Snow for Sofie

Even though I walk through the darkest valley … you are with me.  — Psalm 23

It is Lent and I have found myself walking in one of the darkest valleys one can walk — the valley of death.

My journey started three days before Ash Wednesday, that day on the calendar in which ashes made from last year’s palms, burnt and crushed, are smudged into the shape of a cross on the foreheads of the faithful as the words “from dust we come, to dust we return” are spoken.

As a pastor, I have noticed Ash Wednesday worship attendance tends to be low. Perhaps it’s because of the somber message that life isn’t infinite that keeps people from packing the pews. I mean, really, who wants to hear such news?

I believe, though, that we need to be reminded that there is an expiration date so that we can live our days, hopefully, in a better way. Live our days filled with more grace, more love and more patience. But especially filled with what I call “one mores.”

One more hug. One more kiss. One more “I love you.” One more of all the good things that bring joy into the world.

In the case of my 10-year-old bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, those “one mores” were one more scoop of vanilla ice cream, one more tummy rub on her chubby, jiggly belly, and one more snuggle on the wonky quilt I made years ago that would become her favorite blanket.

One more …

“God give me the strength to get through tonight.”

That was my fervent prayer to God as I tried to remain compose as I smudged blob-like ash crosses and talked about returning to dust to those who came for Ash Wednesday worship at the little country church I serve. But each time my thumb dipped into the ashes, I thought of the insidious lump that appeared suddenly on Sofie’s hind leg. I could hear the vet’s grim diagnosis. Cancer. Aggressive. IMG_1199 2

“How much time will I have with her?” I asked. The vet couldn’t say.

And so, it began. The walk through the darkest of valleys, with me by Sofie’s side filling her limited days with “one mores.”

Her days were filled with vanilla ice cream. Lots of it. My husband worried it was too much, which sounded foreign to me. Is there such a thing as too much ice cream?

There were plenty of tummy rubs as well, and snuggles on the quilt. There was, however, one more “one more” I wanted for Sofie.

“Please God, one more snowfall.” She was a mountain dog, after all, tracing her lineage back to the Swiss Alps. (And no, I did not do a DNA test on her, even though, there are now ancestry kits for pets.)

Three weeks into her diagnosis, on the first day of spring, I looked into Sofie’s gentle brown eyes. I had to break the news to her that it looked like she wasn’t going to get another snowfall.

“Sof,” as I often called her, “we’ll have to deal with mud season. Sorry, pup.”

She stared back at me. Her gentle brown eyes were sorrowful. I held her tightly and cried. She wasn’t bothered by the lack of snow. She was telling me it was time for her to go.

One more scoop of ice cream. One more rub of the tummy. One more snuggle on the quilt before packing it — and Sofie — into to the car and on to the vet.

“I am not surprised to see Sofie,” the vet said as she came into the exam room. Her eyes welled up with tears. “I had a dream about her last night.”

Any doubt or hesitation that I was doing the right thing for Sofie evaporated and was replaced with a sense of peace. The vet’s dream was to me a God moment, that holy split second when you suddenly become so aware of God’s presence that you crumple on your knees in awe and humble praise. And with that, I crumpled onto the floor by Sofie who was already curled up on her quilt.

One more stretch of road to walk on in this dark valley with my dear friend. Only this time, I would have to part with her. I would have to trust God, let go of her paw and allow her to journey on to her forever home.

One more hug. One more kiss. One last “I love you.”

What would life be like if we lived each day showering those we love with “one mores”? What would happen if we stopped worrying about one more deadline, one project, one more bill to pay? How brighter would our days be if we made “one mores” a priority? One more meal with friends. One more phone call to aging parents.

One more.

It’s snowing today — in spring. Not unusual for Vermont. But still. It’s snowing on what is the first day I face without my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog by my side. IMG_1658

I prayed for snow, and here it is. A day late.

Or is it?

It is one more snowfall coming from the heavens. It is Sofie’s “one more” gift to me, letting me know she’s happy. She’s whole. She’s dancing with the angels in the snow I had wanted for her. And each wet flake falling on my face is her lick of love, wiping away my tears.

May these days in Lent — and beyond — be filled with many “one mores” and then some.

 

After Sunday Thought… I See Failure; God Sees Success

Have you ever failed at something? Made a mistake? Messed up a project?

Of course you have. You’re only human. That’s why I loved yesterday’s scripture from Mark where Jesus returns to his hometown to preach only to find that he isn’t warmly welcomed. On the surface you can say that he was a big flop.

Soon after the synagogue debacle, though, we don’t see Jesus rethinking his life’s call, giving up on the mission of radical love and welcome. Rather, we see him move forward. This time, sending out his friends, two by two, to go to the towns and stay in homes to share the good news. And knowing that sometimes life brings rejection, he tells his friends, don’t let it get you down. You have something to offer. You have been called to do a job. You are part of God’s bigger plan. Just shake off the dust from your sandals and move on. There’s no time to waste; there are others to reach.

There really isn’t time to waste wallowing in our failure or rejection, for when something doesn’t go the way we had hoped or we don’t the results of our labor, it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it could be God’s way of redirecting us — for example, those in the synagogue won’t receive you, then go out to those in the streets.

I have a chicken coop I’ve been trying to build for a year now. My father began the project last summer, but it was put on hold in the fall because of my indecisiveness as to how to side the walls. I wanted weathered barn boards, but they are wicked expensive to buy and I haven’t come across any old barns that have fallen down lately.

During this time of searching for siding alternatives, two major windstorms blew the coop over. By the second storm, I felt crushed thinking I would probably have to give up on the dream of having chickens. I really thought about dismantling the structure, but something urged me on. Once again, I cajoled my husband into helping me hoist the sad looking coop upright. And there it sits.

Somedays I stare out the kitchen window at this “failure” and I get down about it. Other days, though, I see these delays in finishing the coop as blessings because the reality is I  don’t have time to tend to chickens. The failed chicken coop is starting to look more like a rustic shed for my garden tools.

I have always joked in my life that if Plan A doesn’t work, I am okay because there was a Plan B, a Plan C, a Plan D. I vowed I would never fret until I got to Plan Z. Why? Because I have learned that God has a beautiful way of guiding us. All the times I thought I have failed, I actually found myself stepping onto a new and better path.

And here’s the other thing with “failure.” It really isn’t what it seems to be because God sees things differently. God, who is a redemptive God, can take a mess and bless it.

I overheard a conversation on a shuttle bus to the airport recently. A woman asked a man sitting next to her what he did for a living. He led Christian retreats at a conference center. The woman was excited because she had attended that center years ago. She then went on to tell how one speaker she heard changed her life forever. It led her to give her life to Christ, to go into Christian publishing to spread the good news and, subsequently, because of the path she was now on, her sister was so inspired that she became a missionary. The woman was quiet after sharing the story and then said, “Now that I think about it, that retreat saved me.”

I was startled when I saw the man getting teary-eyed and wondered what was going on? I soon found out as he replied, “I led that retreat and I thought it was the biggest failure of my life. I was so depressed afterwards and found myself rethinking everything.”

A failure isn’t a failure — with God. Just take a look at Jesus. It seemed to everyone — even his friends — that his ministry failed that day he was nailed to the cross. But it didn’t. It was just starting.

So the next time you think you really screwed up or feel you are a hopeless cause or start believing you have no worth at all in this world, think again. God sees things differently. God sees blessings in messes. God brings holy successes out of our human failures.

Now, shake off the dust. You have a beautiful life to live — and I have a chicken coop, um, I mean garden shed, to finish.

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Failures aren’t what they seem. Take for instance, my chicken coop. Blown over by high winds twice and still not finished, the delays have made me realize, I really don’t have time to raise chickens. I do, though, need a place to store my garden tools.

 

After Sunday Thought…

As a pastor, I find myself pondering yesterday’s sermon on what is supposed to be my sabbath — Monday. The sabbath rest never seems to come as there’s always something needing to be done, among them, planning for next Sunday’s worship.

But before I can even be opened to what God is preparing me to say, I need to stop replaying yesterday’s sermon in my head. Yes, I do that.

I have a pastor friend who once told me after said she preaches, it is completely out of her mind. She doesn’t fixate on the perfect quote she wanted to share that she left out. She doesn’t harp on the words she tripped over or the moment she lost her train of thought. She doesn’t even replay the rare and glorious moment when the most heavenly prose comes from her mouth. She prepares. She prays. She proclaims. And when it’s over, she proceeds to her much-need Sunday afternoon nap. By Monday, she is ready to move on.

Ah, to be like her. But I am not. So I invite you to join me for today’s “after Sunday” thought that has been on my mind. Here it is:

While preaching on the woman who pushed through the crowds to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe in order to be made whole, I got to thinking.

We are all that woman in the crowd, aren’t we? We all want to be healed of something, be it physical or emotional. We want to have hope for tomorrow. We want to stop feeling defeated, left out or unloved.

 

Yes, I’m in the crowd trying to hold on to a faith that urges me on with a beautiful realization that even if I am able to touch just a thread of Jesus’ hem, that would sufficient. I don’t need the whole hem.

I’m in the crowd. You’re in the crowd. So are your friends. And the one you love to hate. She’s next to the one who betrayed you.

The immigrant is there, too, holding the hand of a child who is crying. Both are scared. It’s an uncertain future, who wouldn’t be crying? Yet, there is a thread of a holy hem to touch. It’s so close. Reach. Stretch. Do whatever you can to get to it, but please don’t give up.

The person who doesn’t look like you, yep, he is standing right next to you in the crowd. Don’t sigh and get annoyed. He has every right to be there. The one who doesn’t speak English is pressing in as well. The gay, the lesbian, the transgender — they are all there with that woman Scripture tells us about. The woman society deems not worthy of being called by name. The woman Jesus sees as worthy and, as such, claims her name. “Daughter.”

So since we are all in that crowd reaching for the holy hem, let us not trip one another up. Let us not shove one another aside because we think them not worthy. Let us not elbow the other out of the way, because we want Jesus all to ourselves.

Rather, let us lock arms with one another and push toward a better life — a beloved community — together. For there is enough grace, love, help, support, healing — there’s enough Jesus — for all.

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I come to the garden…just one of the many places on Old Stone Well Farm where I can be still and ponder my many ‘after Sunday’ thoughts. 

 

Chalk Drawings in the Rain

Life has been busy for this Accidental Country Pastor. Preaching and pastoring at the “little white church” in a rural upstate New York village — and now, in addition to that church, moderating and preaching once a month in a little country church in Poultney, Vermont.

But I have been missing you — and everyday I think of you and so badly want to reconnect and share with you the adventures of being surprised by those beautiful God moments that happen each and everyday. Beautiful God moments that I see in the setting sun over Sofie’s Hill here in my home in Vermont. Beautiful God moments in the song of praise that reaches my ear in the way of my neighbor’s cows mooing. Beautiful God moments I experience in the fears and tears — and joys and hope — in congregations that are small in number but great in Spirit. God moments I treasure as I work in the church at large as editor of my denomination’s magazine, realizing that while we tend to complain a lot about things not being what they once were, God is indeed leading us to the what can be. God moments like the one I just had at a writer’s conference I was speaking at in New Jersey at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, where I was reminded once again that the gifts God gives to us need to be used. And so, I’ve missed you and I’ve missed sharing God with you through my writings.

So for now, as I work on this Sunday’s sermon and edit stories for the magazine (not to mention the weeds that need pulling in my little 18th century-inspired herb and flower garden and the chicken coop that still needs to be finished!), I share with you my recent editorial that ran in Presbyterians Today magazine.

Simply click here:

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Until the next God moment…remember to take a look around and see the beauty of God that is right before you. For God is always there with you. Always.

Blessings,

Donna 

A Poignant Start to Lent

IMG_9915The sanctuary was mostly quiet. Every now and then a hum, rattle and swoosh from the ancient heating system would interrupt the stillness. It was a welcomed noise as I was trying hard to keep the cavernous room at a toasty 60 degrees. After all, I didn’t want to sit all day with my coat and mittens on.

The “little white church” as locals fondly call us, was doing something different for Ash Wednesday. Rather than hold a worship service in the evening that hardly anyone would come to — in my time there as pastor, the Ash Wednesday service has boasted anywhere from a whopping six people to an unprecedented 28, and those numbers were with a combined service with sister churches — we were inviting people to drop in throughout the day.

We created an art gallery in the sanctuary and encouraged people to pray with the art before making their way to the front of the sanctuary where I waited with a blackened thumb ready once again to dip into the ash and proclaim the sobering reminder, “From dust we come, to dust we shall return.”

The people came — more than 28 — and I did my part, making the sign of the cross on foreheads that ranged from smooth and worry free to wrinkled and creased with burdens.

From dust we come, to dust we shall return.

There was a lull mid-afternoon and out of the corner of my eye I noticed the big yellow school buses rambling down the road. School was out. I would only have to sit in the sanctuary for a few more hours. It would be nice to get home to a hot bowl of soup and cuddle on the couch with my big old Bernese Mountain dog.

Just then I heard the creaking of the old floors. I didn’t to turn to look when people entered the holy silence, for I didn’t want to break the prayerfulness they were trying to embrace. And so, I would listen to the footsteps to see how close they were to me, so that I could stand up and take my place with the ashes.

The footsteps didn’t linger at any of the pictures. Rather they came quickly to where I sat. I was surprised when a teenaged girl dropped down next to me. She looked upset and there were tears beginning flow. I guess the blank look on my face gave it away that I had no idea what was happening beyond the peacefulness of the sanctuary walls.

“What kind of world do I have to live in?” she asked angrily.

In a way, I wish I didn’t ask what she was talking about for the words that came next filled me with anger and grief as well.

“There was another school shooting. This time in Florida. It is horrible. I am afraid,” she sobbed.

Sadly, I wasn’t shocked by the news she told me.

“There’s been a school shooting” has become an all-too familiar phrase, leaving many numb and worse yet, just accepting this as the new reality in which we live in.

I also knew what would next in my rural community. The heated debate on social media with those yelling that guns don’t kill —people do — and those yelling back that we need more gun control.

I also knew as a pastor of a rural community that I had to find a way to bridge these debates. I had to find a way to speak in a community that cherishes their right to have guns.

I looked at the sobbing teenager knowing, like many of her friends, she had a gun. For rural teens, hunting is rite of passage. Pictures of deer and bear they snag always appear on Facebook. And with the spring thaw, turkey season will bring a bunch of new social media posts.

Where will the two divides of anti-gun and pro-gun meet? For the debates are not stopping the killings.

I searched my heart for something pastoral to say to the sobbing teenager sitting next to me. I searched for words of hope to overcome fear. I searched to find a magical way to take away this girl’s brokenness. I searched, but came up empty.

I looked down at my sooty fingers that have been making crosses on foreheads all day and realized there was nothing I could say. I am not God. But God did send us a Savior, to be with us in times like these. To hold us when we are fainting and to comfort us when we are grieving.

God sent us a Savior who reminded us as he went to the cross, that this life is painful and not fair at times. But just when all seems lost, we are given hope. God defeated death. It doesn’t have the last word.

I looked down at my sooty fingers. With my tears joining her tears, I took her hand and with the ash made a sign of the cross on her palm.

From dust we are, to dust we shall return.

I then added, “And God is with us always.”

She closed her hand tightly, holding dearly to the promise of the cross now in her possession.

We did something different for Ash Wednesday. We opened the church for people to drop in when they wanted to throughout the day. Who knew that one broken teenager would seek the solace of the “little white church” in her time of grief?

God knew. And God knows how broken we all are. The question is, what will we do with that brokenness? And when will we go beyond just “thoughts and prayers?”

When will we understand that this life of faith calls for us to live out the faith, to find our voices to speak up and seek change.

To dust we shall return.

But before we do, God has work for us to do. Work in creating a better world for our children to live in. May our prayers be ones in which we ask God to lead us into action, to find ways to listen, understand and move forward in stopping the senseless violence.

 

 

Best. Christmas. Ever…

So many families are disappointed that the snow has prevented loved ones from spending Christmas together. I admit, I am feeling a bit down in the dumps that my husband and I won’t be heading out to see my parents and brother. The roads are pretty bad…

Disappointment. It’s something we don’t like to talk about on Christmas Day, but it is often there lurking in a room filled with smiles and laughter. Children get disappointed if Santa forgot a toy on their list. We pastors get disappointed weather impacts our carefully planned worship services. Adults get disappointed if…well, I think we adults can finish that sentence in many ways.

And now this Christmas Day, Santa has delivered a big dose of disappointment for many…snow falling steadily and piling up quickly, leaving many to make those calls to loved ones, “I’m sorry, but we won’t be seeing you today.”

It is disappointing, but I can’t help but to see the God moment in this Christmas Day storm. Perhaps the changed plans, the unexpected stillness and the forced “slow down” is God’s invitation for us to enjoy a different kind of celebration — a Christmas Day not based on what has always been or one that carries the heavy burden of expectations, but one that is as holy as that very first Christmas when Christ was born. That day was filled with the unexpected “disappointments” that really were beautiful blessings. I mean, really, Mary must have been a bit disappointed that she had to deliver her child in a stable.

The snow is still falling. Every so often I can hear it slide off  the roof of our 18th century home. The snow pile against our front door is now 4 feet high. I can’t see Vermont’s lofty mountains from the kitchen window. They are hidden by a blanket of gray skies. I can’t even see my old stone well for which my little some-day farm is named after.

I can’t see much of anything. And that’s a good thing, I remind myself. For only God knows the plans God has for us. Faith in those God plans is trust game we must play. We need to see beyond the things we usually see or want to see, in order to truly see God.

That means this day, seeing beyond the disappointment of a Christmas Day snowstorm.

And so, I am loving the unexpected gift of peacefulness I unwrapped this morning as I stood outside feeling the gentle flakes fall on my face. I loved this gift so much I have yet to stop playing with it. In fact, the other gifts, the ones from a store, are still unopened under our Christmas tree. They can wait.

God’s gifts cannot.

The gift to see the world differently, the gift to let go of our expectations of what this day should be, the gift to let God’s healing love surround us in the guise of a snowstorm…these are the gifts to open.

Merry Christmas.

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A Light Shines in the Darkness

My husband and I had just finished a seasonal tradition we have tried to honor in our marriage of enjoying a quiet Sunday dinner with only the candles around the Advent wreath lit. The dinner was one I looked forward to, especially after a busy morning in the church with the excitement and energy growing as Christmas drew nearer.

On the night’s menu was locally raised lamb from a friend’s farm, roasted to perfection, and green beans from my summer garden that I had successfully blanched and frozen. They tasted as fresh as the day I picked them. I was quite pleased with myself.

After the last dish was rinsed and put into the dishwasher, we settled in the living room in front of the Christmas tree, still without ornaments thanks to my lack of energy and motivation to “do” Christmas this year.

“I am going to keep it simple,” I said to my husband early in the season as I strewn the fireplace mantles with fresh pine garland — and nothing else.

I had only been sitting for less than a minute when my peaceful bliss of a silent night was interrupted. Off went the candles around the Advent wreath, then our only source of light in our 18th century home. On went the electric lights. Off went the beautiful stillness of a December night. On went the television.

I sat for a moment feeling sad as the glow from the TV took away from the beauty of the one lone candle I did not want to put out just yet. Its flame was just so beautiful. So seemingly fragile against the harshness of light bulbs. So small and yet so capable of casting a mighty warmth in its path of light. There is such beauty in a little flicker of candlelight I mused.

Suddenly, the unexpected happened. Click, hum, buzz, whirl…lights went off, TV went dead, the dishwasher stopped. Then silence. Nothing but nothing to hear.

A whispered profanity came out of my husband’s mouth. I, however, rejoiced. For the one candle that I had refused to blow out, the one whose light was being overshadowed just a second ago by the television and lamps, the one that seemed like nothing much, had now taken center stage.

It’s funny how often our reaction to losing the artificial light in our lives is one of frustration. We fumble for flashlights and pray to God that our cell phones have enough power in them. And when we realize our gadgets don’t have enough power in them, fear seizes us.

Frustration and fear. Two words that can best describe how many are living today. And yet there were a people thousands of years ago living in frustration and fear as well. They, however, didn’t have alternative means of light to reach for. No artificial comfort or fleeting reassurances to flick on when the dark night of the soul came upon them. Rather they had to reach deep down into their very core to trust all the great unknowns in life were indeed known by a compassionate God. They had to keep walking in darkness, trusting the did not walk alone. They had to grope in the darkness with whatever faith was left, believing a light would shine upon them. And it did. The Christ light broke through and, as the prophet Isaiah tells us, “those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

My lone candle burned brightly the other night. Its flame dancing for joy with a Christmas promise we in this “lights on, background noise blaring, rushing around” world need to embrace. When the darkness suddenly comes upon us, the true light in our lives shines on, never to be extinguished.

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The lone beeswax candle in the Accidental Country Pastor’s home flickers with a beautiful Christmas message…no matter how dark the dark gets, the light shines brightly.

 

 

 

 

God Parts the Waters


On November 5, 2017, I returned to my little white church as pastor. Here is the sermon preached…and here are the pictures of the God messages I mention in the sermon.

May God this day, and always, make a way in your life. For as I said, our God is in the business of parting waters.

Blessings,

Donna, the Accidental Country Pastor (once again)

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What’s Your Super Power?

I’m a sucker for Halloween. I’ve always been. Show me an old-fashioned jack o’lantern flickering with candlelight on an eerily still autumn evening, and I am bewitched. Walk through a blanket of fallen leaves, kicking up the golden and crimson carpet to make the crunching louder, and I am captivated. Give me a bowlful of candy corn (with some bite-sized peanut butter cups), and I am your friend for life. There’s just something about this ancient Celtic festival that captures my imagination.

So, when I found myself picking up a few household items at a discount store, I wasn’t surprised that I instinctively made my way to the store’s Halloween shop. As I walked up and down the aisles I couldn’t believe how much of a big business Halloween had become. When I was a child, costumes were made from pillowcases and sheets or bought at the local Woolworth’s. Those costumes came in a box complete with a plastic mask held on by an elastic band that if you pulled to tightly around your head, it would hurt. Let’s not forget, as well, the many stumbles and falls while trick or treating all because the mask would slide down or sideways, impairing one’s vision.

With each plastic skull, battery-operated pumpkin and motion-sensor bat I picked up, I reminisced about the good old days of Halloween when simplicity made it special.

I steered my cart around the corner only to discover something incredibly scary. A group of five-year-olds were in an excited frenzy grabbing for the costumes they wanted. While a few costumes were zombie and werewolf inspired, many were of superheroes. That’s when I overheard the salesperson, thrown into this chaos like bait to hungry sharks, ask one of the children what superpower they had.

The child was so animated in his reply I had to sneak a peek into the mom’s cart to see if he had already devoured a bag of candy. Nope. No sugar high. This was just the child’s normal behavior. Note to self: Say a prayer for his mother.

“I have the power of cutting people into two,” he screamed. I edged slowly away from the four-foot menace, but still close enough to hear his mom feebly scold him on how it wasn’t nice to hurt people. The boy came up with another answer.

“How about put them in a pit of snakes?”

Before his mother could answer, the sales associate intervened.

“What about having good superpowers?” she asked. She then shared with the little boy a long list of all the good he can do if he had superpowers. The boy, not quite on board with the notion of good superpowers, quietly considered what he heard. As he did, I walked away deep in my own thoughts.

We all have superpowers, don’t we? How often, though, do we use them? There’s the super power of prayer. Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find. Yet when was the last time we boldly came before God to ask, to seek or just to simply talk to our trusted, dependable and mighty friend?

There’s the super power of forgiveness, a power that heals broken relationships, families and communities. There’s the super power of love, which is one super power Jesus himself commanded us to use all the time. Love one another just as I have loved you, he said, before going to the cross for us. Then there is the super power of faith in God who has shown us countless times how God is one who keeps a promise. Are we forsaken? Alone? Hopeless? No, we aren’t because God said He would never leave us.

And yet, the world around us seems to be like that little boy who would rather use power to hurt rather than to heal. What if we were more like that sales associate, who I have sainted for her patience and wisdom with five-year-olds, urging our children to think of the help they can give others? What if this Halloween all the gore was replaced with good? What if there were more angels trick or treating than devils?

What if…

This Halloween, the little white church in the rural village I serve will once again have its front lawn lit with jack o’lanterns proclaiming a message of faith for trick or treaters to see. It’s a tradition I started years ago because I just don’t love the sight of glowering pumpkins. I love the sight of God’s word illuminating dark skies and filling His children with awe.

This year’s word shining out to the community is going to be simple — PEACE, a superpower we all have in superhero belts and one we need to share with others. For blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said.

What superpower will you use this Halloween?

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Pumpkins glowing with an inspirational message in front of the little white church. This year’s message will be “Peace.”

Never Just a Pumpkin

There it was. A big mush of orange slowly disintegrating into the soil that once fed it life. I took hold of its green vine in the same way I have taken the hand of one about to leave this earth. Gently, gingerly, with a sense of sorrow mixed with the awe of the divine present. After all, the divine is always present in the passing of a soul.

I felt as if I should bless the vine; bid it farewell and whisper, “well, almost well done, my good and faithful pumpkin.”

But I didn’t. It was just a pumpkin, after all.

I held onto the vine.

My father and I worked hard tilling the ground in the spring, getting rid of the many weeds and rocks that overtook the garden. Then there were the grubs in the ground to contend with. After several dustings of milky spore, I prepped the ground once again, turning over the soil. Finally, I was ready to plant the pumpkin seeds. On my knees on a hot day I molded the soil into little hills as instructed on the seed package. I felt like a little girl once again playing in the dirt—sweat mixing with soil releasing an earthy fragrance more appealing to me than sweet perfume. Giddy with excitement as to what I was creating, I pushed a seed into each little hill, wondering all the time will a pumpkin grow?

All summer, I marveled at the signs of life popping through the dirt. An infant shoot gave way to a gawky leafy adolescent which gave way to a mature vine. Soon yellow blossoms appeared announcing the coming of a pumpkin and sure enough a little pumpkin began to emerge. My parents would remark each time they came to visit how wonderful my pumpkin was doing.

“Yep, it is going to be a good crop,” I said, feeling proud, as I wheeled with great expertise my birthday present from my parents —a shiny orange wheelbarrow. “Yep, I know what I am doing,” was the message I was sending to the universe.

The universe, though, decided to trip up this cocky, wanna-be-farmer. One day, like an overturned wheelbarrow holding precious cargo, I too, felt as if I had been overturned, allowing all my precious dreams fall away from me.

The one promising vine with its blossoms, so green and hopeful, didn’t reveal what was going on. The ground it hugged was too wet to continue to thrive and ultimately the pumpkin had turned to mush.

I broke the news to my parents.

“I lost my pumpkin,” was all I said.

Silence on the other end of the phone and then finally, “What a shame.”

I know. It was just a pumpkin. But it was more to me. It was my sense of accomplishment. It was my symbol of belonging to a rural community. It was my own promise from God that I needed. That promise that I would indeed bloom where I was planted.

And now that symbol of hope, belonging, a fruitful future, was gone.

I know. It was just a pumpkin. But still…

My parents were up the other day. My dad, who in his late 70s, still loves to help me with my projects I come up with. And so, they were up as dad worked on my latest project: building a rustic chicken coop, complete with a shake roof.

Sofie, my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, was eager to leave the confines of the fenced yard to see what was going on over in the field. So, I grabbed her leash and ran with her to greet grandma and grandpa. The hammering of the roof made the old girl a bit skittish and so she decided to explore the rest of the field. She soon made her way to the wilting autumn garden. She sniffed away at the parsnips and onions still in the ground and then made her way through the corn stalks. Their dried leaves rustled in the wind as if waving to greet us. As I walked with her, I noticed a blob of orange. The blob got bigger and rounder. I had planted my pumpkins next to my corn, but could it be possible that one vine grew hidden in the corn? Sofie was soon sniffing and licking the most perfect pumpkin ever to be seen. I stood there laughing at the beautiful sight. For it was beautiful.

As it turned out the pumpkin wasn’t a lone survivor from my waterlogged ground. My mom had snuck it into the garden to surprise me. And, boy, did she ever.

Before leaving, she asked if I was going to move the pumpkin to the front step of the house. I decided not to.

I like the pumpkin peeking from amidst the corn stalks. For it reminds me how often it is God steps into the failures of our lives and surprises us with a sign peeking through the rubble that all is not lost. Whether the surprise is one fashioned from divine hands or simply a thoughtful gesture from the hands of a mother, every day there are signs of hope all around us. All is not lost.

And so, well done…good and faithful servants — servants who fail, servants who doubt, servants who replace mushy pumpkins with healthy ones, servants who keep on trying, servants who never lose hope, servants who vow not to let setbacks stunt one’s life, servants who will always be surprised by God and servants who stand in awe of such a God.

Yep, it was never just a pumpkin.

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