Thanksgiving is drawing to a close. The turkey, stuffing and yams (what’s left of them) are sitting in the fridge in Tupperware bowls. The dishwasher is tackling the dishes I rather not tackle. And the pecan and pumpkin pies are waiting to be warmed, sliced and topped with ice cream. The holiday dinner finale, however, will have to wait. I need to do something important. And I need to do it now.
I need to pause, take a look around and fall on my knees in prayerful thanks to God who answered the cry of my heart in the most amazing way. I have to offer my tears of joy to God and recommit my service to Him who has brought me here to the place I am right now. Home. Home in the little red house where cows are my neighbors and Vermont’s Green Mountains are my backyard. Home where those who once knew me “the pastor of the little white church” still remember me as such and who have shown excitement to have me back and who have embraced me with their hugs and blessings on the streets of the village, in the coffee shop, post office and gas station. Home. A place where one’s heart is content and is guaranteed to find strength for the trying days and refuge in life’s storms.
Yes, I am home.
If you asked my husband and I a few months ago if we would be saying a Thanksgiving grace at our farm table with the slight slant due to the old 18th century floors in our house, I would not have believed it. For a few months ago the possibility of returning home seemed to be a “not now, but later” dream as I struggled with leaving a good ministry job. I, admittedly, allowed the security of an income cloud my belief in God who makes all things possible. I had let the expectations of the world—a good job with benefits—dim my talents and passion for serving God beyond a church building. Dare I say, I had, gulp, lost my faith in God and began trusting in my own abilities to make a life worth living. And where did it get me? Nowhere.
But God is patient with us. God doesn’t give up on us. God continues to work in our lives, even when we have taken over the steering wheel. And so in the spring, God ever so gently led me to a retreat for clergy. A gift of sorts to step away and discern the next steps in ministry. Every morning I woke up early to go for a walk. As the mist hovered over the lake and the birds awoke with song, I felt something. I felt a connection to the divine again. And I heard it. I heard God whisper, “You can do all things. Trust me.”
You can do all things. Trust me.
But how will I pay the bills if I move back to Vermont?
Haven’t I provided for you before? You can do all things. Trust me.
But where will I preach and share the amazing promises of a God who never leaves us alone?
I will show you how to reach my children. I will provide the opportunities. You can do all things. Trust me.
“Donna, can we pray for you?”
The offer came from the retreat leaders one afternoon. Perhaps they saw me deep in thought. Perhaps they saw right through my smile and sensed the worry within. Perhaps they could see I, like Jacob, was having one heck of a wrestling match with God.
Whatever they saw, I accepted their offer and told them about the strong pull on my heart to go back home and to become an advocate, a voice, for small rural churches, but I just couldn’t see a clear way back. They gave me a warm, reassuring smile that told me they completely understood where I was at that moment. They had been there once as well. They asked what was on my heart and I shared. I shared with them how I could see myself back home in rural Vermont, serving God, serving His children, but that I didn’t the way to get there. I told them how I wanted to get back to my writing roots and still be a pastor. I told them the ideas I had for cooperative rural ministry where it wasn’t about just one church, but a network of churches serving together. I told them about my ideas for a rural ministry network, offering resources and prayer support. I told them my dreams. Now it was time to turn to God and hear His dreams for me.
We clasped hands, bowed our heads and prayed. We prayed for surrender. We prayed for strength. We prayed for provision. But most of all we prayed for God to use me as God wanted to.
After the “amen” we began to make our way to lunch. It was then one of those prayer angels stopped me before entering the room and reassured me, “You will be home and home just in time for the holidays. I just know it. You will be serving God beautifully. I can see it.”
On the last day of the retreat, each participant was given a stone embossed with the word “Credo” on it. It would be a reminder for us to live out the dreams God had awakened in each us, to realize the responsibility we had to use our talents in glorifying God, to live out our life’s creed and not fall victim to simply making a living, but rather unleashing the life God has planned for us. I carried that stone with me for months, caressing it, holding it, praying with it and tonight it sits on the fireplace mantel surrounded by the gourds I have once again received as a gift from a dear woman from the little white church who has always made sure the pastor’s house looked perfect for the holidays.
Yes, the pecan and pumpkin pies will have to wait to be warmed, sliced and topped with ice cream. For I need to fall on my knees in prayerful thanks to God who heard my cry and who has led me to where I am at this moment. I am home. Surrounded by cows, Green Mountains, gourds and many welcome home hugs.
And so a blessed Thanksgiving to you from me, the girl who once lived in Manhattan and wore cute little heels but who dared to trust God and leave it all behind for the joy and privilege of being an “accidental country pastor.”
Loving God, you see the struggles in our hearts. We want to follow You and trust, but the worry and fear seem stronger and greater than our faith. Forgive us. Increase our faith in You. Help us to let go of all the what if’s. Help us to realize life is too short not to trust You. Help us this very moment to see the impossible can be possible. With you by our sides God let us dare to dream big, dare to stand up and make the world a better place, dare to go against what the world says is living and live with You at the center of our lives. Let us always be thankful and praise You for the wonderful way you lead each one of us to that place of belonging, fulfillment, contentment and joy—to that place we call home. Amen.
A snowy Sunday message as we head into the Thanksgiving holidays. This was filmed at the Old Stone Well Farm atop of Sofie’s Hill on November 20.
(Editor’s Note: As of Sunday night the snow was still falling…up to six inches!)
A week ago our country voted for our next president. A week ago there were people (and media) who thought the outcome would be in their favor. There were people who prayed hard for their candidate of choice. There were people who watched and waited. As the watching and waiting continued into the night, people became dazed and confused. They cried and wailed. They rejoiced and danced. A week ago there were people…
I’ve been quiet for a week trying to decide if I should share what’s on my mind. And if so, how best to share the thoughts swirling around trying to find a place to finally settle down and rest.
You see I am a pastor in rural America, serving God’s children in a place where many feel their voices aren’t heard. I am the kind of pastor who has lived in the big cities and so I have friends who are now heartbroken over the electoral count. I also have friends who are not so heartbroken. I am a pastor who has the ability to listen to both sides and hear what “the other” is saying. I am pastor who often finds herself straddling two worlds. I am a pastor who now puts herself into the heartbroken category. But I put myself there not because of who won or didn’t win the election. I put myself there because of the behavior I’ve seen and words I’ve heard from both those who lament and from those who rejoice.
A week ago there were people…let me emphasize “people.” For that is what we are. We are not winners or losers. We cannot—nor should be—so easily categorized. We are people of a loving and sovereign God who since the beginning of time has been urging us to be better than we often are. And yet in a week’s time, I wonder about who we have become. It seems this election has brought to light a problem I had an inkling was already part of our society. The problem of how we react and treat each other when things don’t go our way. Years ago I heard a pastor say that we don’t have to like one another, but we do have to walk hand in hand with one another. Is our nation capable of grasping the hand of the other?
Since the election I have been thinking a lot about the prophet Micah who said it well when he said, “Do what is right, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
Now more than ever we—you and I—are being called to do what is right. We can’t just leave it to others to make our lives better. We need to be part of the bettering of our world. I have often seen complacency in churches that I serve where the work of a brighter future is often left in the hands of the pastor—the church’s elected official of sorts. But it is the work of all people that matters and moves us forward. We can still wake up to a new day and know we can do our part to make it a just world for all. To do so, though, means we place ourselves in the one category that should only exist. The one of brothers and sisters in Christ.
We can choose to love mercy and realize its healing power. For when mercy is either received or extended it removes the scales from our eyes and we begin seeing each other as the brothers and sisters in Christ I just mentioned, the ones who want the same things in life you want. To be heard, to be loved, to be safe and to have your daily bread.
And we can, no, we MUST walk humbly with our God. For the one we are to glorify, the one we are to place our trust in, is God. Human leaders are just that. Human. Flawed and broken…no matter what political party they pledge allegiance to. But God is God, steadfast in love and immovable even though the mountains around us will crumble and fall.
A week ago there were people…
Tired of struggling to make ends meet.
Worried about how to afford healthcare for their family.
Scared about what rights might be taken away.
Frightened about how they and their children will be treated if not white and privileged.
A week ago there were people…those people are still here. Those people are you and me. They are our neighbors and the strangers on the street. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s time now for us to do what is right, to love mercy and to keep walking humbly with our God.
For the savior we need is not in Washington D.C.
It’s November which means everyone on social media is writing about all the things they are grateful for. Now I am not a cynical person and I will admit it is refreshing to see positive affirmations being sent out into the universe rather than gripes. Lord knows we really need hope for our tomorrows. (Need I remind you our nation’s election is just around the corner.) But I will admit I have always (to some extent) wondered why don’t we ever express our gratitude each and every day? Why relegate thanks to the month in which we celebrate a day of giving thanks?
Why can’t we be grateful all the time? Because there really is something to praise God for all the time. There is. I know that for a fact.
I sit here this morning looking out my kitchen window of my little old house in Vermont. Locals call it the oldest house in the hamlet, which brings a big smile to my face because I adore old houses and I am grateful for them even when the plumbing fails and the roof leaks.
I sit here after a long three-year journey of sorts has ended. It was a journey which led me on winding roads to other places, filled with many twists and turns, potholes and challenges, dark times and cloudy days.
Three years ago, I made a decision to leave a place where I knew in my heart was home and where God had originally called me to serve. But temptation to see other places took hold of me. Perhaps there was greener grass and larger pastures that were even better than the grass and pastures in Vermont?
The day my husband and I were leaving Vermont, I remember gazing at the Green Mountains that were quickly becoming little hills fading into the background as the car drove on, and I heard myself say, “I am really going to miss that view.” And I did.
Three years I wrestled with God. I grappled with God. I asked God, where was he in my life? Silence…so it seemed to my ears that were not ready to listen. I even wondered if God really wanted me in ministry. Who was I? Why didn’t things work out? And where were the green pastures that were healing balm to my soul and spirit?
Three years of being away from home in foreign places (no, nothing exotic, they were all located in the United States, but still felt foreign to me), and I finally realized I was in way living in exile. And like God’s children who found themselves away from home, they were in exile for reason. They had lessons to learn. They had to learn to put God first. To trust God always. To love and live no matter where life took them. They had to find the joy of the Lord even when they didn’t find green pastures. They had to learn, like I had to learn, to give thanks and be grateful in all circumstances. For God is still our loving God in all circumstances.
It was during this time in my life that a woman from the community who heard about “the new pastor,” came by the church to give me a gift. Now she didn’t know me. She didn’t know my struggles. She didn’t know that I was a Vermonter living in exile. All she knew is she wanted to meet me and give me a gift. There in the package was a coffee mug with the words, “It’s all good” on it. I smiled and realized it was all good—exile or not—because of God who is always with me.
And so my time in “exile” was a turned into a time of growing stronger in faith, learning more about God’s mysterious ways and trusting God—and drinking a lot of coffee from that mug. Little by little, day by day, as I fixed my eyes on God life became beautiful again and I began to see how God was indeed using me and leading me.
Now in this month of November in which we will gather with loved ones in our homes and pause just long enough to think about all we have, I find myself home. Truly home. Not just in my beloved Vermont house with green grass and beautiful pastures that heal my soul and spirit. I find myself at home in a way I have never felt before. I find myself at home with God. Content, renewed, refreshed and committed to singing God’s praises and sharing the good news with all. I find myself knowing now the importance of being grateful in all circumstances and giving thanks each and every day I have breath in which to give thanks. I know the beauty that comes to your life and the life of others around you when you give thanks even when there seems to be nothing to be thankful for. For I am thankful—even now as I look at all the moving boxes that need to be unpacked and wonder why the water pipe is making that strange noise. Yes, it’s all good. God is with me.
What about you? Where are you in your life? Are there greener pastures tempting you? Are there moving boxes to pack or unpack? Are there water pipes making strange noises? Can you be thankful this day and every day?
You can. Because it is indeed all good.