Sundays at Old Stone Well Farm

Welcome to Old Stone Well Farm, the home of the Accidental Country Pastor. I am so glad you have come to join me for a word of hope.

Today, as I decorate the farm for Epiphany, I invite you to think about what it means to live with the wonder and awe of God at work in your life. What does it mean to really let the Christ light shine on your path, perhaps illuminating a new path for you to venture on?

So sit back and enjoy this time of worship…and share with others.

And as always, let me know how your journey is going or how we can join together and pray for one another.

Blessings!

Pastor Donna 

I Believe

One of my favorite Christmas movies is “Miracle on 34th Street.” Not the remake or the colorized version, but the original 1947 classic starring a young Natalie Wood and an oh-so elegant Maureen O’Hara.

I love the movie for so many reasons.

Nostalgia is one of them. I used to watch it on an old TV complete with rabbit ears with my grandmother when staying at her house for one of my special “overnight with grandma” visits.

But the real reason I love the movie is because of its urging for us all to believe. Believe in the unbelievable. Believe when the world around you is saying your beliefs are unrealistic. Believe. Period.

There is one particular scene that has made an impression on me for all these years. It’s the one where little Natalie Wood is disappointed with her Christmas presents. Her doll just wasn’t enough. What she wanted was a house. A real one. Not a dollhouse. She wanted a house that she could call “home.”

So she sits in the back of the car feeling glum and she keeps whispering, “I believe. I believe. Yes. I believe.” She is saying it half-heartedly, but at least she is still saying it.

I have been in her shoes many times in life. Trying to hold on to belief when it seemed as if God just wasn’t listening to the desires of my heart. But I held on. I held on to God’s word that never will He leave me or forsake me. I held on to the belief that God knew the plans for my future.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

I dreamt of living in Manhattan and becoming a fashion editor.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

After challenges and moments when it looked as if I would never have a coveted “212” area code, it happened. And you are never going to guess where my first studio apartment was. It was on 34th Street.

The two Christmases I lived there, I would stare at the street sign on my way home from work at the magazine and stare at the “34th St.” and whisper to heaven, “I believe. Yes, I believe.”

Years went by and a soaring magazine career followed by a move cross-town to a one-bedroom apartment was not what I thought it would be. Something was tugging at my heart. Ministry. What? Yes, ministry. How was I to go to seminary, pay my bills, live? I believe.

I believe. Yes, I believe.

Years later, a theological degree was in my hand and a call to serve in rural Upstate New York was accepted. A few more years later, I met the love of my life after years of loneliness. And one Christmas Eve, as I looked around at the little white church I was serving, husband sitting in the pew, I realized I found what I was always searching for. Life lived authentically. Hugs followed worship, many coming with gifts such as molasses cookies and Coach Perry’s famous egg bake attached to them.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

But then New Year’s Eve last year, after twists and turns in my life that led me to serving a church in Maryland, I found myself once again doing my best Natalie Wood.

I was glum. I was sad. I was wondering why God wasn’t hearing my desire to return home to Vermont. To return to being the accidental country pastor I had failed to treasure as much as I should have.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

But how God? How was I to find my way home? When? How long? Are you even there listening to me God?

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe…

in God who is merciful and mighty.

I believe in God who is always leading us.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

It’s New Year’s Eve once again. I am sitting in the living room of my 18th century home in Vermont. I am back home. And I am beyond thankful. I am beyond grateful.

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The ornament I received from my mother-in-law this Christmas. It says it all. Believe!

The Vermont snow has fallen down on me like celebratory graffiti. The cows have moo’ed a chorus of “hallelujahs!” The morning sun coming up over the mountains have shone a spotlight onto my heart overflowing with love. Hugs have been received. Warm molasses cookies have been eaten. And Coach Perry’s famous egg bake has once again graced my breakfast table this Christmas morning.

My friends, we are meant to believe and never give up believing. We are meant to hold on to our belief in a great, big, loving God. We are meant to hold on to hope when all hope seems gone. We are meant to follow our hearts. We are meant to live authentically.

A new year is about to be here. And I am home. How, when, why? Not quite sure. But I am home. There are no half-hearted “I believes” this year. Rather my “I believes” are declarative statements coming from a heart that has experienced for itself the truth that grace is not earned. Grace is indeed an unexpected and undeserved gift that God gives just because God loves us so much.

So keep on believing. For God is real. God does hear. God is always in your lives leading you, nudging you, pushing you, shoving you towards the path that is the best for you.

Will you believe?  Really believe?

A New Year Blessing

Believe…

For the Light is now in the world.

Believe…

For Love is born in each of us.

Believe…

For the manger is full.

Emmanuel, God with us, is here for us.

Go and believe…

it is as the prophets said.

And may the blessing of God be with you this day and forevermore.

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.

 

 

 

Birch Trees in the Snow

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. 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

The snow was the wet and heavy kind that made shoveling hard and trudging in it even harder. But trudge I did. I had resurrected an old habit of taking morning prayer walks, one that I had missed greatly in my time away from the home I loved. Oh I tried walking in other places, but I was no longer in the country and so the noise of traffic was always playing in the background.

Here, though, back home, there was nothing but silence mixed with the occasional moo of a distant cow. If you were really listening to the stillness, there were times you could hear the soft echo of the little village’s church bell chiming a melodious old hymn. And so I wasn’t going to let a little snow slow me down.

On went my boots and out the door I went. I passed by the old stone well as I made my way to the bottom of the steep hill. I decided to challenge myself to climb up in the deep snow, knowing my huffing and puffing would be rewarded by the most breathtaking view below me. I was not disappointed.

The valley below me looked like a jewelry box sprinkled with diamonds as the sun’s rays made the snow glisten and sparkle. I continued up and over to the rail trail behind the hill. That’s when the roadblocks hit.

Trees, many of them bowed down from the weight of the snow, blocked the path in front of me. I had a choice to turn back or to move forward. I was resolved in my mission to pray and walk. Onward it was.

I ducked under, hopped over and skirted around the white birch trees lying prostrate to the ground. I was growing tired and frustrated. My walk had become not only a physical obstacle but a spiritual one as well. I just couldn’t focus my thoughts on God when I had to focus on not getting whacked with an icy branch. I was about to turn back, until I had a thought.

As I stared at that sad fallen trees I wondered what would happen if I helped them up. Were they really down for the count? I decided to try.

I started with the smaller tree. With my fuzzy mittens on, I grabbed hold of the trunk and loosened the branches iced tightly to the ground. Swish. With great force and speed the tree sprung up. I moved on to the next tree. Then the next. I even tackled the larger trees, freeing them from their state of downtrodden-ness. Each one, with a little help, was soon back to standing tall.

My prayer walk had turn into a mission project. I was there to help the trees. And with each tree that bounced back up, I began to remembering the times in my life when someone noticed me down for the count and chose not to hop over me or skirt around me. Rather, with a compassionate hand they helped me to stand tall again. My walk was just about over.

I turned and looked back at the path now lined with graceful white birch, their limbs lifted high to the heavens in praise. It was a beautiful sight.

Christmas is almost near. And if you are wondering what is the perfect present to give loved ones—to give the world—I think a hand stretched out to help is perfect. For God gave us that exact gift on that holy night. And His hand has never stopped lifting us up.

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Sofie walks on the snow path, helping Pastor Donna lift up the bowed down birch trees.

 

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

What I Really Need

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 6:

The bells clanked away as I made my way into the grocery store. There standing around the Salvation Army’s red kettle were a bunch of kids with their moms. I wasn’t sure if they were with one of the many churches in the little rural village or with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or perhaps the 4-H or FFA, that is Future Farmers of America, which many of the kids who once ran down to the little white church I pastored were active in. It didn’t matter. They were there giving their time on a week night to collect money for those who might not have enough to make the holiday a happy one. images-1

I smiled at them as I passed by with my cart, letting them know I would donate on my way.

“Promise?” one boy asked.

“Promise,” I answered.

With that promise made, I set out to get the groceries I needed—and only the groceries I needed. I vowed that I would not fill my cart up with impulse items like I tend to do. Just ask my husband. I am a sucker for anything labeled “limited time only.” Do I really need another box of pumpkin spice Cheerios? No. I don’t. But wait. What’s this? Egg nog flavored…step away from the shelf and keep on shopping.

Do I really need…

That question lingered in my head as I shopped. I thought about all I had. Yes, money was tight now that my husband and I had moved back home to Vermont. I gave up a steady paycheck and a church job with benefits, not easy to come by these days in any vocation, but especially in ministry. But the move back wasn’t about financial gain. It was about something even better. Spiritual gain. It was about living. Really living. Living simply. Living to enjoy the early morning sunrises. Living to be able to take a walk on the rail trail behind our little country home. Living to be able to raise chickens again. Living to be able to get back to ministering in an area where a helping hand to lift up those who are struggling with not having enough was needed. Spiritual gain that far outweighed any paycheck.

Somewhere along the way I had forgotten what real living was all about. Three years I was in exile of sorts. Living but not really. My faith was tested and I was often feeling more empty and hungry than fulfilled, even with all that I had. It was then I realized I had to fix my life. I had to once again remember what really mattered.

As I stood at the checkout line I could hear the bell ringers ringing those bells with much enthusiasm. I smiled and wondered how many cashiers on duty they were driving crazy?

I looked at the groceries riding down the conveyor belt to be rung up. I did a good job at sticking to my list. But how was I doing at the job in sticking to the other list?

The list of what I really needed? God and God alone.

The teens at the little white church were gathered in the chapel one weekday morning in Advent. We gathered to have breakfast together and to share God’s word with one another before going to school. Since it was Advent, the scripture I shared with them was of course about Jesus’ birth and what it meant to those who waited so long for hope to come into their lives. We talked and shared and then it happened. One girl, who was deep in thought, spoke up. And what she said I will always treasure.

Why is it that the focus on Christmas is about wanting so many things we don’t need? All that the people in Jesus’ time ever wanted was hope in their lives. And God delivered. We don’t seem to ask God for what we really need, do we?

I took my bags that were filled with just my daily bread and nothing more. And with the money spent on things I didn’t need, I fulfilled my promise to the little boy ringing the bell at the big red kettle.

“God bless you,” he said to me.

“God bless you,” I said back.

And as the clanging of the bells faded into the distant, I could hear something even more beautiful. I could hear God answering the prayers of those who were asking for what was needed the most. More faith, more trust, more God.

 

 

 

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!

 

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 13—The Christmas Rainbow

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 13

Rainbow watchers.

I had a lot of them at the little white church I served—men and women who after a storm would search the sky for the brilliant rays of red, orange, green, yellow and blue.images

And once the rays were found, I would get text messages with pictures and comments such as, “God’s promises arching over us” or “God smiling down upon us.”

I’ll admit it. I became one of those “rainbow watchers.” I just couldn’t help it because the rainbows in that part of the country were some of the best ever.

Perhaps it was the vast expanse of hills and valleys all around us that made the rainbows seem closer to us than they really were. Or maybe the air was a bit cleaner as there was not that many cars giving off fumes or factories poisoning the air and so we could see God’s palette of colors even better.

Whatever it was, every time it stormed I, too, searched the skies for God’s message of hope to come after the storm was over.

One memorable rainbow came one summer evening. A vacation bible school meeting had just ended with more time taken than usual to pray for the children God would send to us. This time of prayer continued in the parking lot when a few of us, still lingering about, felt the Spirit move and so we prayed some more. (I believe we can never have enough prayer and, boy, was it a blessing to serve a community where impromptu church parking lot prayers happened more than the usual church parking lot squabbles in which churches are notoriously known for.)

So we prayed some more for God’s Spirit to pour out upon us so that we could be used as instruments for reaching the children in our midst.

On my drive home a storm had rolled in quickly and before I could even search the sky for a rainbow, the message alert on my phone dinged. There on my screen was a picture of not just one rainbow, but two rainbows, side-by-side, arching over what looked to be directly above our little white church.

The rainbow was also rare in the way that it was a complete bow, not just part of a bow. It was a leprechaun’s dream rainbow as it clearly had a beginning and an end that one could imagine led to that fabled pot of gold.

The message underneath the picture read, “Look at this, Pastor Donna! God’s reassurance that He has heard our prayers!” It certainly was a blessed reassurance that God was hearing us. And vacation bible school saw many kids attend and learn about Jesus.

Summer turned to fall and fall turned to winter and the rainbow sightings grew fewer and fewer as the season changed.

By the time Christmas approached I wasn’t gazing too much up at the sky searching for rainbows. After all, who finds them in the winter? I never did. No, there would no more rainbow reassurances from God in these wintery skies.

“But, God,” I whispered, “I could REALLY use some reassurance that you are here.”

It was December 21, 2012 and I had a huge weight on my shoulders. In three days I would be preaching about the gift of a Savior born to us and yet I just couldn’t get my mind off of the children who were killed just a week before in a school shooting in Connecticut.

What would I say about the holy night in which God came to us in flesh when lately it seemed as if God incarnate was as fabled as the leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? In just three days I had to preach about hope born again in our lives.

And so on December 21 I was driving to the grocery store to pick up some items for the caroling dinner the little white church was hosting that night. I was feeling a bit stressed as I wasn’t able to wash my hair or have a hot cup of coffee or enjoy the lights on my Christmas tree because an early morning rainstorm blew through the area. In its path it left behind broken tree limbs and no electricity.

My attitude was not great at all. Not only could I not have a shower and a cup of coffee, I had wanted to write my Christmas Eve sermon, but I had, yet again, forgotten to charge my laptop and so I was even without that.

As I drove the winding road I noticed something beyond the valley arching over a quintessential New England red barn.

A rainbow? This time of year? So close to Christmas?

It was indeed. Its beautiful arches hovered over the land and the colors rivaled even the most precious of stones that I have held in my hands as a young jewelry editor in Manhattan.

I pulled the car over so that I could call my mom. I just had to share the news about this incredible rainbow!

My mom answered the phone but before I could even tell her the reason I was calling she rushed me off the phone with the quickest of explanations. At that very moment the rainbow appeared, my mom was watching on the TV the moment of silence and the ringing of the bells for the children and teachers killed a week before in Connecticut.

I hung up the phone and stared at the rainbow. I looked at the clock in the car. It was exactly the time in which the shooting took the lives of these innocent people, and now here before me was a sign of God’s reassurance that hope does come after the storms are over.

I had my Christmas Eve message:

Years ago God’s announcement of hope breaking into our lives came with the appearance of a brilliant star in the East. The star of Bethlehem, pointing brilliantly to the one who would bring light to our darkened world—pointing to the Christ Child.

I’ve always stared up at the sky on this holy night, wishing that I could somehow be granted a glimpse of such a sign of reassurance that God is still at work in our lives. And I know many of you are looking this day for such a sign. If only we could see that star or see something to know that all will be well.

But, my friends, God is still reassuring us that He has not become to deaf to our cries. Some of you saw that incredible rainbow three days ago. I saw it, too. But what you might not have realized is that rainbow appeared in the sky at the very moment our nation paused in silence to pray for and remember those lost in the evil that struck the school in Connecticut. For those who say God has forgotten us, I say, open your eyes and open your heart. Believe. For a rare Christmas rainbow appeared right before us—God’s reassurance that hope will always break through as it did this night so long ago. God is still speaking in the brilliance of a star, a cry of a newborn baby in a manger, in the songs of the angels, and, in a rare Christmas rainbow.

May you leave here tonight reassured you do not leave alone. God is with you, as promised.

I still find myself every now and then watching for rainbows after a storm. But what I look for even more are signs of God’s reassurances that I have learned come in the most unexpected ways—just like that rainbow days before Christmas.