Pause for the Parable

Every happening, great and small,
is a parable whereby God speaks to us,
and the art of life is to get the message.
~Malcolm Muggeridge

Every day is filled with storied moments
though I feel too rushed to listen.

If I take time to be changed
by what I see or feel or hear,
when I pause
for the parable,
it makes all the difference:

A steaming manure pile
becomes the crucible for my failings
transformed into something useful,
a fertilizer to be spread
to grow what it touches.

An iced-over water barrel
reflects distant clouds
above me as I peer inside,
its frozen blue eye focused
past my brokenness
to mirror a beauty
far beyond.

An old barn roof with gaps torn by fierce winds,
is repaired and renewed,
no longer allowing rain and snow
and invading vines inside;
once again safe and secure,
a sanctuary protected from storms.

I am looking.
I am listening.
Feeling in desperate need of repair
before I topple over:
to be transformed,
and forever changed.

Stitched Up Whole Again

 Sometimes, I am startled out of myself,
like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.

~Barbara Crooker, from Radiance

We’ve lived long enough – now over three decades – in one place so things here on the farm are starting to break and fall apart, or stop working and simply give up. Over the last several weeks we’ve been busy fixing everything from barns to lawnmowers and old pick up trucks to leaking comfy air mattresses, not to mention various appliances threatening to give up the ghost.

We wonder what will break next, or whether all this is just preparing us for our own turn to fall apart, so I’m looking around with a renewed perspective of running out of time.

Like most people who have been stuck at home over the last several months, quarantine has been a good opportunity to clean up around here, including untouched boxes of things moved from our parents’ homes when they had to move into extended care before their deaths. We’ve packed up outdated possessions and no-longer-fitting clothing, scads of magazines and books never read and not-likely-to-be, and anything else that simply isn’t needed any longer.

The older I get, the more I feel I am merely passing through. No one else should have to pick up my messes after me.

Though this will be the summer of the purge of the old and used up, some things are always fixable, and that includes me. Like a seam with missing thread or a broken zipper or a dangling button, it is possible to be carefully stitched back into place once again and thus remain, forever, hopeful and whole.

Preparing Through Parable: Getting the Message



Every happening, great and small, 
is a parable whereby God speaks to us, 
and the art of life is to get the message.
…Listening to great music, or reading great literature,

an inner rhythm is detected and the heart rejoices,
and a light breaks which is none other than
God’s love shining through all of creation.
~Malcolm Muggeridge from his lecture “Christ and the Media”


For Lent this year, each day will be devoted to a story Jesus told –his parables–
to help each of us “get the message” in a way we might not otherwise.

Whether about a lost coin, a wandering sheep, a light hidden from view,
or a hypercritical older brother:  the parable told is about me and choices I make.






Every day is filled with stories told
and I feel too rushed to listen,
to take time for transformation
by what I see or feel or hear,
no matter how seemingly
small and insignificant.

When I pause
for the parable,
it makes all the difference:

A steaming manure pile
becomes the crucible for my failings
transformed into something useful,
a fertilizer to be spread
to grow what it touches.

An iced-over water barrel
reflects distant clouds
above me as I peer inside,
its frozen blue eye focused
past my brokenness
to mirror a beauty
far beyond.

An old barn roof awaiting repair
has gaps torn of fierce winds,
allowing rain and snow
and invading vines inside
what once was safe and secure,
a sanctuary exposed to storms.

I am looking.
I am listening.
Getting the message.
Badly in need of repair.
To be changed, transformed,
and to become part
of the story being told.





The Farmer’s Duct Tape




My hands are torn
by baling twine, not nails, and my side is pierced
by my ulcer, not a lance.
~Hayden Carruth from “Emergency Haying”





Miles of baling twine encircle
tons of hay in our barn,
twice daily cut loose,
freed of grasses
and hung up to reuse again
in myriad ways:

~~tighten a sagging fence
latch a swinging gate
tie shut a gaping door
replace a broken handle
hang a water bucket
suspend a sagging overalls
fix a broken halter
entertain a bored barn cat
snug a horse blanket belt~~

It is the duct tape of the barn
whenever duct tape won’t work;
a fix-all handy in every farmer’s pocket
made beautiful
by a morning fog’s weeping.








To Walk Alongside



None of us can “mend” another person’s life, no matter how much the other may need it, no matter how much we may want to do it.

Mending is inner work that everyone must do for him or herself. When we fail to embrace that truth the result is heartbreak for all concerned.

What we can do is walk alongside the people we care about, offering simple companionship and compassion. And if we want to do that, we must save the only life we can save, our own.
~Parker Palmer writing about Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”


Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
~Eugene O’Neill


We are born hollering and suddenly alone,
already aware of our emptiness
from the first breath,
each tiny air sac bursting
with the air of our fallen world~
air that is never enough.

The rest of our days are spent
filling up our empty spaces
whether alveoli
or stomach
or synapses starving for understanding,
still hollering in our loneliness
and heart

So we mend ourselves
through our walk with others
also broken,
we patch up our gaps
by knitting the scraggly fragments
of lives lived together.
We become the crucial glue
boiled from gifted Grace,
all our holes
somehow made holy.





Honoring His Hands


Carpentry…. embodies the emotional: celebration, contemplation, mystery, and grief.
It is an art that is solitary and communal, one that transcends time and outlives us.
~Yusuf Komunyakaa from “Honor Thy Hands”

Wes Meyer learned how to build new things and repair old things from his carpenter dad, Pete, working side by side for many years.  Although Wes was a magician with hammer and nails, taking raw materials and creating something beautiful and functional, his true artistry was when he was able to take something broken or failing and make it new.   By never giving up on finding a solution to a problem, no matter how hard it was to fix, he transcended the limits and boundaries of others saying something was  “too old to bother.”

Our almost 100 year old church building  presented perpetual challenges to enhance Wes’ often solitary restoration skills, whether it was a leaking roof that required scaling the steep slopes, spraying a hornets’ nest in the belfry, replacing missing siding after a windstorm, sweeping up the glass from a window broken by vandals or a broken tree branch, or mopping up after the annual basement flooding when the rains fell too long and hard.   He became our unofficial ambassador to the often wary county Planning Department, diplomatically negotiating permits for various repair projects and a fellowship hall expansion.   At the annual congregational meeting, when it came his turn to report on the volunteer Buildings and Grounds Committee activities for the year, he would take off his ball cap, lean over the podium, look out at the rest of us non-carpenters, and say, “this building is really old!” and wearily shake his head.  But rather than suggest a tear-down and start-over, he would outline a list of projects he had tackled in the previous year and what he figured would need doing the coming year and how much the materials would likely cost.   He made it “our” communal duty to keep our church building glued together for the next generation and the next.  The building needs to outlive us.

Wes, like any excellent craftsman,  made sure it outlived him.

When he was diagnosed with acute leukemia 30 months ago, he had no problem turning his failing bone marrow over to the oncologists to fix and make new.  He understood the process of patching up something that was broken, and that sometimes in the middle of a repair, things can look and feel worse than they were before, but you have to keep your eyes on the goal.  With the support of his loving wife and daughter and an almost-man star athlete son who had grown far taller and stronger than his dad,  and a remarkable extended family, Wes took on the cancer like yet another major remodel.  He and his medical team gutted the leukemia cells with chemotherapy and rebuilt anew with his brother’s stem cells.  It was a difficult repair and his body, like a customer demanding too many change orders,  wasn’t all that keen on accepting the new cells.  Wes and his doctors worked hard trying to address the new demands.  It felt like a job that would never be done — all he wanted was to move on to other projects.

Sometimes even the best remodel has problems; sometimes the fissure in the foundation is just too wide, or the weight-supporting beams have hidden dry rot.  Wes’ bone marrow harbored cancer cells that eventually reemerged and the next chemotherapy step was like falling into an old well hole with no ladder.    He couldn’t climb out, his body too damaged, the burden too heavy, his time running out.   A few days ago he was brought out of that deep pit to be home near his family and friends. Unlike his thriving church building, Wes was not nearly old enough to die last night, but he did.   Sometimes the tear-down is necessary to build something even more beautiful and glorious.  We all await that moment with trembling.

Those hands of his must be needed elsewhere, working on projects that last for eternity.  No more repairs needed.