A Raccoon Came to Breakfast

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And so, it begins.

This morning there was a raccoon at the chicken coop trying to get its paws inside, reaching for them. Luckily, I chased it away.

But once a raccoon has found its rural vending machine, it will come back eager to select a treat — or two or even five (the number of chickens I have). There’s not much you can do to safeguard your chickens.

The more I read about raccoons, they are smart little bastards — able to open doors, unlatch latches, reach in through wire fences and gnaw and chew on a wing or leg of a still alive chicken. The latter is actually a gruesome tale I read on one of the many chicken chat groups I frequent. Ugh. That is definitely a sight I do not want to see.

My neighbor lost all 10 of his young chickens last week. Bits and pieces were left behind, as well as the hearts, which were eerily placed in a ritualistic-looking circle. “Raccoon,” was all he could mutter to me without breaking down in tears.

My writer’s mind began narrating this spooky little story into the pages of a still unwritten manuscript I have been toying with about a young pastor stumbling upon an 18th-century homestead — that seemed to be calling for her — only to discover ghost children roaming its rooms, calling out, “Pastor, welcome home.”

The story is actually inspired by an old 18th-century saltbox house I had purchased as a new pastor moving into a rural community. The day I closed on the property and officially received the keys, I discovered in an overgrown corner of a pasture headstones from the early 1700s. There was also a shuttered window banging on the upper level of the garage one day soon after I moved in. The noise was so annoying that I ventured in the wind and the rain and climbed the rickety ladder to the loft to secure the window. It was then I noticed a child’s tea set laid out in front of the window. The hair stood on my neck. I felt like an intruder. Or maybe I wasn’t? Maybe I was supposed to be at this poltergeist playdate. “Pastor, welcome home…” (Cue spooky music now.)

Turns out, the previous owner of the saltbox had a side gig as an antique dealer. Thus, the old children’s tea set in the loft.

But I digress. Back to the raccoon.

The carnage the raccoon left behind was horrific, my neighbor said. We then just stared at the now-empty coop, both of us offering a holy, silent blessing to life — and its fragility.

I then heard him speak softly, sadly: “Watch out for your flock.”

Today, a raccoon showed up at my coop. My girls won’t be running freely today chasing bugs or inhaling worms. Sorry, ladies.

It will be a miracle if my chickens survive the summer. Luckily, I do believe in miracles. I also believe in God’s strength to help me face whatever I will need to face if said miracle turns into a massacre.

(And no, I didn’t take this picture. I was not lucky enough to capture such a funny photo.)

Easter at Old Stone Well Farm

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Hope Always Blooms

Happy Easter to all from Old Stone Well Farm! It’s a special day, one where I find hope amid despair, life in the face of death, and remember that God is holding each one of us.
I also invite you to join me on Sofie’s Hill on this Resurrection Day for a beautiful sendoff for Rev the cat. (More on the timing of his farewell in the video! Talk about a God moment!)
It is a joy to have you with me on this day!!! I would love to hear about your Easter God moments. Email me at accidentalcountrypastor@gmail or watch the video on YouTube and leave a message.

Click below for our Easter celebrations to begin.

Blessings!

Hoof Prints

Holy Week is here and I find myself walking more slowly and feeling more deeply. The world around me hasn’t acknowledged the significance of these trying days we are meant to go through before getting to the glorious promise of Easter.

No one has mentioned Maundy Thursday or even Good Friday. No one is speaking of the cross that Jesus faced for us. No one is stopping to reflect and ask a question I find myself asking: “Am I really living as someone who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ?”

Am I living a life of grace and thanks?

Am I living?

Period.

The world around me is acting as if this week is business as usual. Nothing is different. Nothing is changing. Nothing is gained. Nothing is lost.

Yet from where I sit, it seems all this nothingness mingles with a lot of empty busyness.

Work, life, petty annoyances, irksome worries, decisions as to what to have for dinner mixed with trips to the store for more jelly beans for Easter Sunday and then another load of laundry thrown into the washing machine—all create an alternate universe that fools us into thinking we are getting somewhere.

It fools us into thinking we are living.

I went for a walk tonight on the rail trail behind my old little house in the valley. I left my sweet Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, behind for the warm weather here in Vermont has made the trail a hotbed for pesky ticks. Sofie’s thick black fur seems to be a magnet for them.

And so, I walked a lonely walk without my four-legged friend.

The night seemed so quiet without her. It’s funny how you get used to another presence with you on a well-worn path. Since I didn’t have a bumbling dog occupying my attention, I could notice little details on the path.

I noticed hoof prints in the dirt.

The impressions were deep and distinct. I took note of how far down the path they went and decided to follow them, being very careful not to step on them as I didn’t want to erase their presence from the path.

I walked alongside them and thought of the hoof prints the donkey left on the path as it carried Jesus into Jerusalem on the day we observe as Palm Sunday.

Jerusalem. The holy city. The place where Jesus’ triumphal entry would spiral downward quickly to death on cross in just a few short days. There would be an altercation in the temple. Some tables overthrown.

Then the Passover meal shared with friends in an upper room. Feet would be washed. A new mandate given to love one another.

Then a betrayal by a friend followed by an anguished, seemingly unanswered prayer for trouble to be averted, capped off with an arrest. A trial, a guilty as charged edict (guilty of what, being the King of Jews?) and then crucifixion. Tears and wailing by the faithful few, emphasis on few, who stayed with Jesus at Golgotha.

And then that horrible day after someone dies. You might know what I am talking about. That first day without your beloved when you don’t even feel your tears because you are just so numb with shock and grief. You can’t breathe. You can’t think. You can’t imagine life without…

Then something surprising happens.

Amidst unfathomable loss, hope breaks through with the first rays of dawn, revealing an empty tomb and, with it, the promise that death never has the last word. Never. Jesus stands there extending a nail scarred hand to the brokenhearted and offers life anew, life again.

I stooped down and gently traced the hoof print in the dirt. As I did, the birds ceased their singing. The peepers hushed their peeping. I traced it over and over and thought about this week. A week I walk more slowly and feel more deeply.

Hoof prints…imgres

We don’t get to the glory of Easter until we trod the lonely path with our Savior.

Hoof prints…

We don’t get to grace unless we dare to follow the hoof prints leading us into Jerusalem.

Hoof prints…

We don’t truly live as one who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ until we decide to replace all the nothingness filled with plenty of busyness with the commitment to stand at the foot of the cross.

Hoof prints…

We need to weep—really weep—for the darkness in ourselves that sought to extinguish a light so brilliant, we feared it.

Hoof prints…

We need to remember that we don’t get very far walking on paths we decide to walk on.

Hoof prints…

We must follow Jesus’ path. All the way.

Hoof prints…they were left in the dirt so many years ago by a humble animal who carried salvation on its back. Many probably didn’t even notice where the hoof prints led. And those who did? Did they follow?

Would I?

Would you?

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

Hold Loosely

I remember back in my reporter days for a business magazine hearing from a sales motivational coach who said at the beginning of his presentation that if you walked away with only one nugget of wisdom, he had done his job. Just one nugget. That’s all it took to not only make his talk worthwhile financially, but worthwhile in terms of making your business better.

That advice changed my life as I have always remembered it didn’t do you any good getting bogged down with lists of tips or bullet pointed must do’s in order to change your life for the better. All it took was one nugget—received and then acted upon.

Such a nugget recently came my way and it has made a wonderful impact on my life. Early this summer I was attending a writing symposium at Princeton Theological Seminary. I was gathered in a group of advanced writers who had the opportunity to hone our craft, share our prose and talk one-on-one with a former pastor-turned mother-turned published author of teen devotionals and other such books.

One afternoon, as we were gathered in small groups practicing and perfecting our elevator pitches to be used someday on potential book agents, the former pastor-turned mother-turned published author offered some sound advice. She said when writing a sermon, a daily reflection for a devotional, a scene to a mystery novel, whatever it is you’re writing, don’t ever be tied down to the words or ideas you are so in love with.

You might have a vision of where you want your story to go, but many times the story will have a life of its own. Let your story live. Be brutal and pry yourself away from that too long paragraph, that extra descriptive scene, that conversation between two characters that doesn’t move the story forward. Yes, you might think it is the most brilliant thing you have ever written, but holding tightly to your words doesn’t make for a delightful read. Hold loosely the words you write, she said. Cut and paste and put aside. You might eventually include what was cut. Or you might use those words in a different way. Or you might come to see they weren’t as great as you thought them to be.

It’s all okay. Hold loosely.images.jpg

Out of all the nuggets of wisdom gathered at that conference, her nugget is the one I keep hearing and applying  beyond my writing. For how many times do we find ourselves holding on to something we are so enthralled by but it isn’t moving our story forward? How many times do we refuse to edit out something that isn’t good for us? How many times do we cling tightly to something that has died a long time ago? Isn’t it true we tend to stay too long on the battlefield, bloodied and beaten down, never realizing the skirmish has long been over?

While the preacher side of me always gravitates to the message that there’s always hope for tomorrow and that God can revive all that is lagging, there’s also the reality that a seed must first die before bringing forth new life. We are to hold on to hope, but our hope is in the promise of resurrection. And resurrection cannot happen without the holding loosely—and the eventual letting go—that death asks of us.

Hold loosely—to your words.

Hold loosely—to your ideas.

Hold loosely—to your future plans.

Hold loosely—to even those you love and things you love.

Cut and paste and put aside. The story of your life will be brilliant. Just let God offer His revisions.

Hot Coco, Cherry Jam and Bread

Aunt Sofie is not expected to make it through the night.

It’s strange how a few words spoken in just seconds have the ability to linger in your heart. But linger they do. Just as the smoky residue from the burnt bacon I attempted to cook for breakfast that morning continues choking my lungs, I can’t stop this sadness within from suffocating me.

I am sad for my father’s older sister that her time has come to close her eyes to the beauty of the Swiss Alps she had called home for more than eight decades. I am sad to think she will no longer pick cherries from the trees I once helped her pick from when I was child visiting my dad’s family in Switzerland.

Nothing tasted as good as the tartness of her jam spread abundantly on thick, crusty bread served up with a side of hot coco. Even in the summer hot chocolate was the drink served to us kids, and this wasn’t the packets of Swiss Miss I was used to. This hot coco was the real deal, made with milk from the herd of Brown Swiss who munched on grass and wildflowers in the field. As the drink cooled, the milk would curdle on top creating a slippery film of creamy sweetness you could peel off and eat.images

If you really wanted to fit into the Swiss side of the family, you would dunk the crusty bread into the chocolate elixir, allowing it to get soaked just enough to make it moist yet not to the point where it would fall into the bottom of your mug. The “who can dunk the bread the longest into the hot coco without having it disintegrate into pieces” became a game for my brother and sister and I that summer.

I pick up the roll on my lunch plate. I dunk it into my tepid coffee. Kerplunk. Game over. I had once again dunked too long. I stare into the mug. I can’t breathe. I am suffocating. Suffocating with sadness over the loss of my Aunt Sofie and what it represents.

Her death is not just the passing of yet another one of my father’s many siblings. Her death widens the ever-growing gap between me and my Swiss heritage and adds to a worry I have held since my teen years—what will happen to my connection to family when my father is gone? I never was good at mastering languages and so my meager attempt at learning the Swiss German dialect spoken by my family failed many years ago. And so I am sad about losing a family that I have never really known except through the all too few visits made and the all too few stories my dad has shared with me.

Whether we like them or not, family is important. Family gives us a sense of belonging and an understanding of who we are. As I get older I have come to respect that truth. I have also come to understand why it is that Vermont is and will forever be home to me. For whenever I see the clouds hanging low over the hills and valleys, whenever I hear the cows moo, whenever I hike high into the Green Mountains, whenever I pick cherries or strawberries, whenever I wake up to the early autumn surprise of seeing snow sprinkled on the top of the mountains like powdered sugar on a donut, I feel a powerful sense of belonging and I feel connected to those whose eyes are the same blue as mine.

We will never truly understand who we are, where home is or what makes our hearts come alive with great joy, until we come to know those we are a part of.

And so as each elderly aunt and uncle closes their eyes to the Alps before them, I feel the urgency all the more to keep my eyes opened, to see the many blessings of family before me and to surround myself with that which says “home.”

I feel the responsibility to preserve legacies—even if the legacy is simply the game of dunking bread slathered with cherry jam into a cup of hot coco. It’s something. It’s a start.