Back Again

It’s been awhile since I have sat down at my old farm table to reflect on all the beautiful God moments I stumble upon in my daily walk as an accidental country pastor.

It’s been awhile because since taking a giant leap of faith last fall to move back home to Vermont—without a job and no clear sense of what God was calling me to do—I have been on a spiritual rollercoaster of sorts, strapped in for a ride that would take me slowly up and up and up to dizzying views of what can be only to have that view blurred by the sickening descent down to the realities of how exactly will my life play out.

Up and down. Down and up. Left turn. Right turn. Stop. Wait. Proceed. Not now. Go.

God, what are you up to?

I found myself taking refuge in my garden, quilting (my husband is wondering just how many quilts we need!) and going on daily prayer walks. I found myself being put in a place of retreat, withdrawing from not only the world, but myself. I found myself not eager to write, for I didn’t want to hear what it was my heart and soul was saying. The words—harsh or honest or inspiring and comforting—it didn’t matter, I just wanted all noise to be silenced.

As for my prayers on those solitary walks on overgrown paths of wildflowers, cat tails and a rabbit or two, they were not eloquent nor were they poetically rich with meaning. They were simplicity at its best. The prayers were just one name I shouted in my heart repeatedly. A name of a friend I couldn’t find anymore; a friend I felt I had lost.

“God. God. God…”

Early morning August 1. I sat in the vintage Queen Anne wing chair (made vintage by the claws of my cats) feeling anxious. I had one more dentist appointment scheduled to finally put an end to the summer-long saga of my root canal. I wasn’t anxious, though, of the crown I was about to get. If anything, that would be a piece of cake. I was anxious because the first time since leaping in faith into the unknown, I had no work lined up for the month. No freelance stories due. No preaching gigs. I was feeling lost. I was scared.

God, what are you up to?

I was about to do what I do best. Jump into something out of fear without thinking it through. I was going to see what part-time retail jobs were available in the nearest town to our little fledgling farm.

My husband, though, talked me out of it throwing back words I have thrown at him many times.

“Wait. Be still. Trust God.”

And so, I did.

I continued my search for my friend only to discover—once again—that God was always right there with me. God was never lost in my life. I was lost from God. My anxiousness to know the future and my fear of it, stole me away from my faithful friend.

I’m back now. Back at my farm table writing. I’m still a wee bit hesitant as to what my heart and soul will say to me in the words that will be pieced together into sentences. But this I know.

The God moments—those filled with divine light and those shrouded in holy darkness—are just too beautiful not to embrace, celebrate and share.

I’m back. The calendar is full, praise God. But beyond the scheduled days is a lesson I hope never to forget. That is, never fear and be anxious when life seems empty. Just wait. Be still. Retreat a little if you must. And trust with all your might. God is at work.

Postscript

On August 21, I was named the new interim editor of my denomination’s magazine, Presbyterians Today. Great is God’s faithfulness for my prayer since coming home to Vermont was to return to my editorial roots, while still serving God. And so, I am IMG_8527 (1)working in my 18th century home here in Vermont, sharing the amazing ways God is at work in our congregations and communities. I also continue to preach in the rural churches in the area. Thank you all for being on this journey with me.

The only sad news to report is that I might have to put getting goats on hold. Not enough time for now.

Sunday at Old Stone Well Farm

Welcome to the fourth week of Advent. So glad you are joining the Accidental Country Pastor at the Old Stone Well Farm a she shares with you a special Christmas tradition inspired by Mary’s “yes” to God.

And a special thank you as our online “church” continues to grow. So many of you are thankful for this time when it is hard to get to a traditional church building on a Sunday morning. Share this time together with friends.

Many blessings to you!

Scripture to Reflect On:

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

 

 

 

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”

Day 10: Tending to Our Hardwired Souls

“How do you know Freddie?” Pete asked as I went about my early Sunday morning ritual of chasing away pre-preaching jitters by straightening hymnals, removing scrap paper from pews and setting up the lectern with sermon notes and announcement reminders.

Pete was the local Catholic who lived down the street from the little white church and his early Sunday morning visits became a standing date that I looked forward to. It was a time to catch up with what was happening in the little village, laugh and share our stories of faith (both high and low), all before the official worship hour would begin, with me putting on my clergy robe and him leaving to go up the road to be with his Catholic brothers and sisters.

“Who?” I asked as began setting up the props needed for that morning’s children message—trick candles that can’t be blown out and water on the side in case of fire. The kids of the little white church are going to love this!

“I don’t know a Freddie.”

“Yes you do. I read your sermon online and you mentioned him,” Pete insisted.

Now I was really confused. I thought back to the sermon and realized Pete was talking about Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, theologian and writer of more than 30 books, one of which I had taken a quote from to illustrate a sermon point.

Shocked that Pete knew this pastor/writer that I had only encountered during my time studying at Princeton Seminary, it was now my turn to question him.

“Are you talking about Frederick Buechner? If so, how do you know him, and know him as ‘Freddie’?”

Turns out Pete’s dad was an electrician and Pete, who used to help his dad out, remembered doing a job at Frederick Buechner’s home which was just “up the road, heading out of the village towards Vermont, over the mountain.”

I was stunned with awe and excitement.

“Wait, the road heading out of New York State towards Vermont, then over the mountain? That one? That’s where I live!”

“Yep. You didn’t know Freddie’s your neighbor?”

I couldn’t believe that an author/pastor/theologian whose books were on my very shelves in the “oldest house in Rupert” as the locals referred to the house my husband and I bought, lived in the same neck of the woods I had come to live—and love.

“Wow, so you know Frederick as ‘Freddie’,” I uttered again. Life in a rural village never ceases to amaze.

Later that day as I sat on the porch of our little red Vermont home, still feeling this awe that Pete knew “Freddie”, I got to thinking about all the other creative people who called this part of the world home.

There was an author of several books about dogs, in which a movie was actually filmed years ago starring Jeff Bridges (Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm). He lived up the road on the outskirts of the village in which the little white church stood.

On the outskirts a bit farther up the road, heading north, was a noted chef from Manhattan who resided in my ultimate dream home—a period correct 1700’s home complete with a pond, goats and sheep.

Other neighbors surrounding me included an artisanal cheese maker, a rug creator, an angora yarn designer, a metalsmith, a glass designer, a painter and a freelance writer whom actually worked at the same New York City publishing company I worked for and who remembered me, as I had the office down the hall from her. She was now living this rural way of life as well.

All these creative types living in an area that to me, when I was interviewing with the little white church, was just some unknown speck on the map.

As I gazed out at the beauty that I had the privilege of calling my backyard, I suddenly realized it was no mistake all these creative people lived here. If anything it made complete sense to me, for it was here God’s creation as untouched by developers, no housing developments or malls marred the majestic landscape. Creation’s colors were still pure for there were no streetlights overpowering the stars’ lights and creation’s song could still be heard for there was no noisy traffic to contend with. It was here creative souls could find inspiration each and every day, for inspiration dawned right along with the sun’s rays each and every day.

I knew then it was no mistake God called me here for I remembered a piece of advice a pastor friend gave to me as I began discerning God’s call in my life.

Knowing that I was coming into ministry as a writer, she urged me to never forget that creative part of me. She told me how important it would be for me to always be mindful to tending my soul for it was God who had hardwired my soul to the things that would ultimately bring me joy—and life.

“Be aware of the things that awaken and inspire you, for the day-to-day business of the church will quickly make you forget the who you are that God made you to be.” Her advice is true for all, not just those called into ordained ministry.

No. It was no mistake for me to become an “accidental” country pastor. It was God leading me first out of suburbia and then out of the city to the place where God knew my soul would be forever nurtured and awakened to new inspirations dawning right before my very eyes each and every day.

God has hardwired all of our souls with that which gives us joy and a sense of fulfillment. The trick is for us to be aware of that hardwiring and be mindful of the need to nurture our souls, unlocking that joy and sense of fulfillment by being in the places where we can breathe a sigh of contentment and realize we are where God intended us to be.

For my sister, her joy is at the ocean. That’s why she will be moving out of suburban New Jersey to finally live the Floridian life she and her husband have always dreamed of. A friend who still lives in Manhattan does so—even though other friends, like me—have moved away, because that is where she finds her soul awakened to God. And yet another friend is at home in a housing development in the suburbs, enjoying the bliss of living her authentic life.

For me, the pastor, the writer, the wife, the daughter, the friend, the child of God…my soul finds rest in a place where the rising sun coming up over Vermont’s Green Mountains greets me with inspiration each day. (I wonder if Freddie gazes at the same sunrise as well and is inspired?)

I got up off the porch swing and went inside. I had a call to make.

“Hi Mom! Hi Dad! You’re never going to believe what Pete told me today? Guess who lives up the road from me…”

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The view of the rising sun as seen by Pastor Donna on top of the hill behind her little red house in Vermont…just down the road from Freddie. 

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Reflect on where it is in your life that soul comes alive with joy, with inspiration…and where it ultimately finds rest in God? 

Day 18—Wide Eyes and Wonderment

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.

December 18

“How many children do you expect will be at the caroling dinner?” my mom asked, not once, not twice, but a number of times throughout our phone call.

“I’m not sure,” I answered, not once, not twice, but a number of times. I tried not to show my agitation, but I really wasn’t planning on the little white church’s caroling dinner to be a big production. I had envisioned just a low-key night together to share a favorite casserole or dessert and sing some Christmas songs. All I wanted was a simple night of holiday togetherness.

And so the conversation with my mom went as such:

Me:      Why do you want to know how many kids will be at the caroling dinner?

Mom:  Your father just bought a Santa suit.

Me:      What?!

Mom:  You heard me correctly. A Santa suit, and I have to say, he makes a convincing Santa.

Me:      Where does dad plan on wearing this Santa suit?

Mom:  At the caroling dinner.

Me:      What?! (My parents lived more than three hours away from the little white church and so to drive all that distance for some potluck cuisine and off-key singing was dismaying.)

Mom:  We want to surprise the children with a visit from Santa.

Me:      What?!

Mom:  And Santa has to have gifts in his big old sack.

Me:      (Stunned silence on the phone.)

Mom:  So…how many boys do you expect? How many girls? Oh, and can you give me an idea of the age range, so I can get gifts they will like.

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My dad getting ready in my office the year he played Santa for the children at the little white church.

The little white church’s caroling dinner was turning into a big production. Still, even though I had more on my plate to plan, I couldn’t begrudge my parents the delight they were getting from being part of the Christmas celebrations at a church, while quite a distance away from them, was fast-becoming their family of faith. There was no denying, too, my mom sounded really excited to be buying gifts for what would be a handful of children.

Perhaps it was because there were no grandchildren in our family that made my mom interested in showering the children at the church with gifts. I had always wrestled with God as to why I never had the opportunity to have children of my own. Now, though, as pastor of the little white church, I was blessed with many children to love and nurture in the faith. Slowly I processed the pain in my own life and realized the healing and wholeness of God’s plan for my life.

The night of the caroling dinner came and it was turning out to be a beautiful, low-key night, in spite of the extra Santa event that was to take place.

The casseroles came in and were set out. Folks gathered around the table. I said a blessing over the food. Bread was broken. Laughs were shared. And throughout the night, as my mom and dad sat at the table smiling with the secret they had for the children, I kept saying to the kids, “Do you hear that?”

They would all get quiet trying to hear what I was hearing.

“Do you hear it?” I asked again. They all began to squeal, “What, Pastor Donna?”

“Bells. I hear reindeer bells. I think Santa is in our village tonight,” I said.

The older kids gave me “are you kidding me?” looks, while the younger children’s eyes grew wide with excitement and awe. One little boy in particular seemed very intrigued with these mysterious reindeer bells only I was hearing.

All throughout the dinner I would interrupt the children’s chatter and laughter with an impromptu, “Do you hear it? I just heard the bells again!”

Older kids’ eyes rolled growing tired of the “joke.” But little eyes grew wider and wider.

It was time for me to gather the children and begin reading the nativity story. That was my father’s cue to sneak out the chapel door and go outside to the sanctuary door that I had unlocked for him. He would have to walk through the cold and dark sanctuary to get to my office, which sat off the side of chancel. My dad, once transformed as Santa, would then go back outside and jingle the bells he had with him. That would be my cue to say to the children once again, “Do you hear that? I hear reindeer bells. I think Santa’s here.”

The Santa plan went perfectly. At the end of our discussion about the holy night in which Jesus was born, the soft jingle of bells could be heard approaching the chapel door.

“Do you hear that?” I said.

The kids heard, but instead of jumping and running to the door, they looked stunned. I wasn’t expecting that look.

The door burst open and in came my father, um, I mean, in came Santa with his “ho-ho-ho” said in an accent revealing perhaps Santa was from Switzerland and not the North Pole after all.

As the kids clamored around Santa, I noticed once again that one little boy who throughout the night seemed particularly in awe by the prospect Santa might be close by. By now, he was in an extreme state of excitement that he couldn’t even talk. He kept staring at Santa and waving his hands excitedly. And his eyes? They were the widest I have ever seen and they shone with joy beyond joy.

I was mesmerized by his reaction to the point I almost began crying. I could relate to his excitement for I remember a time years ago early in my call to ministry that many times I was left speechless and in awe by how God was working in my life. Many times my eyes would grow wider and wider and shone with joy beyond joy with the God moments happening right in front of me. I looked at the little boy and I looked at the children surrounding Santa and prayed that someday they would have their own wide-eye, joy-beyond-joy God moments.

For now, though, it was clearly a Santa moment and I had to quickly jump in and play Santa’s helper as some of the children were picking up on Santa’s accent and beginning to question where in the North Pole Santa really came from?

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Santa and Pastor handing out the gifts at the caroling dinner.

“Santa, let me do some of the talking,” I said to my dad with big smile.

Together we helped hand out the gifts and as I did so I looked up to see my mom at the table, her eyes were wide as well, wide with love and joy and glistening a bit with perhaps a tear or two as she watched the excitement of the children getting their gifts.

Santa soon had to leave and the children said good-bye, not one of them noticing that my dad was not at the table all this time. It was time to sing carols and perhaps it was just my imagination, but the songs seemed to be sung with more meaning and emotion.

When the last dish was cleaned and the lights of the chapel went out, I walked my parents to their car for their long drive back to New Jersey. In the snow covered parking lot, I thanked them both for the gift they gave the children that night. I thanked them for the gift they gave me, the gift of being such supportive parents, willing to go out of their way to make this a memorable night for the children.

We talked a bit more not really wanting to say good-bye, but it was getting late and it was very cold. So with a hug and a kiss, we parted ways.

“This is Christmas,” I thought as I drove home. The magic in the air, the giving freely of our time to the children, the generous spirit to buy all those gifts, but most of all, the remembering we should always keep our ears attuned not to reindeer bells in the crisp winter air, but to a more beautiful sound that is always there.

We should be listening to God’s whisper of love to us—a love, if we are open to it, will make our eyes grow wider and wider with wonderment and fill us with joy beyond joy.