Never Just a Pumpkin

There it was. A big mush of orange slowly disintegrating into the soil that once fed it life. I took hold of its green vine in the same way I have taken the hand of one about to leave this earth. Gently, gingerly, with a sense of sorrow mixed with the awe of the divine present. After all, the divine is always present in the passing of a soul.

I felt as if I should bless the vine; bid it farewell and whisper, “well, almost well done, my good and faithful pumpkin.”

But I didn’t. It was just a pumpkin, after all.

I held onto the vine.

My father and I worked hard tilling the ground in the spring, getting rid of the many weeds and rocks that overtook the garden. Then there were the grubs in the ground to contend with. After several dustings of milky spore, I prepped the ground once again, turning over the soil. Finally, I was ready to plant the pumpkin seeds. On my knees on a hot day I molded the soil into little hills as instructed on the seed package. I felt like a little girl once again playing in the dirt—sweat mixing with soil releasing an earthy fragrance more appealing to me than sweet perfume. Giddy with excitement as to what I was creating, I pushed a seed into each little hill, wondering all the time will a pumpkin grow?

All summer, I marveled at the signs of life popping through the dirt. An infant shoot gave way to a gawky leafy adolescent which gave way to a mature vine. Soon yellow blossoms appeared announcing the coming of a pumpkin and sure enough a little pumpkin began to emerge. My parents would remark each time they came to visit how wonderful my pumpkin was doing.

“Yep, it is going to be a good crop,” I said, feeling proud, as I wheeled with great expertise my birthday present from my parents —a shiny orange wheelbarrow. “Yep, I know what I am doing,” was the message I was sending to the universe.

The universe, though, decided to trip up this cocky, wanna-be-farmer. One day, like an overturned wheelbarrow holding precious cargo, I too, felt as if I had been overturned, allowing all my precious dreams fall away from me.

The one promising vine with its blossoms, so green and hopeful, didn’t reveal what was going on. The ground it hugged was too wet to continue to thrive and ultimately the pumpkin had turned to mush.

I broke the news to my parents.

“I lost my pumpkin,” was all I said.

Silence on the other end of the phone and then finally, “What a shame.”

I know. It was just a pumpkin. But it was more to me. It was my sense of accomplishment. It was my symbol of belonging to a rural community. It was my own promise from God that I needed. That promise that I would indeed bloom where I was planted.

And now that symbol of hope, belonging, a fruitful future, was gone.

I know. It was just a pumpkin. But still…

My parents were up the other day. My dad, who in his late 70s, still loves to help me with my projects I come up with. And so, they were up as dad worked on my latest project: building a rustic chicken coop, complete with a shake roof.

Sofie, my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, was eager to leave the confines of the fenced yard to see what was going on over in the field. So, I grabbed her leash and ran with her to greet grandma and grandpa. The hammering of the roof made the old girl a bit skittish and so she decided to explore the rest of the field. She soon made her way to the wilting autumn garden. She sniffed away at the parsnips and onions still in the ground and then made her way through the corn stalks. Their dried leaves rustled in the wind as if waving to greet us. As I walked with her, I noticed a blob of orange. The blob got bigger and rounder. I had planted my pumpkins next to my corn, but could it be possible that one vine grew hidden in the corn? Sofie was soon sniffing and licking the most perfect pumpkin ever to be seen. I stood there laughing at the beautiful sight. For it was beautiful.

As it turned out the pumpkin wasn’t a lone survivor from my waterlogged ground. My mom had snuck it into the garden to surprise me. And, boy, did she ever.

Before leaving, she asked if I was going to move the pumpkin to the front step of the house. I decided not to.

I like the pumpkin peeking from amidst the corn stalks. For it reminds me how often it is God steps into the failures of our lives and surprises us with a sign peeking through the rubble that all is not lost. Whether the surprise is one fashioned from divine hands or simply a thoughtful gesture from the hands of a mother, every day there are signs of hope all around us. All is not lost.

And so, well done…good and faithful servants — servants who fail, servants who doubt, servants who replace mushy pumpkins with healthy ones, servants who keep on trying, servants who never lose hope, servants who vow not to let setbacks stunt one’s life, servants who will always be surprised by God and servants who stand in awe of such a God.

Yep, it was never just a pumpkin.

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Morning Meditation

I sit here nursing my coffee which has grown cold. The old country kitchen has grown cold too. I noticed the reassuring humming of the furnace has gone off and for a moment I worry. Is is broken again? Do we have enough propane? A familiar fear seizes my body…what if we don’t have heat, what if the pipes freeze, what if…

The furnace begins humming again. Crisis averted. I am safe and secure. Again.

The morning sun is breaking over the mountains, sending warm rays across the old pine table I sit at. The light is brilliant and beautiful. And so I stop nursing my cold coffee and turn my face towards the window. I sit and mediate on God’s goodness.

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A time of morning meditation here at The Old Stone Well Farm. 

I have a roof over my head. Yes, it’s an old roof that will probably need repairs just as the old foundation will too, but it’s a place to call home nevertheless. I have cold coffee to nurse and the means of making another cup if I desire to do so. I have a furnace which is fickle at times and has cost me plenty in emergency calls lately, but it works and I am never without heat for long.

As I soak in the warmth of God’s blessings I begin to think about how I wish for the whole world to take time to turn their eyes towards the sun and soak in God’s warmth.

For we are living in crazy times when it seems no one is turning their eyes to God first. We are living in a time where arguments are plenty. The thing is I laugh because no one is ever going to win these arguments until the arguing stops and the compassionate listening begins.

I think about the fear of not having enough for one’s self which is behind these arguments. I, too, have had that fear. I think about how my husband and I work hard to make end’s meet and how, now having to pay for our own health care, is putting a huge strain on our budget. When my husband gets frustrated, I always chime in, “Yes, but we are managing. God is providing our daily bread.”

Daily bread.

There is indeed enough of it to go around. That is, if we decide to focus on God’s bountiful grace rather than our self-centered needs which only demands that the loaf gets bigger and bigger to satiate our appetites.

I have a lot of friends who voted for our current president back in the fall. They voted because they are tired of struggling to make ends meet. They want their country to be safe. They want a loaf of bread to put on their own table. I also have friends who have sizable loaves of bread for their table and they want to make sure it stays that way.

I understand. I want, need, adore and desire “bread” too.

But when I hear the the heated argument of how our tax dollars are going to help “others”immigrants, refugees and welfare recipients—I wonder how can we say we are followers of Christ? For aren’t we all the “other”?

Do we ever step back for a second and remember the many times God’s grace was shown to us by a stranger or a friend? Do we remember the times we were in need and a miracle of provision happened?

Christ. The son of God who came to serve, not be served. The one who put our well being in front of his own, taking his place on the cross for our sins. The suffering servant who showed us the way to greatness is the path of downward mobility.

Our Savior whose real miracle that day on the mountain was not multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish into food enough for thousands. The real miracle was that of one little boy in the presence of Jesus who looked down at his measly lunch and was moved enough to give what he had for others. That is what God smiled upon and blessed.

It is sometimes hard to feel compassion for others in need when we ourselves are struggling. When we begin to get territorial, though, when we begin to start every conversation with, “Well, what about my family?” then I fear we have forgotten why God sent his Son Jesus to us. For God so loved the world.

God still loves the world. God still loves us. And we are all in possession of two measly fish and one “seemingly not enough” loaf of bread. We have what we need and we always will. We need to let go of the fear and worry. We need to let go of the anger towards others who are asking for our grace and mercy and love.

We need to do so for when we stop loving the world as God so loves the world, we will always see our lives as lacking something rather than seeing our lives for how they really are: overflowing with blessings.

Thomas Merton once wrote that no person who ignores the rights and deeds of others can hope to walk in the light of contemplation, because their way has turned aside from the truth, from compassion and therefore from God.

The furnace has stopped its reassuring humming again. That’s okay.

I sit at this old pine table with my face towards the morning sun, soaking in the warmth of God’s grace, God’s love and God’s provision. My prayer is to want for others what I want as well. A simple loaf of bread on the table. And nothing more.

May that be your prayer as well.

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. 

 

 

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

A Gift from the Creator

“My tree is bleeding.”images

Looking back, I now see what a strange announcement I made to the men and women gathered one morning at the little white church for a time of prayer and study.

But I was perplexed as to why streams of liquid were pouring from the ancient, twisted and gnarled tree that stood in front of an equally ancient and lopsided Colonial saltbox that I called home.

“Your tree is doing what?” they asked, doing their best to hide their knowing smiles and not laugh at the city girl who had traded in her heels for Mucks to become their country pastor.

“It’s bleeding,” I said again, this time with some more drama to make them understand the seriousness of my problem. “I think something is really wrong with it. I always thought it looked dead, now its oozing. Does anyone know who I can call to have it cut down?”

“Don’t you dare cut it down,” came the stern command from an elderly lady whose cantankerous spirit was something I actually got a kick out of as she often reminded me of my own grandmother at times.

“But…”

Yes, I dared to say “but” to her, knowing very well there was no winning an argument with her ever.

“Don’t give me those ‘buts’. You folks from down state just can’t see when you are giving a blessing. That’s your problem. You just can’t see when you are given a gift from the Creator,” she snapped.

“But…my tree IS BLEEDING.”

Yes, I dared to say “but” to her again. And I paid the price.

She shook her head in exasperation at we folk from down state and finally spelled it out for me.

“Pastor, that’s maple sap dripping from your tree. Now can we move on to Bible study? I have a hair appointment I need to get to.”

And with that, we moved on to our lesson at hand.

I, though, I couldn’t stop thinking of the valuable lesson I had just learned. Here I was so quick to see something out of the ordinary as a problem in my life. Something didn’t look right and so in my cynical city nature I just assumed it wasn’t right, never once thinking that the “problem” before me was really a gift from the Creator.

How many other “not right” things in my life did I fail to see for what they really were? Gifts from above. Gifts inviting me see with new eyes, hear with new ears, feel with a new heart—one hopefully beating more in line with God’s heart.

It was maple sugaring season and for those in the little white church it was a wonderful time of year that not only brought hope of warm days with it, but ushered in flurry of fellowshipping as there were maple syrup breakfasts to attend at all the sugar houses that dotted the pastoral landscape.

It was a time of year where the sweet smelling smoke from the wood fires needed to boil down the sap would warm up the “spring is coming” air even more.

It was the time of year when sun grew stronger warming up veins in a tree, allowing then for sap, beautiful sap, to flow freely and abundantly and eventually becoming sweet blessings for others to enjoy.

I came home later that day and looked at my bleeding tree. I touched the sap flowing down its ancient bark and tasted it. It didn’t have any flavor yet. I was told that would come with more boiling over hot fires. Creating sweet syrup was a process. One that took much work and patience.

The elderly woman at Bible study was right. I had a gift from the Creator. Not just maple sap that could be tapped for syrup. I had gift of realizing we all need maple sugaring seasons in our lives.

We need those seasons in which God’s love thaws our hearts so that finally blessings can flow from us and into the world around us.

I miss that tree. I miss it a lot.

But what I miss more are the lessons I learned from those in the little white church. They are the ones who patiently taught me to see the gifts of the Creator I was often blind to.

The gifts in a bleeding tree, in an overflowing brook, in a brutal snowstorm, in a fox ravaged chicken coop…in a broken heart, a failed project, a dark night of the soul…they taught this city-turned-country pastor by showing me whatever comes your way, greet it as a gift from above.

Blessings don’t flow from a heart frozen to the God possibilities. Blessings flow when hearts are thawed by God’s love.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: It’s maple sugaring season. Examine your hearts to see if God’s warm love is flowing freely from you.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”

 Day 11: More Pictures To Come

 “I think I better backup my files,” I yelled from the dining room table to my husband who was busy feeding the dog in the kitchen. I could hear him whispering to Sofie, our Bernese Mountain dog, “I told your mommy she needed a new computer. Did she listen to me? Noooo.”

Yes, I should have listened to him because now my computer was really acting up, doing some kind of light show that I probably could have charged admission to see. It was that amazing in an artistic way, but not so good in a computer kind of way.

I took my external backup hard drive and connected it to the computer, praying it wasn’t too late to secure my documents. As I began the task of transferring them something caught my eye. A folder on the external hard drive named, “Church.”

I was curious to see what was in it. I opened the file and there before me were hundreds of pictures of many moments at the little white church. I had forgotten about these pictures and so I began scrolling through each and everyone. As I went from picture to picture the story of God working powerfully through God’s children flashed before me on the computer screen.

The story of hope realized as seen in the way of a very crowded chancel where many kids stood to sing for worship, a sight the little white church thought it would never see again. But there they were, not just singing. There were more pictures of them greeting people, reading scripture, playing the piano and, yes, even preaching.

Chris was entering the fifth grade when I jokingly asked him one Sunday if he wanted to preach for me. He diffused my joke with an eager and serious, “Yes. I would love to.”

And so one Sunday morning a few months later, Chris delivered a mature, beyond his years sermon of God working in his life. His picture brought me back to that day in which the ancient Hebrew texts came to life for us in the little white church. We had heard the stories of God calling little Samuel in the night and we had heard the opening of the prophet Jeremiah’s story in which Jeremiah tells God he can’t speak because he is only a boy. God disagrees and reminds Jeremiah that he can and will speak of God’s greatness and might.

There was Chris smiling in the picture. The picture, though, I wish I had of that day was the one of all the smiles and tears of those in the pews as they realized they were also capable of speaking of God’s greatness and might.

I clicked more pictures and more stories came.

There was the story of the warm fellowship emerging among the family of faith with old folks, young folks and children, crowding around a table filled with goodies during coffee hour. There they stood with arms hugging one another and kids smiling. What made this picture beautiful was it wasn’t taken at some special coffee hour. This picture was just your typical Sunday at the little white church for every week was a time lively fellowship.

For me as a pastor this time after the official worship hour was a time when true worship took place. It was a time when we talked about the scripture, we talked about those in our community needing help and we talked about one another’s needs for prayer. We talked, shared, listened and, most importantly, connected with one another. And in the midst of fruit juice and coffee and home baked cookies and cakes was a very special guest working the room. God’s Spirit was moving among the chatter and laughter and hugs and even the occasional tear.

I kept on clicking to the next picture, and then the next, then the next. There were many stories emerging, but the one story that came across the strongest surprised me. It was my story of who I was as a minister. For in those pictures I looked happy, even radiant. Some where, though, along the way in my walk to serve God, I had forgotten the joy I once felt even in the midst of challenges. I had forgotten the smiles that always came to my face when after crying tears of what seemed like defeat, God carried me on to victory.

I needed to see these pictures because lately whenever I caught my reflection all I saw staring back at me was someone I did not recognize. Where was my smile? Where was the radiance? But most of all where was that feeling deep down in my soul of knowing I was doing exactly what God wanted me to do?

I could remember many days walking to my car through the parking lot of the little white church thinking, “Wow. I can’t believe you called me to be a minister, God. Thank you. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” And that prayer of thanks was being lifted on some of the most trying days in ministry. Now, deep in my Lenten journey, I couldn’t remember the last time I said, “thank you, God.”

I called to my husband to stop feeding the dog and come see what I was seeing. “Look,” I said pointing to the computer screen. “Do you see that picture? Now look at this picture? Are you looking? Do you see?”

He looked and his eyes watered up.

“I see,” he said quietly, then adding a soft, “I remember.”

I closed the forgotten file on my external hard drive named “Church” and shut down the computer. As it hummed in a way a computer shouldn’t hum when shutting down, I sat and stared at the screen. The glowing screen faded slowly till all that was left staring back at me was the reflection of someone I didn’t recognize.

“I remember too,” I sighed.

Sometimes in life we stray of course, not paying attention to the blessings already around us. Maybe it’s not that we don’t pay attention. Maybe it’s more we take for granted what we have and lose sight of the need to nurture the blessings. Maybe sometimes in life we just need to look back at pictures to remember the things that brought us joy, that made us smile, that made us feel whole.

But this I know. God is never done with us. More pictures will come and with them more stories.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Be honest. When you catch your reflection do you recognize the person staring back at you? If not, what do you need to do to reconnect with who you used to be? And as you search, invite God into your heart to lead you back to joy.