Right Where You Are

The plane was relatively empty. I was relieved. The last thing I wanted was to be packed in tightly like a sardine. Or worst yet, have someone sitting next to me so that when I inadvertently brushed against the other’s arm while making sure my seatbelt was tight and secure, a conversation would begin—one that would last during take-off, cruising altitude and landing. I just wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

I was on a late flight and tired. My tiredness magnified by the fact that once I touched down I still had an hour-plus drive before I could finally crawl into bed.

I looked around the empty cabin. Yes, perhaps I could get some sleep.

I began to nuzzle against the window and closed my eyes. That’s when I heard the conversation. An older couple was arguing about where to sit. What alarmed me, though, was that their voices were too close to my row. I kept eyes closed and listened. They argued in the way that told me they have been married for many years. The exchange, more humorous than heated, finally ended with the wife plopping herself down in my once-spacious row. Her husband was the distance away that she wanted. He was across the aisle.

I tried hard not to make eye contact with her, but failed. With just one crack of my eye, she began talking.

Were you on a business trip? (My professional dress gave it away that I wasn’t on vacation.)

What do you do? (Ugh…that’s not an easy one to answer. Let’s see. I am a minister. A writer. I was serving a church in Maryland. I’m now back in Vermont where I am trying to be a farmer—well, in my dreams I am trying to be farmer. Truth is, I have one little garden that is struggling and a half-finished chicken coop.)

Yes, all of this came pouring out of my mouth and as I did I could hear my husband’s advice, “You don’t have to tell your life story to a stranger.”

The minister/writer vocation fascinated this woman and spurred on more conversation. She wanted to know everything. And so, I told her. I told her about my call into ministry that led me out of Manhattan where I was editor of a fine jewelry magazine. I told her about seminary and my first call to a little white church in rural upstate New York. I told her about meeting my husband in that rural community. I told her about my dreams to have a farm, to be back writing and to be serving once again in a country church.

And before I knew it, I told her my confession.

“I’m not sure about anything anymore, really. I find myself wondering what God is up to,” I said with a shrug and a smile, adding, “Is it crazy to like wearing heels and, also love wearing barn boots?”

The cabin had grown dark. Only the reading lights overhead from a few seats could be seen. The woman didn’t answer back to my confession. That disturbed me. Throughout the two-hour flight she was quick with the replies. In fact, much to the chagrin of the person in the seat in front of us, she never seemed to once come up for air. She was blessed with a gift for conversation. images

She was quiet now and her gaze shifted from me to the window. I followed her eyes to see what she was mesmerizing her. All this time talking, we hadn’t noticed the full moon in the sky. This wasn’t just any full moon though. This moon was a deep, glowing orange. And from our vantage point in the sky, it looked as if we could reach out and touch it.

We stared and marveled at it, agreeing that we have never seen anything so beautiful.

Silence finally fell on Row 16.

Silence…till the woman, who I now see as one of those angels in disguise Hebrews mentions, gently took my hand and whispered, “You are right where God wants you to be.”

As the moonbeams illuminated the houses and little specks of cars below on the ground, I realized she was right. Life wasn’t as muddled as I thought it was. I just had to get above the confusion and focus my thoughts on things above—God.

For God has a plan. God always does.

We are each where God wants us to be.

 

The Irises Return

This morning on the farm I had a beautiful surprise waiting to greet me. Beyond the old house where I had recently tackled the grass and weeds that were standing at more than four feet tall, covering a large rock, I noticed something pale yellow waving in the gentle breeze.

I had just woken up and was still a bit groggy after what was a long day of clergy meetings the day before. Groggy or not, I could fill my head already spinning with the tasks I needed to get done. There were calls to make, freelance stories to write, worship to plan, a chapter or two in my book to write…oh, yes, that’s right. There was also a vet appointment to make for Sofie, whose wet nose nuzzling against me was my gentle reminder to add her to the “to-do” list.

Still what was waving at me?

I rubbed my eyes and squinted a bit more. It couldn’t be? Could it? I didn’t bother throwing on my mucks and quickly walked to the site of what I had hoped to be a new flower garden sometime this summer.

I should have taken off my socks, I thought, as the wet grass from the recent heavy rains soaked through the cotton quickly. My feet were soon cold, wet and muddy. I didn’t care. I had to see what this pale-yellow blotch was which, as I drew closer, seemed to be dancing with joy at the new day that had begun.

As I got closer I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The pale-yellow dancer was in fact some old friends I thought were long gone. They were my irises I had once loved.

Seven years ago, when I bought “the oldest house in Rupert, Vermont,” there had been beautiful flowers around the big rock.

As the seasons went by, though, the flowers never came back. I figured it was just my brown thumb that chased them away. It had happened before in other old houses I have lived in. One spring the flowers were there and the next they disappeared. My luck with flowers had become a joke among family and friends.

“The flowers probably heard about your gardening reputation and packed their bags and moved away,” they would tease.

And so, I had given up all hope that I would ever see those irises again.

But now here they were.

A surprise resurrection of sorts that had me wondering if I should turn around to see if there were any divine messengers waiting to tell me more good news as there were when the women came to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning, experiencing for themselves a surprise resurrection.

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The irises at Stone Well Farm have come back home. 

I didn’t need to turn around. My good news was right before my eyes. My old friends waving at me—they were my divine messengers telling me of a hope that can bloom when you least expect it to.

The irises were back home and beautiful as ever and grateful to be feeling the warm sun on their petals once again.

The amazing part of their return was that I didn’t do a thorough job in clearing out the tall grass and weeds that had choked them for so long. Still, what I had cleared out was enough.

I had in a way created a space, no matter how tiny, for God’s grace to poke through. A space for something wonderful to come back to life. A space for beauty to enter my world again.

Imagine.

If a flower, thought to be long gone and choked by weeds, could come back with just a little bit of space provided for it, what God could do in our lives if we cleared a bit of space for grace to enter in?

My grogginess wore off and the spinning in my head ceased. All the tasks awaiting me could wait a bit more. I had a reunion to enjoy with my irises. With soggy, muddy socks on my feet I sat on top of the old stone well and smiled at the pale-yellow irises. And together we enjoyed the warmth of God’s grace in the little bit of space that had been created.

Clean-Up Day at the Farm

 

Worship at the farm today has been postponed because there is something important to do. Not that coming together and worshipping God isn’t important. It is. Heck, it’s vital. Our worship is what grounds us. It reminds us of what we all too easily forget.

God is good at being God. We aren’t.

Today, though, there is something that needs to get done that goes beyond a video devotion to be posted online. It’s something I can no longer put off.

Today is clean-up day at Old Stone Well Farm.

And as I pull on my mucks and throw on a much-needed ratty sweatshirt to chase away the early morning chill of this spring morning, I think about the overgrown weeds that have moved onto the farm these past three years that I have been gone.

They have laid down deep roots where, if my memory is correct, irises, daffodils, day lilies and lilies of the valley used to bloom around a huge stone imbedded in the ground.

Where have all the flowers gone?

Dressed and ready to battle, I look out at the weeds and overgrown grass as high as my knees. They look defiant standing there in the sun with just a hint of the stone’s head peeking out. I do believe they are mocking me and my weapon of choice—a rusty, old shovel that belonged to mom and her mom before.

I try not to show my doubt in my ability to battle with the weeds and the rest of the overgrowth containing flora I am unfamiliar with.

Please, Lord, let there be no snakes in the mix as well.

I have no idea what I am doing. Perhaps the weeds have heard through the grapevine (not that I have grapes!) that standing before them is no farmer or gardener.

Yet standing before them is a pastor and writer and wannabe farmer who is also armed with a steadfast belief if you put your heart to something and hang on to the truth that all things are possible with God, well, then all things will be possible.

For God knows we yearn to see those beaten down flowers under our weed-filled paths bloom again.

Yes, the weeds don’t look terrified that I am coming their way to relocate them to a nice pile in a gully beyond Sofie’s Hill. I march towards them nevertheless.

I dig in and begin pulling and tugging. I uproot and yank. I throw the shovel aside and engage in hand-to-hand combat. With both hands firmly grasped on a deceptively strong…I don’t even know what it is am grasping…I squat down to brace my body for this impromptu game of tug of war. The weed, or whatever it is, is winning. I dig my heels in more and refuse to give up. One more tug. I just need to hang on.

And the winner is? Not me. I sigh and decide that weed can stay put—for now.

I continue clearing out the area once full of beautiful flowers. As I work, I find the motions of weeding meditative. I begin sharing with God all the “weeds” I am allowing to overshadow the beauty in my life.

The weeds of worry about aging parents, an older disabled brother who will need looking after and a husband who is looking at career change just as I, too, am in the throes of vocational discernment, seeking to write and minister and not yet knowing how that is all going to play—or pay—out.

Fear of having our daily bread still exists even when God sends just enough manna for the day. No wonder God got frustrated with the Israelites who still wanted to hoard the divine provisions.

Please, Lord, don’t let me be the one to frustrate you, I whisper.

I plunge my mud-soaked glove into the thick of the weeds and grab with frustration at them. I feel for the bulbs that lie dormant all because they are being trampled upon. I feel for them because they—like me and like you—hold potential in making this world a beautiful place.

How many times have I felt my dreams being choked by weeds that have gotten out of control?

Weeds of bureaucracy, naysayers, those afraid of the new things God asks of us?

Create a new worshipping community at the farm?

Really?

Come back home to an area you once served?

Really?

Write and minister and raise cashmere goats and perhaps a sheep or two?

Really?

I begin a litany of naming the weeds in my life: “Can’t,” “Not allowed,” “Impossible,” “No,” “Financially not feasible,” “Crazy idea,” “Silly,” “Not our policy,” “Door closed,” “Not an option,” “No discussion.”

Sadly, I realize there are too many weeds to name. I realize, too, the names of my weeds are identical to the names of the weeds in Jesus’ time. Negative statements that keep bulbs from bringing forth potential. Weeds trying their best to choke the power of God.

And with each name I give the actual weeds in my garden, I prayerfully grab hold and spiritually rip them from the soil of my own heart. Soil in which God has mercifully and, at times, ruthlessly, tilled. Soil now primed for an incredible harvest.

Good bye “Can’t,” “Impossible,” “Not allowed,” “No discussion.”

And good riddance to you, “Door Closed” because, in case you have forgotten, Jesus, the Risen Savior, is an expert at walking through closed doors and startling all with his message, “Peace be with you.”

I take the last pile of weeds and hoist them into the wheelbarrow and turn back to the ground before me. I sit and pray.

God is good at being God.

There underneath where the weeds were I see fragile daffodils soak in the new-found warmth of sun finally hitting their limp leaves. Two sprigs of lily of the valley gasp for air. There are a few other non-weed looking green sprouts that I am not sure of, but this I know. They are filled with potential.

A new day has begun here at my fledgling farm.

I take the weeds overflowing the wheelbarrow and dump them in the gully behind the hill named after my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie. I feel I need to say a final blessing to them as if I officiating a graveside service.

Blessing the weeds?

While not quite my friends, they have taught me a lesson. They have taught me to persevere and do the hard work of living to my full potential. They  have reminded me that while there will always be weeds threatening to suffocate dreams, you must never give up. Yanking, tugging and uprooting are all part of living and are necessary to get to the beauty beneath the ugliness.

With a silent blessing said over the weeds, I turn back to the garden. The sky is blue, the hills and valley are finally turning green, and the weeds are gone—for now.

It’s clean-up day at Old Stone Well Farm.

A day of sweat and hard work and wonderful worship.

May this day become your own spiritual clean-up day. A day to remove all that is choking the God potential within and keeping you from growing into the beautiful creation God has created you to be.

 

 

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Clean-up day at Old Stone Well Farm reveals new life waiting to burst forth now that the weeds are gone. 

 

We Wait

Today we wait…

in stillness, deep thought, somber reflection.

We wait for the promise of new life.

We wait for God to pierce our lives with an “all-things-are-possible” attitude. New beginnings in the face of failure, rejection—and even death—can, and do, happen with God.

The Easter morning tomb waits…

to surprise us,

to fill us with awe,

and, hopefully, to change us.

May today, as you find yourself running around in last-minute Easter preparations, you take time to grieve your losses, let go of dashed dreams and acknowledge your brokenness. Then give it all to God.

For tomorrow is a new day.

It really is.

A blessed Holy Saturday from Old Stone Well Farm

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Stay Out of It

Stay out of it…

That was the advice from my mom the other night as we talked politics.

Just stay out of it. Don’t get involved, etc., etc., etc. Let the women march. Let others say what they want on social media. Let folks in the backwoods of Vermont fire off their guns in celebration of the recent inauguration.

Now my mom is not one to step aside from righting a wrong. Growing up she was always the one supporting me to write a letter to the school board if I, as a student, saw something wrong. Speak up and act to change things, rather than complain about things. That was her motto.

No, my mom doesn’t step aside from righting a wrong easily. So, her advice to me the other night I realized was one of motherly concern for her daughter. Her daughter whose first career was that of journalist and whose second incarnation in life is that of pastor.

Journalist plus pastor equals trouble at times for both callings are spurred on by a passion for truth telling and for a desire for advocating for the underdog.

“But mom, I can’t just stay out of it,” I said quietly. “To do so would be going against everything I am.”

More importantly, to stay out of things, to keep silent, to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, whatever body part you want to use as a metaphor, to do any such thing is going against all Jesus is. Jesus whose inauguration speech in Luke’s gospel, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, outlined his policies: proclaim freedom for the prisoners, restore sight to the blind, set the oppressed free. There was no mention of building walls, but rather building bridges of love so that all could cross over each other’s “side” and finally understand one another and begin working together to make a better life for all.

Frederick Buechner, a writer and theologian who lives just up the windy mountain road from me here in Vermont, once said when Jesus told us to love our neighbors, he wasn’t telling us to love them in a “cozy, emotional” way. On the contrary, Jesus, said Buechner, is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our well-being to that end.

Do I want more job opportunities for those I love here in rural America? Yes. Do I want relief from the burgeoning medical insurance my husband and I pay each month, a payment that is so high, provides so little in return and means we must dip into our savings to help pay for it? Yes. Do I want a better country, a better world, a better future? Yes, yes and yes. But not at the expense of others.

For if I forget there are indeed “others” also trying to live and build a good life, then what kind of person am I?

To stay out of what is happening nowadays is to be like all those in the crowds who followed Jesus but didn’t go all the way to the cross with him for fear of jeopardizing their comfortable lives by upsetting the powers to be or even worse, upsetting friends and loved ones.

I sit here in the home that I have cried to God to return to. God turned to me and heard my cry. And for that I will be forever grateful. I sit here in my 18th century home with the wide plank floors that slope and stare out the window at the snow covered Green Mountains of Vermont so thankful to be brought back to an area in which fills my heart and connects me ever more closely to the divine.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be a reporter once again and for the opportunities to continue being an accidental country pastor as well.

My heart is full, but heavy as well. It is concerned. I can’t pretend all is well with the world, just because all is well here on my little fledgling farm.

There is work to be done. There is good news to proclaim. And that good news is not going to be easy to proclaim.

Then again, it never was.

 

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The old stone well covered in snow is a beautiful sight here on the farm. But as the accidental country pastor reflects today’s news headlines, there is the realization that there is work to be done beyond the farm. 

Sunday at Old Stone Well Farm

Welcome to the third week of Advent. So glad you are joining the Accidental Country Pastor at the Old Stone Well Farm a she reflects on what the pink candle around the Advent wreath, the candle of joy, means. Our online worshipping community continues to grow. Share this time together with friends. Blessings!

Scripture to Reflect On:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:10

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.