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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Scattered Chicken Feathers

Critters often fall prey to other critters. I’ve seen and, unfortunately, heard the not so sweet sound of defeat. It happened with my chickens. I had only been in God’s country — that’s what folks in the little white church I serve call this slice of rural heaven — for a year and decided it was time to get chickens.

I will admit I had no idea what I was doing with them. They did start their young lives in a box in the upstairs guest bedroom. In my defense, I didn’t have a coop yet, and they were guests. Where else were they to stay?  Did I mention I had no idea what I was doing?

When I finally got a coop, I didn’t think too much about other animals who might find the chicks a tasty treat. A fence was put up, but it wasn’t the sturdiest of fences. Any old wolf could have huffed and puffed and blown the fence down. I also ignored all the chicken books advising to dig several inches into the ground with the chicken wire to prevent animals burrowing into the chicken yard. The ground where I lived was hard. It was impossible to dig. The fence went up as is.

Months went by with no incidents. Months turned into a year. My chickens were still alive and well, producing way too many eggs for just one accidental country pastor. I lived on omelets and made lots of quiche. I was feeling good as I ate my latest egg concoction, sort of a mix between scramble eggs and French toast, and looked out the window towards the coop.  If my cooking didn’t qualify yet as gourmet, I thought at least I had graduated to professional farmer.

I patted myself on the back too soon. A wily fox decided to visit that week. You know this story isn’t going to end well. One by one, early each morning, I heard a horrible shrill, lots of frantic clucking and the ruffling of feathers that went way beyond ruffling. By the time I threw on my jeans, barn boots and Carhartt sweatshirt, I was too late. I would get to the coop and see a pile of feathers. I would count the shell-shocked chickens huddled in the corner of the coop. Sure enough one was missing. By the time I had Fort Knox approved fencing on hand, I was too late.

The last chicken standing was standing no more.

I am planning on getting chickens—again. The coop is being worked on even as I type. (Thanks, Dad for hauling wood all the way from New Jersey and building this for me!) Even though my first adventure with chickens was a dismal failure, I am not letting that prevent me from trying again because if I have learned anything living here in God’s country, I have learned that life needs for you to be resilient. Foxes visit coops. Grubs eat cabbages. Rainy summers turn pumpkins into mush. I can go on with the farming failures I have had. Still there is something challenging me to try again. Don’t give up.

Try.

Sometimes, though, the fear we harbor is too great. Don’t you agree? It blocks us from moving forward. It taunts us with its message, “Why bother? You’re just going to cry again.” Sometimes the memory of chicken feathers scattered on the ground is enough to make you throw in the towel. And sometimes you wish all you were dealing with was just a bunch of scattered chicken feathers. After all, shattered dreams and slivers of broken heart are a lot harder to clean up and move beyond.

Yet God calls us into newness. God calls us to see beyond scattered feathers and shattered dreams. It is only with God that we can find resiliency to carry on.

Growing up, I used to hear an old hymn play from the television in the living room. My mom would be watching one of those Billy Graham crusades and at the end of every crusade, “Just as I Am” would play as people came forward to receive Christ.

Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt…

I would come into the living room and plop myself down on the rug and stare at the television. I found myself in awe as to what those people were experiencing. Why were some of them crying? Why were some looking relieved? What were they hoping for, looking for, expecting to happen?

Fightings within and fears without…

I would stare at these people who looked like little ants on the small black and white TV and wonder what the battle inside of them was? What fears were they trying to overcome?

As I got older, though, I understood all too well about “fightings within and fears without.” I knew, too, what it was like to be tossed about with many a conflict and many a doubt. And I understood the need to reach out for the Lamb of God.

I come.

Yes, I come to you, God who offers me something more. I come to you, God who begs us to look beyond failures and setbacks and heartache. I come to you, God who knows the greatest battle we face is the battle within. The battle waged everyday to believe not only in ourselves, but to believe in God who made us and is with forever with us.

I am getting chickens again. The memory of a fox in the chicken house is still there, but I am going to see beyond scattered feathers. I am going to see beyond shattered dreams.

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

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Right Where You Are

The plane was relatively empty. I was relieved. The last thing I wanted was to be packed in tightly like a sardine. Or worst yet, have someone sitting next to me so that when I inadvertently brushed against the other’s arm while making sure my seatbelt was tight and secure, a conversation would begin—one that would last during take-off, cruising altitude and landing. I just wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

I was on a late flight and tired. My tiredness magnified by the fact that once I touched down I still had an hour-plus drive before I could finally crawl into bed.

I looked around the empty cabin. Yes, perhaps I could get some sleep.

I began to nuzzle against the window and closed my eyes. That’s when I heard the conversation. An older couple was arguing about where to sit. What alarmed me, though, was that their voices were too close to my row. I kept eyes closed and listened. They argued in the way that told me they have been married for many years. The exchange, more humorous than heated, finally ended with the wife plopping herself down in my once-spacious row. Her husband was the distance away that she wanted. He was across the aisle.

I tried hard not to make eye contact with her, but failed. With just one crack of my eye, she began talking.

Were you on a business trip? (My professional dress gave it away that I wasn’t on vacation.)

What do you do? (Ugh…that’s not an easy one to answer. Let’s see. I am a minister. A writer. I was serving a church in Maryland. I’m now back in Vermont where I am trying to be a farmer—well, in my dreams I am trying to be farmer. Truth is, I have one little garden that is struggling and a half-finished chicken coop.)

Yes, all of this came pouring out of my mouth and as I did I could hear my husband’s advice, “You don’t have to tell your life story to a stranger.”

The minister/writer vocation fascinated this woman and spurred on more conversation. She wanted to know everything. And so, I told her. I told her about my call into ministry that led me out of Manhattan where I was editor of a fine jewelry magazine. I told her about seminary and my first call to a little white church in rural upstate New York. I told her about meeting my husband in that rural community. I told her about my dreams to have a farm, to be back writing and to be serving once again in a country church.

And before I knew it, I told her my confession.

“I’m not sure about anything anymore, really. I find myself wondering what God is up to,” I said with a shrug and a smile, adding, “Is it crazy to like wearing heels and, also love wearing barn boots?”

The cabin had grown dark. Only the reading lights overhead from a few seats could be seen. The woman didn’t answer back to my confession. That disturbed me. Throughout the two-hour flight she was quick with the replies. In fact, much to the chagrin of the person in the seat in front of us, she never seemed to once come up for air. She was blessed with a gift for conversation. images

She was quiet now and her gaze shifted from me to the window. I followed her eyes to see what she was mesmerizing her. All this time talking, we hadn’t noticed the full moon in the sky. This wasn’t just any full moon though. This moon was a deep, glowing orange. And from our vantage point in the sky, it looked as if we could reach out and touch it.

We stared and marveled at it, agreeing that we have never seen anything so beautiful.

Silence finally fell on Row 16.

Silence…till the woman, who I now see as one of those angels in disguise Hebrews mentions, gently took my hand and whispered, “You are right where God wants you to be.”

As the moonbeams illuminated the houses and little specks of cars below on the ground, I realized she was right. Life wasn’t as muddled as I thought it was. I just had to get above the confusion and focus my thoughts on things above—God.

For God has a plan. God always does.

We are each where God wants us to be.

 

Back Again

It’s been awhile since I have sat down at my old farm table to reflect on all the beautiful God moments I stumble upon in my daily walk as an accidental country pastor.

It’s been awhile because since taking a giant leap of faith last fall to move back home to Vermont—without a job and no clear sense of what God was calling me to do—I have been on a spiritual rollercoaster of sorts, strapped in for a ride that would take me slowly up and up and up to dizzying views of what can be only to have that view blurred by the sickening descent down to the realities of how exactly will my life play out.

Up and down. Down and up. Left turn. Right turn. Stop. Wait. Proceed. Not now. Go.

God, what are you up to?

I found myself taking refuge in my garden, quilting (my husband is wondering just how many quilts we need!) and going on daily prayer walks. I found myself being put in a place of retreat, withdrawing from not only the world, but myself. I found myself not eager to write, for I didn’t want to hear what it was my heart and soul was saying. The words—harsh or honest or inspiring and comforting—it didn’t matter, I just wanted all noise to be silenced.

As for my prayers on those solitary walks on overgrown paths of wildflowers, cat tails and a rabbit or two, they were not eloquent nor were they poetically rich with meaning. They were simplicity at its best. The prayers were just one name I shouted in my heart repeatedly. A name of a friend I couldn’t find anymore; a friend I felt I had lost.

“God. God. God…”

Early morning August 1. I sat in the vintage Queen Anne wing chair (made vintage by the claws of my cats) feeling anxious. I had one more dentist appointment scheduled to finally put an end to the summer-long saga of my root canal. I wasn’t anxious, though, of the crown I was about to get. If anything, that would be a piece of cake. I was anxious because the first time since leaping in faith into the unknown, I had no work lined up for the month. No freelance stories due. No preaching gigs. I was feeling lost. I was scared.

God, what are you up to?

I was about to do what I do best. Jump into something out of fear without thinking it through. I was going to see what part-time retail jobs were available in the nearest town to our little fledgling farm.

My husband, though, talked me out of it throwing back words I have thrown at him many times.

“Wait. Be still. Trust God.”

And so, I did.

I continued my search for my friend only to discover—once again—that God was always right there with me. God was never lost in my life. I was lost from God. My anxiousness to know the future and my fear of it, stole me away from my faithful friend.

I’m back now. Back at my farm table writing. I’m still a wee bit hesitant as to what my heart and soul will say to me in the words that will be pieced together into sentences. But this I know.

The God moments—those filled with divine light and those shrouded in holy darkness—are just too beautiful not to embrace, celebrate and share.

I’m back. The calendar is full, praise God. But beyond the scheduled days is a lesson I hope never to forget. That is, never fear and be anxious when life seems empty. Just wait. Be still. Retreat a little if you must. And trust with all your might. God is at work.

Postscript

On August 21, I was named the new interim editor of my denomination’s magazine, Presbyterians Today. Great is God’s faithfulness for my prayer since coming home to Vermont was to return to my editorial roots, while still serving God. And so, I am IMG_8527 (1)working in my 18th century home here in Vermont, sharing the amazing ways God is at work in our congregations and communities. I also continue to preach in the rural churches in the area. Thank you all for being on this journey with me.

The only sad news to report is that I might have to put getting goats on hold. Not enough time for now.

Into the Woods

I sit here in my home office, freshly stenciled with 18th century historically correct stencil patterns I received as a birthday present. The reds and mustards and sage green flourishes and swirls warm the cream colored walls, whispering to me of bygone era when life seemed easier.

I look down at the chipped and scratched wood that is the top of my writing desk. The deep patina of wood glows from the beeswax candle I have lit. The desk was never intended to hold the computer of a writer-turned-pastor musing about adapting to life in rural America.

Still, the table salvaged from a Vermont farmhouse does a wonderful job holding my computer, putting up with the tapping of keys when once it used to feel the rolling of a pastry pin.

I breathe in deeply and release. Peace is in this room. Peace—and a whole lot of gratitude for where God has led me and where God is still leading.

Tomorrow I will be speaking at a ceremony to dedicate the near completion of a replica of the cabin in which Henry David Thoreau made famous in his book, “Walden.”

The Merck Farm and Forest Center, just up the road from me here in Vermont, has been working on the cabin since last November.

Folks from all over, both local and as far as the “big” city of New York, have come up to learn about how to make shingles, lay floors, etc.

As I ponder what I will say at the dedication, I think about the many hands that have been a part of making this replica cabin. I think about how this project was more than just a chance to learn some carpentry skills. This project for many has been a chance to reconnect with a dream hidden deep inside their hearts for too long.

The dream to live simply.

We all have that dream to some extent. Yet, after wistfully wishing for only one peg to hang up the day’s clothes, we tend to slip back into the mad dash to work hard to acquire more. We need…we want…we must…and the little hamsters spin frantically around and around on the wheel.

Back in the 1800’s, Thoreau noticed many of his friends in Massachusetts society circles spinning like hamsters on a wheel. And it wasn’t for him. He, instead, held a treasured dream in his heart that guided how he lived his life. The dream to live authentically and to live simply. Thoreau knew there was “more” to acquire in life. There were more birds’ songs to hear, more rustling of trees to listen to, more stillness to obtain.

“I rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded on a velvet cushion,” Thoreau wrote.

I, too, have longed for a pumpkin seat rather than a velvet cushion. And, in a way, God has heard my desires and answered them beautifully.  My Colonial stenciled home office, with windows that don’t shut properly and sloping floors bring joy to my heart.

My old wooden table in which I write at, nicked and scratched with years of use, and if you pull at the drawer, the knob is sure to always come off, is priceless treasure that might look like junk to others.

Pumpkins seats abound in my little home, and they are more attractive to me than velvet cushions.

Still I find myself falling victim to the “we must acquire more” syndrome.

Much to the chagrin of my husband, my latest acquisition of china has arrived from Ebay. I just couldn’t resist the vintage blue and white English village scenes and floral borders painted on the delicate porcelain.

“How many dishes do we need?” my husband asked, laughter heard underneath his exasperation.

He is right. We don’t need any more fine china. It’s just the two of us and often our meals are eaten out of Chinese food cartons.

Still…I needed, wanted, desired more plates and teacups.

While I know the antidote for “more syndrome” is more prayer to God who promises us our daily bread and more focus on Jesus who told us not to worry about things, I am not sure if we are ever fully cured of wanting, needing, desiring more.

Perhaps living simply is a conscious choice we need to make every day? Perhaps the cure isn’t supposed to come easy? Perhaps the struggle to have and not have is one that helps us learn more about ourselves—our weaknesses, our holes in our hearts we are trying fill with things, our priorities and how much we really do need God in our lives to lean on. For it is only God that can fill the empty storehouses of our souls.

Tomorrow I will be speaking at the dedication of the Henry David Thoreau replica cabin. I will be sharing how Thoreau has impacted my writing, my ministry and how I have sought to live.

And I will begin by echoing the words of Thoreau who once wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I will speak how I too came “into the woods” of rural ministry, stepping into the unknown, fronting the human worries of divine daily bread, wishing to live the authentic me God has made me to be, so that when my time came to die, I could say I have truly lived.

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Weathered Wood and Coming Home

The little village was just beginning to come to life on what was a picture perfect Fourth of July. As I pulled into the parking lot of the little white church I noticed a few early birds had already claimed their spot on the parade route. At least they had nice weather in which to wait in, I thought.

I, myself, took a deep breath in as I got out of the car and allowed my eyes to linger up at the blue skies. I couldn’t remember a more beautiful holiday than this.

The clear skies and cool temps were ideal for the “big” parade—big meaning lots of firetrucks, a few pickup trucks and tractors transformed into floats thanks to the invention of crepe paper and balloons and one band and a group of bagpipers joining the teens which made up the high school band.

Still it was “big” in terms of the hearts who marched out of love for country, love for village, love for tradition, love for one another. My own heart filled with a love I thought I would never feel again.

A love for a home that I never expected to find, then lose, and then, by the grace of God, find again.

Many times, I had pulled into this parking lot when I was the little white church’s pastor and many times I would stop before heading inside to gaze at the weathered clapboards. And many times, I would look beyond the weathered wood and see what other eyes could not.

I would see a vision of hope.

I gazed again. And there it was. Hope shining back at me.

Just then my friend who was going to join me in watching the big parade pulled into the parking lot. I could hear the engine shutting down, the clicking of her seat belt, the slam of the car door and the beep of the car being locked. Soon she was standing by me, gazing too at the weathered wood.

“It needs a lot of work,” she said.

“Yep, it does,” I nodded.

“It’s a big structure,” she said.

“Yep, it is,” I nodded.

As we scanned the expanse of the slate roof, I described to her how the roof was being supported by the most incredible hand hewn beams that a building inspector once showed me many years ago while climbing high into the old rafters on a hot, humid summer day, making the old wood smell even more pronounced.

“Hmmm…” she said and that was all.

“Hmmm…”

She sensed I didn’t want this sacred moment of gazing at weathered wood broken by the not so sacred discussion of painting and slate repair costs.

Instead she said, “You’re home, aren’t you?”

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Weathered wood stands as a testimony not only to time, but to God’s grace and our faith in future.

I nodded a short “yep” not wanting the tears of gratitude to start falling.

“I’ve always had this vision….” and then I began sharing the hope I saw in the weathered wood.

Hope that withstood the storms of life and the harsh elements of setbacks and trials. Hope in which was asked to lay dormant many a winter waiting and waiting and waiting for spring’s rebirth to come again.

“I’ve always had this vision…” my parking lot sermonizing was over.

My friend kept staring at the church. I couldn’t tell if she now saw my weathered wood vision.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

She saw.

As we walked up street (as my husband, the local boy, would say, always leaving out the “the” that I would put in when indicating I was going “up the street”), I silently prayed for more eyes to see the beauty—and the hope—in weathered wood.

For it’s there. Always. With faith, we can and will see God’s beauty.

 

My Husband the Logger

The hour-plus drive from the rolling green hills of Vermont was worth the steaming cup of coffee now nestled in the palm of my hands. I tried remembering the last time I had sipped something so robust and satisfying, but the memories were playing hide and seek with me. I soon tired of seeking and focused on the conversation coming from across the café table in the little upstate New York city known as Troy.

“So how did you do it? How did you find the faith?” she asked.

She was a new pastor friend I had made. And while she was a city pastor and I was a country one (by accident in my eyes, but not God’s), there was a commonality bringing us together. The most obvious was her upcoming marriage to a “local boy” who grew up in the same neck of the woods as my “local boy”—my husband, PJ.

How did you do it? How did you find the faith?

She was not asking for wedding advice. She was asking about my journey back home to Vermont which involved leaving a traditional pastorate in Maryland for a ministry still emerging.

How did I the faith to come back home without the certainty of steady income?

I sipped and let the most amazing cup of coffee that I have had in (darn, just how long has it been?) buy me some time.

I didn’t want my answer to be an insignificant commentary on “just have faith” or “simply believe.”

No. I had to find the right words for what God was doing was far from insignificant. This was more than just believing in the goodness of God’s provision. This was about allowing one’s self to be changed by God, to trust God in everything and to grow in the knowledge of God’s mysterious ways.

Taking a leap of faith, I have recently learned, was not about being awed that the prayer we say by rote about giving us our daily bread is in fact a promise we can count on. No, awe and thankfulness aside for the manna falling from heaven, leaps of faith are all about deepening one’s relationship to God. They are not about how to eventually fill one’s belly or line one’s pocket. They are about having more of God fill your life.

I had wanted to take another sip of that darn good coffee, but I put my cup down.  I could see the searching in her eyes. She had been harboring dreams of a new ministry which still had many details to be ironed out. The most pressing detail was how to earn a living at it. She was waiting for my answer.

“My husband is a logger now,” I heard myself saying.

She gave a quizzical look, wondering where I was going with this.

I wondered too. I tried to explain.

Last week, while on my prayer walk on the rail trail running behind my little old house in Vermont, I learned something about leaps of faith.

I was struggling with my husband’s recent decision to give up driving a truck. It was something he has done for years to earn an income, but it gave him no joy or fulfillment. In our six years of marriage, I have always yearned for him to find happiness in his work.

It was foreign for me to hear people complain about work for I have always followed my heart in terms of vocation. That search for being the person God intended me to be is what led us back to Vermont seven months ago.

Still, this move was about my call, my discernment, my fulfillment. PJ would be that steady paycheck. He would be the certainty in our uncertain future.

God, he can’t do this. Not now. How will we live? Why couldn’t he have waited till you showed me my next step, um, the next step that comes with a salary and health benefits. No, he can’t do this.

I walked on the trail longer than I usual. I guess I had a lot of instructions to give to God as to what our life was supposed to look like. And God, as God always does with my instructions, listened and chuckled and decided it was time to get my attention.

A strong breeze whipped up out of nowhere clearing the stagnant air of my fears and my ranting. The breeze was refreshing and soothing. I looked around and remembered Jesus’ words about worrying. Why do we do it? Look at the birds. Look at the flowers in the field. Look all around. Every little creature is cared for. Am I not one of God’s creatures too?

The breeze continued to minister to me. It was then I realized this move back home wasn’t about me. This move was about someone I loved dearly and his discovery of who God wanted him to be. This was about PJ’s vocation. His contentment and sense of joy.

My coffee sipping had to wait as I continued.

Leaps of faith aren’t always about seeing how God will provide daily bread for our tables. Leaps of faith aren’t even all about our personal dreams and desires. Our leaps could be God’s plan for the other leaps our loved ones are hesitant to take.

Leaps of faith are as mysterious as the God who pushes us to take them. But take them, we must.

“My husband is a logger now,” I concluded with a shrug.

My new friend nodded. We lifted our steaming cups of coffee and sipped in unison. Our holy silence carried on the conversation.

Later that day, my husband the logger came home with a belated anniversary gift and an early birthday present for me all rolled into one.

Two stumps to serve as seats for my rustic fire pit/cooking area I was creating to honor our home’s 18th century heritage.

My heart filled with joy.

They were all I wanted.

They were all I needed.

My husband is a logger now.

Just leap. Don’t worry about having enough faith.

Just leap. Don’t wonder if you have the strength.

Just leap. Don’t fret about daily bread.

Just leap. That’s all God is asking.

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The Accidental Country Pastor’s combination wedding anniversary and birthday present—       log stumps courtesy of her husband, the logger now. 

 

 

The Irises Return

This morning on the farm I had a beautiful surprise waiting to greet me. Beyond the old house where I had recently tackled the grass and weeds that were standing at more than four feet tall, covering a large rock, I noticed something pale yellow waving in the gentle breeze.

I had just woken up and was still a bit groggy after what was a long day of clergy meetings the day before. Groggy or not, I could fill my head already spinning with the tasks I needed to get done. There were calls to make, freelance stories to write, worship to plan, a chapter or two in my book to write…oh, yes, that’s right. There was also a vet appointment to make for Sofie, whose wet nose nuzzling against me was my gentle reminder to add her to the “to-do” list.

Still what was waving at me?

I rubbed my eyes and squinted a bit more. It couldn’t be? Could it? I didn’t bother throwing on my mucks and quickly walked to the site of what I had hoped to be a new flower garden sometime this summer.

I should have taken off my socks, I thought, as the wet grass from the recent heavy rains soaked through the cotton quickly. My feet were soon cold, wet and muddy. I didn’t care. I had to see what this pale-yellow blotch was which, as I drew closer, seemed to be dancing with joy at the new day that had begun.

As I got closer I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The pale-yellow dancer was in fact some old friends I thought were long gone. They were my irises I had once loved.

Seven years ago, when I bought “the oldest house in Rupert, Vermont,” there had been beautiful flowers around the big rock.

As the seasons went by, though, the flowers never came back. I figured it was just my brown thumb that chased them away. It had happened before in other old houses I have lived in. One spring the flowers were there and the next they disappeared. My luck with flowers had become a joke among family and friends.

“The flowers probably heard about your gardening reputation and packed their bags and moved away,” they would tease.

And so, I had given up all hope that I would ever see those irises again.

But now here they were.

A surprise resurrection of sorts that had me wondering if I should turn around to see if there were any divine messengers waiting to tell me more good news as there were when the women came to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning, experiencing for themselves a surprise resurrection.

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The irises at Stone Well Farm have come back home. 

I didn’t need to turn around. My good news was right before my eyes. My old friends waving at me—they were my divine messengers telling me of a hope that can bloom when you least expect it to.

The irises were back home and beautiful as ever and grateful to be feeling the warm sun on their petals once again.

The amazing part of their return was that I didn’t do a thorough job in clearing out the tall grass and weeds that had choked them for so long. Still, what I had cleared out was enough.

I had in a way created a space, no matter how tiny, for God’s grace to poke through. A space for something wonderful to come back to life. A space for beauty to enter my world again.

Imagine.

If a flower, thought to be long gone and choked by weeds, could come back with just a little bit of space provided for it, what God could do in our lives if we cleared a bit of space for grace to enter in?

My grogginess wore off and the spinning in my head ceased. All the tasks awaiting me could wait a bit more. I had a reunion to enjoy with my irises. With soggy, muddy socks on my feet I sat on top of the old stone well and smiled at the pale-yellow irises. And together we enjoyed the warmth of God’s grace in the little bit of space that had been created.

Phantom Pain

The pain was intense. Throbbing and shooting. Stars appeared before my eyes each time I drank a glass of cold water or sipped even lukewarm coffee.

“Not good,” I thought. “Nope, not good at all.”

A week had already gone by since my root canal—a procedure I thought would take away the tooth pain that originally sent me to the dentist.

Here it was, though, more than seven days later and the pain was worse than it was before. Of course, I did the very thing my husband told me not to do. I went onto the computer to self-diagnose.

“It says here…”

“Uh oh, the pain might be…”

“Yikes. Not good. Not good at all…”

My husband rolled his eyes and said something very sensible.

“Just go back to the dentist.”

And then added, “Instead of sitting here and worrying about something that is probably nothing.”

He was right. I was worrying about many somethings which were probably nothings at all. But the pain? There was no denying it was intense. It was real. And my worries? They were intense and real too.

Back to the dentist I went.

As I sat in the chair certain another root canal was in my near future, I told the man in the white coat swiveling on the little stool next to me, how I was feeling.

I was quite proud of my monologue, emphasizing the word “pain” at the right moments and describing colorfully the throbbing in the tooth.

My performance, however, of a country pastor with a serious tooth problem wasn’t as convincing as I thought as the dentist just nodded and smiled. Not one shred of concern showed on his face.

“Okay then, let’s see what’s going on,” he said.

A few jabs and pokes with the metal pick in his hand revealed some tender gums.

“How about here? Any pain?”

“Nope,” I gurgled with my mouth opened.

“Here?”

I gurgled a negative again.

The jabbing and poking stopped as quickly as it began.

I braced myself for the treatment I knew would come. After all, I read all about my problem on the Internet.

“You’re fine,” said the dentist. “Everything is fine.”

The puzzled look in my eyes, invited him to continue.

“You are having phantom pain. The nerves in your mouth haven’t caught up with your brain,” he said, adding quickly, “You’re not alone. This is more common than you think.”

“Really?” I said, feeling a bit embarrassed now at my dramatic monologue of the trials and tribulations of pain I had delivered just a few minutes before.

Phantom pain.

How strange it was that a pain that didn’t exist could be so real?

I couldn’t get this phenomenon out of my head. It lingered with me for days, haunting me like phantoms tend to do.

“But the pain is so real,” I tried explaining to my husband, who sat there smiling when he heard what he had already knew. That everything was fine.

Sure enough, once I knew the pain wasn’t real, that there wasn’t anything serious to worry about, it began to loosen its grip on me. Whatever shooting pain that did rear its ugly head, I could better handle it, for I knew it was nothing that could defeat me. It just wasn’t real.

The following day as I went on my customary morning walk on the rail trail, I still thought about phantoms. I thought about the one I had allowed to fester in my life as tooth pain. I thought about the phantoms we invite into our lives and allow to worry us, scare us and ultimately cause us unnecessary pain.

Phantoms that climb into our heads convincing us that the worse in life is going to happen. Doom and gloom will prevail. Nothing is going to get better. The pain in life is just going to keep stabbing your heart.

How many phantoms beyond the pain in my tooth, I wondered, have I allowed to weigh me down and discourage me? How many problems weren’t problems at all? How many hurts were non-existent? More importantly, where was my faith when these phantoms took hold of me?

“Lord, I believe. Now help my unbelief,” I whispered on the trail, echoing the sentiment of the man who reached out to Jesus for help and remembering, quite humbly, that sometimes believing in the power, healing, guidance and grace of Jesus doesn’t come easy. Especially when those darn phantoms seem so powerful and become so real in our lives.

But Jesus who calmed threatening seas with just a word, “Peace,” and who rid many a demon with an authoritative “be gone,” can and will take care of our pains.

With a word, with a cry, with a plea, with a sigh…we just need to remember to call on the sweetest name ever. To call upon Jesus. For he is real. Our phantoms are not.