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.

Angels Bending Near

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways and unexpected ways. 

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth…

The drive to his house was tricky. He lived out on the back roads that snaked up and around hills that quickly grew into mountains the longer you drove. The afternoon sun was setting fast making the iced over dirt roads feel like a child’s slip and slide. I was second-guessing my decision to do this interview for the newspaper in person. I could have just called the “artist in the back woods” who wanted to share with others his newest sculpture. Nothing I could do now. I had committed to going in person and in person I would go.

As I drove I thought about the questions I would ask for my story. They were your typical “who, what, when, where and why” questions one learns early on in journalism. But being I was an editor-turn-minister-turn editor and minister-again—life is certainly an adventure with God—I had another question lingering in my heart.

How does this glorify God? I wasn’t talking about the art created by the “artist in the back woods.” I was questioning myself. How was my part-time reporting job glorifying God? I was a pastor, yes, a pastor without a church right now and wondered was I wasting my time writing for the paper? I had taken my ordination vows nine years ago. I vowed to proclaim the good news, to comfort God’s children, to be God’s instrument of peace.

But I didn’t have a church yet. Several calls had come in, but something made me say “no.” What was that about? What did God have up God’s sleeve for this accidental country pastor? Was I called back home just to drive on snow-covered dirt roads to interview artists?

I pulled up to the house and the artist greeted me. Much to my surprise he was no artist at all. He was a retired corrections officer who began welding metal two years ago. I felt my heart sink as the story I had imagined began fading away. Before I could gather my thoughts as to how to salvage my trip out here, the bomb dropped totally obliterating any shred of story I thought I had. The piece of art he had made could not be revealed yet as planned. The business that had commissioned it wanted its revealing to be a surprise at a gala not to take place till the spring. I was disappointed but tried not to show it.

As I went to leave, something tugged at me to stop putting my reporter’s notebook away. Something tugged at me to stay. To talk. To find out the real story.

The man was older than I had expected considering when I had called him I could hear a toddler in the background. I noticed something else about him. He was hunched over a bit. Not the hunch over from arthritis or a back injury. This hunch was one from brokenness. I knew that hunch well. I’ve seen it in others. I’ve seen it in myself. His eyes too were pretending to be happy but I could see beyond the act.

As he led me into the garage that was his workshop he began to talk about his latest project that I couldn’t write about. I steered the conversation away from that and asked him point blank, “How did a corrections officer with no design training or schooling get into this?”

“My son,” he said, hunching over more. “My son died two years ago. He was only 24. We don’t know what happened. He just began having seizures.”

My son…he said again as if to summon him from beyond.

“He was the artist,” the grieving father explained. “We used to come into this garage all the time. I would help him and watch him. At times I would tinker with the metal too. My son said I had talent. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe until after he died.”

Turns out the only solace he was able to find in his grief was being in this workshop, picking up the blowtorch his son once held and continuing making the art his son once made. I listened and silently prayed for him, wondering when to reveal that standing before him was not just a reporter. Standing before him was a pastor whose own heart knew the pain of losing someone much loved. Standing in his workshop was a pastor who knew how out of death comes the promise of new life, that in our grief we can choose to crumble or to carry on and live out the dreams and passions that our loved ones saw in us.

For me it was a boyfriend who was killed years ago in a jeep accident. He knew of my struggle to leave my magazine job in Manhattan. It was his death that spurred me on to live…to live the plans God had for me. It was because of him that I was now standing here with this retired corrections officer turned artist.

“Wow. I am so sorry. I have no idea why I am telling you all of this. I don’t talk about this to anyone. I really didn’t plan on sharing this with you,” the father said. “It’s just. I don’t know. I don’t want you to think I am crazy. It’s just there’s something about you that made me want to tell you my story.”

It was then I told him my story. I told him I knew a thing or two about loss. I also knew a thing or two about God’s redemptive grace in the midst of that loss. There as the sun went down on a cold December day, just days before Christmas, in a workshop filled with the presence of his son, an accidental artist stood in prayer with an accidental country pastor. Together we shared. Together we cried. Together we reached out to God to heal hearts that grieved.

It was time to go. I put away my reporter’s notebook and as we shook hands good bye, the father held on to my hand thanking me for coming to him.

“Again, I don’t want to sound crazy, but I really feel you were an angel sent to me. I really think you were meant to be here. I can’t thank you enough. Merry Christmas,” he said. His hunch straightened a bit.

I honestly don’t remember what I said in reply. I was too in awe of God at work in that little workshop. But this I know. I had my story, but not for the newspaper. I had my story to be told at another time for another person. But more importantly I had my answer as to how my reporting job was glorifying God.

God’s good news is better distributed when we actually dare to venture out onto snow-covered back roads. For it is there God leads us to those who never enter into a church building, those who really need to hear the good news of a Son born into a world full of hurt and grief.

Those people, like this man, who pastors often never meet because we stay in the church sitting comfortably in offices with coffee made, a secretary at the front ready to greet those who expect miracles to happen during “pastor’s office hours.”

I realized too that there are so many who need to hear about God’s Son, whose beautiful infant cry, we celebrate at Christmas. God’s Son who would cry for us once again. The “It is finished!” cry coming from the cross, telling us that God’s promise to love us always, no matter what, was accomplished. God’s redeeming love is here, now and always.

Christmas is near.

What back roads is God leading you on? Can you hear that cry? Can you remember and trust always that God is with you, even when all you can hear is your own crying?

Can you see that there are always angels bending near the earth…and that often we ourselves are those angels. Trust God’s leading this day and forever more.images.jpg

An Abundance of Love

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways and unexpected ways. 

Advent Day 3:

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son,

so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Sofie, the bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, stopped snoring. Without budging from the little nest she made out of my hand-stitched quilt that was sprawled out on the bed, she opened her eyes and stared at me. She was perplexed. The old dog couldn’t quite understand why I was jumping out of bed so quickly with excitement—and so early.

She lifted her head a bit as if to inquire, “Is it Christmas morning?” I assured her it wasn’t and not to worry. I leaned over and kissed her head and whispered, “I’ll let you know when there is a doggie treat under the tree for you.” She seemed to understand and cuddled deeper into the quilt and went right back to her snoring.

I, on the other hand, washed up, got dressed and ran downstairs with the speed of a five-year old running to that Christmas morning tree surrounded by presents.

No today wasn’t Christmas. Today was just another Saturday early in the season of Advent. Still I couldn’t shake this feeling that this day was going to be one graced with God’s loving touch. This day was going to be one of those “life back in the country” days in which moments to treasure come with a friendly wave of a car passing by. Moments to remember are often as simple as a hug and a quick chat with a friend in the post office.

Today was going to be one filled with simple abundance and moments to treasure. And it was going to begin with a tradition I had longed to experience once again—the little white church cookie walk.

I first heard of the “cookie walk” as a new pastor serving the church. Admittedly, I had to ask if I had heard correctly. “A cookie what? Walk?” I had no idea what to expect.

Christmas cookies to me were ones that you bought in a store—and usually bought last minute—because who ever had time to cook? I know I didn’t. But there we were gathered at a table meeting in a chilly chapel planning “a walk with cookies?”… “no pastor, a cookie walk” to raise money for the many mission projects being done in and throughout the community.

Who is baking what? How many of chocolate chip cookies should be made? What if we have too many chocolate chips? Is there such a thing as too many? Should there be raisins in the oatmeal? What about molasses crinkles? Does anyone even eat molasses crinkles anymore?

I raised my hand. “I do.”

The conversation continued.

We can have Millie bake those. She bakes the best molasses crinkles.

The morning of the walk I came early to the church and couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into the chapel. Tables were overflowing with the most amazing homemade creations from the traditional gingerbread men to the intricate date-nut pinwheels. In between there were varieties of cookies to please every palate imaginable. And just enough chocolate chip cookies.

The cookies were sold by the pound and my instructions were to simply walk around and pick and choose what I wanted and put it on my plate. I felt like a kid let loose in a candy store…no, make that a kid let loose in a cookie store.

I walked around and filled my plate. And filled it some more. And filled it even more.

I didn’t notice the eyes of those watching me growing wider. Nor did I hear the chuckling from those seated by the scale that would weigh my plate. After hemming and hawing whether that one last cookie with a bright red cherry in the middle would topple over the pile on plate, I made the decision to place it on top ever so gently. The cookie tower didn’t come crashing down. Whew!

I then carefully balanced the mountain of cookies as I walked to the table for them to be weighed. The scale moved higher and higher till finally it was announced. Um, pastor, that will be $20. I began laughing, assuring all those gathered around me that I would indeed eat every last one all myself.

The little white church cookie walk.

It was today. A day  I just knew was going to be touched with God’s grace. It had been years since I last found my plate overflowing with cookies. Now I was back home. Back to the traditions that had found their way into my heart and refused to let go. Christmas had come early.

I got my plate once again and turned to tackle those tables filled with cookies. But before digging in, I paused and stared at the beautiful sight of cookies I remembered and longed to taste again.

Those in the chapel probably thought I was just standing there deciding where to begin. I wasn’t though. I was in prayer. For what I was staring at in front of me was not just an abundance of cookies. I was in the presence of an abundance of love. Love that baked those cookies. Love that was represented in treasured recipes handed down from generation to generation. The love of wanting to share with others, to help others and to be gathered together.

I paused at the tables and thought of the season of Advent we are in. A season of anticipating the birth of the Christ child and all that that child’s birth will mean in our lives. I thought about the simple gift of a child that God gave to us, a gift that came with an abundance love. The same love that was in that room. And with a silent “Amen” my prayer was over.

With the eyes widening of those gathered around me, the accidental country pastor began to fill her plate once again…and fill it some more…and more…and more…

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An abundance of love found at the little white church’s cookie walk.

The Junk Drawer

God spoke to me the other day.

Nope. I wasn’t standing on some mountaintop. Nor was I lying prostrate on the floor. I wasn’t even kneeling in the quiet of a church sanctuary. There were no candles flickering nor Gregorian chanting in the background setting the stage in which to hear the Divine One speak. There was nothing holy going on at all when God spoke to me…in my kitchen, while I was standing in front of the junk drawer.

You know the junk drawer. That drawer filled with items you don’t want to throw away because, hey, you just never know when you might need that lone screw that came from something you have yet to discovered is wobbly and missing a screw. And I wonder if that piece of candy is still good to eat?

God spoke to me the other day. In my kitchen at the junk drawer where squished and hidden in the back corner of the drawer I found a relic from a vacation bible school from years gone by.It was rubber bracelet with the message “Watch for God.”

Every year at vacation bible school, the program chosen for the children gave the option of ordering these bracelets. I was always supportive of spending the extra money on them because the message to watch for God was one I really wanted the children to be constantly reminded of.

The kids loved the bracelets and even after vacation bible school had faded into their memories, I would spot the children out and about on the football field, practicing the latest cheers, kicking a soccer ball, heading to school with backpacks burdening their little backs, wearing their “Watch for God” bracelets. Every now and then a child would see me and pause to wave, pointing at their bracelet before giving me a thumbs up. I would return the thumbs up with a huge smile on my face.

Yes, keep on watching for the God moments are all around. I once believed that. I probably still do. It just seems lately I feel my eyes are out of focused. It seems lately I can’t seem to see how beautiful life can be. I’m not talking about watching for the beauty on the surface of things. I’m talking about how I have forgotten to watch for the beauty in the midst of the ugly. Watch for the answers in the midst of tough questions. Watch for the strength to come in the moments of incredible weakness. Watch for God’s promise to take my measly loaf and fish and multiply them into a fulfilling feast. Watch for God to take hardened hearts and break them open.

Watch…for…God…I slipped the bracelet on my wrist. Thank goodness for junk drawers. For God spoke to me the other day. In  my kitchen. From the junk drawer.

God told me to watch. Watch for greater things are yet to come. img_2727-1

 

Barn Raisers

My mother has a fascination for lighthouses and very old cemeteries. I, on the other hand, love the old barns of New England. There’s just something about faded red clapboards that draw me in. Perhaps its because these clapboards tell the story of not just how the harsh winters and scorching summers have worn away at their paint.

These barns, if one listens carefully, tell the important story of weathering life’s unruly elements. For inside the post and beams, often notched, pegged and dovetailed together with gripped by calloused hands, are many tales of when farm animals filled the stalls, hay reached high into the rafters and grain overflowed in bins; and when animals, hay and grain were scarce.

The cool, dank smell of earthen floors and the musty sting of aging wood, speak to me of a time when people really valued being part of a community and cared about the abundance and/or the scarcity within one’s barn—for by caring about one’s barn, you were caring about one’s livelihood, one’s happiness, one’s heart.

I think of the barn raisings still taking place in Amish communities today. Men come with their tools eager and willing to help a neighbor. Women spread out the tables with what seems to be a never-ending supply of home baked goods, relishes, jams, fried chicken, ham loaf and, of course, snickerdoodle cookies and shoo-fly pies. But those are the Amish. We are what they call the “English” and such gatherings don’t happen among us anymore which is a shame, for we are missing out on more than just ham loaf.

Yes, these barns are telling me story of how we ought to live in community with one another. They tell me that even though I am a horrible cook and many times my stab at shoo fly pie is a complete flop (I am not sure how I can still mess up such a simple concoction of molasses, brown sugar and a crumb topping), I should still find time to invite friend, family and foe to my table to sit and not just break bread together, but to sit and share our lives together.

For storms of all kinds do their best to weather the clapboards of our hearts. But if we stay connected to what’s really important—to one another—we will find ourselves standing tall like those barns, telling stories that will be our testimony to a God who leads us through all seasons.

Just this morning as I pondered storms, seasons, old barns, true friends and even foes (yet to become friends) in my life, I came across this quote in a magazine I was reading. The author wrote, “We don’t need barns full of stuff, we need people to hear our story in its rawest form and who still see us as a beautiful soul no matter how much ugly we’ve experienced or felt or even been. We need people to share our story and advocate for us, to vouch for us, to support us when standing alone isn’t possible.”

I have stood alone in life and wondered where and who my advocates were. I have known the grace of someone coming alongside of me to listen and understand me and, I have had the grace and compassion to be that support to someone standing alone as well.

I knew a woman who had on her property an old Scottish bank barn. The beams, the carpentry, the dug out basement for keeping potatoes and other garden goodies fresh even in the winters, all captivated me. But she was selling the place. She was moving. She needed a fresh start. She needed community. She had served her country and had suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, thus, making it hard for others to really understand her tough exterior and, often at times, argumentative nature. She longed for a chance, but few gave it to her.

I chose to stay by her side, trying to advocate for her when others wouldn’t. I stood with her even when it was hard to do so. I stood and took the hurtful words that would sometimes come my way. I stood and by doing so I was there to catch her pent up tears when she finally felt safe enough to let them fall. images-2

We have long since lost contact with one another, but at times I find myself driving by her home and her Scottish bank barn and wondering how she is doing. I pray that she has found people to continue sharing her story with and people who will not be so quick to write her off, but who stand with her long enough to see the beauty of the weathered clapboards that are barely holding her fragile heart together.

I love old the old barns of New England. I love them because they tell me a story of how we all have such clapboards barely holding our fragile hearts together. They remind me that there was a time when community was there, showing the love of Christ towards one another—a love that does amazing restoration work. (Maybe that is why I had my wedding reception in an old Vermont barn?)images-1.jpg

Barns give me hope that such love in community can still exist today.

We just have to relearn to be those barn raisers of yesteryear.

Day 6—The Gift of a Silent Night

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.

4_silentnight_jackdornothingDecember 6

Bible study had wrapped up for the night and as I walked out the church parking lot with the others I couldn’t help but to notice how beautiful the night was. The stars were bright and hung so low it seemed you could actually reach out and grab one. The wintery air, while brutally cold, was still refreshing and I made sure to take a few extra breaths before getting into the car.

Winter was always my favorite season and this, my first winter up north, was indeed one amazing blessing to me. Everything from the bright stars to the crisp air to the crunch of the snow beneath my feet just seemed to be special presents from above.

Once in the car, I turned on the heat and then the radio before pulling out of the church driveway to head home.

As I drove the desolate country roads home, the magic of the night continued when I noticed the sight of some stray cows making their way across the field to join the rest of their bovine family who were already in the barn settling in for the night.

Suddenly “silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright” which was now playing on the radio, took on a new and deeper meaning for me.

As a little girl the words to this Christmas hymn were just that: words. Words that told of some elusive night that one could really only sing about, but very rarely would be able to fully experience.

Silent night, holy night was a fantasy. I grew up in a less than silent suburb where the New York City skyline was in our backyard. Streetlights dimmed the starlight and traffic whizzing by made nights far from holy. And so this dear-to-my-heart Christmas hymn that my father used to sing in his native Swiss German while we lit our family Advent wreath, was right up there with my favorite fairytale—nice to hear, but don’t expect it to come true.

That is, until now. For on my drive home from Bible study I was the recipient of a silent and holy night. The realization was too great for me to comprehend, and an overwhelming sense of God’s grace filled me with awe.

When I finally pulled up to my 18th century Saltbox with only candles flickering in the windows to greet me, all I could do was turn off the car engine, the lights, the heat and the radio and sit in the driver’s seat. I couldn’t get out of the car. I didn’t want to. I wanted to hold on ever so tightly to the silence and holiness that had engulfed me. For all was a beautiful calm and all was brilliantly bright. God’s confirmation that I was right where I was supposed to be was filling my heart.

Earlier that night at Bible study we talked about the gifts God wants to give to us in this holy season. Gifts that are not store bought but rather gifts that come from a heavenly storehouse. The gifts from God to us, God’s beloved, that are meant to bless us and to fill our hearts with joy. Gifts of grace to the one who stands in need of a second chance. Gifts of forgiveness to the one who has crossed a line and who has hurt someone they love. Gifts of healing to the body riddled with disease. Gifts of hugs to the one who is lonely. Gifts of smiles to the one who can’t seem to find anything to smile about. Gifts of a silent and holy night to the one who needed to know God was indeed with her.

I knew I had to eventually get out of the car. But before doing so, I whispered my “thank you” to God and then I made a promise. I promised to always keep my heart opened to receiving the real gifts of Christmas.

And so may this Advent you promise to do the same. Be alert to the real gifts being given to you that are not from a store, but rather come from God’s divine storehouse. And may you find yourself discovering the beauty of a silent and holy night. For it does exist. It is not some fairytale. God is always with us.