Scattered Chicken Feathers

Critters often fall prey to other critters. I’ve seen and, unfortunately, heard the not so sweet sound of defeat. It happened with my chickens. I had only been in God’s country — that’s what folks in the little white church I serve call this slice of rural heaven — for a year and decided it was time to get chickens.

I will admit I had no idea what I was doing with them. They did start their young lives in a box in the upstairs guest bedroom. In my defense, I didn’t have a coop yet, and they were guests. Where else were they to stay?  Did I mention I had no idea what I was doing?

When I finally got a coop, I didn’t think too much about other animals who might find the chicks a tasty treat. A fence was put up, but it wasn’t the sturdiest of fences. Any old wolf could have huffed and puffed and blown the fence down. I also ignored all the chicken books advising to dig several inches into the ground with the chicken wire to prevent animals burrowing into the chicken yard. The ground where I lived was hard. It was impossible to dig. The fence went up as is.

Months went by with no incidents. Months turned into a year. My chickens were still alive and well, producing way too many eggs for just one accidental country pastor. I lived on omelets and made lots of quiche. I was feeling good as I ate my latest egg concoction, sort of a mix between scramble eggs and French toast, and looked out the window towards the coop.  If my cooking didn’t qualify yet as gourmet, I thought at least I had graduated to professional farmer.

I patted myself on the back too soon. A wily fox decided to visit that week. You know this story isn’t going to end well. One by one, early each morning, I heard a horrible shrill, lots of frantic clucking and the ruffling of feathers that went way beyond ruffling. By the time I threw on my jeans, barn boots and Carhartt sweatshirt, I was too late. I would get to the coop and see a pile of feathers. I would count the shell-shocked chickens huddled in the corner of the coop. Sure enough one was missing. By the time I had Fort Knox approved fencing on hand, I was too late.

The last chicken standing was standing no more.

I am planning on getting chickens—again. The coop is being worked on even as I type. (Thanks, Dad for hauling wood all the way from New Jersey and building this for me!) Even though my first adventure with chickens was a dismal failure, I am not letting that prevent me from trying again because if I have learned anything living here in God’s country, I have learned that life needs for you to be resilient. Foxes visit coops. Grubs eat cabbages. Rainy summers turn pumpkins into mush. I can go on with the farming failures I have had. Still there is something challenging me to try again. Don’t give up.

Try.

Sometimes, though, the fear we harbor is too great. Don’t you agree? It blocks us from moving forward. It taunts us with its message, “Why bother? You’re just going to cry again.” Sometimes the memory of chicken feathers scattered on the ground is enough to make you throw in the towel. And sometimes you wish all you were dealing with was just a bunch of scattered chicken feathers. After all, shattered dreams and slivers of broken heart are a lot harder to clean up and move beyond.

Yet God calls us into newness. God calls us to see beyond scattered feathers and shattered dreams. It is only with God that we can find resiliency to carry on.

Growing up, I used to hear an old hymn play from the television in the living room. My mom would be watching one of those Billy Graham crusades and at the end of every crusade, “Just as I Am” would play as people came forward to receive Christ.

Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt…

I would come into the living room and plop myself down on the rug and stare at the television. I found myself in awe as to what those people were experiencing. Why were some of them crying? Why were some looking relieved? What were they hoping for, looking for, expecting to happen?

Fightings within and fears without…

I would stare at these people who looked like little ants on the small black and white TV and wonder what the battle inside of them was? What fears were they trying to overcome?

As I got older, though, I understood all too well about “fightings within and fears without.” I knew, too, what it was like to be tossed about with many a conflict and many a doubt. And I understood the need to reach out for the Lamb of God.

I come.

Yes, I come to you, God who offers me something more. I come to you, God who begs us to look beyond failures and setbacks and heartache. I come to you, God who knows the greatest battle we face is the battle within. The battle waged everyday to believe not only in ourselves, but to believe in God who made us and is with forever with us.

I am getting chickens again. The memory of a fox in the chicken house is still there, but I am going to see beyond scattered feathers. I am going to see beyond shattered dreams.

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

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Soaring High

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a business trip. One that involves getting on an airplane. Here I am, though, sitting at the gate waiting to board my flight.

I glance down at the bag of overpriced goodies sitting on top of my tote bag. Gummy bears, a pack of gum, a bottle of water and a magazine or two. All were my travel standbys back in my magazine days when I was jetting off to exotic places such as Africa and Thailand as well as the not so exotic such as Fayetteville and Manhattan (Kansas, that is, home of the Little Apple).

Back then I was in search of the next big story. I was in search of the next big promotion. I was in search of the next big what’s next in my life. I would board the plane and settle into my favorite seat right by a window. I would snap tightly my safety belt and do the obligatory check for the nearest emergency exit. Then I would wait. I would wait for the plane to begin its race down the runway, enjoying the sense of speed and power, until finally it lifted off high into the clouds. I could feel my hopes and dreams soaring as well.

The excitement. The anticipation. The sense that God was not done with me yet. (Oh, yeah, thrown into my tote bag were not just the overpriced goodies. My tiny tattered travel Bible came with me as well.)

Back then I was in search of the next big what next in my life. And back then I knew with God the next big what next would be a beautiful reality.

Now?

Often at times I wonder about the possibility of all things being possible. Will my fledgling someday farm actually become all that I have sketched it to be on paper? Will I run a marathon? Climb mountains? Change lives? Make a difference? Will I…

What is this doubt and questioning? I don’t know who this me is, for I’ve never wondered before about God’s ability to answer the cries and desires hidden in the deepest part of one’s heart. Before I would let my heart cry out and allow my dreams and hopes to soar with trust in God, soar just as high as the planes I travelled on soared.

Now?

Perhaps this is what growing older does to a person. I’ve heard with age comes wisdom. Is this wisdom, though, the culprit in welcoming a cynicism that turns against God’s possibilities? I want to ask wisdom, “How true of a friend are you?”

Back then I was in search of…and I found it.

Now what am I in search of? More importantly where is my faith in God that I will indeed find all my heart is crying out for?

Gummy bears, a pack of gum, a bottle of water and a magazine or two…and my tiny tattered traveled Bible—they’re all in my tote bag, again.

I’m at the airport traveling on business. It feels good to reconnect with my younger self. But it feels even better knowing soon I will be seated by the window where, after clicking on my safety belt and doing the obligatory check of the nearest emergency exits, I will look out into the clouds and allow myself to dream the impossible dreams once again. I will soar beyond all that has kept me down. I’ve done it before. Back then. And with God, I will do it again. Here and now.

My Someday Farm

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Sofie, Pastor Donna’s bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, sits on top of the hill, taking in the view of the accidental country pastor’s someday farm. 

Morning had broken. I threw on my Mucks and barn coat and, with a steaming mug of coffee in hand, went out into the crisp air to start the day with my version of a breakfast for champions—a hearty prayer walk.

Who needs Wheaties when God can nourish you?

The sun was breaking through the fog hanging low in the valley and the wind was shooing away the last remaining clouds trying their best to conceal the Green Mountains of Vermont.

I let out a sigh of contentment. This scene always brought joy to my heart, taking me back to a long-ago visit to my father’s homeland of Switzerland.

It was there a young girl with golden pigtails held her dad’s hand as they walked the hills blanketed with so many wildflowers that not a patch of green grass could be seen.

It was there a young girl would sense already in her life the awe of God’s hand at work in nature, watching as the billowy clouds wrapped around the mountains that seemed to embrace the quintessential Swiss homestead with mystery and grandeur.

It was there a young girl, full of big dreams for the tomorrows yet come, said to her father, “Someday I’m going to have a farm just like this.”

My breakfast of champions—my prayer walk—came to a stop as I noticed I was not alone. The shadow of that young girl with the golden pigtails was walking with me. I stopped and stared and heard my father’s voice as clear as if he was now standing right beside me.

“Someday you will. I’m sure of it.”

That’s what he said so long ago to that young girl with big dreams, big hopes, big prayers.

Some how. Some way. Someday….

Was now.

For some where along the way, without even realizing it, God had been answering me. I was now standing smack in the middle of my someday farm. Sure, to others all they would see were acres of nothing. But my eyes, finally opened to what was possible in the midst of impossibilities, saw it.

I could see the barns that yet stood. The coop yet built. The pond yet to be dug out of the forever wet and marshy piece of land that was such an eyesore to me. I could see the fruit trees not yet planted. The garden not yet tilled. They were all there. I finally saw a young girl’s dreams, hopes, prayers, being answered.

How many times, though, had I walked this walk and never once realized my some days were always right there waiting for me to act on?

I reached my hand towards my shadowy companion, hoping in some miraculous way I could touch not only the hand of that young girl I once knew, but reconnect with her awe in God who embraces us always with his mystery and grandeur. Perhaps if I could hold that young girl’s hand, the one with the golden pig tails, grown up fear and skepticism would give way to childlike trust and faith.

I reached but couldn’t grab. The past is elusive. So instead I reached my hand towards heaven to grab hold of the beautiful here and now God was revealing.

What are the someday prayers and the someday dreams you’ve prayed and dreamt? Could they perhaps be right in front you waiting for you to finally see?

Some how. Some way. Someday…

Is now.

For our Father’s voice whispers to the heart that dreams big, hopes big, prays big, “Someday you will. I’m sure of it.”

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.