Overcoming Tragedy and Loss - A Story of Hope and Forgiveness

Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Note: Since the time this post was written, it has been brought to my attention that the owners of this farm have been the subject of an animal cruelty lawsuit and several horses in poor condition were taken away. It is not my place to be a judge and jury of people, but I also do not want to ignore what I've researched to be fact. The how's and why's are not for me to decide.

Let's face it, there's a lot of negativity in the world today.  Wherever we turn there's political unrest, natural disasters and a general sense of despair. It's difficult sometimes to feel positive some days.  It seems as though we are walking through this life feeling confused, discouraged, scared and maybe more than a little overwhelmed.  Fortunately despite what's happening around us and how we might be reacting to it, there is still good in the world.  It's not on the news, and it may not involve a whole county or state or nation, but in the remote corner of Townshend, VT there's enough love and generosity to change lives.  In Townshend VT, people came together for a common goal.  They came together with love, and hope, and generosity to rebuild and change lives.  And in the midst of horrible tragedy, the people of this small town and way beyond stepped forward to remind us that despite what we see in the news, people's hearts are still open to help their neighbors - even when those neighbors are perfect strangers.  This story is one of those stories that touched me so deeply I knew I had to tell it.  In fact, I felt called to tell it.  My hope is that I can do it justice because this is one of those stories that will not only make you ask, 'why do bad things happen to good people?' but will also restore your faith in humanity.
Robert Labrie and Othello
Last year on September 24th John and I took a trip to visit the Friesians of Majesty Farm in Townshend VT.  I'd read about it in a Wade Tours trip catalog and thought it would be a fun place to visit and blog about.  Although we didn't take the bus tour, John and I visited on our own. We loved it so much, not just the beautiful Friesian stallions but, Robert and Laurie Labrie, the folks who own the breeding farm .   We came away from our visit mostly impressed by the love and passion that Robert and Laurie have for animals, as well as their interest in sharing that love with the thousands that visit the farm each year.  I always say that the best part of doing this blog is the opportunity to get to know the truly amazing people we meet along the way.  That was the case with Robert, Laurie and all their staff.  We came away in awe...of the stunning beauty and grace of the giant stallions, the beautiful and pristine barns, and touched by the hospitality and enthusiasm we received.  If you missed that blog post....please take a moment to read it now:  Spending the Afternoon with the Horses of Friesians of Majesty so that you'll be familiar with the people and animals this story is about.
I hadn't seen much from the The-Official-Friesians-of-Majesty-Page- lately.  Then one day a week or so ago this photo appeared in my newsfeed:

At first I thought that there must be some expansion happening at the farm.  A closer look made me realize that something awful had happened to one of their barns.  I immediately Googled and found a number of news stories detailing the terrible fire that took place on July 16th, killing one of the staff members at the farm.  My heart sank and tears welled up in my eyes.  I was devastated to think that such a tragedy had happened and couldn't even comprehend how awful it must be to lose a 32 year old member of your staff - one who the articles noted lived at the farm.  Subsequent Facebook postings featured photos of a barn raising led by a group of  Amish folks.  If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you are aware of my admiration for the Amish, so you can imagine that my interest was piqued.  I knew then that I HAD to learn more and hopefully tell the Labrie's story.  I didn't know yet what story there was to tell, but after 20 minutes on the phone with Laurie and her son, Benjamin, and several tearful breakdowns (on my part), there was no doubt that the story you are about to read is a story of tragedy turned to triumph thanks to the kindness of many and the ability and willingness to forgive.

One of the mares in the original barn on the day of our tour with a visiting bus group.

All of the articles I read online said the cause of the fire was under investigation.  No follow-up articles existed so I was left wondering, as many were, why a barn would catch fire around midnight and why the staff member who died was in there at that time.  This particular barn is the breeding barn which also houses mares and babies.  We'd been in this barn on our visit.  The barn was not insured.  The seven mares, 3 foals and 2 people living in the barn were rescued.  The barn and $25,000 of breeding equipment were lost as was the young female staff member.

No mention of the fire ever appeared on the farm's Facebook page - not even when they posted photos of the barn raising.   When that post did appear, there was still no mention of the fire.  Instead what was said was this 'AMAZING BARN RAISING!!!!!!! Thank you so much everyone for your support, your donations, your thoughts, and especially your prayers. They have helped us immensely! We are moving forward and we count our blessings everyday!'  Subsequent posts were similar.  In speaking with Laurie and Benjamin yesterday I learned that some folks reacted negatively to those posts asking how could they be so openly happy when a person had died in the fire.   As we all know, humans can be pretty judgmental and not very shy about sharing their judgments, especially from the shield of a computer screen.  And without any mention of the fire, or the loss of a staff member, I can imagine people drew their own conclusions and were not shy about casting blame and criticism.  It turns out that Robert and Laurie had good reason for limiting what they shared until now.  After many weeks of accusations and judgments and being accused of being heartless and worse, the Labries have made the difficult decision to open up about the fire.  Even then, both Laurie and Ben were adamant that the story they want to get out is one of recovery, the unending kindness and charity they've received, and the forgiveness and gratitude that's in their hearts.  They are counting their blessings and moving forward, without anger or bitterness.  They have found their silver lining and won't look back.  Here's how their story continues.
To quote Benjamin's Facebook post:
Truly, Truly, Astonishing!!!!! The story behind the new barn...We crossed paths about 3 years ago with a man named Danny and his wife Annie. They are from Lancaster County PA. They came on a bus tour to one of our performances. Fast forward to June 2017 when Danny called about wanting to come in August to possibly purchase horses with family and friends. Tragedy struck Friesians of Majesty on July 16th, 2017 when our mare and foal barn burned down. On August 12th 2017 Danny arrived and was shocked to see only a foundation where the mare and foal barn once stood. He asked if he could have the opportunity to give us an estimate to rebuild. One month later on Friday September 15th, 2017 Danny, Annie, and family arrived to start the new barn. A small Amish Army of about 8 men arrived on Monday September 18th. They worked diligently all week. We were extremely blessed with beautiful weather. Danny and crew left on Saturday September 23rd 2017. All of the pictures that you see below of the building happened in just 7 days!!!!! 

Truly, Truly, Astonishing work, we can't thank them enough!!!
The rest of that part of the story is that not only did Danny and his Amish team come, the wives of the team came too.  The Labries put them all up in their barns, their apartment and an RV.  The wives took care of their men doing their laundry, providing their meals and fetching water and snacks to keep the men nourished during the exceptionally long hours of labor.  The barn isn't quite finished yet so the men will be returning for four days to finish the siding.  How amazing is that??  And what volumes it speaks about the goodness in others - to gather a team and travel from Lancaster County PA  to Townshend VT to help strangers in their hour of need!!!

Those weren't the only people to come forward.  The water for the farm, like most places in the area, comes from a well.  The well was operated from electricity in the barn that burnt down so until the electrical lines could be restored, the farm had no water.  Benjamin took his truck and it's huge container from neighbor to neighbor where neighbors were kind enough to share water from their own wells.  Other folks arrived with horse trailers offering to transport horses if necessary and others showed up with grain.  People arrived for days, all wanting to know how they could help, many of them perfect strangers who'd read the story in the newspapers.

The Friesians of Majesty farm runs girls camps each year.  Of the many things for which Laurie is thankful.....one of these camp sessions had just ended. Seven girls attending the camp had stayed in the mare and foal barn during their stay at the farm.  Those 7 girls left the farm at noon the day before the fire! The father of one of those girls heard about the fire when he arrived home in NH.  Devastated by the news, Mitch was also driven to help.  He has taken it upon himself to find donations of replacement breeding equipment.  With all the help that has come to the Labries since the fire, a Go Fund Me page that had been set up has since been taken down.
Laurie shared, "there were butterflies in the ashes".....the morning after the fire they noticed that one of the mares that wasn't due to give birth for a few weeks had given birth to a healthy colt in the field overnight.  With all they've lost, all the Labries can see is the good in a tragic situation.  They say they've come together as a family and have been showered by the kindness of others.

As for the cause of the fire.....the Labrie's are ready but sad to share that the fire was deliberately set by the woman who perished.  They feel no bitterness or anger and they understand that she was troubled and plagued by her own demons.  They have chosen forgiveness and don't want to look back with anger.  They feel only gratitude and blessing for all that this tragedy has given them and are choosing to look forward, not dwell on what is behind them. In this world filled with anger and despair over things beyond our control, I am so moved by the decision the Labrie's have chosen to forgive at a time when others might be consumed with anger and resentment.  I am overwhelmed by the stories of the kindness of so many - friends and strangers.  I am overwhelmed by the Amish folks who came so far to help a family rebuild, not just literally, but emotionally as well.  I am humbled by the humanity that exists despite the anger and cruelty that is so present in the media today.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to share the Labrie's story of triumph over devastating tragedy and I am inspired to be more forgiving of those who wrong me in ways so menial compared to the unfair blow the Labrie's endured.   And I am saddened beyond words at the thought of a person who felt so hopeless and discouraged that they'd resort to such measures, a life extinguished too early. It makes me grateful for my blessings and among them, grateful to have the opportunity to learn from the experiences and acquaintances of people like the Labrie's to see beyond life's big and little obstacles.  I hope their story has moved you like it moved me.  If you are inclined to want to help in any way, you can find the Official Friesians of Majesty  website at:
Throughout this time of rebuilding, the Labries have continued to welcome tour groups and individuals to their farm.  They will be open to tours for another couple of weeks.  For tour and performance dates, check the website.  To follow them on Facebook: 
Official Friesians of Majesty Facebook Page
Please share this with someone you know who needs to be reminded that goodness prevails.

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Enjoying the Seasons on the Back Roads of Buskirk, NY

Sunday, September 24, 2017
One of my favorite things about living here in the Northeast is the change of seasons.  That is particularly true this year as John and I have begun taking road trips to capture photos of roads, farms, and scenes we captured during the fall and winter last year.  Since many of the places we explored were fairly new to us, it's been quite fun to compare 'the views' from season to season.  I've come to the conclusion that some captures are decidedly more interesting in the starkness of winter but in general, a beautiful scene is beautiful regardless of the season.  My snow-covered March blog posts about Buskirk were quite popular - Part I of II, receiving over 3,700 reads.  It would seem someone loves the area as much as me.   I'm hoping that my late summer/early fall post today will be loved as much. Come along as I take you on a road trip through the back roads of Buskirk, NY.

Someone else was enjoying the scenery and good weather!

I was in love with this whole scene!

Photographers see the world differently than the rest of the general population.  We see things and details that others don't always notice.  Consequently we like old weather-worn barns as much as beautiful, well kept ones.  We love buildings that are in a state of ruin as much, or more, than new construction.  Recently it occurred to us, thanks to an angry property owner, that my love of old barns might not always be perceived as a compliment when we're shooting photos.  I'll tell that story in a future post but it's important for me to clarify here that my capture of these structures is because to me, they are beautiful.  They may be old and worn; they may be about to collapse and have windows missing, but to me they are beautiful and interesting and their story should be told and remembered.   If you are the owner of any of these properties - please be flattered that I chose to capture them.  Thank you for allowing me to share with my readers.  If you know someone who owns them, please let them know their property added some beauty and joy to our road trip.   If you want to compare these photos to their winter counterparts, you can click on these links: Roaming the Back Roads of Buskirk in Winter (Part I) and Roaming the Back Roads of Buskirk in Winter - Part II.    Come back soon because I have a few more recent road trips to share including beautiful places like Chatham, Schoharie, and Ephrata.  New York is a beautiful state and one doesn't have to drive far to find that beauty.
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Part II - Enjoying the Beautiful Amish Countryside in Montgomery County

Sunday, September 17, 2017
 In my last post I took you on a road trip through the countrysides of Montgomery County.  Scattered throughout Montgomery and Fulton County are a number of Amish communities.  These communities are nestled among a great number of non-Amish farms - each beautiful in its own right.  No matter how many times we drive through this part of the state, I'm overwhelmed with the untouched rural beauty here.  I hope the photos in today's post move you too!   This ride happened to be on Monday - Labor Day - but you'll notice it wasn't a holiday for the Amish!

I love roads like these....you never know what's on the other side of the bend!

What a view!

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