A Light Shines in the Darkness

My husband and I had just finished a seasonal tradition we have tried to honor in our marriage of enjoying a quiet Sunday dinner with only the candles around the Advent wreath lit. The dinner was one I looked forward to, especially after a busy morning in the church with the excitement and energy growing as Christmas drew nearer.

On the night’s menu was locally raised lamb from a friend’s farm, roasted to perfection, and green beans from my summer garden that I had successfully blanched and frozen. They tasted as fresh as the day I picked them. I was quite pleased with myself.

After the last dish was rinsed and put into the dishwasher, we settled in the living room in front of the Christmas tree, still without ornaments thanks to my lack of energy and motivation to “do” Christmas this year.

“I am going to keep it simple,” I said to my husband early in the season as I strewn the fireplace mantles with fresh pine garland — and nothing else.

I had only been sitting for less than a minute when my peaceful bliss of a silent night was interrupted. Off went the candles around the Advent wreath, then our only source of light in our 18th century home. On went the electric lights. Off went the beautiful stillness of a December night. On went the television.

I sat for a moment feeling sad as the glow from the TV took away from the beauty of the one lone candle I did not want to put out just yet. Its flame was just so beautiful. So seemingly fragile against the harshness of light bulbs. So small and yet so capable of casting a mighty warmth in its path of light. There is such beauty in a little flicker of candlelight I mused.

Suddenly, the unexpected happened. Click, hum, buzz, whirl…lights went off, TV went dead, the dishwasher stopped. Then silence. Nothing but nothing to hear.

A whispered profanity came out of my husband’s mouth. I, however, rejoiced. For the one candle that I had refused to blow out, the one whose light was being overshadowed just a second ago by the television and lamps, the one that seemed like nothing much, had now taken center stage.

It’s funny how often our reaction to losing the artificial light in our lives is one of frustration. We fumble for flashlights and pray to God that our cell phones have enough power in them. And when we realize our gadgets don’t have enough power in them, fear seizes us.

Frustration and fear. Two words that can best describe how many are living today. And yet there were a people thousands of years ago living in frustration and fear as well. They, however, didn’t have alternative means of light to reach for. No artificial comfort or fleeting reassurances to flick on when the dark night of the soul came upon them. Rather they had to reach deep down into their very core to trust all the great unknowns in life were indeed known by a compassionate God. They had to keep walking in darkness, trusting the did not walk alone. They had to grope in the darkness with whatever faith was left, believing a light would shine upon them. And it did. The Christ light broke through and, as the prophet Isaiah tells us, “those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

My lone candle burned brightly the other night. Its flame dancing for joy with a Christmas promise we in this “lights on, background noise blaring, rushing around” world need to embrace. When the darkness suddenly comes upon us, the true light in our lives shines on, never to be extinguished.

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The lone beeswax candle in the Accidental Country Pastor’s home flickers with a beautiful Christmas message…no matter how dark the dark gets, the light shines brightly.

 

 

 

 

Sunday at Old Stone Well Farm

Welcome to the fourth week of Advent. So glad you are joining the Accidental Country Pastor at the Old Stone Well Farm a she shares with you a special Christmas tradition inspired by Mary’s “yes” to God.

And a special thank you as our online “church” continues to grow. So many of you are thankful for this time when it is hard to get to a traditional church building on a Sunday morning. Share this time together with friends.

Many blessings to you!

Scripture to Reflect On:

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

 

 

 

Sunday at Old Stone Well Farm

Welcome to the third week of Advent. So glad you are joining the Accidental Country Pastor at the Old Stone Well Farm a she reflects on what the pink candle around the Advent wreath, the candle of joy, means. Our online worshipping community continues to grow. Share this time together with friends. Blessings!

Scripture to Reflect On:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:10

Advent Listening

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways and unexpected ways. 

The crunching of the snow beneath my feet became a melody of sorts. Or was it more like some contemplative chanting one would hear coming from an ancient abbey? I couldn’t quite decide which it was. But this I know. The sound coming from my clunky barn boots moving in sync with that of the four swift paws of my furry companion, Sofie, was beautiful, sending out to the trees around me and the fields beyond, and all the critters just waking up to greet the day, an announcement.

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Pastor Donna’s barn boots and Sofie’s furry paws crunching in the snow together. 

Someone had come to join them.

Crunch, crunch, crunch. Softer than louder than softer again till finally nothing. Sofie stopped. I stopped too. The sun was just peeking one ray over the hill sending a stream of light on our path. I smiled.

How many times have I asked God for light on my path? Here it was all the time, right there in front of me. I just had to get up and get out of the house to see it. I just had to get up and get out of my funk, my lamenting, my grief, my disappointments, to see God. Right there. Light beyond light. True light. The light of the world the world can never extinguish.

The sun grew brighter and the silence grew louder. Sofie tugged at her leash. She always calls the shots letting me know when our walks were over. We turned back to the contemplative chanting of our feet joining together in the snow. Yes, I have decided it was more like the sound coming from some ancient abbey.

We were announcing to the critters around, someone had come to join them.

Crunch, crunch…softer, louder, softer again…

Advent is a time of waiting to hear the beautiful announcement in our lives that someone has come to join us as we walk our paths of life. But that waiting involves action. It doesn’t mean sitting around in your house, your funk, your lamenting, your grief, your disappointments, wondering when all will get better again.

Advent is a time of active waiting, inviting all to get up and get out and walk onward, often in blind faith (that hardest kind of walk), to a brighter tomorrow. Advent is a time of waiting. A time to be alert. A time to walk your path and listen carefully.

Listen to the melody heaven is playing for you. Listen for the contemplative chanting of snow crunching beneath your feet. Listen for the angel’s song of peace on earth. Listen for a child’s voice that speaks better words of love and wisdom than we adults. For a child shall lead us. Listen for the announcement in your life.

Someone has arrived.

Listen.

Softer, louder, softer…silence.

Emmanuel. God with us. Always.

Sunday Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

Welcome to the second week of Advent. So glad you are joining the Accidental Country Pastor as she shares a message of hope and love. Today’s she reflects on the opportunity of the lifetime we have when we take time to prepare the way of the Lord. Thanks for sharing this time of worship. Share with a friend as our online worshipping community continues to grow. Blessings!

 

Led by the Light

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways and unexpected ways. 

Advent Day 2:

The other night I asked my husband what his favorite Christmas song was. I did put a disclaimer stating it couldn’t have the words “snowman” or “reindeer” in it. He thought for a bit and smiled and said he wasn’t going to tell me because I wouldn’t put it in the category of Christmas, but rather in the season of Epiphany. I insisted he tell me.

Okay. I did bite my tongue and refrained from saying “We Three Kings” didn’t count as a Christmas song. He knew, though, what I was thinking and we both started laughing. He then asked me what my favorite song was. I really couldn’t tell him because I tend to like them all and what usually happens is each year one specific song will tug at my heart more than others, depending on where my heart is at that particular moment.

The song tugging at my heart this year? “O Holy Night.”

I had it playing in my car the other day as I made my way to the store. Now mind you, running to the store here in God’s country is not a quick trip. It’s over the river and through the woods and involves many curves and bends through valleys and hills. I was on my way to the store early in the morning as I had a full day of writing and ministry. I had just moved back home to the area and I was thinking about all the amazing God moments that had already happened in such a short time. How I ran into a pastor colleague of mine in the coffee shop and the warm hug he gave me was just what I needed. How another pastor friend I used to see at the gym years ago, spotted me in the store and told me of several ministries happening that I might get involved with. As we parted he said, “It’s good to have you back. This is definitely God’s mission field and God needs you here.”

And then there was this elderly couple who kept staring at me while in the post office finally came up to me to ask, “Weren’t you the pastor who visited our bee farm years ago?” I was. And I hugged the white-haired, grandmotherly woman with the most amazing blue eyes, tightly, as my way of thanking her for remembering me. As we hugged she said, “It’s good to have you home.”

A short visit to a bee farm so many years ago with people I only saw that one time…who would have thought they would remember?

“O Holy Night” was playing in my car as thought about all these connections being made. I drove. I thought. I listened. I watched. I watched the early morning sun rise up over the mountains, casting a heavenly glow on the frosted ground before. It was then the line that tugged at my heart came.

Led by the light of faith supremely beaming.

Led by the light. I was indeed led by the light so many years ago to come to rural America and make this place my home. It was a light that no one else could see, but I could. And I trusted enough to follow. And once again God’s light led me back home. The light of faith supremely beaming.

The sun rising over the mountains got brighter and as it did my joy grew greater. Yes, I know there will be challenges. There will be uncertainties. There will be struggles, grief, sickness in life. It will not always be rays of light shining of my path. But this I know. When you are led by the light, a light that no one else can see, you know all will be well. For you will find yourself exactly in the place you are supposed to be.

What hymn of faith is tugging at your heart this year?

 

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Led by the light…a country pastor finds her way back home, thanks to the light of faith beaming supremely. May this Advent season you trust God and be led by His light. 

Those in Exile

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways and unexpected ways. 

Advent Day 1:

O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.

Advent is a season that begins in a puzzling way for our culture. It begins not with the festive “ho, ho, ho’s” and bright twinkling lights. Advent begins with the dark still hovering over the land, with people yearning to see light.

It’s a season that begins with the invitation for us to listen to the voices of those in exile. To really listen to the mournful voices who cry out to God to be delivered from suffering. The voices who beg to be heard. The voices who simply want to be “home.”

We’re in a season where that ache to be home is very real for so many. The ache could be the desire to be physically home. My sister knows that ache. She and her husband moved to Florida a few weeks ago and are having to live in an extended-stay motel as the completion date of their house has been delayed. Her hope to have been in their new home for Christmas will probably not happen this year.

The joy of beginning a new chapter is not quite what she had envisioned. She had envisioned a glistening Christmas tree standing in her very own living room. But here she is. Right now. Not home. Yet.

Then there is the ache that I think is the more common this time of year. One we know all too well, especially as we get older. The ache to return to the home of one’s childhood. There you can once again smell the warm sugar cookies mom is taking out of the oven. You can see dad teetering on the ladder positioning the faded plastic reindeer just right. You can see the faces of all you love gathered at the dinner table. Their faces are glowing in the light of the candles on the Advent wreath.

We’re in the season of Advent and it’s a time to take note of those who long to be home. It’s time to hear their voices and offer them a listening ear, an understanding heart, the patience of a saint to perhaps listen to a story of Christmas past you have heard many times before. It’s time to offer a tissue to catch the tear from the eye of a friend who longs for a loved one who has gone home.

Advent is about the promise that is coming. The promise that no matter what exile you find yourself in there will be rejoicing again. The light of Christ will break through the darkness.

I know a little a bit about being in exile.

This time last year I was longing to be home again in Vermont. I knew God had a plan for me. I knew God had ministry for me to do back home. I knew it. But God knew I also had some things to learn while away from home. I needed once again to trust in the darkness. I needed to wait for the rejoicing to come. I needed to continue loving God, worshipping God, seeking God, even when it seemed God had checked me off the “nice” list and was making sure I wouldn’t get my Christmas wish list fulfilled.

I was tempted to give up, give in. There were days in which I had to face the reality that perhaps I couldn’t go back home. Then, as it was to the children of Israel so long ago, their time of waiting ended. It was time to go home. God heard in the most unexpected ways and God led me back.

And here I now sit back at my farm table writing, in my role as “an accidental country pastor,” traveling country roads dotted with cows and back to the way of life that those in the little white church I once pastored invited me to be part of—a life filled with an unwavering hope in the future, no matter how dark the days get, because they have seen how God has never let the down.

As we begin our Advent journey, may you remember that God never lets you down either. God always hears the cries of those in exile and leads us back to the place in which we will once again find ourselves rejoicing.

Scripture to Reflect On

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called:  The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

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A candle of hope burns on the sill of my kitchen window. 

An Advent Message: Isaiah 2

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Here’s the Advent wreath I made, featuring greens collected on my early morning walk along the rail trail behind Sofie’s Hill. The first candle of “hope” shines brightly. 

 

 

Day 19—Holy Silences

A Little White Church Advent

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 19

What did I love most about being an accidental country pastor?

Many things, but if I had to mention one it would be the holy silences I often found myself immersed in during the season of Advent and Christmas.

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Holy?

In the season of Christmas?

I know, I know. You’re probably wondering what in heaven’s name am I talking about, especially now in this the final mad dash to the BIG DAY, when there are very few moments of silence to be had.

Christmas music plays nonstop in the background of malls and grocery stores, reminding you to hurry and shop for time is a wasting. Then there are the churches with their cantatas and choral societies with their concerts tugging at your time. Let’s not forget schools as well have their schedules of winter concerts to attend. On top of all the noise of musical offerings filling up the Christmas airwaves, there is the chatter of all the Christmas parties, both work and family, edging out any opportunity for a moment of holy silence.

And yet my time at the little white church there was always the beauty of the holy silences of Christmas all around me that I treasured.

There was the holy silence in the early morning walk to the chicken coop to say good morning to Drumstick, BBQ, Red, Chick, Sam and Fido. Don’t ask. The kids at the church named my chickens for me.

There was something so healing to my soul to greet my feathered friends and give them fresh water and then peek inside the coop to see what gifts they had waiting for me.

In that quiet moment, all anxious thoughts as to what to preach Christmas Eve melted away into a peaceful assurance that the words would indeed come.

While the coop was a ways from the house and not equipped with any electric, thus, my daily routine of chipping out the ice in their water dish and replenishing it with fresh water, I never minded the walk even in many feet of snow to trudge through.

When I was done tending to them, I would turn back towards the house only to notice how beautifully the sun was coming up over the field. Many times I would find myself standing there in the snow besides the coop not believing God had actually given me this life.

There I stood in holy silence, interrupted only by an occasional cluck, cluck from Drumstick—or Fido—they both sounded the same. There I stood allowing the holy silence to fill my heart with a song of never-ending praise that began my day in the most perfect way.

There was also the holy silence of the season of just sitting on the back porch in the late afternoon before dinner was ready and then heading out to my nighttime commitments at the church.

I would sit on the porch swing and look up at the tree line on the hills of the property. As the sun was setting its beams would peek through the bare trees in such a way that it always formed the image of a cross.

I tried as often as I could to make sure I was sitting on the porch swing at just the right time so I could be blessed by the sun’s gift of an illumined cross appearing, reminding me once again, the best gifts are not from a store. The best gifts are the ones God gives to us that are all around us.

I would swing gently back and forth. No Christmas music, no chatter, not even the sound of car going by…just a sweet stillness and a cross to mediate on.

And then there was my most favorite holy silence. The one that came on Christmas Eve when I would enter into the sanctuary of the little white church yet to be filled with holiday worshippers. With only the light of the setting sun coming through the multi-paned clear windows, I would stop and stare at the beauty of a heavenly warmth washing over the sanctuary’s colonial décor of cheerful yellow walls and wooden pews painted white.

The strong smell of evergreen wafted in the room as there was always a big tree given to the church by a local farm. The holy silence of an empty sanctuary before the doors would open for Christmas Eve worship was for me my time of worship. My time to be still before God and to receive the gift of His blessed presence.

Holy silences are important in our lives. They are especially important at Christmastime for it is in the quiet moments when we finally stop “doing” Christmas that we actual begin to experience Christ with us. And that’s what Christmas is really all about.

And yet we feel there is still have so much to do to make Christmas what we think it should be. Here’s a gentle reality check if your Christmas list still has many items yet to be crossed off.

Jesus came that Christmas so long ago into a world that was not quite ready for him. Mary and Joseph were making a road trip to Bethlehem, thinking they probably would have time to get that darn census taking care of before Mary gave birth. But the baby came before Mary and Joseph were ready. There was no room at the inn. There weren’t any baby clothes or blankets or crib waiting. It’s safe to say there were items left undone on Mary’s list at that first Christmas.

And besides a heavenly host of angels and some shepherds swinging by to see baby Jesus, the world didn’t really do anything extraordinary for our Savior’s birth. Jesus came into a world that was simply going about its business.

We need to remember the lesson in that. So often we look for God in the extraordinary moments of life when in fact God is right there in all the mundane routines—and unfinished tasks—of life. And sometimes the best realization of Emmanuel, God with us, happens when we simply stop running around and allow the holy silences to speak to us.

As the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” sings “how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given” we are reminded the wondrous gift is still given in the silences we need to either seek or carve out in a busy, loud world.

So if you are looking to create a magical Christmas, start with the holy silences.

I am enjoying one right now as I sit here and type and listen to nothing but a soft snore coming from my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, who is sleeping in the glow of nothing but the Christmas tree lights on in my living room.

I know this holy silence will not last. I have things on my Christmas list still to check off, but I am not going to stress over it. For now I have been given the gift of God’s presence and in this, my holy silence, I whisper my thank you to God.

The countdown to Christmas has begun and with it comes a flurry of last minute items to attend to, but try to make it a priority to create or find some holy silences.

For while the wondrous gift is given in silence, it is also in the holy silences the wondrous gift is truly received.

 

 

Day 9—Making Room for Christ

A Little White Church Advent

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 9

On one blustery afternoon as the sun began setting in the sky casting a dusky pink across the fields where the corn stalks had been cut down, I came home to grab a quick bite to eat before heading back to the little white church for our evening Advent Bible study.

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Pastor Donna discovers the beauty of a tree with no decorations and, in the process, realizes what it means to make room for Christ during Christmas.

I decided to have a supper of crackers and peanut butter so that I could use my limited time at home to set up the Christmas tree that had been waiting for far too long outside, propped patiently against the old stone well of the antique Vermont house my husband and I were now making our home in as newlyweds.

On went my Mucks and out into the snow I trekked to bring in the tree. Once in, off came the Mucks and on went my sneakers as I gingerly made my way down the steep ladder that served as the “stairs” leading into the old root cellar. Down in the cellar, in the dark corners only illuminated by my flashlight, I searched for the tree stand, praying I would not find a critter—fuzzy or slithering—instead.

Once I had everything I needed, I went to work, carefully balancing the tree with one hand as I tightened the screws that would hold the trunk of the tree securely in its place in the tree stand. This would have been a lot easier if I had waited for my husband, but patience admittedly is not one of my virtues. And time was ticking by. I had a lot of other things to get done. In the darkening living room I worked quickly to put the white lights on the tree. Quickly is an understatement as really I threw the lights on with many tangles and knots still tangled and knotted. Then I plugged them in hoping the lights worked as I had forgotten to test them before stringing them on the tree. Never a good idea, but luckily, all the lights shone.

I stepped back and I looked at the tree. It was absolutely beautiful. The lights cast a warm glow against the rustic barn wood of the living room walls and the simplicity of evergreen and white lights, without any ornaments, was dazzling.

Next to the tree was an old wood storage box a woman from the congregation gave me that summer, along with a dry sink she had in her family that she thought would be perfect for our little Vermont home. She was right. It was perfect. The dry sink was now home in our kitchen while the wood storage box now served as a coffee table in our living room. On top of it I placed the wooden stable my father made for me years ago when I was still living in Manhattan.

The stable was a smaller replica of the one he made that I remembered from my childhood. Both the original and my replica were made from the wood of orange crates, which were then stained a deep rich brown. The stable was still empty, as the nativity figures were not placed in it yet. Next to the stable was an angel standing with arms stretched out. I couldn’t decide if the angel’s arms were stretched out to receive the Christ Child or to proclaim the great news of the Christ Child. Perhaps it was both, I mused.

The lights of the tree shone through the clapboards of the stable, casting much needed light into its darkened corners that awaited the gift of hope—the babe, God’s son. All of a sudden, as I stared into that empty manger aglow with light, the busyness of my day was calmed and my racing thoughts of what I had to do next faded away.

There I stood with the smell of evergreen, the white lights shining and a stable waiting to be filled with the joy of little baby. No tinsel. No ornaments. Not even a star on top of the tree. I stood in the midst of the simplicity of the season experiencing something I very rarely experience this busy time of year. I was experiencing peace.

It was then I realized the peace of Christmas is something we must not wait to come to us. It is something we have to actively seek out and create. It is something we have to choose to bring into our lives by slowing down, saying “no” to too many commitments, and even allowing ourselves the permission, if we want, to simply leave white lights on a tree without the decorations.

For when we embrace the beauty found in the simplicity of undecorated tree, when we pare down all the busyness that we think heralds in the holidays, we discover what “doing” Christmas is really all about: It’s about keeping things simple in our complicated lives so that finally there is room for Christ in our hearts.

Just then my thoughts were interrupted as I heard the dog barking at the back door, greeting my husband home from work. My husband peeked his head in from the kitchen and smiled.

“The tree looks wonderful,” he said, not even noticing there were no decorations on it.

“It does look wonderful. I don’t think we need to do anything else to it, do you?” I said.

“Nope,” he said, not even giving the tree a second look.

I looked at my watch. It was time for me to go. On went my snow boots and off I went to our Advent Bible study at the little white church. I couldn’t wait to get there because I just couldn’t wait to share with those gathered there that night the powerful gift I had received—the gift of peace that came wrapped in simplicity.

In our little Vermont home, Christmas was indeed happening. Room was being made in our lives for Christ.