Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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It was rainy week here at Old Stone Well Farm, and this country pastor got caught in a downpour while out running in the woods. But a beaver who scurried into its lodge got me thinking…when in a storm, where do I find save haven? That’s when I thought back to a childhood memento that used to remind me where my safety and hope were…in the Lord.

And so, enjoy a crisp fall autumn at the homestead as I light some candles to chase away the darkness and share with you how my Shepherd has always guided me.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

A Quick Thought for the Day

As I walked this morning on the rail trail, deep in my own thoughts about which way to go and how best to serve God, I was reminded that my thoughts needed to be on God and his guidance. After all, how many times has God’s loving words proven true when whispered in my heart: “I know the plans I have for you…”

So how was I reminded that my thoughts were misplaced?

Lost in my own darkness, I suddenly noticed a ray of light shining on my path. The sun had broken over the mountains. I stopped and smiled. I remembered a time long ago–so it seems–when the late February sun broke through the bleak of winter, making my heart fill with hope once again.

I was on a retreat just a week after my I buried my boyfriend. Still reeling from the shock of his accident and slowly coming to grips that he was gone, I heeded my friends’ advice to come on the retreat. I really just wanted to be alone. But I went, and spent time alone there in a crowd.

While others were gathered in prayer one afternoon, I snuck off to walk in the woods. The snow was still on the ground, although patches of brown peeked through here and there. I stopped to sit on a log. It was the perfect place to breakdown and weep. And so I broke and wept.

I felt alone, confused and so unsure of the future. What was next? What was I to do? My future looked so uncertain.

As my head hung low and the tears slowed their pace, I sat still and numb. My eyes were closed but suddenly I felt a strange warmth. It grew stronger. With my head still hanging low, I opened my eyes to see a ray of light streaming down upon the ground in front me. I looked up towards the sky and noticed the sun breaking through the clouds.

For I know the plans I have for you…I heard God whisper…

God is whispering the same promise still.IMG_4011.jpg

God’s light will always break through and shine. Always.

I continued to walk this time with thoughts on the goodness of God.

 

The Sheep and the Shepherd

 

The other morning, I went to visit my sheep. Well, they’re not exactly mine. They belong to the farm and nature center just up the road from me.

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Pastor Donna’s “foster” sheep that she often visits and talks to. Notice the stream of light shining down on one of them.

I’ve always wanted sheep. And goats. And chickens. And…

Well, the other morning I went to visit the sheep. They live in a place where my heart always finds peace after being torn and tattered by the world. It’s a place where I can take a deep breath in and allow my lungs to savor the clean air. It’s a place where the rolling hills and mountains make me want to do my best Julie Andrew’s impersonation where I run in an open field, spinning around with arms outstretched, singing, “The hills are alive…”

Being of Swiss heritage, this is something my family always does whenever we find ourselves in an open field surrounded by mountains. And now that I have put that song in your head, my apologies. Let me get back to the story at hand.

The other morning, I didn’t just go to visit them. I went to have a talk with them. I needed to know something. I needed to know how it was they could easily follow their master? How did they know that the one in charge of them was indeed caring for them? How did they not worry or fret or wander off to what might look like greener pastures?

How?

I needed to know, for lately I have been wondering how best to follow my Lord and Savior, my Shepherd. I wonder why I have been lured at times by seemingly greener pastures that have proven to be nothing but stale tasting artificial turf filled with empty calories? I hate empty calories.

How do I get back to the real stuff, the green pastures that are life giving and life renewing? How do I stop doubting my Shepherd’s great care of me? And how do I get back home to the fold, where my heart can always find peace in the midst of the storms?

How?

The sheep were very kind to me, entertaining my rambling questions as they tried to chew their breakfast. Every so often, one would look at me as if to say, “Continue on. I’m listening.” Other times, they would look at each other as if to say, “Are you going to answer her or do I have to?”

When I was done with my questions, I sat down in the grass and waited for one of them to answer. Nothing came. The sheep just kept chewing away at their breakfast. I had my breakfast with me too. A warm buttery, crumbly maple scone purchased at the quintessential Vermont country store that my husband and I loved to go. It was a place where the wooden floors gave their age away with each creak of the boards and where the sun streaming through the windows made the dust dance and sparkle in the streams of its rays.

A place where a warm hello always greeted you, followed by small talk about the weather and what kind of winter the Farmer’s Almanac was already predicting.

But I wasn’t hungry anymore for my maple scone. I was hungry for answers. I picked at the scone and as I did the frustration of the silence all around me brought tears to my eyes.

Perhaps yet another day without answers was going to join in an already growing long line of days without answers.

I got up to leave. As I did, though, the littlest lamb came running over to me. Its bleating was urgent. It had something to say. It bleated some more and kept jerking its head toward the blue sky above. I heeded the little lamb’s instructions and looked up in the direction it was pointing. There overhead was a cloud whose formation had taken the shape of blobby looking heart.

Well, I’ll be…the little lamb gave me my answer.

How did they trust the One caring for them? How did they know to follow the One whose leading is always heading towards green pastures?

By not keeping their head hung down low with defeat and despair and doubt, but by always looking up. By knowing they are loved beyond love and that love is the only thing that keeps them, protects them, guides them, sustains them…it’s a love that promises to always bring you safely home.

I had a talk with my sheep the other day.

Turns out, our Shepherd was there as well.

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This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

 It was an early spring day. Mud season had arrived and the shining sun had yet to warm up the cold air outside. Coats and boots were still needed as I pulled mine off and settled into my church office.

I had a full day ahead of me and I had really wanted to write my inspiring message for the community Lenten lunch that was just a day away.

Hmmm…maybe I can find the God moment in mud season.

The knock on the door was a welcomed interruption. The invitation that came with the knock was even better. My Lenten message for tomorrow’s lunch would have to wait.

A woman from a neighboring church wanted to take me to see the Old First Church in Bennington, VT, which according to her was just “a hop, skip and a jump” across the New York State border.

I was looking forward to seeing this church as I heard it was famous for its soaring pulpit in which one would have to climb many steep steps to preach from. So on went my boots and coat and out we went.

Within a hop, skip and a jump we were at the church. It didn’t disappoint. There before me it stood in all of its 1762 Colonial architectural glory. It had the quintessential New England white clapboard similar to that of the little white church I served as well as doors on each of the pews.

I was enthralled, which really doesn’t take much to make that happen for me. Simply show me 18th century clapboard, wide plank floors, multi-paned windows, black wrought iron light fixtures, complete with a heavy dose of old musty wood smell, and I am in heaven! I explored the old church not yet knowing the God moment that was to come.

“Come on, let’s go out to the cemetery. There is something I want to show you,” the woman said, urging me on.

I wasn’t sure what was so exciting in the cemetery but I hurried along following her out onto the squishy grass and mud that led to many weathered headstones.

“There. Look. Bet you didn’t know Robert Frost was buried here?” she said pointing in front of me.

“Robert Frost? No way. Really?” I looked at the headstone with the poet’s name etched in it and whispered the line to his poem that was given to me just a year ago:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

I first came across Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” when, one summer, during my chaplaincy training at a hospital on Manhattan’s Upper West Side my supervisor shared it with me.

It was quite clear to him, as it was to me, that I was not being called to be a chaplain. Heck, I had spent the first few weeks of my hospital training just trying to get over my own white coat syndrome. And so these meetings with him touched on the nuts and bolts of praying for the sick and grieving and soon then became a conversation about the “Donna” God had knitted and woven in the womb and where was God calling that Donna to serve.

As the summer continued on I was soon sharing with my supervisor the dilemma I had. I was interviewing with two completely different churches. One that looked good on paper—great facilities for ministry, a staff, healthy budget—and the other, a rural church with an aging facility, no real staff to speak of and a budget in need of what I call a “loaves and fish” miracle. Of course, I was more interested in the church that looked good on paper. Who wouldn’t be?

Two roads diverged in a wood…

Each week as I discussed the possibilities with my supervisor, he listened intently, never offering any real guidance. Rather he asked questions, many questions, when all I wanted was for him to answer for me what to do and where to go.

Before I knew it, the summer was over. My chaplaincy training was complete, but the question of where I was heading next was still open ended.

I walked into my supervisor’s office for my last meeting in which he would share with me his evaluation that he had written up. I was ready for the typical “Donna’s empathy demonstrated in times of crisis was blah, blah, blah” and “Donna’s understanding of praying for the sick was blah, blah, blah.”

Instead, the evaluation was a heartfelt and inspiring affirmation of my call to ministry with an extra bonus—finally, his answer to my never-ending question of, “What am I doing, where am I going?”

He affirmed a ministry I didn’t even recognize as a ministry as he encouraged me to keep on writing. No matter how busy life as a parish pastor got—“keep on writing,” he typed in bold and underlined.

He also encouraged me to trust my heart to where it was leading me and to never be swayed by what others say or what popular opinion might be. Trust your heart, even when your heart leads you to places that do not make sense to anyone else. He then looked up from the written evaluation and, as if he was delivering a benediction, he sent me on my way with the words of Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

We said good-bye and soon thereafter I was saying hello to serve a little white church up north on the border of Vermont, where unbeknownst to me the roads Robert Frost himself traveled upon were just a hop, skip and a jump away.

I took the road that didn’t make sense to others but would be the road that would eventually lead to my future husband and where my heart would finally feel that longed for sense of home.

I stood at the headstone with Frost’s name staring back at me and in that moment I had the incredible sense of God’s loving guidance. I had a sense of who the Donna that God had knitted and formed in the womb was.

“Are you ready to go? It’s not as warm out as I thought,” my unofficial tour guide said.

I turned to follow her back to the car and as I walked the mud beneath me squished. I stopped and looked at the path in front of me. Two paths diverged: One that was not muddy and well travelled and the other that was slick and messy and squishy and to be avoided at all cost.

Guess which one I chose?

Squish. Squish. Squish.

I felt as if I was walking on holy ground. My boots were a mess but my heart was full. For as left Frost’s resting place I knew exactly what my supervisor was trying to tell me. Live authentically. Follow your heart for your heart will lead you to joy. Take the road less travelled, for when you do you will discover it makes all the difference in your life.

It’s a road filled with amazing God moments mingled in the mud.

I had my inspiring Lenten message for the community lunch.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Jesus says to us all, “Come and follow me.” Often that call asks us to embark on a road that is the one less traveled. Find the courage to travel it and know that it will make all the difference in your life. For, yes, God moments are found on that road.

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The muddy path leading to the rail trail behind the Accidental Country Pastor’s  little red house in Vermont. It’s a path that always brings to mind the words of Robert Frost about taking the road less traveled. 

 

 

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Day 8 and 9:  A Wind-Tunneled Walk 

It was a blustery morning where you could tell Old Man Winter was trying hard to hold on to his reign of cold and not give into spring’s warm days. The wind blew so sharply it felt as if little knives were cutting through my coat. It was then I remembered just how the avenues of Manhattan became wind tunnels this time of year. images

Back up at my little red house in Vermont, wind just blew, whipping through the valley with nothing to stop it. There weren’t any looming skyscrapers tunneling the wind as it was now being tunneled.

I burrowed by mitten-less hands deeper into my coat pockets. Why I thought it was going to be warmer in the city when I packed for the ministry seminar I was attending, I have no idea.

Clearly I wasn’t dressed for the elements, but I resolved to set forth on what was going to be a brutal walk ahead for I had someone important to meet here on the streets of Manhattan.

I had to meet me.

I had to meet up with the “who” I once was. More importantly, though, I had to remember who I was as God’s beloved and remember a divine guidance that never failed me.

My father always told me that sometimes in life we needed to take a step back in order to move forward. I had taken those steps back at times, but now it was time to look back—and remember. Thus, my walk began.

My first stop was to the building that gave me my entry into the magazine business. I stood on the corner looking at the impressive art deco skyscraper and remembered how many years ago I stood in the exact same place feeling awe that this was where God was leading me for an internship.

It was just days before Christmas and I couldn’t help but feel God was giving me one of the most incredible present—the start to my dream career.

After my interview I made my way to the bus terminal to head across the river back to New Jersey where I was I still living with my folks. When I walked through the door more than a warm dinner greeted me. I was also greeted with the news that the magazine had called back already. I had the job!

I could see then the beginning of a journey that wasn’t just about “career” but more about a journey of trusting God’s leading. You see prior to that first magazine interview as a college student, I sat in the cafeteria of the fashion school I was attending, reading the little Bible the Gideon group was handing out on the street corner earlier that fall. Specifically I read from Jeremiah, “for I know the plans I have for you…”

My eyes began to tear. Not from the biting wind, but from the joy that began warming me up as I stood remembering God’s provision and love.

I then walked over to Time Square and gazed at the next building where my editorial career really took off and where I would be for the next decade (of course, not in the same building as the magazine moved three more times due to being acquired by various other publishing companies).

I remembered how excited I was that early summer day as I took the escalator up to the mezzanine where then elevators would take me the rest of the way.

I was a bit early that morning and so I lingered in the lobby taking time to soak in the sights and sounds all around me and thought about what the future would reveal—all the glamorous parties, photo shoots and travels that were part of the associate fashion editor’s job duties.

I then remembered the words of a photographer colleague of mine who would accompany me on assignments at my previous job.

“Remember who you are. Don’t let this industry turn you into something you are not. Stay true to yourself.”

Hesitantly, I entered into the lobby again and I lingered a bit, soaking in the sights and sounds around me. I found my heart thanking God not just for the opportunities given to me, but for those He brought into my life with words of wisdom, like the wonderful words I held onto for all my time living and working in New York City, “Remember who you are.”

For me those words weren’t about remembering who “Donna” was. They were deeper for they echoed God’s words to the Israelites, reminding them in their journey that God was their God and they were His people. God was my God on my journey and I was His child.

I soon noticed the time and realized I had to hurry to get to the seminar I came to the city for. I made my way like I had always done before, walking in the direction of whatever traffic light told me that I could walk, thus, having to avoid standing still on any street corner.

As I snaked through the streets, I thought about how many times I was impatient with God’s red lights in my life. How many moments of growth and awesome God moments did I miss all because I was too impatient with the divine red light and opted to move forward with the light that told me to go now even though that “now” was not the right time or the right path?

While pondering this, I soon realized that my hurried steps were in sync with everyone else’s but, unlike my eyes, their eyes were avoiding any contact with others. I also noticed something that brought a huge smile to my face. Not only did my steps line up with those around me, but my black flats, black tights, black skirt, black coat, accented with one amazing accessory mind you—my Kate Spade bag—were in sync with all the young fashionistas scurrying to their offices.

With all the changes I noticed in myself and in the place that was once my home, it was good to know that some things (even if it was just the NYC fashion dress code) never changed!

I finally got to class and began thawing my frozen fingers with a steaming cup of coffee. Despite my physical discomfort, my wind-tunneled walk was worth it. I was glad I got to meet up with my former self and to remember how God has led me from city streets to rural fields, up escalators and elevators to the best steps ever taken—up the old wooden steps to the doors of a little white church.

Shortly after taking my seat, the instructor walked to the front of the room. I opened my notebook and took out my pen. Class was about to begin. The instructor spoke:

Today we are going to spend time exploring something important that we must not forget ever in ministry—in life. That is, our need to remember who we are as God’s beloved.

I put my pen down and sipped my coffee. No need to take notes. I’ve already aced this lesson. For on wind-tunneled New York City streets I met up with someone special. I met me—the who I was, the who I am and remembered the who I will always be. God’s beloved beautifully led now and always.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Talk a walk down memory lane and meet up with someone very important. You. God’s beloved. And reflect on all the beautiful ways God has led you.