I wake up to a cold wintery Valentine’s Day morning. The snow is more than a foot high and I am wondering whether or not to go for a walk on the rail trail. My snowshoes are broken. The strap snapped in half and so walking in this amount of snow without them will be a workout indeed. Hmmm…I could use such a workout. I have been tempted by one too many chocolate hearts lately.
For now, though, I’ve decided to do something radical. I’ve decided to stop the decision making process. I don’t need to figure out if I have time for one more cup of coffee or if I want oatmeal or eggs for breakfast or whether or not to walk in the snow.
I have decided instead to just to sit in the quiet of this sacred morning moment and be with the one who loves me the most–to be with the one who loves me completely.
It’s Valentine’s Day. And while hearts and chocolate and sappy sentiments of love are nice, I know in my life I want the real love that comes from above. The love that heals. The love that strengthens. The love that lifts you when you are down. The love of one who seeks justice for you when life is unfair. The love of one who advocates for you when your voice is not heard. The love of who make a way forward when there seems to be nothing but roadblocks set by hardened hearts. I want the one who sees you at your worst and still whispers to your troubled soul, “I am here. I love you always.”
I want, no I need, to be in the presence of God.
The other day I found myself writing to a friend telling her how tired I was. I had been working extra hours freelance writing, leaving little time for prayer. Before I realized it, these words were coming to the screen of the computer: I just want to make myself a cup of hot cocoa and read the Bible. I have actually been craving God’s word lately.
God’s word. That is a good thing to crave. And when your soul starts hungering for it, you know something is lacking. And so…
May this Valentine’s Day, you take a sacred moment to be with the one who loves you completely and unconditionally. May you take time to acknowledge this love in your life. And may you whisper the sweetest words God can ever hear from us: “I love you too.”
May you crave God as much as God craves for you.
I sit here nursing my coffee which has grown cold. The old country kitchen has grown cold too. I noticed the reassuring humming of the furnace has gone off and for a moment I worry. Is is broken again? Do we have enough propane? A familiar fear seizes my body…what if we don’t have heat, what if the pipes freeze, what if…
The furnace begins humming again. Crisis averted. I am safe and secure. Again.
The morning sun is breaking over the mountains, sending warm rays across the old pine table I sit at. The light is brilliant and beautiful. And so I stop nursing my cold coffee and turn my face towards the window. I sit and mediate on God’s goodness.
I have a roof over my head. Yes, it’s an old roof that will probably need repairs just as the old foundation will too, but it’s a place to call home nevertheless. I have cold coffee to nurse and the means of making another cup if I desire to do so. I have a furnace which is fickle at times and has cost me plenty in emergency calls lately, but it works and I am never without heat for long.
As I soak in the warmth of God’s blessings I begin to think about how I wish for the whole world to take time to turn their eyes towards the sun and soak in God’s warmth.
For we are living in crazy times when it seems no one is turning their eyes to God first. We are living in a time where arguments are plenty. The thing is I laugh because no one is ever going to win these arguments until the arguing stops and the compassionate listening begins.
I think about the fear of not having enough for one’s self which is behind these arguments. I, too, have had that fear. I think about how my husband and I work hard to make end’s meet and how, now having to pay for our own health care, is putting a huge strain on our budget. When my husband gets frustrated, I always chime in, “Yes, but we are managing. God is providing our daily bread.”
There is indeed enough of it to go around. That is, if we decide to focus on God’s bountiful grace rather than our self-centered needs which only demands that the loaf gets bigger and bigger to satiate our appetites.
I have a lot of friends who voted for our current president back in the fall. They voted because they are tired of struggling to make ends meet. They want their country to be safe. They want a loaf of bread to put on their own table. I also have friends who have sizable loaves of bread for their table and they want to make sure it stays that way.
I understand. I want, need, adore and desire “bread” too.
But when I hear the the heated argument of how our tax dollars are going to help “others”immigrants, refugees and welfare recipients—I wonder how can we say we are followers of Christ? For aren’t we all the “other”?
Do we ever step back for a second and remember the many times God’s grace was shown to us by a stranger or a friend? Do we remember the times we were in need and a miracle of provision happened?
Christ. The son of God who came to serve, not be served. The one who put our well being in front of his own, taking his place on the cross for our sins. The suffering servant who showed us the way to greatness is the path of downward mobility.
Our Savior whose real miracle that day on the mountain was not multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish into food enough for thousands. The real miracle was that of one little boy in the presence of Jesus who looked down at his measly lunch and was moved enough to give what he had for others. That is what God smiled upon and blessed.
It is sometimes hard to feel compassion for others in need when we ourselves are struggling. When we begin to get territorial, though, when we begin to start every conversation with, “Well, what about my family?” then I fear we have forgotten why God sent his Son Jesus to us. For God so loved the world.
God still loves the world. God still loves us. And we are all in possession of two measly fish and one “seemingly not enough” loaf of bread. We have what we need and we always will. We need to let go of the fear and worry. We need to let go of the anger towards others who are asking for our grace and mercy and love.
We need to do so for when we stop loving the world as God so loves the world, we will always see our lives as lacking something rather than seeing our lives for how they really are: overflowing with blessings.
Thomas Merton once wrote that no person who ignores the rights and deeds of others can hope to walk in the light of contemplation, because their way has turned aside from the truth, from compassion and therefore from God.
The furnace has stopped its reassuring humming again. That’s okay.
I sit at this old pine table with my face towards the morning sun, soaking in the warmth of God’s grace, God’s love and God’s provision. My prayer is to want for others what I want as well. A simple loaf of bread on the table. And nothing more.
May that be your prayer as well.
Stay out of it…
That was the advice from my mom the other night as we talked politics.
Just stay out of it. Don’t get involved, etc., etc., etc. Let the women march. Let others say what they want on social media. Let folks in the backwoods of Vermont fire off their guns in celebration of the recent inauguration.
Now my mom is not one to step aside from righting a wrong. Growing up she was always the one supporting me to write a letter to the school board if I, as a student, saw something wrong. Speak up and act to change things, rather than complain about things. That was her motto.
No, my mom doesn’t step aside from righting a wrong easily. So, her advice to me the other night I realized was one of motherly concern for her daughter. Her daughter whose first career was that of journalist and whose second incarnation in life is that of pastor.
Journalist plus pastor equals trouble at times for both callings are spurred on by a passion for truth telling and for a desire for advocating for the underdog.
“But mom, I can’t just stay out of it,” I said quietly. “To do so would be going against everything I am.”
More importantly, to stay out of things, to keep silent, to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, whatever body part you want to use as a metaphor, to do any such thing is going against all Jesus is. Jesus whose inauguration speech in Luke’s gospel, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, outlined his policies: proclaim freedom for the prisoners, restore sight to the blind, set the oppressed free. There was no mention of building walls, but rather building bridges of love so that all could cross over each other’s “side” and finally understand one another and begin working together to make a better life for all.
Frederick Buechner, a writer and theologian who lives just up the windy mountain road from me here in Vermont, once said when Jesus told us to love our neighbors, he wasn’t telling us to love them in a “cozy, emotional” way. On the contrary, Jesus, said Buechner, is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our well-being to that end.
Do I want more job opportunities for those I love here in rural America? Yes. Do I want relief from the burgeoning medical insurance my husband and I pay each month, a payment that is so high, provides so little in return and means we must dip into our savings to help pay for it? Yes. Do I want a better country, a better world, a better future? Yes, yes and yes. But not at the expense of others.
For if I forget there are indeed “others” also trying to live and build a good life, then what kind of person am I?
To stay out of what is happening nowadays is to be like all those in the crowds who followed Jesus but didn’t go all the way to the cross with him for fear of jeopardizing their comfortable lives by upsetting the powers to be or even worse, upsetting friends and loved ones.
I sit here in the home that I have cried to God to return to. God turned to me and heard my cry. And for that I will be forever grateful. I sit here in my 18th century home with the wide plank floors that slope and stare out the window at the snow covered Green Mountains of Vermont so thankful to be brought back to an area in which fills my heart and connects me ever more closely to the divine.
I am thankful for the opportunity to be a reporter once again and for the opportunities to continue being an accidental country pastor as well.
My heart is full, but heavy as well. It is concerned. I can’t pretend all is well with the world, just because all is well here on my little fledgling farm.
There is work to be done. There is good news to proclaim. And that good news is not going to be easy to proclaim.
Then again, it never was.
Welcome to Old Stone Well Farm, the home of the Accidental Country Pastor. I am so glad you have come to join me for a word of hope.
Today, as I decorate the farm for Epiphany, I invite you to think about what it means to live with the wonder and awe of God at work in your life. What does it mean to really let the Christ light shine on your path, perhaps illuminating a new path for you to venture on?
So sit back and enjoy this time of worship…and share with others.
And as always, let me know how your journey is going or how we can join together and pray for one another.
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.
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…
The front door squeaked opened and then slammed shut. I, still slumbering at 5 a.m., didn’t think much of it as this was our morning routine. Husband gets up, showers, makes his coffee and then takes Sofie, our bumbling Bernese mountain dog, out for her morning business. I would then go back to slumbering for another hour.
And so the front door squeaked opened and then slammed shut, but that’s where our morning routine went awry. Before I could snuggle deeper into the blankets, something large and furry began nudging at me. I heard whimpering and then it came. A big wet and warm lick. It was Sofie.
“Shouldn’t you be outside with daddy,” I asked, as I petted the top of her head, while making my way out of the bed and fumbling for my glasses and trying to put on my slippers. I’ve always took pride in my ability to multi-task.
My sleep haze began dissipating with each step I took from the bedroom to the kitchen to see what was going on. I tried to ignore the growing concern rumbling along with the hunger in my stomach. Where was my husband? The kitchen light was on. The coffee mug, filled with hot coffee, sat on the counter right next to the now cold toast waiting to be taken out of the toaster. Sofie nudged me again, leading me to the front door. What could have happened? And where the heck was my husband?
The front door squeaked opened and then slammed shut behind me. My glasses, never quite fitting well, slid down my nose making it hard for me to focus in the dark of dawn. I pushed the glasses back up my nose and when I did my husband came into focus. There he stood looking up at the sky. He motioned to come join him and then pointed to the very thing that had him mesmerized. There in sky was the moon with a perfect halo of light surrounding it. It was eerie and beautiful at the same time.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” I whispered. I didn’t know what to make of it, but as I kept staring I felt a comforting hug. No, not from my husband. Rather a divine hug of sorts, reassuring me that God’s love and protection was like that perfect illumined circle, forever surrounding me with light.
The front door squeaked opened and then slammed shut again. A breakfast of cold coffee and toast was eaten and the dark of dawn quickly gave way to light. The day had begun but still I couldn’t get that image of the moon encircled with light off of my mind. In between writing my sermon for Sunday, I decided to do some research and discovered what we saw was a lunar halo—a ring of light around the moon caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere.
Much to my surprise, lunar halos occur more often than I thought. Hmmm…perhaps I needed to listen to my husband and start getting up more at the crack of dawn to see these displays of nature? I then discovered that folk lore says such halos indicate rough weather on its way.
I thought about that some more. How interesting that my reaction to the halo was one of peace and comfort. I didn’t see the halo as a warning of tough times ahead, but rather of a reminder of God’s protection and love surrounding me.
That’s when I began wondering how many farmers of old took the message of the halo as a warning of tough times ahead and worried and batten down the hatches and tried their best to prepare for all the what if’s and the many unknowns? And how many farmers of old looked up at the sky and smiled, preferring to take the message of the halo as a beautiful reassuring hug from God that all would be well no matter what?
Rough weather, tough times—they always come. But God’s love is a never-ending circle surrounding us, getting us through it all.
There was a lunar halo this morning. It was beautiful. It was a like a divine hug reminding me that God is holding me tightly. That’s how I saw it. How would you see it?
I just want to have everything figured out. I mean, really, it all seems very simple. Either we move forward or we don’t. It’s one or the other. I just don’t understand this indecision.
My friend’s email this morning struck a chord, bringing back to me the time in my life where she is now. The time when I seemed to be finally hitting my stride. My career as an editor of a magazine was taking off and dare I say my love life too. Or so it seemed.
There was this one pesky little problem hanging over me like an annoying cloud that teases you with the threat of rain yet no rain ever comes. It was the problem of indecisiveness. It was a problem on both my part and my boyfriend’s part as we tried to figure “us” out. Do we move forward together? Does that mean engagement? Then a wedding? Wait. Where do you see yourself in five years? Or how about just next year? Do you want to live on the Upper West side or Lower East side?
Let’s cut to the chase and get to the more important question. No, not the “do you want children” question. What I want to know is do you perhaps sometime in the near future see yourself living in a historic old house within commuting distance to Manhattan? (Yes, that was my burning question and I was surprised to learn that many people aren’t fond of the small windows, low ceilings and lack of closet space that charm me. Luckily, years later, and with a different beau, that question would be answered with one caveat. The home would not be in commuting distance to ANY big city or congested roads and that was fine by me.)
Now these questions were never actually discussed as two healthy adults should discuss. These were the questions silently swimming in our minds as we tried to figure out what I call “the matters of the heart”—those things we hold close to us, that make us who we are and that are often the very things that guide us and drive us, helping us move forward even when it seems we aren’t really going anywhere. The matters of the heart are unique—and sacred—to each of us, thus, making them tricky, if not complicated, for another to even begin understanding where it is you are coming from.
And so I read my friend’s email over again not wanting to rush in too quickly with a response for I was once where she was. I remember many a seemingly helpful email from friends who thought they knew what was best for me. Again, matters of the heart are unique and sacred things. But their words didn’t do much to comfort or help me. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to hear or perhaps they weren’t the right words. Who knows? Again, matters of the heart are unique and sacred things. All I knew was that I wanted to make sure my words would be hopeful and helpful.
I sat there tapping my fingers on the keyboard but nothing hopeful and helpful was appearing on the screen before me. I hit the delete button and tried again. After doing this one too many times, I gave up. It was time to face the truth. I really didn’t know what to say to my friend that would give her the bright hope for tomorrow she was seeking. I thought about how disheartening it was to keep searching into the future and only seeing clouds. I was there once—and find myself there again at times. For even after finding the man who answered correctly my living in an old house question, life always presents you with next steps to take.
And perhaps those steps are not meant to be easy. Perhaps we are not given a crystal ball out of mercy and grace of not knowing exactly everything that will happen. Perhaps we are meant to take one faltering and indecisive step at a time, trusting not so much in the unique and sacred matters of the heart we think are guiding us, but trusting that the One who has placed that sacredness within us will not fail us. For if God lovingly calls us by name, then why let any unknowns in life rattle us or even drag us down?
And here is something else. Why do we even spend time hoping for another to understand us or for us to try to understand them? Have you ever driven yourself crazy with the question, “But what are they thinking?”
One time while peering into a cloudy future, I stumbled upon a devotion that I knew was God’s way of hitting me over the head with exactly what I needed. The devotion basically said each heart is intricate and only God knows exactly what is in each heart. We can try all we want to understand the other, but we will never fully get to the most private and intimate place. That place is reserved for the God who created us. All we need to do is place the unique and sacred matters of the heart (mine and yours) into God’s loving hands.
All of a sudden I began typing my reply to my friend…
God sees beyond our cloudy futures. And God has already made up his mind. He’s decided (thank goodness!) to never leave or forsake us. This I do know. The matters of the heart matter much to God. Trust the sacredness to the One who is Divine.
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.
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?)
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.