Standing Up for My Rural Flock

I have friends who have been up in arms since Trump became president. They spend their time writing about the injustices and stupidity coming from our government. They spend time protesting and fighting for the rights of those Jesus calls in the Bible “the least of these.”

Most of these friends are fellow pastors who, like myself, know that, yes, we must fight for those being overlooked and treated unfairly. I see their passion and hear their anger and I pray.

Not for them to be victorious. I pray for justice for all to come…and for the scales to drop from all our eyes.

I am a country pastor. I came to this call quite accidentally. My Calvinist friends are quick to argue with me when I say this. They point out that nothing is accidental with God. True. Nothing is. But that still doesn’t mean we in our limited understanding of God’s crazy ways can comprehend all that God does. And so, I am an accidental country pastor.

I was called to a little white church years ago not realizing that this was more than a call to pastor a church. This was a call to start living again, to heal a broken heart and to allow God to reveal the who I really am.

I traded in my designer heels for a pair of good old barn boots. Mud season can be a real bitch in this part of the country. I admit, though, I have held on to my Kate Spade handbags. I am thinking that perhaps Miss Spade should make a line of rural handbags? Ones that complement the caked mud against black rubber…

Back to my point. I am a pastor serving rural America, an area in which prayed for someone like Trump to take office. An area where people feel his election is God’s grace being poured on the land—finally.

And I can see why they rejoice. I can see why they are turned off by clergy who they say are so “liberal” and don’t get it.

Maybe we clergy don’t truly get it?

I can see this because as I live and serve and pray for those who call little white churches, faded clapboard houses and sagging old red barns home, I hear their frustrations of being treated as “the least of these.” T

hey lament how they are overlooked by the decision makers in “the cities.” They don’t appreciate how those with higher education seem to talk down to those with a high school degree.

They are tired of the Roman Empire laughing at poor little Nazareth.

After all, can anything good come from Nazareth, the backwoods biblical village that Jesus hailed from?

We know the answer is yes. Something good did come from Nazareth.

The truth is this country is made up of many Nazarethes. And the people I have been called to shepherd have been tired for a very long time of being ignored, joked about and not treated fairly.

I moonlight as a reporter for a local paper. Just the other day in an editorial planning meeting, a colleague spoke about how a school in a village in the same county as which I serve God’s children has a big problem. They can’t get substitute teachers. No one wants to come.

You want me to go where? There? Where exactly is it? I think I heard there are rednecks in that area? My friend saw a few Confederate flags hanging from trailers. No, thank you. I don’t want to be there for the children who need a teacher.

It was the same for the little white church God called me to. Friends in Manhattan and north New Jersey where I then lived asked if I had this desire to preach to cows.

What’s up there for you? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Turns out there was something amazing in rural America for me. My relationship with God grew stronger as did my realization I had a passion to advocate for churches that no one seemed to know about or care about.

I thought about the school struggling to get substitutes. I thought about the churches struggling to get pastors who just weren’t just using them as a stepping stone to the next “bigger” church in their preaching career.

I thought back to a newspaper story I did in December where a man of a local American Legion explained why his colleagues were cutting ties with a larger national organization in their mission to collect Christmas toys for children. He said they collect so many toys but had to drive down to the “big city of Albany” to drop them off. And then, those in the city would decide what those in rural America needed.

“They don’t know our needs. We wanted our children to get what they deserve…more toys,” he said.

We want our children to get what they deserve…not just more toys. And so, the vote went to Trump because people were tired of not being heard. I’m not saying that this was the right vote or not. I’m just presenting the truth of what I see in my work as an accidental country pastor.

So, when I see protests and angry notes on Facebook from clergy friends about the unfairness of the actions coming out of Washington D.C. my heart cries. Yes, voices need to be heard. Definitely. We need to make sure the rights for all are protected and that new laws are made to help those who are in need. I’m not arguing against that.

But as pastors in the cities make their protest signs, I wish they would also pray for the little white churches in rural America who struggle to find shepherds. Pray for the schools who no one wants to teach in. Pray for the children who are in need, who seem to get overlooked. And I am not just talking about toys at Christmastime. Pray to understand why the country voted the way it did.

For the snide comment “can anything good come out of (insert a rural community)” has been heard for too long.

I know I am putting my heart out there and some might be angry with my words today. But I welcome all comments, even those who disagree with me. I just want to share and get a conversation going.

For when we don’t have the opportunity to talk to one another, we miss the opportunity to discern a new path that God is asking us to venture out on.

When we are prevented from talking to one another all because our differences are too great, then we thwart the work of the Spirit.

For our open and honest conversations, I believe, are indeed sacred offerings lifted to God.

Lenten Prayer for Today: Lord, I pray for all those who are feeling discarded and not heard. I pray for your Spirit to heal divisions. I pray for especially for all the churches, schools, businesses and household in rural areas who have felt rejected for far too long.

 

A picture of the little white church painted for me when I first came to rural America to serve God’s children. Life in the country may be different than the city, but we are all seeking the same thing: to be heard and loved, to know all of God’s children are worthy.

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Sundays at The Old Stone Well Farm

In the midst of all the protesting and division in our country this weekend, Pastor Donna invites you to step away from it all and to reflect on what it means to come together and remember the promise to those walking in darkness that light is indeed shining.

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.

Christmas Eve at Old Stone Well Farm

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

Many blessings and a Merry Christmas!

Pastor Donna 

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

 

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

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Those in Exile

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 1:

O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.

Advent is a season that begins in a puzzling way for our culture. It begins not with the festive “ho, ho, ho’s” and bright twinkling lights. Advent begins with the dark still hovering over the land, with people yearning to see light.

It’s a season that begins with the invitation for us to listen to the voices of those in exile. To really listen to the mournful voices who cry out to God to be delivered from suffering. The voices who beg to be heard. The voices who simply want to be “home.”

We’re in a season where that ache to be home is very real for so many. The ache could be the desire to be physically home. My sister knows that ache. She and her husband moved to Florida a few weeks ago and are having to live in an extended-stay motel as the completion date of their house has been delayed. Her hope to have been in their new home for Christmas will probably not happen this year.

The joy of beginning a new chapter is not quite what she had envisioned. She had envisioned a glistening Christmas tree standing in her very own living room. But here she is. Right now. Not home. Yet.

Then there is the ache that I think is the more common this time of year. One we know all too well, especially as we get older. The ache to return to the home of one’s childhood. There you can once again smell the warm sugar cookies mom is taking out of the oven. You can see dad teetering on the ladder positioning the faded plastic reindeer just right. You can see the faces of all you love gathered at the dinner table. Their faces are glowing in the light of the candles on the Advent wreath.

We’re in the season of Advent and it’s a time to take note of those who long to be home. It’s time to hear their voices and offer them a listening ear, an understanding heart, the patience of a saint to perhaps listen to a story of Christmas past you have heard many times before. It’s time to offer a tissue to catch the tear from the eye of a friend who longs for a loved one who has gone home.

Advent is about the promise that is coming. The promise that no matter what exile you find yourself in there will be rejoicing again. The light of Christ will break through the darkness.

I know a little a bit about being in exile.

This time last year I was longing to be home again in Vermont. I knew God had a plan for me. I knew God had ministry for me to do back home. I knew it. But God knew I also had some things to learn while away from home. I needed once again to trust in the darkness. I needed to wait for the rejoicing to come. I needed to continue loving God, worshipping God, seeking God, even when it seemed God had checked me off the “nice” list and was making sure I wouldn’t get my Christmas wish list fulfilled.

I was tempted to give up, give in. There were days in which I had to face the reality that perhaps I couldn’t go back home. Then, as it was to the children of Israel so long ago, their time of waiting ended. It was time to go home. God heard in the most unexpected ways and God led me back.

And here I now sit back at my farm table writing, in my role as “an accidental country pastor,” traveling country roads dotted with cows and back to the way of life that those in the little white church I once pastored invited me to be part of—a life filled with an unwavering hope in the future, no matter how dark the days get, because they have seen how God has never let the down.

As we begin our Advent journey, may you remember that God never lets you down either. God always hears the cries of those in exile and leads us back to the place in which we will once again find ourselves rejoicing.

Scripture to Reflect On

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called:  The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

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A candle of hope burns on the sill of my kitchen window. 

This Thanksgiving

 

Thanksgiving is drawing to a close. The turkey, stuffing and yams (what’s left of them) are sitting in the fridge in Tupperware bowls. The dishwasher is tackling the dishes I rather not tackle. And the pecan and pumpkin pies are waiting to be warmed, sliced and topped with ice cream. The holiday dinner finale, however, will have to wait. I need to do something important. And I need to do it now.

I need to pause, take a look around and fall on my knees in prayerful thanks to God who answered the cry of my heart in the most amazing way. I have to offer my tears of joy to God and recommit my service to Him who has brought me here to the place I am right now. Home. Home in the little red house where cows are my neighbors and Vermont’s Green Mountains are my backyard. Home where those who once knew me “the pastor of the little white church” still remember me as such and who have shown excitement to have me back and who have embraced me with their hugs and blessings on the streets of the village, in the coffee shop, post office and gas station. Home. A place where one’s heart is content and is guaranteed to find strength for the trying days and refuge in life’s storms.

Yes, I am home.

If you asked my husband and I a few months ago if we would be saying a Thanksgiving grace at our farm table with the slight slant due to the old 18th century floors in our house, I would not have believed it. For a few months ago the possibility of returning home seemed to be a “not now, but later” dream as I struggled with leaving a good ministry job. I, admittedly, allowed the security of an income cloud my belief in God who makes all things possible. I had let the expectations of the world—a good job with benefits—dim my talents and passion for serving God beyond a church building. Dare I say, I had, gulp, lost my faith in God and began trusting in my own abilities to make a life worth living. And where did it get me? Nowhere.

But God is patient with us. God doesn’t give up on us. God continues to work in our lives, even when we have taken over the steering wheel. And so in the spring, God ever so gently led me to a retreat for clergy. A gift of sorts to step away and discern the next steps in ministry. Every morning I woke up early to go for a walk. As the mist hovered over the lake and the birds awoke with song, I felt something. I felt a connection to the divine again. And I heard it. I heard God whisper, “You can do all things. Trust me.”

You can do all things. Trust me.

But how will I pay the bills if I move back to Vermont?

Haven’t I provided for you before? You can do all things. Trust me.

But where will I preach and share the amazing promises of a God who never leaves us alone?

I will show you how to reach my children. I will provide the opportunities. You can do all things. Trust me.

But…

“Donna, can we pray for you?”

The offer came from the retreat leaders one afternoon. Perhaps they saw me deep in thought. Perhaps they saw right through my smile and sensed the worry within. Perhaps they could see I, like Jacob, was having one heck of a wrestling match with God.

Whatever they saw, I accepted their offer and told them about the strong pull on my heart to go back home and to become an advocate, a voice, for small rural churches, but I just couldn’t see a clear way back. They gave me a warm, reassuring smile that told me they completely understood where I was at that moment. They had been there once as well. They asked what was on my heart and I shared. I shared with them how I could see myself back home in rural Vermont, serving God, serving His children, but that I didn’t the way to get there. I told them how I wanted to get back to my writing roots and still be a pastor. I told them the ideas I had for cooperative rural ministry where it wasn’t about just one church, but a network of churches serving together. I told them about my ideas for a rural ministry network, offering resources and prayer support. I told them my dreams. Now it was time to turn to God and hear His dreams for me.

We clasped hands, bowed our heads and prayed. We prayed for surrender. We prayed for strength. We prayed for provision. But most of all we prayed for God to use me as God wanted to.

After the “amen” we began to make our way to lunch. It was then one of those prayer angels stopped me before entering the room and reassured me, “You will be home and home just in time for the holidays. I just know it. You will be serving God beautifully. I can see it.”

On the last day of the retreat, each participant was given a stone embossed with the word “Credo” on it. It would be a reminder for us to live out the dreams God had awakened in each us, to realize the responsibility we had to use our talents in glorifying God, to live out our life’s creed and not fall victim to simply making a living, but rather unleashing the life God has planned for us. I carried that stone with me for months, caressing it, holding it, praying with it and tonight it sits on the fireplace mantel surrounded by the gourds I have once again received as a gift from a dear woman from the little white church who has always made sure the pastor’s house looked perfect for the holidays.

Yes, the pecan and pumpkin pies will have to wait to be warmed, sliced and topped with ice cream. For I need to fall on my knees in prayerful thanks to God who heard my cry and who has led me to where I am at this moment. I am home. Surrounded by cows, Green Mountains, gourds and many welcome home hugs.

And so a blessed Thanksgiving to you from me, the girl who once lived in Manhattan and wore cute little heels but who dared to trust God and leave it all behind for the joy and privilege of being an “accidental country pastor.”

 

A Prayer

 Loving God, you see the struggles in our hearts. We want to follow You and trust, but the worry and fear seem stronger and greater than our faith. Forgive us. Increase our faith in You. Help us to let go of all the what if’s. Help us to realize life is too short not to trust You. Help us this very moment to see the impossible can be possible. With you by our sides God let us dare to dream big, dare to stand up and make the world a better place, dare to go against what the world says is living and live with You at the center of our lives. Let us always be thankful and praise You for the wonderful way you lead each one of us to that place of belonging, fulfillment, contentment and joy—to that place we call home. Amen.

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Thoughts at the Old Slate Farm Sink

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My beloved cows. Well, not mine. They belong to my neighbor, my husband and I simply allow them to graze on our property. It saves me from mowing more land!

 

WRITER’S NOTE:  This entry is a “Throwback Thursday” one. It was written a year ago but never published on Accidental Country Pastor. And so I wanted to share. 

I am not sure why, but tonight as I stood in front of the old slate farm sink washing the dinner (and lunch and breakfast) dishes in my little Vermont home, I felt a twinge of sadness, the kind of sadness that comes with good byes. It was strange because the calendar tells me it is still early in the summer and so this twinge couldn’t be the back-to-school blues I get even though I am way beyond those back-to-school years.

The twinge was sharp. What was this about?

As my hands instinctively plunged into the warm sudsy water fishing for the next utensil to scrub, my eyes gazed out the window watching the neighbor’s cows graze on our hilly pasture. A slight wind blew the tall grass and the limbs of the apple tree hanging over the marshy part of the yard swayed.

The cows only looked up for a second to see what the rustling was about before becoming disinterested and returning to munching on their dinner, which featured an appetizing array of clover and wild strawberries that mysteriously appeared on our property this year. (Those birds have a way of planting little surprises, don’t they?)

That’s when I wondered. Did they ever feel such a twinge? Were they ever aware of something larger at work in their lives? Did they ever give the winds of change more than just a disinterested passing glance?

Perhaps I am guilty of paying too much attention to the winds blowing in my life that often bring on these twinges of sadness. I have been told that I “feel” too much, but after more than four decades of living this way and sharing it through my writing, I wouldn’t trade my oversensitivity for anything. I remember a seventh grade report I did on the Noble Prize winning novelist and poet William Faulkner who said, “the human heart in conflict with itself can make good writing because only that is worth writing about.”

So I have learned to embrace the twinges I get. I embrace them and I see them as God’s gifts to me. Gifts that open me to seeing beyond what currently is, to the what might be, that always leads to the what is to come.

The cows munched, my eyes gazed and my hands kept washing the dishes.

Earlier that day I had a visit with a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in more than year. It was wonderful catching up with her. As we sat on her patio of her lakefront home, I had that familiar twinge of sadness. I guess I was already thinking about the good bye that was to come and wondered when I might see her again. I guess I was thinking about the last time I sat with her, as I got ready to move away just a year ago. I guess I got to thinking about the last time I sat in the double Adirondack chair and enjoyed the view of the lake with her husband, whose health was declining, by my side. I remembered the wind blowing then and how I just wanted it to stop. No more changes. Stop for just even a second.

I looked over at that chair now empty. The wind blew off of the lake and the roses she planted a few years ago, which have matured beautifully, began to dance as if filled with joy. So why then the sad twinge I felt?

As I drove the serpentine country road home, I passed a farmhouse that I have passed hundreds of times. I always took notice of it because in the yard there were these huge wooden letters that would spell out words. In all the years I have driven past that house, the words have typically been three that took turns appearing: “peace,” “joy,” and “rejoice.” This time, though, there was new word.

TRUST.

I had to slow down and do double take. Trust? I have never seen that spelled out before on the property. Trust. It was as if God put that sign there just for me, especially since the last “t” in the word was a cross.

Trus+…

Trust the twinges of sadness. Trust the now empty chairs. Trust the letting go. Trust the growing older. Trust the children turning into adults before your eyes.

Trust the winds blowing.

Trust…the unknown tomorrow for God will lovingly and gently reveal it. For it is God and only God who holds my comings and goings, my plans to my life, in His loving and very capable hands.

The dishes were done. The warm sudsy water had turned cold and sudless. And the cows? They began their march back home.

I watched the slow, solemn procession. Their tales waved as if waving good-bye to me. I leaned over the sink towards them as if that would keep them from leaving me. Over the hill and beyond they went until the last little calf was out of sight.

“Trust,” I heard myself whisper softy out loud.

The cows will be back…

Tomorrow. Just trust.

Day 6—The Gift of a Silent Night

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.

4_silentnight_jackdornothingDecember 6

Bible study had wrapped up for the night and as I walked out the church parking lot with the others I couldn’t help but to notice how beautiful the night was. The stars were bright and hung so low it seemed you could actually reach out and grab one. The wintery air, while brutally cold, was still refreshing and I made sure to take a few extra breaths before getting into the car.

Winter was always my favorite season and this, my first winter up north, was indeed one amazing blessing to me. Everything from the bright stars to the crisp air to the crunch of the snow beneath my feet just seemed to be special presents from above.

Once in the car, I turned on the heat and then the radio before pulling out of the church driveway to head home.

As I drove the desolate country roads home, the magic of the night continued when I noticed the sight of some stray cows making their way across the field to join the rest of their bovine family who were already in the barn settling in for the night.

Suddenly “silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright” which was now playing on the radio, took on a new and deeper meaning for me.

As a little girl the words to this Christmas hymn were just that: words. Words that told of some elusive night that one could really only sing about, but very rarely would be able to fully experience.

Silent night, holy night was a fantasy. I grew up in a less than silent suburb where the New York City skyline was in our backyard. Streetlights dimmed the starlight and traffic whizzing by made nights far from holy. And so this dear-to-my-heart Christmas hymn that my father used to sing in his native Swiss German while we lit our family Advent wreath, was right up there with my favorite fairytale—nice to hear, but don’t expect it to come true.

That is, until now. For on my drive home from Bible study I was the recipient of a silent and holy night. The realization was too great for me to comprehend, and an overwhelming sense of God’s grace filled me with awe.

When I finally pulled up to my 18th century Saltbox with only candles flickering in the windows to greet me, all I could do was turn off the car engine, the lights, the heat and the radio and sit in the driver’s seat. I couldn’t get out of the car. I didn’t want to. I wanted to hold on ever so tightly to the silence and holiness that had engulfed me. For all was a beautiful calm and all was brilliantly bright. God’s confirmation that I was right where I was supposed to be was filling my heart.

Earlier that night at Bible study we talked about the gifts God wants to give to us in this holy season. Gifts that are not store bought but rather gifts that come from a heavenly storehouse. The gifts from God to us, God’s beloved, that are meant to bless us and to fill our hearts with joy. Gifts of grace to the one who stands in need of a second chance. Gifts of forgiveness to the one who has crossed a line and who has hurt someone they love. Gifts of healing to the body riddled with disease. Gifts of hugs to the one who is lonely. Gifts of smiles to the one who can’t seem to find anything to smile about. Gifts of a silent and holy night to the one who needed to know God was indeed with her.

I knew I had to eventually get out of the car. But before doing so, I whispered my “thank you” to God and then I made a promise. I promised to always keep my heart opened to receiving the real gifts of Christmas.

And so may this Advent you promise to do the same. Be alert to the real gifts being given to you that are not from a store, but rather come from God’s divine storehouse. And may you find yourself discovering the beauty of a silent and holy night. For it does exist. It is not some fairytale. God is always with us.

Columbus Day Nostalgia

I woke up feeling nostalgic about Columbus Day. Yes, of all days, Columbus Day, that peculiar holiday (I use the term “holiday” loosely) in which growing up sometimes we kids would have off from school and sometimes we wouldn’t. Sometimes my father would have off from work and sometimes he wouldn’t.

Time off for this day was never consistent and the lack of consistency only added to the ambiguity of what this day meant and how it was to be observed. The only sure thing was that banks and post offices were closed for a day that nowadays is also fraught with questions of political correctness. Columbus wasn’t the first to stumble upon America and what about the indigenous people stumbled upon?

I wonder. Do school children even make paper plate boats representing the three that were part of Columbus’ expedition? Let’s see, there was the Santa Maria and the Nina…what was the name of the third boat?

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A view from the porch of the new “old” house where I often drank in God’s beauty every morning.

I woke up this Columbus Day with nostalgia almost on par with that of Christmas. But I wasn’t reminiscing about paper plate boats. My mind tripped five years down memory lane to the crisp autumn morning when much to my surprise I heard the rumbling of a pick up truck coming up the dirt road that led to the house I was living in at the time. It was a colonial reproduction that I wasn’t too happy about all because the floor boards weren’t slanting with age, there were no gaps in the door and the wind couldn’t whistle through the airtight new windows. I had made a mistake in buying this new “old” house for it just didn’t have the charm of old-house problems.

Anyway, that Columbus Day I was out on the porch watching the early morning frost melt off of the tall grass in the field that was just behind the stonewall which separated the properties. I often came outside to drink my coffee but on this particular morning I was taking in something way better than caffeine. I realized I was consuming God’s beauty and I couldn’t get enough of the morning frost, the tall grass, the maple tree in the yard that was on fire with color…and now a surprise day off with my not-yet-husband who jumped out of the pick up truck announcing a very special day in store for me. We were going to look at engagement rings!

I stood on the porch feeling like a little girl on Christmas for I had given up on such a day as this. Too much heartache and too many losses had finally led me to surrender my hopes and dreams to God. In fact, just weeks before this man now standing before me came into my life I had a heart-to-heart talk with God. I realized I was really happy with my life in this rural community and that there was nothing more I wanted than to serve God as a minister. I actually had the audacity to tell God it was okay if He didn’t send me that partner in life I had been lamenting for nine years, to be exact, since the loss of my boyfriend in a jeep accident that began my journey in faith I was now on. As if God needed to be told it was okay.

I was driving home from church when I was having this talk with God. The sun was setting over the fields, casting a warm glow over the cows that were munching away on the grass. In the background was a tree line displaying the most beautiful colors of fall that I have never seen before. The trees looked almost heavenly. That’s when I started crying for the joy I was seeking in my life never left me. Joy was still alive and well in my heart. I realized that night there was no better medicine for the brokenness in life than that of God’s handiwork as seen in nature. For how could my heart be downcast when always surrounded such beauty?

God, I discovered on that isolated country road to seemingly nowhere, is always taking us somewhere. We just need to look beyond ourselves and beyond whatever circumstances in life holds us down. We need to keep our eyes focused on the goodness of God that is always right in front of us just waiting for us to finally recognize it—waiting for us to finally say to all that we have, even when it doesn’t seem enough or not what we had planned out for ourselves, “Thank you, God.”

I was definitely saying, “Thank you, God,” that Columbus Day five years ago as I jumped off the porch of a house complete with stonewalls, fields sparkling with melting morning dew and trees singing the praises of God, and into the arms of a man who wanted to spend his life with me—an accidental country pastor who had had her heart broken one too many times. And in the brilliance of a picture perfect New England fall day I saw something even more brilliant. I saw God resurrecting a prayer long thought to be dead. In the crunching of the leaves, we walked hand-in-hand to the pick up truck and down the dirt road we went. It was the best Columbus Day ever.