Christmas Eve at Old Stone Well Farm

The Accidental Country Pastor shares a Christmas Eve tradition out on the rail trail of her home in Vermont. May you listen attentively to the angels’ song in your life and may on this holy night you hear God’s whisper to you, “Christ is born. Emmanuel. God with you.”

Many blessings and a Merry Christmas!

Pastor Donna 

(P.S. On the video I mention Frederick Buechner, who lives up the road from me in Vermont. Well, I guess I have Christmas “brain” for I shared a phrase with you that wasn’t quite right. Buechner once wrote about seeing with the eyes of the heart, not listening with the ears of the heart. I wanted to set the record straight. But whether you see or listen, the message is the same…be attentive and always ready to greet the newborn King into your lives…and I kind of like the ears with the heart, too. )

 

And here’s the wreath on the cows’ gate.

img_3601

Angels Bending Near

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. 

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth…

The drive to his house was tricky. He lived out on the back roads that snaked up and around hills that quickly grew into mountains the longer you drove. The afternoon sun was setting fast making the iced over dirt roads feel like a child’s slip and slide. I was second-guessing my decision to do this interview for the newspaper in person. I could have just called the “artist in the back woods” who wanted to share with others his newest sculpture. Nothing I could do now. I had committed to going in person and in person I would go.

As I drove I thought about the questions I would ask for my story. They were your typical “who, what, when, where and why” questions one learns early on in journalism. But being I was an editor-turn-minister-turn editor and minister-again—life is certainly an adventure with God—I had another question lingering in my heart.

How does this glorify God? I wasn’t talking about the art created by the “artist in the back woods.” I was questioning myself. How was my part-time reporting job glorifying God? I was a pastor, yes, a pastor without a church right now and wondered was I wasting my time writing for the paper? I had taken my ordination vows nine years ago. I vowed to proclaim the good news, to comfort God’s children, to be God’s instrument of peace.

But I didn’t have a church yet. Several calls had come in, but something made me say “no.” What was that about? What did God have up God’s sleeve for this accidental country pastor? Was I called back home just to drive on snow-covered dirt roads to interview artists?

I pulled up to the house and the artist greeted me. Much to my surprise he was no artist at all. He was a retired corrections officer who began welding metal two years ago. I felt my heart sink as the story I had imagined began fading away. Before I could gather my thoughts as to how to salvage my trip out here, the bomb dropped totally obliterating any shred of story I thought I had. The piece of art he had made could not be revealed yet as planned. The business that had commissioned it wanted its revealing to be a surprise at a gala not to take place till the spring. I was disappointed but tried not to show it.

As I went to leave, something tugged at me to stop putting my reporter’s notebook away. Something tugged at me to stay. To talk. To find out the real story.

The man was older than I had expected considering when I had called him I could hear a toddler in the background. I noticed something else about him. He was hunched over a bit. Not the hunch over from arthritis or a back injury. This hunch was one from brokenness. I knew that hunch well. I’ve seen it in others. I’ve seen it in myself. His eyes too were pretending to be happy but I could see beyond the act.

As he led me into the garage that was his workshop he began to talk about his latest project that I couldn’t write about. I steered the conversation away from that and asked him point blank, “How did a corrections officer with no design training or schooling get into this?”

“My son,” he said, hunching over more. “My son died two years ago. He was only 24. We don’t know what happened. He just began having seizures.”

My son…he said again as if to summon him from beyond.

“He was the artist,” the grieving father explained. “We used to come into this garage all the time. I would help him and watch him. At times I would tinker with the metal too. My son said I had talent. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe until after he died.”

Turns out the only solace he was able to find in his grief was being in this workshop, picking up the blowtorch his son once held and continuing making the art his son once made. I listened and silently prayed for him, wondering when to reveal that standing before him was not just a reporter. Standing before him was a pastor whose own heart knew the pain of losing someone much loved. Standing in his workshop was a pastor who knew how out of death comes the promise of new life, that in our grief we can choose to crumble or to carry on and live out the dreams and passions that our loved ones saw in us.

For me it was a boyfriend who was killed years ago in a jeep accident. He knew of my struggle to leave my magazine job in Manhattan. It was his death that spurred me on to live…to live the plans God had for me. It was because of him that I was now standing here with this retired corrections officer turned artist.

“Wow. I am so sorry. I have no idea why I am telling you all of this. I don’t talk about this to anyone. I really didn’t plan on sharing this with you,” the father said. “It’s just. I don’t know. I don’t want you to think I am crazy. It’s just there’s something about you that made me want to tell you my story.”

It was then I told him my story. I told him I knew a thing or two about loss. I also knew a thing or two about God’s redemptive grace in the midst of that loss. There as the sun went down on a cold December day, just days before Christmas, in a workshop filled with the presence of his son, an accidental artist stood in prayer with an accidental country pastor. Together we shared. Together we cried. Together we reached out to God to heal hearts that grieved.

It was time to go. I put away my reporter’s notebook and as we shook hands good bye, the father held on to my hand thanking me for coming to him.

“Again, I don’t want to sound crazy, but I really feel you were an angel sent to me. I really think you were meant to be here. I can’t thank you enough. Merry Christmas,” he said. His hunch straightened a bit.

I honestly don’t remember what I said in reply. I was too in awe of God at work in that little workshop. But this I know. I had my story, but not for the newspaper. I had my story to be told at another time for another person. But more importantly I had my answer as to how my reporting job was glorifying God.

God’s good news is better distributed when we actually dare to venture out onto snow-covered back roads. For it is there God leads us to those who never enter into a church building, those who really need to hear the good news of a Son born into a world full of hurt and grief.

Those people, like this man, who pastors often never meet because we stay in the church sitting comfortably in offices with coffee made, a secretary at the front ready to greet those who expect miracles to happen during “pastor’s office hours.”

I realized too that there are so many who need to hear about God’s Son, whose beautiful infant cry, we celebrate at Christmas. God’s Son who would cry for us once again. The “It is finished!” cry coming from the cross, telling us that God’s promise to love us always, no matter what, was accomplished. God’s redeeming love is here, now and always.

Christmas is near.

What back roads is God leading you on? Can you hear that cry? Can you remember and trust always that God is with you, even when all you can hear is your own crying?

Can you see that there are always angels bending near the earth…and that often we ourselves are those angels. Trust God’s leading this day and forever more.images.jpg

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.

 

 

 

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

 

Day 6—A Heart Revealed  images

 

I just need a sign. Just one little sign. Please, God. I just need a sign.

That’s all I kept hearing from this woman who had seen her share of hardships. I could relate to her need to know that God was hearing her. There were many nights where I would fall on my knees in such pain over what seemed to be unanswered prayers that I, too, would shout to God, “Show me that you are there in my life!”

Oh how desperately I wanted signs from heaven as well.

But as I made my way through the tough wilderness I was in, I eventually came to realize what Elijah discovered that day on the side of the mountain after the wind, fire and earthquake all subsided. Elijah’s sign that God was there with him was found in the silences all around him. This woman, though, wasn’t ready for God to be in the silences around her.

So I sat with her and listened as she expressed her pleas for a sign from God. And I, as a pastor, found myself trying to redirect her gaze to seeing the angels—the ordinary men and women—who were already there in her life supporting her, loving her, praying for her and helping her. I guess in a way I was trying to soften the blow for her for not getting any sign from God. Perhaps in a way I didn’t want any responsibility for God’s failure in delivering a sign. Not that I have such power in what God does or doesn’t do. I know it sounds weird to even think God could fail because God NEVER FAILS us. But I think it was more I just didn’t want this woman’s faith to fail if the sign she wanted never came. And so I kept trying to redirect her eyes to all the angels in her life instead.

She took note of those angels, wiped her tears and said, “Thanks, but I still just want a sign.”

After she left I wondered if she would get what she was looking for. Perhaps there were many signs already on her path that she was for some reason blind to. I just wasn’t sure. I just didn’t know. I wondered. Was God hearing her?

The following morning I awoke to an email that my eyes couldn’t believe.

There on the screen was a note from this woman telling me, “My sign from God came! I can’t stop praising Him. Look what I saw in my yard this morning.”

Attached to the note was the picture of snow melting away and revealing the ground beneath. The snow, though, was melting in such a way that it formed a perfect heart on the ground.

God heard her prayer. She received her sign. For her prayer was for frozen hearts to melt and for love to come into her life.

Skeptics will say that a sign from God can be seen in anything, that is, if you are so desperate to see a sign from God. But this melting snow in the shape of heart was not a case of wanting to see something so badly that you could make nothing into something. This melting snow in the shape of heart was the sign from God this woman refused to stop believing would come.

I joined her that morning in praising and thanking God. And I learned my lesson. Never redirect eyes away from wanting to see a sign from God. Rather encourage those eyes that want to see God so badly. For God NEVER FAILS those who never stop seeking Him.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Open your eyes to the signs God puts in front of you. But more importantly open your hearts in believing that God will answer your prayers in the most amazing ways.

 

 

 

Day 3—The Angel Ornament

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 3

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:13,14

The angel ornament had to be somewhere in one of the many boxes still needing to be unpacked, but which one? I looked at my watch. It was already 9:30 a.m. and my first cup of coffee was still sitting on my dining room table growing cold. Next to it was my lofty list of things to get done scribbled out on a piece of scrap paper I thankfully found in the bottom of my bag, for my note paper was also sitting in one of the many boxes needing to be unpacked.   images

I had only just moved to my new rural home. One week to be exact, and already I was in full pastor mode, trying to assimilate and adjust in what was perhaps the craziest time of year to assimilate and adjust—Christmas. On top of getting to know where the grocery store was—hint, more than a 15 minute drive—when choir met for rehearsal, where any of my congregants lived (because all their addresses in the church directory were post office boxes!), I was now called upon to walk with a family through the toughest walk we can ever make—the one through the valley of death.

“Pastor, you need to visit Judy. She is not good at all. She’s been fighting cancer. She’s now home. Hospice is there attending to her and her family. Pastor, you need to meet Judy. You need to see the family,” I was told after my first Sunday worship.

I was also told to expect a huge gathering for her funeral, which would be held at the church I was pastor of, for Judy, I learned was much loved in this rural village, an angel who shared her love for music with all. There didn’t seem to be one person in the village whom Judy did not touch.

So that Monday I went to Judy’s home, which was right across the street from the old white church. I am not going to lie. I was anxious. I was a new pastor and this was my first pastoral visit to a home in which I would be called upon to offer the peace and comfort of God’s promises: “even though I walk through the darkest valleys, you are with me, your rod and staff, they comfort me.”

I awkwardly introduced myself as “the new pastor” and tried to keep out of the way of the family scurrying about to make lunch, to administer meds, and to greet the stream of visitors coming to the home. I walked into the room where Judy was and gently sat down on the bed next to her.

“Hi, I’m the new pastor,” didn’t seem to be the appropriate thing to say and so when her eyes opened and she quizzically looked at me, I took her hand and said, “Judy, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be meeting you. I have heard from many how you have touched their lives. You are an angel and I am so honored to be here with you.”

Her feeble hand gripped mine and she smiled and whispered, “It’s good to meet you, Pastor.”

One week into the job of pastor became two, and I had a lot going on. But “darn, I wish I could find that angel ornament” was all I could think about as I put on my coat to head into the village to visit Judy again and check on my messages in the church office. Perhaps, I could simply buy another ornament later that night when I made my run into the next town over for some much-needed groceries.

The ornament I was fixated on was going to be for the special Christmas tree Judy’s family was asking for the community to decorate as a gift for the much-loved music teacher. As soon as I heard this call out to the community for ornaments to decorate the tree, I thought of my angel ornament a dear friend gave to me years ago. It was special to me for it was an angel that sparkled on a sad-looking tree the year in which I was walking through one of those dark valleys myself.

It just seemed this had to be the ornament to place on Judy’s tree, to pass along the blessing it was to me, to make her know she had an angel watching over her. No, no other ornament would do. It had to be the angel. Now which box to look through first?

As life goes, I didn’t have time to find the angel that laid hidden in one of the many still to be unpacked boxes. Judy passed away in the early morning hours and soon I was immersed in planning my first funeral.

The day of the funeral came and, as informed, the white country church was standing room only. The 18th century balconies that had not felt the weight of so many people in many, many years, creaked and moaned, making those sitting under the balcony wonder if perhaps that was not a good pew to sit in.

More people crammed the narthex and even more huddled outside the church doors in hopes to at least hear part of the service.

I put on my clergy robe in my office and took a deep breath before walking in front of a sanctuary filled with grieving hearts. As sometimes it happens, a random thought entered my mind as I made my way into the sanctuary and it was of all things about the angel I couldn’t find that I had wanted so badly to be hanging on what was Judy’s last Christmas tree.

“Darn, I wish I had found that angel for Judy,” was my last thought before making my way to the lectern to greet the crowd gathered.

As I looked out at what was a sea of strangers who would soon become friends, I realized Judy didn’t need my ornament. She had something better. She had hundreds of angels gathered together who were there for her in life and who were now there for her—and for one another—in death.

There in the historic sanctuary, only week 2 in my new role as pastor, in a little rural village, just three days before Christmas, I saw something more dazzling than a heavenly host of angels. I saw a beautiful crowd of earthly angels—men, women and children—who knew something special that only I would come to know in my time serving this rural community. Angels are indeed all around. We just have to look into the hearts of one another to realize that.

Postscript

I never did find my special angel ornament. Not sure what happened to it or how it got lost in my move to rural Upstate New York. But I would like to think that perhaps my little angel made its way onto the Christmas tree of someone who needed to know what I have come know. There is always someone watching over you. Always.