My impatient tendencies are no big secret, just ask the Hubs. Again last week this unfavorable characteristic was starkly illuminated. “Patience is a virtue,” Mrs. Danehy would admonish whenever one of her girls interrupted my piano lesson. Forty years on you might think I’d have it mastered? Nope. When my daughter-in-law reminds my granddaughter to put on her “patient pants,” I smile in empathy. I hope she learns more quickly than her GiGi.
Forget about the calendar. Winter is the longest season. A North Country winter is custom made waiting. Just as most of nature slumbers through the cold, we can’t seem to help ourselves from snuggling into flannel sheets earlier and earlier as daylight hours shrink. I simultaneously look forward to and dread winter each year, an internal tug-of-war once revealed in “Winter’s Gift“.
But winter and I have made friends / For all of the reasons that defy friendships / To develop in spite of our differences
I’ve learned to accept her moodiness / And to ignore her bad behavior because / On her good days she is simply stellar
The beautiful synergy between our longest, darkest season and Advent always encourages me. Generations came and went, kings and kingdoms rose and fell, as God’s people longed for the promised one. Over centuries of spiritual darkness, they hoped and longed for the light.
Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. … The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness a light will shine. Isaiah 9:1-2
That ancient season played out on an intergalactic scale, a game-changing wait over hundreds of years with implications to eternity. We know the end of the story and how God proved faithful as the darkness of death was eradicated. Perhaps as a result, something deep within me responds during this annual season of hopeful longing.
The North Country sets a perfect stage for Advent reflections. The sun drops below the horizon increasingly earlier as fall slips into winter. Dusk darkens quickly into an inky blackness extending from the riverbank in one direction to forest in the other. Our home perches on the knoll in between, snug and tight against the night. As temps drop we hunker down inside, weary to the bone, relieved for respite of evening. We wait for light of morning and long for the warmth of spring.
The light of day chases darkness away, always faithfully even if hesitantly. Sometimes winter’s sunlight is thin and weak, canvasing the landscape with an ethereal, otherworldly glow. Under perfect conditions, steam rising from the river crystalizes on every stalk, twig and leaf, gloriously transforming the landscape.
Often the North Country day breaks behind the ridge across the river in a blush of peachy pink that takes my breath away. The rising sun streams bold and bright, stark against brazen blue skies. It bounces off ribbons of ice between the banks and skips across snow-dusted cornfields. Cornstalks lie close-cropped and stubbled like an old man’s beard, tripping it up along the way.
Sooner or later, sister sun peeks in my window, calling me out of my cocoon, urging me into my coat and boots for a wake-up walk. I trudge across the fields to the riverbank, marveling at how the mundane has been transformed to exquisite overnight. When in a whisper the morning light transforms snow crystals to diamond dust, I can hardly bear the beauty.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:12
The 2018 advent season was particularly poignant because the entire year seemed relatively dark with difficulties. One after another, they began in March and piled up until we wondered if we would ever see the end. Inching along unsteadily these many months, invariably, a flash of light swept the pathway to lend encouragement at just the right time. Inspired by these brief illuminations — generous kindnesses, good words, new solutions, wise counsel, fateful conversations, thoughtful considerations — we’ve pressed on, confident in our source of hope.
We may not have seen the end of this season of trials but we are being transformed on the journey. Winter is accomplishing her purpose; we wait for the land to return to fruitfulness. Meanwhile, we will walk in the light.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of my dad’s passing. I can still see him so clearly; it seems impossible a decade has passed. I’m reminded of his impact in large and small ways. Career decisions. Problem solving strategies. Likes and dislikes. Phobias and passions. Familiar characteristics reveal like trail markers around the bend as Dad’s sense of humor, abilities, and attributes present in grandchildren and great-grands alike. I am glad the generations continue to bear witness to my dad.
This morning I came across the video I made after dad’s memorial service. I slipped it into the DVD drive and slid back in time to a tiny Adirondack church packed tight with family and friends. The service was a rich and meaningful celebration of his life. My favorite part was when his grandchildren performed a heartfelt rendition of I’ll Fly Away, their voices raised on the wings of the hope he’d professed. I smiled, cherishing the distinct sounds of my children’s voices in the beautiful chorus.
Continue reading remembering my dad
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.
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
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!
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.
2018 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