Never Just a Pumpkin

There it was. A big mush of orange slowly disintegrating into the soil that once fed it life. I took hold of its green vine in the same way I have taken the hand of one about to leave this earth. Gently, gingerly, with a sense of sorrow mixed with the awe of the divine present. After all, the divine is always present in the passing of a soul.

I felt as if I should bless the vine; bid it farewell and whisper, “well, almost well done, my good and faithful pumpkin.”

But I didn’t. It was just a pumpkin, after all.

I held onto the vine.

My father and I worked hard tilling the ground in the spring, getting rid of the many weeds and rocks that overtook the garden. Then there were the grubs in the ground to contend with. After several dustings of milky spore, I prepped the ground once again, turning over the soil. Finally, I was ready to plant the pumpkin seeds. On my knees on a hot day I molded the soil into little hills as instructed on the seed package. I felt like a little girl once again playing in the dirt—sweat mixing with soil releasing an earthy fragrance more appealing to me than sweet perfume. Giddy with excitement as to what I was creating, I pushed a seed into each little hill, wondering all the time will a pumpkin grow?

All summer, I marveled at the signs of life popping through the dirt. An infant shoot gave way to a gawky leafy adolescent which gave way to a mature vine. Soon yellow blossoms appeared announcing the coming of a pumpkin and sure enough a little pumpkin began to emerge. My parents would remark each time they came to visit how wonderful my pumpkin was doing.

“Yep, it is going to be a good crop,” I said, feeling proud, as I wheeled with great expertise my birthday present from my parents —a shiny orange wheelbarrow. “Yep, I know what I am doing,” was the message I was sending to the universe.

The universe, though, decided to trip up this cocky, wanna-be-farmer. One day, like an overturned wheelbarrow holding precious cargo, I too, felt as if I had been overturned, allowing all my precious dreams fall away from me.

The one promising vine with its blossoms, so green and hopeful, didn’t reveal what was going on. The ground it hugged was too wet to continue to thrive and ultimately the pumpkin had turned to mush.

I broke the news to my parents.

“I lost my pumpkin,” was all I said.

Silence on the other end of the phone and then finally, “What a shame.”

I know. It was just a pumpkin. But it was more to me. It was my sense of accomplishment. It was my symbol of belonging to a rural community. It was my own promise from God that I needed. That promise that I would indeed bloom where I was planted.

And now that symbol of hope, belonging, a fruitful future, was gone.

I know. It was just a pumpkin. But still…

My parents were up the other day. My dad, who in his late 70s, still loves to help me with my projects I come up with. And so, they were up as dad worked on my latest project: building a rustic chicken coop, complete with a shake roof.

Sofie, my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, was eager to leave the confines of the fenced yard to see what was going on over in the field. So, I grabbed her leash and ran with her to greet grandma and grandpa. The hammering of the roof made the old girl a bit skittish and so she decided to explore the rest of the field. She soon made her way to the wilting autumn garden. She sniffed away at the parsnips and onions still in the ground and then made her way through the corn stalks. Their dried leaves rustled in the wind as if waving to greet us. As I walked with her, I noticed a blob of orange. The blob got bigger and rounder. I had planted my pumpkins next to my corn, but could it be possible that one vine grew hidden in the corn? Sofie was soon sniffing and licking the most perfect pumpkin ever to be seen. I stood there laughing at the beautiful sight. For it was beautiful.

As it turned out the pumpkin wasn’t a lone survivor from my waterlogged ground. My mom had snuck it into the garden to surprise me. And, boy, did she ever.

Before leaving, she asked if I was going to move the pumpkin to the front step of the house. I decided not to.

I like the pumpkin peeking from amidst the corn stalks. For it reminds me how often it is God steps into the failures of our lives and surprises us with a sign peeking through the rubble that all is not lost. Whether the surprise is one fashioned from divine hands or simply a thoughtful gesture from the hands of a mother, every day there are signs of hope all around us. All is not lost.

And so, well done…good and faithful servants — servants who fail, servants who doubt, servants who replace mushy pumpkins with healthy ones, servants who keep on trying, servants who never lose hope, servants who vow not to let setbacks stunt one’s life, servants who will always be surprised by God and servants who stand in awe of such a God.

Yep, it was never just a pumpkin.

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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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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.

 

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.

Into the Woods

I sit here in my home office, freshly stenciled with 18th century historically correct stencil patterns I received as a birthday present. The reds and mustards and sage green flourishes and swirls warm the cream colored walls, whispering to me of bygone era when life seemed easier.

I look down at the chipped and scratched wood that is the top of my writing desk. The deep patina of wood glows from the beeswax candle I have lit. The desk was never intended to hold the computer of a writer-turned-pastor musing about adapting to life in rural America.

Still, the table salvaged from a Vermont farmhouse does a wonderful job holding my computer, putting up with the tapping of keys when once it used to feel the rolling of a pastry pin.

I breathe in deeply and release. Peace is in this room. Peace—and a whole lot of gratitude for where God has led me and where God is still leading.

Tomorrow I will be speaking at a ceremony to dedicate the near completion of a replica of the cabin in which Henry David Thoreau made famous in his book, “Walden.”

The Merck Farm and Forest Center, just up the road from me here in Vermont, has been working on the cabin since last November.

Folks from all over, both local and as far as the “big” city of New York, have come up to learn about how to make shingles, lay floors, etc.

As I ponder what I will say at the dedication, I think about the many hands that have been a part of making this replica cabin. I think about how this project was more than just a chance to learn some carpentry skills. This project for many has been a chance to reconnect with a dream hidden deep inside their hearts for too long.

The dream to live simply.

We all have that dream to some extent. Yet, after wistfully wishing for only one peg to hang up the day’s clothes, we tend to slip back into the mad dash to work hard to acquire more. We need…we want…we must…and the little hamsters spin frantically around and around on the wheel.

Back in the 1800’s, Thoreau noticed many of his friends in Massachusetts society circles spinning like hamsters on a wheel. And it wasn’t for him. He, instead, held a treasured dream in his heart that guided how he lived his life. The dream to live authentically and to live simply. Thoreau knew there was “more” to acquire in life. There were more birds’ songs to hear, more rustling of trees to listen to, more stillness to obtain.

“I rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded on a velvet cushion,” Thoreau wrote.

I, too, have longed for a pumpkin seat rather than a velvet cushion. And, in a way, God has heard my desires and answered them beautifully.  My Colonial stenciled home office, with windows that don’t shut properly and sloping floors bring joy to my heart.

My old wooden table in which I write at, nicked and scratched with years of use, and if you pull at the drawer, the knob is sure to always come off, is priceless treasure that might look like junk to others.

Pumpkins seats abound in my little home, and they are more attractive to me than velvet cushions.

Still I find myself falling victim to the “we must acquire more” syndrome.

Much to the chagrin of my husband, my latest acquisition of china has arrived from Ebay. I just couldn’t resist the vintage blue and white English village scenes and floral borders painted on the delicate porcelain.

“How many dishes do we need?” my husband asked, laughter heard underneath his exasperation.

He is right. We don’t need any more fine china. It’s just the two of us and often our meals are eaten out of Chinese food cartons.

Still…I needed, wanted, desired more plates and teacups.

While I know the antidote for “more syndrome” is more prayer to God who promises us our daily bread and more focus on Jesus who told us not to worry about things, I am not sure if we are ever fully cured of wanting, needing, desiring more.

Perhaps living simply is a conscious choice we need to make every day? Perhaps the cure isn’t supposed to come easy? Perhaps the struggle to have and not have is one that helps us learn more about ourselves—our weaknesses, our holes in our hearts we are trying fill with things, our priorities and how much we really do need God in our lives to lean on. For it is only God that can fill the empty storehouses of our souls.

Tomorrow I will be speaking at the dedication of the Henry David Thoreau replica cabin. I will be sharing how Thoreau has impacted my writing, my ministry and how I have sought to live.

And I will begin by echoing the words of Thoreau who once wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I will speak how I too came “into the woods” of rural ministry, stepping into the unknown, fronting the human worries of divine daily bread, wishing to live the authentic me God has made me to be, so that when my time came to die, I could say I have truly lived.

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My Husband the Logger

The hour-plus drive from the rolling green hills of Vermont was worth the steaming cup of coffee now nestled in the palm of my hands. I tried remembering the last time I had sipped something so robust and satisfying, but the memories were playing hide and seek with me. I soon tired of seeking and focused on the conversation coming from across the café table in the little upstate New York city known as Troy.

“So how did you do it? How did you find the faith?” she asked.

She was a new pastor friend I had made. And while she was a city pastor and I was a country one (by accident in my eyes, but not God’s), there was a commonality bringing us together. The most obvious was her upcoming marriage to a “local boy” who grew up in the same neck of the woods as my “local boy”—my husband, PJ.

How did you do it? How did you find the faith?

She was not asking for wedding advice. She was asking about my journey back home to Vermont which involved leaving a traditional pastorate in Maryland for a ministry still emerging.

How did I the faith to come back home without the certainty of steady income?

I sipped and let the most amazing cup of coffee that I have had in (darn, just how long has it been?) buy me some time.

I didn’t want my answer to be an insignificant commentary on “just have faith” or “simply believe.”

No. I had to find the right words for what God was doing was far from insignificant. This was more than just believing in the goodness of God’s provision. This was about allowing one’s self to be changed by God, to trust God in everything and to grow in the knowledge of God’s mysterious ways.

Taking a leap of faith, I have recently learned, was not about being awed that the prayer we say by rote about giving us our daily bread is in fact a promise we can count on. No, awe and thankfulness aside for the manna falling from heaven, leaps of faith are all about deepening one’s relationship to God. They are not about how to eventually fill one’s belly or line one’s pocket. They are about having more of God fill your life.

I had wanted to take another sip of that darn good coffee, but I put my cup down.  I could see the searching in her eyes. She had been harboring dreams of a new ministry which still had many details to be ironed out. The most pressing detail was how to earn a living at it. She was waiting for my answer.

“My husband is a logger now,” I heard myself saying.

She gave a quizzical look, wondering where I was going with this.

I wondered too. I tried to explain.

Last week, while on my prayer walk on the rail trail running behind my little old house in Vermont, I learned something about leaps of faith.

I was struggling with my husband’s recent decision to give up driving a truck. It was something he has done for years to earn an income, but it gave him no joy or fulfillment. In our six years of marriage, I have always yearned for him to find happiness in his work.

It was foreign for me to hear people complain about work for I have always followed my heart in terms of vocation. That search for being the person God intended me to be is what led us back to Vermont seven months ago.

Still, this move was about my call, my discernment, my fulfillment. PJ would be that steady paycheck. He would be the certainty in our uncertain future.

God, he can’t do this. Not now. How will we live? Why couldn’t he have waited till you showed me my next step, um, the next step that comes with a salary and health benefits. No, he can’t do this.

I walked on the trail longer than I usual. I guess I had a lot of instructions to give to God as to what our life was supposed to look like. And God, as God always does with my instructions, listened and chuckled and decided it was time to get my attention.

A strong breeze whipped up out of nowhere clearing the stagnant air of my fears and my ranting. The breeze was refreshing and soothing. I looked around and remembered Jesus’ words about worrying. Why do we do it? Look at the birds. Look at the flowers in the field. Look all around. Every little creature is cared for. Am I not one of God’s creatures too?

The breeze continued to minister to me. It was then I realized this move back home wasn’t about me. This move was about someone I loved dearly and his discovery of who God wanted him to be. This was about PJ’s vocation. His contentment and sense of joy.

My coffee sipping had to wait as I continued.

Leaps of faith aren’t always about seeing how God will provide daily bread for our tables. Leaps of faith aren’t even all about our personal dreams and desires. Our leaps could be God’s plan for the other leaps our loved ones are hesitant to take.

Leaps of faith are as mysterious as the God who pushes us to take them. But take them, we must.

“My husband is a logger now,” I concluded with a shrug.

My new friend nodded. We lifted our steaming cups of coffee and sipped in unison. Our holy silence carried on the conversation.

Later that day, my husband the logger came home with a belated anniversary gift and an early birthday present for me all rolled into one.

Two stumps to serve as seats for my rustic fire pit/cooking area I was creating to honor our home’s 18th century heritage.

My heart filled with joy.

They were all I wanted.

They were all I needed.

My husband is a logger now.

Just leap. Don’t worry about having enough faith.

Just leap. Don’t wonder if you have the strength.

Just leap. Don’t fret about daily bread.

Just leap. That’s all God is asking.

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The Accidental Country Pastor’s combination wedding anniversary and birthday present—       log stumps courtesy of her husband, the logger now. 

 

 

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.

Ten Years Later

This Sunday’s “Worship at Old Stone Well Farm” will be delayed as I will be getting up really early to make the drive from Vermont to New Jersey to worship with those who ten years ago nurtured me into this crazy life known as “ministry.”

Yes, I am going “home” to the church where as a seminary student I spent many times wondering where it would be God would send me to proclaim the good news. Little did I know then how many twists and turns would be waiting for me. How many highs and lows. But most of all, how my prayers would have been answered in the most amazing ways when God led me to a little rural church in upstate New York where just over the border my dream farm would be waiting for me.

Going home can be emotional.

For going home—be it physically going to a place you once knew or perhaps just visiting in one’s mind—is a time to remember who you were, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a time to remember how far you’ve come. It’s a time to pause and reflect on all that God has done in your life. It’s a time to take a deep breath, assess and realize something we often forget in our constant running forward, to get somewhere, anywhere. That is, life is good.  Always. Because God is good. Always.

Yes, I’m going home to a church who nurtured me, who knew me when…

There will be dear friends to hug again and tears to shed over those who are no longer there. We will sing the songs of faith, join our voices in prayer and break the bread and share the cup. We will be in God’s house—together again.

And in the sacred moments of our time together, I will find the time to pause, look out into the congregation and whisper to God words I know I need to whisper more of.

Thank you, God…for who I was…for who you are leading me to be…for this crazy life of ministry…for a church family who knew me when…for the chance to go back home, if even just for a day.

May today you take time and reflect on all God has done and is doing for you.

Blessings, Pastor Donna 

 

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Ten years ago I was ordained here at South Presbyterian Church, Bergenfield, NJ. Words can’t express how grateful I am to be preaching there again. 

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.