Worship at the farm today has been postponed because there is something important to do. Not that coming together and worshipping God isn’t important. It is. Heck, it’s vital. Our worship is what grounds us. It reminds us of what we all too easily forget.
God is good at being God. We aren’t.
Today, though, there is something that needs to get done that goes beyond a video devotion to be posted online. It’s something I can no longer put off.
Today is clean-up day at Old Stone Well Farm.
And as I pull on my mucks and throw on a much-needed ratty sweatshirt to chase away the early morning chill of this spring morning, I think about the overgrown weeds that have moved onto the farm these past three years that I have been gone.
They have laid down deep roots where, if my memory is correct, irises, daffodils, day lilies and lilies of the valley used to bloom around a huge stone imbedded in the ground.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Dressed and ready to battle, I look out at the weeds and overgrown grass as high as my knees. They look defiant standing there in the sun with just a hint of the stone’s head peeking out. I do believe they are mocking me and my weapon of choice—a rusty, old shovel that belonged to mom and her mom before.
I try not to show my doubt in my ability to battle with the weeds and the rest of the overgrowth containing flora I am unfamiliar with.
Please, Lord, let there be no snakes in the mix as well.
I have no idea what I am doing. Perhaps the weeds have heard through the grapevine (not that I have grapes!) that standing before them is no farmer or gardener.
Yet standing before them is a pastor and writer and wannabe farmer who is also armed with a steadfast belief if you put your heart to something and hang on to the truth that all things are possible with God, well, then all things will be possible.
For God knows we yearn to see those beaten down flowers under our weed-filled paths bloom again.
Yes, the weeds don’t look terrified that I am coming their way to relocate them to a nice pile in a gully beyond Sofie’s Hill. I march towards them nevertheless.
I dig in and begin pulling and tugging. I uproot and yank. I throw the shovel aside and engage in hand-to-hand combat. With both hands firmly grasped on a deceptively strong…I don’t even know what it is am grasping…I squat down to brace my body for this impromptu game of tug of war. The weed, or whatever it is, is winning. I dig my heels in more and refuse to give up. One more tug. I just need to hang on.
And the winner is? Not me. I sigh and decide that weed can stay put—for now.
I continue clearing out the area once full of beautiful flowers. As I work, I find the motions of weeding meditative. I begin sharing with God all the “weeds” I am allowing to overshadow the beauty in my life.
The weeds of worry about aging parents, an older disabled brother who will need looking after and a husband who is looking at career change just as I, too, am in the throes of vocational discernment, seeking to write and minister and not yet knowing how that is all going to play—or pay—out.
Fear of having our daily bread still exists even when God sends just enough manna for the day. No wonder God got frustrated with the Israelites who still wanted to hoard the divine provisions.
Please, Lord, don’t let me be the one to frustrate you, I whisper.
I plunge my mud-soaked glove into the thick of the weeds and grab with frustration at them. I feel for the bulbs that lie dormant all because they are being trampled upon. I feel for them because they—like me and like you—hold potential in making this world a beautiful place.
How many times have I felt my dreams being choked by weeds that have gotten out of control?
Weeds of bureaucracy, naysayers, those afraid of the new things God asks of us?
Create a new worshipping community at the farm?
Come back home to an area you once served?
Write and minister and raise cashmere goats and perhaps a sheep or two?
I begin a litany of naming the weeds in my life: “Can’t,” “Not allowed,” “Impossible,” “No,” “Financially not feasible,” “Crazy idea,” “Silly,” “Not our policy,” “Door closed,” “Not an option,” “No discussion.”
Sadly, I realize there are too many weeds to name. I realize, too, the names of my weeds are identical to the names of the weeds in Jesus’ time. Negative statements that keep bulbs from bringing forth potential. Weeds trying their best to choke the power of God.
And with each name I give the actual weeds in my garden, I prayerfully grab hold and spiritually rip them from the soil of my own heart. Soil in which God has mercifully and, at times, ruthlessly, tilled. Soil now primed for an incredible harvest.
Good bye “Can’t,” “Impossible,” “Not allowed,” “No discussion.”
And good riddance to you, “Door Closed” because, in case you have forgotten, Jesus, the Risen Savior, is an expert at walking through closed doors and startling all with his message, “Peace be with you.”
I take the last pile of weeds and hoist them into the wheelbarrow and turn back to the ground before me. I sit and pray.
God is good at being God.
There underneath where the weeds were I see fragile daffodils soak in the new-found warmth of sun finally hitting their limp leaves. Two sprigs of lily of the valley gasp for air. There are a few other non-weed looking green sprouts that I am not sure of, but this I know. They are filled with potential.
A new day has begun here at my fledgling farm.
I take the weeds overflowing the wheelbarrow and dump them in the gully behind the hill named after my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie. I feel I need to say a final blessing to them as if I officiating a graveside service.
Blessing the weeds?
While not quite my friends, they have taught me a lesson. They have taught me to persevere and do the hard work of living to my full potential. They have reminded me that while there will always be weeds threatening to suffocate dreams, you must never give up. Yanking, tugging and uprooting are all part of living and are necessary to get to the beauty beneath the ugliness.
With a silent blessing said over the weeds, I turn back to the garden. The sky is blue, the hills and valley are finally turning green, and the weeds are gone—for now.
It’s clean-up day at Old Stone Well Farm.
A day of sweat and hard work and wonderful worship.
May this day become your own spiritual clean-up day. A day to remove all that is choking the God potential within and keeping you from growing into the beautiful creation God has created you to be.
Today we wait…
in stillness, deep thought, somber reflection.
We wait for the promise of new life.
We wait for God to pierce our lives with an “all-things-are-possible” attitude. New beginnings in the face of failure, rejection—and even death—can, and do, happen with God.
The Easter morning tomb waits…
to surprise us,
to fill us with awe,
and, hopefully, to change us.
May today, as you find yourself running around in last-minute Easter preparations, you take time to grieve your losses, let go of dashed dreams and acknowledge your brokenness. Then give it all to God.
For tomorrow is a new day.
It really is.
A blessed Holy Saturday from Old Stone Well Farm
Holy Week is here and I find myself walking more slowly and feeling more deeply. The world around me hasn’t acknowledged the significance of these trying days we are meant to go through before getting to the glorious promise of Easter.
No one has mentioned Maundy Thursday or even Good Friday. No one is speaking of the cross that Jesus faced for us. No one is stopping to reflect and ask a question I find myself asking: “Am I really living as someone who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ?”
Am I living a life of grace and thanks?
Am I living?
The world around me is acting as if this week is business as usual. Nothing is different. Nothing is changing. Nothing is gained. Nothing is lost.
Yet from where I sit, it seems all this nothingness mingles with a lot of empty busyness.
Work, life, petty annoyances, irksome worries, decisions as to what to have for dinner mixed with trips to the store for more jelly beans for Easter Sunday and then another load of laundry thrown into the washing machine—all create an alternate universe that fools us into thinking we are getting somewhere.
It fools us into thinking we are living.
I went for a walk tonight on the rail trail behind my old little house in the valley. I left my sweet Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, behind for the warm weather here in Vermont has made the trail a hotbed for pesky ticks. Sofie’s thick black fur seems to be a magnet for them.
And so, I walked a lonely walk without my four-legged friend.
The night seemed so quiet without her. It’s funny how you get used to another presence with you on a well-worn path. Since I didn’t have a bumbling dog occupying my attention, I could notice little details on the path.
I noticed hoof prints in the dirt.
The impressions were deep and distinct. I took note of how far down the path they went and decided to follow them, being very careful not to step on them as I didn’t want to erase their presence from the path.
I walked alongside them and thought of the hoof prints the donkey left on the path as it carried Jesus into Jerusalem on the day we observe as Palm Sunday.
Jerusalem. The holy city. The place where Jesus’ triumphal entry would spiral downward quickly to death on cross in just a few short days. There would be an altercation in the temple. Some tables overthrown.
Then the Passover meal shared with friends in an upper room. Feet would be washed. A new mandate given to love one another.
Then a betrayal by a friend followed by an anguished, seemingly unanswered prayer for trouble to be averted, capped off with an arrest. A trial, a guilty as charged edict (guilty of what, being the King of Jews?) and then crucifixion. Tears and wailing by the faithful few, emphasis on few, who stayed with Jesus at Golgotha.
And then that horrible day after someone dies. You might know what I am talking about. That first day without your beloved when you don’t even feel your tears because you are just so numb with shock and grief. You can’t breathe. You can’t think. You can’t imagine life without…
Then something surprising happens.
Amidst unfathomable loss, hope breaks through with the first rays of dawn, revealing an empty tomb and, with it, the promise that death never has the last word. Never. Jesus stands there extending a nail scarred hand to the brokenhearted and offers life anew, life again.
I stooped down and gently traced the hoof print in the dirt. As I did, the birds ceased their singing. The peepers hushed their peeping. I traced it over and over and thought about this week. A week I walk more slowly and feel more deeply.
We don’t get to the glory of Easter until we trod the lonely path with our Savior.
We don’t get to grace unless we dare to follow the hoof prints leading us into Jerusalem.
We don’t truly live as one who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ until we decide to replace all the nothingness filled with plenty of busyness with the commitment to stand at the foot of the cross.
We need to weep—really weep—for the darkness in ourselves that sought to extinguish a light so brilliant, we feared it.
We need to remember that we don’t get very far walking on paths we decide to walk on.
We must follow Jesus’ path. All the way.
Hoof prints…they were left in the dirt so many years ago by a humble animal who carried salvation on its back. Many probably didn’t even notice where the hoof prints led. And those who did? Did they follow?
I spent the other morning having a wonderful conversation with a game warden at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Association about turkey calling.
You’ve read correctly. Turkey calling.
With turkey season right around the corner, I was interested in writing a story for the local paper about the many ways in which to, well, in which to get a turkey’s attention. Not that I am about to take up hunting or anything like that. I still prefer my turkey to come frozen with the label “Butterball” on it.
I was just curious about what seemed to be a Vermont youngster’s rite of passage—their first turkey hunt.
So I met up with the game warden who had been spending his free time at a local 4H Club teaching kids the many different turkey calls to use when out in the woods and fields.
Turns out a turkey’s repertoire includes more than just its famous gobbling. There is the yelp, the purr and the putt.
The call, though, that got my attention was a “kee kee run”—which the game warden explained is basically a three-note call lasting about two seconds followed by a yelp at the end. He did a wonderful job mimicking the call for me. I, on the other hand, needed some more practice as the warden muttered about a raccoon in heat or something like that. Again, I will be getting my turkeys in the frozen food aisle at the local grocery store.
What drew me to this specific call was when the game warden told me it was the sound a young turkey would make when lost from the rest of the flock. Just the image of a young bird frantically trying to reconnect with its parent, broke my heart in a Disney movie sort of way. Why is that all Disney movies have those tear jerker moments?
Well, I had the information I needed for my story and after writing it right on deadline and filing it with the editor, I didn’t think anymore of turkey calling.
While spring is still proving a bit blustery, I set out for hike anyway. I pulled on my trusty, dependable mucks as many paths are beginning to show signs of mud season. While the wind whipped harshly at times, the walk felt good and it was reassuring to see even the slightest of buds on the trees. Soon, very soon, nature will be fully awake from its winter slumber.
I continued walking and as I did I began thinking. Thoughts of Holy Week starting this week crossed my mind and I felt a twinge of sadness that I was not yet serving a church in the area. I didn’t realize how much I was missing pastoral duties, especially the ones during the high holy days. Just then my sadness became a frantic cry to God as my heart began asking a question that echoed many a heart in search of being settled, secure, certain of the future, once again.
Where are you God? I feel lost God. I feel like I am wandering and wandering and wandering. When, God, when will you give me a clearer path? My heart was about to cry out “where are you?” again, but it was interrupted by an even louder cry.
It was indeed a kee kee run.
Over the ridge I could see in the clearing below a young turkey running around shouting out its three notes punctuated by a yelp. The poor little thing was frantic. It was lost. It, too, was crying out to its absent parent, “Where are you?”
Kee kee run. Kee kee run. Kee kee run.
What the little turkey didn’t know was that a gathering of larger turkeys was just on the other side of a stone wall that was blocking its view.
I silently rooted for the young turkey to cry out even louder than it was. Cry out. You can do it. They will hear. Your loving parent is close by. Don’t give up. Not now. Cry out.
Kee kee run. Kee kee run.
Louder and louder the frantic little turkey cried out as if it heard me rooting it on.
Soon the older turkeys heard and made their way over to the little one crying, surrounding the one who was once lost. The little turkey calmed down. It was safe and secure again.
I turned back on my path and wondered about my kee kee run to God—that cry of a lost child frantically wanting to connect with its divine loving Parent.
I also cry and cry. I give God my best three short notes followed by a tearful yelp.
Where are you? Do you hear?
But until now, I never stopped to realize, that further down the path, just around a corner, over a looming tough hill, just out of sight behind a stone wall, God is there. God is indeed hearing my cries. God is making His way towards me. Soon, very soon, God will make His presence known, calming my frantic worry and bring beautiful peace to an uncertain path.
Kee kee run. Kee kee run.
The lost will be found. Always.
Kee kee run. Kee kee run.
God hears the cries of the faithful.
Friends, today’s video worship will be delayed. I am guest preaching at St. Peter’s Presbyterian in Spencertown, NY this morning. Yes, that is why I am up at the crack of dawn!
But I must say, the holy hush of the early morning is quite beautiful. In spite of the snow we had here in Vermont, there is that smell of spring warmth in the air and the birds are not letting winter’s refusal to leave get them down. They are singing as they wait for the sun to start peeking over the mountains.
What a lesson for us all: to realize that when the death of winter seems to be gripping us, we can still sing. We can still feel God’s warmth and we can still wait with excitement for that sun to break forth and light up our dark valleys with hope. We can no matter what, no matter where, rejoice. For this is the day the Lord has made.
I will hold you in my prayers and stay tuned for more reflections and videos from the accidental country pastor.