Barn Raisers

My mother has a fascination for lighthouses and very old cemeteries. I, on the other hand, love the old barns of New England. There’s just something about faded red clapboards that draw me in. Perhaps its because these clapboards tell the story of not just how the harsh winters and scorching summers have worn away at their paint.

These barns, if one listens carefully, tell the important story of weathering life’s unruly elements. For inside the post and beams, often notched, pegged and dovetailed together with gripped by calloused hands, are many tales of when farm animals filled the stalls, hay reached high into the rafters and grain overflowed in bins; and when animals, hay and grain were scarce.

The cool, dank smell of earthen floors and the musty sting of aging wood, speak to me of a time when people really valued being part of a community and cared about the abundance and/or the scarcity within one’s barn—for by caring about one’s barn, you were caring about one’s livelihood, one’s happiness, one’s heart.

I think of the barn raisings still taking place in Amish communities today. Men come with their tools eager and willing to help a neighbor. Women spread out the tables with what seems to be a never-ending supply of home baked goods, relishes, jams, fried chicken, ham loaf and, of course, snickerdoodle cookies and shoo-fly pies. But those are the Amish. We are what they call the “English” and such gatherings don’t happen among us anymore which is a shame, for we are missing out on more than just ham loaf.

Yes, these barns are telling me story of how we ought to live in community with one another. They tell me that even though I am a horrible cook and many times my stab at shoo fly pie is a complete flop (I am not sure how I can still mess up such a simple concoction of molasses, brown sugar and a crumb topping), I should still find time to invite friend, family and foe to my table to sit and not just break bread together, but to sit and share our lives together.

For storms of all kinds do their best to weather the clapboards of our hearts. But if we stay connected to what’s really important—to one another—we will find ourselves standing tall like those barns, telling stories that will be our testimony to a God who leads us through all seasons.

Just this morning as I pondered storms, seasons, old barns, true friends and even foes (yet to become friends) in my life, I came across this quote in a magazine I was reading. The author wrote, “We don’t need barns full of stuff, we need people to hear our story in its rawest form and who still see us as a beautiful soul no matter how much ugly we’ve experienced or felt or even been. We need people to share our story and advocate for us, to vouch for us, to support us when standing alone isn’t possible.”

I have stood alone in life and wondered where and who my advocates were. I have known the grace of someone coming alongside of me to listen and understand me and, I have had the grace and compassion to be that support to someone standing alone as well.

I knew a woman who had on her property an old Scottish bank barn. The beams, the carpentry, the dug out basement for keeping potatoes and other garden goodies fresh even in the winters, all captivated me. But she was selling the place. She was moving. She needed a fresh start. She needed community. She had served her country and had suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, thus, making it hard for others to really understand her tough exterior and, often at times, argumentative nature. She longed for a chance, but few gave it to her.

I chose to stay by her side, trying to advocate for her when others wouldn’t. I stood with her even when it was hard to do so. I stood and took the hurtful words that would sometimes come my way. I stood and by doing so I was there to catch her pent up tears when she finally felt safe enough to let them fall. images-2

We have long since lost contact with one another, but at times I find myself driving by her home and her Scottish bank barn and wondering how she is doing. I pray that she has found people to continue sharing her story with and people who will not be so quick to write her off, but who stand with her long enough to see the beauty of the weathered clapboards that are barely holding her fragile heart together.

I love old the old barns of New England. I love them because they tell me a story of how we all have such clapboards barely holding our fragile hearts together. They remind me that there was a time when community was there, showing the love of Christ towards one another—a love that does amazing restoration work. (Maybe that is why I had my wedding reception in an old Vermont barn?)images-1.jpg

Barns give me hope that such love in community can still exist today.

We just have to relearn to be those barn raisers of yesteryear.

The Hallowed Halls of ‘Back Then’

It’s a humid and gloomy afternoon. The kind of afternoon in which you just want to sleep away, but I don’t dare pull the covers over my head. I have a sermon to write, to which I’m failing miserably at.

It seems my mind has a mind of its own. It doesn’t want to help me out in coming up with any eloquent prose on the significance of Jesus casting out many demons plaguing a man.I keep wondering why Jesus just didn’t vanquish the demons? Instead, he relocated them to live in a bunch of unsuspecting pigs who were, up to that point, enjoying life—as much as a pig can enjoy life before becoming a slab of bacon.

Can I really write a sermon sympathizing with the pigs? Probably not. I do love bacon. So I say to my mind, “Take me where you want to go.” It does so happily, taking me away from the here and now and into the hallowed halls of “back then,” where memories have the power to either sadden or gladden. I anticipate both happening. For the back then I go to is a country wedding taking place in a little white church five years ago this week.

I can see the sun shining brightly behind the soaring white steeple. Its rays have chased away all of the drizzle-filled clouds that had me, the bride-to-be, biting my manicured nails.

I can see the sanctuary graced with flowers from the gardens of all the dear women who insisted that flowers were needed in each of the windowsills of the old church. Right before the organ begins the first notes to the bridal procession, I smile with approval at one of the white-haired ladies smiling back at me.

This was one occasion I was glad she didn’t listen to me when I said we didn’t need flowers in the sanctuary. We did need them. I needed them. For they weren’t flowers bought from a florist, arranged in a stiff, artificial way. They were flowers collected with love from local fields and hills and gardens, gathered in bunches and placed in vases that have been hanging around the church for countless years. I bet those vases were happy to be out of the cupboards and once again part of a memory-making day.

I can see the many flower girls. They are a picture of perfection with their floral wreaths in their hair and their cream colored dresses tied with champagne-colored sashes. Perfection is fleeting though. Soon shoes come off, sashes untie and floral wreaths wilt as the girls play outside on the church lawn. In these hallowed halls of “back then” I spot a picture and stop and stare. Some of the girls are sitting on the wooden rail, with dirty bare feet telling of one fun afternoon. There’s that gladness mixed with sadness, as time has turned these girls into young ladies. That means, I too, have grown older.

I can see the tables in fellowship hall filled with homemade treats that would put to shame feasts typical at an Amish barn raising. I can see my mom and dad beaming with joy. I can see my husband’s parents smiling, with a tear or two. I can see the family of faith gathered who that day became more of a family than I had ever realized. I can see my sister and my new teenage daughter standing together as bridesmaids, bonding over all the stress I put them through in finding the right shade of antique pink for their dresses. And I can see the man God had waiting for me through all those years of heartache and loneliness. There he is standing at the front of the church, my friend, my partner, my love, waiting to begin life together.

I can see it all. And if I allow myself to enter more deeply into the hallowed halls of “back then,” I don’t only see. I can smell those flowers collected with lots of love. I can hear the flower girls laughing on the lawn of the church. I can feel my father’s hand as I grabbed it tightly to walk down the aisle with him. I can taste the rich vanilla in the wedding cake baked by a friend from a neighboring church. I can feel the hugs of all those who have journeyed with me. I can hear God whispering a promise I had often been deaf to.

I am with you…always.

I drift back to the gloomy here and now. I am gladdened and saddened. Where have the five years gone? I wonder about decisions made. Things I could have done differently and should have done differently. Words that should have been said and should have never been said. Dreams still being dreamed and hopes still being hoped. Home still waiting to wrap its arms around me and my husband.

My mind is not quite ready to focus on Jesus, demons or pigs, so I linger a bit more in the hallowed halls of back then, realizing I do so not to live in the past. I do so in order to gain strength for the future, to remember God who has done so much for me is not yet done with me. It’s to help me hear God’s whispered promise of being with me that I need to hear especially on these gloomy here and now kind of days.

flowergirls

A picture from the hallowed halls of “back then”…a country wedding in a little white church, where flower girls played all afternoon on the church lawn.