Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods. Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt. But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down but the angel flies up again taking us with her. The summer mornings begin inch by inch while we sleep, and walk with us later as long-legged beauty through the dirty streets. It is no surprise that danger and suffering surround us. What astonishes is the singing. We know the horses are there in the dark meadow because we can smell them, can hear them breathing. Our spirit persists like a man struggling through the frozen valley who suddenly smells flowers and realizes the snow is melting out of sight on top of the mountain, knows that spring has begun. ~Jack Gilbert “Horses at Midnight Without a Moon”
As if — we are walking through the darkest valley, still stuck in the throes of winter, and catch a whiff of a floral scent, or a hint of green grass, or hear the early jingle bells song of peeper frogs in the wetlands, or feel the warm breath of horses puffing steam at night.
As if — there is hope on the other side, refreshment and renewal and rejoicing only around the corner.
As if — things won’t always be frozen or muddy or barren, that something is coming behind the snowdrops and crocus.
The snow is melting, imperceptibly, but melting nonetheless. And that, in turn, melts me…
This year’s Lenten theme: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4: 18
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:8
To look at the last great self-portraits of Rembrandt or to read Pascal or hear Bach’s B-minor Mass is to know beyond the need for further evidence that if God is anywhere, he is with them, as he is also with the man behind the meat counter, the woman who scrubs floors at Roosevelt Memorial, the high-school math teacher who explains fractions to the bewildered child. And the step from “God with them” to Emmanuel, “God with us,” may not be as great as it seems.
What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own snowbound, snowblind longing for him. ~Frederick Buechner from A Room Called Remember
God gave us all a garden once and walked with us at eve that we might know him face to face with no need to believe.
But we denied and hid from Him, concealing our own shame, yet still He came and looked for us, and called us each by name.
He found us when we hid from Him, He clothed us with His grace. But still we turned our backs on Him and would not see His face.
So now, He comes to us again, not as a Lord most high, but weak and helpless as we are, that we might hear Him cry.
And He who clothed us in our need, lies naked in the straw, that we might wrap Him in our rags when once we fled in awe.
The strongest comes in weakness now, a stranger to our door, the King forsakes His palaces and dwells among the poor.
And where we hurt, He hurts with us, and when we weep, He cries. He knows the heart of all our hurts, the inside of our sighs.
He does not look down from up above, but gazes up at us, that we might take Him in our arms, He always cradles us.
And if we welcome Him again, with open hands and heart, He’ll plant His garden deep in us, the end from which we start.
And in that garden, there’s a tomb, whose stone is rolled away, where we and everything we’ve loved are lowered in the clay.
But lo! the tomb is empty now, and clothed in living light, His ransomed people walk with One who came on Christmas night.
So come, Lord Jesus, find in me the child you came to save, stoop tenderly with wounded hands and lift me from my grave.
Even though He is worshiped by angels, it is enough for Him to be held in His mother’s arms, His face kissed, His tummy full, to be bedded in a manger in lantern light.
It is enough for Him, as He is enough for us — even born as one of us, poor as we are — snowbound and ice-locked in our longing for something – anything – more. Our empty hearts fill with Him who came down when heaven could not hold Him any longer.
Imagine that. It is enough to melt us to readiness.
This year’s Advent theme “Dawn on our Darkness” is taken from this 19th century Christmas hymn:
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning, dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid. Star of the east, the horizon adorning, guide where our infant Redeemer is laid. ~Reginald Heber -from “Brightest and Best”
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support daily Barnstorming posts
How exactly good it is to know myself in the solitude of winter, my body containing its own warmth, divided from all by the cold; and to go separate and sure among the trees cleanly divided, thinking of you perfect too in your solitude, your life withdrawn into your own keeping –to be clear, poised in perfect self-suspension toward you, as though frozen. And having known fully the goodness of that, it will be good also to melt. ~Wendell Berry “The Cold” from New Collected Poems
It is too easy to find comfort in solitude in yet another waning pandemic winter, with trust and friendship eroded, to stay protected one from another by screens and windows and masks.
Standing apart can no longer be an option as we long for reconnection; the time has come for the melt, for a re-blending of moments full of meals and singing and hugs.
We’ll find our way out of the cold. We’ll find our way to trust. We’ll find our way back to one another.
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support Barnstorming
Twilight comes to the little farm At winter’s end. The snowbanks High as the eaves, which melted And became pitted during the day, Are freezing again, and crunch Under the dog’s foot. The mountains From their place behind our shoulders Lean close a moment, as if for a Final inspection, but with kindness, A benediction as the darkness Falls. It is my fiftieth year. Stars Come out, one by one with a softer Brightness, like the first flowers Of spring. I hear the brook stirring, Trying its music beneath the ice. I hear – almost, I am not certain – Remote tinklings; perhaps sheepbells On the green side of a juniper hill Or wineglasses on a summer night. But no. My wife is at her work, There behind yellow windows. Supper Will be soon. I crunch the icy snow And tilt my head to study the last Silvery light of the western sky In the pine boughs. I smile. Then I smile again, just because I can. I am not an old man. Not yet. ~Hayden Carruth, “Twilight Comes” from From Snow and Rock
I am well aware how precious each day is, yet it necessitates effort to live as though I truly understand it.
So many people are not living out the fullness of their days as they have been taken too soon: either pandemic deaths or delayed treatment of other illness, tragic fatalities due to increased overdoses, accidents and suicides. I try to note the passing of the hours in my mind’s calendar so I can appreciate the blessings I have been given.
Each twilight becomes a benediction for preparation for the meal ahead. I pause to see, hear, touch and taste what is before me and what awaits me. And it never fails to make me smile.
I’m always hungry for the supper that awaits me, provided from the land through sacrifice and handed to me in love.
I’m not too old, at least not yet, to look forward to the gift of each next day until, in the fullness of time, there will be no more.
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support Barnstorming
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.
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
Make a one-time or recurring donation to Barnstorming
“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
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”
Your rolling and stretching had grown quieter that stormy winter night twenty nine 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. So 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 loose 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, and when your students love you as their teacher, knowing you are a thread born to knit and mend hearts, all because of blowing snow.
My annual retelling of the most remarkable day of my life when our daughter Eleanor (“Lea”) Sarah Gibson was born, hale and hearty because the good Lord sent a snow and wind storm to blow us into the hospital in time to save her. She is now married to her true love Brian who is another gift sent from the Lord; someday their hope for parenthood will come true for them as well.
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep. ~Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost
I wish one could press snowflakes in a book like flowers. ~James Schuyler from “February 13, 1975”
When a January night lingers long, beginning too early and lasting too late, I find myself in my own insistent winter, wanting to hide away from trouble deep in a peaceful snowy woods, knowing I choose to avoid doing what is needed when it is needed.
I look inward when I must focus outside myself. I muffle my ears to deafen voices crying in need. I turn away rather than meet a stranger’s gaze.
A wintry soul is a cold and empty place, not lovely, dark and deep.
I appeal to my Creator who knows my darkness. He expects me to keep my promises because He keeps His promises. His buds of hope and warmth and color and fruit will arise from my bare branches.
He brings me out of the night to finish what He brought me here to do.
A book from Barnstorming combining the beauty of Lois Edstrom’s words and Barnstorming photography, available for order here:
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support Barnstorming
Let other mornings honor the miraculous. Eternity has festivals enough. This is the feast of our mortality, The most mundane and human holiday.
The new year always brings us what we want Simply by bringing us along—to see A calendar with every day uncrossed, A field of snow without a single footprint. ~Dana Gioia, “New Year’s” from Interrogations at Noon
The shadow of death Is long across the land, And the night comes early This time of the year.
We have tried to be the light, But the matches burnt our fingers. We have made every sacrifice, But still the solstice came.
So come and sit with me, In the shadow of death And let’s tell it to the dark: Who was, and is, and is to come. ~Mike Bonikowsky “Advent IV: Faith”
No one ever regarded the first of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam. ~Charles Lamb, 1897
I begin this new year as naked as dormant branches trembling in the freezing nights of arctic winds.
Having dropped all my leaves and fruit, my potential now is mere bud; I cover up nothing, unable to hide in shame.
We each celebrate a birthday on New Year’s Day, a bright beginning after so much darkness, a still life nativity born in a winter garden, He who was and is and is to come: He who gives us another chance to make it right.
Layton DeVries was a music teacher who composed a song now found on YouTube at this link – shortly after, at age 24 he died of injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
O Child of God, Rest assured the Lord is with you. When you wake up in the morning and the sun is shining down, The Lord watches every step you take. When the world has knocked you down, And you don‘t know which way to turn, Rest assured, the Lord is with you. O Child of God, Rest assured the Lord is with you.
When your friends have turned against you, And you feel all alone, The Lord watches over every move you make. He will always be right there, to protect and love His Child Rest assured, the Lord is with you. O Child of God, Rest assured the Lord is with you.
When darkness drifts around you, And your eyes close to sleep, The Lord watches over every breath you take And when death comes near to bring you home, You have no need to fear, Rest assured, the Lord is with you. O Child of God, Rest assured, the Lord is with you. ~Layton DeVries
From Barnstorming: a book of beauty in words and photography – available to order here:
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:15
…as you sit beneath your beautifully decorated tree, eat the rich food of celebration, and laugh with your loved ones, you must not let yourself forget the horror and violence at the beginning and end of the Christmas story. The story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.
Look into that manger representing a new life and see the One who came to die. Hear the angels’ celebratory song and remember that sad death would be the only way that peace would be given. Look at your tree and remember another tree – one not decorated with shining ornaments, but stained with the blood of God.
As you celebrate, remember that the pathway to your celebration was the death of the One you celebrate, and be thankful. ~Paul Tripp
God could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane. Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any importance. We should also have missed the all-important help of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin. If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incarnate at all. ― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis
There is no consolation for families of those lost to death come too soon: a rogue king’s slaughter of innocents, and now so much needless death: weather, war, accidents, random shootings, COVID.
Arms ache with the emptiness of grief, beds and pillows lie cold and unused, hugs never to come again.
There is no consolation; only mourning and great weeping, sobbing that wrings dry every human cell, leaving dust behind, which is our beginning and our end.
God came to us for times such as this, born of the dust of woman and the breath of the Holy Spirit, God bent down to lie in manger dust, walk on roads of dust, die and be laid to rest as dust to conquer such evil as this that displaces masses and massacres innocents.
He became dust to be like us He began a mere speck in a womb like us
His heart beat like ours breathing each breath like ours until a fearful fallen world took His and our breath away.
He shines through the shadows of death to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
He hears our cries as He cried too. He knows our tears as He wept too. He knows our mourning as He mourned too. He knows our dying as He died too.
God weeps as this happens.
Only God can glue together what evil has shattered. He asks us to hand Him the pieces of our broken hearts.
We will know His peace when He comes to bring us home, our tears finally dried, our cells no longer just dust, as we are glued together by the holy breath of our God forevermore.
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, Bye bye, lully, lullay. Thou little tiny child, Bye bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do For to preserve this day This poor youngling for whom we sing, “Bye bye, lully, lullay?”
Herod the king, in his raging, Chargèd he hath this day His men of might in his own sight All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor child, for thee And ever mourn and may For thy parting neither say nor sing, “Bye bye, lully, lullay.”
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support Barnstorming