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.

 

 

A Guest ‘Preacher’

So a friend of mine from my former jewelry trade publishing days was inspired by a Facebook posting showing the update on my garden. It is funny and thoughtful and makes a wonderful point about what we “plant” in life. I share it with you all today.

Blessings,

Pastor Donna 

What To Plant?
JACQUES VOORHEES

SUNDAY, MAY 14, 2017
| A country pastor challenges Jacques to write a sermon. Predictably, it doesn’t go well… |
My inability to garden is exceeded only by my inability to fish. I’m lucky to have been born in an age when hunting-and-gathering has been replaced by the checkout line at Safeway. How bad am I at fishing? As a teenager I spent five weeks, spread over three trips, canoe-camping in the Quetico-Park wilderness of Canada, considered one of the prime fishing spots on the planet. Every day I fished, and yielded a total haul of zero. The one that got away? Hell, they all got away. I never caught a single fish and you have to admit, that takes skill.
I did slightly better at gardening. Slightly. The first house we owned had a little garden in the yard, about twenty feet square, with a dilapidated chicken-wire fence. Being excited to own a new home, and wanting to experience it fully, we went to the garden store and bought seeds for vegetables. You know, lettuce, tomato, stuff like that. We planted them. Watered them. Nurtured them. This was before our first child, so the nurturing instincts all went into the garden. Pretty soon, here they came: little green things poking their heads above the ground. OMG! I felt like a deity, summoning life to a previously barren planet. The plants grew each day, and every morning I’d rush out to the garden, before breakfast, to check on “my children.”
I remember that one awful morning like it was yesterday. I arrived at the garden and found terrorists had attacked in the night. It looked like an IED bomb had gone off. There were only tiny pieces left of all my wonderful vegetables. A shred of tomato plant here, a morsel of lettuce there. Guys don’t cry, but in my soul I was sobbing. Intellectually, I knew what had happened. Deer. This was actually before terrorism was a thing, but I’m quite certain those animals were an affiliate of ISIS, just a bit ahead of their time. The “dilapidated chicken-wire fence” had proven no match for Al Qaeda In Connecticut, mammal division.
We tore down the fence, re-tilled the soil, and planted grass. A year later you would not have known it had once been a garden. I considered the whole thing a message from the Lord: “JV, forget about being a deity. Leave fish to Jesus. And, trust me, I’ll find someone else to grow crops. You were put on this planet to bring online trading to the diamond industry. This I have prepared you for. This is your path.”
What can I say? I followed God’s plan, and turned my back on the soil. Despite growing up in Iowa, farming was never in my blood; fishing even less so.
Yet it all came back to me yesterday when Facebook friend, Donna Frischknecht, editor-in-chief of National Jeweler magazine turned Vermont country-pastor, posted a picture of a square of New England dirt—just the size of my old garden—along with the caption: “Time to start thinking about what to plant.”
I wanted to scream: plant nothing! Tilling the soil, sowing crops, hoping your dreams are realized, will bring nothing but heartache. It’s not worth the risk. Down that path lies shattered hopes, and destruction of one’s soul. Been there, done that. Got the ripped and shredded t-shirt. And obviously I’ve yet to recover emotionally.
Wait a minute. A country-pastor posting a photo of barren soil, and wondering what to plant? “Sounds like a metaphor for a sermon!” I suggested to her.
“You write the sermon,” she wrote back. “And send it to me.”
OK, so God had clearly found the right path for Donna: here she was, challenging me to look into my soul—into that square of barren dirt that lives inside each of us—and find my own message. What to plant? What to write?
Well, there’s the obvious and corny “you reap what you sow” message. But that’s been done. Could I improve on it? Could I fertilize the concept a bit? Maybe, grow a hardier and improved strain?
Probably not, and it sounded like a lot of work. Perhaps, instead, I could frame her piece of black earth as a Rorschach test. What do you see in it? What do you want to plant? What do you hope to reap? Is the deity summoning you to follow a path, and asking you to perceive it for yourself because in your soul you must already know what it is?
OK, that sounded a bit heavy.
Perhaps the whole thing’s far simpler. Maybe that patch of fertile soil is what we wake up to every morning. It’s our daily to-do list, before we’ve written our to-do list. It’s a statement of the limitless possibilities inherent in each new day.
But I think that’s been covered before as well.
While struggling with the black dirt, and the important message I knew it must contain, I realized it was Mother’s Day. Facebook is all aglow with thoughts of mothers, many for those who have passed, and the desire to once again be with them, and be able to say that most important thought, or ask that most important question. Does the black soil perhaps represent all the crops that should have been planted, and never were? The opportunities in life not taken, the risks not run, the moments not seized?
OK, but that’s way too melancholy for a beautiful spring day. No, the black earth can’t be about something so depressing as…regrets.
What was the real message of Spring, anyway? A new beginning, a re-birth. Perhaps a garden is not about the harvest, it’s about the process. Maybe the secret to life lies in that direction.
The black earth is calling to us, insisting we take that first step, wherever it may lead. Plant something, nurture it, and when the terrorist deer arrive, accept life’s rebukes. Unlike kids on college campuses these days, we’re not delicate snowflakes. We’re hardy. We can plant anew. Because it’s not eating the vegetables that matters. It’s growing them.
I realized there was a good chance I was over-thinking all this. Maybe Donna’s garden was just Donna’s garden, and the secret of the universe wasn’t hiding in there after all. In fact, you could look at the rectangle as simply art. Dark rectangle against a green background? If Rothko had signed his name the whole thing would be hanging on a wall at the Guggenheim by now.
Best I hadn’t become a pastor. A real pastor would have looked at that would-be garden, and a deeply spiritual, yet obvious, message would have leaped into the mind, fully formed, ready to excite and renew the flock next Sunday. I couldn’t dig a great insight out of that dirt with a diesel-powered backhoe. Probably best for me to wander back to the Facebook political wars and…
Facebook! That was it. The empty garden, the fallow earth, springtime, the question about “what to plant?” This wasn’t about life, or spirituality, or a road walked in the wilderness. Nope. It was all about Facebook messaging. My God, a fool could have seen it a mile away. Someone who couldn’t catch a fish after five weeks in Canada, on the other hand, might take a bit longer.
No matter. I felt myself warming to the topic. What to plant? Indeed. Look what’s being planted on Facebook these days. We already know about that reap/sow deal. Yet we go on Facebook every day and sow…seeds of strife! Argument. Anger. Hatred, at least towards politicians. And those who support them.
So what are we reaping from our Zuckerberg garden? Polarization, of course! A daily crop of new enemies and adversaries. We’re behaving like those Al Qaeda deer, invading each other’s Facebook gardens and tearing apart carefully nurtured opinions in a quest to service our own needs.
What should we be planting? Perhaps grains of tolerance? Seeds of reconciliation? Kernels of patience? Tilled properly, might we not hope the black earth could germinate a harvest of kindness and understanding? Should the plowed field of social networking be used not to sprout prejudice and resentment, but instead to germinate seedlings of outreach, generosity, and humility? Should we not ask ourselves, before pressing that potent “send” key, is this message—once sown—likely to reap for us a crop of harmony, or a harvest of discontent?
Looking at the black earth of a Facebook status-update form, which invites us temptingly to record our deepest thoughts, color-code them with a pastel backdrop, layer on pictures, links, and emoticons, and share it all with people we’ve never met, should we not ask ourselves that most important question: “What to plant?”
Damn, I should have been a pastor…

 

 

Posted by Jacques Voorhees on Sunday, May 14, 2017

We will be back

Worship at Stone Well Farm will be back next week, May 21. I am on the road today, guest preaching in Spencertown, New York.

Till then, take the time to slow down, breathe deeply and open your eyes to all the beautiful God moments that are present in your life all the time.

Many blessings,

Pastor Donna th

Ten Years Later

This Sunday’s “Worship at Old Stone Well Farm” will be delayed as I will be getting up really early to make the drive from Vermont to New Jersey to worship with those who ten years ago nurtured me into this crazy life known as “ministry.”

Yes, I am going “home” to the church where as a seminary student I spent many times wondering where it would be God would send me to proclaim the good news. Little did I know then how many twists and turns would be waiting for me. How many highs and lows. But most of all, how my prayers would have been answered in the most amazing ways when God led me to a little rural church in upstate New York where just over the border my dream farm would be waiting for me.

Going home can be emotional.

For going home—be it physically going to a place you once knew or perhaps just visiting in one’s mind—is a time to remember who you were, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a time to remember how far you’ve come. It’s a time to pause and reflect on all that God has done in your life. It’s a time to take a deep breath, assess and realize something we often forget in our constant running forward, to get somewhere, anywhere. That is, life is good.  Always. Because God is good. Always.

Yes, I’m going home to a church who nurtured me, who knew me when…

There will be dear friends to hug again and tears to shed over those who are no longer there. We will sing the songs of faith, join our voices in prayer and break the bread and share the cup. We will be in God’s house—together again.

And in the sacred moments of our time together, I will find the time to pause, look out into the congregation and whisper to God words I know I need to whisper more of.

Thank you, God…for who I was…for who you are leading me to be…for this crazy life of ministry…for a church family who knew me when…for the chance to go back home, if even just for a day.

May today you take time and reflect on all God has done and is doing for you.

Blessings, Pastor Donna 

 

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Ten years ago I was ordained here at South Presbyterian Church, Bergenfield, NJ. Words can’t express how grateful I am to be preaching there again. 

Clean-Up Day at the Farm

 

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?

Really?

Come back home to an area you once served?

Really?

Write and minister and raise cashmere goats and perhaps a sheep or two?

Really?

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.

 

 

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Clean-up day at Old Stone Well Farm reveals new life waiting to burst forth now that the weeds are gone. 

 

We Wait

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

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