The Sheep and the Shepherd


The other morning, I went to visit my sheep. Well, they’re not exactly mine. They belong to the farm and nature center just up the road from me.


Pastor Donna’s “foster” sheep that she often visits and talks to. Notice the stream of light shining down on one of them.

I’ve always wanted sheep. And goats. And chickens. And…

Well, the other morning I went to visit the sheep. They live in a place where my heart always finds peace after being torn and tattered by the world. It’s a place where I can take a deep breath in and allow my lungs to savor the clean air. It’s a place where the rolling hills and mountains make me want to do my best Julie Andrew’s impersonation where I run in an open field, spinning around with arms outstretched, singing, “The hills are alive…”

Being of Swiss heritage, this is something my family always does whenever we find ourselves in an open field surrounded by mountains. And now that I have put that song in your head, my apologies. Let me get back to the story at hand.

The other morning, I didn’t just go to visit them. I went to have a talk with them. I needed to know something. I needed to know how it was they could easily follow their master? How did they know that the one in charge of them was indeed caring for them? How did they not worry or fret or wander off to what might look like greener pastures?


I needed to know, for lately I have been wondering how best to follow my Lord and Savior, my Shepherd. I wonder why I have been lured at times by seemingly greener pastures that have proven to be nothing but stale tasting artificial turf filled with empty calories? I hate empty calories.

How do I get back to the real stuff, the green pastures that are life giving and life renewing? How do I stop doubting my Shepherd’s great care of me? And how do I get back home to the fold, where my heart can always find peace in the midst of the storms?


The sheep were very kind to me, entertaining my rambling questions as they tried to chew their breakfast. Every so often, one would look at me as if to say, “Continue on. I’m listening.” Other times, they would look at each other as if to say, “Are you going to answer her or do I have to?”

When I was done with my questions, I sat down in the grass and waited for one of them to answer. Nothing came. The sheep just kept chewing away at their breakfast. I had my breakfast with me too. A warm buttery, crumbly maple scone purchased at the quintessential Vermont country store that my husband and I loved to go. It was a place where the wooden floors gave their age away with each creak of the boards and where the sun streaming through the windows made the dust dance and sparkle in the streams of its rays.

A place where a warm hello always greeted you, followed by small talk about the weather and what kind of winter the Farmer’s Almanac was already predicting.

But I wasn’t hungry anymore for my maple scone. I was hungry for answers. I picked at the scone and as I did the frustration of the silence all around me brought tears to my eyes.

Perhaps yet another day without answers was going to join in an already growing long line of days without answers.

I got up to leave. As I did, though, the littlest lamb came running over to me. Its bleating was urgent. It had something to say. It bleated some more and kept jerking its head toward the blue sky above. I heeded the little lamb’s instructions and looked up in the direction it was pointing. There overhead was a cloud whose formation had taken the shape of blobby looking heart.

Well, I’ll be…the little lamb gave me my answer.

How did they trust the One caring for them? How did they know to follow the One whose leading is always heading towards green pastures?

By not keeping their head hung down low with defeat and despair and doubt, but by always looking up. By knowing they are loved beyond love and that love is the only thing that keeps them, protects them, guides them, sustains them…it’s a love that promises to always bring you safely home.

I had a talk with my sheep the other day.

Turns out, our Shepherd was there as well.


The Big God Message in a Little ‘Dead’ Stick

I pulled up to the dirt driveway that was quickly becoming reclaimed by nature as the grass, now no longer being trampled daily by tires, was growing back.

I got out of the car. It felt good to stretch. It felt even better to see the Green Mountains greeting me on the driver’s side of the car. I gazed at them and smiled as I remembered how seeing them always gave me something to praise God for even on the days there seemed little to praise. It didn’t matter what kind of day I was having or whether it was sunny, raining or snowing. Whenever I got home from a long day of ministering out in the community, seeing that view always revived my soul. Nature was indeed God’s medicine for me.

I stretched some more and allowed my soul to revive. The drive from Maryland to Vermont was a long one, but one that was necessary if my husband and I were to check up on our little red house that had been on the real estate market for awhile.

As I made my way to the house, I did my usual assessment of its condition. More paint peeling from the clapboards. We’re going to have to take care of that sooner rather than later. What’s that? There seems to be s a wider gap in between the upstairs window and sill. We’re going to have to take care of that sooner rather than later too.

I continued my assessment as I made my way to the front door, taking note of the pang of sadness in my heart when I saw the realtor’s sign stuck in the front yard. I was secretly glad that no one had yet offered to buy our little house. And I think my husband was too.

My eyes went passed the sign and I was about to assess the old weathered picket to fence to see just how many pickets fell to the ground. But there weren’t any pieces of broken or rotted wood this time. Instead there was a rose bush filled with buds cascading up the side of the fence.

I dropped my bags and ran to the roses. I had to touch them. I had to smell them. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I never thought I would ever see this day. Roses!

Let me explain. When the roses first came to me they were little sticks with seemingly no life to them at all. I was shocked. I looked into the bag they travelled in hoping to find some clue as to why the online nursery I ordered them from sent me sticks instead of lush roses. Was this a mistake? An online scam?

I showed my husband the sticks and then showed him a print out of a picture of the roses I thought I had ordered.

He looked at the picture and began laughing. “Did you really expect to get five mature rosebushes for only $5.99? You got exactly what you paid for,” he said, reassuring me the sticks would eventually grow into the roses I had wanted.

We went outside and began putting the sticks into the dirt alongside the old weathered picket fence where I had envisioned beautiful roses climbing all over like in some fabled cottage in the English countryside.

As he made the hole in the ground and gently placed the stick, filling the dirt back in and then instructing me to pour what seemed to me to be way too much water, I kept sighing about how nothing would come of these “dead” sticks.

“Why are we wasting our time?” I kept asking. My husband just kept planting.

Later that week I shared my rosebush fiasco with Amy, a woman at the little white church who was beginning to help out more with our children’s ministries.

I lamented to her about how my husband insisted we plant these “sticks.” I made sure my story had just enough dramatic flair to it to make it entertaining. And entertained she was. Not, though, for my storytelling skills.

She was amused that sitting before her was a pastor who preached about all things being possible with God and, yet, when it came the promise of beautiful flowers coming from little sticks, my faith was seemingly lacking.

“It’s just like the ministry to the youth we are growing here. It might not seem like much, but in time, you will see something beautiful bloom,” she said.

In time…

That night I sat outside on the front step breathing in the smell of the freshly turned soil of the fields all around that would soon be planted with corn. I looked over at the fence and stared at those seemingly nothing sticks in the ground. It wasn’t just God’s ability to turn a stick into a beautiful rose I was questioning. It seemed lately my faith was seemingly lacking.

A year went by and life, as life does, threw a curve ball of sorts. An offer to pastor another church came and, after months of struggling with what to do, I found myself packing boxes to move.

The day the U-Haul came was a busy one, filled with many emotions that I had hoped I had stuffed securely into one of those boxes, for I just didn’t want to deal with them.

My husband and I were busy going back and forth into the house and out to the van. We had a productive rhythm going, that is, until I stopped right in my tracks. Something whispered in my heart to turn around and look at the old fence where dead sticks were once stuck into the ground. I put the box down on the grass and slowly walked over to the fence not exactly sure of what I expecting to see. Out of the five sticks that were planted, only one remained. And not only one remained, but there on its still seemingly dead stick of a body was a gift for me—one green leaf waving in the wind as if waving good bye, sending me off with a message, “…in time you will see God’s promises bloom—in time.”

All the pent up emotion I thought I had safely packed away and secured tightly with packing tape, came falling out of my heart. Hearing my sobs, my husband came rushing out of the house. I pointed to the little green leaf waving at me.

“Amy was right. Everything is just beginning to take root. I can’t leave my little rose bush.”

My husband comforted me with promises of visits back home. “But…but…but when the house sells, then what?” I protested. My husband comforted me some more with the reminder to worry about that when the time came. It never did come.

Time moved on with no offers to buy our house and so more visits to the house were planned. With each trip back yet another new green leaf on the rosebush was waiting to greet me with the same message it waved good bye to me with, “…in time you will see God’s promises bloom—in time.”

And now…roses, actual roses! IMG_2432

Like Simeon whose eyes had finally seen the long-awaited promise of the Christ Child that day in the temple, I, too, felt as if I had seen a long-awaited promise in the roses that were now filling a lush green bush that was once just a stick in the ground. I was seeing the promise of a hope that can never die when that hope is deeply rooted in God.

For God can take those seemingly dead sticks are in our lives and turn them into something beautiful. God can bring us back to life. Amy was right. In time…

“What are you doing?” my husband asked as he came from the car with the rest of the bags only to find me wrestling to take down the realtor’s “For Sale” sign that was jammed way down into the ground.

“Our roses are blooming.”

It was all I needed to say. And with that we tossed the “For Sale” sign away.



Hold Loosely

I remember back in my reporter days for a business magazine hearing from a sales motivational coach who said at the beginning of his presentation that if you walked away with only one nugget of wisdom, he had done his job. Just one nugget. That’s all it took to not only make his talk worthwhile financially, but worthwhile in terms of making your business better.

That advice changed my life as I have always remembered it didn’t do you any good getting bogged down with lists of tips or bullet pointed must do’s in order to change your life for the better. All it took was one nugget—received and then acted upon.

Such a nugget recently came my way and it has made a wonderful impact on my life. Early this summer I was attending a writing symposium at Princeton Theological Seminary. I was gathered in a group of advanced writers who had the opportunity to hone our craft, share our prose and talk one-on-one with a former pastor-turned mother-turned published author of teen devotionals and other such books.

One afternoon, as we were gathered in small groups practicing and perfecting our elevator pitches to be used someday on potential book agents, the former pastor-turned mother-turned published author offered some sound advice. She said when writing a sermon, a daily reflection for a devotional, a scene to a mystery novel, whatever it is you’re writing, don’t ever be tied down to the words or ideas you are so in love with.

You might have a vision of where you want your story to go, but many times the story will have a life of its own. Let your story live. Be brutal and pry yourself away from that too long paragraph, that extra descriptive scene, that conversation between two characters that doesn’t move the story forward. Yes, you might think it is the most brilliant thing you have ever written, but holding tightly to your words doesn’t make for a delightful read. Hold loosely the words you write, she said. Cut and paste and put aside. You might eventually include what was cut. Or you might use those words in a different way. Or you might come to see they weren’t as great as you thought them to be.

It’s all okay. Hold loosely.images.jpg

Out of all the nuggets of wisdom gathered at that conference, her nugget is the one I keep hearing and applying  beyond my writing. For how many times do we find ourselves holding on to something we are so enthralled by but it isn’t moving our story forward? How many times do we refuse to edit out something that isn’t good for us? How many times do we cling tightly to something that has died a long time ago? Isn’t it true we tend to stay too long on the battlefield, bloodied and beaten down, never realizing the skirmish has long been over?

While the preacher side of me always gravitates to the message that there’s always hope for tomorrow and that God can revive all that is lagging, there’s also the reality that a seed must first die before bringing forth new life. We are to hold on to hope, but our hope is in the promise of resurrection. And resurrection cannot happen without the holding loosely—and the eventual letting go—that death asks of us.

Hold loosely—to your words.

Hold loosely—to your ideas.

Hold loosely—to your future plans.

Hold loosely—to even those you love and things you love.

Cut and paste and put aside. The story of your life will be brilliant. Just let God offer His revisions.

Matters of the Heart

I just want to have everything figured out. I mean, really, it all seems very simple. Either we move forward or we don’t. It’s one or the other. I just don’t understand this indecision.

My friend’s email this morning struck a chord, bringing back to me the time in my life where she is now. The time when I seemed to be finally hitting my stride. My career as an editor of a magazine was taking off and dare I say my love life too. Or so it seemed.

There was this one pesky little problem hanging over me like an annoying cloud that teases you with the threat of rain yet no rain ever comes. It was the problem of indecisiveness. It was a problem on both my part and my boyfriend’s part as we tried to figure “us” out. Do we move forward together? Does that mean engagement? Then a wedding? Wait. Where do you see yourself in five years? Or how about just next year? Do you want to live on the Upper West side or Lower East side?

Let’s cut to the chase and get to the more important question. No, not the “do you want children” question. What I want to know is do you perhaps sometime in the near future see yourself living in a historic old house within commuting distance to Manhattan? (Yes, that was my burning question and I was surprised to learn that many people aren’t fond of the small windows, low ceilings and lack of closet space that charm me. Luckily, years later, and with a different beau, that question would be answered with one caveat. The home would not be in commuting distance to ANY big city or congested roads and that was fine by me.)

Now these questions were never actually discussed as two healthy adults should discuss. These were the questions silently swimming in our minds as we tried to figure out what I call “the matters of the heart”—those things we hold close to us, that make us who we are and that are often the very things that guide us and drive us, helping us move forward even when it seems we aren’t really going anywhere. The matters of the heart are unique—and sacred—to each of us, thus, making them tricky, if not complicated, for another to even begin understanding where it is you are coming from.imgres.jpg

And so I read my friend’s email over again not wanting to rush in too quickly with a response for I was once where she was. I remember many a seemingly helpful email from friends who thought they knew what was best for me. Again, matters of the heart are unique and sacred things. But their words didn’t do much to comfort or help me. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to hear or perhaps they weren’t the right words. Who knows? Again, matters of the heart are unique and sacred things. All I knew was that I wanted to make sure my words would be hopeful and helpful.

I sat there tapping my fingers on the keyboard but nothing hopeful and helpful was appearing on the screen before me. I hit the delete button and tried again. After doing this one too many times, I gave up. It was time to face the truth. I really didn’t know what to say to my friend that would give her the bright hope for tomorrow she was seeking. I thought about how disheartening it was to keep searching into the future and only seeing clouds. I was there once—and find myself there again at times. For even after finding the man who answered correctly my living in an old house question, life always presents you with next steps to take.

And perhaps those steps are not meant to be easy. Perhaps we are not given a crystal ball out of mercy and grace of not knowing exactly everything that will happen. Perhaps we are meant to take one faltering and indecisive step at a time, trusting not so much in the unique and sacred matters of the heart we think are guiding us, but trusting that the One who has placed that sacredness within us will not fail us. For if God lovingly calls us by name, then why let any unknowns in life rattle us or even drag us down?

And here is something else. Why do we even spend time hoping for another to understand us or for us to try to understand them? Have you ever driven yourself crazy with the question, “But what are they thinking?”

One time while peering into a cloudy future, I stumbled upon a devotion that I knew was God’s way of hitting me over the head with exactly what I needed. The devotion basically said each heart is intricate and only God knows exactly what is in each heart. We can try all we want to understand the other, but we will never fully get to the most private and intimate place. That place is reserved for the God who created us. All we need to do is place the unique and sacred matters of the heart (mine and yours) into God’s loving hands.

All of a sudden I began typing my reply to my friend…

God sees beyond our cloudy futures. And God has already made up his mind. He’s decided (thank goodness!) to never leave or forsake us. This I do know. The matters of the heart matter much to God. Trust the sacredness to the One who is Divine.

Defeating the Loud Mouths

Lately, I’ve been slacking in reading my Bible daily. It was a commitment I renewed back in the spring while attending a clergy conference. It was there in the peaceful wooded surroundings of the retreat center, where black snakes would rustle leaves and birds would chirp in harmony, I joined my colleagues in shedding our often misguided busyness of pastoring and got back to what really mattered—listening to what it was God wanted of us. Part of that listening was opening up God’s word, not for Bible study or sermon prep, but for preparation of daily living. So open up I did and the words of life gave me life.

Never grow weary in doing good. Galatians 6:9

I know the plans I have for you. Jeremiah 29:11

Patiently I waited for the Lord…and he turned to me and heard my cry. Psalm 40:1

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5

By the time I boarded the plane to return to “the real world,” I knew the name on the boarding pass was the same but the person holding it—me—was different. New vision, new ideas, new hopes, new sense of call were all jam packed into my already jam packed bag. I buckled myself in and my spirits soared along with the ascending plane as now had a new awareness of how over the years I had inadvertently allowed the “loud mouths” in my life to push aside the gifts God had given me for ministry.

I’m not talking about people. These “loud mouths” are the things we find ourselves doing and being consumed and misled by in thinking that they are what will actually save our struggling churches (and/or our struggling lives). When really God has already saved us. All we need to do is tap into the gifts and be true to those gifts given, for those are the very things that fill us with energy and passion and joy for life. The “who” we are in terms of the “what” we bring into life are the very things that not only build up the kingdom of God, but give us life abundant.IMG_6566 copy

I wonder how many God moments have been passed up all because our very limited human voices of reason (this can’t be done, this should be done, etc.) have been way too loud?

When will it be when God’s voice is THE voice thundering above all others, setting right what is wrong, opening hearts clouded by other viewpoints, drowning out selfish agendas for selfless missions?

Two months have gone since I left the snakes rustling the leaves and the birds chirping in harmony, and my troubled heart has told me something is not right. I have slipped. I have again allowed my own personal “loud mouths” to impose a to-do list on me that is not soul-quenching.

So this morning, I did it. I opened up God’s word, and God didn’t let me down. By the time I sipped the last of my coffee, I was “me” again. Only better. I was the me God had called me to be. New vision. New hopes. New awareness. New goals. New challenges to those goals. It’s all good, because God is good.

Have you opened up God’s word today? If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to quiet the “loud mouths” in your life and to know God is still God and has not given up on the who you are meant to be.

You know me inside and out, you hold me together,

you never fail to stand me tall in your presence so that I can look you in the eye.

Blessed God…always, always…always.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

(Psalm 41:12-13, The Message)