The Importance of Family: What He Gives in the Dark

thoughts I keep returning to these days…

Summer thunder, low and black, shake the windowpanes, rattle me, and all the powers that be.

They call me to come watch it come, broiling green and grey churning from the west, a stirring, beating, of the atmosphere, and she thunders, that chariot come bearing down. And when the hail pelts glass, a barrage of pebbles flung up in fierce gallop across the sky, and Little One pulls at me to pull her up, and the world whips in wind before the foaming rage of rain, we say nothing.

Just reverberate with the thrumming of the pounding hooves.

Did the chariot careen? I catch the flicker, that tremor of light. There’s a quiver in the bulbs, one last shudder of power, and then all lies dead. Hydro’s out.

Stillness has a voice of its own.

Children dash for candles, serious boy work, and Little One wanders from room to room, stretching on tip toes to flick each and every switch, just to be certain, and Farmer Husband leaves for the barn and that distant drone. I can hear the generator rolling over, lugging out of long slumber, roaring to muscle and brawn. We don’t know how long till wires buzz with voltage again, reviving us run down.

The house will lie quiet, but the barn, those hundreds of sows, hundreds of litters of piglets, it requires uninterrupted power for water, for heat lamps, and most critically, for fans and fresh air circulation. That generator surges life. Without it, sows will suffocate in less than a handful of hours.

And candles weave shadows on the window panes late into the night and the storm claps east.

I sit in a quiet so wide it echoes.

How did I never in my living notice the deadening intoning of appliances, the dull hypnotizing hum of computers and light bulbs? I watch the dance of the silent flame.

Hydro is this spinning fan lulling the populace into torpidity with its incessant white noise. And when Someone shuts the fan off and the lines go down, we’re startled awake by sonorous tranquility, luring and deep.

Is the power that’s meant to race through our hydro lines primarily hooking our culture into its own lightning-pace race?

Throughout the hours of Day Two, children read books and I hear my heart pound, and the quiet settles deep down into my cells.

Twenty-four hours of soundlessness pass before we set out to find the reason for the outage. Strong boy arms have hauled pails of water from the generator-powered barn to the hushed house so I can wash dishes. We’ve eaten only sandwiches, wraps, cold cereal. Urgent trips have been made to the washroom in the barn, anxious child in tow.

Driving by the road closed sign on the third of Wallace, one line to our south, our breath catches in gullets. How untamed chariot must have swayed and pitched, snapping off eight hydro poles, tooth picks cracked down on an obstacle course.

Wind’s pried back steel, ripped open roofs, and we are laid low, an act of God exposing us to God. We have no power. Only cupped hands and stunned silence.

Phone’s ringing when we arrive back home, on the one cord phone we’ve brought in from the barn’s office. A friend with power’s searched online: according to Environment Canada sources, we’re in one of the worst-hit pockets in the province, a pothole on the storm’s crazed ride.

It could be at least 72 hours before hydro’s restored.

Farmer Husband and I take a deep breath, smile weakly, and he fixes on the clock face, both ticking off numbers, his low voice figuring hours and gallons of fuel. We’ll need — no. Rather, 650 sows and a thousand baby piglets will need that generator to grunt a power marathon. The boys look for more kerosene. Farmer Husband heads out to fill the thirsty tank of the generator.

In twilight’s long coming, I find him in the shop, last jerry jug in hand, generator humming from barn. It’s raining again, slow and steady. We stand in the shed doorway exchanging words muffled by drum of drops on tin roof. It’s a rare moment, only he and I, listening to rhythm of rain. We don’t touch but are held by the moment, puddles pattering down across the lane.

Joshua crosses the yard, a dark silhouette in the pouring. He’s doing the night choring, feeding all the nursing sows, checking on newborn litters. He’s eleven, cap pulled low like his dad.

“A good son.” Farmer Husband nods towards Joshua, jerry can resting on his hip.

I smile.

“Born on a Saturday, carried to the barn with us on the Monday.”

Joshua spots us there in the shop doorway, behind the eave’s veil of rain, and waves.

“Look at him now, doing our work.” He dashes through a puddle and into the barn. “Babe who became a boy about to become a man.” Something sweet hurts inside.

I look over to Farmer Husband, boy I met when he was only three years older than Josh. “Yes, good son.”

We quietly find words, pass them back and forth, in the wet of coming night, until he finally says, “I’d better get this last jug in the generator tank and check on Josh.” He pulls his brim low, ready to step out into it, then turns back to me. “But this was good.” It comes again, twenty years later, that same rush through my veins as when he’d stop to talk to me after class.

He winks and I laugh. How can he still make me blush?

I’m just standing there, watching him head up to the barn, thinking of us, all of us, working it out on this edge of the battered world, when the drone strangles out. I start, unbelieving, like a mother listening for crib’s next breath. Nothing.

He breaks into a run. I follow, fly too, shoes splashing through clouds drained out. I dare not think what this means.

He’s got his hand on the panting generator when I reach the utility room. Frantic eyes meet.

“Josh closed the back door when he came in.” He’s checking guages. “Overheated. I just hope that it’s the safety shut-off. That we haven’t cooked it.”

I’m finding it hard to breathe.

“I cooked it?” Joshua’s standing in the black of the far doorway in his rubber boots, his voice high and trembling in eerie stillness. He knows what that means.

Without power, the barn slaps closed, lack of ventilation slowly suffocating everything gasping for breath in stifling heat …. until it doesn’t breathe.

I shake my head, shake the vision of it away.

“Hope it’s not cooked.” Farmer Husband’s words trail away as he feels along to the breaker panel. But sure words still find us. “You’d better open everything in the barn all the way up. Everything.”

I can’t ask how long he thinks we have before….

Joshua’s already in motion, breathless, shaky motion.

In the dark, on the brink of the unspeakable, there’s a power working in the powerless.

Pausing in the pitch, I can hear Joshua’s boots running down the dark hallway, finding a way, good son knowing his way.

The barn’s black, power cracked out from careening storm. I feel along the wall, looking for a doorknob. Somewhere a sow snorts; a piglet squeals, settles. After 24 hours of exertion, the generator has collapsed in exhaustion, expired. Soon, the sows?

Fingers grip a doorknob. Relief. I clip open the end door of the barn. Sounds spread out now, ink in the inkiness. All that surges through the deadened power lines of this barn is an electrifying three phase power: adrenaline, prayers… and this thing I can’t quite yet name. Just feel.

I feel it now coursing, working with Joshua, opening up each of these rooms for maximum air circulation; this moving alongside each other in tandem motion, brains welded, bodies geared for one goal: rescue.

A thousand little piglets and their mamas are counting on us for comfortable temperature, water supply, fresh air.

“Farrowing rooms first, Josh.” I call to him from the far end of the hallway, but he’s there first, opening doors, sliding back windows, taking off fan louvres. Every morning he feeds these sows. Like Adam, he knows his animals, which sow has farrowed, who is not eating well, which runt needs nursing along.

His harried unease charges the room. “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.”

“And then the gestation rooms.” I fling open an outside door and a gust from the west, fading light, fills the dark of the breeding room. There’s a sow working a drinker, banging it with her snout, tongue sucking, sucking, a drinker in the dark. Without power, we’ve got nothing for her.

The thermostat screen’s black: how long until the temperature becomes unbearable?

“Ann!” I can hear Farmer Husband call from the utility room. I run through shadows.

Farmer Husband’s working with the water pump. “Call and see if John’s around. If he can come…” Farmer Husband’s mechanic brother could be fellowshipping anywhere on a Sunday evening. Farmer’s mumbling words more to himself than me.

“I wish we had more hours of light to work with here… but if we can just get them water, that will buy us a bit more time. Till we can get our generator up and running….”

In my mind I hardly dare whisper: “If…..”

“Ask him to bring his generator?”

“That too. His is too small to do anything barn-wide but it could at least get some water pumped. But if he could come work with me on our generator…”

I’m winded when I get to the house, fumbling for the phone receiver.

“Mom?” Our oldest is at the top of the stairs.

I’m pounding out number keys for Farmer Husband’s brother, everything loud in a powerless house. “Generator’s dead.”

The four younger children at the kitchen table freeze. Hope still has a game piece in her hand, hanging over the board.

“There’s no generator at the barn?” Levi’s stands, an anxious exclamation point. Little One’s up on the window seat, ear pressed to the window. “Nope. I can’t hear it humming no more!”

Hope’s eyes expand, balloons sucking all the air out of the room. Before I turn, Caleb’s out the back door.

“It’s okay, everyone….” I take a deep breath, listening to the ring at the other end of the line, watching their faces, color draining away. They know what this means. We can live without hydro, but the sows…. “God will help us figure this one out.” The phone rings, rings…. “In His own time, for His sole glory…..” words trailing off….. Nobody’s home.

I hang up.

Just keep breathing. That’s what the sows need to keep doing….

I try Bert. Farmer Husband’s oldest brother. Mechanic number two of four brothers. The clock face reads 7:00 p.m. Bert will be in church? I gulp hard. Even if I have to phone the church…

His wife answers the phone. Bert? He’s out at the car. She’ll call him back in. Yes, of course, he’ll come.

I splash through the puddles, back to the barn, find Caleb and Farmer Husband taking out large fans from the gestation rooms, air blowing in the duskiness. He eyes find mine, expectant.

“No John.” His face falls. “Bert’s coming.” He nods. Maybe…

“The other side too…” He’s directing Caleb to the room of the sows and fans across the hallway. Joshua’s already there in the dark, standing beside a sow, wrestling with louvers. Caleb, a near head taller, offers, “Here, Josh.”

I’m standing in the dark of the doorway watching my Caleb and Joshua wrestle the fan louvers, together entering the promised land of faith. And when they reef out the louvers, Joshua’s face is caught in a shaft of dim light, catching us in his sadness.

A good son.

Before he passes me in the doorway, I cup his face in my hands. He lowers his eyes.

“Joshua. It was a mistake. We all make mistakes. So you forgot to leave the utility door open and the generator overheated.” He cringes. I pull him closer. “Josh… You are entirely forgiven…. Loved.”

He shakes his head, tears brimming, chin quavering. “But the sows….”

None of us can give words to what might happen here. That kind of death, catastrophe, defies articulation.

We just have to grab each other’s hands, press into the land of His promises.

I lean into his tears. “We don’t know what’s going to happen here, Joshua. God’s got a plan and it’s good, always.” His eyebrows betray his questioning.

“He can’t be anything but good, Joshua.” I’m adamant. Punctuating each word with pauses. His watery eyes meet mine.

We’ll believe, take the land.

“Uncle Bert’s here!” Caleb’s hollering from the back door.

Bert walks in the back door, head mounted flashlight ready for when we lose the sun, tools in hand. Brothers nod at each other, quietly exchange names. The greeting is simply in the name, in who they are, and who they are to each other.

“Too hot?” Bert’s feeling along the bulk of the generator.

“Back door accidentally got closed and then it didn’t take long.” Farmer Husband mentions no names. I catch Joshua’s eye. His eyes flicker relief, the scarlet letter tore off his chest.

“I’m concerned it’s blew a hole in the rad – and where to get one that size on a Sunday night?” The brothers are circling the generator like doctors assessing a critical patient, touching gauges, peering flashlight. Farmer Husband’s measuring the radiator with his tape measure.

Caleb, Joshua and I are standing in the doorway, braced, hardly breathing. The next few moments will decide whether the sows get to.

“Pepper.” Bert’s kneeling beside Farmer Husband. “I’ll need pepper.”

Caleb frowns, looks over at me cynically. Incredulous, he mouths the word. “Pepper?” It’s not quite the word one expects to hear from mechanical surgeons in the operating theatre.

“You have pepper, Ann?” We heard him right. Joshua’s already running out the door. “Top shelf of the pantry, J!” I hope my words carry.

When Joshua returns with pepper, we all watch slightly skeptically as Bert pours black table pepper into the generator’s radiator.

I’m thinking he must have learned such a trick when fixing missionary equipment in the jungles of Indonesia. Or during the years he’s served as a missionary mechanic with New Tribes in Venezuela. Some incredible secret passed back and forth across the far flung corners of the mission field. Bert’s furlough is almost over. I can see why they need a mechanic like this serving the tribal missionaries back in Indonesia.

“There was lots of steam. It’s gotta have a pretty big hole. You think the pepper can help?” Farmer Husband’s asking what we’re all thinking.

“I’ve put a tree branch right through a tractor rad and pepper did the number.” Bert laughs, sure. “The heat from the rad makes the pepper like gum and it will seal up a pretty big hole.”

Caleb can’t stop chuckling, shaking his head, saying it over and over again. “Pepper! Pepper!” Joshua’s still holding his breath.

“Want to try turning it over?” Bert’s putting the lid back on the pepper.

Farmer Husband nods, leans towards the ignition. Joshua wrings his hands. Caleb’s smiling, hopeful. I close my eyes and pray. Please, Lord.

And the room roars with beast revived.

Our laughter is drowned out in its heaving to life and now its Farmer Husband and I who mouth to each other, to the throne room and the court there gathered, “Thank you, Lord.”

I breathe easy and so do the sows.

Bert’s got his flashlight on the top of the radiator, spotlighting a snake of steam. “A crack across the top.” He’s got to yell over the generator’s engine. “You’ll have to stay up through the night, keep putting water in it every few hours. Should be good though.”

Farmer Husband nods. Surgery near complete, I can now ask Bert.

“Where did you learn the pepper trick, Bert?” I’m putting odds on his time with the Moi tribe in Indonesia.

He smiles at me from the other side of the generator, motor thunderous.

“Our brother John.”

A power surge of emotion sweeps over me.

These two brothers working on fixing a rad to save a barn full of animals with a skill learned by their other brother.

Me here standing beside our sons, two brothers. When Joshua was born that long ago Saturday, we sat looking into his coal black eyes, trying to think of a name. “We have a Caleb.” Farmer Husband had stroked the bottom of those little bare feet. “I think he should be a Joshua. They’ll be about togetherness.”

I look across at Caleb with his promised-land wide grin. He’s elbowing Josh in the ribs, big brother offering reassurance. Yes, togetherness.

As I check on each farrowing room of sows, fans and lights and water drinkers all working due to that steaming generator, I’m thinking about that current I couldn’t quite name, that coursing I had felt earlier, working with Joshua.

I found the name for who we are, what the source is.

The power that charges the dark is the grace of family.

There is a reason that “God sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:6).

Because He knows that in the dark chill of distress, families offer warmth, the light of love. Good fathers and good sons. Together brothers and sisters. Kin to rally around you when the economy implodes, and health declines, and the world goes all black.

And He puts us in the family of faith because it in particular couples so intimately that individuals actually fuse into one Body, each part connected by veins and tendons coursing with blood of the Son.

Here we all have one Father, Abba Daddy, who makes us family, christened all with His name, Christian. Adopted into His embrace, His lineage, God Almighty is our collective Father and He came as the Son. The Son who makes Himself our brother and invites us do His will and be His mother, sister, brother.

Us, His children, siblings as different and unique as the swirl of grooves on our fingertips, bear an uncanny resemblance to our Father. A familial resemblance: though we are a mosaic of stories and choices and directions, we speak the same language of hope and redemption, grace and sanctification. And each of our faces radiates the light of Father, the features of our lives like our elder brother, Jesus.

There’s a reason why He made us a family, a Body. We’re made to be life-giving to each other.

Good sons.

The power source in life’s storm is our family: Father, Son, and body of children… the groom coming for His Bride.

It’d be more than another twenty four hours before those eight hydro poles down our closed road would be replaced, a long night and a longer day of nursing that generator along, keeping our sows comfortable.

But when we were back on the grid and the lights flicked on again in the house and the younger children all danced with happiness and the older brothers high fived each other, I went looking around the back of the barn for Farmer Husband and his sweet relief.

I’d find him in the back utility room door, standing there talking with another farmer who had stopped in to see if there was anything we needed, anything he could do. They’re lighting up the twilight with 200 watt smiles. Familiar, familial smiles.

“John just dropped in to see if we needed any help.” Farmer Husband nods, grins, over at his brother. “But we’ve got power now!”

I smile, charged with the current of family.




Related: On being part of a church family, even when you’re hurting: A Love Body
Audio series by our pastor, Gary Goodkey, on belonging to the family of God: We’re a Family
We’re Connected


a repost from the archives I needed to read, remember… live.