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.

 

 

 

An Abundance of Love

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 3:

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son,

so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Sofie, the bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, stopped snoring. Without budging from the little nest she made out of my hand-stitched quilt that was sprawled out on the bed, she opened her eyes and stared at me. She was perplexed. The old dog couldn’t quite understand why I was jumping out of bed so quickly with excitement—and so early.

She lifted her head a bit as if to inquire, “Is it Christmas morning?” I assured her it wasn’t and not to worry. I leaned over and kissed her head and whispered, “I’ll let you know when there is a doggie treat under the tree for you.” She seemed to understand and cuddled deeper into the quilt and went right back to her snoring.

I, on the other hand, washed up, got dressed and ran downstairs with the speed of a five-year old running to that Christmas morning tree surrounded by presents.

No today wasn’t Christmas. Today was just another Saturday early in the season of Advent. Still I couldn’t shake this feeling that this day was going to be one graced with God’s loving touch. This day was going to be one of those “life back in the country” days in which moments to treasure come with a friendly wave of a car passing by. Moments to remember are often as simple as a hug and a quick chat with a friend in the post office.

Today was going to be one filled with simple abundance and moments to treasure. And it was going to begin with a tradition I had longed to experience once again—the little white church cookie walk.

I first heard of the “cookie walk” as a new pastor serving the church. Admittedly, I had to ask if I had heard correctly. “A cookie what? Walk?” I had no idea what to expect.

Christmas cookies to me were ones that you bought in a store—and usually bought last minute—because who ever had time to cook? I know I didn’t. But there we were gathered at a table meeting in a chilly chapel planning “a walk with cookies?”… “no pastor, a cookie walk” to raise money for the many mission projects being done in and throughout the community.

Who is baking what? How many of chocolate chip cookies should be made? What if we have too many chocolate chips? Is there such a thing as too many? Should there be raisins in the oatmeal? What about molasses crinkles? Does anyone even eat molasses crinkles anymore?

I raised my hand. “I do.”

The conversation continued.

We can have Millie bake those. She bakes the best molasses crinkles.

The morning of the walk I came early to the church and couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into the chapel. Tables were overflowing with the most amazing homemade creations from the traditional gingerbread men to the intricate date-nut pinwheels. In between there were varieties of cookies to please every palate imaginable. And just enough chocolate chip cookies.

The cookies were sold by the pound and my instructions were to simply walk around and pick and choose what I wanted and put it on my plate. I felt like a kid let loose in a candy store…no, make that a kid let loose in a cookie store.

I walked around and filled my plate. And filled it some more. And filled it even more.

I didn’t notice the eyes of those watching me growing wider. Nor did I hear the chuckling from those seated by the scale that would weigh my plate. After hemming and hawing whether that one last cookie with a bright red cherry in the middle would topple over the pile on plate, I made the decision to place it on top ever so gently. The cookie tower didn’t come crashing down. Whew!

I then carefully balanced the mountain of cookies as I walked to the table for them to be weighed. The scale moved higher and higher till finally it was announced. Um, pastor, that will be $20. I began laughing, assuring all those gathered around me that I would indeed eat every last one all myself.

The little white church cookie walk.

It was today. A day  I just knew was going to be touched with God’s grace. It had been years since I last found my plate overflowing with cookies. Now I was back home. Back to the traditions that had found their way into my heart and refused to let go. Christmas had come early.

I got my plate once again and turned to tackle those tables filled with cookies. But before digging in, I paused and stared at the beautiful sight of cookies I remembered and longed to taste again.

Those in the chapel probably thought I was just standing there deciding where to begin. I wasn’t though. I was in prayer. For what I was staring at in front of me was not just an abundance of cookies. I was in the presence of an abundance of love. Love that baked those cookies. Love that was represented in treasured recipes handed down from generation to generation. The love of wanting to share with others, to help others and to be gathered together.

I paused at the tables and thought of the season of Advent we are in. A season of anticipating the birth of the Christ child and all that that child’s birth will mean in our lives. I thought about the simple gift of a child that God gave to us, a gift that came with an abundance love. The same love that was in that room. And with a silent “Amen” my prayer was over.

With the eyes widening of those gathered around me, the accidental country pastor began to fill her plate once again…and fill it some more…and more…and more…

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An abundance of love found at the little white church’s cookie walk.

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…

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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!