of bridges and breezes

It’s hard to believe I’m six months along on my journey to new normal. I still don’t know exactly what that means but along the way time seems to have vaporized. Like a retiree, “I don’t know how I ever had time to work!” Except that I’m not yet retired.

In some ways, it did feel like a retirement transition. I left my career behind — but not for winters in the tropics. I’ve started a new business; I’m also pitching in on our family dairy rebuilding from a disastrous barn fire. I’m the first to admit this has been an anxiety-inducing season.

I’ve spent more time breath-praying angst away these six months than in the last six years combined! Turns out, my professional life was among the least of my concerns. Thankfully, we’ve all made good progress. Hopefulness is rising in me like the cool breeze of late summer’s eve. I can smell a new season on the air.

Continue reading of bridges and breezes

milk bath morning

It’s dark each morning when we leave to feed calves. Even the songbirds have sense enough to sleep in a bit. I hear the soft call of a turkey and the deep bellow of a bullfrog on the riverbank. Otherwise, not a sound. The only thing getting me out of bed at this insane hour is knowing the Hubs was able to sleep in some himself. That’s something, anyway.

After ten days, the Hubs and I have synced pretty well on a calf feeding system. I know my job and can do it without too much trouble, freeing him up to do other stuff. Usually this means he wrestles the smallest calves through bottle feeding.  This morning he switched it up a bit.
Continue reading milk bath morning

refining fire

The past few weeks I’ve often found myself contemplating the refiner’s fire.  That’s no surprise, given the extent of upheaval in our lives. We have been feeling the heat of late! I can almost hear my Aunt Bea proclaiming, “We’re really in it!”  Well, yes; it’s become quite toasty.

Among a series of unfortunate events the most dramatic, by far, was a barn fire in mid-April. It was devastating, leveling an entire barn and milking facility, damaging two silos beyond use, disrupting operations for months to come and creating an immense mess on the property. Oy.

Yet it could have been so much worse! We are grateful for tremendous community support in fighting the fire and recovery thereafter. We’re especially thankful for no loss of life. Even so, dealing with the aftermath has been overwhelming.

For the first few days, farmers moved in a sleep-deprived daze of disbelief, the smell of fire acrid in the lingering haze. A smoldering pile of debris reignited periodically, requiring continual observation and occasional attention. Hundreds of cows had to be relocated immediately, some to another property we own and others to neighboring farms. It will be very late in the fall before all the cows come home.

Meanwhile, everything the Hubs and our boys thought they knew and were on the verge of implementing in strategic innovation (a.k.a. Plan A) had to be reconsidered. They scrambled to realign plans and goals, to reconsider their aspirations as farm owners and operators. After multiple facility tours and extensive consultation they solidified a new business plan (a.k.a. Plan B).

This then required weeks of testing to confirm feasibility, detail components, and secure support. Unfortunately, as the U.S. dairy industry slump continues, each decision point and delay are extra weighty. In all of this, there has been no respite from the stress. Insurance claims are slow to resolve. Financing is complicated. All-consuming planting and harvesting seasons progress and overlap with urgency. Open questions and unknowns loom like dark clouds overhead. Numerous loose ends taunt us, wagging wildly in summer’s hot winds. We pray for wisdom and favor. And for expediency.

Our bodies and spirits sag under oppressive heat and humidity.  We pray for a reprieve. Dirt turns to dust. The corn begins to shrivel and brown. We pray for rain and more rain. We pray for livestock and crops and farmers to endure; sometimes the strain seems almost unbearable in our little corner of the world.

Global and national news stories lend some perspective. There are so many “hot spots” that it can be overwhelming. We empathize with west coasters living under the threat of wildfires burning wildly out of control. We pray for those in the path of fierce, fiery destruction of all types. We pray for fire-fighter safety. With all of this heat — both literal and figurative — it’s no wonder the refiner’s fire has been on my mind.

Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel. Proverbs 25:4

This is not the first time I’ve experienced an extended period of “heat” from exceedingly difficult circumstances and concluded the master refiner was at work in my life. To me, that is a hopeful thought: I am clearly not able to control this mess! Experience tells me that I can trust him in this.

A refiner has selected raw material and uses a carefully controlled flame for precise purpose. A refiner’s fire doesn’t destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire or barn fire. It does not burn out of control, consuming everything within reach. The refiner’s fire consumes the extraneous, removing impurities. A refiner clarifies and purifies until all that remains is beautiful and pleasing.

Most importantly, the refiner is always near. In the midst of turmoil, in the heat of the flame, the refiner is attentively present. He manages the process with care and confidence that the end product will be worth the effort.

And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” Zechariah 13:9

As much as God wants to reveal us as his own — the refiner’s fire is nothing if not such a process — he also wants us to acknowledge and call on him. I’ve no hesitation to do so but in the midst of the heat I call more frequently. I need to know he’s near. I want to feel his presence. I long to hear him say, “I’ve got this.”

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2

It’s been three months since the barn fire and there is hope on our horizon. New facilities are rising. Many questions have resolved as solutions have surfaced. Searing temperatures have lessened. Thunderstorms brought much needed relief last weekend. There’s more rain in the forecast. May it be so!

IMG_1606

I awoke today with the song, Still, sing-ringing in my brain. I received it gladly, as a gift and affirmation that God is near. He has been here all along, just as he promised. I was encouraged. I hope you will be, too.

~ Sondra

#SheFarms Series
she farms | refining fire | milk bath morning | silos away!
second sleep | big cows | dill pickle proud

letting go, pressing on

IMG_91732018 dawned in classic North Country winter fashion: piercingly clear, blazingly bright, and intensely cold. Mid-morning mercury hovered at negative 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikes! Wind chill warnings persist through mid-day, projecting negative 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Dangerously cold!

I’m in no hurry to get out although I will, eventually. I’ll bundle up and brave a brief walk across snowplowed path to check in on three grands next door. But for now, I’m content to linger in leisurely warmth.

Of course, this induces some guilt. I’ve been thinking of the Hubs since my feet hit the floor. Not a lot of good that’s done him, eh? There’s nothing worse than extreme cold on a dairy farm. They’ve been at it for hours, long before dawn broke, another miserably cold day in an exhausting week of subzero temps. I can only hope a batch of French onion soup and crockpot of beef stew are some comfort.  Meanwhile, I’m thankful for a quiet morning on the first day of the new year.

Yesterday I attended a new church. Pastor Floyd urged us to take a lesson from ancient King David’s epic example of letting go. As at the story goes, David, God’s elect, layered sin upon sin, including failure in line of duty, adultery and lying. As a result, a good man was murdered, a marriage ruined, and an infant died. Can you imagine what Facebook or Twitter would make of his mess?
Continue reading letting go, pressing on

sunrise, moonset

IMG_0922

I rushed outside for the sunrise
Winter coat thrown hastily over nightgown
Bare legs braving the frost
Misty fog of warm air rising from the river
Horizon slowly warming, blushing in pearly hues
Welcome to this new day.

I returned slowly, savoring the thought of piping hot coffee
That first cup always tastes the best
Pleasantly surprised by the harvest moon
Lingering as a bright ball of light
Slipping behind bare maple and birch, scruffy cedars and pine.

IMG_0919

Last night at dusk I startled a deer in the cornfield
He snorted and blew, fleeing over stubble
His white tail flying like a flag, he all but flew
Over corn stalks the combine left behind.

Oftentimes it seems life is like the deer
Gone in a flash. What was that? Was it really there?
Sunrise and moonset remind me to breathe
Just breathe.

You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.
We are merely moving shadows,
   and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
   not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
   My only hope is in you.

Psalm 39:5-7 New Living Translation (NLT)

 

~ René Morley

 

 

psalm 121 for children

The theme for children’s church this month is, “God is always watching over us.”  The preschool curriculum I purchased didn’t quite hit the target — even though most of our kids are ages 2 to 4 it needed a bit more weight.  So I created a very simple version of the psalm with motions to supplement the lesson. Week by week we act it out; I think they are getting it!

PSALM 121 for Children
 
My help comes from God! (Point and look upward)
He made the heavens and earth. (Arms extended upward, spin slowly in a circle)
He guards my steps. (Stomp-walk in place)
He never falls asleep. (Shake head and pointer finger as in “no, no”)
He protects me. (Cross arms over chest, move into crouch for next line)
He keeps me safe. 
He is with me wherever I go. (Arms extended upward, spin slowly in a circle)
God is always watching over me! (Hand over eyes)

I developed two additional crafts for this unit to reinforce the main point: God is always watching over us! The first was created with North Country landscape. I printed several photos on card stock. Children pasted lines of the psalm (numerically ordered) on top of the photo. The second was footprints which will be ready for Father’s Day. We traced in pencil then outlined with a sharpie. They applied paste and glitter. This week at home I’ll apply a cutout of the amplified version of Psalm 121:3, with a small spacer in between to layers to add dimension. Next week children will sign their names to the front.

Both were simple, low cost crafts to reinforce the central message, God is always watching over us. I hope these ideas are useful with your wee ones!

~ René Morley

 

open house, open hearts

open-house-2016

On the first Saturday of December we hosted an open house with Santa. It was one of those stars -have-aligned sort of opportunities. First Christmas in our new home. So many people to thank and so many reasons to be thankful. Young grandchildren and great-nieces and wee friends from children’s church experiencing the magical wonder and holy awe of Christmas. New friends in the community. Lots of good reasons to plan a Christmas party.

Most importantly, this will be the first Christmas since our beloved Betty passed over. She loved the Christmas season more than anyone I’ve known. Christmas a la Betty was a sight to behold. She trimmed the tree, the house, the yard, until every nook and cranny was graced by Christmas spirit. She spent an entire year preparing, purchasing gifts well in advance and baking sweets and treats for weeks leading up to the big day.

By the time I entered the scene the family was so large that gifts were exchanged in family groupings over the course of a week leading up to Christmas. Even then, she always exceeded expectations with beautifully wrapped packages spilling into the dining room from under the front room tree. On Christmas Eve, the entire brood gathered at the farm before church services. Santa made an appearance to the delight of the children as adults battled over Betty’s famous dill pickles in a gift exchange. Christmas was a celebration of family as well faith.

On the days leading up to our open house, it was almost as if my mother-in-law was shadowing each step. She felt very near as I was baking spiral hams and dozens of rolls, trimming with lights and baubles and scents of the season, wrapping packages to fill the gap under the mammoth tree that the Hubs, a.k.a. Clark Griswold, couldn’t resist — he carries her Christmas torch. I knew she would be pleased with our preparations for sixty guests. My sisters-in-law and others showed up with helpful contributions just as I knew they would because they also know family matters. Betty’s example and joyful celebrations of family life and Christmas will serve us well in to the future.

In one important way, as the song below so beautifully illustrates, this is her first Christmas. Listen in… and if that doesn’t boost your Christmas spirit, then spend some time with my Christmas playlist!

And it was just (February) past 
She said goodbye, and breathed her last 
And the great-grandchildren miss her so 
But if she could she would let them know … 
This is my first Christmas 

First time to hear the angels sing 
Glory, hallelujah to the risen king 
And a holy night is what this is 
‘Cause this is my first Christmas 
This is my first Christmas

 

 

 

I’m pleased to report the open house with Santa a grand success and a ton of fun. The house was buzzing with conversation among family, friends, and neighbors. Twenty children leaned in one by one, wide-eyed and eager to bend Santa’s ear — except for our three grandgirls, who each preferred to keep their distance! Santa gifted each child with a Little Golden Book retelling the first Christmas story.

I crouched low on the carpet, observing each of the children up close in their moment of joy on Santa’s lap. They were just precious. One of the most memorable was in 3 year-old Henry’s Santa exchange. It was a very short conversation. “I want a bounce house” (trampoline), Henry proclaimed. I prompted him to continue on his sister’s behalf, just as he’d practiced, so Santa would know Anna Bea would like “something that squeaks.” Alas, he’d changed his mind about sharing this detail. “No, GiGi,” he said. “She’s fine. Beasy don’t need nothing.” Well, huh. I sure hope Santa doesn’t forget her!

Long into the eventing we ate, drank and were merry in the making of memories and start of a new Christmas tradition.

 

Merry Christmas!

~ René Morley