Each Day’s Chores


There is much about autumn farm chores that is good for the weary heart.

When the stresses of the work world amass together and threaten to overwhelm, there is reassurance in the routine of putting on muck boots, gloves, jacket, then hearing the back door bang behind me as I head outside. Following the path to the barns with my trusty corgi boys in the lead, I open wide the doors to hear the welcoming nickers of six different equine voices.

The routine:  loosening up the twine on the hay bales and opening each stall door to put a meal in front of each hungry horse, maneuvering the wheelbarrow to fork up accumulated manure, fill up the water bucket, pat a neck and go on to the next one. By the time I’m done, I am generally calmer, listening to the rhythmic chewing from six sets of molars. It is a welcome symphony of satisfaction for both the musicians and audience. My mind snaps a picture and records the song to pull out later when needed.

The horses are not in the least perturbed that I may have had a challenging day. Like the dogs and cats, they show appreciation that I have come to do what I promise to do–I care for them, I protect them and moreover, I will always return.

Outside the barn, the chill wind blows gently through the bare tree branches with a wintry bite to remind me who is not in control. I should drop the pretense. The stars, covered most nights by cloud cover, show themselves, glowing alongside the moon in a galactic sweep across the sky.  They exude the tranquility of an Ever-Presence over my bowed and humbled head. I am cared for and protected; He is always there and He will return.

There is balance of the ordinary and extraordinary within the profundity of farm chores,  and within the rhythm of autumn’s transition to winter.

Equilibrium is delivered to my heart, once and ever after, from a stable.

photo of colors in New Hampshire by Ben Gibson

Taking a Moment (or a day) to Rest



As we drown in the overwhelm of modern day health care duties, most physicians I know, including myself, fail to follow their own advice. Far too many of us have become overly tired, irritable and resentful about our work load.  It is difficult to look forward to the dawn of the next work day.

Medical journals and blogs label this as “physician burn-out” but the reality is very few of us are so fried we want to abandon practicing medicine. Instead we are weary of being distracted by irrelevant busy work from what we spent long years training to do: helping people get well, stay well and be well, and when the time comes, die well.

Instead we are busy documenting-documenting-documenting for the benefit of insurance companies and to satisfy state and federal government regulations. Very little of this has anything to do with the well-being of the patient and only serves to lengthen our work days –interminably.


Today I decided to take a rare mid-week day off at home to consider the advice we physicians all know but don’t always allow ourselves to follow:

1) Sleep. Plenty. Weekend and days-off naps are not only permitted but required. It’s one thing you can’t delegate someone else to do for you. It’s restorative and it’s necessary.

2) Don’t skip meals because you are too busy to chew. Ever. Especially if there is family involved.

3) Drink water throughout the work day.

4) Because of 3) go to the bathroom when it is time to go and not four or even eight hours later.


5) Nurture the people (and other breathing beings) who love and care for you because you will need them when things get rough.

5) Exercise whenever possible. Take the stairs. Park on the far side of the lot. Dance on the way to the next exam room.

6) Believe in something more infinite than you are as you are absolutely finite and need to remember your limits.


7) Weep if you need to, even in front of others. Holding it in hurts more.

8) Time off is sacred. When not on call, don’t take calls except from family and friends. No exceptions.

9) Learn how to say no gracefully and gratefully —try “not now but maybe sometime in the future and thanks for thinking of me”.

10) Celebrate being unscheduled and unplanned when not scheduled and planned.

11) Get away. Far away. Whenever possible. The back yard counts.


12) Connect regularly with people and activities that have absolutely nothing to do with medicine and health care.

13) Cherish co-workers, mentors, coaches and teachers that can help you grow and refine your profession and your person.

14) Start your work day on time. End your work day a little before you think you ought to.


15) Smile at people who are not expecting it, especially your co-workers. Smile at people who you don’t think warrant it. If you can’t get your lips to smile, smile with your eyes.

16) Take a day off from caring for others to care for yourself.  Even a hug from yourself counts as a hug.

17) Practice gratitude daily. Doctoring is the best work there is anywhere and be blessed by it even on the days you prefer to forget.



There is Meaning



Of course, in life there are moments of darkness.
There are periods of discouragement.
There are times when we lose sight of the beauty of the sky for all the clouds.
You may have to bear severe sickness,
or deal with tremendous pain,
or you may be disappointed in this or that.
But remember, whatever difficulty you have to face,
it will not last.
It is only a cloud.
For God has made each of us with a purpose.

We are made for joy.
But this joy can never be fully experienced here on earth.
God’s joy is ultimately realized in eternity.
To be a Christian is to understand that the cross,
and the suffering of the cross, has meaning,
and that suffering is part of our state on this earth.
Don’t expect paradise on earth.
But there is meaning,
and this meaning is the love of God
and gratitude for life on this earth.
Whatever your state,
whatever your situation,
whatever your purpose,
always remember that you are made for joy.

~Alice Von Hildebrand


It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were.
And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end…
because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was
when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.”


When we feel overwhelmed and discouraged,
when it seems all is in shadow,
we know we are part of a great story and the plot progression is a mystery.

We are promised light and joy at the end, no question about it.
We pass through the shadows, the clouds clear
and the darkness will pass through us.


A Time to Sleep





Season of ripening fruit and seeds, depart;
There is no harvest ripening in the heart.

Bring the frost that strikes the dahlias down
In one cruel night. The blackened buds, the brown
And wilted heads, the crippled stems, we crave –
All beauty withered, crumbling to the grave.
Wind, strip off the leaves, and harden, ground,
Till in your frozen crust no break is found.

Then only, when man’s inner world is one
With barren earth and branches bared to bone,
Then only can the heart begin to know
The seeds of hope asleep beneath the snow;
Then only can the chastened spirit tap
The hidden faith still pulsing in the sap.
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh



Our farm has been changing dramatically over the past several weeks, each day moving a little closer to the reality of winter around the corner. Most of the fruit which is not residing in our freezer has fallen from the trees, and the walnut husks are hanging lonesome and bulbous as a windstorm pulled many leaves to the ground creating a multi-colored carpet everywhere I walk.
Readying for winter’s sleep is quite a glamorous affair for some trees on our farm–they are clothed in rich crimson and gold like the most alluring and ostentatious negligee. However the majority of tree leaves turn drab yellow or brown, as if donning a practical flannel nightgown or an oversized t-shirt without any pretense of grandeur. Even our Haflinger horses laze about, comfortable in their soft winter woolie coats and feathered slippers, happy with their gift of hay. I’m understand their contentment as I prefer fluffy flannel myself.This has not been a leisurely autumn for me, instead full of turbulence and fretfulness, too much work to do in too few hours,  rushing full force toward the hoped-for calm and quiet of winter. Like so many others, I’m ill at ease with this transition, as unready as a small child who resists the approach of bedtime, even when exhausted to the point of meltdown. It takes someone to quietly sit down with me to read a good bedtime story and to sing a soft hymn of lullaby. I keep leaping up, eyes propped open, pushing on, aware there are still too many “miles to go before I sleep”.

The time to sleep will come, sooner than I think. Just as a storm brings the leaves to the ground, so shall I be laid to rest, to be restored when the time is right.

Maybe I should think about wearing that bright red nightie.


A Special Mention


Thank you,  Ann Voskamp,  for linking to this Barnstorming blog over the past two years,  sharing my photographs of our farm and the surrounding scenery of Whatcom County with thousands of your readers around the world. Just this past weekend over 2000 of your special people came to visit Barnstorming in our little corner of the web, and many of them have stayed on to chat on our farm porch as well as yours.

If you have not visited Ann’s blog before, you must.  Look for “Only the Good Stuff: Multivitamins for your Weekend” every Saturday on  “A Holy Experience” and look for her stories during the week, along with news about her upcoming book.

Ann has transformed many lives through her open-hearted witness of her own transformation. As one of those broken people aching for gospel glue to pull my pieces together, I am indebted to her remarkable wisdom and grace.

Blessed by all who visit here and by Ann who led you here,

Emily from Barnstorming

Only the Good Stuff: Multivitamins for Your Weekend [10.15.16]



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.





Cares Drop Away




The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.
—John Muir


The Pacific Northwest has been anticipating a “historic” windstorm for the past four days, comparable to the west coast “Columbus Day” storm of 1962.  I remember that storm vividly as an eight year old in Olympia, as the wind gusts were clocked at over 140 mph.  Large fir trees toppled over like toothpicks in the woods all around our house.  The root balls stood 15 feet tall, headstones over a mass of tree graves.  We lived without power for at least a week, losing all our stored food in our freezer and depending on canned goods, a camp stove and kerosene lights and hot dogs roasted over our fireplace.

When the predictions came for a similar strength storm last week, like millions of others in the region, I dutifully prepared by storing up water, getting a battery operated radio ready and counting up my canned goods.  We waited, en masse, for the monster to storm into our yards.

The lights flickered a few times, but the winds were meager in comparison to our usual storms.

Some people were disappointed, having geared up for “the big one.”

I’m among the relieved this morning,  having aged past the desire for an adventure without power, and today my cares have dropped away like the leaves that let go to settle silent for the winter.