A Raccoon Came to Breakfast

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And so, it begins.

This morning there was a raccoon at the chicken coop trying to get its paws inside, reaching for them. Luckily, I chased it away.

But once a raccoon has found its rural vending machine, it will come back eager to select a treat — or two or even five (the number of chickens I have). There’s not much you can do to safeguard your chickens.

The more I read about raccoons, they are smart little bastards — able to open doors, unlatch latches, reach in through wire fences and gnaw and chew on a wing or leg of a still alive chicken. The latter is actually a gruesome tale I read on one of the many chicken chat groups I frequent. Ugh. That is definitely a sight I do not want to see.

My neighbor lost all 10 of his young chickens last week. Bits and pieces were left behind, as well as the hearts, which were eerily placed in a ritualistic-looking circle. “Raccoon,” was all he could mutter to me without breaking down in tears.

My writer’s mind began narrating this spooky little story into the pages of a still unwritten manuscript I have been toying with about a young pastor stumbling upon an 18th-century homestead — that seemed to be calling for her — only to discover ghost children roaming its rooms, calling out, “Pastor, welcome home.”

The story is actually inspired by an old 18th-century saltbox house I had purchased as a new pastor moving into a rural community. The day I closed on the property and officially received the keys, I discovered in an overgrown corner of a pasture headstones from the early 1700s. There was also a shuttered window banging on the upper level of the garage one day soon after I moved in. The noise was so annoying that I ventured in the wind and the rain and climbed the rickety ladder to the loft to secure the window. It was then I noticed a child’s tea set laid out in front of the window. The hair stood on my neck. I felt like an intruder. Or maybe I wasn’t? Maybe I was supposed to be at this poltergeist playdate. “Pastor, welcome home…” (Cue spooky music now.)

Turns out, the previous owner of the saltbox had a side gig as an antique dealer. Thus, the old children’s tea set in the loft.

But I digress. Back to the raccoon.

The carnage the raccoon left behind was horrific, my neighbor said. We then just stared at the now-empty coop, both of us offering a holy, silent blessing to life — and its fragility.

I then heard him speak softly, sadly: “Watch out for your flock.”

Today, a raccoon showed up at my coop. My girls won’t be running freely today chasing bugs or inhaling worms. Sorry, ladies.

It will be a miracle if my chickens survive the summer. Luckily, I do believe in miracles. I also believe in God’s strength to help me face whatever I will need to face if said miracle turns into a massacre.

(And no, I didn’t take this picture. I was not lucky enough to capture such a funny photo.)

Old Stone Well Farm

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Miracles and New Wine

Winter was the season to slumber, to hibernate, to retreat. In Native American traditions, winter was a time of gathering around the fire and tell stories. But we don’t allow ourselves to do that, do we? We just go, go, go.

On this below-zero day, I invite you to think about embracing winter’s rest — to allow your tired souls to find renewal in a nap, a good book, a walk in nature, and to hear a story or two. So join me as I pour a glass of Madeira wine, the wine of 18th-century America, and share a story about miracles and new wine.

Blessings!

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

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

A Return to Happiness

The excitement was growing among those in the little white church as my wedding day drew closer. There were plans to spruce up the church, which included ordering new tablecloths for the time of refreshments and wedding cake to be served after the ceremony.

“What color should the tablecloths be, Pastor Donna?” was the question from the woman tasked with this very important mission she took seriously, coming into my office with swatches and suggestions. I really didn’t have a strong opinion of either cream or sage green and suggested to get the cloths that would work for future church events.

“What about flowers? You have to have flowers in the church?” asked another woman later that day.

I really had no strong opinions on flowers either.

“Whatever you have blooming in your garden by the time of the wedding would be beautiful,” I said.

I couldn’t think too much about tablecloths and flowers because at that moment I had a more pressing wedding detail to take care of which was irking me.

I had to find the perfect wedding invitation.

After many a late night of searching the Internet not finding exactly what I was looking for, I was getting a bit anxious. Cream or ivory? Matte or satin finish? Embossed or not?

The problem was I really had no idea what I had wanted in a wedding invitation.

Then one day, as I was putting away some books back onto the shelf in my office, a piece of scrap paper fell onto the floor. I looked down and staring up at me was the sketch of a lily of the valley done on a piece of notebook paper in blue ballpoint ink.

Lily of the valley had always been one of my favorite flowers—one of the first flowers of spring that has the most incredible perfume coming from its small white bell shaped petals. They used to grow under the forsythia bushes in the backyard of my childhood home. I would pick them and create little bridal bouquets for my Barbi dolls and dream of the day I would someday carry lily of valley in my own bouquet.

I picked up the paper and read the note on the back: “Remember, I found these in the snow. Love, Valerie.”

Valerie was an older woman at the church I attended in New York City who had seen her share of heartache in the game of love and in the game of life. She had always persevered, though, and as a result her trust in God was evident to all who came in contact with her. I was one of those lucky ones who had come in contact with her.

We had shared some of our struggles with waiting on God in a small group at a church retreat and it turns out we both had a lily of the valley story to tell.

Valerie remembered how one bitterly cold and snowy winter day, as she made her way through the city streets with a heavy heart and many questions about her future on her mind, she spotted a bunch of lily of the valleys peaking through the snow—snow that hid concrete underneath. How could this be? She walked closer and realized the flowers were plastic. Still it didn’t matter. The sign of hope in the snow was for her a reminder to hold on and to trust that God was leading her.

Mine was that these flowers were growing outside of my boyfriend’s mother’s apartment in Manhattan the weekend we went there to pack up her belongings after she quickly succumbed to cancer. And how, just three years later, after my that same boyfriend died in a jeep accident Africa, I found those flowers growing bountifully on the side of the new home I had just moved into.

The minister who listened to us share our stories fought back the tears in his eyes and smiled as he then shared something with us I didn’t know.

“The lily of the valley has often been portrayed in religious paintings. It symbolizes the promise that happiness will always return.”

I gazed at the sketch Valerie did for me so long ago and remembered the unrelenting years filled with my own waiting and heartache and wondering if God was hearing my cries or not. Of course, God was and now here I was in the midst of planning a long-hoped for wedding. I looked at the scrap paper and realized what my wedding invitations had to be.

I ran to the computer and logged on to a wedding invitation site that I had seen two months before. There on that site were wedding invitations that had embossed lily of the valleys on them. I wasn’t too sure about them at first glance. They were white vellum, which was a bit lighter and more delicate than the heavier card stock I had been looking at. But now I knew they were perfect. I proceeded to order the invitations.

I logged out of the computer and stared some more at Valerie’s sketch and thought about this wedding and the excitement that was building in the little white church.

I realized this wedding was more than just about Pastor Donna getting married—finally. This was about the miracle of love found—between my soon-to-be-husband and me, between a pastor and her congregation, between and congregation and its community—love found in God who had never stopped loving us.

There are miracles of love everyday for us to see. For me those miracles have come in the way of hearing about plastic lily of the valleys peeking up from the snow on a city street and then seeing hundreds of lily of the valleys in full bloom on the side of my house after praying to God for a sign that God was still there. Miracles of love have come in the way of seemingly mundane discussions on what color for tablecloths and what kind of flowers for the sanctuary. Miracles of love come from God in the most unexpected ways

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Sprigs of lily of the valley grace Pastor Donna’s bridal bouquet. A reminder of the miracle of love and God’s promise of the return to happiness.

I gently placed Valerie’s lily of the valley sketch back into a book, knowing someday when I needed to see it the most, it will once again miraculously fall gently out onto the floor. Until then, I remember. With God there is always a return to happiness.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Where are the miracles of love blooming this day in your life? Take note of them and remember to say “Thank you, God.”