a tapestry holy and whole.
all quilts here are on display this week at the Northwest Washington Fair see previous year’s artwork here and here and here and here
This new Barnstorming book is like a quilt made of pieces of poetry and photographs – available for order here:
Happy the man, whose wish and care A few paternal acres bound, Content to breathe his native air, In his own ground. Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread, Whose flocks supply him with attire, Whose trees in summer yield him shade, In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find Hours, days, and years slide soft away, In health of body, peace of mind, Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease, Together mixed; sweet recreation; And innocence, which most does please, With meditation.
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown; Thus unlamented let me die; Steal from the world, and not a stone Tell where I lie.
But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. ~George Eliot’s final sentence in Middlemarch
We have no idea who came before us, unseen, unknown, unheralded, unvisited, yet they, by living and dying, made our lives better today.
They lie, forgotten, now dust in the ground.
Yet they lived fully and lovingly, stewards of the earth and its creatures, parents to the next generation and the next and the next, placed here as images of their Creator.
May we, someday, having also lived faithfully in the fullness of time, leave behind a legacy of good and unhistoric acts that leave this world a better place for those who walk behind us in our footsteps.
It’s the least we can do, to honor those whose footprints we now follow.
A new book from Barnstorming available for order here
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled, Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun, All felled, felled, are all felled; Of a fresh and following folded rank Not spared, not one That dandled a sandalled Shadow that swam or sank On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do When we delve or hew — Hack and rack the growing green! Since country is so tender To touch, her being só slender, That, like this sleek and seeing ball But a prick will make no eye at all, Where we, even where we mean To mend her we end her, When we hew or delve: After-comers cannot guess the beauty been. Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve Strokes of havoc unselve The sweet especial scene, Rural scene, a rural scene, Sweet especial rural scene. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Binsey Poplars”
Our farm is bookshelved between two poplar rows, one short, the other longer. The trees are showing their advanced age and struggle now with winter storms with heavy winds and icy build-up, branches shattering like toothpicks.
They will eventually, like Hopkins’ Binsey poplars, be felled before they tumble weakened and withered in a gale, landing where they mustn’t.
I will miss their blowhard boldness, their noisy leaves and branches, their dance in the wind and their orderliness as they stand like guardians to the farm. I’m being sentimental but there will be a sadness when it comes time to say goodbye.
Once they are gone, who in the future would know they once stood there, towering above everything else.
Unlike the poplars, I must leave something behind to be remembered.
A new book from Barnstorming — information for how to order here
My mother, Elna Schmitz Polis, was born 101 years ago today in the lonely isolation of a Palouse wheat and lentil farm in eastern Washington. She drew her first breath in a two story white house located down a long poplar-lined lane and nestled in a draw between the undulating hills.
She attended a one room school house until 8th grade, located a mile away in the rural countryside, then moved in with her grandmother “in town” in Rosalia to attend high school, seeing her parents only a couple times a month.
It was a childhood which accustomed her to solitude and creative play inside her mind and heart – her only sibling, an older brother, was busy helping their father on the farm. All her life and especially in her later years, she would prefer the quiet of her own thoughts over the bustle of a room full of activities and conversation.
Her childhood was filled with exploration of the rolling hills, the barns and buildings where her father built and repaired farm equipment, and the chilly cellar where the fresh eggs were stored after she reached under cranky hens to gather them. She sat in the cool breeze of the picketed yard, watching the huge windmill turn and creak next to the house. She helped her weary mother feed farm crews who came for harvest time and then settled in the screened porch listening to the adults talk about lentil prices and bushel production. She woke to the mourning dove call in the mornings and heard the coyote yips and howls at night.
She nearly died at the age of 13 from a ruptured appendix, before antibiotics were an option. That near-miss seemed to haunt her life-long, filling her with worry that it was a mistake that she survived that episode at all. Yet she thrived despite the anxiety, and ended up, much to her surprise, living a long life full of family and faith, letting go at age 88 after fracturing a femur, breaking her will to continue to live.
As a young woman, she was ready to leave the wheat farm behind for college, devoting herself to the skills of speech, and the creativity of acting and directing in drama, later teaching rural high school students, including a future Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Carolyn Kizer. She loved words and the power and beauty they wielded.
Marrying my father was a brave and impulsive act, traveling by train to the east coast only a week before he shipped out for almost 3 years to the South Pacific to fight as a Marine in WWII. She must have wondered about the man who returned from war changed and undoubtedly scarred in ways she could not see or touch. They worked it out, as rocky as it must have been at times, and in their reconciliation after their divorce years later, I could see the devotion and mutual respect of life companions who shared purpose and love.
As a wife and mother, she rediscovered her calling as a steward of the land and a steward of her family, gardening and harvesting fruits, vegetables and children tirelessly. When I think of my mother, I most often think of her tending us children in the middle of the night whenever we were ill; her over-vigilance was undoubtedly due to her worry we might die in childhood as she almost did.
She never did stop worrying until the last few months. As she became more dependent on others in her physical decline, she gave up the control she thought she had to maintain through her “worry energy” and became much more accepting about the control the Lord maintains over all we are and will become.
I know from where my shyness comes, my preference for birdsongs rather than radio music, my preference for naps, and my tendency to be serious and straight-laced with a twinkle in my eye. This is my German Palouse side–immersing in the quietness of solitude, thrilling to the sight of the spring wheat flowing like a green ocean wave in the breeze and appreciating the warmth of rich soil held in my hands. From that heritage came my mother and it is the legacy she has left with me. I am forever grateful to her for her unconditional love and her willingness to share the warmth of her nest whenever we felt the need to fly back home and shelter, overprotected at times but safe nonetheless, under her wings.
A new book available from Barnstorming — more information here
I wonder if, in the dark night of the sea, the octopus dreams of me. ~N. Scott Momaday
If I am brutally honest with myself, one of my worst fears is to have lived on this earth for a few decades and then pass away forgotten, inconsequential, having left behind no legacy of significance whatsoever. I know it is self-absorbed to feel the need to leave a mark, but my search for purpose and meaning lasting beyond my time here provides new momentum for each day.
The forgetting can happen so fast. Most people know little about their great great grandparents, if they even know their names. A mere four generations, a century, renders us dust, not just in flesh, but in memory as well. There may be a yellowed photograph in a box somewhere, perhaps a tattered postcard or letter written in elegant script, but the essence of who this person was is long lost and forgotten. We owe it to our descendants to write down the stories about who we were while we lived on this earth. We need to share why we lived, for whom we lived, for what we lived.
I suspect however, unless I try every day to record some part of who I am, it will be no different with me and those who come after me. Whether or not we are remembered by great great grandchildren or become part of the dreams of creatures in the depths of the seas:
we are just dust here and there is no changing that.
Good thing this is not our only home. Good thing we are more than mere memory and dreams. Good thing there is eternity that transcends good works or long memories or legacies left behind. Good thing we are loved that much and always will be, Forever and ever, Amen.
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“There’s never an end to dust and dusting,” my aunt would say as her rag, like a thunderhead, scudded across the yellow oak of her little house. There she lived seventy years with a ball of compulsion closed in her fist, and an elbow that creaked and popped like a branch in a storm. Now dust is her hands and dust her heart. There’s never an end to it. ~Ted Kooser “Carrie” from Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985
My Great Aunt Marion was considered odd, no question about it. She usually dressed in somber woolens, smelling faintly of mothballs and incense. Her straight gray hair was bobbed with bangs, unfashionable for the wavy permanents of the fifties and the beehives of the sixties. Aunt Marion was a second grade teacher all her life, never marrying, and she lived for over 50 years in a spotless tiny apartment until the day she died in 1975. She bequeathed what little she had to the church she had faithfully attended a few blocks away and was buried in the family plot on a windswept hill overlooking Puget Sound.
I was overseas when she died, and to my knowledge, none of the extended family attended her funeral. In her retirement years she had become reclusive and remote. It was clear visitors weren’t welcome so visits to her became rare. In an effort to counteract that, I have annually visited her gravesite for the past 30+ years, paying homage to this aunt who remained an enigma in life and became even more mysterious in death.
She grew up in the early 20th century in an impoverished German immigrant family who relocated from Wisconsin to the northwest. Her father was gone most of the year running steamboats up the Yukon, leaving her mother to make do as a some time school teacher and full time mother. Her older brother dropped schooling early for the rough and ready life of the local logging camps but Marion finished teachers’ college at the Western Washington Normal School on the hill in Bellingham. She began her life’s work teaching 2nd grade a few miles away at Geneva Elementary School, and became the primary caretaker in her mother’s declining years.
Her shock over her brother’s marriage to a much younger teenage girl in 1917 created foment within an already fractious family that persisted down through the generations. As the offspring of that union, my father tried to prove his worth to his judgmental aunt. She was had a spiky and thorny personality, stern and unforgiving, but politely tolerated his existence though would never acknowledge his mother. Family gatherings weren’t possible due to the ongoing bitter conflict between the two strong-willed ladies.
Though Marion was childless, her heart belonged to her many students as well as a number of children she sponsored through relief organizations in developing countries around the world. Her most visible joy came from her annual summer trip to one of those exotic countries to meet first hand the child she was sponsoring. It seemed to fuel her until the next trip could be planned. She visited Asia and India numerous times, as well as Central and South America. It provided the purpose that was missing in the daily routine of her life at home.
I moved to my great aunt’s community over three decades ago, 10 years after she had died. I’d occasionally think of her as I drove past her old apartment building or the Methodist church she attended. Several years ago, I noticed a new wing on the old church, modern, spacious and airy. I commented on it to a co-worker who I knew attended that church.
He said the old church building had undergone significant remodeling over the years to update the wiring and plumbing, to create a more welcome sanctuary for worship and most recently to add a new educational wing for Sunday School and after school programs during the weekdays. As one of the council members in the church’s leadership, he commented that he was fortunate to attend a church equipped with financial resources to provide programs such as this in a struggling neighborhood that had more than its share of latch-key kids and single parents barely making do. He mentioned an endowment from a bequest given over 40 years ago by a spinster schoolteacher in her will. This lady had attended the church faithfully for years, and was somewhat legendary for her silent weekly presence in the same pew and that she rarely spoke to others in the church. She arrived, sat in the same spot, and left right after the service, barely interacting. Upon her death, she left her entire estate to the church, well over $1 million in addition to the deed to an oil well in Texas which has continued to flow and prosper over the past several decades. The new wing was dedicated to her memory as it represented her expressed desire for her neighborhood.
I asked if her name was Marion and he stared at me baffled. Yes, I knew her, I said. Yes, she was a remarkable woman. Yes, how proud she would be to see her legacy – what she had worked so hard for and then left behind — come to fruition.
There were times as I was growing up I wondered if my Great Aunt Marion had a secret lover somewhere, or if she led a double life as her life at home seemed so lonely and painful. I know now that she did have a secret life. She loved the children she had made her own and she lived plainly and simply in order to provide for others who had little. Her extended family is better off having never inherited that money or an oil well. It could have torn an already conflicted family apart and Marion knew, estranged from her only blood relatives, her money would hurt us more than it would help.
Her full story has died with her. Even so, I mourn her anew, marveling at what became of the dust of her, the legacy she chose to leave.