Barn Raisers

My mother has a fascination for lighthouses and very old cemeteries. I, on the other hand, love the old barns of New England. There’s just something about faded red clapboards that draw me in. Perhaps its because these clapboards tell the story of not just how the harsh winters and scorching summers have worn away at their paint.

These barns, if one listens carefully, tell the important story of weathering life’s unruly elements. For inside the post and beams, often notched, pegged and dovetailed together with gripped by calloused hands, are many tales of when farm animals filled the stalls, hay reached high into the rafters and grain overflowed in bins; and when animals, hay and grain were scarce.

The cool, dank smell of earthen floors and the musty sting of aging wood, speak to me of a time when people really valued being part of a community and cared about the abundance and/or the scarcity within one’s barn—for by caring about one’s barn, you were caring about one’s livelihood, one’s happiness, one’s heart.

I think of the barn raisings still taking place in Amish communities today. Men come with their tools eager and willing to help a neighbor. Women spread out the tables with what seems to be a never-ending supply of home baked goods, relishes, jams, fried chicken, ham loaf and, of course, snickerdoodle cookies and shoo-fly pies. But those are the Amish. We are what they call the “English” and such gatherings don’t happen among us anymore which is a shame, for we are missing out on more than just ham loaf.

Yes, these barns are telling me story of how we ought to live in community with one another. They tell me that even though I am a horrible cook and many times my stab at shoo fly pie is a complete flop (I am not sure how I can still mess up such a simple concoction of molasses, brown sugar and a crumb topping), I should still find time to invite friend, family and foe to my table to sit and not just break bread together, but to sit and share our lives together.

For storms of all kinds do their best to weather the clapboards of our hearts. But if we stay connected to what’s really important—to one another—we will find ourselves standing tall like those barns, telling stories that will be our testimony to a God who leads us through all seasons.

Just this morning as I pondered storms, seasons, old barns, true friends and even foes (yet to become friends) in my life, I came across this quote in a magazine I was reading. The author wrote, “We don’t need barns full of stuff, we need people to hear our story in its rawest form and who still see us as a beautiful soul no matter how much ugly we’ve experienced or felt or even been. We need people to share our story and advocate for us, to vouch for us, to support us when standing alone isn’t possible.”

I have stood alone in life and wondered where and who my advocates were. I have known the grace of someone coming alongside of me to listen and understand me and, I have had the grace and compassion to be that support to someone standing alone as well.

I knew a woman who had on her property an old Scottish bank barn. The beams, the carpentry, the dug out basement for keeping potatoes and other garden goodies fresh even in the winters, all captivated me. But she was selling the place. She was moving. She needed a fresh start. She needed community. She had served her country and had suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, thus, making it hard for others to really understand her tough exterior and, often at times, argumentative nature. She longed for a chance, but few gave it to her.

I chose to stay by her side, trying to advocate for her when others wouldn’t. I stood with her even when it was hard to do so. I stood and took the hurtful words that would sometimes come my way. I stood and by doing so I was there to catch her pent up tears when she finally felt safe enough to let them fall. images-2

We have long since lost contact with one another, but at times I find myself driving by her home and her Scottish bank barn and wondering how she is doing. I pray that she has found people to continue sharing her story with and people who will not be so quick to write her off, but who stand with her long enough to see the beauty of the weathered clapboards that are barely holding her fragile heart together.

I love old the old barns of New England. I love them because they tell me a story of how we all have such clapboards barely holding our fragile hearts together. They remind me that there was a time when community was there, showing the love of Christ towards one another—a love that does amazing restoration work. (Maybe that is why I had my wedding reception in an old Vermont barn?)images-1.jpg

Barns give me hope that such love in community can still exist today.

We just have to relearn to be those barn raisers of yesteryear.

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 the church home.

A Return to Happiness

The excitement was growing among those in the little white church as my wedding day drew closer. There were plans to spruce up the church, which included ordering new tablecloths for the time of refreshments and wedding cake to be served after the ceremony.

“What color should the tablecloths be, Pastor Donna?” was the question from the woman tasked with this very important mission she took seriously, coming into my office with swatches and suggestions. I really didn’t have a strong opinion of either cream or sage green and suggested to get the cloths that would work for future church events.

“What about flowers? You have to have flowers in the church?” asked another woman later that day.

I really had no strong opinions on flowers either.

“Whatever you have blooming in your garden by the time of the wedding would be beautiful,” I said.

I couldn’t think too much about tablecloths and flowers because at that moment I had a more pressing wedding detail to take care of which was irking me.

I had to find the perfect wedding invitation.

After many a late night of searching the Internet not finding exactly what I was looking for, I was getting a bit anxious. Cream or ivory? Matte or satin finish? Embossed or not?

The problem was I really had no idea what I had wanted in a wedding invitation.

Then one day, as I was putting away some books back onto the shelf in my office, a piece of scrap paper fell onto the floor. I looked down and staring up at me was the sketch of a lily of the valley done on a piece of notebook paper in blue ballpoint ink.

Lily of the valley had always been one of my favorite flowers—one of the first flowers of spring that has the most incredible perfume coming from its small white bell shaped petals. They used to grow under the forsythia bushes in the backyard of my childhood home. I would pick them and create little bridal bouquets for my Barbi dolls and dream of the day I would someday carry lily of valley in my own bouquet.

I picked up the paper and read the note on the back: “Remember, I found these in the snow. Love, Valerie.”

Valerie was an older woman at the church I attended in New York City who had seen her share of heartache in the game of love and in the game of life. She had always persevered, though, and as a result her trust in God was evident to all who came in contact with her. I was one of those lucky ones who had come in contact with her.

We had shared some of our struggles with waiting on God in a small group at a church retreat and it turns out we both had a lily of the valley story to tell.

Valerie remembered how one bitterly cold and snowy winter day, as she made her way through the city streets with a heavy heart and many questions about her future on her mind, she spotted a bunch of lily of the valleys peaking through the snow—snow that hid concrete underneath. How could this be? She walked closer and realized the flowers were plastic. Still it didn’t matter. The sign of hope in the snow was for her a reminder to hold on and to trust that God was leading her.

Mine was that these flowers were growing outside of my boyfriend’s mother’s apartment in Manhattan the weekend we went there to pack up her belongings after she quickly succumbed to cancer. And how, just three years later, after my that same boyfriend died in a jeep accident Africa, I found those flowers growing bountifully on the side of the new home I had just moved into.

The minister who listened to us share our stories fought back the tears in his eyes and smiled as he then shared something with us I didn’t know.

“The lily of the valley has often been portrayed in religious paintings. It symbolizes the promise that happiness will always return.”

I gazed at the sketch Valerie did for me so long ago and remembered the unrelenting years filled with my own waiting and heartache and wondering if God was hearing my cries or not. Of course, God was and now here I was in the midst of planning a long-hoped for wedding. I looked at the scrap paper and realized what my wedding invitations had to be.

I ran to the computer and logged on to a wedding invitation site that I had seen two months before. There on that site were wedding invitations that had embossed lily of the valleys on them. I wasn’t too sure about them at first glance. They were white vellum, which was a bit lighter and more delicate than the heavier card stock I had been looking at. But now I knew they were perfect. I proceeded to order the invitations.

I logged out of the computer and stared some more at Valerie’s sketch and thought about this wedding and the excitement that was building in the little white church.

I realized this wedding was more than just about Pastor Donna getting married—finally. This was about the miracle of love found—between my soon-to-be-husband and me, between a pastor and her congregation, between and congregation and its community—love found in God who had never stopped loving us.

There are miracles of love everyday for us to see. For me those miracles have come in the way of hearing about plastic lily of the valleys peeking up from the snow on a city street and then seeing hundreds of lily of the valleys in full bloom on the side of my house after praying to God for a sign that God was still there. Miracles of love have come in the way of seemingly mundane discussions on what color for tablecloths and what kind of flowers for the sanctuary. Miracles of love come from God in the most unexpected ways

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Sprigs of lily of the valley grace Pastor Donna’s bridal bouquet. A reminder of the miracle of love and God’s promise of the return to happiness.

I gently placed Valerie’s lily of the valley sketch back into a book, knowing someday when I needed to see it the most, it will once again miraculously fall gently out onto the floor. Until then, I remember. With God there is always a return to happiness.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Where are the miracles of love blooming this day in your life? Take note of them and remember to say “Thank you, God.”

 

 

This Way of Life Lenten Journey

A Little White Church Lent

When the cold of winter turns into the bleakness of mud season, hope is hard to find. Yet beneath the hard ground and in the midst of life’s muddiness, there is always new life waiting to bloom. 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 call that church “home.”

 

Day 2: A Snag in the Fabric

I was worried, perhaps even a tad bit apprehensive. Okay. Truth be told, I was being overprotective of my big brother.

Even though there were many months to go before my summer wedding, I was already dreading what the reaction might be to my brother from the children of the little white church—as well as from the rural village I served as pastor—whom were all going to be participating in “Pastor Donna’s big day.” I was marrying one of the village’s hometown boys and so this wedding was going to be a community celebration—one in which my brother would be coming to.

Growing up I was always told my brother was “different,” which didn’t help me understand why other kids were being mean of the very things that made my brother “different.”

“Don’t worry about him,” my parents tried to tell me whenever I dared to broach the subject of my brother at my wedding.

Still I worried—a selfish kind of worry. While I didn’t want to see my brother hurt by remarks or stares, I didn’t want the pain of witnessing those remarks and stares. I learned early in life when you truly love someone you can’t help but to feel the pain they feel and shed the tears they shed. So I was bracing myself for what might come.

“Something wrong, pastor?” I heard being asked as I sat at one of the church’s big old folding tables that, if dropped on your foot, would probably take off a toe or two. The table was set up for a meeting in the sunny chapel that did double duty as the fellowship hall/meeting room.

“No,” I said as I pretended to organize papers for the meeting that was to start in 15 more minutes. The person asking the question, a man who I could see was clearly on some spiritual journey, didn’t buy my answer.

“Come on, I know something’s up. What’s going on?” he prodded some more.

Not one to hide my emotions very well, I fessed up about my worry, apprehension and overprotectiveness of my brother and the upcoming wedding. I even fessed up that all of this was rooted in my own selfishness because I was the one who didn’t want to hurt.

With one huge smile and warm laugh, this man wiped away all my selfish worrying. He then went on to tell me how his wife and him took in special needs kids years ago and how everyone in the village welcomed and watched out for those kids as one of their own. He then told me of this person and that person who had either a special needs child or knew of someone who did.

“Your brother is going to be welcomed by us with opened arms. And these kids in this church, these kids in this village…they are not going to make fun of your brother or stare at him or be afraid. That’s not who we are around here. We look out for one another and try to care for one another the best we can,” he said.

Tears filled my eyes and soon my smile was just as huge as his.

The following day I made a not so quick trip to one of those big box stores that carried everything. I needed some fabric for a Lenten prayer table I wanted to create for our prayer circle. I found the fabric in the store and stood waiting and waiting for someone to come along to measure out the yardage I needed. A manager whizzed by assuring me, “Someone will be over to help shortly.”

Shortly became not so shortly and before long there were three more women standing behind me with bolts of fabric needing to be cut.

Finally that long-awaited someone came.

Even though I was first in line I could see the eye rolls happening among the women behind me. The someone who came to help was a young man who was “different.” His coke bottle glasses and slow speech didn’t incite confidence in the others. But it was his deformed hand that really made the women behind me wonder if this young man was capable of unfolding, measuring and cutting the bolts of fabric. They watched closely to see what he would do to my fabric.

I handed over the bolt of purple fabric (perfect for the season of Lent we were in) and told him what I needed. With some struggle he unfolded the fabric and began slowing measuring it out. The eye rolls turned into huffs and puffs. It was then I knew this young man was not suffering from hearing loss. His body language told me he was taking in every hurtful huff and every painful puff. And I took them in with him.

Still he continued on with unfolding the fabric to the correct yardage I wanted. All of a sudden he stopped. There in the middle of the fabric was a huge snag. He looked at me and said, “This will ruin what you are making. Let me cut this off and start over again.”

Another hurtful huff.

Another painful puff.

“You don’t have to do that. The snag is okay,” I assured him.

“But it’s ugly and totally different from the rest of the fabric,” he said.

“I think it’s pretty. Not everything in life is perfect, right?” I smiled at him, not telling him how the snag made this fabric even more special for the draping of our Lenten prayer table.Unknown

What a reminder this will be for us as we pray, I thought. Jesus, who walked to the cross for us, also taught us that along the way to take time to embrace the beauty in the imperfect. Jesus, who taught us to love one another, meant for us to love even the snags that we are so quick to disregard.

“Yep. This fabric is perfect,” I reaffirmed, thinking about that Lenten prayer table.

With a shrug of his shoulders, the young man went back to painstakingly measuring and cutting and folding the fabric before finally handing it over to me.

I turned to leave and did my best not to glare at the women who huffed and puffed behind me. It was then I noticed a manager of the store staring at what just took place. As our eyes met she said to me, “You must not be from around here.”

I just nodded.

She was absolutely right.

I’m from a little rural village an hour away from this big store. It’s a place where our wilderness journeys are not journeyed alone. We reach out to one another.

I’m from a place where those who have “snags” are not cut out but are incorporated into the fabric of community.

I’m from a place where a little white church taught my heart not to worry or be apprehensive or be selfishly overprotective about what others might think of my brother who is “different.”

I’m from a place where when someone cries, we all cry.

When someone hurts, we all hurt.

That’s just what happens when you truly love as Jesus wanted us to love.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Snags in the fabric can be beautiful. Today open your eyes to that in which the world is so quick to throw out or toss aside or make fun of and see God’s beauty and purpose.

Day 11—The Prayer Tree

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 11

A silence fell upon the room. A request was made that no one really wanted to step up to and see through. A woman at my table waved to the waitress to order another glass of wine. A good diversion on her part, I thought, pondering whether I, as pastor, could order a glass of merlot with her. Hmm…better stick to my diet Coke. Others around me glanced down at the meeting agenda before them feigning interest in what was to be discussed next.

It was the first Wednesday of the month Chamber of Commerce meeting held in the village tavern, where one could get a really juicy mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with a side of some of the best onion rings I have ever tasted. Perhaps the promise of hamburgers and onion rings was the reason I became active in the Chamber of Commerce, as it was a great way of killing two birds with one stone. I was fulfilling the “being part of the community” part of being a pastor while satisfying my love for greasy pub food.

The room was still silent and for a second I found it amusing how the local business owners gathered for the meeting tried not to make eye contact with the Chamber president. The question he asked lingered like a low hanging cloud.

Who will take responsibility for decorating the gazebo on Main Street? Any takers? Any one?

More glasses of wine were ordered and eyes continued to divert eye contact with the one asking the question.

Before I knew it, my hand went up and I could hear my voice saying something my head really didn’t have time to think through carefully, “The little white church would love to decorate the gazebo.”

Smiles from the Chamber president came and sighs of relief were let out from others.

Did I really just volunteer the church to decorate the village gazebo?

We were already very busy with Advent Bible studies, after school programs for kids, a Christmas cookie sale, packing shoeboxes of toys for a mission project, a caroling dinner scheduled and, for the first time in the little white church’s history, two Christmas Eve services were being planned along with a new Christmas Day service. Of course, there were the Christmas Eve luminaries to also coordinate and put together. Now who was in charge of getting the kitty litter to fill the paper bags?

What in heaven’s name did I do?

God’s answer was to come.

For while having one more thing on the church calendar was not ideal, it turned out decorating the village gazebo was a blessing for both the church and the community it served, as it got us out of the confines of the sanctuary and into the heart of where people were—on Main Street, going about their day, making a trip to the bank, the hardware store, the wonderful little café with the best homemade chocolates and the consignment shop, etc.

In the midst of daily life in the village, the folks from the little white church were doing more than just stringing lights on a gazebo. They were shining their lights out to the community, showing they cared just as much as to what was happening on Main Street as what was happening within the four-walls of the church.

As we strung greenery and lights around the gazebo, villagers would stop to say hello and chat and, as I precariously balanced on a ladder to hang a red bow high up on one of the lampposts, I noticed something.

I noticed the beautiful steeple of the white church peeking over at me and realized how much of a beacon of hope the church has been for centuries to those who called this village home. It was then I knew we had to do more than just hang greenery and lights around the gazebo. And so with a fir tree stuck in a pot at the entrance of the gazebo in which the town dropped off earlier that morning, I came up with an idea. Or more like it, God’s Spirit spoke to my heart as to what to do.

The little white church would decorate the village tree with prayers, many prayers and blessings for neighbors and friends who loved their village dearly.  808_10151275465554650_1226466341_n

So one night we gathered the youth and the children of the church and with permanent markers in a variety of colors and weather resistant foam sheets, Christmas ornaments were created in the shapes of stars and crosses and hearts. Written upon them were our prayers for all in the village. When we were done, we put on our coats and made our way just up the street to the gazebo where we finished decorating.

Yes, the little white would love to decorate the gazebo, I volunteered, not knowing what I was getting our church into. But God knew exactly what we were to do.

We decorated the public tree with the promises of God for all to read and for all to remember that God had not forgotten the once thriving village that now struggled as so many little communities now struggle all throughout our country. God had not forgotten those who called the village home, sweet, home.

A few days before Christmas I was having the desire to have my mushroom and Swiss cheese burger complete with the best onion rings I have ever tasted. I just couldn’t wait till the January Chamber of Commerce meeting.

As I walked from the church to the tavern to pick up my order, I passed the gazebo and the prayer tree. There standing in front of the tree was an elderly lady with a little child. She was leaning down gently speaking to the child who I could hear, as I came closer, was asking about what the ornaments said. Each ornament the child pointed to, the woman read the prayer out loud.

It is an image I will forever hold in my heart for it was a moment when I experienced Christ’s church becoming once again a vibrant and vital witness out into the public, where our witness to God should be.

The woman noticed me staring at the beautiful scene she unknowingly gifted me with and she smiled and said, “This tree is such a blessing. God is indeed with us. God is good.”

I smiled in agreement and went on my way. I had a mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with the best onion rings I have ever tasted waiting for me at the tavern.

God is good. All the time.

Peeling Paint

Should I or shouldn’t I? I mean, really, what’s the worst thing that could happen if I climbed this rickety ladder? Maybe I shouldn’t have asked that question because my mind suddenly started to answer with many a scary scenario.

I could fall. I could seriously hurt myself in the fall. I wouldn’t be able to call for help, as there was no cell signal in this part of Vermont in which our little red house sat sweetly in a valley surrounded by fields and views of the Green Mountains. I would be alone and hurt with no help coming anytime soon as my husband had not yet joined me for our visit to our little homestead. I would be left there on the grass risking the chance of a garter snake slithering upon me.

Eeek. Garter snakes. I don’t like them. My mom and dad recently reported that on one of their visits to our little red house they saw a “huge” one slithering underneath the apple tree. Of course, the snake grew larger as their story continued. Still, I wouldn’t want to risk meeting said snake no matter how small or large it was.

Maybe I would be okay if I climbed this ladder. There was, after all, my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie. But as I looked over at her hugging the side of the fence as a sudden wind had picked up and frightened her, I realized she was no Lassie. I was on my own. And so I asked myself again, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I decided to climb this rickety ladder I had just wrangled out of the damp, stone cellar, and set before me on the uneven ground below me, all because I couldn’t live one more minute with what my husband could live with forever?

I just couldn’t live with the strips of paint peeling from the beaten-up-by-too-many-harsh-winters clapboards that sided our home. Something had to be done.

I grabbed hold of the ladder with one hand and hesitantly put my foot onto the first rung. My heart started thumping harder. Up onto the next rung my foot went. Then the next and then the…wait, I had forgotten something. I had forgotten the can of paint and paintbrush. Back down I went and grabbed the necessary items needed for painting, wondering all the while how was I to hold on to dear life…and the ladder…and the paint can and the brush?

As one who loves to take on the challenge of a “can’t be done” project, I fought my fears and went back up the ladder, balancing each step I took with the can and brush in one hand while the other hand grabbed the next rung.

I finally came to the first patch of peeling paint and leaned over to scrape it off. As I leaned I made the mistake of looking down. Our little house didn’t look that tall but from where I was, “down” looked like a very long way to go. Sweat came dripping down my forehead as I whispered: “Hold it together.” “Breathe.” “Don’t think about it.” “I can do this.” I scraped quickly and then threw the paint over the bare spot. My sense of accomplishment was short lived for I realized while one piece of peeling paint was dealt with, there were many more taunting me further up the house.

It was then I had to ask myself the very question my husband asked while trying to persuade me to leave the ladder where he had put it—in the cellar.

Why does the peeling paint bother me so much?

Peeling paint exposes more than weathered clapboards; a lesson of the heart is revealed as well.

Peeling paint exposes more than weathered clapboards; a lesson of the heart is revealed as well.

The most obvious answer was simply because peeling paint was an eyesore and made the house look shabby. What would those passing by think? To which my husband would reply, “No one cares.”

But there was more going on than just what would the neighbors think. In some way the peeling paint was symbolic of everything I was taught you had to fix or cover up in life. Now my parents, who had more of my husband’s “no cares” attitude, didn’t teach me this.

This need to be perfect or have your act together or at least appear to have your act together was instilled in me during my days as an aspiring Manhattan magazine editor. It was there in the city in which Sinatra sang, “if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere,” I saw firsthand how life’s disappointments, hurts, flaws, and even painful scars, were all too easily—and expected to be—painted over with whatever paint you could find. Lonely? Paint over it by working longer and harder. Heartbroken? Paint over it by rushing into a new relationship quickly. Don’t give the brokenness anytime to heal. Dissatisfied with yourself? Paint on a new persona, workout more, buy new clothes, and get a makeover. Do whatever you can to cover up the peeling parts of your life because you don’t want the world to see the weather-beaten clapboards that are hidden underneath in your heart. For it is more than just an eyesore. It is a reminder of our own finitude and vulnerability. And no one wants to be reminded of that. So let there be no peeling paint in life—ever.

Yet here I was with peeling paint and a husband who just didn’t seem bothered by it at all.

His “no one cares” attitude was strengthened by his other observation. “Everyone around here lives with peeling paint,” he said. And they do.

I remember when I first came up north to “God’s Country” as the locals called it, I noticed many a house, many a barn—and even the picturesque white clapboard church I was to pastor—telling the story of how they had withstood yet another season of howling winds, pelting rain and falling snow. I was told with a shrug of the shoulders, “That’s just life around here. Paint will peel. Nothing much you can do about it except live with it.”

There wasn’t an urgent need to cover up what tough seasons had scarred, be it the tough seasons of Mother Nature herself or the tough seasons that barrel down on us in our life—illness, fractured relationships, financial worries, death.

If anything, the peeling paint on display all around me in so many ways provided the space to face finitude and vulnerability without dread or fear or the feeling of failure or hopelessness. The peeling paint was in fact a shared communal experience no one judged, but rather, was understood by all. It was simply a part of life not to be covered up. It was a part of life to accept, embrace and learn to live with. And the learning to live with? Well, that’s when an eyesore miraculously becomes something beautiful and amidst the newly discovered beauty before you is where healing begins.

As I stared at the marred side of my Vermont homestead, I saw the beauty before me and in that beauty I realized something. It was here in a place where paint peels freely, the weathered clapboards of my own heart were accepted and welcomed and loved by a community which knew the truth so many of us try to deny. In life, paint will indeed peel. There really is no need to rush and cover it up.

Farm is Now in Session

It was an idea discussed only in hushed whispers for many years. Students with farming backgrounds would come to the hallowed halls of seminary and make an important connection between farming and theology, and they would ask the question.

What if theological education could be combined with farming?

What if future pastors, many hailing from suburban and urban metropolises, actually had the opportunity to get their hands into the very dirt in which they talk about when the ashes are smudged onto one’s forehead and they say, “From dust you come, to dust you shall return.”

What if seminary could be a farminary? Farminary, an outdoor classroom where everything Jesus spoke of—the seeds, the weeds, the wheat, the grain that must die in order to produce life—became more than just words on a page, but became powerful, tactile lessons of God’s love for all of creation.

Students with farming in their blood would come to the hallowed halls of seminary—and they would go, leaving behind the ghosts of conversations hoping to be resurrected one day. The day of resurrection has come.

I stood on the soil of the soon-to-be-full-fledged hoop house on what it is now Princeton Theological’s Farminary, and smiled. For as I looked at the last of the peppers, the late in the season green beans and the strips of land being primed with compost in anticipation of the next growing season, it all made sense to me for it is in a garden, working the soil, planting a seed, dealing with grubs that stole my crops one year (a row of beets, broccoli and acorn squash), that I have felt so close to God. For the garden has been the place for me where life’s challenges, life’s failures, life’s defeats mingled with those seemingly fleeting moments of miracles, hope and, surprisingly at times, abundant blessings. It is in the garden where I have felt it the most. I have felt God’s hand on my shoulder. It is while tilling the soil and being part of God’s creation where I have learned to trust God’s provision—even when the harvest flops.

Now I am no farmer. I am a North Jersey girl who only knows how suburban sprawl grows. I have the reputation of being able to kill even the easiest plant to grow.

I am a North Jersey girl who shocked her colleagues when I said “yes” to serving a church in rural Upstate New York right on the border of Vermont all because I felt so strongly that there were lessons of life and faith waiting for me there. And there were many lessons of life and faith that I will forever treasure.

I am no farmer but I have attempted to “live off the land” but the soil on my Vermont homestead proved too rocky and too in need of the right nutrients that a novice like me had no idea how to remedy. My husband wasn’t surprise, and seemed almost relieved, when after two seasons of failed farming I announced, “I think I am just going to let the grass grow over that plot of land.” Of course, he cringed when I added, “Maybe you can break a new plot for me next spring over on the other side of our land?”

Friends who know me well look quizzically at me when I talk passionately about the lessons we can learn from farming and my desire to do so.

“Um, Donna, you know you can’t take your cute Kate Spade handbags out into the fields with you?” asked one friend who seemed as equally perplexed as she was concerned.

No, I am no farmer. I am the daughter of a woman who has harbored the same dreams of farming. And I am the daughter man who grew up on a farm in Switzerland. My dad, thought, left that life to become an engineer. Still I wonder if the Swiss farming DNA is in me, for I have always been a pioneer girl at heart, dreaming of having a farm, well, maybe not a full-blown farm, but at least having a successful kitchen garden complete with herbs both culinary and medicinal…someday…

farminary

The emerging hoop house where the first classes at Princeton’s Farminary were held this past spring.

For now, I am excited to see my alma mater has come on board with what those who have grown up on a farm know or those like me, who have served a farming community, know. There is much to learn about God while getting your hands dirty and while breaking your back tilling the ground. There is much to learn about God when witnessing firsthand the seasons of death and rebirth. There is a consoling hug to be felt when seeing your plants fall victim to an early frost. God knows and God cares. There is a gentle hand to wipe the tears of frustration when deer trample your corn. God knows and God cares. There is the resolve not to give up being strengthened when sharing these challenges and defeats in community with others. God knows and God cares.

What makes all of this so worthwhile? The feast that always comes—be it in times of plenty or times of want. For it is a feast of miracles and blessings from the soil to be shared with one another, brought forth and harvested through hard labor and trusting hearts. It is a feast spread before us that teaches us the most precious of all lessons. God cares for us deeply and so we, too, must care deeply and tend lovingly to the soil, to the seeds, to the worms, to the water, to one another.

School, um, I mean, farm is now in session at Princeton Theological Seminary. And for that I say, “Thanks be to God!”

Here’s more of the Farminary story!